Monday 26 February 2007

February 26, 2007 This Week's Schedule

Things are going to be busy this week. The schedule goes something like this -
Today (Monday) - dogs in for a chiropractic adjustment with Susan Whitton



Tuesday - need to run two teams. Probably my final real runs prior to Iditarod, although I will try to get them out a couple more times for short  runs just to keep them limber 
Wednesday - Hopefully run dogs. Hoping to squeeze in the haircut I wanted to do at home before heading up here - that I still haven't done. Mark arrives at 7pm. 
Thursday - Musher's meetings and Musher's Banquet 
Friday - Open House and run dogs 
Somewhere in the midst of that I need to pack, tidy up our finances (so our phone doesn't get cut off like last year), get ready for the Open House, get my second sled ready to be shipped, etc, etc, etc.... 
Actually, I hear there is hardly any snow from the top of Rainy Pass, through Rohn, the Burn and all the way over to Iditarod. They are saying it could be a very tough trail. 
I used to think I preferred the northern route, but I am kind of looking forward to the southern route this year, so maybe my preference is changing! 

Sunday 25 February 2007

February 25, 2007 Making The Cuts

Making the cuts….
As followers of my journal know, I took 23 dogs up to Alaska with me and now need to pick 16 to make up my ’07 Iditarod team. The task is proving to be unbelievably difficult, but I have narrowed it down to 20 contenders now.
First cut was young Boom.
Now, there is nothing wrong with Boom, he is just young. On long runs he often gets distracted and spends more time watching ravens then pulling. I’m not at all concerned or disappointed. He’s worked hard this winter and did very well to earn a place on the truck for our trip to Alaska. Watch out for him next year!


Second cut was Hilda. 

Hilda had been plagued by on again/off again performances this season. For the Sheep Mt Race she was definitely ‘on’ and was a valuable leader, but she has had many runs were she was ‘off’ too. With this competitive a ‘pool’, I had been leaning towards dropping her. Then when we went in for our vet checks Dr. Baetsle found an irritated back nipple on her. It’s nothing to be concerned about; we are running her on a course of antibiotics to be sure though. The decision was made to cut her from the team and give her a good rest to heal up. 

“They” may say, “The first cut is the deepest” – but ‘they’ obviously haven’t been around here. The third dog cut from the training pool here in Alaska is Kara. Yes, I said Kara. 

On Thursday the main goal of my run was to decided whether or not Kara was a go for Iditarod. Over the season, she has been plagued by a number of small, but lingering injuries and she had been struggling to keep up with the team on the last few runs, so I took her over to Susan Whitton for an acupuncture and chiropractic treatment last Monday. I then gave her 2 days off before putting her back in harness. There was a definite improvement in her performance, but she is still not 100%. . The deal with Kara is that her heart and her head have always been her strongest attributes. Her smaller stature and slightly shorter legs (relative to the rest of my team) mean that she was to lope a great deal of the time in harness to keep up. She has to give ‘more’ to do the job then a lot of my dogs. A dog like that can do what Kara does because they have the heart and drive to do it. To ask Kara to hit the Iditarod Trail with me when her body is not 100% means that she will have to compensate even more with attitude then usual. I can’t ask that of her.

I had to dig deep to make this decision. Kara is a security net for me and I just plain love her company. I know if I asked she would bounce on down the trail with me again, but I am more then just her friend. As the one with the (supposedly) bigger brain, I’m responsible with making decisions affecting her well-being. Heck, if given the choice, she would gorge herself on dead squirrels until she puked – I’m the one that wrestles squirrel carcasses away from her because I know that isn’t in her best interest. It might be in my best interest for Kara to go on Iditarod – and it may be in the Team’s best interest for Kara to go on Iditarod – but it is not in Kara’s best interest - and the welfare of the individual dog comes first for us.
This doesn’t mean Kara is retired. She is still putting in dynamite performances in lead when she is feeling good, so I will work hard over the summer to help her body catch back up with her spirit. I’d love for her to be with me on our adventures next season. 

In the meantime, I’m sure she will be tippy toeing into the house late at night (no, she will not be living in the house – in Alaska she is a sled dog), logging on the computer and checking race stats. There will be much muttering under her breath about how we are doing it ALL WRONG now that she isn’t around – but I’m sure even if we won the Race, she would claim we could have won it faster with her.
Still 4 more cuts to make....

