Big Furry Rodents

19 April 2017        6.00 PM     51 F  Sunny

Alaska is a great place to live. There are no snakes, no biting creepy crawlies – well excluding the one wee spider that isn’t even supposed to be that bad, no need to check your boots before you put them on in case some sneaky scorpion has decided to have a nap in there, and no need to send an armed patrol into the bathroom to check the toilet for venomous reptiles lying in wait.
We do of course have some natural pests, namely the mosquito. But, as it’s late April and we haven’t actually seen any yet, it’s easy to forget just how fierce they can be.  We are also a little less intimidated by them after a few summers of zapping the area with our Skeeter Vacs – we may not have reduced the overall State population by that much, but we’ve certainly decimated the ones around our kennel – and that’s what’s important !

The other animal hazards tend to be of the big variety. Moose and bear. Happily, we’ve not had many dealings with Yogi and his kin, bar one, a couple of years ago, that took a late evening stroll down the drive, past the front of the house and then ambled off into the trees. Moose however are a very different ball game. For a start, they are either mean or stupid – or stupid and mean. In the winter, they constantly seem to want to play chicken with cars on the Highway. If they’re not doing that, they’re standing in the middle of the dog trail refusing to budge despite a variety of entreaties suggesting that they really should be elsewhere.

This winter, we’ve been delighted to have had pretty decent snowfall. This has made the trails a delight to be on, it has also made life for the moose a bit more difficult than in the past couple of winters where the low snow made it much easier for them to travel and graze on the trees and shrubs they like to eat. With deep snow everywhere, the moose really don’t want to get off the hardpacked groomed trails – they also find it harder to get enough to eat. This makes them even meaner and more ornery. The State Fish & Wildlife Department actually came out early this Spring and said the moose were especially grumpy and that people should be aware that getting between them and wherever they wanted to be was not a good idea. Given the size of them, it’s probably not a good idea at any time !

willows
Moose and willows. Apparently a match made in heaven.

As you may recall, this area was devastated by the Sockeye wild fire in June 2015. A large swathe of the countryside was burnt and has just started to recover. Due to the nature and structure of willows, they are remarkably resilient and had already grown several feet since the fire. Moose like willows.  Moose LOVE young willow shoots that are still succulent and juicy. Moose seem to have realised that we have a lot of said willows on our land. By February, in the depths of winter, we were having a moose or two visit every day to graze on the new growth. Of course, they started on the outer edge of the parcel and slowly worked their way closer to the house and dogyard. Of itself, that doesn’t seem to be so bad, however, it has to be said,  the dogs really don’t like moose. To be fair, the moose aren’t all that impressed by the dogs either – however they seem to have figured out that dogs on tethers, behind a fence are not an issue. the dogs on the other hand are very vocal about their dislike of the situation. What makes this even worse, is that it usually seems to occur at 3 in the morning. There is a particular bark that as soon as you hear it, you know exactly what is going on.
As there are so many mushers in Willow, all going through this same issue, a lot of thought and discussion has gone into ways to mitigate the moose problem. Our friends who live just the other side of the Highway, explain one of the methods they’ve had success with here.  Without spoiling the read, we tried that and had mixed results. maybe I’ve just not got enough crazy in me.

2 moose
Great, let’s invite a friend over.

Our biggest fright came one afternoon, when Ciara, our blind Siberian, could be seen scenting a moose that was wandering about. Ciara, obviously had no idea what this thing was that she could smell, but it was apparent that she didn’t like it and she proceeded to issue some kind of canine/moose challenge – which unhappily the moose accepted.  Ciara weighs about 35 pounds and the moose must have been around 600 pounds – and all that was saving Ciara (or stopping her, in her mind) was a chainlink fence. When moose get mad, their ears flatten, their nostrils flare and they start stomping the ground with their front hooves. As we dashed/floundered through the snow to rescue Ciara, the checklist went, ears – yes flat.  Nostrils, – yes, definitely flaring. Stomping – oh heck yes. If we weren’t so concerned about Ciara ( and the fence), it would have been quite the sight to see this little blind black dog squaring off against something quite so large and mean. Fortunately, once we got a hold of Ciara and dragged her away from the fence and into the safety of the house, the moose gave a few more stomps for good measure before getting back to eating.

at the fence
She really couldn’t be any closer to the fence .

With the onset of Spring, and the snows starting to melt, we have seen a reduction in the numbers of moose visiting – something we are truly grateful for.  And whilst technically, moose are members of the deer family, they are a long way from the lovable Bambi.

ignore it
The girls have all turned their backs to the moose. If we can’t see it, it’s not there !

