Archive for December, 2010

Colleen Robertia Wins the 2010 Gin Gin 200!!!

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Wahoo! We did it. For those who haven’t heard yet, Cole was the women’s division and overall race winner in the 2010 Gin Gin 200. She was also honored to receive the Humanitarian Award at the finishing banquet. Decided by the race veterinarians this prestigious award goes to the musher who took the best care of their team during the race. I (Joseph) also placed 6th, getting nine of the 10 dogs (mostly two year olds) I started with to the finish line.
The race was an adventure from beginning to end. As we packed for the race the night before we left, I noticed my racing sled not only had a broken runner, but the foot pad was also about to fall off. We stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to make last minute repairs: one worked, one didn’t.
Up in Paxson, where the race started, the temperature was minus 35, but the dogs didn’t seem to mind. They were lunging and howling like we had never seen before. We had made some major changes to our training regime this year, that we hopd would pay off, and it was already looking like it could.
Apparently we had a different time on our watch than the official time keeper’s watch, so Cole almost missed going out on schedule. We got her out of the chute with about 2 seconds to spare. I turned my attention to keeping my team for tearing loose after they saw her go out. I wasn’t slated to leave for another 30 minutes. They had other plans.
While a camera man squatted in front of my team to film how nuts they were going, the guys pulled my tie-off knot and off they went with no one on board. Led by Metoo and Brick, they barreled over the camera man and trampled him good. I made a dive for the sled and was luckily able to get them stopped. There is a video clip of the fiasco floating around the internet, for those interested in getting a good laugh. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWn0F_CoVK0
After that minor mess-up I left without incident. The first 50 mile leg went great for Cole, She had the fastest time of the whole race field and couldn’t believe it. She came to find me and said “I’m leading and don’t know how. I’m the most conservative musher I know and I’m rating them down on the down hills.”
Meanwhile about 20 miles into my run, the foot pad we had “fixed” flew off the sled, so for the reaming 30 miles of the rough mountain run, plus the other 150 miles of the race, I was slipping and sliding to try to keep my footing on the icy runner. I had several crashes just from slipped off the runner so I felt a little worse for wear at the first checkpoint.
For the second leg of the race, the course follows an always cold 110-mile run down two rivers. It is a long, long night run and the mercury plummeted to minus 40 for most of the trip. These are tough temps to endure even briefly, but spending 14 hours in them is brutal when standing still on a sled. Thankfully there was a spectacular northern lights show going on overhead, so it kept us from focusing on our cold fingers, toes and in my case nose. It got a little frost-burned from the cold during the night.
The cold helped on one occasion though. I had drank at least a gallon of water before the run since I knew whatever I carried would freeze along the way, so about halfway through the run my teeth starting floating to put it mildly. In minus 40 I had to be quick, so I took off my mittens and let them hang by lanyards (long ropes that keep them from falling off), then I unzipped my gear and tried to pee as quickly as possible.
Not wanting to stop, I was peeing off the sled, and watching the dogs still through the narrow beam of my headlamp. I looked down once just to be sure I was getting any of my gear and that’s when I noticed I was peeing directly into my dangling mitten! Luckily in that cold I just let it freeze up, which happened within a few minutes, and then I knocked out the icy urine-cicles to have a mitten as good as new.
The dogs did great on the long run, even the young guys. Two year old Buliwyf, along with our bionic dog Wolf (who had a rebuilt and fused ankle after being hit by a car) led more than 100 miles of this leg and never flinched while facing overflow and other obstacles. My plan was to camp for two hours, but they looked too strong to quit, so I only I stopped once for about 45 minutes and rubbed them all down and changed out all their booties and fox tails (the furry belts the males wear in front of their genitals when it below minus 20 to protect them from getting frost bite.) They were very tired by the end, but they learned that after hard work comes hard rest, which is an important concept to teach a racing sled dog.
On the third leg of the race, the last hilly 42 miles to the finish, Cole continued to stretch her lead and again had the fastest run time of any of the racers. Over the course of the race pint-sized Penny led most of the way, along with Zoom, Keno and even Quigley, the only 2 year old strong enough to make her race team. She came into the finish line with the dogs still raring to go. I came in a few hours later in sixth place. I had everyone I started with except for Metoo.
She had gotten a sore wrist after the second leg. I had massaged it and put some healing ointments on it while she rested, and it got a little better, but didn’t have the heart to ask her to run without feeling 100 percent.
The vets took her into the lodge after I told them she was our house dog and wouldn’t understand being tied out like the others waiting transport by snowmachine back to the finish. Apparently Metoo worked her charm while there because after the race everyone who met her came over to tell me what a sweet dog she was, what a crack up shewas, and many other pleasantries.
At the finishing banquet Cole was also given the Humantiarian award. This is always real honor whenever it is received, but it is extremely rare to get it as a race winner. Sometimes to win a race, dogs are run hard, so they don’t look and feel as good as teams just a few spots behind the winners. We know since we are often in those spots behind the winners because we are so conservative with how we run our guys. But to win and get the award, it really speaks to how well cared for the dogs were before and during the race. Since we’re always trying to foster the message of taking the bets care of your dogs that you can, it was a great feeling to be recognized for this devotion.
On the way home the adventure continued. Just after midnight,on a icy, dark and isolated stretch of road we were cruising along at about 70 mph when suddenly the headlights lit something directly in front of us. I slammed on the breaks and swerved, but with all the weight of the truck dog box, gear and twenty 50-pound dogs, there’s no stopping swiftly. We skidded sideways and ran over the object which made a horrible noise as it went under the truck.
We barely managed not to lose control of the truck or flip off the road. When we finally came to a halt, we got out to see what it was and the object we hit was a $4,000 sled from our nextdoor neighbor. It had flown off their truck after a bungee broke in the minus 40 temperatures. Following several late night calls, we tracked them down and they came back to get the sled. Then after a mild blizzard in the mountain passes we made it home. Another Alaskan adventure in the bag.
This wasn’t out only luck though, we heard from the race marshal that the day after the race, the river we had all parked on during the rest-stops had overflowed hours after all the teams had left. Had it happened during the race who knows what would have happened the danger of having icy water flood and flow over the resting teams.

