Archive for November, 2008

Them’s the brakes kid (or not)…

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

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…as Joseph learned firsthand in the hills for a second time this week. After snapping a brake bolt, and completing the whole run with only one brake last week, Joseph thought it couldn’t get much worse. He thought wrong. Using a different sled, Joseph this week snapped the actual brake itself in half and just minutes into a run. While going along for 20 or so miles he did his best to control the team with the one remaining brake, and things were going fairly well, that is until the other brake also snapped off (see image) and Joseph had to do the remaining 30 miles of the run with only a drag mat with a handful of bolts in it. Needless to say the team was a little difficult to control, but everyone made it home safe, although a few of the down hills were the fastest of his life he said. Early season/ low snow training can be fun, but a little tough on the equipment
Training continues to go great. We got more snow, which has helped tremendously (see photo below). Some other mushers have opted to run to the Caribou Hills from lower elevations, but after sizing up the trails we just thought it was a little too risky. Unlike some kennels with 40, 50 or more dogs, we don’t have a large pool to choose from, so we didn’t want to risk injuring wrists or shoulders just to save a few bucks in gas. We have continued to drive up to the hills and put in long runs from there. We haven’t done anything under five hours long in weeks, and usually carry at least two bags of dog food for weight, so the guys are definitely in shape. We’ll likely stretch them out again this weekend and get in one more camping trip. We also got another three to four inches of snow last night, so now we should have enough to run to the hills from down low without worrying about banging anybody up.
We also picked up a new sponsor recently: Alaskan Hardgear. They make extreme outdoor clothing. We got to field test some of their gear over the past few weeks and have really liked it. I know some mushers are shills for their sponsors and will tell you whatever they are wearing is the best, but only so long as that sponsors continues their support. We would never swear by a product we didn’t think was good, but to be honest, the Alaskan Hardgear we’ve tried out has been fantastic. We’ve ran all day in it, camped in temperatures around 18 degrees (see photo below of Cole sporting one of their caps, she also has on an insulating sweatshirt that’s not visible), and then ran back home, and were totally warm and dry the entire time. We look forward to seeing how it stands up to even colder temperatures later in the year. If you get a chance, check out their website at: http://www.alaskanhardgear.com/
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Taking to the Hills

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

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Weekends are so hard to come back from, especially when they’re as good as this last one was. In the last four days we have been to the Caribou Hills three times and put in some huge miles. We’ve really mixed it up, too. We’ve done a few day runs and a couple of night runs, we’ve broken trail and followed trails, and we’ve alternated the weight, speed and distance traveled for training purposes. The results are clear, as the dogs are looking stronger with each passing run.
However, we still need more snow, because the little we got is getting very compacted as teams run over the trail. Some of the lower elevation trails were thin to begin with, as we found out first hand while putting in some trail on Sunday. One of the first descents was almost bare and deeply rutted, so as Joseph stomped the brake, one of the paddled-teeth tore off when an attaching bolt (grade-5) snapped like a twig. Fortunately, despite the high-speed descent with half a brake, no one — dog or human — was injured. You never know how the snow is until you try, but this is a trail we won’t be back on until more accumulations fill it in.
We also got in another camping trip this past week. These are always a good way to practice checkpoint efficiency, and to teach the dogs to eat and rest well while away from home. And really, they are just a lot of fun. We settled into a great area, down in a valley and out of the wind. We parked the teams, got them strawed and fed, and everyone immediately tucked in for a few hours of shut-eye, just like they should. The only exceptions were our two yearlings: Kawlijah and Seeker. This was there first camping trip, so they did like most pups do on their first time out — they sat up all night. While most of the dogs rested, we ate some camp grub and chopped some wood, which we used to get a blazing fire going. It was only about 18 degrees so we didn’t really need the fire for warmth, but they are so enjoyable when just hanging out that we couldn’t resist building one.
Here are some photos from recent runs. In the first one, two year old, Hank, and his sister, Hildy, are a dynamic duo in lead. The second image is a hungry dog team with all eyes on Joseph as they wait for their dinner. Notice the thick fog that rolled in. The third image is lead dog Waylon checking one last time to be sure no more snacks will be handed out. He lied down right after this photo was taking, like the rest of the team behind him. In the last image, Cole dries some gloves by the flickering fire. her fire building skills may come in handy during the Yukon Quest.
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Midnight Madness

Friday, November 14th, 2008

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After many months of wishing for it to happen, we finally got a little snow, and just in time. The last week has been a busy one. The beach, which had been our salvation when the woods trails turned too jagged to run the dogs on, also finally succumbed to the season. The ice patches that form every year at this time became so numerous and so wide, it was becoming very difficult to get in a quality run. The patches are too slick to run the dogs over at a regular training speed because doing so is seriously risking an injury. We had a friend a few years ago that had a dog slip on ice and break it’s leg, so we always slow down over these patches. However, with so much ice, it seemed like we constantly had to rate the dogs down. Consistency is an important part of training, and the dogs really need to be able to get into a rhythm. With all the slowing down, it seemed like poor training despite the miles we potentially could get in. Instead we loaded the racers in the truck and headed north to find snow, and while it was a bit of a hassle and expense (diesel is still over $4 a gallon) we were able to get in some excellent training, and on some hills too. The dogs put in several very long runs and we even managed our first camping trip of the season, which was a lot of fun.
Returning home we found about an inch of snow had fallen, so this thin skiff of snow allowed for a bit of training back on the woods trails. Soon after, even more snow fell, and enough to head to the Caribou Hills, so last night we packed up after work and took two small (8-dog) teams up. As always, the first few miles were icy, fast and bit out of control, but the farther out we got the better the snow got, and there was close to a foot out near Trophy Lake. Last night was also the fall full moon, one of the largest moon’s of the year, so we ran nearly the entire run without headlamps. Every year, we always try to make this one run at night, even when we’re off during the day, but sometimes it is cloudy. Not this year. The moon was so bright reflecting off the snow, that I don’t think street lamps could have done a better job of illuminating the trail. We didn’t get home until around 2:30 a.m., but it was worth being tired the next day at work. It was nothing short of an absolutely magical run.
Adding to the enjoyment was the fact the hardly anyone has been up to the hills yet, so while some of the trail was broken out by friends earlier in the day, we were still able to get in over an hour of trail breaking, which is both fun and excellent training for the dogs. We took advantage of the opportunity and partnered (in lead) two year olds (Hank and Squirrel) with older dogs (Zoom and Cyder) to show the youngsters the way, and everyone did great.
We’re looking forward to getting back to the hills this weekend. We have a few fellow mushers that we coordinate with to maximize the amount of trail we all can use. We’ll split up and each break in different small loops, so that a few days later we can all go back and really put them all together and put in some long runs. This will be great since the dogs are the strongest we have ever seen them for this time of year. Even after last night’s run and all the trail breaking, we sped back to the truck at the same speed we went out, even with riding the heck out of the drag mat in a futile attempt to slow them down.