Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the calendar of flowers, fish, and tourists

The rain has come back to our little valley. No downpours yet, just living in a cloud. Its more of a saturating wet, but it feels good. The waterfalls that surround us had almost dried up, something I have never seen before. But now they have grown to their full glory again. It seems to rain at night, be windy in the morning, mist all day until evening then it fades to just cloudy. So I have used the evening to head out on little bike rides down the trail. The salmon berries up here on the mountain have finally caught up to the ripeness of the ones down by the channel. I was soon deep in a thicket happily gathering the orange and red berries in my mouth. Its hard to be sad in this state. I really must bring a bucket next time. Just think fresh salmon berries over pancakes for breakfast! I sat by Sheep Creek thought about the evolution of events here in our canyon and how they are marked by different floral and berry flags. Now the fireweed have climbed almost to full staff. I took a couple of my co-workers down to the confluence of Sheep Creek and the channel, they were fascinated by all of the chums packed into the little eddies. Cosmos was too, as he ran around in the stream and chased them everywhere. They're here! Couldn't help but to pull one in with every cast last week. The smoker is going, and the dogs are munching down fish heads. The elderberries are turning red, and but the cranberries are just barely forming into little green fruit right now. The blueberries at the archery range are deceivingly blue right now, but still quite tart. That means ours just above treeline probably have a few more weeks or more. The air must tinge of fall, because all I can think about is harvesting all of these things, but most will have to wait little longer.
Had a nice sauna tonite, it was just what I needed. Warm the bones a little, dry out. Kind of like what I call "charging the batteries" in the winter when I head out to the hot springs. Keeping busy here to occupy my thoughts from wandering back to the interior. Been beading some porcupine quill jewelry, painting a little, filling out my Quest Entry Application. Whoo hoo!( sorry thinking about it makes me react like that!) Can't wait to get on with the 2009/2010 race season. I think our tours have peaked now. Probably good in one way, with some of help going home soon, and me travelling back east in week. Preparing myself for heat, humidity, and culture shock, but it will be nice to see my family. I don't get back very often.
Well time to wander of to bed and dream about mushing down happy winter trails.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Zip Lining

Gearing up for zip lining.
Nothing like a little faith and fear to give you a reality check.
A couple from work and I went zip lining last Saturday. It was awesome , though I have to say I was was pretty scared, but that's part of the point right? It is a short 5 minute boat ride across the Channel. There are 9 zips strung out in the canopy of the trees. Each platfrom that you slide to is any where from 50 to 180 feet up an old growth Spruce. The trees sway as you wait for your turn. The zips are varying lengths, anywhere up to 740 feet long, so you can travel up to 40 mph. You are in control of your speed, Your hand dragging on the cable is your brake. There are 2 sky bridges or suspension bridges which a found to be the scariest. The crew there was super nice and fun, you could tell they love their jobs. I highly reccommend it! It was a blast.
Think Return of the Jedi zipping through the forest on the Ewock Island meets Fear Factor.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

summer sun, fun, and chum

Our Motley Sheep Creek Crew
Jay and I (what a great team)

Sorry its been a while. It has been a little busier, plus Jay came and visited for a week, which was wonderful. It was good timing too, because we had our busiest day yet the other day and he was here to help. We had a record number of tours, along with record heat (92 degrees!) which means alot of extra work for handlers, as that we have to constantly hose off the dogs so that they don't over heat.
The chums are in full swing now, I went down to try to pull a king out from in between the mass of dog salmon but to no avail. It was kind of fun pulling a fish in on every cast but not even one was bright enough for my standards, even for the smoker. I did gather up a bunch of fish heads for the dogs though, and another woman was taking the eggs, so it at least not all is wasted.
This summer has been unreal for Juneau. I never thought there would be the time that I would actually want clouds in Southeast. They finally rolled in today, which is good for the dogs. It's making me think of fall. Soon enough. I don't want to complain about the weather 1. because it does no good to complain, you can't change it and 2. I'm afraid that it will swing from one extreme to another, in a month we could be wishing for it to stop raining non-stop!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009


