Friday, 25 November 2005

November 25, 2005 Impressive!

You cannot call Karen's Siberians "Slowberians" as the breed has been nicknamed in racing circles. I recently spent a couple days out at North Wapiti and went for two runs with the A team. And I was blown away by the workability and work ethic of the North Wapiti dogs.

Days start early for Karen, up at 4:30am with Mark who is off to work at 5:00am. Between 6 and 6:30 she feeds and waters the A team and the puppies. At 9:00am (or a wee bit later, if she is entertaining chatty guests) she pulls out her records and her "team board" and writes up a list of dogs in order for the team for that day. By 9:30 she is out in the yard, hooking up. This involves getting out the 14 harnesses she will use that day, filling up water jugs, grabbing any other gear she might need for her trip, and then off to the dog yard where she hooks up 14 dogs worth of gang line to the ATV. The dogs are screaming and bouncing around on the end of their chains howling in anticipation….. "Is it me? Do I get to go? Pick me!!! Pick me!!!" they all seem to be yelling in unison. She selects the dogs of the day according to the order on the team board and brings each dog to the drop chains to be harnessed. 

On this particular morning Karen casually said to me "you might want to bring some money for lunch!!!" 

Once the dogs are all harnessed they get hooked up according to that order on the board. I found I actually had to really haul those dogs back far enough to clip on their tug lines as they really lean into their harnesses. For the most part Karen's team is quite calm at this point. I think my 6-dog team makes more noise and fuss hooking up than the 14 of hers did. Some of them roll around on the ground like they are getting in a good back scratch while they wait!! 

With little fuss and an "alright" from Karen, we are off, through the dog yard, past the puppy pens and onto the trails. And my education began. Karen does not use the throttle to assist the dogs. With her and I on a 600lb ATV those dogs pulled us up hills and down hills and rarely did Karen get off, walking beside the machine to assist them. If the dogs slack off she drops a gear and if you look down the line you can see the dogs IMMEDIATELY get down to business. And quite often the "slacker" gets a firm telling off from the dog beside it.

 At one point we had to make a very sharp left hand turn coming off one trail, around a fence and onto another trail, almost doing a complete about turn in the process. It was quite something to watch this team swing wide to the left around the fence and go again, keeping a 14 dog line tight. I do an about turn on the trails myself, but always my line accordions and goes slack as the dogs almost snap the rig around. Her line stayed tight. She made small use of the throttle here to get the machine around, then off the throttle as we trucked up the long hill.

We made our way up to the highway and onto what she calls ditches, but look more like long grassy banks to me. It was quite fun to hear the honks and see the waves as people drove past us. I can only imagine what went through their minds. Mile after mile clicked by, with Karen monitoring the team, and quietly keeping me entertained with stories of dead porcupines, flipped ATV's, flying squirrels (which desiccated remains are fixed to the barbwire fence and I quote " it may be a flying squirrel, but obviously he wasn't very good at it!" ) I should also mention that as I have come to know Karen, I find she tends to minimize her adventures in the telling! She warns me when the going gets rough (oh my aching muscles from hanging on for dear life) and eventually we make our way to the now famous Perryvale Cemetery! I notice that Karen now parks the team well past the gate to the graveyard!

Cemetary1.jpg (291332 bytes)
Outside the fence
Cemetary2.jpg (219093 bytes)
Past the gate

A quick pause to water the dogs and we are off again, down the main road into Perryvale. A lost driver pulls us over to ask for directions and once she is comforted that she is no longer lost she looks at us in astonishment and says "OH!!! Beautiful dogs!!!!"
Our next stop is the little town of Perryvale! I never in a month of Sundays imagined I'd ever get to go to town to pick up the mail by dog team! A quick snack (why I needed lunch money) and some more stories and we are off again.

Perryvale.jpg (211012 bytes)
Perryvale2.jpg (185527 bytes)
Town visit via dog team

Coming out of Perryvale we did some more road riding, and then back into the trails for a real workout. I kept peeking over Karen's shoulder to check our speed, can those dogs work!

OnTheMove.jpg (209394 bytes)
On the move

I'll mention the "Pork Chop" incident here, although it actually occurred on the second run we did. Pork Chop is the neighbor's dog. Pork Chop seems to lie in wait for anything it can chase down the roads and through the fields. He doesn't care if you are a car, a truck or a dog team, the chase and harassment is on. I had quite a start when I saw him making a sprinting bee-line for Karen's team, imagining the upcoming tangle and fight, wondering what she would do. Karen didn't do anything except yell at him. This pain in the butt hit the team going full belt and actually ran between her leaders and her point or swing dogs right through the lines. What did those Siberians do? NOTHING!! Hardly twitched an ear at him. Although he followed us for ages, barking and running at the team they completely ignored him. I can only imagine the amount of training it took for Karen to get her team to ignore this idiot dog. I was blown away.

It only gets better! Back to running trails now. 

