Be careful what you wish for. After weeks of wondering when the snow would come, it finally did…several feet of it up high in the Caribou Hills. We’ve gone up a couple of times for night runs after work taking 12- to 14-dog teams up alone, but spent Friday running teams from dawn until dusk with friends. We got with a few other mushers to work together to tackle the tough task of putting in trail for the first time for the year. It seems annually there are a handful of the same mushers who will lead the charge, while a select few other lazy folks sit back waiting for everyone else to do all the hard work.
Last season we broke in a lot of trail up high, and the year before we broke in a lot down low, which ended up being as much time stopped chainsawing-out downed trees, as it was running through the deep powder. So this year, we decided to take some trail at a moderate elevation. We worked on putting in the Grand Prix Trail, a section of the Clam Gulch Trail, the By-Pass Trail, and a trail down to a favorite camping spot called Wolverine Swamp.
About 1/3 of the trail that day was already put in, a friend on a snowmachine helped put in another 1/3, and another 1/3 we used the dogs to put in. Joseph took the section of the Clam Gulch Trail up to the By-Pass, which is virtually uphill the entire way. We’ve never been more proud of our leaders Goliath and Zoya, who never looked back and just porpoised and plowed their way through the thick drifts for miles, even the ones up steep inclines. They did AWESOME! Cole tackled a big chunk of the By-Pass Trail and Penny and Crumb carved through this section like a hot knife through butter. Another musher friend of ours named Jon also took a turn breaking trail in this section, and his efforts were greatly appreciated.
At the end of the day, we had only covered about 25 miles, but it took us more than five hours to do it, which in conditions like these, it’s really about the time and trail covered that’s more important than the distance. The dog got better training doing what they did than if they had done 40-50 miles of easier running.
We saw everything from trail six inches deep to a couple feet deep, and we started the day in blowing snow, saw the sun come out and temperatures soar into the mid 30′s during midday, then felt the mercury drop to the low 20 as the sunset. We flushed nearly 20 moose and a huge flock of all white ptarmigan in our travels. It was a long day, but a good one, with some significant training goals accomplished.
After it was over, we went home to some delicious Thanksgiving leftovers, and shared the meal with many of the dogs who had gone above and beyond just hours earlier. Our cabin is tiny, but for us there’s always room for one more to squeeze in, so they can lounge on the couch and chair for a good rest after a hard day’s work. We squeezed 11 dogs into the 16-16 cabin, but we couldn’t get all of them in the frame for a photo despite NUMEROUS attempts.
Archive for November, 2009
We’re continuing to contend with challenging weather, but have recently been making the most out of the bad situation. We still don’t have more than an inch or so of snow down in most places, and that snow is weeks old at this point, and getting pretty stale. As such, we have been looking for new and different thing to do with the dogs, since after all mushing is about fun and adventure, not just following the ATV, snowmachine and truck tracks of everyone else in the neighborhood who has dogs. So this week we took a couple of trips to different places, which always means loading up everything.
One is an area where a lot of other mushers are running just not on sleds. The other is an area where I don’t think any musher have run ever, at least none I’ve heard about, which made for a really enjoyable day (check out this point of view photo. I love seeing nothing but my own dog tracks).
We also have been spending time with a friend we made who is here from France. She came to work as a handler at another kennel, but she can’t get enough dog mushing, so on her off days, she occasionally accompanies us. We just run small teams, but this is great considering the conditions because it keeps the teams under control so we don’t get any early season injuries. Here are photos of some of our recent forays.
From this photo above, it barely shows it, but we got into some wind during one of the days of training. Check out the ruffs on our friend Emilie and Colleen. And you can see Ibn (the black dog in lead) trying to compensate for the wind.
The teams in the foreground and the lightly dusted mountains in the back ground made for a scenic shot that really captured the mood of the day.
So here is the news on the new addition. About two weeks ago we noticed one of the dogs, Oaky — who is one of our main race leaders – was looking a little more plump than usual. Over the next few days, she also began to “bag up,” which is a clear sign she was pregnant. This was news to us, since we hadn’t bred Oaky and all of our house dogs are neutered.
