Social Whirlwind

21 March 2012        2.00 PM        30 F        Sunny

It strikes me as more than a little ironic that my blog, which is supposed to keep friends, family and random strangers up to date with stories and pictures of our dogs and our life in Alaska, has fallen victim to a lack of free time. The blame for this lack of free time can be placed fairly and squarely on our dogs and our life in Alaska. Yes, those very things the blog is supposed to be espousing.

As ever, our first priority is always our dogs. In the depths of winter, with temperatures dropping to -33F, short daylight hours, and this winter especially, an incredible amount of snowfall, even the simple, everyday chores of taking care of the dogs, feeding and scooping seem to consume ever greater quantities of time. When we add in those 4 little puppies – although at 17 weeks old now, they aren’t so little anymore – there’s even less down time. I always recall a saying, time spent with puppies is never wasted. It’s a saying I wholeheartedly agree with, but that doesn’t make any more hours appear in the day.

puppies eating out of individual bowls

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Duncan blog entry about winter in Alaska if I didn’t have a tale of woe about injury and/or illness. So, true to tradition, I have to report that I “enjoyed” a few weeks off the runners and chores because of a recurrence of my ongoing, highly annoying and exceedingly painful back problems. I didn’t feel quite so guilty this time because my wife did at least have Lizzie here to help her with the dogs. But it is still not much fun to be reduced to hearing the reports from friends of the great trail conditions rather than actually being able to experience them myself.

Of course, some of those trail reports were interspersed with frightening tales of moose encounters of varying degrees of seriousness. The moose have had a hard winter and are struggling to survive with the deep snow making travelling and foraging very difficult for them. However, understanding that they are having a torrid time doesn’t make getting trampled any more tolerable or safe.

Happily, I did make a bit of a recovery and after proving to my wife that I was fit and well enough to take the dogs back out on the trail ( by doing a few days of feedings and digging out of gates), I was extremely happy to take a team back down towards Little Willow Creek and over onto the swamps. We’ve had a long spell now of beautiful Spring days, cold nights and clear, sunny afternoons making it seem positively warm whilst out running with the dogs.

Our dogs pulling a sled in the snow

The past few weeks have seen the peak of the racing season across North America. The 2 ultra long distance sled races, Yukon Quest and Iditarod, have come and gone, as have most of the 200 and 300 mile races, with just a few races deep in the Interior of Alaska and the Yukon still to go.  As ever, we were solidly behind our friend Mike Ellis of Tsuga Siberians in his 5th Yukon Quest and this year, we had another friend to follow. Joar Leifseth Ulsom, our friend from Norway, who stayed with us last year, and was part of the wildfire rescue squad, was running the Quest as well. Sadly for Mike, his race came to a sudden, unexpected and all too swift a conclusion when he dislocated his shoulder on the descent of Eagle Summit and was forced to scratch. We were able to cheer all the way for Joar and his fine finish in 6th place.

Just two weeks later, quite a few of the Quest racers were setting off on that other 1000 mile race, the Iditarod.  We played host to one of those teams for the week prior to the race and got to spend a little time getting to know Brent Sass and some of his amazing canine athletes. We also got to help Brent’s team up to the startline on the official “Restart” – about as close as we’ll ever get to running the Iditarod, and probably a lot closer than we ever imagined we would be. Brent had a fine race and finished 13th and claimed Rookie of the Year honours.

Brent Sass' dog team at Iditarod start

Our house has seen a constant flow and ebb of visitors, guests and people just passing through for dinner, drinks or puppy cuddles. We’ve had a great time with our friends here and it has, as ever, been a comfort knowing that just down the road, willing and able people are happy to drop whatever they are doing to come to the aid of friends in need.

We have been treated to quite a few evenings of spectacular Northern Lights displays. I am still amazed each and every time we get to see the Lights and spend quite a bit of time just standing watching the best free show in the world.

Northern Lights

With all of the activity, the days and weeks have just flown by. It’s hard to believe that we are already 2/3rds of the way through March and that Spring is on its way, bringing “Break Up” and finishing our sledding for another year. However, there is still a great deal of the 14 feet of snow we have had this winter on the ground and I feel confident I’ll manage quite a few runs before finally putting the sled away.

As is traditional here, with the possible onset of the “great melt”, my wife heads back to Scotland to visit family, see some greenery and Spring flowers and avoid the boot sucking, dog swallowing mud that marks April in Alaska. However, I fear she may have miscalculated this year and will be back before the worst of the waters have receded.  The house is going to seem particularly empty with her departure this week, as her brother and his girlfriend have been staying and they  leave with her.  Lizzie has also finished her stay with us and flew home at the weekend. I wonder how she has adapted to a dogless life again.  So for me, going from a house full of people, to living the bachelor life will be a big change too. I’m looking forward to beer, pizza and the tv remote.

head shot of Brooks


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