The particular route that Karen took to go back to the dog yard has a long flat (but not necessarily level) section of a mile or so. Again peeking over her shoulder, seeing that the dogs had already clocked over 21 miles, I watched the speed creep up. For a steady mile these dogs pulled at 20 mph (32 kilometers per hour for us Canadians) in third then fourth gear, loping down the trail. From behind them it watching their movement looked like gentle waves rolling backwards, dogs running in unison, easily and steady. 20 mph. For over a mile. After running 20 + miles of hills and uneven ground, pulling the two of us, on the ATV. 

Slowberians? I think NOT!!!! 


On a final note, I went to North Wapiti to pick up my long awaited puppy. I came home with North Wapiti's Electra, a.k.a. Ellie.

KaraEllie.jpg (126020 bytes)
Kara and daughter, Ellie
Ellie.jpg (83034 bytes)

Thank you Karen!!
Gwen Ross

November 25, 2005 A Musher's Day

A number of years ago I was doing a school presentation on mushing and my adventures, when I was approached by a young man that told me he wanted to be a musher when he ‘grew up’. A few days later his Mom called me at home and asked if he could come out and work with me for a bit to get a feel for what it was all about. I readily agreed.

He came out and worked about 3 or 4 days with me. We did yard chores, ran dogs, did more yard chores…basically the stuff I do everyday.

Then I received a second phone call from Mom. It seems that that young man felt we weren’t doing enough ‘fun stuff’. I indicated that what we were doing was a normal day in my life – and if he was interested in doing this ‘for a living’ down the road, it was necessary that he realized that the job was mostly chores.

That was the last I heard from them.

I was thinking about him yesterday as I was feeding dogs. I think that some folks think that, because I don’t have a ‘regular’ job that my days are carefree and fun filled. Now, don’t for a second get me wrong, I chose my life, I love my life and I hope to be able to continue to live this way for a long time – but carefree and fun filled, it isn’t. I thought I’d give you a run down of what yesterday was like for me. Yesterday was not an extraordinary day – it was fairly ordinary, for a day when Mark is working night shifts, which happens around 7 days a month.

My morning started late, at 6 am rather then the usual 5 or 5:30 am. I don’t usually set an alarm clock, as I spent many years living by one and now detest the things, so occasionally I will oversleep alittle. I checked the temperature, let Kara outside, stumbled around and found clothes – making it out the door just after 6:30.

I mixed up 2 buckets of soup for the main string (then divided it between 3 buckets to save my back – a full bucket weighs about 40 lbs), filled another bucket with their Eagle Ultra kibble and another with their Amaize cookies. Everything was hauled out to the ‘feeding staging area’, yard lights turned on and the feeding began.

The 29 main string dogs each got about a cup and ½ of kibble and 2 or 3 cookies. That is followed by 2 scoops of soup (if I remember right, that is around 7 cups of water).

By the time I finished up with food and water for the main string, Mark had arrived home and was having his breakfast. Because I was running behind, but still wanted to say ‘Good Morning’ to him before he headed for bed, I told the puppies they were going to have to wait for breakfast and headed back inside to visit with him for 20 minutes.

By 7:30, he was in bed and I was having breakfast and coffee. Unfortunately, I only had a bagel for breakfast – and although it was a good-sized bagel, I need protein in the morning. I can do without lunch – even dinner – but if I pass up a good breakfast at this time of year, it is pretty much a guarantee that my body will be rebelling by 10am.

I did dishes, checked email, decided which dogs I was running that day, did up a batch of sweet and sour pork ribs for the slow cooker, booked my reservations for a hotel in Dawson City for the Quest… generally puttered at a variety of chores and tasks until about 9:30 at which time I headed outside again.

I fed and visited with the puppies, did some repairs to my 4 wheeler, gathered harnesses and began hooking up dogs. By 10:30, I pulled the quick release and was off on a run.

The weather has been warm, so I’ve been doing pretty short runs with the team and stopping to water often.

The run was nice. I even spotted a bald eagle visiting the valley – very unusual. I figure he was drawn in by the dead deer someone had dumped just off one of our trails (nearly had a mess with that the other day, but the dogs shot by the carcass before they figured out where exactly it was. I’ve been avoiding the area until the scavengers can clear the mess up better). 

By the time I got back in the yard, watered the team, put them away, picked up harnesses and ganglines, and got back to the house, it was after 1. I had a bowl of popcorn for lunch, watched a bit of the National Dog Show on TV (didn’t stick around to watch the Working Group though – no time) and then headed out to do chores. 

I played with puppies and got to work on shovelling, taking time to visit with the dogs as I worked. I didn’t quite get finished (boy, I miss having Anna around to shovel during the week. Her schedule now that she is back in school and the shorter days mean we only have her shovelling the yard on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve been advertising for a Canine Waste Management Technician for weekdays, but no luck so far) by 3pm when Mark gets up, but headed back to the house anyway. When he is working nights, I really only see him for 2 hours a day, so I like to spend as much of that time as possible with him. 

I finished up dinner preparation by 4, we ate dinner and by 5 he was off to work. Because I lost at Backgammon (very unusual), I did dishes, then paid bills (okay, at this time of year, it is more like ‘juggled bills’), answered emails, ran a couple loads of laundry through, mailed out some packages I needed to get to, and worked on some of my Quest preparations. I had planned on getting out to feed by 7, but before I knew it, it was 8. 

