Saturday, December 29, 2007

And What of the Musher

Alethia heads my medical staff. She's applying IcyHot to my back. To much snow shoveling lately!

So what of the musher? In a nutshell, everything is the musher's fault. The musher assumes credit for both success and failure. Mike Williams was featured on an Iditarod documentary once where he said, "It is never the dog's fault. It is always the musher's fault." It's a lot of pressure to put on yourself and I'd like to explain it a little.

First an exception to the above. Most competitive racing kennels run multiple teams in races including the Iditarod. If you signed on with a musher to train and run a team of dogs in a race you probably didn't get to choose which dogs would be on your team and definately didn't choose the breedings that created that team.

A musher who has selected breeding stock, chosen which dogs would breed, raised and selected pups, chosen the equipment they use, selected the diet and housing arrangement, and set the training schedule, has assumed complete responsibility for his dogs. This is the boat I'm in. Most of my dogs are alive because I arranged it. The few dogs that weren't born under my care were carefully chosen to do a specific job. Interestingly, that job did not originally include running races. I wanted 60-75 pound dogs with good coats and feet to haul wood, go hunting, go camping, run a trapline, and spend time with my family on nice winter days. The dogs I have selected, bred, raised, and trained will do all those things very well.

Can they race? This question has bothered me in recent years. As it became clear that my dogs were accomplishing all my goals within a few years, I wanted to push things further. Entering the Kusko 300 has pushed me, and ulitmately the dogs, to learn more and work harder then before. I've enjoyed that part of it. For my part, I've lost 15 pounds and am trying to drop 5 more before the race. We've purchased some new equipment more specific to racing. I've gone 48 hours with 4 hours sleep many times while still holding down a job and a family. Special care has been given to the dogs' diets. Foot and leg care has also been a huge issue. I've contacted knowledgable mushers about various training techniques. All this has been done in an effort to prepare the dogs for a new challenge.

If the dogs do well, I've got much to be happy about. If they don't, it's all on me. These are the dogs I've chosen, raised, and trained. They are a team of my own making. If they don't do well I don't think it will bother me too much. I did not set out to build a team of distance racing sled dogs 6 years ago. But down deep I hope they do well. I'd like to say not for my sake, but it probably is. These dogs didn't ask to be entered into the most competitive 300 mile sled dog race in the world. I did it for them.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Status Report - 12/28/2007

We're on Christmas break here at the Belleque house. Johanna is a teacher so she's got a few weeks off. I took a few days off work as well. It's been nice spending time together. The last few months have found me putting miles on the dogs when other just wanted to spend time with their Daddy.

We've been offering dog sled rides as a fund-raiser and it's going pretty well. We're sharing a dog mushing experience and raising money in the process. We didn't book every possible slot so I've got time to do a few longer runs as well. With the rides and longer runs, we should still come close to our goal of 1000 miles by January 1st.

I've spoken at length about trail conditions. We are on the brink of the best trail conditions of the year. Temperatures were below zero for a time and then it snowed, and snowed, and snowed. The kids are on Christmas break and the skys clear today so snowmachines are driving everywhere packing down trails. The dogs and I still need some good long runs. Hopefully we'll be able to do those in the next few weeks. Still anticipating starting the Kusko 300 with 1200 to 1300 miles on the dogs. Would like more, but I'm happy with what we've accomplished. It hasn't been easy.

The dogs have been laying low and look great. Many of them shed their winter coats late this year. Don't know why some dogs shed their coats in June and others in October. Need to research that. A few of my late shedding dogs have been looking pretty scronny with their short coats. Their coats are filling in and everyone looks like a husky again.

With Bernard out with his weird paw injury, I'm still planning to start the K300 with 10 dogs. Most of those 10 dogs look great. Still not sure about Hagar and his injured rear leg. Luckily Dr. Hagee will be in Dillingham before I head to Bethel so he can get a good comparitive examination on that leg. I'm sure he can go to the first checkpoint, but he may be capable of more. He's looked really good lately. Ginger is the one dog I'm worried about. She was always a very reliable little dog, but has become irratic in harness. If everything is moving along smoothly, she does fine. She doesn't pull hard when we slow down, but she pulls hard the entire way home. Maybe the trick is to get her up to Pike Lake (even if it's in the sled) and let her pull us back to Bethel. I'm kidding of course, but the thought has crossed my mind.

Been a while since I've posted individual dogs' mileage. Some of the dogs with early injuries have less mileage then others. You can see who has been consistently healthy.
Hagar-665 Lucky-825 Luke-824 Bing-859 Charlie-834 Felix-755 Olaf-846 Lucy-684 Phoebe-763 Ginger-829

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Some pups come along slowly and some explode out of the shoot. I still remember Lucy's first run. She was six months old and very shy. She didn't quite know what to do when I put her in harness. Don't remember who she was next to, but she just stood there. When the 4-wheeler began moving she moved along with it, not really pulling. She pulled back on the neckline a few times. I stopped to pet and encourage her. About a 1/4 mile into the run she lurched forward slamming into her harness. Her tug line has been banjo-string-tight ever since. I'm not exagerating. This dog pulls 100% of the time.

Not only does she always pull hard, she loves doing it. Her tail never stops wagging. It's a love for work you don't see very often. An absolute love bug, she does her best to wipe faces clean and get the big hugs. A pat on the shoulder isn't enough for her. She wants lots of lovin'.

Lucy has run lead, but hasn't taken that as a main job yet. I'm planning to give her more time in lead later this winter and next. Since she does run out front I can breed her while keeping to my goal of only breeding leaders.

She's a little smaller then most of my dogs at about 62 pounds. Her body isn't as long as most of my dogs either. Lucy came from a reputable breeder in Eagle, Alaska. I'm planning to breed her to Luke this summer. To say I'm excited about that breeding is an understatement. It should be fantastic.

This is Lucy.


Here are a few Christmas pictures. We went to Mid-Night Mass at 8:30 (I know that sounds strange) and to bed by 10:00 on the 24th. We got up around 8:00 and opened presents. The kids played with their new toys for a while, we went on a short mush, and friends came over for dinner. A wonderful Christmas. Was hoping to get some mushing pictures, but the camera got too cold. Should have taken them when we started.

Here is Jacob and Alethia packing Jacob's new Hummer. They can get a bunch of Barbies in there with the driver. They had a blond manning the .50 cal most of the morning. Jacob is wearing new pants and a shirt from Nana Mary.

Here's Jake with his new piano from his Grandma Vera.

Alethia and her fancy new hat from Uncle Buck.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Denali Highway Around Here

Read an interesting article in the Fairbanks News Miner. It can be found at the following link, . From here on I'm assuming you've read the article.

The major challenge I've had training my team this winter has been finding a long trail. You've read in this blog that I've done laps and on a few occasions have been able to run my dogs on a 45 mile trail (round-trip). Folks don't realize how far 50, 30, or even 20 miles actually is. In Rural Alaska all trails are essentially snow machine trails. Snow machine trails are made as people travel between communities or by folks just out having fun. The trails made by those having fun don't make for good dog trails. Trails made by those traveling between villages require frozen rivers. We are just now starting to get a good ice layer on one small river. The larger river isn't frozen solid yet.

It's really not something to complain about, you can only do what you can do. But clearly mushing in Rural Alaska is different. The fact that we don't have 100's of miles of road connecting us to different areas of the state can be seen as a disadvantage. When it comes to finding long trails to run the dogs on it may be, but our dogs are used to a variety of trails. My dogs only have one run on what most would consider a good trial. I'm not worried about deep snow, slush and slop, glare ice, anything really. The dogs are used to tough trails.

