Tuesday 21 March 2017

I Make No Apologies For Being a Woman...

This showed up on my Facebook feed this morning....

It was followed by a whole bunch of woman striving to explain how they were 'zeros' or at least close to it.

I've seen similar conversations pop up on various 'woman's mushing forums' over the years - and lots of shaming to any woman who admits they could vaguely be considered 'high maintenance'. It drives me CRAZY!!!

First, let me say I can probably 'out rough' all of you. I know what it is like to go close to 2 weeks of high intensity activity without a shower and end up with your hair so dirty it takes 3 washes to even get your shampoo to lather.
I can pack everything I need for two weeks of travel in Alaska in the winter in a small backpack.
There have been times in my life I considered an outhouse an incredible luxury.
I once took a timed 1-minute shower that I considered fantastic.
I've run a 300-mile dog sled race with a broken finger, I've stuck a stick through my hand, I've sprained and SERIOUSLY bruised almost every bit of my body at one time or another.
I've spent evenings throwing 1000s of lbs of slimy skinned beaver carcasses into a walk-in freezer, stacked over 100 - 40-lb bags of dog food on my own, and can lug 2 full, 5-gallon buckets of water wherever they need to go.
I have driven 16 dogs down the Happy River steps and Dazell Gorge 10 times.
I've been covered in crap, puke, piss, birthing fluids, dead animal bits and a variety of other gross substances more times than I can count over the years.

However, I get regular pedicures, I get my hair professionally cut, coloured and styled, and although most of my days are spent in polar fleece and sweatpants, I love wearing dresses, skirts, and flowy soft clothing when I can. I'm addicted to cute boots and scarves.

I remember a few years ago buying a pair of flashy, shiny bright red pumps to wear to a family function and posting a picture of them on FB. I got more comments - most of them of the 'I never would waste money on something like that' (they were $14.99 at Walmart) or 'I only buy shoes I can wear in the dogyard' variety than anything else. GET OVER IT LADIES. I wore them with a simple black dress, got a zillion compliments and felt like a million bucks.

I am so inspired to see women like DeeDee Jonrowe, Monica Zappa and Lisbet Norris wearing skirts and lovely, colourful outfits on Iditarod. I saw a picture the other day of Roxy Wright accepting her award for winning the ONAC in a skirt and ADORABLE boots!!!

If your style is jeans and a sweatshirt, hair tied in a ponytail, with a winter's worth of growth on your legs - power to you - BUT it doesn't make you tougher, a better dog musher or a more caring dog owner than me.

Or another great bit of shaming - "I spent all my time and money on my dogs - I don't have money or time for myself". If that is what you want to be spending all your time and money on - GREAT - but don't try to make me feel lesser because I have figured out ways to embrace my style within my financial budget and time restraints. My dogs don't want for anything.

We need to stop shaming each other.

Wear what you feel comfortable in. Wear what makes you feel good. Spoil yourself every now and again. Paint your nails/don't paint your nails. Put eyelash extensions on/don't put eyelash extensions on. Wear Carhartts with diamond earrings (fake or otherwise). Do chores in your pjs with Carhartts over top! Run dogs in a skirt. Be as feminine as you wish!!!!!

Make no excuses for it. Hang with people that embrace you for who you are.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go feed dogs, work out, shovel my dog yard and shower before my massage appointment this afternoon - and if that makes me 'high maintenance', so be it.

Monday 20 March 2017

Ch.NorthWapiti's Crunchie

I wanted to convey my most grateful thanks to all of you who have written and messaged over the last 10 days to express your sadness over the passing of Crunchie.

I have generally not replied, liked or even acknowledged anything and I wanted to make it clear that it was not because I am ungrateful or don't care, but rather that I just CAN'T. We all grieve in our own way - and my way is often to withdraw. Please don't take it personally, it is not intended like that.