I finally took the time to re-brush the trail down to my tree. It is an old cottonwood that grows in typical Juneau tree fashion, twisted and mossy. The first year here at Sheep Creek I would look from camp down over the valley and that tree caught my interest. I cut a trail down off the backside of camp through the hellebore, alder, and devil's club by hand and was pleasantly surprised to find it to be hollow. Up in the first saddle was the perfect moss covered perch. I thought, "What a perfect place to write or read a book, or just lay and stare at the mountain and daydream." I made a few attempts to climb up the knots but finally I gave up and went back to camp. I wasn't deterred though, I built myself a rope ladder and gathered some other people from camp to help me get it up on the tree. Every year I go back to the tree, I just have to clear the trail again, and that ladder is still there. This tree is so big and old that there is some currant bushes, jewel weed, devil's club, and a young spruce tree growing on the various saddles. The one branch is curved perfectly so one can recline, and still be cushioned with moss, including a soft head rest.

I hung out full, Alice in Wonderland Cheshire Cat style for a little while today after tours, but didn't bring any books or journals, and didn't feel much like daydreaming so I climbed back down and wandered off through the brush to scout a good route to cut out to the chocolate lily meadow. When I got to the meadow I realized I had never been to the far end of the meadow before so I went to check it out. I found a bear trail that took me to a series of fern clearings. Each of the ferns unraveled almost to full height, just with just a one inch spiral head bobbing in the wind. The bear trail went into a salmon berry thicket so I found another, and another, all with the same ending. Perhaps the bears are too scouting good routes to late summer snacking areas. I decided to go check out a stand of knotted spruce because I knew the traveling would be easier, and eventually looped back to the meadow and out onto Sheep Creek Trail.

I thought about how I would miss this place if I ever decided to spend a summer somewhere else. It would be hard to match the magic of our canyon here, but there are those that say you make your own magic no matter where you are.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Puppy development




Evening walks with puppies

the pups from Ed....almost 4 months



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Living in the moment

Hello to all:
Its been a beautiful season up here in the Sheep Creek Valley so far. The first few weeks were beautiful, almost like an interior summer, hot and sunny, great for mushers, not so great for dogs. It was nice while it lasted, I made sure I enjoyed the sun while it was here, because I know clouds are inevitable in South East. Lots of running, biking and laying in the sun on the beach. Well the rain and clouds are back, and I hate to say I'm actually kind of glad. I must have spent too many summers down here in the rain forest, and now I'm used to it.

All the dogs are doing great, they are strong and happy. They make me super anxious to get home and start training for the race season. I have high hopes for the winter. The pups Chiron and Io are developing into wonderful athletes, they are amazing to watch tromp around the forest on our walks. Thanks to Ed for giving these pups to me. I think they are going to be a great addition to Team Cosmic.

Tourism has been a little slow everywhere up here in Alaska, I'm sure due to the economy, but there has been no shortage of nice people coming up to camp to visit. I would like to thank everyone that has come up and shared my "doggy lifestyle" with me. Thanks for all of the contributions! Every little bit adds up.

Jay has been at the house in Two Rivers, watching the place and making improvements. Trying to make it so life is a little easier, and I can just focus on training dogs this winter. I can hardly wait!

A friend gave me some advice before I came down to SE this summer. He told me that I should not live in the past or the future and just live in the moment. This has been my mantra this summer. It has been hard though, with our future shining so bright. He quoted me a little poem from the Tao of Pooh as a reminder:

While Eeyore frets,
And Piglet hesitates,
And Rabbit calculates,
And Owl pontificates,
To know the Way
To do the Way
To go the Way
The Way we do
The things we do
Its all there in front of you
But if you try too hard to see
You'll only become confused
I am me
And you are you
As you can see.
But when you do
The things that you can do
You will find the Way
And the Way will follow you

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Juneau Summer


FALSE OUTER POINT (good spot to fish for winter kings)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pictures from the Two Rivers 200

Jack spoils Satellite at the finish line

Coming into the finish line, Haulin' @#E%&*%!!!
Look at the smiles on the dogs.

