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!