I don't think I can write a little memorial page for him as I usually do with the passing of one of my dogs, but I did have some things that I think were important to say about him - some for the folks with his offspring and his future offspring (a few folks have collected and stored semen on him) - and some for me.

I don't have some great breakout memory of one day recognizing his potential as a puppy. With him it was more like a jigsaw piece clicking into place. Without effort or force he just became part of me and part of the team.

Many have commented about the loss of my 'leader' - but in fact, I don't consider him a 'lead dog'. In a pinch, he could get the job done, but it was rare that I put him up front. Despite that, he made any dog team he was in better. I don't understand how, but I really didn't need to. He was just a different sort of 'leader'.

He ran his first Iditarod at 2 1/2 years of age. He ran his last Iditarod, and probably his best, at 10 1/2 years of age.

He ran just about every race with me from 2004 to 2012. He was never injured, sick or dropped in any of those races - and I could likely count on one hand the number of times he had booties on.  I think he embodied the toughness of Siberians of old.

Crunchie resting in McGrath in '12 at 10 1/2 years of age

One year the Discovery channel came out to film us for a series on Iditarod they were doing. Inevitably, they asked the question, "who is your favourite dog?". I took them over to meet Crunch. The cameraman got in tight for a head shot and Crunchie fixated his dark eyes on him - or so the cameraman thought. When he got in close Crunch struck like a cobra and ripped the fuzzy cover off the microphone. It took some doing to get it back.

Weeks later when they were filming us in Rainy Pass on Iditarod, the same cameraman tried to get Crunchie to do the same thing. Crunchie looked at me and looked back at the cameraman with a look that CLEARLY said "can't you see I'm working". The cameraman didn't get his shot.

Retirement never suited him. This is him in his teens singing the blues because I was out with a team.

After his first Iditarod I got the harebrained idea to take him to a dog show. He was what I thought a Siberian should look like, so why not show him?
I promised him that if he thought it was foolish, I'd never ask him again but the second he figured out that you just stood there and got fed, he was on board.

He finished his Canadian Championship with a Group 2nd.

The year I took him to the US Nationals I clearly remember being in the Open Dog class. It was a huge class and I had no expectation of placing with my little old sled dog.

The judge went over him, commented on his lovely shoulders and sent us to the front of the line.  It wasn't until the next few exhibitors came over and counted back to insert themselves in the line that it occurred to me that the judge was putting us in the order she intended to place us - and we were up front.

I got stressed and attempted, to Crunchie's dismay, to place his feet like a show dog. He brushed me off and put his feet back where he wanted them. I took the hint and was just a puppet on the end a show leash from then on. HE won the class.

Those stories - and many more - about Crunch make me smile, for sure - and I'm proud of the things he accomplished in his life, but none of them are the reason I grieve so deeply for him.

I'm stealing something that my dear friend Simone wrote to me after hearing the news of Crunch's passing. I didn't ask her permission, but I don't think she'll mind.

"I went through all my photos to check if I find a great photo of him. I realized, I took selfies with almost all the dogs - except Crunchie. He was always your dog, and he sure let me know this - he was quite reserved around most handlers (well, all the ones I met) but as soon as you came in the yard - he was totally focused on you! ❤️ a once in a lifetime relationship!"

I have spent the last 16 years with those little black eyes boring into me. I have deeply loved many dogs, but I have never known one that I felt more connected to.

Simone's right: he was not a super affectionate, cuddly dog. He didn't give kisses, he hated hugs, and he NEVER wanted to be pampered. His way of connecting was to stare into my eyes and sniff my face. Correction, stare into my soul and sniff my face.

I can't count the number of times I'd be puttering in the dog yard and look up to catch him lying somewhere he could stare at me. On our last Iditarod, I swear he was sitting up staring at the door of the checkpoint every time I walked out.

In 2007 flying home from Grayling after losing his sister (Snickers), the dogs were all behind me on the small plane, necklines snapped into cargo netting - I turned around in my seat as we got ready to take off to make sure everyone was settled. Some were fussing, some lying down, and Crunch was sitting straight up staring at me. We locked eyes - and I'm not really sure I know who was comforting who in that moment.


