Archive for December, 2009

Training, training and more training

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Sorry to take so long since the last post, but between training, combating a seasonal flu and taking part in family festivities for the holiday, it has been tough to get to a computer. Let’s make up for lost time.
Training has been going well. We had several days of some of the most beautiful snow a musher could ask for. We were able to pick and choose where we wanted to run, rarely choosing the same trail two days in a row, to keep the dogs feisty and fresh. A thick fog rolled in for several days, and with temperature hovering near zero, rime ice formed on virtually everything. It created one of the most beautiful winter wonderlands you could ever image, as evident from these photos, which to be fair, barely do justice to the true beauty of beholding the ice firsthand. Also, you’ll notice in the team photo, the dogs in lead are Kawlijah and Ghost, the latter being the dog we got from the Kenai Animal Shelter back in summer. She’s still going strong, and has even led some challenging six-hour runs in the hills. Hopefully this diamond in the rough will continue to shine as training progresses.
After weeks of trucking the dogs to the high country after work and on weekends, it was nice to be able to run out of the yard. Adding to the already sweet occasion, one of the first dog races of the year occurred last weekend, so our whole neighborhood went up for it. With Iditarod on the table this season, we just don’t have the fund to do every race, so we opted to sit this one out, and we’ve never been so thankful to stay home. While everyone was gone, 4-inches of fresh powder fell and there was no one around to “beat us to it.” Living in a neighborhood full of mushers, everyone wants to be the first one out, but we were able to not only sleep in and still enjoy the fresh snow, but also we were able to use the trail conditions for some valuable leader training. We haven’t been out on the trails behind our house many times this season, and never with our yearling pups. But, with everyone else gone (and with no fear of heads-ons or messy tangles with other mushers) we were able to run the yearling in lead, allowing them to both break trail and learn gee-haw commands doing so, since they had never run on the trails and there was no visible path for them to see or smell. In one word it was AWESOME!
Sadly, as frequently happens here in December, we got our usual warm front. The temperatures near the kennel warmed up to the 40’s (the 40’s for Pete’s sake!!!) and brought with them much rain. Our low elevation trails got decimated, so it is back to trucking the dogs to higher elevation with better snow.
In other sad news, we’ve also decided to back out of our first race of the season. We had signed up for the Gin Gin 200, a race Cole has run three times (finishing third once and second twice). We had hoped this year she could go for the win, and we were training for such, but a recent reroute to the trail and subsequent mileage change to the course monkey-wrenched our plans. The race usually has one 110 mile leg with two shorter legs, but this year it was switched to two 110 mile legs. Camping on the way out or back could have been an option (to break the long runs up), but in our experience the winners of this race are NEVER the people who camp. We didn’t want to run the dogs that far twice to push for a win, and camping out just to have some else win would be a huge waste of our resources (since we would have to pay to drive up, get lodging, food, etc). Instead we decided to do what was best for OUR dogs, so we cut our losses and withdrew from the race before it began. We will be sad to miss the fun, but we know it is the right thing for our kennel. Instead, we will likely make the Cooper Basin 300, the second weekend in January, our first race of the season.

