Archive for February, 2010

Fun at the Fundraiser

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

We had out fundraiser today and IT WAS A BLAST! We had around 75 people show, and take part in all the food, fun and games we had set up. We riased a lot of money for the kennel and sent a lot of people home with some delicous beer and good silent auction items. We SINCERLY thank everyone who came and showed their generosity. Here are a few photos from the day.
Two little ones get their first exposure to a sled dog, and our puppy Dunkel gets his frist exposure to little ones.
Our sister in law Kristen worked the grill, which ended up being a full-time job.
So sadly, we didn’t take as many photos as we should have, such as a group shot, but in this photo, if you look in the mirror behind COle and Deb Kassik, you can see some of the few folks that were in attendance. IN this photo Cole is drawing the winners of the raffle: 1st place won a guided fishing trip on the Kenai for four people, 2nd won five one-hour massages, 3rd was a $250 gift certificate to Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop.
We call this photo “Busted.” We had set up a straw pile with hidden pieces of candy in it for the kids, but here you can see a few friends couldn’t hold back the kid inside themselves.

I love it…

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

…when a plan comes together.
In the face of the rain, running near home was getting difficult to impossible. The trail by the house dissapeared and the trail in the Caribou Hills became less than desirable. During the day the 45 degree temperatures were WAY too high to run, and at night the trails would cool into jagged broken glass. We did one short 30 mile run over the weekend and after seeing our dog’s booties get shreaded off after 20 miles, we knew a change was in order. We are too close to Iditarod now to risk injuries and still too far out to completely shut them down.
INstead we took a road trip nine hours north to Cantwell, near Denali National Park, and the trip was worth every minute ot the long drive and every penny we spent in gas (see more photos below). The temperature during the day were around the low 20s and the night low dipped to the single digits. The snow, while packed, was also ample to protect the dogs for the series of runs we put together. Running at 6 pm and 6 a.m., much like Cole is hoping to do on the Iditarod, we would run for roughly 5 to 5 1/2 hours and then camp with the dogs for 6 hours. We also saw several other Iditarod teams using the area as well, so the dogs got a little passing practice while up there. We brought 23 dogs up (Joseph and our friend Emilie, Cole is saving her time off from work for the Iditarod itself) and came home with no injuries, which I doubt would have been the case if we would have done the same mileage at home, but even if we could have done it, it would have been in so much warmer tempersatures that we wouldn’t have wanted to put the dogs through that.
After a couple of days we returned home only to find that the temperature the next morning had cooled and three inches of snow had fallen. We timed it out perfectly! And while the conditions at home aren’t quite ideal, they are at least doable for the time being, and should hold until Cole’s leaves for Iditarod in a week and a half.
Speaking of the race itself, we talked with Mark Nordmann, the race marshal for Iditarod, about our concern with our drop bags (see last post) and he told us he was there personally that night (with a small staff of volunteers) to ensure that the drops made it to the correct places. Mark is one of the few people in Iditarod who REALLY knows his stuff, and in our opinion is actually earning his paycheck. Cole is looking forward to participating in a race with such a competent person involved.
Also in regards to the race, several times since we paid the $4,000 entry fee we have asked ourselves “What the heck did all this money go toward?” This week we got an answer to part of it. We took the dogs for their prerace blood and electrocardiogram checks. This is to ensure that their bloodwork was in a normal range and their hearts were all looking good to particpate in such a long race. It was great to get some comprehensive testing done on the dogs.
During this check-up the dogs were also injected with a microchip for identifcation so that if any get lost on the trail, they can hopefully get home if found by someone else. We were a little dissapointed that the people doing this procedure (as well as the blood draws for the other tests) didn’t use alcohol or any other sterilizing agent when sticking the dogs with needles. Our dogs are healthy, but they still lay in straw and males will mark themslves with pee occassionaly, so it seemed risky to not clean-up the injection site. We would hate to risk any of the dogs getting a bacterial infection at any time, but especially so close to the big race.
JOseph mushing over a hill just before sunset.
A sleepy Joseph waking up after a camping trip. It began snowing during this rest break.
The dogs stretch out while camping during the heat of the day.
OUr friend Emilie, here from France, mushing the dogs through the heart of Alaska. It really is beautiful country up in this part of the state.
Hank and Crumb lead the way for Emilie.