In the Vet Clinic that final day, I sat on the floor with him waiting for Tannis (Dr. Jackson) to come in. He locked eyes with me and we sniffed moments before she did. I couldn't look in his eyes as he passed - I feared the light going away would suck my soul out with it.

He was my teammate, my partner and my friend. I will grieve his passing always.

Ch. NorthWapiti's Crunchie
June 6, 2001 - March 10th, 2017

Sunday 19 March 2017

Birthday Soups for The Cartoonist -Bear

Hey! Guess what today is?

Yuppers, it's The Cartoonist's birthday. 

She's been feeling ill so I decided to share my precious soups with her. 
Soups are good anytime, but especially when you are cold or sick.

"You can never have too much soups!" -Bear

Twig insisted we add the brocoolies--but between us, soups are better without green stuffs. 

Join me and all the critters here at NorthWapiti in wishing our Cartoonist a Happy Birthday and tell her to please get well soon--we don't want to see any more icky, sick cartoons on the Facebooks.

Love to all,


Thursday 16 March 2017

A List Of Scarred Souls

Today the ADN published a 'list' of all the dogs that died during the running of the Iditarod for the last 10 years.
Iditarod Dog Deaths Over The Last Decade

I've seen similar lists in different places and with different motivations over the years. Many times that list includes my name, for in 2007 in the village of Grayling my leader Snickers died of a Gastric Ulcer.

This lists might make it seem that those deaths are just an asterisk in an Iditarod career - or a painful, but long-past event. Let me tell you that is not the case.

The 10th anniversary of Snickers' death was last Friday. Sadly, that morning her brother Crunchie had to be put down due to old age. He would have been 16 in June.
He was one of the ones fighting with us in that little community centre late into the night 10 years ago.
Dr. Justine Lee, with minimal supplies, used him as a donor to do a blood transfusion on his sister in the battle for her life. I will never forget how stoically he sat amidst all the stress and commotion going on around him as Dr. Lee drew blood.
All our efforts were for naught though and she passed away in the night, cradled in my hands.

In terms of bad days in my life, that rates right up there with the passing of my father.

I remember walking out to the bank of the Yukon River shortly after she passed and having a talk with her. The moon was out and clouds were drifting across it in the wind. (I had a similar chat with her - and her brother - last Friday night. The sky was eerily almost exactly the same.)

The next morning I scratched from the race and went home. My heart for the race was gone. (Let me just say that most mushers do continue down the trail - and I get that. We all grieve and heal in our own way and, when there is no wrongdoing on the part of the musher leading to the death of their teammate - the race needs to support that.)

For a while I didn't know if my heart for racing and the Iditarod would come back, but it did. In no small part thanks to Snickers - on the banks of the Yukon that night I had promised to take her to Nome 'in a manner she deserved' and that had to be done.

In 2008, I stopped my team on Cape Nome overlooking the Bering Sea coast and the city in the distance. It's a spot that I have traditionally stopped to thank my dogs for the adventure we just had together, and I knew it was where Snickers' ashes needed to be scattered.
I thanked the team and then sat down and had a good chat with Snickers before turning her ashes over to the wind and snow.

The rest of my trip into Nome was graced by the most spectacular sunset I've even witnessed. It about broke my heart and helped settle my soul all that the same time. When I reached Nome, as I walked up to to my leaders in the chute, I stopped to spread the last little bit of her ashes under the burled arch.
"A promise made is a debt unpaid and the trail has it's own stern code." (Robert Service, 'The Cremation of Sam McGee')

Photo by Jeff Schultz

In the wake of her death, money was donated to help fund Dr. Mike Davis' studies on gastric ulcers in working sled dogs. His studies gave us protocols that are still used today - and '07 was the last year that a dog on the Iditarod died from a gastric ulcer (and for the record, bomb sniffing dogs for the military have also benefited from this work).

