Archive for October, 2009

Beach Bums

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

It’s almost the end of October and we’re still having temperatures more typical of the end of August, but we press on as best we can. We set goals for where we want to be at certain points throughout the year, but we know that each season brings with it its own set of unique weather characteristics. It’s just been to hot to really push the dogs too far, but to be honest, now that Iditarod is at the end of our season, we’re more than happy to keep with shorter runs for the dogs right now, to keep them happy, and hopefully peaking later in the season. For anyone who has never participated in a sport where you attempt to — through a series of diet and exercise regimes/schedules – peak your performance at a certain time, it is tricky business. And with 16 dogs in a team, it’s 16 times trickier because they have to all come together, peaking as one unit, at the same time.
So with this always in the back of our mind, we have been continuing with the short runs, many of which were on the beach this past week. This past Saturday we also had company as our niece and nephew spent some time with us and took part in the dog training activities. We had a great time with them and saw some great stuff (see below), which is one of the perks of running on the beach. You just never know what kind of sea creature will pop-up to watch you run by, and on a night run on the beach this past week we saw a giant owl resting on a piece of drift wood. I can count the number of owls we have seen since living here on one hand so seeing this huge guy was a big treat. He was only about 30 yards away, but my hadlamp batteries were a little dim that night, so I couldn’t quite identify the species.
Of course with running on the beach, we must also pay careful attention to the dogs’ feet. The sand and salt works n the dogs feet much the same way the skin of our hands does when using a yard tool for the first time. We initially get blisters, which eventually turn into calluses. The dogs get little rock rashes and occasional splits between their toes. If attended to properly, this brings the dogs back later in the season with even tougher feet, but if not monitored closely it can lead to injuries or infections. Most of our feet are still looking great, but one or two of the young dogs have started to show some minor irritations. We’ll tend to their feet with our special musher ointments and keep a close on them for sure as the beach runs get longer.
Our niece holding the brakes on the front team, while Cole switches out leaders in the back team. We have been running a lot of young dogs in lead on the beach, since the fear of head-on passes with other teams isn’t as great as when on the narrow woods trails.
The team rests and gets a drink from a fresh stream on the trail. Ghost (who came from the Kenai Animal Shelter this past summer) in lead with Pong, who came from the shelter about four years ago now.
More Hawaiian looking than Alaskan, this totem pole is one of the many odd things we see down on the beach.
A seal poked its head up to watch us mush by.

Iditarod Bound

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Well, the title of this post just about sums it up. This past week we were ecstatic to pick up a new sponsor, Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop. This is a real mom and pop microbrewery that we have gone to for years to pick up beers to relax with on a Friday night, and to get kegs for parties and special occasions. Their flavorful booze is a delicious alternative to bland, mass-produced alcoholic beverages like buttwater, er, I mean Budweiser.
Kassik’s coming on board really means a lot to us. For one thing, their generous financial and in-kind donations will make Iditarod possible. This is a race Cole had considering doing this season, but with a $4,000 entry fee, not to mention all the other race related expenses (like getting the dogs home from Nome), we thought it was going to be beyond our means. We literally WOULD NOT be doing this race this year, if it weren’t for their support, so we say a sincere thanks.
Secondly, we are also happy to have Kassik’s support because they share in our vision of success. Some sponsors only step up to sponsor people who are winners, and while Cole has won a lot of races, the reality is she will never win the Iditarod. This isn’t due to her skills or her drive, rather it has to do with her ethics. We’ve taken in a lot of dogs that — whether due to their size, health, behavior, stamina, etc. — wouldn’t or didn’t work for other mushers. Many of the dogs in our kennel would be dead now if they were not with us. Because of this, we don’t define our success by how well we do against others. Rather, we define it by how well we do with our own dogs, because in many ways what we’re trying to do it so much harder than what many others mushers attempt. Part of this is because we don’t move dogs out of the kennel, so we have to be constantly mindful to not burn the dogs out by pushing them to hard. We want them to have the same zest for running at 12 to 14 years old, as they do at 1 to 2 year old. Also, by rescuing dogs, we are already starting with dogs which have a lot of physiological/behavioral issue to overcome. As such, we’re not running the best of the best, but we try to do our best with the dogs we have. It may mean not always being first, but for us its the right thing to do by the dogs, and Kassik’s supports our humane view of success.
All this being said, we are looking forward to this new challenge of preparing for and competing in the Iditarod. Cole has already run the toughest 200, 300 and 1,000 races in the state, so we don’t doubt her skills or toughness. Like all races, Cole will keep moving forward as long as the dogs are safe, willing and able, and hopefully they’ll be all three all the way to Nome. The mushing season is still in its infancy with temperatures hanging at around 45 degrees for the low, but as more time goes by we should have a better view of who will make the Iditarod team. Sixteen dogs (the Iditarod team limit) will be difficult for us to field due to the size of our kennel. If we get no injuries all year long, Cole may be able to have a very competitive team, possibly giving a few other rookies a run for the title of “Rookie of the Year.” However, if we incur any problems leading up to Iditarod, Cole may be forced to use a few yearlings as alternates, which would dramatically alter her strategy to one where she would likely move slower and rest longer to protect the young dogs from getting hurt or burned out. Time will tell, but we’re looking forward to finally taking part in what is undeniably the most famous sled dog race in the world.

