Archive for November, 2011

The White World

Monday, November 28th, 2011


Hi all, no time to write this week, too busy running dogs, so instead I’ll just post the photos I have and try to put a few extended captions on them. Starting with this above picture, taken in the Caribou Hills after a big snowfall event. We get snow here a lot, but this type of snow that covers and sticks to every willow bush and tree branch is quite rare for these parts. We were the first people out that day, breaking trail through this beautiful scenery. It was amazing to think not just how few people will ever see something like this, but how few Alaskans ever will. Not only is this area remote, but once the sun came up, the temperatures warmed, and a horde of snowmachiners began ripping this trail to pieces…all of this looked completely different just hours later.

Another perk of getting up at 5 a.m. to be the first humans on the trail is we get to bump into all the other creatures that are still stirring before they get too disturbed. At this time of year moose are still moving in herds and on the same run as the top photo, we saw a herd of 12 moose including a handsome bull. We see moose daily, but I can count on one hand the number of bulls I’ve seen over the past decade. If you look closely at this photo you can see I even capture the steam of his exhaling breath on film.

In addition to the snow, we have been getting colder than normal temps for this time of year. The mercury for most of our runs this past week has been hanging between minus 5 and minus 15, which the dogs have loved, even though it makes them look silly, as you can tell by this picture of Penny and Nuk growing ice beards from the moisture of their own breaths freezing up.

Here’s another shot of another day in the Caribou Hills, and this one really shows some of the “hills” we train the dogs to go up and down. I also really like this shot because if you look in front of the team, you can see the trail is unbroken with the exception of the tiny paw prints of where a coyote has come through in the night. The dogs did great breaking trail for more than an hour, and in snow depths from two inches to more than a foot deep in some places.

Breaking trail is no easy task. The dogs may be on there feet for 5 hours, but only covering 25 to 30 miles in that time, so we have been doing a lot of camping trips with the dogs over the past few weeks. We’ll take off at the crack of dawn and carrying all our supplies, go for half a day, then make camp with the dogs for a few hours, before either going on further or returning home. Above is a picture of Wolf and HIldy in the foreground, with the rest of the team behind them, just settling into their straw beds while on a camp out.

While all the dogs make us proud, one guy deserves a little special recognition this week. Quigley, the guy pictures above with his trademark one floppy ear, has been having a great season. This guy has always been a tremdenous sled dog, being on our Denali Doubles race team as a one year old, and on Cole’s winning Gin Gin 200 team last year as a two year old. This year he is three and doing great. One of our our recent adventures we decided to take a new trail with Quigley in lead. Before long it wrapped around the backside of a mountain and the snow got really deep and with no base at all. Quigley continued to break trail in powder over his head, and amazingly he did it while going UP HILL! Bulldozer dogs like this are few and far between and some mushers may only known one dog as good as Quigley in their lifetime. We are quite thankful to have a powerhouse like him in our kennel.

When not training big miles, we have also been running a few tours with the dogs, which we seem to get every year during the holidays. Church groups or people with family coming in for Thanksgiving or Christmas will want to come out for a ride. Its great to share the dogs and our lifestyle with other folks and the dogs love getting an easy day since the tours tend to be less than 10 miles long. Above Penny and Keno have big smiles as the take out a group from the Lower 48.

Not being from Alaska, some of these folks got really chilly, really quickly due to the cold temps I already wrote about. We always come prepared though, and duded up the group in our warmest parkas and neack gaiters. Everyone had a great time.
All for this week.

Diversity

Friday, November 18th, 2011


This week has felt like a year, but not because it’s been so boring, but because we’ve crammed so much in, doing little else except running dogs, caring for dogs and going to work to pay for the dogs.

We got more snow, which of course was excellent. We immediately got the dogs out on it to again teach the young guys how to break trail, this time it was veteran Goliath showing three year old Buliywf how to get through it. They both did great.