In '12, my last Iditarod finish, I stopped and visited with Snickers on my way into Nome. In the years I have judged, I have asked mushers that I particularly admire to stop and say 'Hi' to her for me. They all have.

I never have asked to work a particular checkpoint on Iditarod, but I have always requested that I NOT work in Grayling. Although the community rallied around me in the wake of Snickers' passing and supported me in ways that were so appreciated and will NEVER be forgotten, the memories are just too raw.

Even working Shageluk in '13 as a judge I was hit by a flood of memories, as it was the last checkpoint she led me out of. I could have told you exactly where we were parked and I stood at the 'out trail' before the first teams arrived, letting the memories wash over me.

I have spoke to other mushers who have lost dogs on the trail over the years. If the talk turns to such things, you can watch their eyes cloud over as they speak and the memories flood back.

So when you look at that list in the paper, don't fail to see that what you are looking at is a list of scarred souls - forever changed by those moments in time.

NorthWapiti's Snickers
June 6, 2001 - March 10, 2007

Wednesday 8 March 2017

2003 Memories

My goodness, it has been FOREVER since I've blogged.

It's been a miserable winter and there are lots of changes going on in my life, so just haven't been in the mood to 'prattle'.

However, my mind has been wandering down the Iditarod Trail a bit - okay, maybe a lot - this week and I felt inspired to post.

As I'm sure most of you know, the Iditarod had to move the start to Fairbanks again this winter. This is the third time it has happened - and the first time I've sat at home and watched it.

In '15 I was judging in Tananna and we were so very busy that I didn't have a single moment to reflect on my memories of running to and from there in '03. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday morning, when I was (rather wistfully) thinking about what the current mushers were going through that it actually occurred to me that I had run that trail.

Since then bits and pieces of it have been drifting back to me and I thought I'd share some of them with you.

So here goes -

I don't have much recollection of the start (forgive me, it was 14 years ago) which was on the Chena River that time, other then the 'reassurance' that if our trucks went through the ice - which seemed very 'saggy' - we wouldn't sink above the wheels. ;)

A few miles down the Chena, Susan Butcher was sitting on a snow machine watching teams go by. She said 'Hi Karen' as I trotted by and I was thrilled she actually recognized me.
I remember wondering what she was thinking, watching all of us head out - for the record,  I think I know the answer to that now.

Rick Swenson caught up with us and chatted a bit as he passed. I pretty much idolized Rick (then and now) and was delighted to answer his questions about my team. "Looking good", he said as the distance between us increased.

I don't remember details of Nenanna - what I remember was general chaos and, after a rest, my delight to be out of there.

On the long run to Manley the stress and excitement from the start caught up with me and I struggled to stay awake. All I recall is swamps, lakes and passing by Charlie and Robin Boulding's cabin. And be aware - in the state of mind I was in - remembering swamps, lakes and cabins doesn't mean there was swamps. lakes and cabins.  During the '04 Iditarod I was shocked to find that Golovin was on a spit on the Arctic Ocean - I would have SWORE I ran along a tree lined river to get to it in '01.

In Manley, sprint musher Don Cousins, a fellow Albertan, was there helping park teams. Despite living about an hour from him for over 10 years, we had never met. He patiently introduced himself a few times before who he was actually sunk in to my groggy brain.

I remember a lovely dog lot and a terrific warm 2 storey building for mushers to sleep in. I'm surprised it is still standing though as a few mushers were snoring so loudly that I swear the walls were moving (names are being withheld to protect the not so innocent!)

There was some talk of a hard to find trail across a local lake and I have a vague memory of picking my leaving time to accommodate that bit of trail - which was ultimately no problem.  There was a SHARP drop just out of Manley that no one had said anything about - that had the distinction of being the ONLY bit of sled on the 'new' trail that you actually had to 'drive' a sled on. My fancy brand new Gatt sled and I handled it with more grace than I thought possible.

