Saturday 29 November 2003

November 29, 2003 The Weather Kid

For those of you that aren’t aware, Mark began working shift work a few months back. We already lived our lives by a peculiar schedule anyway, so it hasn’t proven to be much of a hardship at all. In fact, it is actually working out great, as he has been able to run dogs a lot with me.

Yesterday Mark was coming off of nights, so he slept till noon and we intended to do a night run. The plan was for a (roughly) 50 mile run, rest the dogs in harness in the yard for 4 hours and then do a 15 – 20 mile run with them.

The weather kid, Josh (I swear, he is 22 if he stretches it) on the Edmonton TV station we watch was predicting a forecast that well complimented our plans – it was to warm up through out the weekend, reaching a high of 2C (28F) on Sunday. Sure enough as we started to hook up at around 5 pm it was –5C (22F) and with a light, wet snow falling and a bit of a wind blowing. It was warm enough that we were sweating while working and I shed a layer of clothing into the trunk on my 4 wheeler. At the last second I ran to the house and grabbed my lined raincoat (the one I bought to take on Iditarod last year!). I put it on and stashed my anorak on the 4-wheeler. I was grateful I had put on my lightweight –20 NEOS overshoes, rather then the –40 ones I had been wearing earlier in the week (If you have never heard of these things – they are TERRIFIC!!! Take it from me – I may not collect high heels and dress shoes, but I do have a bit of a winter footwear fetish – or so I’m told! *G*).

As the dogs moved strongly up the hill and out of our valley, the winds picked up – of course they were coming from the direction we were headed – so most of the time we were traveling straight into this sharp breeze. A couple times as my leaders, Olena and Kaylinn, rounded a corner and felt the full force of the storm they would allow it to push them over into the middle of the road and I’d have to get off and move them back to the right side. Despite the exercise, at about 6 miles out I stopped and put back on the layer I had shed while hooking up.

We stopped at about 14 miles out and let the dogs roll in the snow while we sipped on some hot chocolate and munched on trail mix. The spot we choose was sheltered and I was actually warm while moving around petting and playing with the dogs. “That Josh,” I was thinking, “He’s a clever one. This wind is going to die down and it will be a lovely evening. Just like he predicted.”

A few miles later I noticed the moon peeking out from behind a few clouds and sure enough when I roused from the narrow tunnel of vision (dogs, road) that my hood allowed, I could see stars starting to sparkle. The cloud cover was blowing off. As we pulled into the Forfar campground (our turning around point) the wind was all but gone and now it was getting chilly. I wrote off my shivers to having gotten chilled by the wind but after we snacked the dogs, I pulled my anorak on over my raincoat and other layers. I noticed Mark putting his insulated coveralls on and by gosh, now that I really looked the dogs were starting to get a little frosty. Strange for such a ‘warm’ evening.

The teams set a blistering pace for home and that gave me a nice warm glow for a while! They are doing so well this season!!!

By now it was well into the late hours of the night, somewhere around 11 pm. I wanted to stop and let the dogs roll, but didn’t want to do it near anyone’s house and risk waking them up. I picked one spot and was about to ‘Gee In’ the team (the command for getting off the trail and into the snow) when a deer bounced across the road in front of us. The dogs picked up her scent and charged down the road – the stop would have to wait. A couple miles later there was another nice spot. This time the break was spoiled by a moose’s meanderings. When I finally was able to get pulled over the dogs had sparks in their eyes and were glancing around hoping for more exciting things to chase.

They all looked fresh and keen, despite the fact that they had already come over 35 miles pulling those big, heavy 4 wheelers.

Mark and I both commented on the temperature and checked to make sure the other was warm enough. Not like we could do much about it if we weren’t, we were both already wearing every piece of clothing we had brought along and were still over 10 miles from home.

About 7 miles from home we go through a section of ‘muskeg’ on the trail. Muskeg is a type of swamp. Actually, it is soaked peat moss! In the summer it has a definite spongy quality to it and traveling across it you run the risk of sinking in a big way. We learned about the stuff after ‘sinking’ Mark’s horse, Shooter in it when we first moved north. Shooter got out without incident, but was always leery of any soft footing after that. I’ve heard that D-9 Cat tractors were lost in the muskeg, never to be found, while they were building the Alaska Highway. Dangerous stuff in the summer – great, but bumpy trails in the winter.

