Wednesday 31 December 2008

Cleaning the 'Blog' House

I realized there are a bunch of little odds and ends that I have forgotten to mention over the last month or so, so I thought I'd do a bit of a disjointed entry cleaning up alot of those things. To start off though, here are some pictures from my run yesterday.

It was a beautiful, but bitter cold day - and the camera froze up less then 1/2 hour out, so these are all the pictures I was able to get.

Flash and Newt in wheel

Today was warmer, but snowing like crazy, so not good for pictures!

A picture in one of my recent Picasa entries has gotten alot of interest and questions coming my way. "What exactly is that white thing 1/2 way down the line?"

It's a toggle. Toggles were used in the days before metal snaps were around. Usually they were made of ivory, bone, or wood. Once snaps became common toggles basically vanished from the mushing scene, but like bell bottoms and tunic tops, what is old often becomes new again.

I've spoken with a few mushers over the years that use them and most really like them. They are alittle lighter then a snap, cheaper, easier to work with gloves on and don't freeze up like snaps do.

I've been playing with a few of them in my set up (made of UHMV plastic to add that modern touch) to see if I like them - and so far, I do, but I'll be testing them awhile longer before making any decisions about switching everything over.

As for why the toggle is in the middle of the line - all my snaps are in that location. I have a 18" line that is attached to my harness loops and then my tug lines are just 31". Having the snap (or toggle) back away from the dog generally means the snaps don't get dog poop on them as much. A definite bonus, as I'm sure you can all imagine.

I've been running my lines like this for about 4 years. I can't take credit for thinking of setup myself - I stole it from my buddy, Doug Grilliot.

Mentioning Doug gives me a nice segue into my next topic....
As some of you may know, Doug is returning as Race Marshall for the Yukon Quest (the big Quest, not the 300) again this year. A number of months ago he twisted my (rather rubber) arm and talked me into being one of his race judges for the last half of the Quest.

Yup, I'll be finishing the 300 mile race, getting a bit of sleep and then joining up with the Quest in Dawson. Mark and our handlers (Markus Husch, Mark's brother Kelly, and Chris) will bring the team home and then I'll fly home from Alaska at the beginning of March.

I'm actually quite looking forward to this new experience - and think it will be a nice inside look at the event, which I still intend to run one day!

No clever segue this time - but I do have some dog updates that I should share with you all.

First up is Irving. I haven't been mentioning Irving much in my diary entries this season. The reason is that since the spring Irv has been battling a problem with his eye. The vet diagnosed an injury and gave us some ointment that helped but then it seemed each time we worked Irv, the eye would flare back up again. Anyway, after about 6 months of battling flare ups, seeing vets and specialists, in November the decision was made to remove the eye. Irv was actually in the truck with us on way to the vet to get it removed the morning the deer hit us. That stalled his surgery for about a week, but it has been done and although Irv is still looking alittle scary (because they had to shave all around the eye) he seems much more comfortable.

All the mucking around put Irving behind on his training and, much to his disgust, knocked him off the team for the season.

I've run other dogs that only had vision in one eye and it doesn't seem to affect their performance at all so we still think that Irving has a bright future here at the kennel.

Next dog I need to update everyone on is Roary. About a month ago Roary left us to live with Linda and Mike Herdering at Husky Power Dogsledding ( it is a GREAT new home for Roary and we are happy to report that she is settling in well.

A few weeks later young Underdog moved down to Calgary to live with our friend Veronica Devall. Veronica has been a vet on Iditarod many times, which is actually where I first met her. Underdog is actually her second NorthWapiti dog - her other being NorthWapiti DotCom, aka Willow!

Both Willow and Underdog are very lucky dogs!

Well, I think that wraps up most of my odds and ends. In closing I'm sharing a couple Christmas photos that are just plain silly.

Skookum and Colleen discussing who has been naughty and nice this year!

Bait demonstrating the best use for holiday gift bags - places to pounce out of and attack unsuspecting family!
Happy New Year to all!