Saturday 24 February 2007

February 24, 2007 2006 Iditarod Foot Problem Rumors

Time we put these rumors to rest….
I thought that I had mentioned in diary entries over the summer some of my thoughts on the problems my team experienced in on Iditarod last year that kept me holed up in Nulato for 24 hours, but since I have been inundated with questions about that over the last few weeks – I’m thinking I didn’t – or didn’t do a very through job of clearing it up.
So let me do that now…
The problem my dog’s had with their feet on the Iditarod Trail last year were not due to zinc deficiencies.
That was merely speculation thrown out at the time with no testing to back it up. The vets and I were just looking for things that might explain what we were seeing in the dogs.
Looking back on it now, and with testing to back us up, we are very confident that a zinc deficiency was not the problem.
As to what the problem was, I don’t know that I have a definitive answer, but probably the extreme cold, maybe something bacterial, and maybe the many pre Iditarod ‘race’ miles I had on the dogs played into it.
It was not a foot problem like I’ve ever seen before – and I doubt one I will see again.
I will be doing a few things slightly differently on the race this year, just to be extra cautious. They include a bit more preventative booting and less pre Iditarod racing miles.
I will also be very quick to treat anything I perceive as being less then perfect in the dog’s feet.
That is it though - no dietary changes, no dog changes – I do not believe any of those are called for. Remember, this team had gone through numerous Iditarods and a great deal of other races and training miles without this sort of issue in the past.
I am confident that this is a strong and healthy dog team. The testing they have undergone the past week has just backed up my beliefs. All the techs and vets working on them have been very complimentary about their condition – and I know the dog’s attitudes are top notch.
We are good to go….

Friday 23 February 2007

February 23, 2007 Dog Team Stats

The Annual ‘Useless Stats about the dog team’ post!
With EKG’s, bloodwork, microchipping and vet checks behind us, I thought it was time to fill you all in on useless, but sort of interesting facts about the pool of dogs that I have brought to Alaska with me.
As you all know, we have brought 23 dogs up to Alaska with us. Eleven of them - Kara, Snickers, Hilda, Dasher, Loki, Odie, Moses, Crunchie, Jr, Herman, and Hector - are Iditarod finishers. Herman, Hector, Odie, Loki and Moses 2x finishers. Two – Batdog and Olena – have started the Race, but not finished. Three – Jinx, Q and Barq made the trip up with us last year, but didn’t make the final 16 – and the remaining seven – Tesla, Charge, Watt, Spider, Boom, Eeek and Holly are real rookies.
Iditarod Finishers










2 Time Iditarod Finishers






Iditarod starters, have not finished yet

Made it to AK last season, but not the final 16



Real Rookies - First time in Alaska!



The oldest of the lot are Odie, Loki and Kara who were all born June 27, 1999 – making them 7 ½ . The youngest are Watt, Charge and Tess who were born August 2, 2004. The average age for them is 5 years.
There is a tie for the heaviest dog in the team between Moses and his boy, Boom, both weighing in at 51.8 lbs. The only other dog over 50 lbs is Crunchie at 50.6.
The lightest is no surprise – little Spider tips the scale at 37.8 lbs, although Jinx is right behind her at 38 lbs even.
The average weight for the 14 boys in the pool is 46.3 lbs. Average for the girls is 40.4 lbs – with an overall average of 44.4 lbs.
As mentioned there are 14 boys and 9 girls up here with me.
Three of the dogs – Kara, Loki and Dasher are Champion show dogs.
Eighteen of the dogs are leaders to one degree or another – only Herman, Eeek, Boom, Loki and Barq would I not classify as ‘front end’ dogs.
And if we want to get really silly – lets look at color. Nine of the dogs are grey and white (although that includes Moses and Boom, who are almost white); 12 of the dogs are black and white; and 2 are piebalds – one white/red, one white/grey.
And that is your useless stats for the day…..

Thursday 22 February 2007

February 22, 2007 A Huge Iditarod Fan

This month’s Alaska magazine is their annual Iditarod issue. It has a number of really great articles about the race and some of the personalities involved in it. Including one on Susan Butcher, who, as most of you know, lost her battle with cancer earlier this year and will, no doubt be on the mind of most Iditarod mushers has they trek to Nome. She was a legend and a role model for all mushers and women around the world.

The article focused on the 1991 Iditarod and her epic struggle against rival Rick Swenson for a 5th victory. 

The story is the stuff of legends. Both Rick and Susan were 4 time champions of the race – and they both wanted that 5th win. Both stayed near the front of the pack for the entire race, but as they moved along the coast, it was obvious that Susan had the faster team and she left White Mountain with an all but insurmountable lead.

The thing about this sport is that it is played on a huge playing field. One so vast and wild that it becomes another player in the game – and that’s what happened in ’91 – Alaska threw everything she had at the combatants and turned it into a real dog race!

