Thursday 28 November 2002

November 28, 2002

I’m pouting this morning because of the warm temperatures. It was 5C (just over 40F) here this morning. I guess it will melt all that ice that has been making training with the 4- wheeler so treacherous lately. I was kind of hoping that it would get covered with snow though – rather then melted away.

Despite the miserable weather, training is still going well. I’m a little behind where I want to be, but the dogs are looking good enough that I’m feeling okay with it.

Last weekend Mark and I went out on an overnight camping trip. We did 28 ½ miles out to the Forfar Campground, stayed overnight and came home the next morning. It was good for the dogs – but also important for Mark to test out his camping gear before some of our planned longer trips in late December. Unfortunately, his gear failed him – although his sleeping bag was warm enough, it certainly wasn’t big enough for him to sleep comfortably in outside. Better to find out now then on a really long trip.

Overall the trip was good though. We found a great camping spot near the lake  - seems that campgrounds aren’t too crowded in November – go figure! There was even a pile of nice dry firewood and we were able to get a nice fire going. It took us a bit to figure out that the moaning and groaning we kept hearing was the ice on the lake – you should have heard some of the different ideas we were throwing out before we figured that out!! The moon came out and was so bright that headlamps weren’t even really necessary to work around the campsite! The next morning everything was covered with a thick layer of frost. The dogs where able to shake their frost off, but it took a little scraping to get the seats of the 4 wheelers clear!

This week I’m just trying to stay alive for the last few days of hunting season. Those hunters that haven’t yet filled their tags are getting a little punchy and the woods are filled with sounds of gunshots at dawn and dusk! Only 3 days to go!!! Still, hunting season here is never as bad as Minnesota where the state color is blaze orange and the state motto is ‘If it’s brown – it’s down’.

I need to take a moment to sing the praises of one of my wonderful critters. Sometimes dogs ‘sneak up’ on me and slip into maturity without my really noticing it. The ‘now retired’ Spud was one of those dogs. As a youngster, he was a lousy leader. Every year I’d faithfully try him in lead – shake my head and then put him back into the team, where he worked hard and solid. Then one day when he was about 4 or 5, I put him in lead during a Race and he never looked back. From that day forward, he was one of my most reliable and dependable leaders. Now Draco (not surprisingly – a Spud grandson) has decided to do just this. Draco and his brother, Orion, are remarkable, strong, and important dogs in my team, but Orion has always been the one that I thought was going to be the ‘leader’ out of the two. Orion was leading at 2 years of age, Draco was distracted by butterflies, leaves…. anything. Over the last few years, there have been a few signs that Draco was maturing – but nothing dramatic. When I was out in Minnesota I put him in lead a few times – and all of a sudden it occurred to me that most of my best runs were the ones where he was up front. I started testing him in lead by putting him with some young leaders to see if he was picking up cues off of the really experienced leaders he had been running with or whether he was doing this all on his own. Surprise, surprise - it was all Draco. Since Minnesota, Draco has been leading A LOT. In fact, he is out performing his brother on a regular basis. Watch for this neat, affectionate, big dark gray and white boy at the front of my team a lot this winter! Way to go Pointy Whiskers!!

Well, I’m off to run the carpet cleaner around the front room. Between having a 16-year-old housedog and my mad rush to the bathroom from the dog yard this morning with my boots on, our light beige rug is looking pretty bad! One of these days I need to battle the squirrels for supremacy of our outhouse – or just tear up all our carpet and put down hardwood!  I’m not sure which sounds like a better plan!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American family and friends!!