Now I need to prepare 5 buckets of soup and fill 2 bucket of kibble (one Ultra for the main string, one of Power for the rest of the yard). Everything (which I estimate to be over 200 lbs of food and water) gets hauled out to the feeding table. Yard lights on and time to begin. Kibble to everyone first, then water, and then pick up the bowls and visit with the 25 non-main string dogs. Lastly, some time to play with the food covered puppies (life would be cleaner if they didn’t think eating was a full contact sport). 

I hauled all the empty buckets back to the garage and took out meat for tomorrow’s morning feeding. Back out into the yard, yard lights shut off, 4-wheeler moved up to the garage for the night (my newer machine is not at all fond of starting after spending a night outside – Mark’s older machine has no problems with that). Final task is to head over to feed and water Fly and the 6 dogs in Geriatric Park. 
I cleaned up alittle in the garage and then at 9:45 went back into the house. 
I put on the kettle, made myself a cup of hot chocolate, watched the last 15 minutes of ‘What Not to Wear’ and then headed off to bed. 

Tomorrow will be alittle different. Temperatures are getting colder, so I’ll be able to stretch my runs back out to 3 or 4 hours. Mark is on days off, so I can probably squeeze in my time on the treadmill (I do about an hour a day, 5 or 6 days a week) and we will try to get one or two camping trips in there too – but all and all, there is really no break in the schedule until about March! J But as I said – I’d live my life no other way! 

All for this morning – I’ve already put myself behind schedule!


Saturday, 19 November 2005

November 19, 2005 House Husky

The temperature has shot through the roof here for the last 2 days. It was 9C, raining and wind gusts of 90 km per hour when I got up yesterday morning. Needless to say, we haven’t had the teams out since our camping trip on Wednesday. Mark has been using the time to finish up on the new dog truck and I’ve been working on planning and organizing for my trip north. The dogs have been vegging out in their houses – they are not too fond of wind!

Since I have no trail stories to tell right now, I thought I’d regale you all with a tale of my House Husky. As many of you know, I tried to move Grover into the house this summer, but he would have none of it. After peeing on the couch, he’d paw at the sliding door and stare out at the dog yard until I relented and let him back outside. A few weeks after that, we had a temporary shortage of kennel space, so I let Kara into the house to free up a kennel. She had none of Grover’s issues with living in the house and, let’s face it, I’ve created one excuse after another since to keep her inside.

Mark’s been muttering that I am ruining her as a sled dog and that I’ll be at the bottom of King Solomon’s Dome this year wishing I hadn’t spoiled her so, but heck, I enjoy her company – and honestly, she is having a great season so far. We worked out a deal (Kara and I, that is) – if she continues to put in good runs and eats well at the end of her runs, she is welcome to live in the house until we go up to Alaska. With the exception of one night she spent in the kennel after she threw a temper tantrum outside the Perryvale Store (she wanted to head home, I didn’t), she’s been great. She’s actually been doing better then ever as a leader!

She is virtually the perfect housedog too - she’s very calm (especially now that we are in the middle of training), she destroys nothing, she never has accidents in the house (well, there was that one time, but that was a STATEMENT after I banished her to the house when she was being a pest as Veronica was doing adjustments on the team), she doesn’t beg, she’s quiet (at least now that she got over the need to join in with group howls)… she’s just very enjoyable to live with. She can be trusted to just be let outside without supervision - she does her business, visits her pups and comes running when she is called. In fact, she comes with such enthusiasm that often she miscalculates her approach to the door and skids right off the deck.

She just hangs about while we feed, never pestering the other dogs or wandering off. I got quite the kick out of her a few weeks ago. As I was walking through the yard giving the main string breakfast, she just kept ‘appearing’ on top of every 3rd or 4th doghouse. She was like the Clint Eastwood of the dog yard – I never saw her coming or going, I’d just get to the doghouse and find her sitting quietly on top of it staring at me. After about the 4th appearance it occurred to me that I had forgotten to feed her first, as I normally do. Quite the character, she is!

She doesn’t crowd us for bed space; in fact, she doesn’t want to sleep on the bed. Oh, she will get up on it, burrow and kick the sheets all over the place and then jump off and curl up on her dogbed, leaving Mark and I to straighten up her disaster before we can go to sleep.

She tags along with me to the garage and offers moral support while I’m working out (my treadmill and exercise bike live out there), she jumps in the van to do errands with me – in fact, she is the only dog that has been in the new dog truck (okay, it was in the cab – not the boxes – but she has ridden in it. I think she thinks we bought it just for her).

Basically it is a pretty cool relationship that we are all enjoying (Mark too – he just doesn’t like anyone to know that he is – but it was him lying on the couch snuggling with her last night).