Anyway, as we hit this humid part of the trail the temperature really seemed to take a dive. Draco, in wheel, was so frosted up his normally dark gray coat looked as white as Moses’. Now my feet we getting cold and my knees (hey, I know it is weird, but they get really cold on those darn 4 wheelers) felt like blocks of ice. I was glad the dogs were still moving strong and quick.

As we cleared the muskeg, I peeked out from under my hood (while strongly wishing it was my hood with the toasty warm fur ruff) and was treated to the Northern Lights starting up. I must admit, the moon was now set and the clear, cold night was inky dark and the lights did look wonderful.

Finally, at 1:30 we pulled into the yard. I worked my way through the team, petting and fussing about them and after telling the girls what a wonderful job they did in lead, veered straight for the thermometer. Minus 22 (-12F) was what it read. That is a 17 degree DROP in the temperature in 7 hours – VERY different from dear little Josh’s forecast!!

As we prepared the dogs ‘after run’ meal for them, we discussed our plan for the rest of the night. Neither one of us felt that we would be able to get the 4 wheelers running in four hours if they sat outside for that time, plus when we rest the dogs in harness in training we do it without straw (they get all the luxuries during a race and therefore learn to LOVE racing) and I wasn’t in a hurry to make them sleep on the bare snow at this temperature, and finally I was in NO hurry to sit on that big chunk of cold metal for another 3 hours tonight. We decided to just put them away and do our next leg later in the daylight.

The dogs barked and fussed and farted around while we unhooked them. They looked so good for a team that had just done 47 miles. Like I said earlier – that warms me up – but if I get my hands on that Josh…….


Friday 28 November 2003

November 28, 2003 Dog Placement

I must say what a gratifying week this has been for me. 

First I got an email from Brenda raving about Freya; then one from Janet in California raving about how great Cassie (NorthWapiti's Cassiopeia) is; then comments in the Northwapiti News - Yahoo Group from Donna re: Sissy (The Flying Nun of NorthWapiti); and even more from Donna in New Hampshire regarding how well the very clever Lou (NorthWapiti's Born to Run) is settling in and comments from Jackie regarding her 2 - Striker x Breezy kids.

For all those who ask and wonder how we can sell our dogs/puppies - this is what makes it do-able. I take great pride in trying to match the right dog with the right home. Hearing stories like these about how well these dogs are all doing in their homes is exceptionally rewarding.

:) :) :) 

Monday 24 November 2003

November 24, 2003


Last week we experienced our first true cold snap of the winter. Temperatures dropped down into the -30's (F and C both merge around that point). We were prepared in most ways, the dogs had lots of straw in their houses, snow was piled over the 'problem spot' in our garage water pipe to keep it from freezing, and all our extra heavy duty winter clothing was out of storage.

There was one thing I was unprepared for though. A couple days into the snap, Mark came back from feeding the Seniors and when I inquired about Gilligan, who has been having some trouble this year, he informed me he was fine, but Charlie couldn't stand up.

For those of you that don't know Charlie, let me back up a little - well, a lot - it was almost 14 years ago that Libby whelped out her, and our, first litter of pups. She had 6 girls and 1 boy - Charlie. From the moment that boy was born, he has owned my heart. We had first pick of that litter, Jackie and Chris Marshall, Libby's breeders had second. There was never any question or doubt who our pick would be - it was Charlie.

Charlie grew to be everything we hoped for in a working Siberian. Leggy, sound and capable - with a personality that could melt just about any heart. Even when he was knocking down my Mom's Christmas tree or gnawing on the antique bar of soap passed down from my Grandma, you couldn't stay mad at this happy boy for long.

When we took him in for a 'Temperament Test' the instructor offered to buy him. Charlie was never for sale.

When I took up obedience, Charlie passed his Companion Dog title quickly and easily. He trained up well for the next level, but in my excitement to make him into a 'real' obedience dog, I forgot that Charlie was in life for the fun of it and when I made it work, he decided to teach me a lesson that will never leave me. Despite performing each exercise in the ring correctly on numerous occasions, Charlie refused to string together a qualifying round. YEARS and thousands of dollars in entry fees later, Charlie was retired with not one leg of his CDX title. I never forget to include fun with work now!
Charlie was shown a few times in conformation and even picked up a few points. I was so proud to hang his 'Best of Winners' ribbon on his ex-pen at the show. When I turned my back he plucked the ribbon off the pen and scratched and torn it up. Charlie didn't need any judge to tell him his worth.
I loved this dog when he was too small to get to his feet. I watched him struggle to learn to walk, I watched him run with the enthusiasm of youth, I watched him run with the knowledge and power born of maturity, I watched him slow down when age began to dictate limits. Now I love him when he is almost too old to get to his feet.

