Monday 30 April 2012

Ambush Makeover - GuardDog Edition

In case you guys aren't familiar with The Today Show's 'Ambush Makeovers', you can get up to speed here (although really no need, just giving alittle pointless background for the blog).

I headed out onto the 'Plaza' (aka - the Driveway) this morning to get my 'ambush makeover' candidate (aka Victim). This was who I selected.

Cricket is an approximately 5 year old Great Pyrenees cross. She works in the 'security industry' and admits she hasn't had a haircut in a year and a half.

It is important to Cricket that she has an easy to maintain look - she works long hours and many night shifts - and she was insistent that she not be made to look too 'girlie' as being tough is important to her career.

Our stylist knew just the look to go for and set about the task with glee (aka extreme trepidation).

Once again, let's look at Cricket BEFORE -

And now here is Cricket AFTER

Oh Cricket, it has taken 20lbs and 2 years off you!! You look .....ummmm...FABULOUS!!!! Yes, really!!

Cricket loves her new look. She says it is likely to keep shrubs and small trees from getting caught in her leggings and will allow her to better accomplish her job.

Our thanks to our stylist from Spruce Valley Pets for her expertise (aka bravery).

Footnote -

Last I saw Cricket, she was heading off down the trail to see what the Siberians were kicking up such a big fuss about....

 .....I haven't the heart to tell her they think she is a strange dog in the yard!!!

Sunday 29 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - 24'ing in McGrath

I arrived in McGrath expecting to to sign in, grab some parts off my second sled, sign out and head to Takotna - but as soon as I pulled in checker and friend Rick suggested that I stay and 24 here. I smiled, as in the weeks before Iditarod Rick had emailed and told me how nice it would be if I took my 24 hour layover in McGrath and I explained to him that I had set up my drop bags and schedule to 24 in Takotna - but I quickly realized that Rick was serious. He indicated that there were over 30 teams currently in Takotna, with more on the way.

That certainly got my attention as I realized parking and musher sleeping would be at a premium but there were a few problems with me staying in McGrath.

"But I don't have quite enough food here for 24 hours.", I said.
"We can help with that", Rick said, indicating I could raid some of the earlier mushers leftovers.
"But I mailed a second bale of straw to Takotna so the team could have a super cushy parking spot", I said.

"We can help with that", Rick said.
"Where would you park me?", I asked.

Rick took me for a walk over to look at parking and I told him I was willing to commit to a 24 hour lease on it!

I really liked the timing on this layover too as it was going to work well with the dogs' (and my) internal clocks.

Quickly and efficiently the volunteers got me turned around and parked against the snow bank. There was a pile of leftover straw there and the dogs immediately took possession of that.  I worked away at adding more straw, moving dogs around and generally getting everyone settled for a long rest.

While getting drop bags and checking out where everything was I noticed that my second sled wasn't here. Not good.

I ran into the checkpoint, grabbed something to drink and left a message for Richard about the fact that I had decided to 24 in McGrath and the sled.

I went back out to the team and got a good meal into them. Then jacketed, blanketed and got them all settled again. Although 'settled' was a bit of wishful thinking. The girls in heat were definitely a distraction for all the dogs. I wished they were resting better and was worried that could come back to haunt me later in the race.

This time when I phoned I was able to catch up with Richard. He updated me on my sled (weather had prevented it leaving Anchorage - but it would be arriving before I left) and said that, weather depending, he and Donna would be out to McGrath to visit with me the next day! Very cool!! I drank and ate a bit more and headed out to the team.

A few times during the race folks would ask me if I had spoken with Gerry Sousa yet? I hadn't seen Gerry at all this race that I was aware and wondered what was up.

While I was pottering around Gerry came over to me and said that we needed to talk.

"So I hear", I replied, wondering.

"First off," he said, "I want you to know I want them."


When he mentioned that he had been parked next to my team in Skwentna, the light went off in my head. We were going to be grandparents!!!

I think Gerry thought I was going to be mad, but really, how could I be? I had had the same problem myself a 'few' times this race!!

*For the record, the dog Gerry's male bred was Boo, who was also bred by Wifi. It is entirely possible for a dog to have a litter with multiple fathers. DNA testing, which isn't too expensive anymore, will be done to determine sires on the puppies. And during the race I was approached by a number of mushers who expressed interest in Siberian/Alaskan puppies, so I am not at all concerned about finding homes for them!

Because I was not completely prepared to take my 24 here in McGrath and because Iditarod folks had been so keen to have me do so, I was allowed to raid the 'leftover' pile from the other mushers. I beelined for DeeDee Jonrowe's bags, as I know she feeds the same fabulous Eagle MVP kibble I do and I had bought a bunch of meat off her earlier in the year, so her meat would also be familiar to the dogs.  I was able to round up enough meat and kibble to nicely round off my stuff and keep the dogs happy for 24 hours.

I staked out a spot in the drying room and sleeping area, ate a lot of food, drank a lot of tang and coffee, and then headed off to grab some sleep.

I slept for a few hours IN MY SLEEPING BAG (SWEET) before getting up and feeding the dogs and myself again.

I must say that mushers always rave about the food in Takotna but the food in McGrath is something to rave about too. There was a huge variety of excellent food and the kitchen was staffed by thoughtful and attentive volunteers. I think every pound I lost on the way over to McGrath I found again in the 24 hours I was there!

I wanted to resupply myself with my 5-Hour Energy Drinks while I was here, so I inquired about a store in town and was told it was right next to the 'Internet Cafe/Coffee Shop'.........what was that???? Did they say 'Coffee Shop'?????

It was about a 15-minute walk down to the store, but I figured a chance to stretch my legs would be nice anyway.

At the store I did find my Energy drinks and a new toothbrush (I had misplaced my other one) - and sure enough next door was an Internet Cafe/Coffee shop. I would have loved to stayed for a bit, but I needed to feed dogs again, so I ordered the biggest latte they had (FULL FAT!!) and headed back to the team.

I was rifling around through my sled when I looked up and saw Richard and Donna headed my way. What a nice surprise. The weather had been cloudy with a bit of snow in the morning and I figured there was a good chance they wouldn't be able to fly up, so it was a real treat to see them.