Cole took the lead team this time, so a lot of my pictures are from a different vantage this time, but I thought this would make a good opportunity to explain how trail breaking works. As you can tell by the picture above, the lead team plows through the powder to make a trail. This picture is one of the less deep spots because typically in the deep spots things get so intense there’s no time to be fiddling around with a camera. Still, even in this picture you can see the snow is basically shoulder to chest deep. This doesn’t sound tough, but in human terms think of it this way: imagine standing in a pool up to your thighs or waste and then running as fast as you can…now imagine doing it for hours, because that’s what breaking trail is like for the dogs. It’s no easy task.

The lead dogs take the brunt of it, but it is still pretty tough for the dogs behind them, but then after the sled goes over it, it tends to pack and smooth it a bit for the next team. As you can tell from the picture above.

Then, our goal is to try and have a toboggan sled (one with a flat bottom that rides on the snow) go across the trail last so that overnight it can consolidate and stiffen up and be nice and smooth for the dogs the next day. Above is a picture of the trail behind my team, so you can see what I’m talking about.

Anyway, with such good trail conditions we have been running non-stop it seems like, but we have been able to get out on a lot of different trails, sometimes running from the early morning into the late evening. This past week we also had an insane windstorm and got the dogs out in that to teach them how to cope with and navigate through these tough conditions.
It was an interesting training lesson. The first day the winds were around 40 mph and had drifted the snow into deep soft piles everywhere. Most of the night was breaking trail in the wind.
The next night we went out again, this time in winds up to 55 mph, but since they had been blowing non-stop from the day before, the drifted snow had been so packed and consolidated that now we found the trail filed with concrete-hard moguls, some several feet high. When we got onto the lakes, which the night before had been an hour of trailbreaking, now were void of all snow and were super-slick, polished ice that we could barely use a brake or snowhook on.
Then the next day the temperature dropped into the minuses, which further tightened up the snow pack, making everything so hard and fast, our run took about half the time as the first night. It was a weird three days, but the dogs got to see three entirely different trail conditions, which is highly important to developing them for 1,000-mile races like the Yukon Quest, where they will likely experience a similar scenario. Well, all for this week, here’s one last parting shot of us taking off with a team at dusk. Enjoy.

Adventures and Misadventures

Thursday, November 10th, 2011


Well, since the last time we wrote it has been one heck of a crazy week. First it was really good, then really bad, then pretty good again, so let me get right into this looooong post. Almost immediately after we made our last update about getting a few inches of snow, we got another dump and this one brought enough white stuff to finally go to a sled…for one day, but it was one really good day.
We got about five inches during the night on top of the inch or so we had, so we got out the sleds, loaded up the dogs and at the crack of dawn, and started breaking trail toward the Caribou Hills.
It was amazing conditions, just super fluffy, yet very wet and soft snow. We broke trail for four and a half hours, which was one heck of a workout for the dogs. The cardio and strength training absolutely could not be beat, but on top of it we also got to test out Quigley in lead (see below, its shallow stuff in this photos, but you can still the snow spray near their feet where they are breaking the trail out).

He just turned three this year and has been a remarkable budding leader so far, but last year he never got a lot of time up front in the deep powder. We plugged him in next to Cyder, one of our old trail breaking pros and let them rip. They immediately began carving their way through the powder, which at times got 8 inches deep and when they could no longer run though it, they began porpoising to punch their way forward.

It was amazing to watch, especially since as they day went on, we got to see practically every season in Alaska. We started in cold, crisp temperatures in the teens. Then went through a huge snow storm about an hour in (above). Then it cleared up, the sky turned blue, and it got really sunny and warm (below with HIldy and Zoya in lead).

