And So It Begins

27 Sept 2016     2.00 PM         52F          Sunny

Just in case anyone thinks that all that is involved in having a sled dog kennel is constant trips to the vet and the ability to function normally with a broken heart and tears rolling down your cheeks, I’d like to point out that, contrary to the apparent evidence of this blog, it actually isn’t just like that. It is like that sometimes, a bit too often, truth be told, the price of keeping all your dogs for their whole lives.

However, the real reason for having a sled dog kennel, is to run dogs. And with ending of summer and the beginning of autumn, the season for running draws ever closer. With our heavy coated dogs, we’ve had to watch as our neighbour took his team out in temperatures that would have had our guys frazzled and fried. Daily, we wait for the weather forecast and each morning, I wonder if today will finally be cool enough.  Roughly speaking, our cut-off is 50F – and depending on the humidity, it might even need to be a little cooler than that. Our equipment is ready, all replaced after the Sockeye Fire destroyed everything, the 4 wheeler is fuelled and we’re just sitting, twiddling our thumbs and watching the thermometer. Until……………

Yep, a couple of weeks ago, we started training. That’s actually pretty good for us, I’ve seen seasons where we’ve not been out till pretty late in September, so to get out now is great. With all of the drama of last year, we actually hardly ran at all, so everyone basically had a year off = technically 16 months off, I guess. Plus new boy Niko hadn’t run at all and youngster Davaar was just a pup, so at 20 months old, he is getting a late start. Queen’s first litter only ran in early Fall training in 2014, – are you getting the feeling I’m laying the groundwork for a multitude of excuses as to why training hasn’t been the smoothest ?
Actually, that would be terribly unfair on the dogs. After everyone has had 8 runs, we’ve lost the sum total of 2 chewed necklines, which I consider perfectly acceptable, given the excitement levels at hook-up time. Plus, necklines are way cheaper to replace than just about every other piece of equipment !

A misty morning, a quick water break
A misty morning, a quick water break

Generally, I like a fairly calm team, enthusiastic but controlled. With so many youngsters on the team, we’ve got lots of enthusiasm and maybe just a little less control over that wildness.  However, even in this short space of time, we’re already seeing the young dogs picking up on the cues of the older dogs in many areas – except when it comes to taking a break. We’ve also been trying to evaluate some of those younger guys with a view to finding new leaders. Happily, it seems like we have at least a couple of potential candidates and we’ll work with those dogs in the hope that we will find one, or more, trustworthy, reliable lead dog.

Safely home, with Davaar learning how to be a leader by working with Kazek
Safely home, with Davaar learning how to be a leader by working with Kazek

These first few runs are always interesting, there’s a lot to teach the dogs, even if that is just refreshing their memories, and reminding them of the good habits we’re all trying to develop . Any moments of unhappiness I had after one of these early runs was quickly dismissed as I was reminded by my wife that the last run I had, with the team I was wishfully comparing the current unruly mob with, actually led to them breaking my leg, so maybe these young guys weren’t quite so bad after all.

The wonderful Dawson
The wonderful Dawson
Powerhouses, Turov and Xaros
Powerhouses, Turov and Xaros
Youngsters (and brothers), Eris and Raasay
Youngsters (and brothers), Eris and Raasay

At the end of the day, we run dogs to have fun, and hopefully, the dogs have fun too.   The love and bonds we build with them, lasts their entire lives, as all our dogs stay with us for all of their days.  The retired guys who want to, move into the house and those who would still rather live outside, get regularly dragged indoors to see if they’ve changed their minds yet.

Boof seems to have taken to life as a retired house dog pretty well.
Boof seems to have taken to life as a retired house dog pretty well.

For all of the tears and hurt we feel when they pass, the joy, love and companionship they give us, far outweighs that pain.

 

 

 

7 Year Itch

12 August 2016        2.00  PM           65F    Overcast

As us old people are fond of saying, time flies by…  when you’re the driver of a train. Oh wait, that’s the Half Man, Half Biscuit song, but the premise remains the same. Somehow, in the blink of the proverbial eye, 7 years have passed since we first landed in Anchorage, Alaska, with a couple of pieces of luggage, stuffed to the brim, and beyond, with all the clothes and mushing gear we could carry. Our 16 dogs were sitting on the east coast, awaiting clearance from US Customs and onwards flights to us. Over the next couple of days, they made their way over to Alaska and we began this chapter of our lives.

