Friday, December 28, 2007

A Day in the Life

6:30 am : Wake up, stoke fire, run outside to "go", check to see if the wolves have eaten any dogs, and get a feel for the temp, which is very affective in just mukluks and long underwear.

6:45 am: Put french press on the stove (thanks mom, it works great), turn on NPR.

6:55 am: Coffee is ready, NPR has reminded me why I am hiding in Alaska and music is put on instead. Have a cup, relax, eat (oatmeal, bagel, or I hate to admit it, chocolate) Put together the dog team to run on paper and catch up on their records, read, or go online.

7:30 am: Water the dogs with baited water(water mixed with food and meat and fat).

8:00 am: Clean the yard, get the sled ready. Check out the dogs for missed injuries etc.

8:45: am: Stoke the fire, hook up the dogs.

9:00 am: Head out on the trail, by far the best part of the day!

2:00 pm: Get home. Put the dogs at their houses. Feed the dogs. Stoke the fire.

3:00 pm: Split and stack wood, or clean, or some other chore.

3:30 pm: Go get water, we haul 35 gallons a day.

4:00 pm: Try to turn myself from "tough musher girl" to "classy waitress girl". Stoke fire.

4:30 pm: Go to work at the lodge (6 days a week), either bartending or serving.

11:00 pm: Get off work, go home, start the fire which is probably out, feed the dogs. Sometimes I run a second team and then feed the dogs.

12:00 am: Read or go online, or "crash hard".

3:30 am: Stoke fire

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone!

Just wanted to show everyone my new parka. It was made by Dogwood Designs, I LOVE it. Its my Christmas gift from Jim and man, is it warm!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Well finally I have some time to write…my thermometer says 50 below others say 42 or 48 below, but whichever one is correct they all mean one thing, it’s COLD! So I have some time to hole up inside, because perhaps we will skip running a day or two and wait for it to warm up to at least 30 below. I knew it would come eventually, despite the lack of snow, we’ve had a pretty easy winter here in interior Alaska. It’s hardly even been below zero yet, and Murphy’s Law states clearly that as soon as I am left to run the farm myself, the bottom would drop out on the ole’ mercury.

It’s funny when I think back to when I first moved to the interior, I though it was cool when it got really cold. It made you somehow feel more “Alaskan”. But with years of experience the novelty of bitter cold has long been frostbitten. Those same years have taught me some of the tricks to living with Jack Frost when he’s in a particularly bad mood.

Soon as NOAA radio (my favorite station) predicts the cold coming its time to prepare. First you have to know how to translate the forecast for here in the Central Tanana Valley. It can be quite ambiguous. Usually they report something like “ Highs 25 to 45 below, light winds, periods of ice fog and flurries. Partly sunny.” That means that it will be about 45 below and in the morning it will be foggy but as the fog lifts it will look kind of like its snowing, but really it’s just what we call “diamond dust” that accumulates to nothing but covers everything in rime ice, which is actually quite beautiful, especially sparkling in the 2 hours of daylight that we will have this time of year. ( Actually, exaggerations aside: sunrise 10:58am, sunset 2:13pm, so about 3 ½ hours of daylight). Unless you are lucky enough to live in the hills, then it will actually be 10 or 15 degrees warmer than everywhere else. When it is cold I purposely go up in the hills to take advantage of this, you can really feel the difference between the temps in the hills and down here in the swamp.

So if you live down in the swamp, you need to start getting ready. Dogs can start losing weight fast so you need to feed them more, especially more fat. I give them lots of fresh straw to insulate their houses and some of the thinner coated dogs I put blankets over their doors so that the house retain even more heat. When it’s cold I soak their food so that it makes a kind of warm mush, it is actually not a good way to feed the dogs all the time, but I figure I like eating things like oatmeal, and soup when it’s cold, they probably enjoy it too. Actually oatmeal and ramen with frozen vegetables are my main staples all of the time, along with gourmet chocolate, coffee, and smoked salmon. I am lucky to work at a restaurant so I take advantage of eating more vegetables at this time. A coleman stove discourages any gourmet cooking, though it can be done.

