With lows around 45-50 degrees, the temperature continues to work against us in terms of running dogs. However, while we can’t run as much as in past years, we have been able to continue swimming the dogs for longer than usual (see image of Hank, Hildy, Cyder and Butterscotch. We have continued to put in several laps a day, every day, with most of the Quest candidates and a few alternates and puppies. This has been nice, since last year we quit swimming around August 16th. We remember that last swim clearly because the water was so frigid we were barely able to do a lap. Hopefully this pattern will continue, since the dogs enjoy swimming and seem to be getting a lot out of it, mentally and physically. Most of the regular swimmerss have maintained an exquisite body condition. In regard to muscle tone, they look just like the did at the end of the season. Hopefully their cardio is the same.
We have also been busy this past week because we got another call on a horse. For those not in the know, when a horse dies here in Alaska, the owners are left with three choices: take it to the dump – which most people don’t want to haul off a pet like a piece of garbage; dig a hole and bury it – which can be a lot of work if done without help and very expensive if someone is hired to do it; or they can call a musher to take the animal away to be butchered for dog food. Since many horse owners are pragmatic people, they often opt for the third choice.
Sometimes the horses are old and in poor body condition, so it ends up being a lot of work for not much dog food, but this horse was very healthy and in the prime of it’s life until it fell and broke its hip. The horse ended up weighing around 1,200 pounds, so we got a ton of meat off of it, and since this is the third horse we have gotten this summer, I think we’re at about maximum capacity for what out freezers can hold. It’s back-breaking and hand-cramping work though. I’ve attached a picture of Cole with just one leg that we cut off, which illustrates the several hundred pounds of dog food that came from this appendage alone. We spent almost 24 hours straight burchering the whole carcass. We also boiled up some of smaller cuts, such as from the neck and lower legs, for the dogs to feed on now (see attached picture), and we gave out some bones for everyone to gnaw on, which they loved. All this meat, along with the fish we already got, will go a long way this winter.
Archive for August, 2008
As of last Saturday, we made it official. After months of discussing, budgeting and planning, Colleen officially signed up for the Yukon Quest – a 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, AK. This will undeniably be the toughest challenge Cole and the dogs have faced, but we feel she has the skills and experience now, and the dogs are the right age and have the ability to meet this challenge.
Now, success will largely depend on two questions: will we have enough of a winter in Kasilof to properly train the team, and will the weather be suitable in Canada and Interior Alaska to produce a race course that is tough, but not overtly dangerous to the dogs. The Quest typically offers temperatures of around minus 40 to minus 50 degrees, with occasional lower spikes. The last few years though (possibly due to global warming), there have been milder temperatures, but snow has been sparse for many sections of the trail causing more dangerous conditions due to ice, overflow and exposed, rocky mountain summits. Our plan is just to be as prepared as we can for any, and all, weather scenarios. We’re expecting the worst, but hoping to be surprised by the best, as the cliche goes.
Even if the weather is somewhat cooperative, the Quest is still the toughest sled dog race in the world. Unlike the Iditarod where mushers can run checkpoint to checkpoint, the Quest demands self-reliance. There are fewer checkpoints, and there are at least two checkpoints where Cole will travel 150 and 200 miles before she will be able to re-supply and have contact with other humans. She’ll be camping out with the dogs, as dependent on them, as they are on her in these sections. There are also legs on the Yukon River where winds and ice annually make following trail markers difficult to say the least (typically there are only a handful of markers compared to the lathed road Iditarod racers follow). There is also Eagle Summit to contend with, which has a steep climb that can break the moral of even trail-hardened mushers and their dog teams.
Cole will do her best to face and overcome these challenges, but without loosing site of the most important thing – dog care. Over the years, we have seen a lot of egotistical mushers run the Iditarod and other races, not for the adventure or love of running dogs, but to either overcome or overcompensate for some insecurity in their life. As such they will run their dogs into the ground, not scratching at any cost, to prove something to themselves or to perceived others. This is not our philosophy. While Cole would rather die than not make it too Fairbanks, she would rather scratch than endanger a single dog’s life, so the future is uncertain. She will just do her best, as the dogs always do, and hopefully this combination will be enough to get them to the finish line.
As summer winds down, we are busy finishing all the last minute stuff we won’t be able to get to once we really ramp up running the dogs. This season, as always, we have refurbished and built several new dog houses. Some take wear and tear from the elements, but the dogs also chew on them occassionally when they get bored in summer. Building so many, we refine out techniques with each one. We can finally build a dog box in about 2-3 hours now and using only one sheet of plywood. Of course, painting and caulking them takes a little longer.