The plan – and it’s a bit optimistic to call it a plan, was to live here till we decide we have had enough and then return to Scotland to live out our old age, or something. In the intervening period, we would enjoy life in Alaska, have some great experiences and get to run sled dogs in some of the most amazing areas around. Racing wasn’t, and still isn’t, a driving force behind the desire to be here or to run dogs. Just running sled dogs is an end unto itself. The joy, pleasure and privilege of being at one with your 4 legged team-mates is reason enough to keep exploring new trails, trying new training methods and learning new things. We have raced our team and almost certainly will do again, but it’s not why we’re here.

It’s fair to say that Alaska has given us lots of memories already. Most of them have been great but there are a few that we’d probably rather not have experienced. I could certainly forgo breaking my leg again whilst mushing and having our house burn down will not be something that is high on our list of “things to repeat”. Although, being able to tweak our original design (which we loved and it worked well, but the few changes seem to have been good choices)  and be part of the actual rebuild was a plus point.

ciobair 16
Ciobair supervises the big return. She was very happy to be back in her house.

The positives far outweigh those few negatives, and we are blessed to have the lives we have here. We’ve been able to have as many dogs as we would like, and that has given us the opportunity to acquire, work with and breed our much-loved Seppala Siberian Sleddogs. We’ve met some amazing people and made enduring friendships. And we’ve built a house, twice !

house 2010
The house (Mark 1)
house 2016
The house (Mark 2)
door
Our “famous” front door. Stained glass was designed by my wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No-one knows what the future holds, but we’re certainly going to do all we can to enjoy it and make the most of our time here. Here’s to the next 7 years, to new memories, new challenges and a few less disasters.

 

Silver Linings

10 May 2015    1.00PM       62 F   Cloudy

It’s May already.  The last of our snow has just gone, it was clinging on stubbornly in a few sheltered spots out in the trees, but otherwise we have transitioned from winter, through break up into Spring.

The Serum Run trip I was supposed to be on, was this year’s cunning plan to avoid having to deal with break up. With my damaged knee being the reason for missing out on the trip, I was able to safely skip the worst of the mud and water due to being housebound because of that injury. Silver linings and all that !

Normally, I would have felt terrible at the prospect of my wife having to deal with all of the dogs and the thaw on her ownsome. But this year I didn’t feel so bad.  Not because I’m a horrible person but because she actually had help.  Her brother and his girlfriend had already arranged to fly over from the UK and spend the 4 weeks I was supposed to be away, with her here in Willow. Robert’s a very handy guy to know, not only is he a qualified general contractor, but he’s also real problem solver and hates sitting about doing nothing. So, he got stuck into the daily dogcare routine, and he also tackled my ever growing list of projects that I dream up and never quite get round to starting, never mind completing.

First, he had to find all the sump pumps and hoses that got put away somewhere safe last Spring and haven’t been seen since. Then it was a game to work out which ones still worked and which ones should have been thrown away. Next step is unravel the spaghetti tangle of the multiple hoses that somehow managed to have melded into one giant knot. Honest, I very carefully laid them out individually when I finished with them last year. Maybe. Oh, and I might have forgotten to mention to him that one or two of the hoses had been squished and had greatly reduced flow through the pinch point – which greatly irritates me and leads me to throwing them in jumbled pile in the corner- or cutting them up to make bucket handles. And then the fun task of placing the pumps in a good spot to get lots of water, but not where they, the hoses or the power cords can be reached by any of the dogs.  It usually involves moving dogs around, and then taking all the equipment out of the pen each afternoon when the dogs get their free run time. I’m assuming all went well, I haven’t seen any chewed stuff and I never heard too many complaints, other than how wet and muddy it was.

After wrestling with that task, I’m sure Robert was happier when he got the chance to turn his attention to actually building stuff. In his time here, he built 12 dogs houses, 7 decks, a dog apartment complex and best of all, he renovated our “dog room”.