We started thinking back to 60 or so days earlier, and there was one day that we came home from work and a puppy (either Bulvai or Quigly – we couldn’t remember) had broken its collar and been loose. We didn’t know how long, and it didn’t seem like anyone was in heat at the time, but that is the weird thing about Oaky and her sisters, Instead of two heats a year like most dogs, they seems to have about a dozen. It’s a real pain, as evident by this situation. Not that the breeding itself is bad, because both males are big, strong and already looking like superstars, but it has more to do with money and timing. We have a lot of mouths to currently feed, so we weren’t looking at adding another. Also, since Oaky will now be nursing the pups for several weeks, she will miss out on a few of the early season races in December and January. This is a real bummer because of how valuable she is for her leading skills.
Well, what’s done is done, and we were fortunate that she had only one pup – a beautiful and healthy male. No name yet, we’ll have to see what his personality is like. Since he is alone, he gets all the milk and is growing like a weed. This will help get Oaky back into training sooner, since her pup will likely be able to be weaned a little early. We’re not really too concerned though. Zoom sat out for 8-weeks last year when she broke her foot, and she came back and made it through the Yukon Quest with no problems, hopefully Oaky will be the same since she got so much summer and fall training in before this occurred.
Better late, than never. However, we only got about an inch or two, but it was enough to let us get on the sleds this past week. Oddly, while the weather changed and brought snow, it seemed to make a radical leap into the cool temperatures. We went from lows in the 30s and 40’s to a week in the minuses. Nothing too severe yet, but we did have one run that got down to minus 13. The dogs loved it, and it really jacked up their metabolism.
This dusting of snow doesn’t offer much in the way of using the brakes of the sled, so team sizes have had to be small, typically 8-10 dogs with a ton if weight in the sled bag, but the dogs seem to be enjoying the transition. We don’t really have enough snow at the house for sleds, so we’ve had to truck the dogs to sue the sleds. In the neighborhood we’re still training on fourwheelers, but going back and fourth between the small teams on a sled and the larger teams on a wheeler has been great cross-training. Also, both offer great control, so we’re no running to swiftly, particularly on downhills, which can lead to early season wrist and shoulder injuries, since their isn’t much snow cushion under the dogs paws.
In order to stretch miles in the neighborhood we have also been running a lot of secret spots, and a few not-so secret spots, but ones that are unusual for this time of year. We’ve been dropping onto several lakes in the interior of Cohoe Loop which we run regularly on sleds, but we’re on them now on the fourwheeler. It’s quite an odd site (I’ll try to get pictures soon), and while we waited for it to be cool enough to attempt, someone else must have been a little less patient, since there are obvious signs of where a fourwheeler had broken through the ice in places. This will be fun to, later in the year on sleds, go over these now frozen-into-place sections. NOT! It’s going to suck hitting the deep ruts on every run.
As far as sponsorship goes, we got another one this week, which makes three in three weeks. In addition to Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, and Alaskan Hardgear, this week the contractor who is building our house offered to give us several walls within the home in tongue-and-groove wood as sponsorship. This was a welcome offer, which will make the new house feel even cozier. The building process is almost complete. We had hoped to be in by Thanksgiving, but that may be cutting it too close, but we will defiantly be in by Christmas. After 8 years of lugging around water jugs for ourselves and the dogs, it will be nice to have hot, running water on demand. In the meantime, the dogs have not complained about coming into our current cabin to nap on the couch after a big run.
Also, check back to our blog soon, our kennel has recently grown by one more dog, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise anymore than that. Check later this week for the full story.
Finally, the weather is starting to act a bit more seasonal. We got our first snowfall two nights ago, not much, but it is more than what we had (as evident of the bare earth in the background of this photo of Waylon). We got about an inch or two, which isn’t enough to go to sleds yet, but it is enough to give the dogs a bit of cushion under their feet on the longer runs we have been making. It comes at a perfect time too, the beach runs, as they get long, get tough on the dog’s feet. In this photo of one of our young dogs’ feet, you can clearly see how wet it is from the dog licking at the irritated tissue. With a little “secret” cream, and a watchful eye, the situation didn’t get any worse or develop into a split. We have actually been very fortunate to have good feet this year throughout the kennel, despite how much time we have been putting in on the beach.
In other news, we welcome another sponsor back again this year. Alaskan Hardgear sponsored Cole with some baselayer and intermediate layer clothing in the Quest last year, and this year wanted to step up their sponsorship by sending her some outwear to fieldtest, and possibly take in the Iditarod if it holds up to the extreme conditions she mushs in. Based on how good the products they sent last year worked out in minus 40 temps, we are looking forward to trying out the insulated bibs and ruffed parka they are sending. (see photo of the bibs they are sending). To learn more about this awesome clothing company visit their website at www.alaskanhardgear.com.