There is however one problem – she hates my cooking. Well, maybe she doesn’t hate my cooking, more like she is scared of it. See, as I’ve mentioned many times, our house is small – and because it is, boiling and frying food in the kitchen often causes our smoke detector to go off. Because the smoke detector is hard wired in, there is no disabling it for meals (besides I don’t think that is wise anyway). Now I really didn’t think it was going off all that often, but apparently it is, because now every time I turn on the stove Kara runs to the sliding doors and begs to be let out. If I don’t rush over and let her out, she heads for our bedroom to hide. I understand that the alarm on the detector is hard on everyone’s ears, especially her extra sensitive canine ones, but I got to admit it is hurting my ego that she is thinking it will go off every single time I head into the kitchen.

I’m now being extra diligent about turning on the stove hood fan when cooking and/or cracking open a window – ‘cause no matter what my company and family says – until Kara gives me the ‘dew claws’ up as a cook, I’m not going to be happy!


  ©Penny Blankenship

Thursday, 17 November 2005

November 17, 2005 Camping

A number of things have kept us for getting the amount of camping trips on the dogs that we normally have on them by this time. I’m not horribly concerned, as it is only a handful of the rookies – specifically Newt, Jinx, Q, Eeek, Spider and Dare – that have absolutely no experience resting on the trail – but we do need to get some of these trips done! 

So yesterday, ignoring a bunch of pressing issues, phone calls, emails, etc, we cleared our schedule and headed for our favorite camping spot – the Forfar Campground with 2 – 14 dog teams.
The run out was going really strong - the dogs were storming down the trail, even through the muskeg, which was really rough – so rough I had to coax my kidneys out of my throat at the end of it – so rough that 3 of the 4 zipties (you know the things that cops use as emergency handcuffs) that hold the ‘milk crate’ (used for holding my dog watering jug) onto my 4 wheeler snapped – until we ran into the cow.

Understand, we live in ranching country; cows are an everyday part of our runs – they run along fence lines beside us, they bolt in terror at the sight of a dog team, or they stand there staring with chunks of hay hanging out of their mouths, but almost always from the other side of a fence. Not yesterday. We were about 3 miles from the campground when we came across some folks trying to ‘herd’ home a wayward cow. They had a truck with a bale of hay on it in front of the cow and someone in a car behind it encouraging it along. This cow was in no hurry to head home and was literally strolling down the road. I’m alittle unsure if his owners had just never seen a rodeo and were unaware that you can throw ropes over the beasts and lead them around – or were just trying to make the task more challenging for themselves for some unapparent reason – whichever, we were forced to try to keep the dog teams a reasonable distance behind and down to ‘cow strolling speed’. Very difficult at the best of times – more so when Odie and Hector spotted the Hamburger on Hooves ahead. After traveling along about a mile and a half in ‘parade formation’, the ‘ranchers’ (I use that term loosely here) and their cow turned away from us and onto Highway 663. It was almost tempting to follow the procession to see what happened when they ran into traffic, but we just bee lined for the campground anyway.

As I was entering the campground, I noticed a lot of REALLY big coyote tracks, I was wondering what the chances of a wolf in the area would be when my team literally ran into a 140 lb wall of Malamute. He was accompanied by a 70 lb sidekick (the ‘little one’ as his owner later referred to her). Mark’s team was right behind me and his leaders Snickers and Sprite zipped into the campground. Why is it the littlest dogs are always the feistiest?? Little 35lb Sprite was on her toes and right in the Big Boy’s face. Luckily, he took the invasion of his space exceedingly well and tails were wagging when the owners came scrambling over to get their dogs.

I was shocked to find other campers in the Campground – for years I’ve joked about how we never have to worry about crowds when we visit the popular summer camping spot in the late fall/winter. Turns out it isn’t as inactive as I thought. Rob and his family make many visits here in the winter, spending up to a week at a time. This trip he was accompanied by his daughter, Darby and we all had a nice little visit as Mark and I fed the team and settled them in for their break.

Rob and Darby headed back to their campground and Mark and I started a fire and cooked a few hotdogs to kill a couple hours. Hector amused himself digging up treasures in the bush. He was most offended when I took his prize - a Pontiac Sunfire mud flap -away from him and threw it out.

After our 2 hours were up, Mark refilled water jugs in the lake, I rounded up Darby and offered her a ride up to the entrance of the campground – which she quickly accepted – and we headed home.
When we came to the stretch of road that we had followed the cow on earlier, I was wondering if he had managed to make it safely home. My question was answered when I looked up and spotted the wandering bovine standing in the middle of the road ahead. His owners were nowhere to be seen. I glanced over my shoulder to see if Mark was seeing what I was seeing. He was – he was holding his head in his hands and shaking it. The cow wasn’t looking like he was going to move off the road and I was hesitant about trying to ‘chase’ it off the road with the team. Mark wasn’t – “We are NOT going through this again”, he stated as he and his team blasted by mine.

Sure enough, the cow wasn’t giving up his piece of real estate and didn’t budge as the 28 dogs, 2 ATV’s and 2 human bore down on him. Sprite and Snicks veered around him, but they were close enough that Snicks snuck in a quick munch on his tail as she went by. He spun to stare at her, but that was it. Shockingly, if you know Hector, he and Odie led my team by without incident. I could have reached out and slapped the creature as my ATV shot by him. I didn’t, but I did sneak in a couple insults about his parents. He turned and started chasing after us. He persevered on his chase for about a ¼ mile. Honestly, if he were my cow, I’d be firing up the barbeque.