The dog room is in our workshop and was intended to be an unheated indoor space for our original dogs to continue their loose living habits that they were used to when we lived in the UK. Those dogs were very well behaved and the dog room survived untouched for the first couple of years.  However, the inclusion of some of our younger American bought dogs soon changed that. Ciara was definitely the main culprit – well, at least she was the one that I continually caught, eating the walls ! It’s a pretty fair bet that she wasn’t alone in the practice – some of the holes were way out of her reach – so it would appear that she had accomplices, much taller accomplices, in the vandalism.  I had the thought to redo the walls with GRP panels. Enquiries at various hardware stores merely resulted in puzzled looks – apparently the stuff I was looking for is actually FRP  – oh so close, just the one letter out. Even with the proper name, I wasn’t able to track down a supply locally – and by locally, I mean within 50 miles.  However, I knew a neighbour had used the stuff in his own dog barn so I asked him where he got his from. Turned out he had lots of panels left over and we worked out a very reasonable trade and Robert was now able to complete the transformation, from badly abused space to super clean, functional dog room again.

Entire lower half of the room is clad in FRP, same for the doggie apartment complex.  Tough and easy to clean.
Entire lower half of the room is clad in FRP, same for the doggie apartment complex. Tough and easy to clean.
doghouses
Yuri inspecting the second batch of new dog houses.They all passed the sniff test and most of them were christened by him.

 

The new decks getting put in place. Zury and Jak seem to have got the idea.
The new decks getting put in place. Boof, Zury and Jak seem to have got the idea.

A Sair Yin

18 April 2015   3.00 PM     52 F   Overcast

Usually about this time of year, I sit back and reflect on how our season went, how much fun we had and whether we got close to the goals that were set all those months ago. However, if everything had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t actually be sitting here at all – because I should still be out on the trail, somewhere between Nenana and Nome.

Like many of my great adventures, this one was born out of idle conversation around the dinner table. I’m beginning to think I either need to stop eating dinner, stop talking at meal times or just not have such a supportive wife. I’ve long expressed a liking for the idea of travelling a great distance with my dog team. I should stress at this point that “liking the idea” of it and actually doing it are two very different things.  The idea always seems so much easier when discussed around a table with beer and a fire, rather than the reality of being lost, cold and hungry. I’m pretty sure when Meatloaf sang 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, he wasn’t referring to those kind of options. As we sat around (friends and neighbours, not Meatloaf) and discussed the coming winter, the subject drifted around to the Serum Run. The Serum Run refers to a mercy mission to bring diphtheria anti-toxin to the City of Nome in the winter of 1925 to prevent a catastrophic outbreak of the disease. As it was winter, there was no way of getting the medicine to Nome, other than by dog team. But the usual time scale for the mail sleds making the trip was several weeks – and the Nome doctor was adamant that he could not possibly wait that long. In the end, a group of 20 dog drivers managed to get the serum from Nenana to Nome, a distance of 675 miles in just 5 and a half days, through the worst of a terrible Alaskan winter. If you want to read the whole story, I recommend The Cruellest Miles By G & L Salisbury

In 1997, the late Col Norman Vaughan organised the first Serum Run 25, to commemorate the original dog drivers, to teach the importance of wellness and health to local communities and the value of working together. Over the intervening years, the Serum Run ran annually, and then latterly every second year. 2011 was the last time the Run took place. As 2015 is the 90th anniversary of the original run, there was some talk of an effort to resurrect the SR and to keep its memory alive. Sadly, this didn’t come to fruition, but the remnants of that conversation ended up bouncing around our dinner table on that fateful night.

One of the great advantages of Serum Run is that it is not a race, but an expedition. It was always structured around visiting as many communities on the trail as possible and so it seemed an ideal trip for me and my dogs. I was also thrilled at the thought of our dogs, who had ancestors on the 1925 run, following in their footsteps.

The logistics involved in organising such an event are quite daunting – but fortunately, one of the parties involved in our dinner happens to do such things almost every year. She runs an organisation that utilises her sled dogs as part of an adventure learning curriculum for schools, using long trans Arctic expeditions to generate interest in science, the environment and awareness of other cultures.

And so, over the course of a few weeks, the bones of a trip were laid out and we set about getting ready for winter, with one eye very firmly on a start date at the end of March. This of course explains why we were so much more structured in our training this winter, why I actually continued to take the team out when conditions were such that normally I would have opted for coffee and cake instead. It was interesting to be a part of, to get some small idea of the demands that preparing for races entails. I thoroughly enjoyed the longer training runs, the extra dog care required and trying to work out a suitable feeding/snack schedule. Not so sure that my wife was so enamoured with all the additional chores she got lumbered with, due to my increased hours on the trail.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that where a winter filled with plenty of snow would have been ideal, we barely got any. There was a lot of running done on very hard, icy trails and the snow depth was depressingly low. I believe this year’s snowpack was one of the lowest on record. It did work to our advantage in one respect. The Iditarod race had to move their start from Willow up to Fairbanks – meaning they were running on exactly the same trail we were planning on using just a couple of weeks later. This guaranteed us a fairly obvious trail to follow.