Sunday 28 December 2008

A New Record??

I think we might have set a record in the yard yesterday - we hooked up and ran 9 teams. Now this wasn't like the Fall Warm Up Weekend where we have numerous mushers here running their own teams, this was all teams from here hooked up and run out of the yard! It was a blast.

To start out I took 8 main string dogs, my friend Lisa was riding in the sled basket (as we still don't have enough snow to safely hook down 8 dogs), and Colleen was following with a 4 dog team.

My first 8 dog team - Togo, Q, Crunch, Jr, Barq, Wolvie, Bingo and Wonder.

Colleen with Holly, Olena, Loki and Shooter

Next up, I took out Dasher, X, Watt, Charge, Boom, Flash, Rocket and Jinx with Chris as a passenger

and Lisa came along with Moses, Odie, Banshee and Casey.

(BTW - it was Lisa's first time driving a team - you can read about her thoughts on it at her blogspot -

After a quick break for lunch and a swap of 'handlers' (Lisa headed home to play with her border collies and sheep and the Gabi and Anna dropped by) we were on the trails again.

My third team of the day - Tess, Spider, Isis, Sprite, Wifi, Newt, Fritz and Herman

This time it was Chris's turn to come along. He had Runner, Hector, Minto and Trigger along with him.

For my last run we decided to add some real excitment to the mix and took Kim, Kelly and Colleen's Twizzy (littermate to Turtle, Peeps, Smartie and Chiclet) out for their first run.

Unfortunately, by this time it was getting pretty dark for pictures - and I was alittle too preoccupied with the puppies anyway - but my team was Dasher, Jinx, Charge, Togo, Kim, Kelly, Twizzy and Colleen's Sparky (littermate to Charge, Watt and Tess). Gabi was following with Moses, Odie, Comet and Xena.

Kim took off with no hesitation, Kelly was a bit timid and Twizzy was rather convinced that this was not something she wanted any part of. I had originally put Sparky beside Twiz so she had someone she knew next to her, but Sparky was not impressed with his 1/2 sister's tentativeness and started getting in her face, so we stopped and swapped Comet from Gabi's team with Sparky. That worked much better and in no time Twizzy was pulling like a demon.

By the time we got back in the yard, all 3 pups were hard in their harnesses and doing great.

We wrapped up the day by sending Anna off with Olena, Irving and Runner. She had a fast, fun run in the dark.

With 5 people helping, we knocked off the evening's feeding quickly before heading to the house for homemade turkey soup and bannock.

My kind of day!!!

Of course there are more pictures at


Friday 26 December 2008

What I Look For In a Leader...

A while back I saw someone trying to sell a "100% Gee/Haw Leader". I must admit doubt and disbelief was my reaction to the ad. See, I've owned some really amazing leaders over the years - really amazing - but I don't think I'd call any of them "100% Gee/Haw leaders". Heck, I don't know many machines that are 100% 100% of the time, forget a living, breathing, thinking, feeling being.

If this dog really was a "100%" leader, then I think he/she was probably not being challenged at all. Leaders, even great ones, make mistakes on things like 'Gee/Haw' fairly often and honestly, it isn't the measure of a leader in my team at all.

I'm often asked what exactly I think makes a great leader and folks seem really surprised when I say I don't care how well they are 'gee/haw' trained. For me a leader needs one thing - the desire to go. If you have that, everything else will fall into place in time.

Honestly, I mean that. When a good, driven dog wants to go and you are the one that controls if they go, it is in their interest to figure out what you want so they get what they want - to get moving again.

Of course, I'm talking about this now because I want to give an example. Today I went on a 26 mile run with 4 year old Tess and 2 year old Rocket in lead. Tess is an Iditarod finisher, so she has lots of experience running, but it is only this year that I have began to focus on her as a leader. Up till just recently I've been running Tess with seasoned leaders like Dasher, Jinx, and Sprite to build her confidence. The next step is to run her with inexperienced leaders to see if she will step up. Rocket has maybe 6 hookups in lead and is actually in her first season of serious training, so inexperienced she is.