The fact is that seeing family/good friends on the trail is a big morale booster. Especially when you have a bit of time to visit. Being able to share some of your stories, trials and tribulations with a caring ear is BIG.

The next few hours were spent visiting, eating, sorting gear and fixing my drag brake. I had managed to scrounge enough bit and bobs to do a proper job fixing it. For the first bit Richard and Checker Rick hung over top of me, talking me through the repair.....well, once Richard and I straightened out a few language 'complications'....A 'Spanner'???? What the heck is that????

 Anyway, progress was slow until the checkpoint manager, Mark, walked by and said that the guys could actually finish up for me. "I thought you were just trying to prove a point by doing it yourself", he said. Trust me, I have no points I'm that desperate on proving!!! I tossed the tools at the guys and the repair was done quickly and properly. Phew!!!

There were lots of local kids poking around the checkpoint during the afternoon. They were all very good about being respectful of the dogs and letting them rest - but when the dogs were up and about I had told the kids they could say 'hi' and take a few pictures.
One young lady, who later introduced herself as Rosie,  came over and said their was 'something' wrong with one of the dogs paws. I hadn't seen anything when working with the dogs a bit earlier, so I was a little doubtful, but walked up with her to the front of the team. She pointed at See and sure enough, somehow (probably caught it on a line while milling around in harness) the silly girl had managed to break one of her toenails right down to the nail bed! Ouch!! I thanked Rosie a lot for making such a good catch and headed off to find a vet.
The vets, who were great about showing and explaining to Rosie - who told them she'd like to be a vet when she grows up - what they were doing, got See all patched up in no time!

Rosie posed with Charge for a picture (picture by Richard Todd). "Thanks Rosie!!!"

Too soon it was time for Richard and Donna to leave. We said our goodbyes ('See you in Nome' to Richard), they headed back to the airport and I headed to lie down for a bit more.

After my nap I wandered back upstairs and was lucky enough to catch Dan Seavey Sr's presentation to the village of McGrath in honor of the 100 years of the Historic Iditarod Trail. Dan spoke of the early days of the race and his early days in Alaska. I was glad to catch that.

I finished packing up my sled and began readying the dogs to leave. I didn't feel the dogs had gotten a fabulous rest - the girls were too hormonal and the boys too preoccupied with the girls - but it was what it was. 

At 5:48, right on schedule, we left our temporary 'home'!

What the Game Cam Caught This Week....

It is apparent that ravens like old stinky fish!!!!

'Real' wildlife

Ummmm.....Cricket....aren't you alittle far from the kennel????

The neighbors
Not a highly successful week!!

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Introducing the Cramplings - Bet

Whoo boy, howdy ho everybodies, its been a very, VERY exciting night and day!

Things just moved so jiffy quick that this is the first opportunity I've had to blog about the whole thing, when I wasn't dry heaving into a bucket.

For those of you not in the know (and how could you not know!) Tramp started giving us the "I'm about to birth some babies" signs yesterday.  The Musher and Musher Mark whipped into high gear because Tramp is such an efficient mother that when she says it's time.... IT'S TIME!!!!!

Even though I was around for the Trampling's births, I wasn't allowed in the back room when it all happened.  I really wanted to be a good Aunt and be a part of the whole thing, but the Musher told me that Tramp knew what to do, and having me around might be a distraction, and I'd try to get into all of the pictures with the puppies, and blah blah blah, I wasn't having any of that this time.  I insisted that it was my sworn duty as the official Aunt of all North Wapiti Pretty Curly Tail puppies that I be in the room for the actual whelping.

So, while the Musher and Musher Mark prepared the whelping box (and please note, they totally disassembled my wonderful comfy whelping box and put that silly plastic swimming pool in the back room... harumpf), I kept Tramp company in the house.

Um, no Tramp, that isn't your whelping box.  It doesn't even look like a box, its my couch.  You can't have your Cramplings on MY couch... seriously... no really seriously.

Um, ok, now really REALLY seriously you can't have the Cramplings on MY cloud.  No, I'm pretty sure the cover is washable, but you can't have them there, that's my cloud.  Um... why does it need to be washable?

While I was still trying to figure out why the cloud needed to be washable, Tramp sauntered into the kitchen and ate my leftovers!  Um... ok, fine, she's in labor and all, but... I was saving those for later in case things took a long time.  Sigh.

Minutes later I found out WHY it needs to be washable.  OHMYGAH!!!!!

Did everybodies know that stuffs and things came out WITH puppies?  THEN WHY DIDN'T ANYBODIES SAY ANYTHING?????

We barely got her into the whelping pool and ya know what... a pool was totally the right thing for all of that stuffs and things going on... I stand humbly corrected on that I tell you what!

Being the good mom she is, Tramp quickly cleaned each little Crampling that came out.

First came Crampling #1, a little girl curly tail that is the spitting image of her father Crunchie.  Before anyone asks, we know that the father is definitely Crunchie.  The Musher actually let them do a little... um sumthin sumthin before the whole Iditarod thing, and there's no way any of the hijinx on the trail could have played a part in this because of the whole timing stuffs and things... and junk.

Anyhoo!  Before we knew it, here comes a Trampie looking little girl pup!

#3 was a really, really black boy!  I was almost getting over the whole... oogie experience because she was just shooting out puppies rapid fire (did I mention there's a smell... urp).

#4 was a dark grey heavy masked boy... awww, he's really cute too and came out screaming just like mom!

#5 was a Tramp colored boy, and #6 another Tramp colored boy!

We thought that was it, but then here comes another little girl that looks just like her dad!

That's 7 total Cramplings!  3 girls and 4 boys!!!

I don't know if it was the excitement, the visuals, the smell, or the fact that after having given birth to 7 wonderful little squeaky curly tails, Tramp got up and ate a big meal like nothing unusual at all happened... well, I threw up in a bucket.

But we do have a winner in the Crampling Puppy Pool!

Please contact Heather minion and give her your mailing address so we can send you a cool prizey thing by clicking here: Musher Minions
 or sending an e-mail to:

Looking at the happy family now...

They are cute and adorable and clean and soon I'll be herding them and teaching them all sorts of cool Auntie things... I think that I'm more cut out for just being the good Aunt that takes charge after they come into the world.

Tramp is a good mom and she can handle that whole whelping thing without my help.  I think when it's Boo's turn... I'll stay out in the yard.