Mark and I helped Charlie up and got him inside where it was warm. Stalling, we agreed that we would see how he was doing in the morning. Morning came and he was 'better'. He followed me outside and we went for a short walk, his halting steps mirroring mine - I walk, Charlie walks; I stop, Charlie stops. He still remembers his 'heeling position' and that is where he wants to walk.
It's Monday today. The temperatures have warmed and Charlie is now outside for the days, but inside for the nights. He barked and pawed at the kennel door for his dinner last night. That made me smile, but I know the days left are stolen ones.


Sunday 23 November 2003

November 21, 2003

Back Home & The Big Bash

Oh my gosh, I love my home!!! Now, don't get me wrong, I love my time in Minnesota, Alaska and the likes, but this is where my heart lives!

My sentiments were completely echoed by the dogs as I drove down the road to our place on Monday (I don't understand how they do this, but after a couple thousand miles of travel they absolutely KNOW when we turn onto the road to our house.) and they all began to howl in their boxes. Fly met us at the gate with big eyes and then roared around the yard barking and making sure every dog knew we were home. The yard quickly erupted into a circus of noise and activity. No quietly sneaking into the house for me!

I did a little re-arranging of the dogs that were left behind and then got the main string out to their spots. They peed, they bounced, and they batted at the dogs next to them. Just generally showing their enthusiasm for being back in their own yard. The rest of the day and long into the night was filled with restlessness and 'dog talk'. Many stories to share, I suppose! I'd love to hear their versions of our adventures!

Anyway, as most of you have read from my earlier diary entry - the stop in Winnipeg on the way home was a very worthwhile one, with Chester, Draco and Mannie all picking up some very nice wins at the National Specialty. I can't begin to tell you how excited I was over Draco's win. Draco is truly a favorite around here and a dog that I feel really embodies a 'working Siberian', to have him recognized and awarded a big win at a National Specialty is very, very rewarding. I'd be lying if I said I didn't shed a tear or two over that!

Mannie's Award of Merit win from the Veterans Class was also special. At 8, I know Mannie's competitive trips around the show ring are going to be getting rarer and rarer. I try to treasure and enjoy each opportunity I have to gait around a show ring with this special boy.
Enough of my glowing about the Specialty! I have one more weekend of tales from Minnesota to share with you all - the Big Dog Bash!

The Big Dog Bash is a weekend event organized by Scott and Terry Miller and hosted by Jamie. It is geared for 'Big Dog' (Malamutes, Inuit Dogs, etc) and non-competitive dog teams. We travel 10 - 14 miles out to a cabin at lovely Franklin Lake, where we camp out for a day or so before traveling home. The teams range in size from 2 to 13 and for many this is the furthest distance they have ever traveled with their teams. Spirits are always high for this, as mushers often learn that their dog's abilities are beyond their expectations!

Thursday saw everyone gathering at Jamie's and a lot of great mooching opportunities for me. (These guys bring GREAT food and those of you that have spend time at Jamie's, especially when Ken is away, know that there is usually not an over abundance of food in the Nelson house!) I munched on cheese curds and reassured everyone that the infamous bridge was in good shape this year (I was pretty sure everyone's carts would fit on it); the wolves in the area wouldn't bother us (even though we saw fresh tracks on our way to the cabin earlier that day); and that the weather would be fine (despite the rain and snow that had been falling on and off all week).

Pretty much at 10 am on the nose the next morning we all pulled our quick releases and headed out. There were in the neighborhood of twenty teams and I felt a little like a Mother Hen when it was my turn to bring up the rear.

At about 7 ½ miles out we all gathered and decided whether or not to do the 'long' or 'short' route to Franklin Lake. Eventually it was decided that 4 teams, guided by Jamie's handler, Jane would take the direct, shorter route and the rest of us would go the longer way. Bonus for me - the longer way involves one of my favorite trails in Minnesota, a lovely twisting and turning trail through the trees.