When the rivers are frozen and trails between communities well traveled, we have more trails then a musher would know what to do with. Problem is, that usually doesn't happen until February or March. I think a professional distance musher would probably have a difficult time consistently preparing for races. There would be years where they would have lots of trails and could condition the dogs well and others where they would struggle mightily to get miles on the dogs. I wouldn't say I've struggled mightily, but it's been a challenge. Just last year there were many more trails established by this time.

So we don't have anything like the Denali Highway near Dillingham. There are no 135 mile trails constantly being packed down by snowmachines. That's fine. If all mushing consisted of was running dogs on a road, I probably wouldn't mush anyway. I prefer the wild, true wilderness where a musher and a good team of dogs can travel the way they always have. We use a trail when we have it and make our own when we don't. That's mushing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the Air

Last Sunday I took Anne and Tricia for a dogsled ride. It was a beautiful day with nicely packed trails. Anne is our local radio reporter and Tricia a tallented young photographer. KDLG ran the story yesterday. It can be found at . Tricia took some great photos that can be viewed at . Just click on the mushing links.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Half Moon Run

Mushers use powerful headlamps when running at night. The strong lights are made even better with a cord attaching them to battery packs holding 4 D batteries. My powerful headlamp is a nice LED. Lately it's been giving me fits. It went out just as I was about to head out of the yard. I fiddled with it a little, but gave up and went to my back-up. My back-up light is a very simple LED and isn't nearly as bright as the other. Looking to the sky I saw a bright half moon, plenty of light. I cut the dogs loose and off we went.

The run was only a 20 miler, another "fun run" before we do our 70 milers later this week. Before long I realized the small headlamp wasn't giving off as much light as the glowing moon so I turned it off. We ran under the light of the moon.

It's been a while since I've mushed by moonlight and I'd forgotten how mystical is seems. You can hear the dogs feet lightly and quickly touching the snow, but you can't see their feet moving. They appear to float across the snow and they love it. You feel as a guest in their natural element.

In this moment it also dawned on me that I hadn't prayed on the runners in a long time. I often pray while mushing. Mostly I thank God for the day, my family, the dogs in front of me, and other gifts recently given. So there in the half glow of the moon I thanked the Lord for all my blessings and reflected on many things. Just as Jesus went to deserts, mountains, and gardens to be with God, I feel closer to God when in the midst of his original creation.

The dogs continued to float effortlessly across the snow until we reached home. They stopped. I turned on my light to see wagging tails and happy eyes. All of us renewed by our half moon run.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shooting Games

Basketball was my sport in high school. Dad was a coach and I grew up learning about the game. I even coached a team myself one season. Like most sports, basketball practices can be hard and demanding. Coaches ask a tremendous amount from their players. It's the only way to succeed. A team must constantly push their limits to reach new heights.

It doesn't matter if it's the Utah Jazz or in a YMCA summer league. The successful teams push and push hard. But every coach knows that you can't simply keep pushing. At some point the team must relax, have a little fun. In basketball they play shooting games. They're different simple competitive games focusing on shooting (every players favorite thing to do). The mood in the gym lightens considerably. Most leave smiling.

We are playing shooting games at Nushagak Kennels this weekend. It's been tough with the weather and trail conditions lately. I saw it on our last run on Snake Lake road. Some of the dogs were feeling it. The runs this weekend are short, fun, and the trails perfect.

Johanna, Alethia, and I put in a simple trail behind our property. It twists and turns 10 miles then makes a big loop and comes back, 20 miles total. The cherry on top is the snow conditions. We had lots of wet heavy snow and now the temps have dropped to zero degrees. It is hard and fast with enough give to set a hook and provide a little cushion for each step.

The dogs took off and loped/fast trotted the whole way. They ran the 20 miles at 10 - 12 mph and came home with wagging tails. Everyone had fun. Everyone was happy.

I'm planning to hit it pretty hard these next 7 days. The goal is to get 250 miles this week. 250 miles would keep us on track to hit our 1000 mile mark by January 1st.

You can't just drive a team to exhaustion. Sometimes you've got to play some shooting games.

Friday, December 14, 2007

They Can't All Be Lead Dogs

Some dogs just pull. Charlie and Olaf are two such dogs. Olaf is Charlie's nephew and best buddy. They typically work in the wheel or back of the team. Neither dog has the slightest inclination to lead and they work best hitched up next to each other.

Honestly, they're not my favorite dogs. They don't display the determined power of Bernard or Lucy's quick trot. Neither is very bright and they don't even pull all the time. So why do I have them you ask? Well, they eat well, have good coats and feet, and don't cause any problems. They just keep moving along.

They pull as hard as they need to. They really lean into their harnesses with a big load of wood, but are content to just trot along with a light load and a fast trail. Distance racers don't necessarily wanting their dogs pulling too hard and wearing themselves out. There's a good chance both of these dogs will see the finish line of the Kusko 300. I hope they do finish the race and I hope they do it together.

Charlie is closest to the camera and is darker brown then Olaf who is more of a tan color.
Olaf is nearer the camera in this picture. They're almost exactly the same size.


Finally borrowed a cord for our digital camera. Most of the pictures below were taken in November the first time we had snow. The snowed disapeared shortly after. We were sledding behind our new property. The first picture was taken at Alethia's 5th birthday party. She had 7 friends over for pizza, cake, and plenty of play time. Enjoy the pictures.

Alethia and her cake

Jake and Rebel

Johanna and Alethia

I'd like to introduce the 2038 Yukon Quest Champion, Alethia Belleque

A solid 8 dog team

Breaking trail

Monday, December 10, 2007

Status Report - December 10th

Things have been less then ideal on the mushing front. Last week we had a run in the driving rain. We've been running back and forth on Waskey Road. Temperatures haven't been below freezing much. Snow has been falling in recent days, but it's been warm and the creeks are open and the tundra is still wet - no base at all. We're scheduled to start dropping into the teens late this week. That would help a lot.

My next move is to start doing laps on Snake Lake Road. This road is different from Waskey Road. It's small and not maintained during the winter. It's further North and usually has more snow and colder temperatures. The dogs will be loaded into the truck and driven to where it begins. Some snow machines trailered up there and hopefully packed down a decent trail. Folks have said it is 7-8 miles long (I'll check it with the GPS) so we'll still be doing laps, but it will be in a new place, on a trail, in front of a sled. Hopefully the dogs will respond well to it.

As far as the dogs go - Chester has had a tough time of it lately. I think it's a combination of things. He's going through an adolescent phase. His littermates have gone through it also. They live with Swanny in Two Rivers. Swanny maintains a blog at . It's fun to check his blog and see how Nells and Rose are doing. Chester's got a few other issues going on as well I suspect. For one, it's been warm. Very warm. Chester has got an enormous thick coat. The warm temperatures have got to be hard on him. Also, the longer miles just aren't for him right now. He's still young and not fully developed. I've still got high hopes for him as a great working dog and don't want to ruin him for a race where his participation won't make a bit of difference anyway. We're going to let Chester lay low and get him hauling wood and pulling weight for a living after the Kusko.

Sadly, I think Arctic has got hip displasia. We don't have a veterinarian out here so I'm not certain, but I think that's what he's got. Arctic is 7 years old. I bought him from a reputable breeder when he was 4. He's always been a great working dog and I couldn't figure out why he was having trouble after about 25 miles. He'd start hopping on his back feet instead of using his solid trot. He's always had boundless energy and he'd come back from easy runs totally worn out. The back feet would sort of splay out with the ankles close together. Did some reading on the internet and I'm pretty sure that's what he's got. Will make an apointment with Dr. Hagee when he returns.