Nighttime came and lack of sleep again caught me. Following a narrow creek I got NAILED by a nasty 'sweeper' (tree branch hanging low over the trail), knocking my headlamp off and leaving a nasty bump on my head. Now WIDE AWAKE I took a few moments to sort myself out and give my head a shake.

Like 2015, Tananna was excited to have Iditarod visit and rolled out the red carpet for us. The sun was shining and we all had a lovely rest there. One of my FAVOURITE people to share the trail with, Palmer Shagoonik shared some 'Eskimo Ice Cream' with me. That was my first taste of 'eskimo' food and it was pretty good (missing John Baker's 'eskimo salad' this year. He knows I like it and if he has leftovers in his drop bag will leave it for me in checkpoints I'm judging in).

I believe the decision to move the start was done later in '03 than '15 and this year and in all the 'confusion' the village didn't get enough HEET for everyone. We had 2 options - wait for a plane that was due to arrive 'soon' or use 'red bottle' HEET. "How different could the 2 types of HEET be", I thought.
For any of you that might find yourself in that situation one day, let me be clear - WAIT FOR THE PLANE. Red bottle HEET does not burn NEAR as clean. My cooker was a MESS and I don't think my lungs will ever be the same.
And oh.....I watched the plane circle and land from down on the river within sight of town. I'd like to say I've conquered my impatience in the 14 years since, but I really haven't.

Many hours into the 120 mile run I passed a cabin at the on a small island on the river. There were a BUNCH of teams camping. I stopped and chatted with one of the mushers for a moment, but it was sooner then I wanted to stop and it looked really crowded, so I kept going and camped at a small pullout on the river a few hours later. We camped uneventfully till well after dark.

My next memory is one of the most memorable in my Iditarod 'career'.

It was about 2am and the trail had drifted out more into the middle of the Yukon River, far from the banks. The dogs were traveling nicely and I was getting into the 'sleep deprivation zone' and felt pretty awake - though I wasn't sharply focused on the trail as nothing needed me to be. River running usually doesn't require a lot of attention. I think I was listening to music, although I didn't get my first iPod till '04 so didn't listen to a lot of music prior to that.

Anyway, we were cruising along when something BUMPED me on the back of my calves. Mushers often travel without headlamps on on nights like this - and if another team comes up behind you on a narrow trail, the leaders may bump into you, at which point their amused musher will flip their light on and holler 'TRAIL' (yeah, we can be a sadistic bunch when it comes to dealing with each other). I turned around to see whose team had caught me to see ....NOTHING. And I mean nothing. I could see a long way back in the moonlight and there was no one for miles and miles.

I glanced around a bit more, shrugged and turned back to my team.

A bit later - the EXACT same thing happened.

I didn't feel threatened or scared - and my dogs seemed oblivious (and I've had another 'odd' encounter in '04 where they were absolutely not oblivious). I consoled myself thinking that 'whatever' presence I was hanging out with on this trail likely hadn't seen a dog team here in a LONG time - and was most likely not displeased to have us back.

Several hours later Gerry Sousa caught up with us. I was going to ask him if he 'felt' anything out there, but he was in a pretty bad mood and I just got out of his way. And just for the record, I had never met Gerry before and was a bit put off at our encounter. As soon as I pulled into Ruby, Gerry found me and apologized for his demeanour on the trail. I was impressed.
I've shared the trail with him many times since and he has never since been anything but pleasant and easy to be around!

From Ruby on my memories blend with many other years of moments and memories - well, except for the moose soup with Palmer in Nulato, the bad burn on my fingers from my cooker (and the vets popping the blisters for me in Eagle River), having cigars with Jim Gallea and Tyrell Seavey on the Yukon (don't think your Mom will mind reading about it now Tyrell), the traveling disco that was Jeff King, and that case of Giardia - but those are stories for a different day.