The final outcome is a story that most mushers can tell – Rick and Sue came across each other in the storm and traveled together for a number of hours, struggling hard for every foot of ground. At one point they stopped so Susan could help Rick change a bulb on his headlamp. When they pulled their hooks that time, they became separated by the weather. Susan eventually turned back – Rick kept moving forward and went on to become the race’s most winning driver.

Next to Libby Riddle’s 1985 win, it is my favorite Iditarod story – and what makes it extra special for me is that I remember it unfolding. Although it was in the day before the Internet, the race still received some coverage on the major sports programs.

I had been an Iditarod fan for a number of years, but at this point I now had my own little dog team and was taking a much bigger interest in it then ever before.
Our news had a little piece on the race claiming that Susan Butcher had left White Mountain on the way to achieving her 5th Iditarod victory. Cool, I thought, as I pulled the covers up and tucked myself into my warm bed. 

The next Iditarod report I heard was one announcing Rick Swenson as the ’91 Iditarod Champion and the race’s first 5-time winner. Now this was a sporting event that really made me sit up and take notice – I was hooked even more!
Now, here we are 16 years later. Sadly, Susan is gone, but Rick is still racing – and no smart competitor ever takes his or her eye off him. Three of the mushers racing this year have 4 wins each under their belts – Jeff King, Martin Buser and Doug Swingley. All three are still in their prime and maybe this year will see another legendary Iditarod drama unfold along the trail to Nome.
What makes it really special for me is that should it happen, I won’t be listening for details of it on my TV at home – and I won’t be snuggled in my warm bed as it happens – I’ll be out there on the trail – living it and breathing it. Although I won’t be contending for the win, I’ll be part of the event and that just boggles my mind.
How in the heck did that happen??
Certainly, I better then anyone understand the mechanics of getting here. I mean I’ve lived, eaten and breathed this sport and this race for a good number of years. I know one dog led to two, led to ten, led to twenty, etc, etc. A 4-mile race led to a 6-mile race, to a 54-mile race to a 300-mile race, etc. etc. I know the huge number of folks that have so generously shared their knowledge, time and cash to help us out (I started to name names, but the list was HUGE and I was so fearful I’d miss someone I stopped!). I know all that – so maybe it isn’t that I’m wondering how it happened, but that I’m in awe of the fact that it all has happened.
I am Iditarod fan and was long before I was an Iditarod musher – or even a musher, for that matter.
I still have Martin Buser’s autograph tucked away in a drawer at home. I remember exactly the first time I met Susan Butcher and Libby Riddles. I have every book and movie ever made on the race.
So, I am now just 10 days or so away from stepping into the starting chute for the seventh time – and honestly, my biggest thought is still – how cool is that????!!!
A huge Iditarod fan,

Sunday 18 February 2007

February 18, 2007 Dogs In Alaska

It occurred to me that I have not told everyone what dogs are actually up here in Alaska with me.  Okay, it didn’t really ‘'occur' to me – two or three list members reminded me!! The ‘outcome’ (this diary entry) is the same regardless of how it came about! J
I thought I’d do this this time with a bunch of pictures that I took over the last couple days!
First up are the veterans –
As I have 23 dogs up with me this year instead of the usual 22, I have had to make use of the pen in the dog lot – of course, it went to Kara, who I believe is enjoying her own private space.
Of course, her brothers Odie & Loki have accompanied her back to Alaska.
Odie has even got a ‘winter fling’ going on with Jamie’s house dog, Kipp. We haven’t mentioned to him yet that she is spayed.

Next in seniority are :
Moses and Olena  - opps, that isn’t ‘Evil’ – she wasn’t interested in getting her picture done – that’s Jamie’s new horse, Nick standing in for her!
All three of the handsome ‘Hs’ came back to visit their place of birth!

Hector, Herman & Hilda
Our ‘junk food’ year is well represented by –
Chocolate bars – Crunchie and Snickers - and Soda Pup, Barq
The lovely and capable Dasher is one we expect big things from this season.
Littermates Batdog and Holly both got on the truck this year!
Junior is the sole 2002 pup to make the trip this time!
Jinx - oops another dog that didn’t want to be photographed – and another of Jamie’s ‘herd’, Angel – and Q may have been rookies last year, but this year they are acting like old pros!
Oh goodness, I almost forgot Eeek aka ‘Eeek the Geek’.
And then there are the real rookies. They have spent the last week wide eyed and with their jaws moving, but they are also showing TREMENDOUS potential!!
Charge, Watt, Tess, Boom and Spider
And when you put them all together (well, 12 of them anyway), they look like this…
Happy Trails!!