Iditarod Drop Bag Stress

Friday, February 19th, 2010

This 5 a.m. self portrait of us driving to town to deliver food drops sums up so much. After weeks of stress and late night meat cutting sessions on the band saw, Cole Iditarod drop bags are finally away. At least we hope (more on that in a minute).
First, the putting the drops together was a bit of a challenge and not in the way we thought they would be. Compared to packing for the Yukon Quest, packing for Iditarod was quite easy. Mostly because there are so many more checkpoints in Iditarod and they are so much closer together, so you basically just end up sending out about the same amount of stuff to every location, with the exception of the places you could end up taking the 24-hours of mandatory rest. These 24-hour bags are a little bigger. For Quest, there were such long distances between checkpoints, and so many camping trips, that a lot of careful consideration had to be given to the drops to ensure you weren’t carry too much that it would slow your progress or hold the team back, but you also had to be sure if the weather turned terrible and you got stuck somewhere, you wouldn’t run out of supplies.
Instead of the logistics being the problem this year, it was the weather that was the real challenge. For some reason the temperatures soared to the mid 40′sF about two weeks ago, and they are still there. This made cutting meat difficult since the meat gets really wet and sticky at these temperatures, and it must be bagged up quickly once cut so it doesn’t freeze into a big lump. Also, since so much of this frozen meat was in the freezer, we kept waiting for it too cool off so we could pack it and leave it out. It’s tough to pack all the meat and other supplies into the drop bags, and get them ALL back into the freezers. We just don’t have that much freezers space.
Since it never cooled off, we ended up packing everything the night before the drops were due and more early the next morning. We had to fit all the drops into one truck (which was way tough due to weight and volume) and then drive into town to meet a friend of ours by 7 a.m. who had volunteered to drive the drops to Anchorage since we both had to work the day they were due. There, we transfered everything to his trailer, along with the supplies of another musher he was helping too, and then he and his wife got on the road.
Unfortunately it was raining the the temperatures were still in the 40′s so we were very concerned our meat could thaw on the three hours drive up. Little did we know the trip would take way longer than three hours. With the warming trend, a giant avalanche occurred in one of the sections along the way that had earlier in the year received heavy snowfalls. This slide dumped a slab of snow across the highway that was 50 feet thick by 600 feet in length. Once set, avalanche snow is like concrete.
It was the only road to Anchorage and our food drops were stuck on the wrong side of it. For more than 7 hours, road crews cleared the snow, and late last night our food drops finally made it to their destination, but now we are worried they may not be with everyone else’s so other problems with “lost bags” could still occur down the trail. It would be terrible for Cole to get to checkpoint and not have food to resupply the dogs. Hopefully it will all work out, and none of the food thawed too much that it will spoil. Then there is the burden of paying to have all this food mailed out, which despite our $4,000 entry fee for the race, still falls on us, but since our fooddrops got to the airport so late last night, Our driver didn’t know who to leave the check with, so now we are still trying to figure out how to get this resolved.
We also are apparently having problems with some of our paper work, but this problem doesn’t seem to be exclusive to us. Getting information as an Iditarod rookie, so far, has been a bit like getting blood from a stone. The woman overseeing the communication between the Iditarod and the mushers seems to be in WAY over her head. The day before some vital paper work was due, she sent out an email to roughly 60 people who hadn’t turned it in yet. I’m sure they, like us, had no idea it still was due.
All this stress comes on top of going to work all day long and still running the team all night long to get them ready for the race, and still planning other facets of the race such as making fighlts for us and the dogs to get home, so needless to say, we aren’t having much fun right now.
Hopefully the race itself will run smoother than the pre-race planning and requirements, because right now we’re feeling like this will be our last Iditarod and we haven’t even run the thing yet. Also, keep your fingers crossed for snow and cooler temperatures because if something doesn’t change soon, it may be a 1,000 mile swim to Nome, if the race even happens.
Meat cut into bite-sized pieces for the dogs. Joseph spent roughly two weeks cutting more than 1,000 pounds of meat at night, after work.
While Joseph cut, Cole was counting and bagging the pieces.
With so much work, we really appreciated the extra hands of several friends. From L to R, Emilie, Cole, Jenny and Shaynee. Some other friends help out too, but weren’t always around when the camera was. Thanks Laurie and Kate for painting the bags for us and also helping bag meat.
Cole packing meat the day before the race and hoping it will stay frozen in the 40F degree temperatures.
The drop bad Cole hopes she sees, for more reasons than one, the way things have been going.