Bedding down the dogs at Pleasant Valley, the First Checkpoint

Coming into Pleasant Valley after a 100 mile run,

Jack Studer, my handler greets me

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two River 200

The Cosmic Canines just finished their 7th race of the season. The Two Rivers 200 started Friday the 13th (if you’re superstitious, our next race starts April Fool’s Day). The weather was beautiful, a little bit warm for the dogs on the first day, but perfect and sunny for the musher. 17 teams were in the race, we started bib #9. To be competitive in this race we needed to run the first leg, 100 miles, straight with no rest. 5 teams pushed through, in order; Tom Lestatz (Jessica Hendrick’s partner, past champion of the Knik 200), Brent Sass (Yukon Quest top 10 team, winner of the men‘s division of this year‘s GinGin 200), Mark May (long time competitive musher, 2nd in the Quest ’01, and veterinarian, son of past Iditarod Champion Joe May), and Braxton Peterson ( Lance Mackey’s stepson, running his yearling team).

I knew the first 50 miles would be tough for my dogs. A few of area’s my own team needs some work on are running hills, soft trails, and in the heat. The first 50 miles you climb Cleary Summit, Iowa Dome, and the top of the Two Rivers Wood Cutting Road. The trail was just put in after are big snow last week. It was hilly and soft. We worked hard to stay in with the front runners. We passed teams one by one. Mark May pulled ahead of me in the hills, I could tell his team was stronger climbing. I tried to let the dogs “go” a little on the downhills, to keep up, which later prove to be a mistake. I knew once we got to the river the dogs word start rockin’, flat and fast is more of my team’s forte. I stopped every hour to let them catch their breath and praise them. Every 2 hours I snacked frozen beef or fat. Once we got over Iowa Dome and in to the Anaconda Creek flats I stopped one more time to snack, I knew from this point forward the dogs knew the trail and the trail surface would improve a little. What a beautiful day! The sun was blaring and the vistas on the hills overlooking the White Mountains were amazing. I perfect example of spring in interior Alaska.

We had passed Mark May before the 17 mile road crossing/ dog drop and we blasted through in 4th place. Once we crossed the road, the dogs expected to make a left (or haw) turn to head home. This in one our regular training trails. So when I made them turn right they got a little pouty. But we had practiced this a few times so it didn’t slow them down too much. About 5 miles later we passed Rick Studley ( running Dan Kaduce and Jodi Bailey’s team). He had pulled over to camp for a couple hours, Dan had given him a more conservative schedule to run because this was his 1st 200 miler. This excited the dogs and I think they finally realized that we were heading to the river so they kicked it into high gear. The dogs LOVE the river run because there are typically lots of moose on the banks eating willows so they think, “Yeah! Time to hunt moose!” I snacked them quickly in the AG parcel which is a few miles before you drop onto the river because I knew this was the place for me to catch up a little. Once we got on the river the dogs started rolling. The temperature dropped enough that I was getting a little chilly, I had just my shell parka on because I would be runnng up all of those hills earlier in the day. I had my big parka in the sled but I didn’t want to stop the dogs momentum.

We pulled into Pleasant Valley Store, the first checkoint, in 3rd 10 minute behind Brent Sass, and 20 behind Tom Lestatz. I was surprised because I never even caught a glimpse of them the whole day and there are some pretty open spots where you can see for a long way. I also never saw Mark May behind me once I crossed the road. He had to pass house at mile 60. So that might have slowed him a little. Tom passed his house at mile 50, that didn’t seem to slow him down at all.

Pleasant Valley Checkpoint was extremely organized this year. All of the mushers a had convenient spot to park and were brought both their drop bags and their straw, which is soooo nice after long run. The dogs looked great and ate well. I did a little preventative massage and applied liniment to some of the dogs problem spots. Soft trails, speed, and hills can equal pulled muscles. Kobuk’s wrist was borderline so I gave him a wrist wrap and some Zalox ( analgesic massage lotion) and decided I would look at it after the rest. He is a large and big chested dog, running downhill fast creates a lot of impact on his wrists.