Hagar on the other hand has been recovering from his injury nicely. No signs of pain or discomfort although I check his hind leg often. We worked him back into the runs slowly. He'd ride in the truck until the run was half over and then finish the run in harness (one nice thing about running with the truck, plenty of room). This weekend he completed a 50 mile run with shining colors. I still don't think he can run the entire Kusko 300, but am starting to wonder if he could at least go with us to the first or second checkpoint. He's one of the only mature experienced dogs I've got and the starting line scene won't bother him any. I'll talk it over with the vet.

So where does this leave us? We've got 11 dogs in the running for the Kusko including Hagar. Even if Hagar didn't start the race we'd have 10 (assuming no one gets hurt - cross your fingers!). Kusko 300 rules state that a person may start the race with no more then 14 and no fewer then 7. A team must have no fewer then 5 dogs in harness and attached to the gangline at all times. Teams regularly finish the race with 7 or 8 dogs still in harness, many are still running 10 dogs. So where 10 dogs is still a workable number, there is not the room for error I would like to have. Dogs are dropped during a distance race for any number of reasons - injury, dehydration, loss of appetite, or just running out of steam and not wanting to go any more. My dogs have plenty of muscle so using 7, 6, or 5 dogs to pull a light load on a broken trail isn't a problem. My biggest fear is injuries. If certain dogs get hurt, I'm in big trouble. I've mainly been running Luke, Bing, and Lucky in lead. I'm going to do some more work with Felix as he has been leading well lately. Lucy has run some lead, but isn't ready for a race. Phoebe may be able to run some lead, but she's iffy. Hagar is a lead dog, but is very out of practice. Hasn't run lead all year. We have always been a small pack and know each other well. The numbers don't bother me. The 10 dogs I do have look solid. I know them well and they trust me. We should be fine together.

We haven't gotten as many miles on the dogs as I was hoping. This lousy weather has seen to that. Luke has got 588 and the others fall in behind that. The goal is to get 1000 miles on the dogs by January 1st. Since the runs are much longer now, this is a realistic goal. The dogs haven't been anywhere near exhaustion. They had plenty of spunk after the 50 miler so we need to push them a little. The Kusko is a whole lot more then one 50 mile run though. It's a series of runs with relatively short rests between them. That's the hardest part of distance mushing as I understand it. It's not the running, but the resting. The competitive musher's will run the 300 mile race while resting their dogs 10-13 hours. They'll also enter the race with 2000 plus miles. We'll enter the race with 1200-1500 miles and will rest a minimum of 20 hours. The rest is planned for the front side of the race. If they need it on the back side, they'll get it then too. The Kusko is not the Iditarod or Yukon Quest, but 300 miles is a long way to run. No question about it.

I honestly don't know how we're going to do in this race. There is no way to be certain. That fact is both exciting and nerve racking at the same time. I will prepare them, and myself, to the best of my ability and let the cards fall where they may. I believe the key is rest. If I give the dogs enough rest they should be fine.

My dad was a successful basketball and volleyball coach for many years winning many championships. He always told us if you weren't nervous before a game you just weren't ready. Well, I'm feeling more ready every day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bing Bong

Many of our dogs get longer names then origingally planned; Luke the Duke, Lucky Dog, Hagar the Horible, Olaf the Olaffer (that's probably the dumbest one). Alethia calls Bing the Bing Bonger. Bing is a son of Lucky and Hagar and brother or uncle to most of the dogs in the kennel.

He's one of my top dogs, but most people don't get to see him at his best. At 75 pounds, he is a monster in harness. Bing can move some serious weight. Also one of my best trail breaking leaders, he enjoys plowing through snow, blazing his own trail, and seeing new country. Usually I'm the only one on the sled when we're doing that though. During races or mushing on a road, he is shy around people and aggressive around strange dogs. He's easily distracted.

If I were mushing this country 50 years ago, I'd want a few dogs like Bing. He's most at home in the wilderness. Hard packed trails don't do him justice. You don't realize how good of a dog he is until your knee deep in snow with a heavy load. He's got the long legs, deep chest, solid coat, and iron feet that all working dogs should have.

Bing, being the way he is, will start the Kusko 300 in the middle of the team. The starting line chaos won't be his thing. Once we get out on the trail, he'll take his turn in lead and keep us moving forward. And if, just if, we get 2 feet of snow dumped on us, I'll be glad Bing's on my team.

Bing with his bad ear. It's not a naturally floppy ear. I think he got in a fight when he was young because the little band that holds a dog's ear up is broken. So his ear doesn't flop down, it just leans to the side. One of the only ways to tell him from his brothers.

Wanna know what a true working sled dog looks like? That's it. He loves his job and does it well.

July 5th...

these guys get a new partner. Jacob is potty training. He looks like a little Hulk Hogan in his underwear.

Johanna had an ultrasound today. She's 9 weeks along. The little nipper is 2 cm long and scheduled to arrive July 5th. They couldn't hear the heart beat with the external microphone, but they could hear and see it beat on the ultrasound. Hearing that little heart beat makes it all so real.
-Notes from Jo: It was so exciting to actually hear the baby's heartbeat and see the little dot. It looked so tiny. It was worth it to have my bladder feel like it was about to burst toward the end of my ultrasound. Like Kyle said, it made it all seem so real. Other then feeling bouts of nausea when I smell certain things and extreme fatigue, I am doing great. Kyle jokes that my new bedtime is 8:30. Most of the time, it is. It shouldn't be so bad during the second tri-mester. Alethia is practicing too. So far she's put her doll in her tummy and has pretended to nurse it, burp it and change its diaper. Jacob, on the other hand, will probably be in for a shock.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dog Sled Rides - A K300 Fundraiser

We've been fortunate enough to get sponsors for air travel, straw, food, and medication (thanks Ocean Beauty, Happy Tails, AC, and Tall Eric), but there are plenty of expenses left to cover. The dogs will be giving sled dog rides from December 26th to January 1st. Money raised from the rides will help cover the costs of additional vet bills, dog booties, and specialized dog food, gear and equipment.

Rides will begin at 10:00 each day with the last ride starting at 4:00. Each group will get an hour to meet the dogs, learn about mushing, and get a ride on the trail. Ryan and/or Eric will be helping out on the 26th, 29th, 30th, and 1st so we'll be running two sleds those days. The cost will be $40.00 for adults and $20.00 for children under 12. We can get a couple adults, or more children, on each sled. Also, local outdoor photographer James "Izzy" Isdell will be available for professional photography at an additional charge. He's photographed mushing before and his shots are outstanding. Like nothing I've seen before. Participants can get shots of them in the sled or put their arms around Old Hagar for a portrait.

I'll be at the annual Christmas Bazzaar tommorw to start booking rides. Anyone interested can also give me a call at 842-5374. If I'm not home Johanna can put your name in a slot and I'll call you back as soon as possible. We're asking for a 50% non-refundable deposit to hold the slot.

The renewed road work is coming along pretty well and it looks like we've got colder temps on the horizon. Keep your fingers crossed. Mileage is listed below.

Hagar - 204 Lucky - 365 Luke - 409 Bing - 399 Bernard - 363
Charlie - 374 Felix - 303 Olaf - 386 Lucy - 278 Phoebe - 353
Ginger - 379 Chester - 388

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Winding Trail

It's been a while since the last post. First, thank you to Lisa for recording our fall training and to Ryan for posting it on the blog. Our internet has been down and we can't find the cord to download pictures. We are back on-line now and we'll keep looking for the cord.