The rest of the run was pretty uneventful. The gorgeous day gently turned into a spectacular evening. The full moon was memorizing, as it came up over the cut hayfields. The half-inch of snow we had gotten the previous day gave the moonlight something to reflect off of and the headlights and spotlights were only necessary to make us visible to approaching traffic.

The run through the muskeg somehow seemed even rougher then it was on the trip out, although I would have thought that impossible. I’ve figured the trick to keeping your body intact for this ‘carnival ride’ is to stay relaxed – unfortunately, that hotdog I ate at the campground chose to make it’s presence felt at this time (I don’t often eat hotdogs and I now remember exactly why). My body tensed to ‘protect’ my stomach from the bouncing hot dog and I came through the 3-mile section of trail feeling like I had been run over by a semi. BTW – the Cat tractor is still stuck out there – in fact, it has sunk more.

We got back in about 8pm. By the time we got the dogs (yard and teams) fed, the teams put away and gear all gathered up, it was well passed 9. A late dinner of Caesar salad (I think I have found the perfect Caesar salad dressing recipe) and left over pizza and we headed for bed.

It was a good day – had a great run with the dogs, got some good stories to tell, met some interesting new people. Just about perfect in my books!

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cloves (or more depending on your taste - I use 3 or 4) garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp light mayo

Whisk everything together but mayo. Then whisk in mayo until smooth.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

15 September 2005 1998 and 1999 Thoughts From Long Ago

October 20th, 1998

Things are going very well in training so far. We have 25 dogs currently training for the 'A' team. Dogs are currently doing 10 - 12 miles, 4 times per week. We can see quite a bit of progress since we started running back in July!

Some new leaders are developing their skills. Key in this years leader 'pool' will be Iceman. Although he ran lead in Quesnel for me last year, we had not focused on his leader training - this year he is proving to be very hardworking and reliable up front! Oreo has also shown she likes to be up front, although she is not yet taking commands. One of the biggest surprises in lead has been Chester (Chuchinka's Pathfinder). Although still very young and not expected to be on the team this year, he has led a few times in training. He seems to relish the leader position and becomes quite 'full of himself' when there - he even seems to be starting to understand 'Gee/Haw'!! Of course, the old 'stand bys' are still up front - Spud (Ch. The Professor of NorthWapiti CD, SDU, TT), Howl , Gilligan, Minnow, Breezy, and my favorite leader - Buddy.

This is our team on the way to a 5th place finish at the 1998 Quesnel, B.C. Goldrush Trail Sleddog Race.
Photo taken by Ross Mitchell of the Quesnel Caribou Observer.

November 10

Well we have run into a training snag, not with the dogs, but with me! On October 28 I stumbled walking into my brother in law's garage. Initially we thought it was just a bad sprain, but now they are saying it is either a fracture or severe bone bruise. Either way it hurts and is probably going to do so for awhile. Luckily, I only missed 1 day of training because of it. We have switched to running alot of nights so Mark can give me a hand, it does make a long day for him though. The weather is nice and chilly, but alittle snow would sure make the dogs and I happier. We are running 10 - 14 miles on a daily basis and last weekend did one 26 and one 16.5 mile run! Dogs really seemed to enjoy the change of scenery! We made our first cut of the season, Rizzo was cut from the team last week. As he seems to be a slow maturing boy, we really hadn't expected him to make the big team this year, so this was not a real surprise to us. One other change in the yard is that Ginger has moved to a new home. She is now living with Sam and Britton Burton in Council Bluff, Iowa. We will sure miss her, but know that she will be well loved and cared for with the Burtons.

November 27

We are eagerly waiting the end of hunting season!! Our house is surrounded by numerous 'green quarters', which are government owned pieces of land. This is really wonderful for 11 months of the year and really not wonderful for the month of November, which is rifle hunting season here. The last week the our trails have been as busy as a highway as everyone frantically tries to fill their deer and moose tags before the end of the season. It will be nice to get back to peace and quiet on December 1. The leg is doing pretty well. I was a bad girl and took Breezy and Lyra to a dog show weekend before last. A good wrapping job and some Tylenol 3 and I got through the weekend in fine shape. Lyra picked up a few points towards her championship and Breezy took 3 breed wins and a Group 1!!! That is the end of showing until next April for us.

I took 3 dogs, Gilligan, Doc, and Gus into the vet for blood work. We are going to monitor the results on these 3 dogs a few times over the season to see what we can learn. Dr. Long, who is a former Iditarod vet and working the Quest this year, was pleased with the condition of the dogs.

We are off to bed early tonight - busy training weekend ahead!

December 4

Things are beginning to get hectic around here. Only 20 days left before we leave for Alaska. I spent yesterday in Edmonton picking up turkey skins, frozen herring, leg braces (for me!!), and other odds and ends. Back to running today. There is still not enough snow for a sled - this is beginning to badly affect our training. I hope that I get on a sled before Alaska!!!