The run went great. I stopped and held leaders when traffic passed just to be on the safe side, but both girls kept the team moving well, passed distractions like sheep, horses and loose dogs with only minimal issue, did great 'Gee Overs' (the first command I worry about with my leaders), and even got all their commands (although the trail wasn't particularly demanding in that respect).

But on the way home Tess did something that spoke volumes to me about the quality of leader she is to become.

We were passing a series of farms and young Rocket was quite interested in what was going on in each of the yards. She wasn't so much turning into them as drifting as she was gawking at dogs, people etc. As we approached the second driveway Tess ducked under the line and pulled out hard to the left (I don't neckline my leaders together). I commanded her to 'Gee Over' and she instantly swung to the right. That was odd I thought. As we approached the next driveway, she began to do the same. This time I didn't say anything and just watched to see what she would do. As I watched her swing wide again, it occurred to me exactly what she was doing - she was swinging wide and bracing herself to compensate for Rocket's drifting down driveways. Sure enough, as soon as we were by the driveway, she put herself back over on the right. The young lady has figured out the weakness of her rookie co-leader and is fixing things so everything continues to 'go well' on the run.

Now that to me is a leader!!!

Way to go Tess!!!
There are a few more pictures of the run at

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Retired - adj, meaning...

1. Withdrawn from one's occupation, business, or office; having finished one's active working life

This morning Kara felt it neccesary to remind me of the defination of this word. See yesterday it actually warmed up a touch and we decided to run a few dog teams.
Chris had taken Irving to the vet to get some stitches out (no fear, Irv is fine. I'll talk about that at a later date), so Gabi and Anna Husch came over to help me out.
For the first run, I took Anna as a passenger with an eight dog team and Gabi followed with four dogs. It was a really nice run despite the -25 temps and we had a blast.

For the second run I took out 8 more 'A' team dogs and Anna was to follow with 4 of the 'B' team. The plan was that Holly and Kara would run lead for her. Apparently I should have checked with Kara first.

My team, lead by the incredible gals Jinx and Tess, roared out of the yard. I let them burn off a touch of steam and then asked them to stop and wait for the second team, which they did really nicely (they were a dream 8 dog team). I could hear sharp words being spoken in the dog yard and we waited and waited. Eventually, Anna's team came loping out of the yard and down the trail.....Anna's three dog team. Apparently, Kara simply refused to go. Anna had words with her, put her back up front, and called 'HIKE' again. Kara turned and ran for the house. After a few more attempts, they simply unhooked her and she ran for the back door.

When we got home Kara was sleeping comfortably on her Cloud with not a touch of remorse for her behaviour. And you know what, I'm okay with that. If anyone has earned retirement, she has - and I'm glad she is enjoying it.
To further confirm her 'house husky' status, Kara spent the night curled up sleeping on our bed - something she doesn't normally do. Apparently the stress of almost being forced out of her retirement was tiring.

Sorry, my friend! I should have known better.

Monday 22 December 2008

Cold Enough For Ya?

Aussie handler Chris is quickly finding out that here in Canada, at least in the winter, the standard "Hello. How are you?" greetings don't apply. The standard Canadian greeting for this time of year is "Cold enough for you?".
The answer for the last week here, for ALL of us - me included - is YES!!!!!!!!