On the mushing front, I did some runs with the sled behind our property. Put in a trail geeing and hawing through virgin snow on a beautiful day. Ran that trail a few more times maxing out with two 40 mile runs. Recently, as can happen, all the snow melted. We're back on the road. Putting on miles with long runs won't be easy on Waskey Road, but it can be done. We don't really have a choice. The dogs are running in front of the truck. Don't want them pulling hard at this point, they just need miles. The truck moves along at 10 mph in second gear, a perfect pace. Feet, wrists, ankles, everything seems fine right now. With no significantly cold weather in the horizon, we may be on the road for a while.

I also lost a friend last week. Andy worked in the office next to me and was a musher. Him and I were keeping the local dog mushing organization afloat. He gave me my first dogs and provided tons of great information. He leaves behind a wife, three children, two grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and other family. I helped with the funeral yesterday and am taking leave today to regroup. Deaths have never affected me like this. He was 49 years old sitting at the table with his wife, stood up, and fell over. Just like that. It's made me reflect on my own family and ask the questions we would rather not ask.

Andy and I had many conversations in recent years, mostly about dogs and mushing. He always encouraged me and suggested I do now and not wait too long. My dreams of running a trapline out of the Harris Creek cabin, mushing across country to the Kuskokwim River, running the Yukon Quest have all been kept in dream status. Perhaps I'll get to it when the kids are grown, when I retire. Maybe it doesn't always work like that. Could be that it's never too early to live this life well, to actually do what you only dare dream. Andy just stood up...

On the other hand, family should always come before the wants of one man. Family was a constant theme at the funeral and potluck yesterday. Andy was very committed to caring for his wife and children, and is also a part of a close network of brothers and sisters.

I'm not a big fan of dedicating individual endeavors to others, but Andy's passing has made me want to run the Kusko 300 all the more. He ran the race himself and held it in high regard.

So I decided to stay home with Jake today, light a fire, drink some coffee, wind down. It's also Alethia's birthday. She's 5 years old. She had some things planned at her childcare center so she went there today. I'll pick her up early.

3 months ago I thought I'd start a blog to chronicle this Kusko quest and share pictures of our kids and such with friends. If life we're only so simple. Things are never that easy.

We never know what lies around the bend of a winding trail.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Here is a video of road training November 1st. The dogs are inbound about a half mile away from the home after an 8 mile run.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Looking Back Down the Road

It's 15 degrees in Dillingham at 9:10 PM and getting colder. We've got a little snow on the ground. The 10 foot birch basket sled is all fixed up (thanks Roger) and we're taking it out tomorrow. Lucky, Luke, Bing, Bernard, Charlie, Felix, Olaf, Chester, and I are heading out to the flats to put in a trail. This will be their first time pulling a sled since last winter. Also my first time standing on the runner since last winter and I can't wait!

If the weather turns bad we may wind up back on Waskey Road, but hopefully we're done until next fall. As the road work comes to an end we've got Luke with the most miles at 219 and Lucy who just hit 100. Most of the rest are in the 170/190 range. This was my first experience with semi-aggressive fall training and I thought I'd share the major lessons learned.

It's all about the feet - My dogs have genetically good feet, but a gravel road isn't easy to run on bare footed. We had a number of blisters, sore, cuts, broken nails, etc. Some times it was pretty frustrating. But I've got to say, their feet look great right now. Every one of them has a nice solid firm foot. Their feet have never looked so good. It appears the road work was good for their feet generally speaking. But when we went more then 10 miles, or the gravel on the road was wet, we had trouble. In the future I would boot anything over 10 miles or on a wet gravel road. Also, once a dog hit 100 miles, they seemed to start getting blisters and such and should be watched carefully and booted as needed.

They need recovery time - This being my first attempt at road work, I wasn't too sure on a schedule. We ran Saturday, Sunday and then Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the beginning. We soon dropped the Tuesday and ran four days per week. After we were almost done with the road work I learned from a few experienced distance mushers that they ran every other day in the fall. Thinking back to some of the foot issues and such, every other day would have been best.

Learn to work through the injuries - We had some of the silliest injuries this fall, dogs biting each others legs, foot problems, even one serious sprained ankle. Hagar sprained his ankle last week and won't be running the Kusko in January. Dr. Hagee (the vet who comes to Dillingham every other month) examined him and said he would recover, but suggested not running an old dog in a 300 mile race after that injury. He's moving around better on it now and I'm looking forward to getting him back in harness in December. When it comes to any injury, you've got to have a veterinarian willing to work with you. That vet had better understand mushing or you're just wasting your time. Also, you've got to be ready with the creams, lotions, and potions. There's a balm or cream for just about anything. Find out about these products. Figure out how and when to use them. The right stuff really can help.

It's much easier (and more fun) with help - Eric or Ryan ran all but two of the runs with me this fall. They were great. Both of them said they would help me out and they weren't just blowing smoke. Having two guys on the 4-wheeler made running along side a public road a very safe endeavor. It was also nice driving to the dog yard at 7:45 on a Saturday morning knowing someone else would be there. And if that someone was Eric he'd probably have a thermos of coffee (thanks Tall Eric!).

We went on 26 runs this fall. Now we find out what it did for us. I'm hoping to be able to take off on 20 to 30 mile runs and work up to 40 miles by the end of the month. That's pretty quick, but the dogs look great. Their muscles are tight and firm, weight is just right, and they've got that confident edge about them. That sense of knowing what it's all about. Plus, pulling one guy on a 100 pound sled over the snow has got to be easier then pulling 2 or 3 full grown men on a 300 pound 4-wheeler. I'm guessing the sled will be more fun too. I can't wait to see their reactions when I hitch them up in front of a sled tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes.

These are the dogs still available to run the Kusko 300. We're down to 12. Hope we don't get hit with injuries. Keep your fingers crossed. (dog's name and mileage below)

Luke-219 Lucky-175 Bing-209 Bernard-173 Charlie-182 Felix-183
Olaf-196 Lucy-100 Phoebe-175 Ginger-191 Arctic-112 Chester-198

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Buddy Bernard

I often find myself analyzing the dogs. Studying their nuances. Deciding where they're at and how they're coming along. Then I see Barnard pulling hard in harness and smile. Things are never that complicated with Bernard.

He seemed to be leaderish when he was young. Thought for sure he would be leading my team for the next 10 years. His desire to lead died down while his desire to pull continued to grow. Bernard doesn't want to lead a team. I try him up there every now and again to see if he's changed his mind. He hasn't yet. He'll happily run any position from wheel to swing, but not lead.

What Bernard does do is pull. He pulls harder then any animal I've ever seen in my short life. He pulls so hard I'm afraid something is going to pop. If we're moving a 1000 pound load up a hill and all the dogs have quit to catch their breath, I have to call Bernard's name and tell him WOAH or he'll keep driving forward kicking up snow behind him. It's really something to see.

He looks just like his 3 brothers minus the long legs. He's got all the body, just not the legs. One of the shortest dogs on the team, Bernard is compact and powerful.

What he lacks in leading ability he makes up for in pulling and kindness. It's not so much that he likes everyone. He likes everyone he likes. Johanna, the kids, and I are his favorite people. Strangers had better be willing to spend some time with him. He won't love you just because you ask him to. They've got to earn it. Bernard is often the dog I take berry picking or hiking in the off season. He's a mellow guy and a pleasure to be long as he likes you.

He likes me and I'm happy to introduce my buddy Bernard.

Bernard (eyes open) on left next to his brother Bing. Difficult to tell them apart. Bernard is shorter and Bing has a bad ear.