Just Pottering On

23 July 2016       2.00 PM       74 F        Cloudy

Summer in Alaska is a time of great activity.  The near perpetual daylight for weeks on end, means that one’s perception of time gets a bit distorted. It is not uncommon to find yourself outside doing chores or gardening at midnight and thinking that it must be getting close to dinner time.

This summer, we’ve had some wonderful sunny weather, days of endless sunshine and temperatures in the 80s – which is verging on the ridiculously hot for us and the dogs. It has however, meant that our garden has done well, in great part due to the generosity of the Willow Garden Club, who organised a program to donate a variety of plants to those who were affected by the Sockeye Fire. The splash of color that our new flowers have brought is always a welcome sight.

Additionally, we’ve been enjoying the fruits (literally) of our labours. I say “our”, but last summer a dear friend brought over and planted quite a number of strawberry plants. Those have flourished remarkably – so much so that they’re at risk of taking over the driveway, never mind the patch of garden they were put in – but they have produced a great number of delicious strawberries and we did intend to thank Carrie for her hard work by giving her some of them. But, you know, they just tasted so good and ummm, well, we ate them all.
We haven’t had the same success with our raspberries, similar to to the strawberries, the plants themselves are making a land grab, plus we got several more raspberry plants from the Willow Garden Club, but for some reason, none of our bushes flowered, and we managed a total haul of 5 raspberries, yes  FIVE, not pounds, not gallons,   five solitary little berries.  But our rhubarb, which survived the fire,looking just a little frazzled around the edges, continues to live up to rhubarb’s reputation as the plant you can’t kill.  Our 4 have so far given us 6 kilograms of rhubarb, and we’re hopeful of a good second harvest as well.
The beans we planted, courtesy of WGC and Carrie are also doing well and have been fun to watch grow. They were starter plants, germinated by the kids at the local Elementary School. Labelling of the different varieties was, let’s call it broad brush – everything was “bean”.  So far, we have identified, french beans, runner beans and yellow wax beans.

Of course, living in Alaska, we are encouraged to take full advantage of the opportunities to get fresh meat and fish. As someone who is a terrible shot at anything more than about 50 yards away, I tend to shy away from hunting. The fact that we’re not the biggest fans of the taste of moose either (whisper that, it seems to be sacrilegious to admit it out loud up here) means that is less of an issue for us anyway. However, the fishing is a different tale, and the opportunity to bring home fresh salmon and halibut is always seized, when offered.
I’m not long back from a trip to Seward to go halibut fishing, which also doubled as a sightseeing visit, never having been there before. The trip was great, the fishing good, the scenery wonderful and the natural wildlife amazing. As well as catching halibut, rockfish and a ling cod, we saw several whales, lots of sea otters, a couple of sea lions and a porpoise or two.

Heading out of Seward
Heading out of Seward
One of the many glaciers we got to see on the trip
One of the many glaciers we got to see on the trip
Floating Sea Otter
Floating Sea Otter
Sunbathing Sea Lion
Sunbathing Sea Lion

With our house finished being rebuilt, our furniture finally delivered, and all of the back garden fences reinstalled, it’s time to move back in to our home and resume normal living.
This past year or 13 months have been rather eventful, here’s hoping for a quieter year to come with a winter full of running dogs and lovely snow.

5,257 Miles

1 July 2012      4.00 PM     70F  Sunny

Eagle eyed readers or those with an awesome memory may well recall a couple of similarly titled entries in the last 18 months or so. Those who do so will doubtless recall the protestations that such a trip would likely never be taken again. So, it seems obvious enough that as a whole year has passed since the last trip, I should be on the road again. Destination – Seppala Kennels in Rossburn, Manitoba. Purpose – to bring home a couple more dogs.

Having done this trip a couple of times previously, you’d think that getting organised would be a simple enough matter and not likely to cause any complications. Try telling that to the landlady at the Guest House in Rossburn that I cancelled, amended and rebooked my stay in, every night for about 3 weeks.

