Friday 29 March 2013

Anatomy of a Checkpoint

I thought before I wrote some blogs about my experiences on the Iditarod Trail I'd explain some about checkpoints and how they run - the 'Anatomy of a Checkpoint', so to speak.

Iditarod has 21 checkpoints. They vary in 'available services' from the waterless/electricity-less 'camp' of Eagle Island to the 'full service' villages of McGrath and Takotna. With a little of everything in between.

Each checkpoint has it's own character and personality - which means that most mushers have their favorites to visit.

With the exception of Finger Lake, mushers can send 'drop bags' filled with resupplies to everywhere. In fact, they are required to send at least 60 lbs of food and gear to each location. Drop bags are piled into big piles and covered with snow, straw and tarps to keep them cold and keep the critters from raiding them prior to the race.

Volunteers sort the bags prior to the teams arriving so they are easy to find - and to make sure all that were sent arrived.

The other important features about checkpoints to a musher are water, sleeping quarters, and food options.

Water is available in 3 'forms' to mushers - hot water, cold water, or snow.  Of course, hot water makes mushers deliriously happy as it takes way less effort and time, but in many checkpoints that just isn't possible! Even having a whole chopped or augured out in a lake or river is better then having to melt snow, which is time (and fuel) consuming!!

Sleeping options can vary from a BED to a warm spot on the floor to a tent and food options and food options may be a meal or a pot of boiling water to throw a 'boil in a bag' meal in.

'Staffing' -

Each checkpoint on Iditarod is run by a group of remarkable volunteers.

The 'Comms' folks are responsible for all of the checkpoints 'communication'. Tracking down officials and staff, sending out musher in and out times, keeping track of who is on the trail on the way over ... and much more.
Oh and did I mention that in a pinch they also help park dog teams, act as checkers, prepare food, and much more. 

'Checkers' are the folks checking in dog teams, doing bag checks, parking dog teams (which is very tough work!!), raking straw and in most checkpoints these days dragging drop bags, straw and often even water to the mushers. 'Head checkers' are often locals from the community.

The vets are pretty self explanatory. A vet watches each team come into a checkpoint and they work with the mushers to ensure the wonderful care that Iditarod is known for! They are also responsible for caring for drop dogs until they can be flown out of checkpoints and get turned back over to their musher's handlers.

Finally is the race judge. The race judge oversees it all. They are responsible that all is running within the rules and up to the race standards. That might mean tracking down a shovel (or using that shovel), checking in teams, sorting out race rule infractions, helping park teams, working with the locals, etc, etc, etc, etc

In all honesty, while I have always been appreciative of the volunteers that put together and man checkpoints for Iditarod mushers, I had NO CLUE how much went into making a checkpoint run smoothly - NO CLUE!!!
There is ZERO doubt in my mind now that the true heroes of this race are not just the dogs, but the volunteers that give so much for very little recognition and appreciation. I am in awe of you all!!!


And The Secret Is....

Brittany will be leaving soon, so I thought it time I shared my deeply guarded secret of harness breaking puppies. You know, so she could go out in the world and make a fortune with the information!!! =)

So I selected the team - Jinx and See in lead, Rocky Rocky Rocky and Astro in swing, the puppies Vader and Chewy, Q and Roscoe in wheel - we harnessed them all up (puppies last) and hooked them up.

Brittany climbed into the sled, I stepped on the runner, I pulled the hook and we were off.

The pups took a few hesitant steps and then took off like they were .... well.... born for it - which of course, they are!!!!

We did about 3 miles with lots of breaks, praise and snuggles. By the end of the run the pups were hitting their harnesses like adults when I called them up to go.

They came back into the yard to lots more praise and scratches.

The second team was Wifi and Smartie, Todd and Billie, pups Trooper and Horton, Turtle and the Old Man Crunch.

We had to stop once to move Horton onto the left side of the gangline but other then that this run went much like the first - wonderful!

So did you figure out the 'secret'???? Yeah, the truth of it is there is no secrets.