For about the last 10 days the thermometer has not ventured above -20 (-4F), mostly hanging out in the -30 (-22F) range. Yesterday, my digital thermometer that goes 'off scale' at -30 never registered a temperature and this morning it is hovering around a balmy -40 (-40F) according to the big outdoor thermometer.
We are pretty skilled at getting by in these conditions, but it certainly requires diligence and caution. Traveling anywhere has to be planned well in advance, as vehicles need to be plugged in, warmed up and still used with a plan of what will happen if they happen to break down - because EVERYTHING is more prone to breaking down at these temperatures.
I've only been running when temperatures are above -30, as we are still mostly training with the ATV and they just don't run well in extreme cold, but when I do I'm layered with all my top notch cold weather clothing and the runs are not more then 3 1/2 - 4 hours.
A frosty Crunchie

The dogs are still running well when they are running and even though they are behind on mileage, I'm happy with their attitude and enthusiasm.

As soon as it warms up a bit, I will be on the trails as much as possible!
My little house of cards has been mostly rebuilt. Mark and I are leaving for Alaska January 10th. Chris will be house sitting until the end of January, at which time Kathryn (yup, THAT Kathryn and we are VERY grateful to her!!!!) will be dog/house sitting until Helen gets out on the 12th of February. Mark and the dogs will be home late in February and I'll be following at the end of the month (more on that later!!)
The truck is back from it's repairs and looks great. The only way you can tell it was damaged was that 5 pawprints are missing from the passenger door and front quarter panel - but we will get those done sometime soon.
Mark just finished up some new safely bars for the boxes and mounting some whiteboards on the inside of the rear door to help us keep organized on the road and it is now ready to roll. All of us are getting impatient to get on the road!
Colleen is coming out for Christmas this year, which should be nice. Mark is working right through the holiday, but he will still be around to eat turkey and stuffing with us in the evening.
Chris headed off to Edmonton for the day today, so I'm on scooping duty. I should get to layering the clothes on and heading out there! I think it is up to about -37 now!

Sunday 21 December 2008


Those of you that zipped over to check out Lisa's 'Tales from the Dark Side" Blog may have noticed that she 'tagged' me in her December 16th entry.
The rules to the game are: You've gotta go to the photo archives on your computer, go into the 6th folder,count up to the 6th picture and post it on your blog along with the story that goes with it.

So here goes -
This photos is of Willow Lake and it was taken June 26, 2007 while I was on a summer visit to Alaska.
The photo is actually the boat landing and behind it is the area where dog trucks park on the ice for the restart of the Iditarod.
With temperatures hovering around -30 C today - and no Iditarod in sight for us this season, looking at the picture today seems almost alittle bittersweet!
Ah well....there are still lots of good memories there - and more to come, I'm sure!
BTW - Meeshka "TAG YOUR IT".

Wednesday 17 December 2008

A Blognapping

Okay, so things have been busy, I haven't 'blogged' in far too long, but I thought you all might find my friend Lisa Wright's blog entry from today kind of interesting.
Check it out at

So, my blog today is actually just a link to her blog - a blog-napping, if you will.

BTW - I'm thinking of printing out the paragraph that says "Interesting that while it is common in the dog training world to talk about how challenging "northern breeds" can be to work with, that I watched dogs as responsive to command as my Border Collies. Their change of direction was as precise as anything I'd expect from my guys.", framing it and hanging it on my wall. I was very flattered - especially because of how much I respect Lisa as a dog trainer.



Monday 8 December 2008

= )

Running in twenty different directions today, but wanted to share a bit of good news with y'all!!!!

Yup - SNOW!!!

Happy dogs - happy human!!!


Saturday 6 December 2008

A House of Cards

My life is often much like a house of cards, with plans and schedules precariously balanced on others plans and schedules and all of it resting on fairly solid foundations but yet still prone to collapsing if key cards are pulled out. I'd like for things to be more sturdy, but often it just isn't possible.

The last ten days have been challenging for my little house of cards that was this seasons race plan - starting with the accident with the dog truck . For a while the house swayed and waved but looked like it would hold - then it all crashed.

Right now the cards are all swirling around in the air. Eventually they will come down and there will be some semblance of a plan, but I'm just not sure what exactly it will look like.

What I know for sure right now is that the Sheep Mountain Race is off for us. There is just no way I'm getting out of here next week.