One of those delays was the addition of a couple of sets of fancy new driving lights to the dog truck. Ford’s original equipment lights are, well let’s just say poor, in the interests of not being rude. Sometimes, peering into the darkness, I have wondered if I’d be better off just taping my headtorch to the front bumper. Anyway, the guys at Alaska Safety did a great job and “Big Blue” was all wired up and ready to go.  Aaaah, but not so fast young man,  it wouldn’t be a Duncan epic drive across a large swathe of  North America if there wasn’t some kind of truck malfunction/hiccup. Taking place before I’ve even left home however, could be considered a pretty bad portent of things to come.  On the way home from Wasilla, the truck went into “limp home” mode and I went into meltdown mode. A begging phone call to Kendall Ford resulted in the first available service appointment, 5 days hence. Seeing as we were already in Wasilla, and not knowing what was wrong with the truck and definitely not wanting to set off home and be stranded, I decided just to head straight to Kendall’s and dump the truck on them until they could look at it.  Handing over the keys, I gave it the full sob story, trip to Canada, truck still under warranty, etc, etc and the Service Manager vaguely promised to “see what they could do”.  Lo and behold, early the next morning he phoned to say truck was sorted, one of the sensors had become detached and all was now well. Manitoba, here I come.

Except, in the intervening 12 hours, a friend who knew I was going, posted me this link . So, as it turns out, the truck not being ready to go was actually a good thing, as otherwise, I’d have set off and not known that the Alaska Highway was closed in 3 separate spots and been sitting, stranded and with no clue as to when the road would reopen.

Fast forward a week, and the Alcan was back in business, the backlog of traffic had cleared, I had re-rearranged my B&B booking (for the umpteenth time) and I was finally on the road.

There is always a sense of excitement coupled with a very slight touch of foreboding as I ease through the big metropolitan connurbations of Wasilla and Palmer and out into the quieter rural road that masquerades as the Glenn Highway, also known as AK 1.

The super busy Glenn Highway, mid-June

Despite it being in what I had imagined as the height of the tourist season, the road was remarkably quiet. Concerns about being stuck behind convoys of RVs as they tootled along, enjoying the scenery, proved to be groundless. In fact, almost the opposite was true. The previous trips in early May and late September certainly seemed, to my addled memory, to have more encounters with other road users.  The plus side of the reduced traffic was a smooth drive at a good average speed.

Can’t remember where you are going?

On the approach to Glenallan, the road seems to become almost fluid in its nature. Presumably due to frost heaves, there is a long section where the road ripples ahead of you, like a rolling riptide. My stomach reminds me that lunchtime has come and gone and mentally I debate pulling up to the Tok Thai Food Wagon in the parking lot of a Glenallan gas station. Sadly, my cautious nature prevails upon me to keep driving rather than risk eating from an unknown roadside foodtruck, with the prospect of 2 weeks of driving still ahead of me and no desire to have an upset stomach. If only I had read the reviews the Wagon has received, before my trip, I would have had a nice Thai lunch rather than a bag of chips and a candy bar. Still, I plan on an early dinner at Fast Eddy’s in Tok as a reward anyway.

With the traffic remaining light, I made good time and was fast approaching Tok, maybe just a little too fast for the State Trooper’s liking. Fortunately, he was obviously in a forgiving mood, as he just gave me a finger wagging and a flash of his Police lights as he passed.

Truck refueled, driver refueled, next stop was the Canadian Border which was passed through without incident this time.

Welcome to the Yukon

Driving past Destruction Bay, I approached the stretch of road that was washed away a couple of weeks earlier. The road crews certainly had done a good job, if it hadn’t been for all the debris and tree trunks littering the side of the road and creekbeds, you would never have know that this spot had been impassable just a few days previously.

Generally, the road is in fair condition. It wouldn’t be the Alaska Highway if it was all smooth sailing but some sections are definitely a bit rough. The Yukon Highway Department does have an ongoing repair program, and they mark bad spots on the road with a little orange flag. The trouble is that the little flag can signify a slight dip in the road or a full size pothole that could swallow an 18 wheeler. It certainly keeps you on your toes.

Reaching Whitehorse around midnight, I fill the truck again and head east into the oncoming gloom and a slight drizzle. I finally get the chance to try out my new LED lights and am very impressed with how well they light up the road ahead and the ditches on either side. The downside is that when switching them off for oncoming traffic, it reinforces just how poor the original headlights are.

After another couple of hours, I start to feel tired enough to want to stop and after reaching “my” rest-stop around 2.00 am, I pull over and settle down for a power nap on the back seat.

Day 1      Miles 764          Moose 1  Porcupine 1

 

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

BFM

26 January 2012       2.00 PM     – 4 F      Cloudy

It’s the internet age and abbreviations abound. Sometimes us oldies think it is a conspiracy by anyone under the age of  ** (insert the age when you began to think that policemen didn’t look old enough to have left school) to confuse and befuddle us, using gobbledy-gook when good old-fashioned English would undoubtedly suffice.

