Sunday 29 December 2002

December 29, 2002

We hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas! We did, despite it being kind of weird. Mark and I opened our presents Christmas Eve during commercials of  “It’s a Wonderful Life” – one of my favorite movies. As we had no tree and just a few gifts for each other, it stretched things out nicely.
Christmas day I took out a team and Mark spent the time slicing up meat on the band saw.  In the evening we went over to Mark’s brother’s place and had a great turkey dinner with Kelly, Karen and the kids – all and all, a pretty nice day.

Mark has been off since Christmas Day, so we have been doing a fair amount of running. The dogs are pretty bummed lately. Could be that they all had kennel cough vaccinations last week, were dewormed just the other day, and are darn sick of the tough 4 wheeler training. Who knows, but ups and downs are a part of training and we are just working through it. The one thing they have not lost enthusiasm for is eating – even after hard runs they go SKUNKY when the snacks and meals come out. That is a very promising sign!!

I had all 23 of the ‘A’ team into the vet last week for blood work, kennel cough vaccination, and a checkup. That went pretty well and other then one dog needing a tooth pulled, which was done that day, there were no surprises. We weighed everyone too and I was going to share some of that information with you – but I seem to have misplaced the piece of paper I wrote the weights down on. I’m sure I will find it when we clean out the cab of the dog truck and I will pass it along then.
Draco had his leg checked over at the vet’s too. Nothing was diagnosed for sure. We ended up knocking him out to better allow the vet’s to check out his leg. That resulted in conflicting opinions from two of the vets. One thinks it is a partial tear in his cruciate ligament. If that is the case, it is a career ending injury. We talked about the chance of surgery bringing him back to racing status, and both vets agreed that even if the best specialists in western Canada performed the surgery, the chance of him ever running at an Iditarod level again was highly unlikely.  If there had been a bucket to throw up in while we were discussing this, I would have. Even now, typing about it makes my stomach turn. Draco is maturing into an amazing sled dog. I had well expected him to be one of my main leaders in Iditarod this winter. I am devastated at the thought of his running career being over.
Now, there is a glimmer of hope. Tanis felt that it wasn’t a cruciate injury. Both she and Daryl agreed that the best course for now would be 5 days of anti-inflammatories and crate rest. I was advised that if it were a cruciate, we would not see improvement.

Draco’s 5 days are up – and, I tell you, I’m happy about that! Living in our small house with a 55 lb, eager sled dog is tough.  The day before yesterday, we came home from our run and as I was walking back to the garage with the empty snack bucket, I noticed Draco keenly watching me from the sliding glass doors. Not a big issue – except for the fact that he was locked in a crate when we left. I was terrified to open the door to the house and see what damage he had done. Seems he had decided that he had had enough of that ‘crate rest’ stuff and had pulled open the crate door. He bounced and charged around when I walked in, pretty pleased with himself for figuring out a way out of his crate. Thankfully, damage to the house was non-existent. PHEW!

As for the leg – he is bearing weight on it again – a very promising sign. He’s back out in the kennel and I intent to try him in harness on Tuesday. I will be holding my breath until then.
I’ve had a few emails asking about cuts to the team –when we were making the next batch and if I had any ideas who it would be. The plan was to make the final cut at the end of December, but with Draco’s injury, I’m stalling that decision for a week or so.

January 11th I load the truck and head to Alaska, so it has to be done by then!

Well, I think that is it for today. I’m off to kick Mark out of bed (I let him sleep in until 5:30 this morning). We are planning to run out about 40 miles or so, rest the team for 4 hours and then run home. That should have us home sometime in the wee hours of tomorrow morning.

All for now!

Monday 23 December 2002

December 23, 2002

We ended up not running on Saturday, which was fine, there was lots of other stuff to do around the yard. We trimmed nails and treated feet on the ‘A’ team, filled all the dog houses with straw, picked the dog truck up from the repair shop, ran to the bottle depot…exciting stuff! 

Saturday night we went to Mark’s brother’s place for dinner. That was nice. Although we only live 6 miles from Kelly, Karen (yes, my sister in law is also named Karen Ramstead), and the kids – I haven’t seen them since the summer. We ended up eating too much and I even drank alittle too much (as I don’t drink much at all anyway – 3 drinks is pretty much ‘too much’ for me. Who would have thought that liqueur made from maple syrup and rye would be so tasty?? And how Canadian, eh??) – but isn’t that what the holidays are all about?? 