The Musher and Musher Mark are thinking of calling them names of games.  So far the Musher's favorites are: Scrabble, Puzzle, Twister, Sudoku, Yahtzee, Checkers, Clue, and Trouble.

Trouble?  Seriously?  Look what happened to Tramp, and you want to call one of the Cramplings "TROUBLE".  I'm doomed.

- Bet

Monday 23 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Nikolai to McGrath

Nikolai is another checkpoint that I'm very fond of. Parking for the dogs is great and they have boiling hot water available for us. They also open the school for the mushers which means we have access to a bathroom with a REAL FLUSHING toilet (first one since Willow!) and sinks where we can wash up. Such a treat!!

In addition they cook for us at the cafeteria and have a dark, warm sleeping area for us off the gym. Kinda close to heaven for an Iditarod musher!

Thanks to the available hot water, I was able to get the dogs fed quickly. It was snowing pretty hard, so I covered as many as would let me after tending to the few issues they had (mostly feet on Trampie, Astro and Roscoe).  Jinx likes it best if I completely cover her up and rarely moves under her blanket until I come take it off her. The younger dogs like Smartie and Boo fuss a bit more and don't stay under their blankets for too long.

copyright Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News

The boys seemed to be resting a bit better if I covered up the girls - out of sight, somewhat out of mind, I guess - although they always seemed to have a bit of an eye on the girls. Charge screamed every time I touched Boo or Tramp.

I asked Race Judge extraordinaire, Rhoadie if she could ask if any of the locals had some baling wire. I figured with that I  could do enough of a repair job on my drag brake to get me to Takotna. She said she'd ask around.

At the school I beelined for the washroom. I washed up, changed clothes, and brushed my teeth. Ahhhhhh......

I was disappointed to find the school cafeteria closed. I guess I had never arrived this early in the AM before (although I was convinced I was actually behind schedule) and had just assumed the cafeteria was always open for us, so hadn't sent any food out here. Not that I would have starved, my snack bags (provided by friends/family) had been exceptional so far and I would be able to feed myself quite easily, but a hot meal would have gone down well. Very kindly Travis Cooper stepped to my rescue and offered me one of his extra meals. I selected a yummy Mexican style dish that hit the spot wonderfully!!

I slipped into the sleeping room to find a lot of BIG snoring happening. I ended up walking down to my sled and grabbing my iPod so I could play some 'elevator type' music which is on there for specifically such an occasion. I grabbed a hour or so of sleep that way.

I usually phone home from here. It is always a big relief to be over the toughest part of the trail and into Nikolai and I always feel the need to 'debrief' and share a story or two with 'my' people. I knew from the time I wasn't going to be able to catch Mark, but I tried calling Richard. No luck. That was a disappointment.

I knew that I needed to repair that brake, change runners and do a few more things before I left for McGrath, so I made sure I was headed down to the team in plenty of time.

Sure enough someone had tracked down baling wire for me, so after the dogs were fed, I did a MacGyver job on my drag (as it turned out the repair fixed one part of the problem, but created another, so I ended up not using the drag much at all on the trip to McGrath).

My runners were in pretty rough shape from the rocks and dirt we had dragged over on the way to town, so I swapped them out too.

The snow had stopped, so I took off the blankets, shook them out and stuffed them back into their sack best I could.

After 6 1/2 hours we hit the trail again.

For the first time this race the team didn't leave the checkpoint well. I suppose they weren't 'horrible' but they had rested well and eaten well and I was kind of expecting more out of them.
I turned some happy, upbeat music on my iPod (a bit of Bruno Mars, I believe it was) and just enjoyed the sunshine, sparkling snow and pretty day.

This leg was one that I expected I might see moose on. It is usually a leg with lots of moose signs. I had actually double checked my gun before leaving Nikolai just in case. But as it turns out there were absolutely no signs. I was quite surprised (I asked when I got to McGrath what was up with that and was told that all the moose were either dead or hanging out in town where there was some packed roads to move around on! Very sad).
The trail was a little different than most years due to the heavy snow but there was absolutely no way to get lost, as there was only one trail with deep, deep snow on either side of it.

We crossed the Kuskokwim River and popped up into McGrath at just around 5:30. I was planning to pull the drag brake off my second sled and get out of town, heading the short distance to Takotna for my 24-hour layover!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Rohn to Nikolai

Rohn is a wonderful checkpoint for a number of reasons.

First off, it is a safe haven between two very challenging sections of trail. Secondly, it is quiet and cozy and third, it is staffed by amazing volunteers (Hey Jasper!!!).

I recently read a book by a woman that 'cycled' the Idita-sport to McGrath. I was so mad at her, I almost gave up reading when she was critical of Rohn and the people in it.

Yes, Jasper has rules (DO NOT put your gloves or hat on the table in the cabin) but they are for our own benefit, and I don't think there is a cleaner, neater checkpoint anywhere on the trail. Heck, when I walked into the cabin they were bleaching the table and kitchen area. BLEACHING!!!!

Anyway, the dogs got a nice parking spot in the trees and were very happy to dig through the leftover straw looking for left over snacks from earlier teams. I've never minded using leftover straw, I mean the dogs are running down the trail through the 'leftovers' from the teams in front of them, so if there were any bugs to catch, they'd likely have already caught them. And besides all the teams are well vetted, vaccination records checked and the dogs are dewormed before the race, so there is likely not much to catch.

The one real drawback to Rohn is that it is about a 1/4 of a mile walk (with a steep cliff to negotiate at the end) to the river to get water for the dogs. Because I HATE doing that walk, I sent bags of ice in my drop bags here. Other mushers watched and commented jealously as I threw my ice in the cooker and avoided the hike.

A couple of the dogs, particularly Q, didn't eat very well and that concerned me a bit but the vet seemed to think everyone was looking good. I spent some time just hanging out with the team in the straw. Which did us all some good.

I wandered into the cabin, hung some gear to dry and gave Jasper a couple meals to heat up in the big pot of hot water he keeps on the stove.

I was really glad to see Pat Moon snoozing away on one of the bunks in the cabin. Two years ago Pat had a horrible trip over from Rainy Pass that ended up with him being medivac'd out of Rohn. I knew he was nervous about making the run this time but now he was safely in the checkpoint with his demons well behind him. Pat's a really cool guy and I was pleased for him.