As the middle of March loomed, final preparations were getting made and we were still attempting to keep the dogs running and in tune. The conditions on the main trail systems were actually holding up fairly well, my biggest problem was the couple of miles to get onto those trails – exposed to bright sunshine, they continually thawed each day and then refroze at night, leaving us with a pretty hair-raising ride on glare ice with fresh dogs. And then it sadly all came crashing (literally) to an end for me.

Whilst out running with a small team of 8 dogs, I missed my intended turn, and tried to remedy the situation by getting the dogs to take the next turn, which unfortunately was already behind us and at a 120 degree angle. I managed to get the team onto my desired trail, but obviously it wasn’t their desired one. Somehow, I ended up under the sled , with my foot trapped by the runner and the gangline twisting my leg in the opposite direction, as the dogs attempted to continue in their original travel direction.The loud pop from my knee and the subsequent pain indicated that all might not be well. Eventually, I manged to extricate myself, sort the dogs out and get the sled upright. 15 miles from home and doing my best to steer a sled with one leg, it was a rather interesting run home. The only thought that was going through my head was that I was supposed to be going on the Serum Run trip in 10 days. By the time I got home and started to put dogs away, I faced the fact that a. I couldn’t actually stand or bend my knee and b. it was highly unlikely I was going on the trip.

The official medical diagnosis was an avulsion fracture of my fibula. It seems that I won’t need surgery and now, 5 weeks later, I am fairly mobile and my knee brace seems to be providing plenty of moral and physical support.

A few weeks of daytime tv helps everything heal faster.
A few weeks of daytime tv helps everything heal faster.

However, as I suspected, there was just no way that I was going to be able to drive a sled for 700 miles with just 10 days of healing. And so, with a very heavy heart, I watched as my friends made their final preparations, packed the last of their supplies and a few days later than originally planned, loaded up the dogs and set off.

Getting ready to leave Willow, the intrepid dog drivers, Cole,Miriam, Tima and Joar.
Getting ready to leave Willow, the intrepid dog drivers, Cole,Miriam, Tima and Joar.

The plan had been to run the dogs from Nenana to Nome, following in the paw prints of the original Serum Run. However, the low snow and mild winter meant that it just wasn’t practical to leave from Nenana this late in the season. Accordingly, the gang drove as far as Manley Hot Springs  in the truck, before unloading everything and then setting up their sleds and teams.

Ready for the off.
Ready for the off.

I’ve been tracking their trip, via a two way GPS Communicator, and the occasional phone call. They phoned on my birthday from the trail and all sounded very happy. Today, they left Koyuk and have travelled to Elim, which leaves them with just around 125 miles to go before they arrive at their destination of Nome. Trail conditions have been good, colder than expected, but not anything like as cold as experienced by the racers on the Iditarod. It sounds by all accounts to have been a wonderful trip so far, the dogs have all been doing well, and there have been no nasty surprises. All in all, it seems like it would have been everything I was hoping it would be, and would doubtless have helped greatly broaden my experience in long distance dog driving and dog care.

1800 miles for a Timmies

12 March 2015     5.00 PM      13 F    Sunny with blue skies

Despite my best intentions, I have once again fallen behind in my blogging. Things have been a little hectic, with the Yukon Quest and Iditarod preparations in full swing right up until the proverbial last moment.

We’ve still been trying to get our dogs out and running, but the weather has not been at all co-operative. Most of the tail end of February and early March saw us suffer with rain, ice and temperatures rarely dropping below freezing even in the dead of night. This played havoc with the trails and the dogs – it’s not much fun trying to run in 35F in your fur coat when you’re happier at -20F.  Despite this, we had been making a fair attempt at keeping them ticking over. By chance, a friend in Whitehorse suggested I come over for a visit and bring the dogs.  There was a 100 mile race in the little town of Haines Junction, not far over the Canadian border and it is on the way to Jacob’s place.  So, I decided to enter The Silver Sled 100 and duly completed my entry form, and started to pack the truck with everything needed to survive a week on the road in winter.  At some point during that process, I realised that I am definitely an “err on the side of caution” type when it comes to packing stuff. For 6 days away, just me and 10 dogs, I had so much gear that I could barely get it it all in or on the truck. Thankfully, I didn’t need all of it – actually I didn’t need most of it, and I didn’t even bring some of it back – but more of that later……..