Denali Doubles Wrap-up

Monday, February 15th, 2010

That’s the hardest we ever worked for no reward. Well, that’s not to say there was no reward, but there was no monetary award anyway. But for the fulfillment of fun, adventure and happiness we were rewarded plenty.
First, the trip up to the race. We made a brief pit-stop in Anchorage to celebrate the tapping of the first keg of beer named after our lead dog: 28-pound Penny. Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, our main corporate sponsor, had made a special batch to celebrate Cole running the Iditarod and named it Penny’s Maple Porter (see below the first glass getting poured). It was delicious and the keg sold out halfway through the event, and we enjoyed getting a first taste of the beer, signing posters and talking to race fans throughout the evening. After the event, one of our newest sponsors, Embassy Suites in Anchorage, put us up in an incredible room for the night and picked up the tab for us. It was a great way to get some much needed rest for the remainder of the long drive up to the race.
In Cantwell, the race began on a beautiful day. The sky was clear and blue, and the temperatures during the day were close to 20 above. We packed our sled and quickly found the first mishap of the race. We had three bags of food and supplies. Two were supposed to go to Paxson, while we carried the other. Somehow, we had kept one of the bags that was supposed to be shipped and sent off the wrong one. This wasn’t a huge deal, since most of the bags were packed with a fairly similar amount of supplies. We just had to adapt to the situation and feed the dogs a little bit different on the way out.
The dogs harnessed at the truck and ready to get the race on. Pictured from top to bottom is Hank, Seeker, Oaky, Waylon (black) and Ghost (white).
Cole putting booties on Cyder before the race.
Above is the beautiful country we mushed through. If you look close in the lower left corner you can see the smooth curve of the trail we were on.
The run to the first checkpoint was fast and we got there with the dogs still going completely crazy. Despite going 60 miles they didn’t want to rest and kept pulling ALL three hooks as we attempted to get the team parked for rest. Finally after about 20 minutes and several tangles we got them under control. Almost all of them anyway.
Quigley was tireless and refused to lie down and rest, while the other dogs eventually got with the program. He kept trying to get them to play and he was barking at us, basically disturbing everyone, so we decided to bring him back and tie him to the sled so the others could get some sleep. What a mistake! The little son of a gun was so antsy to get running he took out his frustration by chewing on the gangline. He normally isn’t a chewer so we weren’t paying close attention and he managed to get through one of the three braided strands of our rope before we noticed his destruction. Had he gotten through it, he would have severed the whole 20 dog team from the sled!
Fortunately, that was the last major mishap of the race. The rest of the event went really well with the exception of the dogs left Paxson a little sluggish after we picked up another 75 pounds of food and supplies and began climbing the steep hills again. We lost about an hour as the dogs really slowed down on the return, despite the night temps being a cool minus 5 to minus 16, depending on our altitude. Still we managed to keep to our overall schedule very well, and as usual, by taking extra rest – beyond that required – our team looked FANTASTIC at the finish. Especially since we had just run the team about 20 mph for the last five miles since we were in a neck and neck race to the finish with another team.
Sadly, only two people were there to see it, but one of them was a friend, Emilie (see above riding with Metoo, she’s from France who came to handle for our neighbor Patty) who came along for the trip to help handle for us. She was literally dragged to the truck by Kawlijah and she made it a point to say how she couldn’t believe how much energy he and the others still had after running 265 miles. It made us happy to hear the kudos and know the team was so well cared for, but we were VERY disappointed in the race organizer for not showing us the same respect as he showed the front runners by being there at the finish to congratulate us on a job well done (and not updating the website with our finish in a timely manner, as described in the last entry).
We had paid the same amount of money to be there as others and worked just as hard during the race, and set down a pace that in iditarod would have been a nine day finish, but because we don’t have the same caliber of dogs as other mushers who have 100 dog kennels to choose from, or who have killed and culled to get a genetically superior team of dogs, we often get treated with less respect by people who don’t think we were “racing” as hard as the winner and front runners. What was a real thorn in our side about this matter was that we had only finished 6 hours behind the winner, which is very, very close in a 265 mile race. Back home in the T-200, we have seen two to three days go by between when the first and last team come in, so for the organizer to not wait six hours to see all the teams come in was nothing more than a classless act in our book.
Still, we didn’t let this one rude incident mar the whole weekend. We got to take nearly our whole kennel mushing through some of the most beautiful country in Alaska, during an incredible stretch of good weather, and we got to experience it TOGETHER. Neither of us could think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day and we won’t soon forget it.
Also, after the race we got to spend some time with a friend, and our former veterinarian, Jayne Hempstead. She moved to Cantwell several years ago, and it was nice to catch up with her, and get treated to some delicious food, comfortable accommodations and friendly conversation after such a long weekend. We definitely voted her house the best checkpoint of the race.
On the drive home we got one last fiasco to remember the trip by. As seems to be some kind of weird coincidence when we got to races, we hit a terrible storm on the drive home. There was no snow this time, but the wind was extreme and seemed determined to rip the sled from the roof of the dog truck. At one point a drive pulled alongside us shouting “you’re about to lose your ride!” We pulled over and found the wind had STRAIGHTENED the bungee hooks we used to hold down the sled in two places (see photo above). The two backup ropes were the only thing holding it on. It was a close call.
Well that’s about it for now, time to get back to packing the Iditarod food drops which are due Thursday. It’ll be a real challenge packing our frozen meat since we returned home to temperatures up to 45 degrees! Anyway, here are a few more pictures by Emilie of some of our dogs. Enjoy.
Ghost, looking energetic as always, after the race.
Zoom, who led roughly 100 miles of this race. She really shined.
Squirrel, looking regal as always.
Our beautiful red-coated, yellow-eyed, Butterscotch.