As dog mushers, we have our own set of code words that can sound like gibberish to anyone not involved. Amongst our group of friends here in Willow, we’ve also adopted another string of abbreviations for something has become an all too common occurrence this winter.

If you have children or ever were a child from any point in the mid 80s on, you’ll know what BFG stands for. For some, BFG is synomous with tyres (tires to some of you lot), for others it apparently is a big gun that fires balls of green plasma. Before the Department of Defence gets all twitchy, the BFG 9000 is only available in the game Doom. (at least according to Google anyway). But for most of us, BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant, the children’s book by Roald Dahl.

However, the letters BFM have a very different meaning for a group of us here in Willow, Alaska (and quite probably in many other places too).  I’ll grant you that the B still stands for BIG. The G for Giant has been changed to M for Moose and the F, well, I guess in polite company it could be “freaking” but it’s generally accepted that the F means exactly what you think we mean it to mean. There is a further adaptation, BFMM and BFBM, which of course mean Big F%% Momma Moose and Big F**8 Baby Moose. One of the very important things to remember when you see a baby moose – and the term baby is misleading, a young moose calf can still weigh a few hundred pounds – is that where baby is, a very protective and quite likely grumpy, momma won’t be far behind.

Moose and calf grazingA cow and her calf in our driveway

Moose are generally accepted as being herbivores. They eat trees and green stuff. Ergo, in the winter their diet is a little harder to find. Add in the extremely large quantity of snow we have had this winter, and the moose are finding food harder to come by and also (a bit like dogteams) they tend to dislike wallowing in the self same deep, powdery, baseless snow. So, when they find that a nice fairly solid trail has miraculously appeared, they usually regard that as a much more preferable travelling route. Unfortunately, moose and dogteams don’t make good travelling companions. The dogs tend to regard the moose as something to either eat, chase or run away from and the moose are pretty much left with the original flight or fight instinct. Alaskan moose are the largest of the moose species and also, by common agreement, the meanest. There seems to be a bit of more of the ‘fight” instinct and a BFM, flaring it’s nostrils and pawing the ground with it’s rather large hooves is a sight not readily welcomed by many.

large cow moose“Our” momma moose

There have been a great many reported moose incidents on our local trails already this winter. These have ranged from the mildly interesting – ooh look, a moose in the trees – to the downright dangerous, a musher was actually kicked off his sled and stomped by a moose. There have been numerous occasions when a grumpy moose has taken the decision to charge a team and stomp up and down over all the dogs, causing injury, havoc and panic.

We have been fortunate so far. For the majority of the early part of the sledding season, when we were hearing about the carnage and trouble being visited on friends’ and neighbours’ teams,  we were blissfully unhindered by Alces Alces on our travels. However, our luck had to turn, and it did one afternoon when we encountered 3 separate moose. Fortunately, each one of them were “runners” and apart from my heart beating slightly faster, and the dogs finding a previously hidden speed gear, we weren’t  really troubled by the BFMs. Subsequently, we’ve met several more moose, with varying degrees of interaction. Happily, none have taken exception to our presence apart from a VERY large bull that tried racing our team to a clearing. Luckily for us, we had a groomed trail and he was swimming through chest deep snow. Once he realised that we were actually travelling parallel to him and not towards him, he stopped his efforts to find solid ground and settled back down into the snow.

It is occasions like that, that make you realise just how vulnerable we puny humans are, out in the wilderness. And, honestly, I really wasn’t that far out in the wilderness at all.

There has been a long running discussion going on about the different types of moose deterrents and their efficacy.  Friends of ours had a closer encounter than they would have liked, last winter. The variety of things done to persuade moose  to take the path of lesser conflict is a list that is imaginative, creative and as the ultimate last resort, violent.  We have tried the second item on that list and was both pleased and surprised that simply yelling at the moose to get off the trail actually worked. The first step – mind projection – has never worked for me !

Sometimes, the moose are unwilling to give up the trail, perhaps simply being too exhausted to face another excursion into the deep snow. It is those occasions that offer the possibility of real conflict. Mushers will do what they have to, to protect their dogs and as difficult as it can be, will endeavour, when faced with an recalcitrant moose, to turn their team and find another route. That sounds a lot simpler to do than it actually is. Especially when the dogs in question are invariably screaming to be allowed to chase the big hairy meal in front of them.