Karen also invited us over for Christmas dinner – which is cool, because Mark and I are going to spend Christmas day cutting up meat for my food drops and we weren’t planning anything special for dinner. 
Yesterday we had a pretty BLECK run. I still have some girls in season and a few of the boys (namely Kobuk, Odie and Loki) spent more time gazing lovingly at them then running. Kobuk’s neck is probably sore today after having it twisted around trying to look at Mark’s team all day. Both teams just really lacked focus and drive. Oh well, that is just part of the ups and downs of training season. We still managed to do 40 miles, which puts the dog’s mileage at over 1300 right now. That’s alittle behind where I wanted to be at this time, but Mark has a number of days off over Christmas and we are hoping to pick up some more mileage then.

Today I’m running the ‘A’ team into the vet. They are all getting blood work done, getting weighed, kennel cough vaccinations, and a general checkup. With the blood work, I’m mainly interested in the Hemoglobin levels, as that can give a good indication of how a dog will recover and run over the long run. Of course, the vets will also be looking for any problems that we are unaware of. 

I’m also very keen to get Draco looked at. Last Tuesday morning, after breakfast, he all of a sudden stopped bearing weigh on one of his rear legs. I’m pretty sure he did it on the ice in his run, although I can’t seem to find an actual injury. We’ve had him laid off since then – figuring rest was what he needed. However, that hasn’t solved the problem, so it is time for the vet to step in. I am just sick at the thought that it may be something like a crucite ligament – which might put him out of harness indefinitely. He has been such a star in training this year and is certainly one of my favorites – to not have him at Iditarod with me would be a real blow. 

All for today!

Saturday 21 December 2002

December 21, 2002

What a spectacular night we came home in from our run yesterday. The day started off beautifully, as we were leaving the yard, fog was lifting from the valley, leaving behind a wonderful blanket of hoar frost to coat everything in white. It was pretty enough that you could forget it was –20C – at least for a bit! 

The dogs ran great and we ended up doing a 40-mile run. 

As the sun was setting at 4 pm or so, the sky turned a beautiful cobalt color and then gradually faded into darkness. We were running through a wooded section of the historic Landing Trail when the team can around a corner and there was a big, gorgeous, orange full moon dancing behind the trees. Several times on the roads that led home I glanced over my shoulder, thinking a car was coming, to find the light was the moon – not headlights. 

As we were doing the final few miles home, I shut off my headlights and enjoyed the moonlight run. I was shocked to see the northern lights competing with the very bright full moon. They danced and spiked for quite a while – I can’t imagine what a display that would have been without the moon washing them out. 

It’s been another busy week. As most of you know, we put Libby down last Friday. It was hard, but we know it was the right decision. Libby was one of the greatest teachers I ever knew and she saved one last lesson for me – one about learning to let go. 

We decided to take the teams out for a camping trip the next day. Nothing like a night in the woods to help me deal with tough things. We dropped the dog truck off at the Forfar campground and then headed home to hook up teams. It was a 25.5-mile run to the truck – where we stopped and took a 3-½ hour break. We had scheduled it for longer, but the dogs weren’t at all tired coming into the campground. The next leg of the run took us down 17 miles of familiar trail and then 9 miles along the Trans Canada Snowmobile Trail that we had never been on before. 

Supposedly, there was a ‘warm up’ shack there that we were going to stop at. I had my doubts that we were going to find this ‘mystery shelter’ in the dark, but it turned out that the trails were really well marked and we found it with, pretty much, no problems.

That last 9 miles was really demanding on the dogs and they were more then ready for a break at the shelter cabin. We ended up taking a 6-hour break there before running the 26 miles back to the dog truck and then trucking them home. The leg back to the truck gave me one moment of panic. On the way out we had gone up a few really big hills that took much grunting and groaning by all to get the four wheelers up – one in particular was really bad (so bad, I cheated and used the throttle to get my team over it). Even sitting in the warm up shelter, I was obsessing over going down that hill (I HATE going down steep down hills – I think that goes back to the incident a few years back where I flipped my quad, end over end, and almost broke my hip). 

Now here I was sitting at the top of this hill. The dogs looked over their shoulders, wondering what their crazy musher was up to now. Mark was already at the bottom and yelled back to find out why I had stopped. When I suggested I was scared, he said I had been down bigger hills. Now, you have to understand that MARK -- ‘It’s all downhill to the finish line, honey’ -- LIES in these situations. Finally, I suggested that he come back and take the team down the hill. He said the hill was too steep and he was absolutely NOT walking up it. Oh that built up my confidence. Finally, the dogs started to fuss and I knew I had to ‘screw my courage to the sticking spot’ and get on with it. So I did. It really wasn’t that bad, but Mark did come over later and say ‘Well, NOW you’ve been down a hill that big’. 

What a schmuck!

My Mom came out for a visit this past week. She arrived on Sunday afternoon and left yesterday morning. It was a lovely visit and she did a WHOLE lot of housecleaning for me – which was a terrific Christmas present. 

Today we are heading out for a bit shorter run and then off to Mark’s brother’s place for dinner. 