Wednesday 27 November 2002

November 27, 2002

Click on the images to view larger versions.  I have purposely left the originals large, so that details will be more easily visible for those who car to view them.
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Ready to harness up and run!
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Okay - sometimes it is hard to center a picture when you are bouncing along, hanging onto the handlebars with one hand! :)
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Trail to Yentna 
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Stopped in some snow so the dogs can cool down!
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The Tawatinaw River winds through our quarter section of land. Notice the beavers have been busy on a tree in the foreground!
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Another view of the River valley
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One of my favorite spots on our land!
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The big beaver pond!
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This climb out of the valley is actually MUCH worse then it looks! This trail is on the government land that borders our place.
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The dogs get a break and a pat for working up that climb without stopping! Way to go guys!
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Coming back into the yard.
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After feeding and watering the team, we do a final 1/2 mile or so 'go round' before we are done. The sun is already setting on this day!
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Tuesday 19 November 2002

November 19, 2002

We had a really good weekend of running. We did 29 miles on Friday, 34 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday. It’s really nice having Mark to train that second team again on weekends, that way every dog runs every day and the miles add up much quicker.

The dogs seem to be going through a little bit of a slump right now – the super, super attitudes I was seeing in Minnesota have toned down some, but they are still working well. I’m actually glad to see this happen now – training seasons are full of peaks and lows and the more lows I can put behind me prior to Iditarod, the less chance I will run into one out there on the trail (which I do believe happened in 2001).

As I hoped, I was able to convince the Millers to share Scott’s parody of American Pie – ‘Sled Dog Pie’ with everyone. I was going to cut a few of the verses out, as most are written for specific friends of the Millers, but then figured that everyone probably relates to one verse or another! So without further ado – here it is (remember to hum American Pie’ to yourself while reading this!)

Sled Dog Pie
Words by Scott Miller
A long, long time ago
I can still remember how our two dogs used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had one more, that I could make that dog sled soar
So we added three more dogs instead.
But five dogs wasn’t quite enough to fill our two four-dog teams up.
Bad news on the vet steps, we didn’t have enough yet.
And I can’t remember if I thought it true
When I said a dozen dogs would do
But now I know I’m really through the day 18 arrived.  And we were singing. . . 

Bye, bye all my money good-bye
Spent a half a million dollars and they still make me cry.
I should sell the truck and give them up while I have some pride
But that would be the day that I die.  That would be the day that I die.

Do you believe in circumstance and naming sled dogs after plants
And buying pups the Millers tell you to?
And do you believe in sharing dogs or are you the type that likes to hog
The fast ones so your partner goes real slow?
Well now I know you’ve gone and lost your senses.  You’re building more and stronger fences.
When you go buy a bigger truck, you’ll know that you’ve been stuck.
You’ll have a big old trailer with ATVs and you’ll feed three bags of food a week
And mix it all with bloody meat the day 18 arrives.  And you’ll be singing. . .  

Helter skelter in a summer swelter the dogs going crazy ‘cause Nimka’s out there
Breeding someone else again.
Well I’ve seen him mushing in a cast and Solon Springs where he kicked my ass
And the mountains in his bright red Jeff King suit.
Well I heard him say he had enough, and now he wants some Miska pups
Well that shouldn’t be so hard.  He’s still got a lot of yard.
He’s got a big old trailer and another truck, he might as well go fill them up
And buy a couple of Pangnirtung pups and run 18 dog teams. And he’ll be singing. . .  

I met a bearded man who looked so blue so I asked him for some happy news
He just smiled and turned away.
Then he pointed off across the lake where his team raced by at a break neck pace
But there was no one on his sled.
He looked at me with such alarm.  He said, “I help folks out and break their arms,
And when I give one dog away, I end up with two to take its place.
Oh I’ll have to keep Lori at home it seems or I’ll end up with half of Jamie’s team.
In Blaine I don’t know how I’ll survive the day 18 arrives.”  And he’ll be singing. . . 

Here we all are in one place and Kevin has a smug look on his face
‘Cause he thinks he has a plan.
But I can see it in his eyes and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised
If things change when his kids go off to school.
He’ll call to take a closer look to see if Kerry has more Anuks
And when the Millers can’t supply enough, LeeAnn will say, “Let’s have some pups.”
And then the kids will move back in, they’ll even bring their boyfriends then
‘Cause Mom and Dad are cool again the day 18 arrives.  And they’ll be singing. . . 