The Doubles is Fin

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Just a quick update because I know there are people still following the race, and as usual the race officals quit updating the website as soon as the front runner got in. We made it in in 15th place and only one hour over our the time we aimed to make it in by.
We’ve never done such a good job of sticking to our schedule in a long race, and it was tough at times. We took more rest than any other team, and several hours above the madatory rest, so we were in last place for much of the day, but we never gave up on focusing on the real reason for coming to this race: to train for Iditarod. Still we managed to “race” a little within the race, and as usual we made out last leg of the race the fast leg. We reeled in two teams in the final 5 miles of the race, and even got into a foot race with one team, and passed them, in “no man’s land” at the finish. We were really excited to have some action at the end of a long day, but also it was great to catch two teams that had left more than AN HOUR ahead of us at the last checkpoint.
We finished with 18 of the 20 dogs we starte wuth and they all did great, especially little Metto and Quigley: our two yearlings. Metoo even led several miles of the race on the first day. The only two dogs we dropped were Ghost and Screamer. Ghost was the pound dog we got in sumer and she really did fantastic for her first year of racing. Most rescues we get we don’t even race the first season to give them extra time to build muscle maturity, but Ghost has been exceptional so she raced 130 miles and then got dropped when she started looking tired. Screamer did great too, but got a sore wrist on the thn snow toward Paxson. It was less than a half an inch thick in some places.
overall the race experience was a lot of fun. We mushed under the northern lights the entire first night, saw a herd of 60 caribou the enxt day, and flushed countless snow-white Ptarmigan through the day. It was reallyu a beautiful journey, and we are thankful we could make it together. Well, we have to get a shower and some sleep. Cole only caught 30 minutes of sleep over the last three days, while Joseph caught 4 hours. We have a lot of making up to do. Look for more tomorrow and a few photos too.

