Wow. Have we been busy running dogs lately. The weather has once again turned soggy, and while I’d never wish for rain, it feels good to finally have a few days off. Being a musher means more than being in tune with your dogs, it also means being in tune with the elements. We had been watching the weather closely and saw the warm front predictions, so we really ramped it up with the dogs while the weather was still cool.
We got in several long runs, going in from down low near the kennel, and mushing to way up in the high country of the Caribou Hills (see above). We also were able to get in a few camping trips, which has further helped get the dogs in groove for race season (see crummy photo below of my cooker. Sorry. I forgot my tripod that night. Too busy trying to remember all the straw, groceries and other camping supplies for the dogs.)
We ran 12-dog teams in from Falls Creek. It’s an area not far from the kennel, but to be honest, it’s a bit of a boring trail. It’s mostly logging roads so the trail is not very challenging or stimulating. Wanting to keep things mixed up, we also ran in from another close trail called Centennial. This was a little more fun since the take off from the trailhead is a bit challenging.
You start on an icy downhill that takes a corner right at the bottom. Since we hadn’t done the trail yet for the year, the 12-dogs we each had were frothing at the mouth to get going. We pulled the hooks and off we went…for about 20 yards, then we both had a crash that seemed more like we had been thrown from a car, than a sled. Crashing, while not common, does happen from time to time, and the better we get at mushing, the more ridiculous it seems when we finally do go down.
For this spectacular act of carnage I barrel rolled, and I saw Cole basically get body slammed she was thrown to the ground with so much force, but like a true pro she never let go of the sled. Her ice hooks began bouncing and one actually caught her parka right through the back of the neck, so in addition to getting dragged by the team, she was now getting dragged by the back of the head with her hood and ruff covering her face. Luckily she was able to “woah” the team, since our guys are really good about responding to voice commands. She got back to her feet and off we went with little to no trouble the rest of the way, even crossing the thin ice with moving water below it at the treacherous Crooked Creek.
Despite the rough start, the snow on Centennial was far better than Falls Creek within just a few miles. We ran on the night of the full moon for an evening run, as we have done annually for several years now. We have also been able to get quite far into the high country since a friend of ours has shared in the trailbreaking duties and got in several miles up above tree line. After two weeks of breaking trail ourselves, it was nice to have someone else make a contribution. It’s great to know a few mushers with solid work ethics.
In other news, I (Joseph) heard great news this week from the Copper Basin 300 Race Committee. They selected one of the photos (see above) I took last year to use as their race poster for this year. It will be a real honor to have my photo as the official artwork, and Cole and I really look forward to competing in the race now, even more so than we already did. For those with keen eyes, if you look closely, Cole is actually the third team back in the photo.
We also heard from a friend of ours who was in the Kasilof area last season. Some of you may remember our French friend Emilie. She is now back in Europe and has started her own sled dog team, she wrote us the other day to say that our way of doing things humanely with the dogs was, and is, a real inspiration. While we do what we do for our dogs, we also hope that this message spreads to others, so that all sled dogs can have a better life. It is great to know that our message has been heard by a few mushers, or one at the very least. Below is an excerpt from the email she sent us. Enjoy. All for this week, hopefully more snow will come soon, we’ll write again when it does.
“You definitely did inspire me, I hear a lot of crap here about the racing competitive world, but because I have seen that you can be competitive and still live and love your dogs, I stay on my position, and I still believe definitely in it. When people told me that I’m too soft with my dogs or that I m spoiling my puppies by letting them sleeping inside I always tell them about you and Colleen, living with always at least 6 dogs inside and doing amazingly good in big race, yes it s possible!”
Archive for November, 2010
We were back at it this weekend…breaking trail that is. We started just as the sun was rising (as detailed in the silloutted photo above of us getting the sleds down from the dog truck), and didn’t quit until dusk.
While some are content to wait for others to put in trail for them, we look forward to making our own trail instead of following someone else’s, and have been having daily adventures, not to mention getting in some outstanding learning for the two-year olds on how to cut trail through powder.
The deep, deep snow is finally stating to settle and pack, so this past week were only saw snow around 4-6 inches deep in the low elevation and not more than a foot deep at the higher end. The dogs got in a good, long run through much of the Caribou Hills, punctuated by brief sections of arduous trailbreaking. It make for a great cross-training workout.
We've continued to utilize Brick for the heavy lifting, but this past weekend we also tried to roatate as many dogs as possible into the front end to give them some trailbreaking experience. Oaky and Penny, while typically speed leaders, even got a turn in lead (see pic above). It was really funny seeing such tiny girls cut through the virgin snow. They're so sledner and sleek, they looked like the proverbial knife through butter.
The dogs are really starting to coalesce as individuals and as a team. They are by far the strongest they have ever been this early in the season (having them tear off brakes is starting to become the norm), but I guess when you have such great training weather so early, it goes a long way. We’re really starting to get excited for the racing season. It’s still too early to say for certain what we’ll do, but tentitively we’re thinking about putting one team in the Sheep Mountain 150, two teams in the Gin Gin 200 and one in the Cooper Basin 300. We’ll likely do a few other races later in the season, but we have to see how everyone comes through these first few before we decide on which we’ll do. All for this week.