Bernard and his pulk on a family berry picking trip. He looks so different without his big dark coat. He can easily pull 50 pounds across the bare ground. That's equal to 10 gallons of berries and a pack with water and snacks.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ocean Beauty Seafoods

Ocean Beauty Seafoods has graciously offered to sponsor the entire cost of our airtravel for the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race. This is the largest financial component of the endeavor. Their sponsorship will allow us to bring the dogs, gear, and humans from Dillingham straight to Bethel in an IFR aircraft. This is a huge deal and by far the best for the dogs. A big thanks to Ocean Beauty Seafoods for their generous sponsorship!

Ocean Beauty Seafoods produces all types of delicious seafood products. As a proud Bristol Bay man, I particularly enjoy their Echo Falls brand smoked sockeye and spreads. The lox and cajun spread are particularly good.

Learn more about Ocean Beauty Seafoods and their brands and products at

Thanks again Ocean Beauty!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Then and Now

My team. Spring 2007.

Roger Skogen's team (my father-in-law). Koliganek, Alaska Fall 1992.

Keeping in mind the picture of Roger's team is before they are muscled up from hard work and their coats have been shedding all summer, the two teams don't look too different.
Roger's was one of the last teams of working sled dogs on the Nushagak River. They are all gone now. Friendly, the lead dog, was an old dog when Johanna and I married. I tried breeding him to Lucky, but it didn't take. That entire line of working dogs is gone.
These last 6 years I've been trying to import dogs and breed litters that are representative of a team like Roger's. His were not the biggest dogs he had seen, but they hauled wood, went ice fishing and hunting, and generally took him where he wanted to go to do what he wanted to do. I know I've come close because as they say, "The proof is in the pudding." My dogs haul wood and do all the things Roger did with his dogs.
He didn't race them, but enjoyed them every weekend and evening he could spend with them. Roger learned about sled dogs from the old mushers on the Nushagak River. He helped me get started with dogs. I still contact him often for advice. His advice is often different, and more correct, then I get from racers when it comes to working with sled dogs. What racer has taken his team to the woods and truly put them to work? The knowledge of what working dogs are capable of, and how to use them to survive in our corner of the earth, is held in the minds of our old mushers. From the start my goal has been to discover that knowledge and put it to practice with my team of working sled dogs.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Shift on the Fly

The foot thing became a bit of an issue last week. The road had been rather wet and the little pieces of gravel were getting in between the dog's pads causing those sores. Runs have been cut back a little to keep everyone in good enough shape to get going once the snow arrives...hope that happens soon.

Hagar seems to have injured his rear ankle, he's having a heck of a time putting weight on it. Don't know when or how it happened. The vet should be coming back to town soon. If it doesn't get better I'll take him in.

Eric bought some doggy medicine that we were in need of. It's your standard foot/leg ointments and creams. With all this road work, it began helping a few of the dogs immediately. A few of the dogs who were injured early are now back in harness and looking good. We've been monitoring their old injuries and they seem to be fine.

All-in-all, things are going along pretty well. A training schedule was drafted, but I wasn't naive enough to think it would be followed exactly. Actually, we're not that far off it. Working with dogs never gets old. You just can't tell what's going to happen next. You don't second guess or spend time worrying about what's already been done. It's just like a ball game. You go in with a plan, but things change as the game unfolds. The best teams make the right adjustments at the right times. Feels like I'm back on the bench calling the shots. It's a lot of fun.

We've got a nice group of young healthy sled dogs pulling well in harness and loving every minute of it. Now where's the snow?!?!

Hagar = 104 Lucky = 131 Luke = 175 Bing = 129 Bernard = 129
Charlie = 138 Felix = 69 Olaf = 151 Lucy = 56 Phoebe = 131
Ginger = 147 Arctic = 68 Louie = 138 Pete = 154 Chester = 154
Gus = 33 Junior = 91

Bun in the Oven! Yahoo!

Johanna is with child. Found out last week. The little nipper should be making his/her appearance this summer.

We're all very excited. Alethia is beside herself. She can't wait to be an ulla again. Jake doesn't know what to make of it all, but he's not too happy hearing about his Mama with a new baby. We had been thinking about another kid, but were going to wait a little while. A delightful suprise to be sure.

You'll definately be seeing some more posts about this. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Training Update 10/27/07

Things are starting to get interesting. The mileage has increased and the dogs are getting into the groove. We're up to 17 dogs with the addition 2 more of Harold's yearlings. It's 17 dogs, but ranging in age from 18 months to 9 years. Dogs with hardly any experience to dogs who have been mushing longer then I have. It's definately getting fun now!

We're basically doing laps on Waskey Road as the mileage increases. Any time spent with dogs is time well spent, but I'll be happy to get on a sled. The scenery hasn't changed for almost a month now.

Luke is still doing most of the leading. He's a great finished leader at the age of 3. His brother Bing has been running with him almost exclusively for the past week. I need another young finished leader and Bing is the best prospect. He's got all the drive and natural ability in the world. Bing just needs some polishing, he should be nice and shiny by February. In a pleasant turn of events, it looks like Chester (see post in September Archive) wants to be a lead dog. He struck me as "leaderish" from the beginning. I've had yearlings eager to charge ahead before, but it appears that Chester already knows his commands for the most part. Could he be a "Natural Leader"? The Holy Grail of dog mushing is what we call a Natural Leader. They are dogs that seem to know just how to lead a team from the very beginning with little or no instruction. I've never had one of these so I don't exactly know if Chester is one, but let's hope he is. Regardless, he's been running in swing where he can pick up more leading commands without the stress of leading.

Running on gravel toughens up a dogs feet, but only to a point. The dogs have been running without booties to this point, we haven't needed them. I knew that at some point we would cross the threshold of helping the feet and beging hurting them. That threshold was crossed at about 100 miles. I wonder if that's normal? I usually don't run much in the fall, just enough to get the rust off before we take off on the sled. A number of dogs today had the beginnings of raw tender feet. We're going to start running them with booties tomorrow. They need to get used to running with booties anyway, may as well start now.

The dogs are getting used the routine. The old dogs walk calmly to the line and patiently wait to be hitched up. Even the young dogs have mellowed out. I'm sure their spunk will come back when I pull out the sled. Need some cold weather before that happens. Since I began mushing 6 years ago, I always begin with a sled in mid-November. There isn't always snow, but the tundra is hard enough. Let's hope this year is the same.

Hagar = 104 Lucky = 109 Luke = 130 Bing = 120 Bernard = 99
Charlie = 109 Felix = 46 Olaf = 106 Lucy = 19 Phoebe = 109
Ginger = 109 Arctic = 53 Louie = 93 Pete = 109 Chester = 109
Gus = 18 Junior = 46

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sponsors and Support

It's not always easy talking about money. I'd much rather engage in a good religous coversation, but just about everything we do these days requires money. Running the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race this January in Bethel will be no different.

Before asking businesses to help fund this endeavor I had to ask the question, "Why would anyone give me money to go run a dog race?" After some serious thought I came up with a few good answers to that question and sent out letters requesting sponsorship. A few generous business have already decided to help sponsor this effort, many said no, and a few are still thinking about it. Our official sponsors have been listed on the left. Hopefully we'll be adding others before January.

I decided there are a few different reasons businesses and individuals offer financial support to dog mushers. The primary reason is that dog mushers may help you sell something. The year after Jeff King won the Iditarod for the 4th time a good number of mushers switched to his particular style of harness, bought the snowsuit he uses, and gave his favorite dog food an opportunity. Even small town mushers can help advertise for a business in a given area.