Dogs are doing really well, despite the lack of snow. In the next 20 days I have to shave my 'A' pool from 24 to 18 dogs. I don't know where to start!!!! This weekend and next we will get some good, long, back to back runs on them and see if that helps us make some decisions!

December 15

Well, we are getting down to the crunch - just 10 days before we leave for Alaska! We still don't have snow, but they are predicting some for later this week. Maybe I'll luck out and get a couple sled runs in next weekend!

I have made a few cuts in the team. Gus and Sammie have decided this will not be their turn to go. I have also made the hard (but right) decision to leave Chester at home. He has been working so well that it was tempting to bring him, but our long term plans for him will be better served by not pressuring him this season! So right now the dogs that I taking (of course barring injury or illness) are:

















Well off to get another run in today!

December 18

SNOW!!!!! It stormed all day yesterday and we are thinking that we should be able to get some SLEDDING in this weekend!! What a relief! Of course, I will probably have to stay with smaller teams for safety reasons, but we should be able to get some good runs in anyway!! I hope that is the last of the noisy, back breaking 4 wheeler for the season. It and I didn't get along so good this season. Mom, if you are reading this - please skip the next line :) I rolled it twice this season and the transmission is beginning to sound like it is in need of some work. I'll be glad to put it away!
I have decided that the 18 dogs I mentioned last entry are, for sure, the ones headed to Alaska with us. The decisions were hard this year and I ended up leaving some very good dogs in the yard, but I don't have room for everyone.

I send my entry in yesterday for Klondike 300. That starts on January 16th in Big Lake, Alaska. I'm starting to have trouble sleeping at night, I don't know whether it is because I'm excited about the up coming trip or whether I'm nervous about all the things still left to be done!!

January 8, 1999

Well, so much has happened since my last entry, I don't know where to start!!! Unfortunately, I'm sure to miss some details, but here goes....

Christmas was a good time. Good friends, good food, lots of laughter, what more could someone ask for (except to have their family around!). We headed out for Alaska on Boxing Day and arrived at our new 'home' on December 29th. The trip was icey and alittle hairy at times, but nothing too serious. We saw lots of wildlife on the way up - moose, caribou, a fox, a wolf, and about 1 million bunnies! Our accommodations with Maureen Chyrsler in Willow are pretty much perfect. I just couldn't wait to get out on the snow, so Maureen and I each took a couple 6 dog teams out that day so I could see the trails. They are incredible!!! The following days Mark and I did some double sledding and explored the area more.

Last weekend was the Knik 200. I had a blast, despite less then perfect weather and getting lost a fair bit! Those of you interested in more specific information about the race may want to check out Don Bower's Musher Diary on the Iditarod homepage. He gives a good account of the race! We finished 25th out of 29 teams, which is a result we are very satisfied with. We really just wanted to get some more experience on the dogs and myself and finish with everyone healthy and happy. The team consisted of Buddy, Spud, Sissy, Oreo, Breezy, Jake, Mork, Iceman, Howl, Gilligan, Doc, and Butch. One interesting thing about the race was that there were 3 Siberian teams entered - and all three were driven by women!!! Judy Currier was there with her team (finishing around 17th place, I believe) and Earl and Natalie Norris had a team there driven by one of their handlers, Doro (she had an excellent race, finishing in 15th!)

One particular memory of the race will stay with me always! On Saturday night at about 1 am I left the Yenta Roadhouse for the 35 mile run over to Skwentna. At about 1:30 the full moon came out. It was so bright that I shut off my headlamp and made the journey down the river entirely by moonlight! It was spectacular!!!

Mark is back at home now for a just over a week. I am continuing to train dogs and organize things for the Klondike that starts on January 16.

There has been one sad component to our trip. Minnow has been quite sick with mysterious symptoms. It looks now that she has a mass located in her throat. Vets in Willow are going to try and remove it tomorrow. We are very worried about her.

That's about all the time I have to write now! I hope that I will get a few more entries in before our trip home!

January 26

BACK HOME!!!! As fun and exciting as our trip was - it is true that there is no place like home!!! The dogs are happy to be in their yard again! Everyone is looking in terrific shape - I have no doubt that they will be fit, healthy, and ready for Race to the Sky in a few weeks.