I hope everyone is almost ready for Christmas. Snow or not, it is almost upon us! 


Friday 13 December 2002

December 13, 2002

In the beginning there was that opened doors to a whole new life... one that that inspired ... one that gave us a foundation to build on...for us, that one was Libby.
I thought when the day came I could write a nice tribute for her - talk about how we loved her, all she taught us, all she endured as we learned, all the wonderful offspring she had...many things. But it turns out that I'm completely at a loss for words. 

Goodbye Libby. We will never forget you.


Tuesday 10 December 2002

December 10, 2002 Food Drop Items

I just finished up my food drop sheets and thought you'll might be interested in some of the numbers of items I'm packing:

110 - feedings of kibble
148 - dog snacks
1280 - booties
40 - meals for me
23 - pairs of socks
107 - juice packs
33 - snack bags for me
20 - cans of Boost
10 - changes of long underwear
6 - neckwarmers
65 - pairs of cheap stretchy gloves

The list goes on - but I thought I'd share a portion it with everyone!

Monday 9 December 2002

December 9, 2002

Hmmm, where to start telling the stories of our weekend…. should I start with the road kill story? The Hercules? The psycho mini horse?? …. Well, let’s start at the beginning …with the story of Mark trying to break his hand.

On Friday, as Mark’s quad was in the shop getting new wheel bearings and brakes (second set this year – the price to pay for a smokin’ dog team - VBG), we decided to truck a 14-dog team over to the Forfar campground and do some exploring out that way. Forfar is where we camped a few weekends ago and we are hoping to find more trails so we can do some multi day trips later this month.
We loaded down the Honda with an axe, saw, shovel, lunch for dogs and humans; the two of us and off we went. Sure enough, within the first ½ mile on the new route, we accidentally got off the main trail. Mark walked ahead and we picked our way through the frozen beaver dam and pond we had wound up on. As the trail hooked back up with the main trail there was a small ditch. I looked at it and vowed the quad wouldn’t go through. Mark muttered a few comments insinuating that I lacked courage and offered to drive it though for me. Not to put too fine a point on it – but I WAS RIGHT

The front of the quad jammed into the ditch and Mark did a spectacular flip over the handlebar and smashed into the road on his back. Very lucky for him, his injuries weren’t too serious, although his hand got caught between the grip and the brake and I thought it might have been broken. Whether it had been or not (it wasn’t), I don’t think there was anyway he was going to admit it was. Men! It is now starting to burst into a lovely display of interesting colors. I told him when it is the most colorful, I’m going to take a picture of it for the website.

The rest of the day was lovely. We found more trails then we will ever be able to fully explore. There were even some really beautiful, marked snow machine trails. The dogs loved the change of scenery – as did we.

On the way home we spotted another quad working it’s way towards us on a long straight stretch of trail. We watched him coming towards us for about 1 mile and when he was just ahead of my leaders, it occurred to me that he hadn’t seen the team and was about to hit them. I hollered out ‘GEE’ to Camilla and Draco and they scooted over – at the same time the man (a trapper out checking his line) on the 4 wheeler’s head shot up – he had obviously not been paying any attention and I think we scared the living daylights out of him. Mark and I smiled and exchanged a greeting with him – but I think he was still trying to clear his head and figure out whether we were real or not! J
We arrived back at the truck – the dogs had done 34 miles of pretty tough trail, pulling both Mark and I, and still were full of beans at the end. Wow!

On Saturday, Mark ran into Athabasca and picked up his quad and we decided to run from home instead of going exploring again. The plan was to do a 40-mile loop that wound around the Perryvale area. Plans changed when we came out of our rough, bumpy muskeg trail and Mark realized his favorite leather mitts had bounced out of the box on his quad. We decided to do a different loop so we could come back on the same trail and, hopefully, pickup his mitts. The run was uneventful until we came around a corner and I noticed a flock of crows fly off something in the ditch. Ah, road kill, always fun to pass with the team. 

A few weeks ago I had to wrestle a dead squirrel away from one of the dogs. YUCK! Anyway, as we came to the spot all the dogs took a good look at what was in the ditch (a dead coyote) but, very obediently, kept moving and stayed on the edge of the road UNTIL the pair in front of my wheel dogs got level with it. At that point Grover, yes, Grover…my sweet, wonderful, bulletproof leader grabbed the coyote and started carrying it down the trail. 

Now, you have to know that the coyotes around here are about the same size as my dogs, so Grover was having some trouble carrying this while moving – so he decided to drop it. Surge and Kobuk were right behind him and instantly jumped on it. Surge grabbed it and gave it the ‘death shake’ (I think the car already took care of that for you, Surge). As I was braking, I was seriously thinking of puking knowing that I was going to have to wrestle this thing from them. 