There are also those businesses that market Alaska. Every Iditarod musher last year had their picture taken with a bottle of Alaskan Amber. Alaskan Amber is a quality beer that has been well marketed as THE Alaskan beer. Some businesses market within Alaska and we see their products and services being advertised by Iditarod mushers every winter. After all, mushing is our state sport and these men and women are our Alaskan heros. However, many businesses market Alaska to the rest of the world. I've always thought these businesses could benefit from an exchange of money for a weekend's photo shoot with a dog team. I once met a Brazillian who knew absolutely nothing about Alaska except that there was a big sled dog race up here that started with an "I". America, and a good portion of the world, associate mushing with Alaska. There could be potential for small unknown mushers like myself. Where I may not be able to sell tacos, lumber, or snowsuits on a state or national level, I've got a few dogs that would make a heck of a poster hanging in a travel agency in Orange County.

I've not yet struck a sponsorship like this though. My financial support so far has been local. I grew up here and always felt support from this small town. I haven't asked the businesses why they chose to sponsor me, they each probably have their own reasons. We'll be doing things to thank them and promote their businesses. Their generosity is greatly appreciated. They run good businesses I'm happy to support in return.

Not all support is financial of course. One of the things I never tire of is the positive reactions I get when people see me running my dogs. Snowmachines pull way off the trail to give me room to pass. Some give me a thumbs up, everyone smiles and waves, others turn off their machines and watch and hear the team go by. Once a man stood up on his snowmachine and applauded as we passed. There is something about seeing a team of sled dogs traveling across our land. It fits. It's part of our heritage. The dogs evoke memories of a different time, maybe a better time. Regardless, the dogs make people smile and they thank me for that memory, that thought. This is support too. Every one of those poeple has helped me keep these dogs and motivated me to continue on. Their support will help send me to Bethel too.

Nushagak Kennels is traveling to Bethel to run the 2008 Kuskokwim 300. That much is certain. How well we finish remains to be seen. It's been years since a Nushagak team has entered the race and I'm proud to represent our region and its mushing heritage. So whether you have chosen to support me financially or encourage me through word or deed, I thank you. It all makes a difference and without it this dog team would not be headed to Bethel.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Beautiful Wife

Johanna and Jake last winter.

You haven't seen many pictures of Johanna on this blog because she's usually the one behind the camera. Under the title of this blog reads, "The comings and goings of a Rural Alaskan family and their team of working sled dogs." The truth is we wouldn't be coming or going anywhere with out her. She's the backbone of our small family. Modern women wear many hats, but we are her first priority. Anyone who knows her would agree. She is "Mama" to our children and the love of my life.

I know, I know, this is a deviation from the more masculine posts of hard working dogs, dead moose, and such. But let's give credit where credit is do. Johanna is a musher's daughter and first suggested that I get sled dogs. It was always clear they would be my responsibility, but she does feed and care for them on ocassion. Johanna knows how much these dogs mean to me. When times got tough and I wanted to get rid of the dogs, she talked me out of it. With Johanna it's not about dollars and cents, it's about family. Our dogs are a part of who we are as a unit and she embraces them just as she embraces the rest of us.

Before this Kusko 300 quest began, Johanna and I had a talk. I showed her a training schedule and different fund raising options. I asked if I could give it a try and she agreed. So the entire reason I am able to prepare for and run this race in Bethel is because Johanna is willing to sacrifice while I pursue a dream. I definately owe her something big when this is all over...maybe a new house would do the trick.

I don't know why God blessed me with this beautiful woman, but I'm sure glad he did.

Our "Lucky" Dog

If Hagar is my foundation stud, Lucky is the Grand Matron of Nushagak Kennels. She came from Will Forsberg in Healy and has been a joy from day one. Most of the dogs I've ever owned have been her direct decendents. She is everything a working sled dog should be.

Lucky is a rangy 65 pound brown dog with a short to medium coat. Mushers refer to dogs with long legs and a long body as "rangy". This is a quality to look for in working dogs. She is what is termed a trail leader. Not every leader works the same way. The best ones will follow a trail when they are on one, but will also turn and adjust their travel on command. Some dogs prefer not to listen to the driver, but will willingly follow a trail as long as it continues. Lucky is such a leader. She knows gee from haw. However, she would rather choose her own path. It is a misconception that all dogs can follow a covered trail by scent. Dogs can loose a trail and some have a difficult time following a broken trail. Lucky on the other hand will follow an old trail to the footstep even a year after she has traveled it. More then once I've had the weather close in and the trail quickly disapearing behind me. I turn the team around, put Lucky in lead, and enjoy the ride home.

This is going to sound corny, but I think Lucky and Hagar are in love. Seriously, they seem to have a relationship. Right now they are in a kennel where Lucky is attached to a chain and Hagar is loose. He won't leaver her, not a chance. Also, both dogs are rather dominant around other dogs, but they share the food in their dog dishes and genuinely seem to like being together. Hopefully they will give me another litter before the winter's over. Lucky has very long heat cycles. She will allow a male to breed her for two weeks, most will only allow it for a few days. The problem is determining when the breeding will result in pups. The last time they bred successfully, I put them in a kennel together until it happened. Hagar's getting a little older and I'm not sure how this will go. I know one thing, the world could use more of Lucky and Hagar's pups.

This is the "Lucky" dog:

Lucky chilling out on her dog house - a very easy going gal.

Lucky looking back at me. She spends a lot of time in swing (position directly behind the leaders). Although she doesn't listen too well in lead, she knows the commands and willingly performs them in the swing position.

Lucky and her outstanding litter of 11 pups. One of the pups was very small and didn't survive, another died of an accident, the rest are owned by myself and another local musher. Of the 9 surviving, the four males are rangy 70 pounders and the females are considerably smaller 55 pounders. More then half of these pups became leaders. Let's hope for more!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It Ain't all Good Times and High Fives

For the most part, mushing is tons of fun and very fulfulling. But when working with living things, bad things can happen.

Right now, we have three dogs out of commission due to fighting. Dogs get in a scrap and one dog gets bitten on the foot or leg. A bite just about anywhere else is no big deal, but a car just won't run without good tires. In six years, this has happened once before and now it's happened three times in two weeks.

We think we have it figured out. It's happening during feeding time, some of the bowls needed to be moved. Dogs are in contact with their neighbors in the new dog yard. That allows for good socialization, but it also allows for this kind of thing to happen. But too, they are just more "edgy" then I've seen them before. There are a few new recruits in the yard, but they've been there almost a month. My dogs are some of the sweetest I know and I've never seen this much aggression in the yard. I know they don't like strange dogs, but this is their team - their pack. They've also never been in harness five days per week, maybe their energy levels are up.

One way or another, we need to deal with this. It's an incredible responsibility to bring an animal into the world. Most of my dogs are here because I wished it and made it happen. When I see my dogs's just not easy to take. Once a great young dog of mine died because of my actions. Johanna and others wouldn't let me get out of dogs although it was what I wanted to do then. This sense of responsibility helps create the bond that connects us all. It's not about preparing for races or optimal team performance. These are my dogs and they deserve to be well cared for. It always hurts to see them in pain.

The good news is that they are dogs and dogs heal well. I gave them antibiotics to fight off infection and let them mend. These aren't life threatening injuries and each of the dogs will be back in harness before long.

Even though it ain't all good times and high fives, I wouldn't trade this life for anything.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall Training

Fall training is more about getting the dogs in harness then anything else. It's not nearly as enjoyable as mushing across the snow while standing on the runners. Leaders need to remember their jobs, young dogs need time in harness, and everyone needs to start building miles.