And sometimes, the moose themselves have just had enough. Either they’ve simply met one too many dogteams that day, got out of bed on the wrong side, or are just one of those famous Grumpy, with a capital G, moose. Rather than leave the trail, or refuse to move, they decide to take the offensive and will charge. A scary sight to behold, with the ears laid back, and hooves flashing, 1500 pounds of meat and bone heading towards your precious dogs at a speed of up to 35 mph.

That’s when those moose deterrents have to become much more effective. And possibly deadly. Much time has been spent discussing the relative merits ( for the want of a better word) of firearms and grain of bullets. According to those in the know, it’s going to take at least a 44 Magnum to bring down a charging moose. Anything smaller and all you’re going to do, is wound and annoy it.

And so, that has now become part of our routine when getting ready to go on a sled run. A Mossberg pump action shotgun loaded with buckshot and slugs is attached to the sled and I carry a Smith & Wesson 44 Magnum revolver. With all our might, we hope and pray never to have to use either of the guns for anything other than practice and maybe making noise. But the consequence of not being able to protect our dogs, should the circumstances arise, is too dreadful for us to contemplate.

Shooting practicePractice, practice, practice. Hopefully, these are the only times I will actually be firing the revolver.

Merge In Turn

10 March 2011                 8.00AM      Temperature  -8 F      Clear skies

10 March 2011                 2.00PM       Temperature 22 F      Perfect blue sky and sunny

No, it’s not a mistake, there are meant to be two time and temperature readings up there. It’s been the weather pattern for the last 2 or 3 weeks here and it is quite a dramatic and wonderful difference. Some mornings have been as cold as -20F but then the sun has risen and the day time temperatures have climbed up into the +20s. Now, as March is well established, there is real warmth to the sun’s rays, rather just the watery light it gives off during the depths of winter. And make no mistake, even though the gauge says 22F, the heat in the sun means it feels a whole lot warmer and results in the need for the removal of at least a couple of  layers of  clothes.

The dogs are thoroughly enjoying that warmth and are all lying, fully stretched out, soaking up as much Vitamin D as they can get.

Last weekend saw Willow at its busiest. Which must mean it is Iditarod time again. Frequently, we are astounded by just how quickly the days and weeks are passing by and it certainly seems like it can’t possibly have been 12 months since I last complained about the traffic and having to pay to park. Now, if we feel the time has flown by, I can only begin to imagine how those teams that have entered have felt in trying to prepare and train for this epic race.

Saturday is the Ceremonial Circus, I mean Start, down in Anchorage and as I’m allergic to crowds, I have managed to find reasons not to go down for that. This year’s excuse was twofold, 1.  we were down there the day before at the Canine Eye Specialist with one of our dogs and 2. we had visitors coming.

Saturday afternoon, Carmen of Northern Heritage Kennel, a fellow Seppala owner was in Willow to visit us, following her week long attendance at a conference in Anchorage. It was great to meet her and have the chance to chat about dogs generally and our beloved Seppalas in particular.

Iditarod Start Line banner
Iditarod 39 Start Line

So, the next day, we duly headed down to the Community Centre for the festivities and to see the teams off. A beautiful sunny day, much warmer than last year, and one that made me think that our heavy coated dogs would find running in the afternoon sunshine a little on the  toasty side. This year, we had no Siberian teams to cheer on, so we randomly picked team numbers to be fans of. Strangely enough, my random pick happened to be Hugh Neff, whom we had met the previous evening in the Willow Trading Post at Hobo Jim’s gig, through our friend and Yukon Quest veteran Mike Ellis.  So, maybe not quite as random as originally intended………

Hugh Neff's dog team running at the start of the Iditarod
Hugh Neff's team blasting out the start chute, heading across Willow Lake.

There seemed to be more people spectating this year and I guess the warm sunshine meant that more stayed to see all the teams leave, compared to the stampede leaving last year after a few of the big names had started. Of course, this did mean more people leaving at the same time, and Willow’s big traffic jam. I’ve never been a fan of commuting, or sitting stationary in a car at the best of times. However, taking over an hour and a half to travel 2 miles had me in complete Victor Meldrew mode. I feel a stiffly worded email of complaint to the ITC about their traffic management policy coming on.

However, sitting in that enormous tailback did mean we got to see a couple of these big fellas close up.

A moose munching on some branches
Time for a snack
Big moose hiding in the trees
If I put my head behind this bush, you can't see me.