Did she laugh or feel like puking when her dogs left her out on the Yukon
That’s why they call her Karen Runs Instead.
And was it a ridge or just a hummock that helped lose her team and frost bite her stomach
And how’d that loaded gun get through the mail?
And she doesn’t have to ask what if she drives her dog team over a cliff
Likes the aches and breaks from the past, the paralysis doesn’t last.
And it’s nice to know your dogs are able to pull over porches and picnic tables
And have people wonder all the while if she’ll survive 18 more miles. And she’ll be singing
. . . 

Oh what a quandary Jamie’s in, She’s out there in a boggy fen
And she’s been training dogs for hours.
One dog’s nose is out of place and another dog it wants to pace
And we know how serious that is.
Max’s water is several hours old, Hurry’s fire is out, she’s getting cold.
What will Jamie do? She’s gonna see that dog team through
And when the rest of us are tired and done, she’ll hook up more dogs just for fun
There’s always time when Jamie runs to train 18 more dogs.
I thought it might be fun to see what the dogs were costing me
For every mile that I ran.
So I figured out the cost of food, the vet, the gear and my time too
And I found it would cheaper to take a plane.
And in the yard the dogs are screaming, it’s suppertime and I’m here steaming
They bellow and they holler and gulp down my last dollar.
Then they’ll look at me and wag their tails and the bitterness it can’t prevail
And I’ll look out with happy eyes the day 19 arrives.  And I’ll be singing. . .

Bye, bye all my money good-bye
Spent a half a million dollars and they still make me cry.
I should sell the truck and give them up while I have some pride
But that would be the day that I die.

Tuesday 12 November 2002

November 12, 2002

“Be it ever so humble, there is NO place like HOME!”

Make no mistake, I love the time I spend in Minnesota, Alaska and the likes – but, gosh, it is a great feeling to crest the hill at the top of our road and see our lovely little corner of the world spread out ahead of me.

I got home at about 7pm on Wednesday. Mark was waiting and we quickly got the dogs settled back into the yard. They fussed and chatted all night – I guess there were lots of stories from the past month that the ‘A’ team had to share with the rest of the yard!!

The tales seem to all be told now and things are settled back down.

I did some rearranging in the yard so the pups are all together and the ‘A’ team in one area. I think this is when Butchie figured out that he is no longer part of the main crew. The look on his face when he didn’t get breakfast with the main dogs was truly confused. Ah, Butchie boy.

I was home for a whole two days before heading off at 4am on Saturday morning, with Nik, for Grande Prairie and the dog show.

The show went very well, with Nik picking up 2 more points towards his Championship. Four down – 6 to go. Those will have to wait until next year though, as from here on in the sole focus is on Iditarod.
Lynda and Dwayne had all my meals waiting for me. Wonderful choices like dilled sole, Cajun chicken, and eggs/feta cheese/honey (Dwayne PROMISES me I will LOVE this strange combination) await me on the trail. Yum!!

To jump backwards a little – the ‘Big Dog Bash’ in Minnesota was a blast. In addition to Jamie and my teams there were 10 ‘big dog’ teams joining us on the trail. We even changed the trail a little this year and, after voting and finding everyone in favor, extended the run to 15 miles out to the Franklin Lake cabin. That added my favorite Minnesota trail to the run – a lovely little stretch that winds and dips through the woods. Everyone got settled in by the cabin and we hung out by a warm fire for a terrific evening of story telling, song singing (if I can get Scott Miller to agree, I will get up his parody of ‘American Pie’ up on the site – including the verse he wrote specially for me! Really, really cute!), and eating! Jamie, Scott, and I had planned to go out on an evening run – but the good company and warm fire lured us into staying. 

After a great night sleep, some people took the 10-mile route back to Jamie’s, but most of us did the 15-mile trip.