When we got to Franklin Lake the 'short' group had already arrived and things were pretty much in disarray. Seems that the Department of Corrections (who owns the cabin - but allows others to use it when they are not) had an unexpected group of girls staying there overnight. Peter McClelland of White Wilderness, who was doing are cooking for the weekend, had misunderstood Jamie's directions and was further down the road when we arrived. Most of the teams had camped near him.

Jamie and I headed down to round up everyone and get the group altogether again. We were met by quite the sight and story. It seems when Peter overshot the cabin he managed to get his truck stuck in some nasty, mud filled ruts in the road. His first (and I must say, Peter - not too bright) thought was to hook his dog team up to the truck. That didn't work and while he was attempting to move his 10-dog team, by hand, to the back of his truck, the dogs took off. Peter valiantly hung on and was dragged down the road, skidding all the skin off both his forearms in the processes. OUCH. Just before a short turnoff to the Lake Peter lost his hold and off went his team. As they reached the corner he shouted 'HAW' and they obediently took the turn! Very impressive. Being a Minnesota team, they are well used to plowing through big puddles and they forged into the Lake without hesitation. Unfortunately, Franklin Lake gets deep rather quickly and Peter had to jump in to rescue his dogs.

By the time Jamie and I got there the dogs were safely back hooked to Peter's 4 wheeler, Peter was drying out and had carefully covered his arms to stop us from getting a look at them. Peter's truck was still firmly stuck in the mud though and our first order of business was getting it out.

Many people threw out various suggestions, but in the end, we opted for a plan that only seems sensible if you are in a Togo mind state of mind - DOG POWER!!

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(Our thanks to Cindy Braun for sending some of the photos above)

To the rear of Peter's truck we hooked up 4 dogs teams side by side - Peter's 10-dog team, my 14-dog team, Terry Miller's 13-dog team and Jamie's 14-dog team.

At the signal we were all going to call up our teams and the truck would pop out of the mud. Yeah right, was my thought!

The signal was given and the Miller's 13 incredibly strong Inuit dogs hit the line for all they were worth. Their snub line couldn't withstand the hit and snapped, sending Terry and her team down the trail away from us. Peter's, Jamie's and my team looked quizzically over their shoulders and wondered what strange things their owners were up to now. A quick discussion with the three remaining teams and we were ready to try again.

The dogs hit the line much better this time, but again nothing happened. I was convinced this was not going to work. - Then every so slightly, the truck budged. As soon as the dogs felt that inch of give, they all dropped down and applied themselves to the task at hand. It was a real rush to feel that truck start to move and then slip out of the mud! We actually had to ask the dogs to stop once they got the truck (a new model 1 tonne 4x4) moving.

VERY COOL!!! The entire episode was video taped, so hopefully we will have some pictures to share at a later date!

A very enjoyable evening was spent patting ourselves on the back and chowing down on delicious food, cooked by Peter.

The next day had us all off on a variety of runs. Jamie and I had to run back to her place to do chores. With us came Peter, who needed to give his forearms some attention and Ann Stead, who had just joined us for one night.

Others did runs around the cabin and some just hung out, resting up for the next day's journey.
The rest of the weekend rolled by with lots of dogs stories, songs, terrific food, great company, and dog running! All to soon it was time to journey back to Jamie's.

The run back was pretty uneventful, except for one incident between Jamie and I (well, in fairness to Jamie - my beef is with one of her dogs, not her!). A mile or so from Jamie's the main trail comes out of a field and onto a blacktop road for a ½ mile or so. The approach out of the field has a pretty good drop off on one side. I know this drop off well - I rolled Jamie's new 4 wheeler in it a few years back and came very close to rolling my own over in it the day before the Big Dog Bash.

Wanting to make sure everyone noticed it I parked my team and stood on the edge of the approach watching for traffic and encouraging teams to stay left. All went well and team after team safely rolled by UNTIL it was Jamie's turn. As her 14 hooligans passed by one - I'm thinking Jed, but none of her dogs are talking - deeked around me at the last minute and sent me flying. I came down tangled in the gangline and dragged down the blacktop for a short bit before Jamie could react and get the team stopped.

When I did the after accident 'body inventory' I was dismayed to find one finger on my right hand not functioning. Sprained, cracked, damaged tendons. there has been much speculation, but as I sit here and type, almost 3 weeks after the incident my finger is still swollen, painful and not fully functional! (And, No, Mom. I'm not going to the doctor, it will heal in time).

