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!