One of my very favorite vets on the planet, Dr. Justine Lee was in Rohn and she came over to visit with the dogs (she was napping when we came in).

Justine was one of the vets in Grayling in '07 when I lost Snickers. She is very, very skilled in emergency veterinarian practices and gave Snickers a great chance that awful night. She was also incredibly supportive and kind to me. I will never, ever forget all she did for us that night.  
It was great to see and catch up with her.

Bill Merchant, who organizes the Ultra Sport, was here in Rohn with his Fat Bike waiting for the last of his competitors to come through. As folks might have gathered from my blogs after Iditarod, Fat Bikes are of pretty high interest to me. Bill's bike was LOVELY and I jokingly offered to trade him my team for his bike. He declined with a laugh.

Bill turned out to be a nice contact to make and he helped me sort out exactly what Fat Bike I want - haven't come up with a way to pay for one yet, but nice to be able to put a real picture to the dream!! (Mark, in case you are reading and want some ideas for a combined Birthday/Anniversary/Christmas gift - this is the one Anyway.....I'm drifting off topic!

I hummed and hawed over how long I wanted to stay in Rohn and whether I wanted to run straight through to Nikolai or camp for a bit on the way over. In the end I think I kind of short changed the dogs here, but nothing too serious.

After a little over 5 hours rest, we unwound from the trees and headed out.

I started off with Smartie still in lead, as I wanted her to get experience leaving a checkpoint, but the trail out of Rohn is consistently horrible with lots of glare ice, overflow, rocks and gravel. It is definitely the kind of stuff you want experienced, responsible, totally controllable leaders on - so I switched back to Jinx and Tess almost immediately.

A few large, very intense fires have gone through this area in the past few years and significantly changed the trail. It is probably a bit easier, but it is kind of depressing to run through the bleak, burned-out terrain.

The Post River Glacier, which can be a major obstacle, was very tame this year and the dogs trucked up and over it with no issues.

The next 50 miles or so was shocking as in the face of all the huge snowfall elsewhere on the trail, it was utterly devoid of snow. Amazing.

Frozen dirt is actually pretty easy for the dogs to drag a sled over. It is VERY, VERY difficult for a musher to use a drag mat or brake on, which is a dangerous combination. We banged, smacked, and bumped our way along.

We ended up off the trail in trees at one point (Jinx got in her head that that was the way to go and there was nothing to hook into so I could not convince her otherwise).

And then we hit a batch of overflow with a tree in the middle of it. Half the team went to one side, half went to the other and as I attempted to sort the mess out.....

*sigh* That cost us about 20 minutes and because we were in overflow, everyone stood in water for those 20 minutes. I was less than happy.

Using a drag brake on this kind of trail is risky, as with low snow there is lots of 'stuff' on the trail for it to get caught on. Catching a drag brake can lead to mushers flying over the handlebar, broken sleds, broken mushers, loose dog teams, etc. - but flying over this kind of trail behind 16 dogs without slowing them down is risky too. My drag was down whenever I thought I could get away with it. I miscalculated at one point and caught the brake on a stump that was hidden by a corner. 'Thankfully' my drag mat was all that didn't survive the encounter. I rigged it up so I could 'sort of' use it but it wasn't great - heck, it wasn't even really 'good'.

Around dark we passed Buffalo Camp. Buffalo Camp used to be a great place to stop on the trail (See my March '10 post on Buffalo Camp) and I have lots of great memories of it. Now it is just abandoned and sad.

By now the trail was better and the team and I were back to having a good time. (I think the dogs actually had a great time watching me sweat and listening to the fear in my voice on the dirt, but they would never admit it if I asked them).

At the end of the Farewell Burn, 20 miles from Nikolai the trail crosses Sullivan Creek. Oddly enough there is a real bridge there, yet about 20 feet after the bridge there is an another open water crossing of the creek. I remembered and was looking for the bridge, but for some reason I had entirely forgotten about the open water. I was thinking about stopping to snack dogs when everything came to a screeching halt.

I flew into action fearing YET ANOTHER breeding - and somehow (I'm still not sure exactly how, as we had a horrific tangle going on) got everyone across the creek, straightened out and pointed in the right direction without a romantic encounter. Yeah!!!

I shouldn't have patted myself on the back too much, as about 30 minutes later when I stopped to snack....


The last 15 miles into Nikolai the wind was blowing HARD and it was snowing. The trail was completely shut in on some of the lake and river crossings. Jinx and Tess did a great job in lead though. Very good dogs!!!

I was having a hard time staying awake and couldn't wait to see the checkpoint. 

Finally we dropped onto the south fork of the Kuskokwim River and arrived in town.

Saturday 21 April 2012

A Mammal That Isn't On the Payroll

Back in December I wrote a post about the wildlife camera that Mark got me for Christmas. Very cool, but as I reported then, all I had managed to capture so far was my wonderful guard dog napping in the sun.

Before I left for Alaska I positioned the camera along a well used game trail just outside our gates. When I got home I checked it to find that all I captured with trees blowing in the wind (it is motion activated) until the batteries died. *sigh*

When we had unloaded the the truck after arriving home there was some meat in it that was rather questionable. Usually we just pitch meat like that far out in the woods for the wildlife to clean up, but this time decided to use the meat to 'bait' the game camera!!!
We choose a spot far enough from home to hopefully deter Cricket but still on our property, put out our stinky old meat and waited.

The next day we headed out to see what the camera had captured....

What we got was ravens....

....lots of ravens...

...and this...

...which we determined to be an immature bald eagle.

Cool!!! Encouraged by that success the next day we baited the site with a 40-lb block of chicken skins (it was old and needed to be 'disposed' of anyway) before I had to head to Calgary to drop Richard off. Once I got home I headed out and found that the block had been picked at a bit, but nothing else. Sadly, I had aimed the camera badly and got no image of what had been 'picking'. I repositioned the camera and waited a few days.
When I got out there I was rather surprised to have the whole block gone (it had been secured to the ground with a crowbar). I couldn't wait to see what had taken it but I was horribly disappointed to find that the memory card on the camera wasn't working!!!!! Bummer!!!!! I changed cards and hoped that whatever had taken the block might come back to check things out again.