Our land is on one end of Waskey Road so we can pull out of our driveway and mush down the road. The dogs learn to stay on the right hand shoulder. Waskey is a working road and cars drive by slowly and happy to see dogs in harness.

Lately we've been harnessing 13 dogs in front of a 4-wheeler with 2 guys riding it. The 4-wheeler is not running, just in neutral. Having 2 guys on the 4-wheeler works well. One guy can steer and work the brakes and the other can run up the line if need be. It's a very safe system and works well.

Eric and Ryan have been a huge help. It's a lot easier, and more fun, mushing with others. They even scoop poop. I could get used to this!

The kids come along for about 2/3 of the runs. Here Alethia is loaded up and ready to go home.

Hagar = 34 Lucky = 31 Luke = 50 Bing = 44 Bernard = 31
Charlie = 31 Felix = 40 Olaf = 28 Lucy = 19 Phoebe = 31
Ginger = 31 Arctic = 9 Louie = 31 Pete = 31 Chester = 31

Friday, October 12, 2007

Uppa Hagar

All but 3 of my dogs are direct decendents of this beautiful 70 pound gray. I bought Hagar from Mitch Seavey the December before Mitch won the Iditarod. Hagar was a wheel dog when I bought him, but soon became a solid gee/haw leader.

Hagar is getting older now, a bit slower and sagging a little in the belly. I learned what sled dogs could really be when I first hitched Hagar in with the team. He pulls and pulls and pulls, there's just no quit in him. No matter the weather, no matter the load, no matter the trail, he pulls with all his strength and all his heart. These vital traits have been passed on to his kids and grandkids. Hagar's determination is the backbone of my dog team.

I'm pretty contected to Hagar. In a lot of ways he taught me what mushing was all about, what it could be. Johanna and the kids love him too. He's the grand old gentleman of our kennel.

It's not as easy for Hagar to stay in front of the younger dogs anymore. One of the reasons I wanted to run the Kusko this year was to do it with Hagar and Lucky (you'll meet Lucky later) while they're still able. I'm not sure if Hagar can put in the miles and finish a 300 mile race at his age. But I know that if he's able, he'll do it. He always has.

This is Hagar.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Training Update 10/07

We've been mushing the dogs for a week now and things are coming along nicely. The leaders are remembering their duties and young dogs are shaping up quickly. Runs have been limited to 3 miles this week, but the dogs look ready to stretch it out some. They're coming home with plenty of gas still in the tank. We'll probably stretch them out to 4 and 5 miles next week. The idea here is not to push them too hard, but allow them to determine the distance. If they are ready for 4 miles, that's what we do. When they're ready for eight miles, we'll do that. These athletic dogs take a little while to shake off the cob webs, but once they get going, their runs can get longer quicker. It always seems like they stay around 3 to 5 miles for a while, but before you know it they're doing 8, then 10, then 12 miles. The cooler temperatures have definately been helping out as well.

The goal is to work up to 20 or 30 mile runs before we hit the trails with a sled (depends on when the snow comes). If they can muster a 20 or 30 mile run pulling a 4-wheeler with one or two people on it, they can definately pull a sled with one person and a bag of gear on a 40 mile run. December will be a busy month taking the dogs on some very long runs. They'll need to come into December already in pretty good condition to work them into racing shape. There's a lot of work to do between now and January 18th when we start the Kusko 300, but we're off to a good start.

Arctic injured his hind foot this weekend. He's always had good feet and I can't find any specific injury. It's already healing. I've started the fall with 15 dogs in hope of begin the Kusko with 12. Just like any team sport, you've got to have subs. Having only 3 extra dogs may be cutting it a bit close, but we can start the race with 10 and still run a sound race. These aren't 40 pound wimps in our dog yard. These are honest 70 pound working dogs. We should be fine.

Nushagak Kennels is no longer a one-man-show. Johanna and the kids have always run dogs with me, but I've done all the training, feeding, etc. by myself. This year Eric and Ryan (the guy who shot the moose) have offered to help with the dogs. Ryan is a very athletic young guy with plenty of good questions and a nack for handling dogs. Eric has mushed before and has already been a big help. He's run many of my dogs in the past. Eric may write some posts for this blog as well in the future. If you notice that everything is spelled correctly and the punctuation is uncharacteristically correct, don't be alarmed. It's probably just Eric.

Hagar = 18 Lucky = 15 Luke = 30 Bing = 24 Bernard = 15
Charlie = 15 Felix = 24 Olaf = 12 Lucy = 15 Phoebe = 15
Ginger = 15 Arctic = 9 Blackie = 15 Pete = 15 Chester = 15

Saturday, October 6, 2007

New Lead Dog?

Not even close!

For about a year now Alethia has been asking for a "little brown dog". Recently such a dog became available and we now have Sammy as the newest member of Nushagak Kennels. He's small, fluffy, very cute, and doesn't fit any of my harnesses. His duty will consist of laying around looking cute and keeping us all entertained.

A lot of mushers have pets other then their sled dogs. Sled dogs don't make the best pets by most standards until they are pretty old when they finally mellow out. Sammy should be with us until Alethia leaves for college...That's a strange thought.

Here's Sammy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Big Moose

Here's the moose I mentioned in my first post. Below are pictures of Ryan and the moose. We found him when paddling back into a slough. The big fella was with a cow and refused to leave her side no matter what types of calls we used. How did we handle this you ask. We challenged him! I put the canoe paddles above my head and Ryan followed hunkered down behind me. We walked up to him slowly saying bwa, bwa, bwa and stopping to "thrash" some bushes with my wooden antlers. He was about to run away from us, but we struck a cord with his lady friend. I don't know if it was my handsome headpiece or Ryan's work in the back, but she was definately interested. He came out to meet us, showing us his big antlers and massive size. We began circling each other until until he was broad side at about 50 yards. Ryan shot him through the lungs with his 30-06. He took three steps and fell dead. Talk about exciting! Now that's moose hunting!

He measured out at 61 inches. Being a rather old beast, we let him hang for a few days before cutting him up and sticking him in the freezer. He tastes great!

And in case your wondering about that cow moose, she was pretty into us. We kept having to run her off while we butchered up the old boy.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ready! HIKE!

It's been 6 months since I've said those words. Nushagak Kennels if off and running!

We made our first two runs this weekend. I had hoped to start fall training earlier, but we've been working on the land. The pole barn is just about done so the dogs are finally getting some attention in the evenings.

Fall training consists of hitching up the dogs in front of a 4-wheeler and mushing down the right hand side of the road. One of the reasons we bought our property on Waskey Road is its great mushing location. It's really the only road you can safely mush dogs on in Dillingham.

The goals for fall training are: 1. Get your leaders tuned up 2. Build their muscles back up 3. Begin putting miles on the dogs. Alethia and I made the maiden voyage Saturday night. I hitched up a solid team of 8 easy going dogs, Luke and Lucky in lead. They were a delight, standing in place quietly during hitch up and then pulling hard the whole way. Tonight, Johanna, Jacob, and Alethia came along so I hitched up some of the more "wild" dogs. Wild by my standards would include, jumping and screaming in harness when stopped. This is normal behavior for most sled dogs, but I don't prefer it. The team did very well tonight. The three newcomers (the "wild" dogs) did jump and scream, but they also pulled very well. We're going to work on the jumping and screaming with them, see if we can't get them to mellow out a little.