Gearing Up to Get Down

Sunday, December 19th, 2010


The time is getting near…the race time that is. Our first race of the season, the Gin Gin 200 is next week and we have been busy preparing for it. This is a race Colleen has twice finished second in, and hopefully this will be the year she improves her standings by one place. I’ll (Joseph) be taking the two year olds, just trying to get them through their first 200 mile race, using a couple of the seasoned dogs to show them the ropes.

To get ready for the race we have been doing LOTS of camping trips. The Gin Gin is split up into a 50 mile leg, a 114 mile leg, and then 42 mile back to the finish. The camping trips get the dogs used to being on their feet for several hours and we like going into remote areas and camping out with them.

The older dogs who have done Iditarod and Quest know that stopping means its time to rest, as Golitah proves in the above photo, but the younger dogs are still learning, so they sometimes play during the rest breaks.
The weather has been quite warm here, so we have been running in the early morning, camping through the heat of the day, then running home in the dark of night. The dogs love basking in the sun during the heat of the day as these photos show.

Above Cyder and Squirrel soak in the sun.

Above Metoo tries to use Zoya for a pillow.

Part of getting ready for the race also means cutting tons of meat, so we have been putting in long hours on the meat saw, see results above. The house guys love it though, because they know we always let them lick off all the meat “dust” that is leftover after the meat is cut.

Despite all the training and race preparation we have not forgotten that this is the holiday season, so we used the dogs to celebrate. We took out a team to harvest our Christmas tree (see above). It took some doing because once we had selected the perfect spruce, we had to chop it down before the dogs went completely nuts and chewed through the gangline.

Not wanting to damage the needles, we tried to get a modest tree that would fit in our sled. Cole layed underneath to hold it steady (see above), so it didn’t fall out or get crushed. We’re pretty pleased with the one we got. it’ll look even better with a few gift underneath it.

This may be the last post until after the holidays and the race, but we wish everyone the best as they celebrate with family and friends. Wish us luck at the race and we’ll let you know how it goes when we get home.