Then, annoyingly at the end of the day it began to rain and some of the swamps and creeks that were frozen on the way out began to soften and open up. It looked like we had gone at just the right time. There was only that one chance to take sleds into the hills and it was right then. We were the only mushers on it and it was great!
A few days later the cold returned and while it didn’t bring any new snow, it dropped the mercury down into the single digits. This time, rather than trucking the dogs, we were going to take a small 9-dog C-team out of the yard to recon the trails behind the house to see if they were safe enough for the larger, more powerful A and B teams. I quickly learned the meaning of the old cliché “a stitch in time can save nine.”
I had used a tie-off rope that was a little too short to get a full knot when anchoring down the team while I was plugging dogs in. Both hooks were set and it was only nine dogs so I figured it would hold just long enough. I was wrong.
As I went to harness the ninth dog, I looked up and saw the eight in the team take off pulling a sled without me. My heart sank and I ran after them screaming “Woah!” but they were too far ahead and far too excited. The temp was about 5 degrees so I had on layers of gear and my big heavy boots. Catching them on foot was not an option. I huffed back to the yard and tried to start one fourwheeler, then another, but the minus 2 cold the night before worked against me and I couldn’t crank either one. I ran to the dog truck and the story was the same. It hadn’t been plugged in so it wouldn’t start either. I ran to our two-wheeler drive summer truck, which hadn’t been started in months, but from the freeze-that-freeze cycle of the week, the door was welded shut with ice.
I ran into the house and began trying to call neighbors with snowmachines, but no one was home. Every minute that passed my fear grew to near suffocating levels. A team without a musher is a recipe for dog deaths and injuries. A minor tangle can end in a dog being choked by a line and suffocated, or perhaps having a limb broken or ripped from the socket.
I called Cole at work, 30 minutes away, and she came home immediately. A few other friends were also enlisted to begin driving the road looking for the team running in the fall training trail next to the road (where I thought they’d go). But an hour later no one had seen them yet.
I began going Bruce Lee on the frozen truck door. I got it to open and the truck to start, but we hadn’t plowed the driveway yet, so the two-wheel drive promptly got stuck. Like a madman I kept upshifting and put the pedal to the floor, spinning the tires and watching the mph gauge hit 50 as the truck stood still. But it eventually spun down through the snow, hit the frozen gravel, and slooooooowly began to lurch forward.
I spent the next half hour driving around and not seeing a glimpse of the team, but I got far enough away to see a trail intersection. I could see in the snow there were sled tracks heading to our winter training grounds. I at least knew the vicinity where they were now.
I went back home and with the temperature warming up I began trying the wheelers again and got one to ever so slowly turn over and start. I took off on the winter training trails doing at least 30 mph, hoping upon all hopes that no dogs were dead. Around each bend I would be convinced I would soon see their bright pink harnesses, but each time I saw nothing.
Final about 10 miles away from the kennel I bumped into six of the dogs coming right at me in a ball of tangled lines. I brought them to a stop and began untangling the mess. I used the snapped gangline to safely spread and tether the dogs between two trees, then took off looking for the last two dogs. Over a ridge I found them still attached to the sled, which was now headed back home, but stuck on a tree. They had run almost 12-14 miles without anyone on the sled.
I tied them and the sled to the wheeler and drove it back to the other dogs. Then spliced a gangline, hooked it up to the wheeler, plugged everyone back in and ran them home, dragging the sled behind me. Amazingly, despite their sprint, they were all healthy and still very happy, banging their harnesses the whole way home. Also, about this time I bumped into Cole on the second wheeler, she had got it going too, and while she was happy to see me with all the dogs, a string of profanity came out of her mouth at my stupidity for causing the whole mess in the first place.
With that misadventure behind us, we decided we needed to do something fun to heal our frayed nerves. We spent the next day going over maps of the area to find somewhere totally new, yet safe for the dogs to run. We found a place NO ONE had ever run sled dogs, but that we thought could work. We did some recon of the area, then last night gave it a shot after work and under the bright light of the full moon.
As it turned out, it was a great decision. We got in a four and a half hour run, over lots of hills, and on fresh powder, and we didn’t see a soul. Being on new trail, the dogs were as feisty at the end as they were at the beginning, so not only did they get a good physical workout, it was extremely good for them mentally. It ended up being fantastic training all around, and sure beat having them pull a fourwheeler around the neighborhood like so many of our counterparts did that same day. We hope to return to the area again soon, and many more times throughout the winter.
All for this week.

