The rest of the state got blanketed in an early snow this past week, friends in Paxson and Fairbanks have said they’ve already gone to sleds, but here is Kasilof the storm seemed to miss us. The temperatures dropped a few more degree, as highs are now around the low 30’s, and lows are in the single digits to low teens, but we didn’t get any snow. The woods trails, which we had already been avoiding due to jagged ice that would be equivalent to running a dog team over broken glass, have only gotten worse. Now the ground has frozen and is as hard as asphalt.
The beach continues to be the best option for training, but yesterday’s run was good for more than just strength and cardiovascular fitness. There were 30-50 mph winds coming off the water all day and into the night, so our normal beach run ended up being excellent storm training too. Hopefully, running along open water, skirting around deadfall, and in direct headwinds like that, will prepare the dogs for the Yukon River in February when Cole runs the Yukon Quest.
We really got to test a few young dogs in the conditions. Penny ran lead, but little Penny is always like a knife through wind. She is as tough-headed as they come, and never flinches in storms. But with her we decided to run Squirrel, a two-year-old dog that has been showing some amazing leadership skills while on training runs this season. We weren’t sure how Squirrel would do, since not only were the winds strong enough to peel your face off (which alone can break some dogs), but also because the winds had blown away any signs of a trail and even moved some new weird sand drifts into place. Squirrel would have to be leading solely by listening to commands.
Tests like this are mentally tough on dogs, but they are the best way to determine dogs that will lead, from actually lead dogs. Lead dogs go in any and all conditions, while some dogs are just fair-weather leaders. Both are valuable since fair-weather leaders can be a real asset in training runs, but real leaders are what you want when you’re in the high country of the Caribou Hills, trying to go up hill through three-feet deep drifts, in a blowing storm.
Squirrel was solid. She ran through the storm like she had been doing it here whole life. She just put her nose down and dug in. It was awesome, especially since Squirrel is already slated to make Cole’s Yukon Quest team, barring any injuries between now and then. Having an extra leader on a 1,000-mile race will definitely help out when her usual race leaders need mental breaks, or if any get hurt and have to be dropped from the race.
The only down side of yesterday’s wind is it scoured away a lot of the sand in some places, leaving large patches of gravel to run through. This is no good on the dogs feet or ankles, so hopefully the next series of high tides will pull more sand down from the bluff, or wash some in. Of course, getting snow would be our first choice though, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed some will come in the next few days, so maybe we would move the operation to the Caribou Hills.
Here are a few photos from this past week. The top one is the team going out a few days before the big winds came. Most of this sane is now gone, sadly. The second in Zoya cooling off in a stream while on a water break.