Distance mushers keep close track of each dog's "mileage". Basically it's a tally of the number of miles the dogs have run. Most mushers enter the Iditarod these days with 2,000 to 3,000 miles on their dogs. I've been told that 1,000 miles should be a minimum goal for running the Kusko 300. My goal is between 1,200 and 1,700. I'll be posting each dogs mileage on this blog. You can see how well we're doing that way. So the mileage total as of September 30, 2007 is...

Lucky = 2 Hagar = 4 Luke = 4
Bing = 4 Bernard = 2 Charlie = 2
Ginger = 2 Phoebe = 2 Felix = 2
Olaf = 0 Chester = 2 Lucy = 2
Pete = 2 Blacky = 2 Arctic = 2

We ran two miles each day. You can see that most of the dogs ran on one of the days and a few ran both days. I now see that Olaf didn't get to run at all. Poor Olaf!

Monday, September 24, 2007


The formatting was a little off on that last post, still figuring this stuff out. Hope this one turns out a little better. I now see that I can preview the post before I publish it, better start doing that.

One of my plans for this blog is to slowly introduce you to all of my dogs. I've got 15 of them so it will take a little while, but be thankful I don't have 100!

I'd like to introduce Chester. He is from a breeding that I planned between Lucky and McKenzie. Lucky is a 7 year old female I bought from Will Forsberg. She is mother, or grandmother, to all but two of my dogs. McKenzie is a Hedlund Husky I had two winters ago. He is now back in Knik where I orignally got him. Chester has a sister and two brothers who have moved to Two Rivers where they are doing very well.

At one year of age, Chester is already my largest dog. He's got the height of my tallest dogs, but is especially wide in the chest. The last time I checked he weighed in at 75 pounds. Just for reference, most distance mushers run 40 to 55 pound dogs. I've found dogs usually put on another 5 to 10 pounds of muscle after their first year until their growing is complete at 2 1/2. That logic would have Chester weighing in at 80 to 85 pounds by this time next year. That's a whole lotta sled dog! Keep in mind that in weighing a sled dog, you can still feel their ribs, the tops of their spine, and the bones on their rump. This is lean weight we're talking about. Most musher's agree that athleticism begins to suffer once a dog hits 80 pounds. The big dogs are strong, but can become painfully slow when they get too big.

Chester put in some good working miles last spring before the snow melted. He hauled some wood and even went smelting one day. He seemed to do fine keeping up with the team once they settled into their trot, hopefully he'll keep pace just fine this winter.

He's got most of what I look for in a dog. He's calm, well mannered, and loves to pull! A dog showing these characteristics (especially early in life as Chester did) is welcomed to a long working life in my dog yard. The big question now is, will he lead!

Only lead dogs are allowed to pass on their genetics in my dog yard. The pullers are spayed or neutered. I take my time with young dogs before altering them. They get until their third winter to prove they have the desire to lead. Chester will get a few shots in front with an experienced lead dog this winter. If he takes off I know he MAY have something. If he isn't too eager to go and keeps looking back I know he MAY not have anything, but it takes some dogs an entire winter to show interest in leading. Once a dog shows the desire to lead, I run them in swing (right behind the leaders) for the majority of the winter. Then in their third season, if everything has gone to plan, they are ready to run lead next to an experienced dog and learn the commands and finer points of leading a team of working dogs. Some leaders progress faster, some slower, but this is the method that has worked well for my particular line of dogs.

Chester has a long season of learning ahead of him. It will be his first full season in harness. I know he loves to pull and is calm and level headed, but he has put on 20 pounds since the snow melted. Just how hard will he pull? And of course the big question, will he become a lead dog?

Not sure if Chester's large build (and age) will allow him to keep up with the team and make it to the starting chute at the Kusko 300 in Bethel. It would be great to have such a big tough working dog like Chester running a race like the Kusko. We'll see how the season shapes up for Chester. Seeing a dog like Chester would bring back a lot of memories for folks on the Kuskokwim River.

Chateau Belleque - 2008 Vintage

After graduating with a microbiology degree and a chemistry minor, I figured fermenting things would be a great way to make a living. I did work at a winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley for a short stint before returning home. It was the only job I've had where the boss opened a bottle of wine to share with lunch.

The summer I came home Mom asked if we could turn her currants on the bush by the stairs into wine. We got some yeast and brewed a few gallons of currant wine. It wasn't very good at first, but settled into a very nice dessert wine after a few years.

We finished that wine last winter so it was time to brew up another batch. I made a few modifications to the methodology this time around, we'll see how it turns out. This vintage is a meritage combining currents from Chateau Belleque and Armstrong Vineyards.

I'm most pleased with its bright red color. It was allowed to ferment with the must and given some time with the lees to draw out as much of that bright current red as possible. Now the trick is to keep our hands off it for a couple of years until it really gets good.

I told you this blog wasn't just about dogs, but I will get to that. I promise.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nushagak Fall

This is my first real post and I've struggled a little with where to begin. I guess purpose is a logical place to start. At 31, most of my friends and family have chosen to leave Rural Alaska while I've come back to stay. We live a different sort of life out here. I've seen a little of what the rest of the world has to offer and quite frankly, I don't care for it. Johanna and I have chosen to raise our family in this very small place living a semi-subsistence lifestyle, filling the freezer with fish and meat, and of course mushing dogs. I'd like to continue to share this lifestyle with those we love and think about often. Others are always welcome of course, but this blog is mainly written for our family and friends in Minnesota, California, Arizona, urban Alaska, and where ever else they may be. There will be plenty of discussion about dogs to come. After all this is the Nushagak Kennels blog. But lets start where the season finds us, just finishing filling the freezer. Enjoy the blog.


Summers are busy in Bristol Bay, the sockeye salmon capitol of the world. But after the "outside" commercial salmon fishermen and cannery workers have left and we get our towns and villages back to ourselves the real work begins. Families scurry about picking berries in their favorite spots and searching for new ones. All the salmon have been put away and many focus their energies on moose.

Moose are enormous. A big moose will give a family 500+ pounds of red meat. Some couples and small families choose to share a moose. Moose are fun to hunt, but require a huge amount of physical labor once they have been killed. Finding a good moose hunting partner is no small task.

In Koliganek I hunted with my father-in-law Roger most of the time. We got along well and enjoyed our time together. He's a very healthy man in his mid-50's and we didn't have too much trouble handling moose we shot. I flew to Koliganek to hunt with him early in the season this year hoping to give him a hand with his moose. He wound up shooting one a week after I left. He cleaned the entire moose by himself in 5 hours! That's a lot of work! Like I said, he's a very healthy 50 year old. I hadn't found a good moose hunting partner like Roger in Dillingham until this year partly because of the way I prefer to hunt.

Like I said, moose are big and heavy. This leads most local hunters on the Nushagak River to hunt from their boats. I've done plenty of it myself, but it does get boring spending day after day sitting in an open skiff. It just so happens that my co-worker Ryan had some of the same thoughts about moose hunting. We both wanted to get off the river and "call in" a moose. We hiked into some beautiful areas on the lower Nushagak River the last three days of the season. It's amazing what a person sees when they sit quietly in the wilderness. We saw osprey diving for pike, cow moose grazing in a meadow, beaver, mink, and otter swimming in back water sloughs, porcupine waddling by, and a mouse scurried over my boot. Despite the frequent rain showers, we enjoyed ourselves.

We were able to trick one moose and took a few nice pictures of the animal. When Ryan gets them to me I'll post them and talk about how we got the moose and other hunting techniques we employed. But at this point the freezer is stocked for the winter and I'm chomping at the bit to get my dogs in harness for some fall training. Once we finish our pole-shed, I'm going to do just that.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


That was easy. Nushagak Kennels is now Bloggin!