Make sure there is enough wood cut. However, I actually don’t mind cutting wood when it’s cold. Who said “he who heats with wood is twice warmed?” Out of all of the chores it isn’t too bad in the cold, but the chainsaw needs to come inside to warm up before it will start. I have been cutting the wood bigger because it’s hard to keep the fire going when I go to work at night. It is a small stove so maximum fire burn time is about 6 or 7 hours. I bigger log burns longer. If you have to leave for awhile fill your stove plumb full, and then try to get 2 or 3 more pieces of wood in that fire, I guarantee they will fit. Jim says this is one of my better talents.

Then there are the vehicles. If you are lucky enough to have electricity then you plug in your truck, so that the block heater keeps the engine warm. If you don’t have electricity, like me, you need to wake up every couple hours and start up your truck because if you don’t, it won’t start the following morning. If it comes to that I have some creative ways to warm up vehicles that involve propane weed burners, cookie sheets, blankets, and sofa cushions. When you go to the store or over to your friend’s house leave your car running. When you go to the grocery store 90 percent of the cars are running in the parking lot. Sometimes I think that this is what really causes ice fog. Either that or we are giving global warming a good kick in the ass with our emission boot. Don’t forget to periodically start your 4 wheelers and snowmachines, but most likely the 4 wheeler won’t start until it warms up and you will have to pull start the snowmachine.

Lastly, prepare your story. Bitter cold is like fishing, if it is 40 below at someone else’s house make sure you tell them it is 45 below at yours. And if you have been in Alaska longer than 20 years you haved earned the right to tell everyone that, “You think this is cold, in 19whatever it was 70 below for 3 months” or a similar story. I have observed also that the ones that tell these amazing stories of how cold it always used to be, are usually the biggest naysayers against the existence of global warming, which I find odd.

All of this being said, don’t forget to admire the beauty the cold brings. Hoar frost and whispy winter skies. The stillness of the cold and the way every sound echoes crisp and clear as if they are armored in ice. White tipped whiskers on the dogs faces and on the fur on their backs. The way their breath dances around their muzzles when they howl. The way the smoke from the chimney floats in flat swirls hovering inches above the stovepipe. Northern lights, and shining stars. Ice frosted eyelashes behind wolverine ruffs and beaver trapper hats. And finally how nice and warm it feels to stand close to the stove or get in the hot springs after spending any time outside.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I promise to be more faithful to my blog

Sorry its been a while. Busy busy.....excuses, excuses.

Anyways we've been busy training all of the dogs. We were training them all at the same level for a while, now we have switched them into the "A" and "B" teams. I have been focusing on the pups. We have broke them as follows:

(its a pretty sweet team too!)
(yes, Space, can you believe it, he's coming around)
Dark Star

(for a bunch of 14mos. and 8 mos. puppies and crazy hounds they are doing pretty good!)
(my main leader now that I had to train one for this team, kicking butt at it too)
(still a hard charger in lead)
Captain Kirk
(leading quite a bit, just needs to work on his focus, goofy hound that he is) King
(hard job of training all of the above leaders)
Polaris 2

We have been plugging away at the miles, we are a little behind, coming home a little late and having to take time off to go stake my land down by Lake Louise, but its all coming around nicely even with our lack of snow. Its turning out to be another snow drought winter here in Two Rivers. We are still mostly on four-wheelers. But on a positive note its been downright BALMY this winter. Temps have been between 0 and 35 ABOVE!! Its only been below 0 a couple of times.

Off I go, have to drive the four-wheeler home so I can get ready for work. Been working 6 nights a week at the lodge. But, I will write more this weekend, no really, promise.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Heading North Soon

Hello from the Cosmic Canines! Sorry it’s been a while, we’ve had a great summer and now we are getting ready to head home. This is our last week in the beautiful Sheep Creek Valley. There are only 3 days of tours left, and a few days of tear down. We did twice the amount of tours that we did last year, not bad for our second year! We have to organize and inventory everything. All the fences need to be torn down, stacked and bound, as well as our tents and our little “Gold Rush” town. Winds blow 80 to 90 mph up here and last winter there was 16 feet of snow. All the dogs houses will anchored to the dog posts so that they don’t blow away.