Sorry to disappoint.

I guess we do have some things we do to set pups up for success - but no 'BAA RAM EWE' (I'll explain that one day - it is a phrase I use a lot in dog training) secret.

I firmly believe it starts with baby puppies, getting them used to being handled and dealing with all sorts of different situations.

We never harness break pups until they have been leash and chain 'broke'. I believe that helps them not panic when restrained in harness.

We pick our 'puppy breaking team' well - solid leaders and very (to steal a 'Mitch Seavey' phrase) 'forward orientated dogs - and enough of them so that puppies don't have the ability to stop forward momentum. Very important. I believe if a puppy pulls back and feels 'give' in the line, it can cause a lot of issues down the road.

Oh and lots of praise!!!

So sorry Brittany - no magic 'musher secrets' here to share and make a fortune on ..... unless maybe you want my chocolate zucchini cake recipe.

Monday 25 March 2013

Getting FAT!!!!

In the process of getting 'unfat' (or less fat) I have spent a lot of time on the back of a bike. In fact, I've become rather addicted to biking. My 'stable' of bikes is now up to 3 (shhh - don't tell Mark though. I bought a road bike for some adventures I have planned this summer and don't think I've mentioned that to him yet!!! If you are reading this Honey, it was with 'my portion' of my Canadian Challenge prize money!! =) =) )

If the bike number ever goes up again, this will be the addition ....

... a Fat Bike!!!!

But for now, when my winters are still mostly consumed by dogs, I'm happy to borrow one for a day of fun in the snow!!!!

My chosen trail for the day - the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

All this is basically within the city limits of Anchorage! Lots of other bikers, walkers, skiers, and dog walkers on the trail! Very cool.

My attempt at a self portrait. Didn't work too well. BTW - note the Skhoop. It worked really nice for biking over a pair of tights!

Downtown Anchorage is off on the right. The cliff down to the ocean is a big one, though it doesn't seem so in the picture!

A bit of singletrack.

There was a HUGE 'murder' of ravens playing in the drafts off the cliffs.

I stopped at the end of the Anchorage airport run way. Was cool to watch the big planes taking off.

In case I've never mentioned it, I LOVE ravens!

I spent about a half hour sitting beside this cliff watching the tide come in, ravens playing in the wind and planes taking off. It was really cool!!

A 'urban moose'. Her calf was actually sleeping a bit behind her too!

Some brave overwintering ducks!

My ride for the day - a Surly Pugsley

Loved this sign at West Chester Lagoon.

It was just terrific to get out and sweat a bit - it's been too long since I have!

Big thanks to Erica and Billy from Arctic Cycles for loaning me the Pugsley for the day. Billie is currently biking his way to Fairbanks - from Anchorage via Nome! You can follow his adventure on Facebook

Go Billy!!!

Sunday 24 March 2013

Sky and Daddy Van Zyle

If you are an Iditarod fan you surely know Jon and Jona Van Zyle.

Jon is the 'official artist' of Iditarod and an Iditarod veteran himself. His work is simply amazing - Jon Van Zyle- I have many treasured pieces hanging in my home!
Jona is a talented artist herself. Her beading is absolutely lovely - Jona Van Zyle 
(I have to admit I ordered a bracelet from her this trip!!)

Their house and dog yard beautifully express their creative natures.

Booties act as 'bedding holders' for the birds!

The melting snow exposes treasures.

A 'side project' to my Iditarod judging trip was to take Sky and Daddy up to their new home with Jon and Jona.

I think 'the kids' have figured out that they scored BIG with this placement!!

Daddy exploring their new play area!

Squeaky Ball Day!

Daddy getting some loving from his new Dad!!


Sky and Jona!

"This ROCKS!!!"

They haven't figured the wheel out yet - but I'm sure they will!!!
I have always been pleased to know the Van Zyle's and have them for friends (and sponsors!!!) but even more pleased to have them as 'family'!!!!

One day I'll share a picture of the VERY special gift I left their place with this trip!!!

Love you Jon and Jona!!!