Early on the Friday morning, I roused the dogs -who were not unduly impressed at being asked to get up at that ungodly hour – loaded them and we set off on our big adventure.  All my previous drives into Canada have been in the Spring/Summer time and the outbound leg has always been done without dogs. Fortunately, the mild winter meant that the road was clear and driving was easy. The dogs very quickly got into a good drop routine and around 10 PM, we pulled into our overnight accommodation, just outside Haines Junction.

First drop of the trip in Chistochina
First drop of the trip in Chistochina
Jaw dropping, breath taking scenery.Complete lack of traffic.
Jaw dropping, breath taking scenery.Complete lack of traffic.
Moody sky, happy dogs.  Somewhere on the Alcan.
Moody sky, happy dogs. Somewhere on the Alcan.

With the morning’s dawn, dogs were fed and Jacob and I set off to find breakfast and then track down the location of the drivers’ meeting. Vet check completed, and only a little alarmed by the trail talk, we headed off to the start area and to get ready for the race. I will confess to being a bit panicky at this point. There’s something about a race start that brings added pressure and complications – even when I’m telling myself that this is just a training run. The fear of forgetting something vital or mandatory meant that the area around my truck looked like a bomb site – things were going in and out of the sled several times. Eventually, I calmed down and packed just what I needed, plus a couple of extra everythings and left most of my “rookie bulge” at the truck. Things were going swimmingly until one of the volunteers pointed out that there was no bib 14  and that bib 13 was just leaving – rather than having 6 minutes to go, I had less than 2. Let’s just say as we got to the start line, the starter was already waving me through as being late. Hardly an auspicious start and it got worse only 500 yards later when Rosie decided she didn’t want anything to do with the volunteers manning the road crossing and tried to take us anywhere except where we were meant to go. Mini excursion over, we were back on the trail, already hotly pursued by the next team out.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur, several more road crossings, several more avoiding the marshals by Rosie and being passed by a lot of teams as we struggled with the gradients, the heat and the disruptions. Eventually, I figured we had been passed by everyone who had left behind us and I could stop looking over my shoulder. As we climbed out of the trees and back into the sunshine, I had to remove my jacket it was so warm. A brief sojourn alongside the Trans Alaska Highway and then we turned back into the treed trail.

Trans Alaska Highway on the left.  Grass and dirt all around.
Trans Alaska Highway on the left. Grass and dirt all around.

From then on, it was all uphill,  apart from the few downhills, but they only led to more uphills, so they don’t really count.  I have always loved the scenery on the drive from Haines Junction to Kluane Lake and one of the main reasons for doing this race was the chance to get to see that scenery much closer and without the distraction of driving.  It sure is pretty but it seems a whole lot more mountainous on the back of a sled than it appeared whilst behind the wheel of my truck.
As hard as we were finding it, things got a little more complicated when Turov started limping. The heat made him want to dip for snow more and more and with the soft edges of the trail, it seemed likely he simply tweaked a wrist trying to get out to the sides. As much as I would liked to have him in the team for the long climbs ahead, it was simply not an option to risk further injury to him. So I had to clear some space in the sled and load the biggest dog I have and carry him the 15 miles or so to the finish line. Fortunately, he was as good as gold, he sat leaning against the sled stanchion and never stirred or wriggled. The others simply got on with their work and we just marched on.

ss5
Turov gets a ride to the finish line on Day 1. The ice of Kluane Lake shimmers ahead of us.

After all the climbing, it was wonderful to begin the long descent down to the lake and to the overnight stop. The race organisers had volunteers drive our trucks up for those of us without handlers,  it was great to be able to direct the dogs towards a familiar sight and to know that everything I needed to take care of them was at hand. A quick check of the dogs, who all seemed fine and they happily started gnawing on a meaty snack.  Turov was still in the sled bag and seemed to be enjoying the attention he was garnering.  The vet came over to check on him and made sure I knew where to find her, if required.  Turov was a little stiff and sore, but ate and drank, and was tucked up into his box after an Algyval massage and the application of a wristwrap.  The others all ate well and happily climbed into their boxes for a well deserved sleep.