We’re beat

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Between dog training, working 40 hours a week, and a million other chores around the house, we’re exhausted. Even more exhausting is knowing it will only get busier from here as the training runs get longer. Dogs are doing well, and we continue to run small, 10-dog teams to focus on strength training. A lot of folks, either out of ease or choice, will go ahead and run teams with 16-20 dogs right now, but we have seen for us it is better for injury prevention (and chewing up up-hills later in the year) to let them get super strong, and then work on speed when the snow flies. We also are continuing to run young dogs up front, giving them a chance at leading before we get into runs that are too long and tough (hopefully we’ll be breaking trail through snow soon).
The temperatures are still extremely warm. Yesterday it was in the 50′s again, while on this same date last year we had our first snow fall. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will come though. We have been taking advantage of the late snow by catching up on much needed yard work. We finally have a wood stove in and intend to use the heck out of it this year, so we have been felling dead spruce, stacking the lumber and hauling off or burning the limbs. The dogs love it since they get to follow us in the woods flushing grouse and scaring mouse and rabbits out of their hiding places.
In addition to the heat, the rain has been incessant this year. The dog yard looks more like it does during spring, which is unacceptable, so we have a dumptruck of fill coming in at the end of the week that we’ll be spreading through the weekend. More work for us, but it will ensure good, even, high ground come break up, so the dogs hopefully won’t be standing in too many puddles.
We’ve also had to switch to running on the beach occasionally as the trails have just been so muddy and slick. We don’t want to risk anyone slipping and being injured. Also, as we always feared when passing on such narrow trails, a neighbor of ours flipped their fourwheeler onto an oncoming team of dogs. EXACTLY why we don’t like being on the trails with so much dog team traffic. We hope to be back on the trails soon as there is still PLENTY of fall training time left to be on the beach. We don’t want to start down there too soon, in case we have one of those winters that doesn’t start until December.
That wasn’t the only accident this week, at the end of a training run on Saturday, we came across what seemed like a musher with a tangle and a loose dog. We stopped to help and realize it was another musher who has their gangline break in the middle. The front half of the team, not begin attached to the fourwheeler, took off running on their own. This is EXTREMELY dangerous. Dogs can be injured or killed quite easily in a tangle, since no musher is there to temper their speed or help out if a mess ensues. Luckily, this musher was with another person, so one person stayed with the half of the team connected to the wheeler, and one person hopped on another wheeler and chased the dogs down. Unfortunately, when she caught up to them and got her hands on the 8 dogs still attached to a line, at around 100 pounds herself, there wasn’t much she could do with them except hold on. This was right when we came by though, so we were able to park our own teams and lend a hand to get her dogs rigged up to her fourwheeleer. Everyone pulled through safely.
That’s all the news for this week, enjoy these photos of everyone worn out from all their work.
This is little Cool Whip so tuckered out from playing while we chainsawed that she put herself to bed in the bed of slash we were getting ready to haul off.
A closer view of this ridiculous dog.
Cole and Tikka both bushed after a hard days work.
Meetoo with a big yawn. Notice she is passed out on my chest. Her favorite place to nap.