I cannot wait to head back up to interior Alaska. I am ready to just focus on training the dogs for races. I am looking forward to waking up to frosty fall mornings. And I am anxious to get out of the rain! I have to say this summer down here in Southeast has been pretty nice. Of course it is going to rain, we live in a rainforest, but it was nothing like it was last year.

We do have some new additions to the team. Polaris and Pluto have completed their professional puppy duty and have been promoted to the team. Both are doing excellent in harness. Polaris is quite the driver. And of course they are both hams for our guests.

Spock has been reunited with his brother. Spock is my ¼ Saluki hound that I got a year and a half ago. He did so well that when I was offered his two brothers I quickly took them in too. Scotty and Captain Kirk worked with Johnny and Sebastian up on the Herbert Glacier for the summer with Coastal Helicopters. They been part of Tema Cosmic now for a couple weeks, and wow! We can feel the power boost! I hope they work out for the Quest, they are pretty houndy, if not they will be an awesome asset for mid-distance races. Captain Kirk is a leader too. Spock seemed to handle a cold winter in Two Rivers pretty well. All 3 were born and raised in Bettles and it’s certainly not the Banana Belt there!

Satellite also had three boys from Telesto on 7-07-07. So they are lucky puppies. Nova, Pulsar, and Orion look like they are going to be big, feisty boys. They are already free running 2 miles with me on the bike.

Our last addition to the kennel is Samson. I bought him form the Jaynes who worked here this summer. He was in Mike Jayne’s Quest team last year and is a nice leader. I wanted to bring a little more experience into the front end of Team Cosmic, being that Telesto and King are both retiring.

So 38 dogs total will be heading on the ferry back up to Haines and the 13 hour drive to Two Rivers. We bought a new trailer to haul the dogs in but our welder friend didn’t have time to build the frame for the box so our old box has to make one more trip. (Cross your fingers) Then the new one will be started as soon as we get to Fairbanks. It’s a beautiful trip even though it’s hard work traveling with 38 dogs. I love the Yukon, especially Kluane Country. I though I love everyone here at camp I am looking forward to waking up in the morning and enjoying my coffee with just Jim and the dogs.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Waiting impatiently for things to come in from the sea

Well, I still am waiting for the salmon to come in, and for Jim to get back from fishing. I spent my day off fishing, hiking through the wildflowers, and sitting on the beach. No one caught a fish yesterday at the Fish Creek fishing hole, so at least its not just me.

the Trail to the Beach

The New Cart

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Perserverance Trail Run

We all ran the Perseverance Trail Run yesterday. It was fun but I was a little disappointed in my performance. I had planned to do the 7 mile. You can decide during the run if you wold like to do the 2, 4, or 7 mile. When I got to the 4 mile turn around I noticed that I was in 1st for the women because I saw no women coming back down the hill. So I decided to do the 4 mile, that way I would get more points for the Empire Cup. When I started down the hill I was way ahead of all the women. Then in the last 1/4 mile this girl comes out of no where. We were both sprinting neck and neck, pushing each other. I have mentioned before how I am nervous running down hill and this run is not only downhill, but steep and rocky too. It was fun actually racing someone, but she ended up beating me by 3 seconds. I still won my age group, she was only 24, but I only got 2nd overall women. Oh well. Now I am all pumped up to train harder, so it is probably a good thing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fishing and pups

Things are still going great here at camp. Were are fairly busy and the weather has been pretty nice for Southeast. Jim has left for his first fishing trip and will be gone about a week. On my day off we went out and bought me a fishing pole, and Jim showed me a couple of fishing holes, I have been going out after work and trying to catch some King Salmon. They haven't started running quite yet but I have been checking every night . It would be nice to catch so

All of the dogs are really bulking up nicely. Almost every dog has had to move up a size for their harnesses to fit. This job is just so good for the dogs. It really gives them an advantage for when they start fall to bring back to camp and hopefully enough to store for winter too.