P.S. Keep the comments coming. As we have retooled the blog service, It should be come easier to manage and post some of your comments. We’ll try to answer any questions of comments we get, like the request for an update on our Kitty. Look for it soon.
Well, I said we hoped to have snow by the next time we made a post and boy do we ever, but let me start with a week ago. Things were looking the way they always do at the end of October to beginning of November…that being pretty crummy. The woods trails had been beaten to pudding by too many teams on them this year, so we started running on the beach. At first it was some of the most beautiful sand we had ever seen. At low tide, we had a belt of soft, hard-packed sand that was perfect for training.
Unfortunately, as the tide series built, our good sand got sucked out to sea and was replaced by loose gravely rock which the dogs hate to run on, and for good reason. It can cause a lot of foot and joint injuries. Adding to the situation, many other teams began running on the next to the salt water.
With the beach getting worse, as well as crowded, we decided to pack the dogs up at the first reports of snowfall nearby. We trucked the dogs to a place where there had been about five inches of fresh, wet powder. In this location we run the dogs off of the truck since fourwheelers aren’t allowed and there wasn’t quite enough base for the sleds.
The area is in a national wildlife refuge, so we never know what we’ll see there. On this run our lead dogs came face to face with a large lynx, with a shaggy and silvery winter coat. It was magical.That is until we smelt a distinct poop smell coming from within the cab of our truck. We let Shagoo and Jeeves tag along for the ride, and I don’t know why we do it because they get SO excited at watching the dogs run, they just whimper and howl, and jump back and forth from the front seat to the back.
We had walked them before the start of the run, but like children, they often get caught up in the excitement of the moment and forget what they need to do. I can count on three fingers the number of times Jeeves has ever had an accident, so we were shocked when he pooped in the back seat. He was very embarrassed by the whole thing.
We said to each other how unbelievable it was he had done that when not 5 minutes later we smelled poo again. This time we craned our heads around to catch Shagoo fully hunched in the act pooping right where Jeeves had gone. She too will usually die before going in the house or the car, so all we could figure was she was equally “moved’ to go with all the excitement and since Jeeves had broken the seat in, she felt it was O.K. to do the same.
With all the pooping now behind us, we got back to focusing on the dog run. This area is somewhat hilly, so we got to see how strong the dogs have gotten over the last few months. It was also great to give the dogs something besides flat ground to build them up for races, which aren’t too far off now. One of the first is a really hilly race called the Sheep Mountain 150. It’s in early December so it can be tough to get enough good training on the dogs in time. We weren’t going to sign up in case we had another late winter, but this year we aren’t having any problems, so we will likely sign up for it soon.
Closer to home we got about 1/10 of an inch of snow, so wanting to have fun with the dogs more than get in good training, we hooked up a 10 dog team for one heck of a wild ride in the swamp behind our cabin. We train here all winter once the swamp is completely frozen, but when we took out the team is was only about 75 percent frozen so we hit a few “wet spots,” to say the least. Here’s a pic of Cole pouring water out of her boot at the end of the run.
Unfortunately, no new snow came to the house, and many teams turned to training in the refuge area we truck-trained and the powder got packed down quickly, so we moved on to “whiter” pastures. In one of our favorite areas to mush, the Caribou Hills, we got three feet of snow in 24 hours. Just getting there ended up being a chore as the drive there was the scariest it’s been in years…just a ton of snow on the road, which made everything featureless and difficult to keep good traction on. We saw two trucks off the road. Here’s a pic of Goliath at the place we park the truck, more than a foot of snow was here, compared to the usual 2 inches we take off on at this time of year.
Knowing there would be some major league trail breaking, we hit the area with two teams to show our young dogs, like Metoo and her brothers, what blasting through waste high powder is all about. We were excited to finally be in some deep, wet, snow.
However, you have to be careful what you wish for. We ended up hitting snow so deep it was over the dogs’ heads. Brick lead through it for miles with only her ears sticking out. She is by far one of our best trailbreakers and we take great pride in the fact that this was a dog we bred and trained ourselves. She is an offspring of Doc who some longtime blog followers may remember posts about. Goliath and Cyder also took turns single leading for 45 minutes at a time, and both did great. Here’s a pic of Cole switching our leaders as the snow kept coming, obscurring the camer’s focus focus. You can see its waist deep here.
In the end, the snow kept getting deeper and deeper until finally we actually had to strap on snowshoes and lead the teams ourselves. (The sad part of really tough trail conditions is they can get so tough that you have to use all your strength and concentration to get through them safely, which means there’s no time to go for the camera, so the photos you see here are from the GOOD parts of the trail).
It made for a fantastic strength cardio workout for the dogs, and they got a ton more hill training in, further preparing them for race day. In 10 years of training sled dogs here, we have never seen snow this deep, so we are both excited and apprehensive for the future. One of our friends who usually works with us to break trail just left the state. Another tore his rotator cuff so he’s out for the winter. Another musher who often puts in trail is training in another part of the state.
With snow so deep and not many people working together this season, we’re not sure how much trail we’ll get in ourselves, but you can be sure we and the dogs will keep pecking away at it with each and every run. All for this week. Enjoy the pics. Oh, and we have heard from a few of you that there is a problem making comments to the blog. It’s just part of switching things over to the new provider. We’re working on getting it cleared up. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re having problems and be patient.