I even brought a souvenir home, well; actually the ‘Big Dog Bash’ folks surprised me with it when we got back. I’m a ‘bit’ of a firebug around campfires and spend a lot of time fussing and rearranging fires – in fact, I love it so much that Jamie has instructed me to use it as a time passer when I’m camped on the trail trying to kill time while the dogs rest. See sometimes it is really hard to kill 4 hours alone on the trail when you are not all that tired, like near the beginning of Iditarod. Anyway, I had found the PERFECT fire stick while at the Franklin Lake cabin – a nice little ‘y’ at the end of it to move small logs and everything – I guarded it all night, but the next morning when I went looking for it, it was gone. I was saddened to think someone had burned it while cleaning up the fire. Upon arriving back at Jamie’s the stick was presented to me with instructions to use it when I’m camped on the Farewell Burn on Iditarod. So the stick will be heading out in my drop bag to Rohn and I hope all of you ‘Big Dogs’ folks know I will be thinking of our evening at Franklin Lake while I’m camped on the trail in the Burn. Great memories always keep you warm and happy on the trail!

All for now!

Friday 1 November 2002

November 1, 2002

Phew – as I sit in bed typing this I can barely stand to be in my own skin I smell so bad!! Yesterday was a ‘Mink Day’ at Jamie’s.

Virtually all serious mushers feed their dogs some kind of meat to supplement their kibble diets. Although now that we are feeding the Eagle Power Pack we are using substantially less meat, we will still add tripe, beaver, and fish into our dog’s diets this winter. Jamie’s meat source is a fairly unique one – she feeds ground up mink carcasses from a local mink farm to her dogs. Now they may make beautiful coats, but NOTHING smells quite like a dead mink! YUCK – YUCK – YUCK. Jamie deals in big volume with this stuff, as she also supplies it to a number of other area mushers, so last night we loaded 14 pallets of the stuff into her walk in freezer. Each pallet contains 40 – 40lb blocks. Thank goodness there were a lot of hands around to help out!! Still, it will probably take 2 showers until I smell human again.

Plans are firmed up for my trip home. We arrive back on Tuesday afternoon from the ‘Big Dog Bash’ and I will be loading up the dogs and heading out to friends in North Dakota that day. I should be back in Perryvale sometime late Wednesday evening. I need to be in a rush to leave after the ‘Big Dog Bash’ as I have Nik entered in a dog show in Grande Prairie next Saturday and Sunday. The trip is a ‘two birds with one stone’ deal – my best friend Lynda Brown and her husband Dwayne Dubetz live in Grande Prairie. They are the ones that do up all my meals for Iditarod each year. I jokingly refer to them as Brown/Dubetz Iditarod Catering Services. They do a fantastic job on my food and my meals are the envy of many a musher. Anyway, Lynda says the meals are ready to go, so in addition to the show, I am going up to pick those up.

Everything else is going very well here. The dogs are doing a little bit shorter runs now. – in the 15 mile range. That helps pick up their attitudes and lets any minor aches and pains go away after their big pushes the past few weekends. Olena’s back feet seem a little tender and despite her very verbal protests as I hooked up yesterday, she got an extra few days off.

When I was running on Wednesday there was a light layer of snow on the logging trail I was traveling on for a bit. I could see a lot of wolf tracks heading down the road, certainly not unusual for Minnesota, they have very high wolf populations in the area, but yet, I’ve never seen one in all the time I’ve spend out here. I’ve seen them in Alberta and always enjoy the glimpses, so I was keeping my eyes peeled as we ran. We came out into a big meadow area and just off to my right a huge blanket of ravens lifted off the ground with much squawking and complaining. Sitting in a tree nearby was also a good-sized bald eagle. Their object of interest was just over a little hill and I couldn’t see, but it was obviously something dead and that was what was attracting the wolf traffic too.  I stopped for a moment and stood up on the 4-wheeler, but saw none of the elusive canines. I have no doubt that they were around and were watching me though! Yesterday the area was again quiet, with natures ‘janitors’ (the birds) having obviously cleaned up everything that there was to clean up. 

Well, I think I’m going to sneak in a shower before everyone else gets up this morning!

All for now!