High Life on High Trails

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Well, we finally were able to get in a few runs in the daylight this past week. With our work schedules, so much of our training has been done in the dark, but it was nice this week to get out during the day, clearly see how all the dogs gait’s looked, and take in all the beautiful scenery. We have more snow in the Caribou Hills, than we’ve ever had this early in the year. As a result we are able to start our runs about 5-miles from our house (sadly, we still have to truck the dogs, rather than just leaving from the yard on a sled), and then mush way up to the high country of the Caribou Hills. We have even been able to connect some of our longer trails to each other, so we now have at least two options for loops that can easily make for a 100 mile run. We can also now mush from ear our house to Homer and back, which we’ve NEVER been able to do before. This has been great for putting some miles on the dogs and squeezing in camping trips when we can.
The high country is beautiful because you are, as the name implies, up very high. Above treeline everything is white and it just has a different feel than the lower trails. Our trail runs along the upper edge of a deep valley, and offers some pristine views of the low country and Tustumena Lake. However, we have had some very cool temperatures in the single digits lately, combined with some of the thickest fog we’ve ever had. This fog has been causing rime ice to literally “grow” on all the branches of trees and bushes, so mushing in the low country right now is like wandering through a frozen forest where all the vegetation looks like it is made of ice.
This past week Cole also attended the mandatory Iditarod rookie meeting in Anchorage. She had fun and learned a few interesting things. She also began forming what we hope will be lasting relationships with numerous competitors, race organizers and the race’s veterinary staff. During the meeting, rookies were given the option of having the race veterinarians visit our kennel. Always wanting to work closely with the vets so the dogs receive the best care they can during the race, Cole signed up and this past week the Iditarod’s head veterinarian, Stu Nelson, came and spent an evening talking about dog care and going over all our Iditarod candidates with a fine toothed comb (see photo above of him inspecting Goliath). We learned a lot from our time with Dr. Nelson and we look forward to him and his team getting to know our team even better out on the Iditarod trail.
As to our newest addition to the kennel, we still have not named our chubby little puppy, but he is doing well. He has started to walk, although waddling would be a more appropriate description. His eyes and ears are open now, and he has started to show interest in eating kibble, but since this pup is already the chubbiest we have ever seen (even Dr. Nelson said he was huge for his age), we aren’t rushing to get this little guy onto solids. When he’s ready, he’ll waddle out of the whelping box and find the food bowl for himself.
We also want to thank Phil and Kat of Wisconsin for their support of the kennel. Thank you immensely, and we hope you can make it up this way again soon, so you can meet all the dog in person and go on a sled ride with them.

Darkness Falls

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It is definitely that time of year again. The sun is rising at about 10 a.m. and going down at 4 p.m., so since we both work full time jobs, we haven’t been able to run in the daylight very much. The night runs are enjoyable in some way. It is always cooler, and much closer to the actual pattern the dogs would run in a race. The heat of day is always avoided when possible. Also, at night we are always alone. No other mushers or snowmachiners to worrying about, typically. And with the exception of moose which can be dangerous, we do often see more wildlife (coyotes, snowshoe hares, owls etc) as creatures come out to prowl for food. The down side to working all day and running most of the night is we don’t get much sleep, which after a few days start to make everything a little fuzzy. Also, since we sometimes run teams of 14 dogs, the length of the gangline is quite long and it can be difficult to clearly see every dogs gait to ensure they are running well and are injury free. Life is about making lemonade out of lemons though, so we run when we have to, rather than when we’d like to.
In other news, this weekend is in many ways the official start of the Iditarod, at least for rookie like Cole. This Saturday is the mandatory rookie meeting in Anchorage and Cole was very excited to take part in the event. Oddly, many of this year’s Iditarod rookies are veteran of last year’s Yukon Quest, so Cole is looking forward to spending time with friends she’s already made out on the trail. Also, our wonderful sponsor Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, provided Cole with a new Kassik’s sweatshirt and hat to wear up to the meeting. We are thankful for their generosity and proud she will be able to advertise their delicious beer while up in the big city. While Cole is away having fun, I’ll be holding down the fort and pulling double duty on running the dogs in addition to all th other chores that will also double. It’ll be a lot of work, but hey, somebody’s got to do it.
Also related to Iditarod, Cole received her first letter of support from a couple by the name of Kat and Phil in WI. They read Cole’s bio on the Iditarod Web site and sent a very kind letter telling her how they too rescue dogs and even wolf-hybrids. Since a big part of our philosophy isn’t just being humane, but encouraging other to do the same, it was good to know that the word is getting out, and that there are others out there doing what they can to help animal in need.
It’s been a while, so an update on Oaky’s puppy is long over due, but our time has just been so limited. We apologize and promise to have photos and an update about the little guy next week. He is doing well though. He is the chubbiest puppy we have ever seen and his eyes just open a day or two ago. He’s starting to get more mobile, but still not walking yet. More to come soon.