I think the "pups" (the 10 mos.) are almost ready to try a stab at lead. So far I think that Meade and Apollo are doing the best. But really all of them are doing well.


Mir doesn't like running towards the front of the team, so I will wait awhile before trying her. Who would have guessed? When she was younger, she
definitely was the one displaying the most leader qualities. Because of the repetition of the tour it is a nice place to start training leaders. They gain confidence running in front of all of the dogs. They have the routine down so they are set up for success.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sheep Creek Dominates the Race Scene!!!!!!!

Running down a dream

One of the questions I often get asked on my tours is "What do mushers do to get in shape for racing?" Many mushers do not do anything at all. I however, run. My main objective is not to get in shape for my races, though it certainly helps, but rather because I enjoy it. I always have played sports and I think it is very important to stay active. Running is great because it is full of personal goals that you can tackle, though I enjoy being a integral part of a team in group sports. It is nice to participate in something where the outcome is solely dependent on you. It helps give me perspective on the dogs when the are running. Perhaps they think similarly as we do when giving it all and pushing it. I have been running in races for a few years now, every year I improve just a little bit. Last year I took second in the Empire Cup in my age class, a cumulative points competition here in Juneau, where you receive points at every race dependent on how you place. I want to win this year.

Yesterday was my first race, and it was awesome because everyone here at camp participated. It was a 5K (3.2 miles). The first mile was uphill, then we ran down a boardwalk call "the flume" leftover from one of the gold mines. Then by some of the nice house in town. It was a great run. I was in first place for the women for the first half, but then I was passed by a woman when we started running downhill. I have to admit I get a little nervous running downhill, I keep repeating in my head, "If I twist my ankle, I can't run dogs." So I am a little conservative on the down hills. So I took second overall for women, and first in my age class. Actually every single one of us here at camp placed either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in our age group. Awesome! We were pretty pumped. Now we are all psyched for the next run which is the Perseverance Trail Run. You can run a 2, 4 or 7 mile. It is up and back down a mountain. Last year I did the 4 miler, but this year I am going for the 7. I actually already ran the trail last week. It was nice, but there was some much snow up top I wasn't able to go on the last 1/8 mile. Hopefully it will melt in time for the race.

Check Southeast Road Runners website some time. The link is over on the sidebar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Leo saves the day

On our tours, we stop halfway to tell our guests about mushing positions and commands. This gives the other team time to catch up to the turn around so that we don't have any head on passes. Yesterday while we were stopped my both of my leaders got loose and ran off ahead down the trail.

I was explaining, ".....the dogs behind the lead dogs are called swing dogs...."

Mid-sentence one of my guests spoke up, "Your swing dogs just got promoted."

I turned around to see Ursa and King running off in the distance.

Nicole, my handler and I went up to rearrange the dogs. I had Leo and Satellite in swing. Leo is one of my main leaders at home, but for some reason during tours he doesn't like to lead. I guess because it not the "real deal." Last year King did the same thing but this year King doesn't mind at all. Go figure dogs. I have plenty of leaders so its not a big deal.

Satellite is one of my 10 month old puppies in training this year. And though I had her up there to get used to being up front it was only her second time in swing. I didn't feel like she was ready for lead.

I looked at Leo, "Okay buddy, you gotta pull through for me."

I moved him up to single lead, and explained to Nicole, "I don't know if this is going to work."

Of course I knew we would make back into the yard, its not like we are doing that last 100 miles of the Quest, but I wasn't sure of the mess that would go down in front of these guest that were there to witness our fine skills in the training and running of dogs. Leo looses his focus here during the tours. He turns around to pick up on the ladies and pick fights with boys.

I walked back to the cart and gave a "disclaimer" for Leo to my guests.

Instantly the cart started cheering, "YEAH LEO!!!!! Way to pull through for us!!!!"