Busy times

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Life has been go, go, go lately, between running dogs, work and the other million things we’re trying to do. To begin, this past Sunday we got another call for a horse. For those who don’t know, the dead horse call is the quintessential symbiotic relationship in Alaska. Horses typically weigh 1,000 pounds and so their owners often don’t want to deal with the expense of renting a back hoe to dig a grave, or paying someone to haul the corpse off. Instead they call mushers, like us, who come and pick up the animal for free, and then butcher the animal getting hundreds of pounds of meet from it, which saves us thousands in dog food.
Sometimes the horse calls can be a lot of work for the reward, especially when no one can give us a hand loading the dead beast into our pick-up. However, this time several friends from work and our neighborhood rode along and lend their back strength to lifting, so picking it up took less than 10 minutes.
We then brought the animal home and butchered and bagged the meat for the rest of the day. We bagged up the meat for race snack later in the year, and cut up the bones for the puppies to gnaw on and enjoy.
Speaking of our two new rescue puppies, Klaus and Boo, their socialization is going fantastic. We have been lucky to have a lot of friends who can come out and play with them, and take them for walks. This past week we had a bit of a “puppy party” and had a few friends come by with their own dogs. It ended up being a lot of fun, and it really woe the little guys out.
Part of the reason the socialization is also going so well is that after eight years of living without water in our tiny little cabin, we have committed to building a house (see photo above), and there have been lots of carpenters, plumbers and electricians that we have forced the puppies on. The building has been a daunting process, but we are hoping in the long run it will be worth it (especially since we’ll be paying it off for the rest of out lives). We designed the whole thing with dogs in mind, but more on that in a later post, when the project is further along.
In other news, our other two new dogs from the Kenai Animal Shelter, Cool Whip and Ghost, are also doing great. Coolwhip went into her terrible puppy listening phase a few weeks ago. We would daily find her hanging out in our neighbors yard, eating garbage or playing with their pet horse. We have worked on giving her reward when she sticks around, and time-outs in the kennel when we have to retrieve her, and it seemed to pay off. She know can be out playing with Buckwheat, Meetoo and the others for hours on end…most of the time.
Ghost is also improving as a sled dog with each run. We are really impressed with how fast she has taken to the lifestyle. She can’t get enough of running. She has already led several long runs already, eats great once back in the yard, and has really fast muscle/cardio recovery. She’s the first dog trying to get everyone playing after a run. We’re still guardedly optimistic about her chances of making the race team, though. We have seen a lot of dogs look great, run strong and lead well, up until about 20 to 30 miles runs, and then we start to see the chinks in their armor. Time will soon tell if this will be the case with Ghost or not, as with each run we do, the distances are getting a little longer.
Our friends Jill, Ashley and Mike, and several canine companions hang out during our “puppy party.”
A new meaning to the words “quarter horse.”
Ghost with a sandy face after a training run on the beach.

Falling into fall

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Fall means more than just training dogs, it is also a time to harvest our garden. The temperatures here have been a little disappointing for mushing as of late, most of the state had already received at least a dusting of snow, and some location have already had accumulations of several inches, but in Kasilof the weather has been bouncing back and forth between lows in the upper 20’s to low 40’s. The few nights at the colder temperatures were enough to fry most of our greens still in the ground, so we really got cracking on pulling everything up and getting it processed for winter.
Loyal readers of this blog will know that our garden provides an annual abundance of fruits and veggies, all grown from compost made from dog poop. Sounds gross to anyone who doesn’t know much about compost, but by the time this material reaches our planting beds, it is a rich, black, organic soil. Nothing looking or smelling like it did when it left the dogs.
This year we grew raspberries, strawberries, turnips, rhubarb, two types of carrots, peas, two types of onions and potatoes. Much like fish in summer time, pulling up the food is the fun part, but processing it for winter can be a lot of work. Some of the veggies we freeze, some we overwinter in the root cellar and most others we jar. Here are some recent pictures of this year’s crops.
The sweetest tasting carrots known to man…seriously. These are like candy right out of the ground.
Roaster reds go good as a side dish with just about any red meat.
The finished product, some of our jarred carrots and turnip greens (my favorite part of the turnip).
One of our delicious strawberries.
Two of my huge turnips. The compost, combined with our long summer days in Alaska, makes everything super-sized.