All for today!

Saturday 22 November 2003

November 22, 2003

Puppy Pictures - The Noisy Litter

These pictures are from September, but here are images of the puppies from the "Noise" themed litter. 

The parents are Striker x Kaylinn and the litter consists of 
  • Dark red piebald male - Buzz
  • Light Light red piebald male - Eeek
  • Red bitch  - Roary
  • Grey male - Ruff
  • Red bitch 2 - Whinny
Not all of them are shown here.

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Monday 17 November 2003

November 17, 2003

Working Dogs/Show Ring Winners

I just got back this morning from an intense, month long 'training trip' to Minnesota with 24 of the dogs in contention for my Iditarod team this winter. Before I left I got the harebrained idea that I would 'drop by' the NorthWinds Show and Siberian Husky Club of Canada National Specialty in Winnipeg on the way home. Like you can really 'drop in' anywhere with 24 dogs....

Anyway, by Friday evening I was soundly kicking myself and wishing I was already back in Alberta. Saturday morning and the Specialty had me singing an ENTIRELY different tune.

I am so proud to announce that our Mannie, (Ch. Kainai's Anchorman - bred by Vivian Delude) took first Award of Merit and Best Overall Veteran. Chester (Chuchinka's Pathfinder - bred by Bob and Loreen Bridges) took his Open Male class and Draco (NorthWapiti's Draco) took the Bred By class, Winner's Male and Best of Winners.

Mannie, Chester and Draco are all Iditarod finishers.

This was also the first time Draco has been in a show ring since his one experience as a young puppy (about 6 years ago) and I can assure you I had no time in Minnesota to spend preparing him. It was lucky I was able to find a nearby grooming shop to knock off the mud that we were wallowing in for most of the last month.

It is the same wonderful temperament that allowed me to get away with that that made me turn to him to lead my team out of Fairbanks and through the crowd of 15,000 people at the start of Iditarod last year. He is a special boy and I'm so proud of him.

My sincere thanks to my wonderful 'Pit Crew' of Karen Armstrong, Brenda Potter and Jackie Wepruk. Without them I would have been lost. They juggled the six dogs I had entered, armbands and bait; made sure I had the right dogs in the ring at the right time; and showed dogs when I ended up with conflicts.
I am very lucky to have such friends.

Finally, my congratulations to all the other winners, especially Brigitte Hunter (BISS) and Candace Cook (BOS and AOM). It was lovely to be in such nice company when the ribbons where being handed out. I think it is especially cool that all the dogs standing in the ring at the end of the judging are dogs that work in harness. :) :) :)


Wednesday 12 November 2003

November 12, 2003

Minnesota Training - Suomi Hills Run

“Lady bug, Lady bug fly away home; Your house is on fire and your children alone…”.

I have no clue where this little rhythm comes from, but it was one I often recited as a child. I loved ladybugs and, like many, considered it to be a sign of good luck when I spotted one. NEVERMORE…
Jamie’s place, and many other places throughout North America (thankfully not Perryvale) have apparently been over run by a strain of Asian or European beetle. They look like ‘normal’ ladybugs with more spots, but they STINK, BITE and are EVERYWHERE. Apparently they were introduced to deal with some aphid problems and have quickly taken over. I don’t know about other places, but I know the aphid problem in the Nelson household was non-existent. And really, what are a few aphids compared to windows and light fixtures thick with little orange bugs??

The colder temperatures a few weeks back drove them into hiding, but any time we warm up the house with a fire or the outside temps go up, they creep out of whatever little cracks and holes they had managed to find.

The poor Shop Vac has been doing double duty due to ladybugs! I must admit, it is sadistically rewarding to watch the little buggers get sucked into the vacuum to their death.
Anyway, back to “Adventures in Togo”….

The morning of October 24th rolled around raining and miserable. Six of us - myself, Jamie, Joel Kersting, Colleen Wallin (Ward must still have been struggling with that Service poem), Nancy and Roger Johnson – huddled around Jamie’s kitchen eating breakfast and dragging our feet about starting our 150-mile trip, the Suomi Hills run, in the rain. Finally, we could stall no longer. We layered on polar fleece and rain gear and headed out. Thankfully the rain slowed down as we were hooking up and although we did have a few snow and rain showers over the next 3 days, overall the weather was pretty much ideal for running dogs in the fall.