No Business Like “Snow”business

Friday, November 4th, 2011


Hi all, just a quick post to let everyone know we did finally get some snow. YEA!!!!! We haven’t gotten much, just a few inches, but it sure beats getting rain. The fresh, wet powder has been great for filling in a lot of the trenches in the trails near the kennel. It has also been good for the dogs feet, which we’re getting pretty sore from so much running in the beach sand. And of course the dogs love being back in the snow, so it’s just all around good for morale – theirs and ours.
Hopefully the snow will continue and we can get on sleds soon. We are still using the fourwheeler or truck to train right now, but as the temps cool off more and the lakes and swamps freeze up better, we’ll be getting down to business for real.

Also, just wanted to say thanks to all the kennel supporters who have been making donations. Here are a few pictures of some of our new race harnesses, purchased for us by a secret donor. We thank you immensely for the generous support.
We got them in bright pink, not because Cole is a girly girl (in fact she doesn’t own hardy anything in pink). Rather we got them in pink to make them more visible at a distance to cars and snowmachines. The better these people can see our team, the safer it will be for the dogs out on the race trail.
You may notice in a couple of these pictures we also got reflective tape sewn onto the fronts and sides of these harnesses to make the even brighter at night.

I also put on pic (above) taken from about 500 yards away, and while a blurry picture, you can clearly see how good you can still see the harnesses even at this distance.
Also, for anyone still interested in supporting the kennel. Below is a list of some of the things we still need, and of course cash and checks are always good for offsetting race entry fee expenses ($1,500 for Quest and $3,000 for Iditarod).
Also, any of you who enjoy sewing, we can always use neck gaiters to protect our faces from the cold and wind. We typical make these out of polar fleece and sew in a layer of wind resistance material. We need several sizes, since when it gets minus 40, we may wear two or three of them, one over the others. Below is a pic of Cole wearing one on the Iditarod.

We also specifically use LITHIUM AA-sized batteries, and we can use as many as people are willing to send. It is not uncommon for us to go through 100-200 of these in a season.

We can never get enough chemical handwarmers and the bigger the size the better, such as the large Grabber brand MEGAWARMER 12+ hour ones. When it is minus 40 we may even use a couple of these in each mitten, rather than just one. We typically go through many boxes of these a season.

From Kipmik Products, which only does orders via the phone (not internet yet), we get all our racing booties. Some people make and send us booties and we always welcome, however we have found that Kipmik’s booties are the most consistently dependable. Their phone number is 907-563-0041 and if you get John, tell him who you’re ordering for. He knows us well and would likely be happy to hear from someone supporting our kennel.
We need roughly 1,500 Large, 500 Medium and 500 extra large, any of the stretch Velcro varieties will work.

From Cold Spot Feeds, which can be found at www.coldspotfeeds.com or by calling 907-457-8555, we need “QCR plastic which is found under the tab “Sled Parts and Runner Items.” This plastic is what we use under the runners, or skis of the sled, making the pulling easier on the dogs. We tend to change it out every 100 miles, so we can go through a lot in training and racing 1,000 miles. Rolls of this plastic are $25.95 each and we need as many as we can get. They always get used. The exact plastic we need is the ¼ x 1 ¼ x 8’ in BLACK, and to make things easier the SKU# is 10668.

Cold Spot Feeds also sells ALGYVAL, which we use to massage the dogs wrists and legs at checkpoints. This can be found under the “Dog Care and Supplements” tab and the “Foot and Leg Care” subtab. A few bottles of this would go a long way. It costs $36.95 a bottle and the SKU# is 11520. (Kipmik also sells Agyval, for anyone already placing a bootie order with them.)