The race organisers had done a wonderful job with the checkpoint, we had cabins to sleep in and they fed us an excellent dinner and a great breakfast in the morning.  My catering for the dogs may not have been quite up to the high standards of Martine and her crew, but they did eat without complaint.  In the morning, Turov was moving well, with no sign of his limp, but I decided it would be better for him to have the day off. As the slowest team from Day 1, we would be first out on Day 2. With one less dog in the team, I didn’t hold out much hope for any dramatic comeback, but I was a little wiser in packing my sled and dumped a lot of the gear that I would have no need for. The first couple of hours were a little cooler, until the sun burst through the clouds and the temperature soared. There almost seemed to be a visible slump from the dogs when they first felt those rays of sunshine hit them.  And somehow,  the trail that seemed all uphill on the way out, was also all uphill on the way back.  At least we managed to keep contact with more of the teams for longer on the second day, but we still had a long solitary run for home.

The final stretch, heading back into Haines Junction. What a view.
The final stretch, heading back into Haines Junction. What a view.

It’s a mentally tough thing to be running last, but the dogs don’t care where we finish, they just want to run and go some place, any place. New places are great, after several winters of training on the same trails, we have finally broken away from my comfort zone and done new things. The dogs have had to travel, to sleep away from home, to be surrounded by other dog teams and to climb more hills than we have ever encountered.

As we crossed the finish line, I looked forward over the team and somehow felt we had forged a stronger bond.  They had done everything I had asked of them, without complaint, without quitting and had to endure my loving hugs as well. It is always the leaders who are singled out for praise and special attention – and to some extent that is understandable. If they don’t go, none of us go.  However, everyone needs to pull and be part of the team and it seems unfair to single out any one dog . However, I’m going to do that anyway.  Kazek ran lead both days and for a large part of Day 2 he was the dog driving us forward. I rotated Rosie, Ruby and Quiz as running companions for him, but as they tired, they seemed happy to let him do all the work.  Eventually, I promoted 3 year old Brooks to run beside him – her first time in lead and she rose to the challenge and ran shoulder to shoulder with him for the last 15 miles. Kazek was my MVP,  but it was so heartening to see Brooks, whom we bred, taking such a big step up.

Back at the truck, after finishing our first 100 mile race. Brooks and Kaz in lead.
Back at the truck, after finishing our first 100 mile race. Brooks and Kaz in lead.

After the dogs were checked, fed, watered and cared for, I was happy to find that we had managed to take 30 minutes off the previous day’s run time and that I had finished in time to make the Banquet as well. Once again, the race organisers had laid on a wonderful dinner and had a slideshow of photographs taken during the race being projected onto a large screen as we ate and chatted.

The awards ceremony took place shortly afterwards and I was duly awarded a very nice Red Lantern for finishing last.  Much to my surprise, I also picked up another prize, The Veterinarian’s Choice Award – I was genuinely shocked and incredibly moved to win this. We all love our dogs and try our very best to take care of them, and I know it is the influence of my friends Mike and Sue Ellis, and Joar, who constantly and consistently set a fine example of dog care for me, that have helped me learn so much about caring for my team.

I’d like to thank The Silver Sled Race in Haines Junction for a wonderful weekend, a fine competition and some great competitors, my buddy Jacob for persuading me to drive 1800 miles for a weekend away, my wife for keeping the rest of our crew cared for at home, but mostly I’d like to thank Kazek, Brooks, Quiz, Rosie, Echo, Ruby, Lily, Lightfoot, Turov and Xaros for being out there with me.

An Update

29 January 2015        10.30 PM    -4 F         Dark

So, where should I start ?

An apology or a greeting. Let’s be positive and say Happy New Year, welcome to 2015. Not too sure what exactly has happened to the days and weeks since I last managed to post anything – rest assured the lack of productivity on here has not been due to a lack of activity in the kennel or with our dogs – in fact the opposite is true.

As is traditional, let me share the New Year’s Day gate photo.

New Yer's Day Jan 2015. Not exactly stellar snow fall this winter.
New Year’s Day Jan 2015.
Not exactly stellar snow fall this winter.

Looking back at previous years, this is not the lowest snow level on January 1 that we have experienced, but it certainly is close.