Where the previous weekend’s Button Box was a relaxing and fun ‘ease’ into serious fall training - this trip is all work. One hundred and fifty miles, broken down in to (approximately) 25 mile runs with 6 – 8 hours rest in between. After the run, Colleen mentioned to Jamie that this was tough as any race she had been on – and that is EXACTLY the point! (Make training the hardest thing you do in the season, and racing the easiest and most enjoyable, so everyone on the team LOVES to race!) But that is not to say that we don’t have fun along the way!

Our first stop is the intriguingly named Busty Lake. I figured that there must be a colorful and fascinating story behind the naming of this lovely little lake, but it turns out that it was named after Chief Busty, a local native leader. Local legend has it that Chief Busty buried a fortune of gold somewhere in the area. Many have looked, but the mystery remains unsolved. I kept my eyes peeled – but sadly – I’m still broke.

After the dogs and humans were fed, we pulled out our sleeping bags and just threw them down on our mattress pads out in the open. The clouds had cleared and we lay under a spectacular blanket of stars. I wasn’t very tired and besides the sky was so lovely that just lay back and gazed. Later on Jamie and I took turns pointing out passing planes, satellites and falling stars until the clouds quickly and completely came back and a few falling raindrops scared us into packing up our sleeping bags. It was time to water dogs and get ready to leave by then anyway!

The next leg of the run is one I dread, as it includes about 9 miles of travel along the shoulder of paved highways. I put Camilla the Wonder Leader up front and she kept the team safely tucked on the right shoulder of the road the whole way. It was the wee hours of the morning, so there was only sparse traffic anyway.

Soon we were safely back on snow mobile trails, bouncing over downed logs, slogging through mud and dodging partially fallen trees.

Our next stop was Jack the Horse Lake. I thought it must have been a pretty special horse to get a lake named after him, but it turns out Jack was a local miner, renowned for his amazing feats of strength.
Luckily, dogs can’t read – so they didn’t mind bedding down next to the ‘No Camping’ sign. We reassured ourselves that we weren’t really camping, rather just stopping over for 8 hours.
We were all refreshed by our stop and warm meal and eager to get back on the trail for the next leg that would take us to Joel’s place. This run started eventfully with a short, nasty bit of trail and a serious tangle in Jamie’s team. Quick, levelheaded reactions thankfully resolved everything though.
The rest of day passed quickly and as it got dark, we pulled into Joel’s yard.

Joel whipped up a roast, surrounded by veggies from his garden (the carrots were to die for) and treated us all to a much-appreciated feed. With full stomachs and tired bodies we all sprawled around his cabin and snoozed away a few hours of the night. Before daybreak we were again on the trail backtracking our way home.

Around this time it seems I ‘mismanaged my 4 wheeler accessories’ and created some problems that would plague me for the next leg of our journey. See, having an electrician husband is a handy kind of thing and wired to my 4 wheeler I have a GPS (for tracking mileage, location, distance, etc), heated hand warmers (hey – I’ve proved time and time again I can handle the cold. No need to suffer needlessly!), and a 75,000 candlepower spotlight. When we pulled into Joel’s I neglected to turn off my GPS and it drained away on my battery for our 8-hour stay. The ATV started nicely in the cold early the next morning though, but I guess because of all the accessories running the alternator was not able to recover and within a few miles, I found myself with one very dead machine. Using the dogs to ‘jump start’ the engine a few times, I was able to get it going, but it idled rough and stalled quickly and finally refused to restart. I was very gratefully to Roger, who upon learning of my predicament (as I was now traveling in the dark without lights) stayed with me until we caught up with the rest of the group.

Everyone was quick to help out and Jamie watered by dogs while I helped Joel change the spark plug on my machine and looked for any other problems. But it was to no avail, the ATV refused to cooperate. Luckily, it was getting light and the dogs just pulled me into the town of Marcell with the engine in neutral.

I was adamant that I wouldn’t be able to do the highway miles on the way home without a headlight, so we came up with a plan to have Jamie’s son Erik transport another 4 wheeler to Jack the Horse Lake for me. Before he headed out though, we decided to try to jump start my machine off of Jamie’s with a set of jumper cables loaned to us by a kind man at the local gas station. It took a while to locate the battery and a socket set to get at it, but finally we were rewarded with the roar of my ATV coming back to life.