Guess I should fill everyone in on the Klondike 300. It turned out to be the most challenging race of my career - and one that I am EXTREMELY proud of finishing. The dogs were still suffering from the 'bug' that they had picked up at Knik at the start of Klondike. The 13 mile ceremonial run confirmed my fears that they weren't feeling terrific. By the time we reached Yentna Roadhouse I was entertaining thoughts of scratching. By Skwentna, I phoned Mark to let him know that I was probably going to scratch in at Fork's Roadhouse - the only checkpoint that the team wouldn't have to be flown out of. A little while later I received a phone call at the checkpoint from musher Jamie Nelson. She proceeded to give me the best 'pep talk' I have ever received in my life! She also flatly informed me that she would not be allowing Mark to pick me up anywhere other than the finish line. I was back on track!!!! Things almost faltered again leaving Skwentna - the dogs were very sluggish leaving - however I had promised to meet fellow competitors Steve Crouch and David Teslario two hours down the trail. I figured that they would worry if I didn't show up - so I put into effect some of the ideas Jamie had suggested and about 1 mile down the trail things came together!!! Scratching was never again thought of!! The dogs rolled down the river to the turnoff to Fork's Roadhouse. As we crested the bank coming off the river, I thought I heard a crack from the sled, but quickly forgot about it. Steve and David were waiting, as promised! We snacked dogs and headed out again. About 1/2 mile down the trail I noticed that my left runner felt wobbly. A quick look confirmed my worst fears - the runner was broken. Next time I looked down all that was there was the runner plastic - the runner itself was gone. That make for an eventful 50 miles into the Roadhouse, riding one runner! I had flagged down a couple snowmachines on the trail and they had gotten word out to my husband that I was going to need a new sled for the remainder of the race. (Race rules allow for a new sled to be brought in in case of a sled being damaged to the point of being unusable). Jamie Nelson, once again, came to my rescue - giving Mark one of her sleds for me. That wasn't the only challenge the Klondike held in store for me though!

Around 11am Monday I rolled out of Fork's Roadhouse. We had a nice trip for the first 50 miles. The only problem was Hawk, who had a sore shoulder and was riding in the sled bag. Once we hit the river again things started to fall apart - the temperature was dropping rapidly, my headlamps batteries were failing and the dogs were tired. About 10 miles out of Yentna, Doc decided he was too tired to continue - I loaded him into the bag with Hawk. Things were now getting tough - after trying to plug on for a bit, I decided that the best thing was to shut everything down for awhile, have a nap and cook for the dogs. Upon waking up in the sled bag I knew things were really cold - the front of my snow suit was frozen solid - I had to roll out of the sled to stand up. I cooked a warm meal for the dogs and got packed up and ready to go. By now, my headlamp batteries were out. I trusted my leaders to find the checkpoint in the dark. At 7:45am we arrived at Yentna. Turns out that folks were pretty worried about me, the temperature on the river was -55F. The dogs and I were in good spirits, but the cold had taken alot out of us. We shut things down for a long rest in Yentna and finished on Wednesday afternoon. It was an adventure and a half - I'd do it again in a minute!!!

Friday morning we left Alaska. A marathon drive got us back to Grande Prairie on Sunday for the wedding of my dear friend, Lynda and then we arrived home Monday afternoon. The next week to ten days will be busy getting everything ready for Race to the Sky!

March 4

I feel badly for not updating this sooner! So much has happened since our return from Alaska. First off - the sad news. As many of you may have seen through our tribute on our main page Minnow passed on January 30. After returning from Alaska, her condition quickly worsened. Our vet in Westlock agreed with Dr. Leach's diagnosis - that she had neurological demyelization - and that it was not curable. The very difficult decision was made to put her down. We were both able to hold her and tell her how much we loved her as she went. We will miss her greatly.

We left on February 9 for our trip to Race to the Sky. Our friend and neighbour Roger Morey came along to help out as a handler!! As always, we had a terrific time in Montana. We have had the same wonderful host family, Joan and Dave Morgan, for the past 3 years and we just love visiting with them! It is also a treat to get to see so many of the Race organizers and volunteers that have become friends over the years. The Race went really well up to the last checkpoint!! Unfortunately, there we ran into some problems. The vets figure the dogs got some spoiled meat or something, and when it was time to leave they were bloated, gassy, and didn't want to go. After about 4 hours of walking them around the checkpoint and trying to get them moving, we scratched. It was a very difficult decision, but I was very happy with their race till that point! They had been strong and happy in every other checkpoint. Hills that in past years had been monstrous, long things seemed like molehills as the dogs steamed up them! Even the 25 miles of heavy trailbreaking we did from Holland Lake towards Fawn Creek didn't seem to phase them much.

So now that Montana is behind us we are looking forward to next year and IDITAROD!!!! Training is already underway! I am heading out to Minnesota this weekend to spend some time training with Beargrease winner and Iditarod veteran, Jamie Nelson. What an opportunity that is for us!! I'm taking 20 dogs, including the yearlings - it will probably we a hectic trip down as they all get used to traveling in the dog truck!

A couple changes have happened in the dog yard. Rizzo has decided that sledding is not a career path he wishes to follow, so he is going to live with his sister Zoe in Grande Prairie. And we have a new addition to the yard, Lacey. Lacey is from Bob and Loreen Bridges in Prince George. She is a 4 1/2 year old gal out of BIS, BISS Ch. Chuchinka's Shawn Boy SD x Alaskan's Tonsina of Anadyr. We don't know if she will make the team, but we know that she will fit well into our breeding program! (Now if only she would quit howling all the time!!) I will try to get pictures of her posted soon.
One last, non dog related note. Many of you may be familiar with the fact that we have horses. While we were in Montana, my dear friend and companion of 18 years, Brandy had to be put down. At 25 years, he had lived a long life. I was devastated to not be able to be there with him and am grateful to my brother-in-law, Kelly for taking care of him in my absence!