As we headed down the trail everybody keep cheering and yelling for Leo, " GO LEO GO!!!! TWO FOUR SIX EIGHT!!!!!! Who do we appreciate LEO!!"

As we pulled into the yard everybody was watching us because we were making such a ruckus, wondering what was going on. Nicole and I were on the back of the cart laughing hysterically.

As we pulled to a stop everyone ran up and hugged and petted Leo. He looked so proud. I'm not sure if he knew what he did or not. Thanks to my guests for giving so much encouragement. I can't wait to try him in lead to see if my guest helped train him to lead on tours again.

Thanks also to all our guest who have contributed the Cosmic Canines through tips and donations. We already have over $500 saved up in our 2007-2008 race fund. It is much appreciated!!!!

PS: Ursa and King made it home fine without us. I made them lead the next tour, the whole tour this time.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Back in Juneau

Hello everyone sorry it has been so long since an update.

We are happily back in Juneau at our summer camp. It’s nice to be back in our little paradise tucked in the Sheep Creek Valley. Tours are in full swing and we are a lot busier this year than last. Half of our crew returned this year, which is nice. Matt my handler hasn’t arrived yet but we expect him in about a week.

The massive amounts of snow Juneau received last winter (over 200 inches…they hogged all the snow this year, Fairbanks only received 28!) has slowed the greening our canyon, but slowly the Hellebore is growing tall and the wild geraniums and monkey flowers are blooming along the sides of the Sheep Creek Trail. The mountain goats are moving higher up the mountain, though they still can be spotted in the narrows. And our resident black bear, a young lanky thing, perhaps one of the cubs with his mother we spotted last year, has been hanging out on the hill above camp. He is easy to spot silhouetted against the snow chutes that still come down the mountain. They are melting fast though. The waterfall we like to stop and point out to our guest is slowly shedding its white cloak it falls behind. I remember hiking up to where it drops behind the snow last year. I was amazed at how far it went down. I stood where the water flowed out at the bottom of the massive snow cave. A cold wind blows from inside, like it’s kept there saved from the winter winds that are notorious up here. I will have to hike up there soon, but I am going to let it melt just a little more first.

I am also impatiently waiting to hike up to the top of Sheep Mountain, I have been eyeing the line of trail on the ridge, it seems the snow is getting closer to being safe. So my hikes have been limited so far to our valley. Yesterday morning I took the puppies, Pluto and Polaris, down to creek. I lay in the sun amongst the buttercups and starflowers, while they chased each other around, up and down the trail and through the salmonberry and currant bushes. They even went for a swim in the creek.

I ran up the Perseverance Trail last weekend, training for a race next week, there was still enough snow at the top ½ mile that I finally turned around. Part of the trail was even wiped out up there from a slide. So wonder if we are even going to be able to run the 7 mile race. They may have to shorten it.

Our trip down to Juneau was an adventure again, as it always goes when you travel with 33 dogs. Though it was a little more challenging this year because most of my females were in heat, it was a lot easier because I wasn’t traveling alone this year. Jim came down with us so he could start working on the boat. When we first arrived in Juneau we stayed over on Douglas Island to wait for the snow to melt up at Sheep Creek. We set up the Arctic Oven, a winter camping tent, about half way up the Eagle Crest Road. There was a real nice spot across a meadow, where the dogs could have some privacy. One of us Jim would let the dogs out of the truck and I would call them across to the other side of the meadow. It was fun watching them try to pick their way across the swamp, dodging water holes, and sometimes missing. I fell in one myself, I was up to my waist in snow melt!

We are busy saving up for this year’s race season. Both Jim and I will be racing so it should be a great year. Plus I am getting close to buying a large parcel of land 40 miles north of Fairbanks. It is located in a favorite training area in the White Mountains. Miles and miles of BLM maintained trails, with public use cabins scattered every 20 miles or so. It is southern facing hillside with a view of the Alaska Range. It should be perfect. Mushers all over the state go to the White Mountains to train their dogs. We are still working with the realtor at this time but we are getting pretty close to having our Cosmic Canine “Home base.”