 

What have I been doing in the weeks since my last blog post ? Well, it can be summed up in just a few words – training dogs, caring for dogs and worrying about dogs.   I set myself some goals in September

the rough plan was :

  1.  Do some camping/checkpoint training with the dogs.  Succeeded – well, one camping/checkpoint thingie done, should have done more, will try to……………
  2.  Enter the Willow Relay Sled Race (with TJ of Cold Canyon Sled Dogs as the other team) run in late Dec. Entered – race was cancelled due to crappy snow conditions.
  3. Enter the Knik 100  – run in early Jan Entered – race was delayed till Jan 31,  then subsequently cancelled – yes, I am that unlucky.
  4. Enter the Earl Norris Memorial Race – run in late Jan.  Starts on saturday – I’m about to enter – still not too late for it to be cancelled !
  5. Enter the Two Rivers 200 – run in mid March – unlikely to make this, besides every race I have entered since we moved to Alaska 5 years ago has been cancelled or moved.  If the Two Rivers people want to send me a bribe to stay away, I’ll happily accept. 
  6. Have fun.  Succeeded – more smiles than previous years, more miles on the dogs than previous years  (many, many more miles)
    "camping" at the truck. Most of them got the idea and rested.
    “camping” at the truck. Most of them got the idea and rested.

    The core group of running dogs, aka The Fabulous 14 have become The Terrific 13  – Tess decided that she wasn’t quite ready to make the commitment required to stay in the big group, so she got to start her summer holidays early. The Terrific 13 occasionally became The Troubling 12 and even dipped down to become The Alarmingly Low 11 for a short spell. However, those injuries seem to have cleared up and we are back to the full 13 as a training pool again.

Fingers crossed we get to keep enjoying the rest of the winter and that some more snow is on the way.

Log Home For Sale

2 April 2014   2.00   PM  38 F    Blue skies and sunny

As much as we say there seems to be no reliable weather pattern in Alaska, it has to be said that generally, March is lovely.  We’ve been blessed with seemingly endless days of clear blue skies with lots and lots of sunshine. Our ever increasing daylight hours help too, and there’s just a general uplifting of our spirits, partly derived from Takeo’s continued presence and his bouncy good health,

Spring always sees changes around here. Our friends from Colorado who winter here in in Willow have fled back to their mountain retreat, the last few sled races of the season all take place soon, in the High Arctic, the Denali Highway or Chukotka, which is where our neighbours have headed off to, to race in the Nadezhda race. With the way our winter went, I pretty much put the sled a way a long  time ago, and have just spent most of the days playing with the dogs, setting up new play groups and making sure that Queen’s pups, now a year old, are well socialised and integrated with the adults. The early end to our season has meant that a lot of time of looking ahead and planning for next year has already taken place. A couple of the mainstays from my main team in our 5 years here will likely be stepping back as age catches up with them.  Oscar, who has been a solid, consistent leader (if a little headstrong occasionally) and Mermaid, who has been Little Miss Reliable, will both turn 10 this month and have earned the right to have a bit of an easier life. They will both get called upon to work with Queen’s pups when we harness break them this Fall.

It is also the time to go through our equipment and gear to see how things held up and what needs replaced. I guess the upside of so few sled runs is that I didn’t break or lose anything and that we don’t actually need to do too much. One ongoing debate is the one about switching from a cable-filled gangline to one made from Spectra/Amsteel (otherwise known as “ironrope”.)

One other thing that was reviewed was our other house. Ever since I went to New Hampshire for the winter of 2004-2005 with our dogs, we’ve had a lovely log home there, which was always held onto with the intention that one day, we might go back to NH to live. The reality is, with as many dogs as we have, it is just not going to happen. It seems a shame to part with it, but it is difficult to take care of a property from 6000 miles away, and if it hadn’t been for our friends over there, it really would be nigh on impossible. So, reluctantly, we finally decided to go ahead and put it on the market. It’s listed on MLS and a few other places too. I’d love it to go to a musher, as it is full of happy memories of my Winter of Adventure, as I called it.

The dogyard was built and fenced in for us by a local musher, and it worked really well for our small kennel. Anyone with only a few more dogs than the 11 I brought would likely be able to make the yard work without much effort.  A bigger kennel would need to expand or make changes, but as the lot is 5 acres, there is room to do that. It’s the last house on a dead end road and is only about 20 minutes drive from Plymouth.

Here’s the link to the house listing

http://www.newhampshirehomes.com/grafton/wentworth/home/135-Frescoln-Road,-Wentworth,-NH-03282/4339571

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Wentworth house front yard
wentworth yard
Dog “barn” at the rear of the house.