I suffered through a few hours without my hand warmers and other luxuries – but by the end of the run I was totally back in business with a running ATV, warm hands, confidence in my location and the ability to see where I was going!

At 10 am on Monday morning, almost exactly 3 days after we started, our weary, but enthusiastic band of travelers rolled back into Jamie’s yard. Everyone cared for their dogs and all but Jamie and I packed up their trucks and 4 wheelers for their drives home. Before heading our separate ways we all had breakfast together and rehashed our adventures. It’s nice to watch the ‘seeds’ of my own and others teams developing at this time of the year. I know I will be eagerly watching my traveling companions race results this winter and I wish them all a “Bon Hiver”. (You fellow Northern Exposure fans will get that reference from one of my favorite Northern Exposure episodes, I’m sure).

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Sunday 9 November 2003

November 9, 2003

Minnesota Training - Button Box

Time seems to often pass by so incredibly quickly that I am often only aware of the fact that it is passing and not how much and how quickly it is. Maybe that is a good thing.. I do know that many of the bruises and scrapes that seem to be evitable on my journeys to Jamie's are dulling and healing - a sure sign that I've been here awhile. 

It is almost a month since my arrival in Minnesota and my last diary entry. On Thursday I will pack up and head home, via Winnipeg and the Canadian National Siberian Husky Specialty though!
So, so much as happened in the month here (which is probably why I haven't found time to update my diary entries!) that I am sure I will miss some of the stories. I promise to share in later diary entries any of the really good tales I miss this time! 

As many of you know from my previous forays to Togo, the visit is punctuated by several big events - most notably Button Box, the Suomi Hills Run and the Big Dog Bash. 

As per usual, the first of these is Jamie's invitational camping trip most fondly known as Button Box (due to it's location at the Button Box campground on Button Box Lake). I think we forgot to do the formal count this year, but traditionally the event sees over 50 mushers and 300 dogs invading the Campground and this year was no exception. 

The unique format of Button Box makes it suitable for all levels of teams. Teams can either join Jamie for a 20 mile run, an overnight camp and another 24 miles to the Campground; run with another group the 11 mile direct route to the campground or just drive their trucks over and do shorter runs right from the Lake. 

Something like 12 teams, myself included, did the overnight trip. The weather was wonderful and an enjoyable evening around the campfire with a lot of old friends and some new ones followed a fun 20-mile run! 

I was most disappointed that Ward Wallin hadn't joined us on this trip (his lovely and infinitely more charming wife, Colleen was representing 'Team Wallin' this year. That definitely eased my disappointment.). Last year over a similar campfire Ward and I challenged each other to memorize Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee". I spend the last year reciting "There are strange things done 'neath the Midnight Sun." to the kennel and was ready to challenge Ward to a 'recite off'. But alas, he didn't show. Rumor has it he had done his homework anyway. Next year Ward!! I'm even now working on 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'. 

My team was reasonable quiet overnight for what was, for many of them, their first camping trip - so I was surprised and a little annoyed come morning to find 2 harnesses, a neckline, and a gangline section thoroughly chomped. Luckily, I was prepared and had spares of everything along with me. Hilda was definitely in my bad books for the morning though. 

The dogs had another strong run down to Button Box and we were able to do a lot of passing and weaving in and out of other teams! This is a great confidence builder for the team and one of the big reasons I like bringing them out to Minnesota. 

After gorging ourselves on deep fried turkeys everyone hooked up dogs and headed out for an evening run. Jamie and I started out with the group, but quickly broke off and headed the 11 miles back to her place to do chores and get a few hours sleep before heading back early in the morning. This works out well for us, as we can swap out dogs, so all the main crew gets to come along for at least part of the adventure. 

The next morning as we were heading back out I ran into a bunch of Button Boxers heading out for a morning run. After many queries of "Do you know the 8-mile loop?" I swung my team down the trail to head out with them. By the time we were back at the campground, we had done a nice tidy little 20 mile run. 

Saturday afternoon's culinary delight was a incredible seasoned roasted lamb from musher, Art Gloor. Rather incredible - and I'm not even much of a lamb fan. 

A Saturday night run and a Sunday run back to Jamie's rounded up the weekend.

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Next...the Suomi Hills run!