This morning I had some really rank fish and some leftover chicken that I needed to dump, so I went out to bait the camera, change batteries and clear the card. When I checked the memory card at first all I saw was ravens.....

...I like ravens an awful lot, but enough with them....and then there was....

...a mammal that isn't on the NorthWapiti payroll!!! Wahoo!!!! There were actually three or four coyote images on the camera this time.....

I can't wait to see what the camera shows tomorrow!!!!


Friday 20 April 2012

And Now You Know - Part II

My 'And Now You Know' blog went over very well so I figured I would do a few more installments as I'm working on my 'Tales of the Trail' blogs.

So, if you have a question about Iditarod, something I've said in the blog or on Facebook, just post it to Facebook or the Blog and I'll answer it in an upcoming blog.

And now for "And Now You Know - Part II"

Anonymous said...
When do you decide to put on booties? Do the dogs like them?

My dogs do have tougher feet, so unlike some Alaskan teams, they do not wear booties all the time; only when conditions warrant.  

Deciding when to bootie is one of the things that experience teaches you. After tens of thousands of miles of trail I now 'usually' know when to put booties on and when not to for my dogs. 

Usually when it is extremely cold (below about -25F), when the snow is very windswept or very ice crystall-y. 

I also preventatively bootie dogs that don't have as tough feet as some of the others (Astro and Tramp) and any dogs that have had or have any abrasions on their feet.

Nannette Morgan said...
So having a fan stand on the brake doesn't count as accepting outside help per the rules? I know in checkpoints no one is supposed to help w/the dogs etc. Thanks!
So the deal with that is that if help is available to all, it is allowed. If I had arranged for someone to be standing on Long Lake to help out because I thought I might have a problem, I would have been violating the rules, but because this was help any one could have asked for, I was okay. 
Race Marshal Mark Nordman is also very clear about enforcing the 'spirit of the rules' rather than the 'law of the rules' - and he is big on dog safety, so if you are doing something, like asking a fan to stand on the brake in the interest of dog safety, you are unlikely to get reprimanded for it.  
KB said...
What are beads of courage? 

The Cartoonist here!  Karen asked me to explain the Beads of Courage question because I have a personal experience with them.  

As some of you may know, Iditarod mushers carry mandatory items (including trail mail) during the race, and sometimes individual mushers will carry an item for a special person or organization.  Such items are normally used to auction off later to help the organization raise money for their cause.

This year I was especially pleased to learn that 50 mushers were carrying beads.  These weren’t ordinary beads, they were very special beads organized by a group called Hot Headed Honeys - Alaska.

Beads of Courage was designed to give kids who suffer from cancer and blood disorders, cardiac conditions, burn injuries a way to tell their story and commemorate milestones they have achieved during the treatment.  Every time an enrolled child undergoes a procedure, they receive a special bead that represent the procedure they have gone through.  It's designed to give children a way to talk about their medical procedures,  shows them that they can endure future procedures, and gives a tangible display of what they’ve gone through that parents, friends, and strangers can see how brave they are.

I was blissfully unaware of such a program until my friends’ son was diagnosed with X-Linked Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is commonly known as the disease from the movie "Lorenzo's Oil".  Alex went from a typical, rough and tumble young boy to a a boy dependent on others for care, bound to a wheelchair, and in and out of hospitals to survive. 

I know how many times Alex goes to the hospital, for both regular treatments and the emergency treatments.  It’s a LOT, but you really can’t appreciate just how many procedures he’s undergone… until you see his Beads of Courage.

Each bead is designed to show that a procedure was done, what type of procedure (from routine tests to surgeries) and allows the child to see that when they are scheduled for a procedure, it may be something they've already undergone and survived, which alleviates their anxiety, or the parents can point to a similar type of procedure bead and help the child understand the magnitude of what they will experience.  It also put a lot of things in perspective for me, not only to help me understand what he's going through, but to realize that in the grand scheme of things, even my worst day doesn't compare to what Alex has gone through, and will continue to go through.

The Beads of Courage organization accepts donations of handmade beads, quilters to make the bags that the children store their beads in, and monetary donations to make sure that these brave children can show everyone their struggle to overcome illness or injury.  If you bead, sew, quilt, or want to get involved in this wonderful organization, please visit their Website and click on the info for artists sections to find out how you can create beads and other items that help these brave children fight their battle.

Now, back to the Musher!
When do you stow the bib away and when do you put it back on?
We turn our bibs in Yentna Station and they are given back to us in White Mountain, but we only have to have them on after Safety, so while we carry them from White Mt on, most of us don't put them on till after Safety. 
Do most mushers take an iPod?
You bet we do! In fact, I had two just in case one died between checkpoints (since they need to be recharged rather than just replacing batteries). 

And because everyone always asks what I listen to, my tastes are very eclectic. I have everything from Hobo Jim to Adele to Maroon 5 to Kenny Chesney to Bruno Mars to Waylon Jennings on there. I also have some 'elevator' type music that I put on while trying to sleep in checkpoints that are noisy or where a lot of mushers are snoring (mushers are horrible snorers!!). 

I've tried books on the iPod, but my concentration drifts too much for that I've found. 
 What do you use to wake yourself up out there when you camp?
My GPS (which is now legal) has a great alarm on it, so that is what I use. 
 Do most mushers take a gun for the moose encounters?
Yes, especially in years like this one where moose have been an issue for almost all of us in training. I was likely the only one carrying a shotgun though. I am comfortable with it and know that it can put down a moose if need be, so it is the right choice for me. 

Nannette Morgan said...
Why only 8 dog jackets with a team of 16?
Sixteen jackets take up a lot of room. As I rarely have to jacket dogs I am pretty safe only carrying 8. I do send extra jackets to some of the checkpoints (like where I intent to 24, Unk which is very windy, and White Mt, where I know I will be staying 8 hours) and carry extra jackets for some of the windier legs (like crossing Norton Sound). 
 What are "wind bibs?"
Wind bibs are pants for Mushers

Anonymous asked - Is Olena still evil?
She sure is. Although she lives with her best friend, Moses, so she doesn't really have anyone to intimidate anymore!
Anonymous asked - How do you sanitize your dog bowls on the trail?