Single for the Doubles

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Hello, and sorry its been so long since the last post. We are ALWAYS busy, but this past week has been every more so as we attempted to build a new sled, continuing training the dogs, and cut meat and pack food drops for the Denali Doubles and the Iditarod.
As far as the new sled goes, we are very excited about it. What we did, with the help of our sled building guru Mitch Michaud of Dogon Sleds (pictured above), is we took the stanchions and handlebow from a smashed sled of another musher, and incorporated it right behind the stanchions of our existing Gatt racing sled. This saved quite a bit of time, since all we had to do was cut the metal brackets to hold the stanchions to the runners, attached a brake bar and brakes, and foot pads to stand on.
Fortunately, we got a bunch of new snow just in time to take this sled out for a test spin (see above). On our practice run, it was much lighter than the two-sled system we initially tried, which hopefully will make thing easier on the dogs over the long haul.
It was also nice to be able to talk to each other without shouting and to be able to hand each other items from the sled bag. We can also both see the dogs now, where as with the other system, the person on back couldn’t really see the team unless it was going around a corner (see self portrait below).
We still have a few concerns with this system, but there are minor ones. With one sled, we will have to be VERY efficient with what we pack to not overload the sled in case we have to pick up a dog or dogs. We also will have to watch that whoever is on the back sled doesn’t get to cold, since they get covered in snow every time the person in front steps on the brake. Getting dusted in snow will make keeping the second person’s gear dry and warm a little more difficult, which is always a concern in an area where Cole has race in temperatures of minus 50 with windchills close to minus 100.
With the sled done we are now just hoping to have 20 dogs that can go the distance, and we are hoping the the weather and trail conditions will be favorable. On the dogs, we’ve had to set back in the past week which will complicate the Doubles race. Before the new snow came, the trails had gotten really icy and Brick sliced one of the toe pads almost in half. This is an injury that isn’t quick to heal, and due to the nature of where it is, running Brick really isn’t an option. It will only re-injure the wound and add to the time she if off. As a result, sadly, Brick will not be making the team, which is a real set back because she is a lead dog and one we were hoping to count on for this event.
With her out, Metoo will likely take her place, which is good and bad. Metoo is a tough little dog and she loves to lead too, but she is only a yearling and we typically don’t like to run yearling as far as this race requires: 265 miles. As such, the plan if we bring her will be to keep her in the team as long as she is having fun. If she starts to fatigue or burn out, we’ll drop her at one of the checkpoints. Hildy has also been looking “off” lately, and she was the dog that got picked up by Joseph at the end of the T-100. Since she is not looking 100 percent, Quigley, Metoo’s brother, will likely go in Hildy’s place. He’ll me monitored closely like Metoo and dropped at the first sign he is no enjoying himself. Hopefully that won’t happen for either of them though. The race is on a frozen high, so the trail shouldn’t be too technically demanding on them. Although there are a lot of elevation changes, so they will be climbing some big hills.
Wish us luck. All for now, but check back soon. we’ll try to get one more update out before we go about a new addition to the kennel, and a little more on how the Iditarod packing is going.

Denali Doubles Training

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Training is underway for the Denali DOubles race next week. This will be a first for us, if not dog racing in general, as the format requires two mushers to drive one team of 20 dogs. We have never ran more than 14 dogs at a time, so running 20, even with two people, is a bit like trying to steer a run-away locomotive.
We hooked up two sleds for our first attempt and the run went great. We banged out 50 miles with minimal problems really. We learned the second sled rider basically eats a face full of snow every time the front sled brake is used. We also saw the line between the sleds needed to have some form of protective sheath. We also saw that for our sizes, combined weight of the two of us is about 350 pounds, that the dogs were moving a little slower than we would like.
As a result, we will be building a new component to an existing sled tonight in the hopes of making it so we both can ride it. Then we could cut weight by only having one sled. We’ll see how the construction goes, and then the pilot run next weekend. We’ll update as learn more. Until then, enjoy these other photos from this past weekends run.
This photo shows that 20 dogs is a whole lot of dog team, especially on the down hills/ A few tmies we notice some of the team would be going up the next hill before the part of the team closest to the sled was done coming down.
Any tangle we got was like running a wind sprint. We would be huffing and puffing by the time we got back to the sled. It was a looooong run to the front.
You don’t want too many tight corners with this many dogs.