Of Moose and Men

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Well, a lot has happened since the last blog, mostly due to our ongoing challenge of dealing with the weather. After our last post the weather really took a turn for the worst, than rain returned and stole all the snow away from the lower elevations near the kennel and up high the warm temperatures made the deep snow too soggy to safely run the dogs. Fortunately, though, this whether only lasted for a few days.
We made the most of the bad weather. After running lots of log runs – both for distance and time, since all the trail breaking we were doing at times took hours longer than a normal run would – we took the dogs out on the wheeler and had them pull us on the beach for a quick 20-mile jaunt.
The next day, many other local mushers loaded up their dogs and headed north, which was kind of ironic because that was right when the weather started to change for the better. We got about three inches of snow, followed by another inch the next night. We wanted to give the new snow a chance to settle on the local trails so we packed the dogs up and ran them off the truck at Skilak, but to keep things lively for them and run the whole kennel at once, we ran two 14-dog teams side-by-side.
I apologize in advance for no picture of this amazing event, but usually running the dogs off the truck is like throwing a surprise birthday party for yourself: it’s not very exciting. We had gone there intending to run one long string of dogs which I’ve already posted photos of, so we left the camera at home, but on the drive there we thought it might be safer to run two small teams together since then we wouldn’t have to worry about dogs cresteing hills we couldn’t see over, a situation which always scares us since a speedy car could hit them before we ever saw it coming.
Anyway, hooking them up like that was a lot of fun for them. Maybe it was because running four-deep-across was more like running in a pack, but even after 40 miles they were still barking and howling to go. It was a great morale booster for them.
The next day we went back to our usual lower elevation trails: Clam Gulch and Falls Creek, and since everyone else was gone, we could look forward to having them to ourselves. No one, or their handlers, getting out first and scratching all the snow away with their dragmats.

We were able to get in many back-to-back long runs, by going in from down low and then connecting into our upper elevation trail networks. And the best part was the 3 inches of snow that fell down low was closer to 6 inches up high, so we could work on speed for the beginning of training, get a hardcore cardio and strength workout for the middle by breaking trail, and then come home downhill, easy and quick so the dogs could end happy.
And the best part is the weather even cooperated further by getting cooler. We were able to have the dogs run hard in temperatures of zero to 10 degrees, which also kept them happy. Mushers who went north found themselves facing temperatures near minus 40, which no dogs or people like to be in.
About the time they decided to come back to the peninsula, the new snow we had down low had mostly been run smooth and hard like concrete. We had gone over it enough to be bored with these trails too, so this weekend we drove up high to get in some different scenery. We have a musher friend who lives in Homer, and they are working on putting in a trail to Caribou Lake from their end, so we have started working toward getting in a trail to the lake from our end. If completed, we could go on long runs – possibly up to 150-200 miles depending on the routes we take – with multiple camping stops along the way.
Working toward this goal we ran the dogs toward Homer, we crossed Deep Creek went up and down a few peaks and then dropped back into the creek valley to cut back to the lake for a long day with lots of trail breaking up high.

The snow at Caribou Lake was beautiful and it was great to again this season be the first team to lay dogs tracks in the virgin powder. The dogs drove hard since being on new trail always excites them. There was only one down side and I’ll let you look at this picture to figure out what it is.

I (Joseph) broke one of my runners about 7 miles into the run, so for the remainder of the run I had to balance on one runner while crossing frozen sloughs with drops of several feet, navigating icy corners, and helping the dogs break trail up high. By the end of the day I felt worse than my runner looked, as I had spills more than a couple times.

Still it was a great day. We started at first light as the sky was just turning blue, and we ended with the sun going down, the sky nearly completely lavender and Redoubt Volcano revealing some impressive views. The guys, bushed after a hard day’s work were happy to sleep in their boxes on the way home, except for the lucky few, usally leaders, who we let ride home in the cab of the truck. They always get into a big pile and sleep on each other.

Also, on the way home we got a little treat though. We saw a young bull moose grazing on the side of the road. While we never want to see moose while out with the dogs, it is always enjoyable to see them at other times, so we pulled over and took some pictures. Here is one of the best ones. Until next week.