I really don't. I wash them out with hot water in a few checkpoints that have lots of hot water available and when I have time but that's it. 

For the record, I rinse bowls out at home about once a week in the summer and wash them about once a month. 

I believe that we tend to 'over sanitize' things and a certain amount of bacteria is good for dogs (and us). 

And now you know!!! =)


Tales of the Trail 2012 - Rainy Pass to Rohn

I got a nice parking spot in Rainy Pass, started passing straw out to the dogs and taking booties off as the vets worked their way to through the team. The dogs had all seemed good coming in and the vets agreed. No problems.

As my cooker was heating up all of a sudden my team and one of the teams next to me started screaming at something off in the trees at the edge of the lake. One of the checkers came over and explained it was horses.

The Perrins, who run the Lodge at Rainy Pass, have horses that they turn loose for the winter season. At the request of the family, Iditarod provides hay for mushers to bed our teams on there instead of straw and then the horses come down and 'clean up' after we leave. Apparently the horses were keen to get at the hay this year and really didn't want to wait for all the teams to leave. The checkers were kept very busy working as 'horse wranglers' all night.

All the girls were eating very well, but a few of the boys were more interested in watching the girls than eating which was frustrating for me. My boys are usually good around girls in heat, but with SO MANY it was just too much for some of them.

I finished feeding everyone, grabbed something to drink, my snack bags, clean socks and headed up to the wonderful little musher's cabin.

The musher's cabin at Rainy Pass was put up by Iditarod a few years back; prior to that it was hit and miss as to whether we had a good, warm place to sleep. Now we have a wonderful, warm 10x10 cabin with 10 bunks in it. I grabbed a bunk and stripped down to my long underwear. Again, no sleeping bag. I had to water dogs in about 2 1/2 hours - very important since not all the boys ate well on their first feeding  - and I knew if I was in my bag it would be hard to stay on schedule. I set my alarm,  pulled one of my polar fleece layers over me as a makeshift blanket and was asleep in seconds.

Pretty close to on schedule I was out feeding dogs. The boys that hadn't eaten on 'round one' ate this time, so that was good. I quickly cleaned up things and headed to the cabin for another hour of rest. Honestly, I could have happily pulled out my sleeping bag and gone to bed for the night. This is always a very hard checkpoint for me to leave - not because I worry about the Dalzell Gorge, but because I am usually so tired and not in 'the routine' at this point and it is such a great place to sleep!! Discipline kicked in though and only a half hour behind schedule I pulled the hook.

Little Smartie (have I mentioned lately how much I like that dog??) was in lead with Tess and did a great job getting past the Lodge and planes that lined Puntilla Lake. We climbed off the lake, and as usual, the wind hit. Not near as bad as in '07 or '10 but still significant wind. After about an hour or so Smartie started to have trouble 'holding' the trail. (With no set trail and the wind pushing them it is easy for leaders to 'drift'. You can keep hollering at leaders to move over, but I prefer to have leaders that will do that on their own.) Time for 'The Amazing Jinx' to step in. I put her up front with Smartie and she gave her a great lesson in storm leading!!!

Rainy Pass itself is one of my favorite parts of the Iditarod Trail. The trail winds along above the tree line in the valley of imposing mountains. With the bright moonlight and some scattered storm clouds lurking the scenery was remarkable. It literally took my breath away. I hope to be able to hold that night in my mind's eye for a long, long time.

Once you crest the actual pass, the trail follows the Dalzell River as it twists and winds through the ever narrowing Gorge. On years with low snow there are a lot of open river crossings on this leg. This year there was snow and ice bridges covering all the crossings, but there was open water rushing inches under the dogs. When Smartie hit the first crossing like that she slammed on the brakes and eyed the rushing water with doubt. Jinx doesn't like stuff like that, so she wasn't going to bother dragging Smartie across.

I walked up front, gave Smarts an ear scratch, jumped across the ice bridge and called my little black leader to me. Jinx jumped after me and after a bit more coaxing Smartie followed. I made a big deal out of it and gave her lots of pats and scratches. She wiggled and smiled at me, obviously very proud of herself.

At the next crossing she slowed down and eyed the river, but made the crossing all on her own. I stopped and made an even bigger fuss over her. She didn't even hesitate at the rest of the crossings. Have I mentioned lately how much I love that little dog??

I was still hesitant over leaving her in lead for the whole length of the Gorge. At the bottom/narrowest part of the canyon there are some wild ice bridges to cross where a leader stopping or hesitating could get you into big trouble - big trouble.

In the end, I opted to trust my girl and she did not let me down. (The crossings were actually a little tamer than many years - but still a challenge). I was so very, very proud of her.

Lots of improvements had been done on the trail and the ride, while still being one a musher is wise to give respect to, was kind of pleasant.

Some of the crew that worked on the trail had a camp just before we pop out of the Gorge. I would have liked to stop and say thanks, but it looked like they were all still sleeping and waking them would have been rude.

The dogs easily negotiated the 5 miles or so of river ice and woods before we ran along the edge of the runway that announces you have arrived in Rohn.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Checkpoint Routines

Checkpoint Routines

Every musher has their own 'checkpoint routine'. Although it varies from checkpoint to checkpoint depending on length of rest, availability of water, and a few other factors, the 'guts' of the routine most of us can do in our sleep. In fact, with all the sleep deprivation on Iditarod often we are doing it in our sleep!!!

Here is a look at a 'typical' checkpoint for me.

When we come in first order of business is to sign in. Checkers will give mushers the 'rundown' on what is available for us in the checkpoint and where everything is. They will tell us about where our drop bags, HEET and straw are, sleeping arrangements and food, but the most important information is what is available for water. We may have hot water available (as in Skwentna, Nikolai, McGrath, and Takotna), cold water (Ruby, Kaltag, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, etc.), a hole in a nearby lake or river (Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, Rohn and White Mt) or have to melt snow (Cripple). That will greatly affect checkpoint routines.

Volunteers will help park the dogs and the first order of business is to get a good snowhook in and secure the front end of the team. I have two snowhooks on my sled and one is positioned so I can quickly get it off the carabiner and that is what I use to tie off the front of the team. Usually later in the race I don't need to tie off the front end as the dogs are tired enough to behave, but with all those girls in season, my front end was secured in every single checkpoint this race!!