The truck is not to blame - in fact, no one is to blame, it is just a series of things that happened that made our 'Plan A' unachievable.

Two teams in the Quest 300 is still the focus and goal for the kennel this season. There will be races prior, I'm just not sure which, where or when.

As we sort it all out, I will let the 'blog' know!

The good news this morning is that it is cold and snowing here. Thank goodness. I actually put dogs away without cleats last night. What a treat that was.
Training had gotten a bit behind with the weather, but I think we are back on track now.
The dogs are running very well, making alot of noise on breaks, devouring meals after runs, and just generally making me smile.
I'm working with some amazing young leaders that have me so excited. X, Watt, Bingo, Wifi, and Rocket are the ones that really deserve special mention. Of course, the 'old standby' leaders, Sprite, Q, Dasher (she is actually doing FABULOUS this season), Runner, Jr, Spider, and Jinx are all still doing a super job too.

I have cut some of the 2 year olds - Dew, Trigger, Shooter and Casey. They all are showing great promise, but because I was behind in training and thought I was leaving for Alaska right away, it made sense to cut them from the main string at the time.

The pups are all obnoxious and in great spirits. They are loving the snow and cold.

That is it for this morning!! Chris is battling a cold so I sent him back to his cabin to get some more sleep. I woke Mark to help with the morning feeding and I think he has finished his coffee and is now keen to get outside. Okay, maybe 'keen' isn't the word, but we should get moving!


Tuesday 2 December 2008

A Good Way to Cheer Up!!

Since I am without the dog truck I can't take the team into the vet in one shot like I normally do. So, Chris, myself and a few of the main string dogs that needed rabies vaccinations headed into Westlock early yesterday morning.
We actually made it all the way into the Clinic without seeing a single deer. Nice!!!

However, by the time we made it home it was 8 C and blowing like crazy. The warm temps were pretty much too much for the dogs and the ice had a sheen of water on it which made it even slipperier then it has been, so running was out for the day.

I worked on some laundry, answering a bunch of backlogged emails and other tasks that do need to be done, but I was kind of bummed about the weather. So I decided to cheer myself up the best way I know how - PUPPIES.

I went up to the 'Toons pen and kidnapped two of the critters to keep me company while I puttered in the house. Scrappy Astro and the VERY cute little Snert where the lucky ones.

Astro. Yes, those are scars on his face. He is a bit of a scrapper and his littermate and Olena have been getting pretty rough trying to keep him in line!

Snert - and friend!

Take that!

Not everyone enjoyed having the puppies in the house as much as I did though.....

So more pictures of the puppies in the house can be found at
The wind and warm temperatures continued through the evening. At about 5;30 the puppies headed back to their littermates and Chris and I started to feed. About 15 minutes into the feeding our power went out. Thankfully all the buckets were already full (when you utilize a pump to get your water you lose water when you use power) and we just had to bring out headlamps to finish feeding.
Feeding us was alittle trickier, but I managed barbecue chicken Caesar salad by candlelight. Mark got home in time for dinner and hooked up the generator so we could watch TV for the evening. We got power back sometime around 9:30.
Today it is a bit cooler, but still deadly slippery.
Please let it snow!

Monday 1 December 2008

A Sweet Fly Story

It's been two weeks now since Fly left us. I still keep expecting him to be waiting in the driveway when I pull up and there is always that moment of disappointment when I remember that he won't be.

Cricket is doing a fine job as a solo yard dog, although I think she is exhausted. I've tried to convince her that she need not patrol everything within a mile radius of the house, that just the yard is all I care about, but she still charges off into the woods anytime a coyote howls anywhere even vaguely near the house. Crazy dog.

She is still in the market for a new BFF. She's approached Kara, but Kara simply looked at her as if she was crazy. A couple days ago I was chatting on the phone when Cricket went roaring by the window. In hot pursuit of her was Bait. Remember Cricket weighs about 120 lbs - Bait maybe 15. Rather pathetic. I think maybe she had asked him to be her new best friend.