Thankfully, Mark had secured his team and was up to help me out in seconds. It took the two of us to convince the boys to give up their ‘treasure’, but they did and Mark flung it further into the ditch. At that point, we realized a car was coming down the road and we wanted to get out of there before that added to our problems. My team headed out and I looked over my shoulder to see Smiley drag Mark’s team into the ditch after the coyote. As the car went by Mark was wrestling him off it, while Gus tried valiantly to get everyone back on the trail. Sometimes it is so hard to smile and wave when cars are going by!

Not 2 miles down the trail after that we passed a field of horses. They all stopped grazing and lifted their heads as we approached. After a moment, they all turned and trotted off away from the road EXCEPT for the one tiny, miniature horse that was ‘thundering’ across the pasture after us. The dogs all turned their heads, and I SWEAR their jaws were hanging open as they watched this ‘snack size’ horse charging us.  Mark was laughing so hard; I thought he was going to fall off his quad. We passed the field without incident and the little horse headed back to the pack to tell the others how brave he was and how he saved them from the ‘wolf pack’.

The rest of the run was uneventful. Mark even found both his gloves – although he swears there are tiny teeth marks in the leather on one of them.

Sunday we decided to head back to Forfar with 2 teams. The run was great and we found even more wonderful trails! Both of us are so excited at having found all these great trails reasonably close to home! As we pulled out of the trails and onto the gas company road that led back to the truck, there was a terrific rumbling. I looked up to see a huge military Hercules plane banking steeply, right over the treetops, just ahead of Mark. Mark swears he could see the pilot’s face it was so low. I braced myself for the crash I was sure was going to come – thankfully, it didn’t. The plane made another 5 or 6 passes as it appeared to circle over Cross Lake Provincial Park – although none quite as low or close as that first one! Must have been some practice run out of the Edmonton base! Pretty cool, actually.
On the way home Mark radioed a scary message back to me – “The porcupine is out” (Terry, if you are reading this – I was thinking of you!). Along the road is the home of a porcupine. He’s appears to be living in a tree on the side of the road that he has mostly stripped of bark. We spotted him on Friday, but luckily, the dogs didn’t. This day, Mark’s team had moved right over because of an oncoming truck and spotted ‘Quilly Willy’. Thankfully, they all went by him. I was very nervous about passing that spot, but Willy had tucked himself into a hole at the base of his tree, and we didn’t even see him. I think we are going to have to find a way around that spot, until the porky finds a new home. No point in tempting fate too often!

Sunday night we pulled back into the yard in the dark. As we waited for the yard lights to come on, so we could put dogs away and feed the yard, Mark asked if he could go back to work tomorrow, so he could get some rest! 


Friday 6 December 2002

December 6, 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.

Getting ready to run out of the Forfar campground.

Dogs waiting in their boxes

Bumping along a cut line (which is why the picture is blurry!)

Look how far the trails go for!!! 

Break time...

For people and dogs!

A quick break after some tough hills! That's Camilla and Draco in lead.

A frozen beaver dam. I wanted to catch some of the red Willows lining the trail, but we had bounced by them by the time I got my camera out. 

Tuesday 3 December 2002

December 3, 2002

Yesterdays run was VERY interesting. I had two pretty young, but experienced leaders up front (Odie was one of them June - the other his brother, Loki). We pass lots of horses, cows, etc on our runs and although those two get a little distracted by livestock, they always stay on the trail - until yesterday. We passed a field with 3 horses - and as is fairly common, the horses (2 of them draft horses) came over to say 'Hi'. Loki and Odie couldn't resist and snuck over. They were just under the fence sniffing and barking at the horses as I set the brake to go get them back on track. Very quickly things turned ugly when one of the draft horses spun and started kicking at the dogs. His buddy turned and joined him and my heart was in my throat as I ran up the line. Both dogs got kicked at least once, as I saw them get thrown back. Thank goodness both are fine. Odie bit his tongue and that caused a few minutes of panic as I searched for the source of the blood. I took Odie out of lead and replaced him with the incredibly reliable Camilla - who got everyone safely back on the road with the horses still hanging over the fence. 

So then I'm about 3 more miles down the trail when I notice my leg is getting cold (remember it is -10F). Turns out the zipper on my Carhartt coveralls was acting up. I stopped to fix it and in the process tore a couple of the teeth out of the zipper - rendering the zipper useless. So now, there I am, 14 miles from home with an open leg on my coveralls from hip to ankle. There are a few snaps on the leg and I did those up - but that didn't do much to keep out the cold. I had a few heat packs and tucked them in my long underwear to try and stop my leg from freezing and stopped ever few miles to jog on the spot and keep the blood flowing.

Oh well - I always say it is important to have bad days running dogs so you can appreciate the good ones!