That done I get my straw and start spreading it out to the dogs. As I do that I undo tuglines and juggle around a few of the dogs so everyone will rest well and comfortably. Often at this point I will offer a snack from my sled bag if I have any leftovers.

Then I work my way through the team taking off booties and making sure everyone is comfortable.

Now that the dogs are resting, if we have to melt snow or only have cold water available, I will pull out my cooker and start that to get working on hot water. If hot water is available I will go straight to tracking down my drop bags.

The first bag I open is my 'FREEZE' bag which has all my meat in it. On top of that bag is a ziplock with a garbage bag and a 'return' bag in it. I use a neckline to secure these bags to my handlebar so I can sort and keep my parking area reasonably clean and organized as I work (although fastidious Richard may disagree that I keep my camping areas organized). 

A feeding of meat is put in my cooler and hot water from the checkpoint or my cooker will be added. In the spare time while the water is warming up or as meat is thawing, I will check feet, talk to the vets about anything they might have found checking the team and double check any areas of concern on the dogs I may have.

Meat thawed, I add kibble and then dish out food to the dogs. After they are done, I remove bowls (otherwise they eat them or play with them and don't sleep), refluff straw, give massages, treat feet, put on jackets and checkpoint blankets, and give any meds that might be needed.

If I'm staying for longer than 4 hours I will start another batch of meat thawing, finish sorting through my drop bags, reorganize and clean up my sled bag, gather my personal stuff and head off to find somewhere to sleep - and maybe grab something to eat, if I haven't warmed up a meal and eaten while tending to the dogs.

A little longer than 2 hours before I want to leave I will go back out to the team. I'll finish preparing the meal (somewhere between a full meal and a hearty soup, depending on how long we are staying), remove blankets and wraps from the dogs and feed them.

This time I pack up my sled, finish sorting gear, close up my return bags, and my garbage bags. Usually I'll kill a bit of time doing odd chores (like repairing anything that needs it, washing bowls, brushing my teeth, sorting through the 'corners' of my sled bag, etc.), nap, eat, or visit.

When I start getting ready to leave depends on how many dogs I'm booting. Once booties are all on, I will wake the team up for good (some know the routine and get up while I'm booting), start doing up tuglines and then get moving.

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Finger Lake to Rainy Pass

It was still snowing hard when I parked in Finger Lake. I did chores while making sure to keep my sled bag closed and everything as covered as possible. Awful to make a snow filled mess of your sled bag on Day 2 of the race.

I had a few dogs with sore feet, but nothing really worrisome. Again, I preventatively wrapped a few wrists after feeding and got some jacketed and covered with blankets before heading up to the Lodge. (Just for the record, Crunchie rarely, if ever, gets jacketed and he gets completely disgusted with me if I try and put a checkpoint blanket over him. He's hardcore, that boy!)

Carl at Winter Lake Lodge always puts a GREAT meal out for the mushers, so I walked up to the Lodge for that. Chicken, beans, rice with tortillas...worth the walk!!!!

I've never really slept in Finger Lake. The checkpoint doesn't have a heated sleeping area for mushers and I hate to haul out my sleeping bag for a short nap, as I tend to sleep too well in it and then oversleep.
A few other mushers and Greg Sellentin from MUSHING magazine were there, so we chatted awhile to kill time.

I also never take a very long break in Finger Lake as I don't like to take a team that is too fresh through the challenging trail to Rainy Pass. After almost exactly 4 hours rest, a bit after 4pm I called up the team and headed out.

The trail to Rainy Pass from Finger Lake is a pretty legendary one. This year it was in the news a lot prior to the race as Iditarod had first decided to route around the infamous Happy River Steps, instead using a mining road with a more gradual descent to the Happy River. Then the day before the start when trail breakers were actually putting in the trail they determined that the original route down the Steps was going to be a better option than the new route.

I've always said that the Steps are just one part of an overall challenging trail. Take them out and the run to Rainy Pass would be easier, but only marginally so. Almost that whole trail is jaw clenching, toe curling stuff.

For more information and pictures, visit the Alaska Dispatch

This year I was pleased to find that the huge amounts of snow had reduced it to 'sporty' rather than 'horrific'. Phew!!

The 10 miles up to the Steps were a rather pleasant and fun run. The Steps themselves were the same. In my 9 trips down them I can think of only one or two other occasions when I had my head up and was looking around as I negotiated them. There weren't even camera crews around - a sure sign the trail wasn't too challenging. On Iditarod when you see folks with cameras, things are usually about to get tricky!!!

We crawled up the steep climb up off the Happy River and plunged and twisted through the trees for the next few miles. I tipped my hat (but not my sled!!) to a tree that broke my sled in '00 and badly damaged it in '01. It's been 10 years since I crashed into it, but I always keep a close eye on it in case it decides to jump out onto the trail again as it did those first 2 years.

I think the last 10 or 15 miles into Rainy Pass offers up some of the most technical trail on Iditarod. The trail works its way along the side of a mountain with numerous toe curling drops, dives and curves. This year, like many years, there are deep, nasty, dog sled wide trenches carved into the downhills. Not hitting them dead on is a recipe for disaster, but the dogs generally don't like being sucked into them, so they try to avoid them, making things even trickier.

Then there is the little glacier that has no name or anything, but that all mushers seem to know. It ended Doug Swingley's Iditarod one year and broke Dee Dee Jonrowe's fingers a couple years back. I have had challenges on it too, this year was no exception. I thought everything was 'under control' but at the last moment I over-corrected and sent my sled flying off the slope and into the willows. A large willow went through my handlebar and brought the sled and team to a screeching halt.
I couldn't really step into the deep powder next to the sled to gain leverage to drag it off the willow and as I was trying to sort my dilemma out Jaimee Kinzer came flying into the scene. It's a bad place to have teams backed up, but it wasn't like I chose to stop there. Jaimee was super nice and she tied off her team and gave me a hand.

As we were working on my sled, she asked if this was the Steps. "Nope", I said, "you did them long ago. They were a piece of cake."
"Well this is tougher than anything else so far in the run", she said. I readily agreed. 

Just as we got my sled free, Lachlan Clark came down the trail. I only stalled him up for a minute or so, but again, it was a bad place to have to stop. Thankfully, all our teams got going again and through the mess I had created!!! 