Anyway, many of you have taken the time to share 'Fly stories' with us and I thank you all. They have all brought smiles to our faces, but none more so then the one sent to us by our niece, Corrine through her Dad. Brian emailed -

"The other day, Corrine told me a story about Fly that warmed my heart. She said that she was out picking flowers out in the woods at your place so you and she could dry them. Once she had enough and ready to go back to your house, she realized that she wasn't sure which was the right way to go. So she told Fly to go home and followed him. Corrine said that Fly would run ahead and then come back to make sure she was coming and then run ahead again...and did this until they were both back and sound. Something she will remember forever."

Hopefully by the next time Corrine comes to visit Cricket will be settled into her job well enough that I can send her out in the woods to flower pick with Corrine, but then again, knowing Cricket, maybe not. Maybe Bait can go with her to protect her.


Sunday 30 November 2008


Two weeks ago we got about 2 hours of freezing rain. Unfortunately, the weather hasn't improved much and we are still inching around with Ice Cleats and 'YakTracks' on.

Junior trotting in his icy run.

but eventually we just had to 'suck it up' and get moving with training again. The dogs are actually doing remarkably well and so far we have avoided any injuries, despite the odd slipping and falling (by dogs and humans alike).
I am dragging Chris along on the 4 wheeler and spending more time on roads and less in the bush for safety reasons but otherwise things are proceeding pretty much as normal.

Icy trail in the woods.

Ice on the gravel roads!

Ice everywhere!

There are a few more pictures of yesterday's run on the Picasa website

PLEASE LET IT SNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday 24 November 2008

The Buck Stopped Here .....

So, as you all gathered we had a bit of a run in with a deer.

We had the truck loaded with 25 dogs,3 people (myself, Lisa and Chris) and were heading into the vet at 8:30 Monday when just a mile north of the Perryvale turnoff a big buck deer came charging out of the woods. By the time any of us spotted him, it was already too late. He was moving far too fast and we were too close. I grabbed the wheel tight and braced for the hit.

He hit hard just behind the passenger side headlight, took out the headlight, bumper, front quarter panel, and passenger door. Thankfully, there was no injuries to the dogs or people on board. The deer, however, was killed on impact. It seems running head first at full speed into a fully loaded tonne and a half truck isn't a wise thing to do. Go figure.

Unfortunately, the truck did sustain some damage - around $8000 worth actually.

For awhile it looked like the damage was going to interfere with alot of our race plans for the winter, as all of the autobody shops in the area were booked into January or February, however thanks to our friend Rick Austin, the truck is heading to Red Deer in the morning where the collision shop at Pike Wheaton Chev Olds has committed to having it done for us in time to leave for Alaska as originally scheduled. I can't even begin to say how relieved and thankful I am.

While it is easy to bemoan the whole accident and whine about how 'unlucky' it was, I must say that really the only thing I am is grateful. Things could have been so much worse - so much worse. And besides, one should never look at 'luck' in a 'snapshot'.

I was a huge 'Northern Exposure' fan and would like to share one of my favorite stories from the series.

The Warrior -

[There was] a warrior who had a fine stallion. Everyone said how lucky he was to have such a horse. "Maybe" he said.

One day the stallion ran off. The people said the warrior was unlucky. "Maybe" he said.

The next day the stallion returned, leading a string of fine ponies. The people said it was very lucky. "Maybe" the warrior said.

Later, the warrior's son was thrown from one of the ponies and broke his leg. The people said it was unlucky. "Maybe" the warrior said.

The next week, the chief lead a war party against another tribe. Many young men were killed. But, because of his broken leg, the warrior's son was left behind, and so was spared.

~~~From "Bolt from the Blue" as told by Marilyn Whirlwind, in Northern Exposure.

'Luck' is a complicated subject.
Still feeling 'lucky',

We are all fine......

.....well except for the truck and the deer.

More details later....