April 12

Once again, I'm falling behind in keeping my journal updated! I got heck from Mark's Uncle Mervyn from Saskatchewan on the weekend for not updating (nice to know people are reading!) - so here goes!!

Mark and I headed out to Minnesota at the beginning of March. There I did some training with Jamie Nelson. Mark, unfortunately, had to fly home and go back to work. One of the people Mark works with asked why we would go to all that trouble to go to Minnesota to train. Mark asked what he would do if his kid got an opportunity to train with Wayne Gretzky. Would he go out of his way to make it work? 'Of course', he replied. Well, this is the same chance - different sport. Jamie is a 4 time winner of the John Beargrease Marathon and a two time competitor in the Iditarod. She is a gifted lady with a remarkable knack for training dogs. I found the whole 3 weeks to be incredibly educational and a whole lot of fun! We will continue to work with Jamie leading up to Iditarod.

I came home from Minnesota with 2 more dogs. 'Surge' is a puppy back from Sam and Britton Burton of Iowa. Several months ago they purchased Ginger bred to Butchie. Surge (Wetaskiwin's Sir Gallahad) is one of those pups. They have done a terrific job with him - he is outgoing and wonderfully confident for a youngster. Also coming back was a dog from Ann and Al Stead of Northome Kennels. 'Visa' is a neat little black Siberian with white feet. Quick and light on her feet, hard working in harness, and lovable in the kennel, we are delighted that they parted with her.

That's about it for now. I am continuing to run the dogs with the 4 wheeler, although I am having to get up earlier and earlier to avoid the heat. Summer lots like it is not far around the corner!


Sunday, 13 November 2005

November 13, 2005 Warm Spell

I've been getting emails telling me about freeze up in Alaska and snow in the Yukon. Mushing friends are talking of taking their teams out with sleds. Although I'm sure they would deny it, I catch a undercurrent of 'nah, nah, na, nah nah' in their emails. Oh well, it is really all good news for me, as I will be north soon, taking advantage of the frozen rivers and abundance of snow! 

Here in Perryvale we had a brief warm spell - the city of Edmonton actually broke a 99-year record on Wednesday when the temperatures shot up to 17C. This morning though, it has slipped back down below freezing again. We had a light dusting of snow a week or so ago, not enough to really be of consequence, but enough to get the mushers and dogs attention and get us dreaming!

A couple years ago someone visiting the kennel was asking me about additives to a working dog's diet. Mark, who really has no interest in such things (he claims he just follows instructions when it comes to feeding), listened for awhile and then piped up and said "Footprints are the most important thing one can add to their dog yard". Pretty profound for a beer guzzling, tobacco chewing, guy with a tattoo.
These first snowfalls always make me think of this. At the end of the day, when I look into my yard that was smooth, unbroken snow in the morning and see the tracks and trails left by human and canine telling the stories of the day, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment. It's one of my favorite things about new snow!

The Nook - or the Cabin, as it has slipped into being called, has been put to good use of late. Mike Carmichael of Carmacks Siberians was residing there for almost a week. The main purpose of his trip was to pick up a few dogs that weren't ready to go home with Mike and Kathy in September (little Bang and now pregnant Roary), but he brought 14 dogs up with him and turned it into a training trip too.

He also managed to sneak a few extra dogs out of the yard - Zackery and Spot have gone down to Utah to run with Carmichaels this winter. Although it is extremely rare for me to loan out dogs for racing, I feel very comfortable that this is a good thing for these dogs.

Gwen Ross of BC just vacated the cabin yesterday. She took with her Electra, one of the Grover x Kara daughters. Gwen already owns NorthWapiti's KitKat, NorthWapiti's Rough Ruff (Impi) and NorthWapiti's Chips Ahoy.

While Gwen was getting organized for her trip home we brought Electra to the house. Kara, who is still a severely spoiled house husky, was thrilled to have one of her kids in visiting. She still ADORES her children in small groups or through the fence, but doesn't really wish to hang out with the whole lot of them. The two of them romped and bounced all over the house. It was very endearing and I was actually starting to feel bad about selling one of her children on her, but when Gwen and puppy left, Kara didn't even flick an ear. The house is her domain and I don't think she is interested in sharing for any length of time, even with one of her children.

The rest of the dogs are all doing very well. There are some sore feet and a few mild cases of harness rub, but it is all pretty routine stuff. Q and Jinx continue to be the most impressive of the 2 year olds.

Newt and I have been butting heads on a pretty constant basis. Honestly, he is driving me rather nuts with his obnoxious behavior at hookups and in the dog yard - however, he is being a perfect angel for Mark. Go figure, normally it is the other way around - dogs I have no trouble with Mark will have issues with. I would have cut him from the team by now, but Mark's insistence that he does just fine with him, has me keeping his miles up, although I put him in Mark's team whenever Mark runs dogs. Newt has obviously decided he wishes to be Mark's dog, and that is just fine with me.

Well, I think that is it for today. I've been stalling on shoveling the dog yard and I'll be doing it by headlamp if I don't get to it soon!


©Penny Blankenship