I ended up getting ahead of Jaimee and Lach again, but when I stopped to snack the dogs well....Boo was just ahead of Wifi in the gangline and when I called the team up, she didn't get moving right away and well.............

......thankfully, the hold up only lasted 5 minutes or so.

The rest of the run into Rainy Pass was pretty uneventful. I enjoyed the nice moonlight that was lighting up the corner of the Alaska Range that we were traveling through.

The steep drop onto Puntilla Lake was harmless due to all the snow. We edged along the lake and into the checkpoint. 

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Skwentna to Finger Lake

Every time I pull into a checkpoint, I apologize up front to the checkers. See, if there is one thing that my team knows how to do it is to hit the gangline at once and MOVE things. Every time checkers or volunteers go to help me park the dogs decide to show off this particular skill. I can ride my brake for all I'm worth, drag my snow hook, tell them 'easy' but in the end, the volunteers end up looking like they have been run over by a train and my team is looking all smug and content. (If you are an Iditarod volunteer reading this, let me once again say 'I am truly sorry').

So, we pulled in, I apologized, checkers got run over, and we eventually ended up in our parking spot.

With all those 'in heat' ladies up front I secured the front end of the team well and moved Tramp up front with the rest of the girls. (As I had an uneven number of girls and boys I had to run one mixed sex pair, so I opted for Tramp, who should have been mostly out of season (she was bred to Crunchie 10 days before the race) and Wifi, who was a well mannered boy around girls, and had never been used at stud.) I got everyone fed, got meat thawing for a watering in a few hours, jacketed and blanketed a few dogs, wrapped wrists on See as she sometimes has issues, sorted through my bags, and repacked my sled before heading up to the checkpoint.

This was the first winter that Joe and Norma Delia weren't present at the Skwentna checkpoint, as they moved into 'town' early this year. Although everything was fabulously run as always, it just seemed like 'something' was missing!! We all missed you Joe and Norma!!!!!

I peeled off layers of clothing at in the arctic entry and then made a quick trip to the outhouse before heading inside. As I walked through the door a volunteer asked if I wanted a hot facecloth and handed one with tongs just like airlines do in the first class section. What a fantastic idea!!!!!!! I thought I had died and gone to heaven as I wiped my face, neck and hands.

I polished off a nice meal, guzzled about 6 glasses of Tang, grabbed a little orange numbered pylon  to set next to me (How the volunteers know which musher to wake up when. Hard to tell us all apart in the dark without shining lights in our faces!!) and headed upstairs for some shut eye. I have never actually slept in Skwentna, but I always lie down and stare at the insides of my eyelids for a bit here.

After about an hour I was back downstairs drinking Tang, chatting with a few other mushers and volunteers, visiting the outhouse, drinking a bit of coffee, changing socks, putting layers of clothes back on and heading down to the river to water the dogs.

Once down with the team I went through and woke up the pups, watching them all move around, looking for any aches or pains that might have cropped up while they rested. Everyone looked good and they all drank their soup great.

I finished sorting gear - we don't have drop bags in Finger Lake, so I had to ensure I had everything for the trip all the way to Rainy Pass - sealed up my return bags, walked them over to 'return pile', vegged out on my cooler (my checkpoint chair) for a bit, bootied dogs, closed up my sled, reorganized the team, there was a brief...ummmm....interlude.....

.....I did up harnesses and hit the trail.

The first part of this trail is one that I always see lots of moose signs on, so I was on 'hyper alert' for the first few hours. Thankfully, we saw nothing worrisome though. The snow was incredibly deep. There is one spot where the trail does an often tricky river crossing and then passes a little cabin before heading off into the woods. The crossing was a piece of cake and I only realized where I was when I saw just a stove pipe jutting out of the snow on the side of the trail!! The cabin itself was completely covered!

The trail was in great shape and I enjoyed watching the day lighten up over the Alaska Range. It was too overcast for a nice sunrise though in fact, it started to snow pretty heavily. There are always a few diehard fans hanging out at 'One Stone Lake', the halfway point on the way to Finger Lake. Someone was skiing along, fires were still smoldering and at one spot a man was standing next to the trail. As I passed and called out a 'Good Morning' greeting he identified himself as Will Petersen. Will is on the Iditarod Rules Committee with me, but I don't think we have ever met in person. I didn't stop to visit or discuss rules, but it was nicely to be able to put a face to a name now!

Richard, former NW handler Chris Smith, and my kiwi buddy Tony Turner had all talked about flying out to Finger Lake that morning.  So I watched small planes buzzing around and wondered if my friends were on one of them (turns out they were, but the weather was too bad for them to stay in Finger Lake long enough to visit with me *sniff*).

The last few miles before the trail drops onto Winter Lake always seems to take forever, but this year I hit the lake a bit before I expected. The dogs saw the checkpoint and picked it up a bit as we worked our way around the edge of the lake and into the Lodge.

About Yesterday... - Bet

I want to thank all of you for your support during my ordeal with the baa baa sheepie things yesterday (if that's what they REALLY were).

The only thing I have to say about that whole fiasco is this....

... is it me or is there an uncanny resemblance here... just sayin

- Bet

Monday 16 April 2012

....And Little Lambs Eat Ivy....

Bet and I headed across the valley today to have coffee with our friend Lisa.
Lisa was the one that brought Bet here to North Wapiti and she owns Border Collies, so she is one cool person according to my freaky little Border Collie. The fact that Lisa also owns a flock of sheep is something Bet chooses not to think about.

I hadn't seen Lisa in months so it was great to catch up, meet her new pup Flint....

Isn't he cute??? He is actually Bet's nephew.
 ...and see all her new lambs!!!

Cute, eh??? Bet wasn't convinced. In fact, she was convinced this one was giving her 'the eye'...

I didn't bother to mention to Bet that he was less then two weeks old and she probably outweighed him.

While we were there I thought it would be a good opportunity for Bet to show off her wonderfully amazing herding abilities.....


"Is she serious?????"

"Away to me what??"

"Besides, I don't see any sheep???"

Bet, they are right behind you.

"Yeah, no, sorry....I don't see anything"

Oh Bet for goodness are a working line border collie.

"Ummmm, I think you have me mistaken for someone else".

That'll do Bet, that'll do.