Inside I got something to eat and enjoyed the company of the other mushers. Clint Warnke, who was handling for his wife Sarah Love kept us posted on the Iditarod with his iphone and gave us a lengthy lecture about the plastic runners we all use (he sells them). We had a good time. I asked around to see how long the other mushers were staying. There are 10 hours of mandatory rest that can be taken at Pleasant Valley or Angel Creek, or both. Tom told me he would stay 5 and 5, which was the direction I was leaning. Brent and Mark wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Braxton said he would stay there for all 10 because he didn’t get any sleep the night before and he was tired. I thought that he wouldn’t do that and would rest 10 and get to Angel Creek and take a couple more hours.

I went out to get the dogs ready. There was some confusion on the times in which we could leave because they had an older lady doing them whom I think is going a little senial. I got my time worked out with her and mentioned to the other mushers that they might want to check on theirs. As I was getting ready to go Mark was with his team.

“Val (the time checker) thinks I am supposed to leave at 5:14 but I keep telling her I am supposed to leave at 5:20.”

It was 2:30. I thought hmmm, Mark is staying for 7 hours here. That’s weird.

As I walked over team to finish up the last preparations to leave I realized, “Wait! Mark is bootying his dogs. He’s really leaving right after me.” So he wants to mess with me.

We headed out into the night. 4 miles into this run we would pass the house. I thought it would be pretty easy this direction it would be very difficult on the way back, 4 miles from the finish line. We passed the house successfully and the dogs didn’t slow down much. We went under the Jenny M bridge to the north side of Chena Hot Springs Road. We connected to the Flat Top Trail which is narrow and windy and has 3 or 4 nasty overflow crossings. Typically they aren’t wet but the entrance to them is steep and the trail winds around on them. They weren’t very bad, a couple of the dogs took some good spills on them because of the loss of traction from their booties. There is also a good little climb at the beginning of the trail. After about 15 miles there we connect to the Winter Trail which is fast and straight. We started picking up speed. There is a long stretch of overflow near the Colorado Creek Cabins. Apollo took another nasty spill there. After that he was sore and didn’t feel like running anymore so I loaded him into the sled.

I expected to see Mark May’s headlamp behind me at some point. But I never saw him. Morning came and we pulled into Angel Creek in 2nd. About 20 minutes behind Tom, only 9 minutes in front of Mark. Brent pulled in a little over an hour later, but because he rested 6 hours at Pleasant Valley he only had to rest and Angel Creek 4 hours, so actually he was in 3rd only 6 minutes behind me.

I had breakfast after tending to the dogs. Satellite’s wrist injury from earlier this season was showing some soreness. I would wrap it and apply Zalox and access it after the rest. I dropped Apollo, no sense in pushing him for the last 50 miles, and I certainly didn’t want to carry him, when I had Brent and Mark breathing down my neck for the last leg. I asked Mark how long he rested at Pleasant Valley.

“Never ask other mushers questions like that, they will never give you a straight answer.”

Oh, so we were still playing games. I know its all in good fun, and plus all that told me was, hey, you’re a threat.

I got about 1 ½ hours of sleep. I watched Tom’s team leave, they looked really strong. With a half hour lead on me, I figure 1st place was out of the question. I knew I would have to work hard to hang onto 2nd. We had a good howl before we left, off we went into the sunshine. They were a little slow from the start. Usually the first 10 miles are spent with the dogs taking turns relieveing themselves. In the exit shoot I ran into 3 teams so that didn’t help their momentum either. The dogs were travelling a little slow so thought for sure I would see Mark or Brent come up from behind soon. On all of the long straight stretches I would call the dogs up so that the team behind wouldn’t see me. I had my gray shell parka on again so I would also put the hood up so my bright blue hat didn’t stand out. I knew that if I team from behind saw me, they would catch me. We started to run into teams head on that were on their way to Angel Creek still. This sparked the dogs speed a little. I started asking teams how far ahead Tom was. After a few passes it dawned I me…I started telling the teams to tell whoever is behind me that I am at least an hour ahead of them. Ha ha, how’s that for a head game?

As we cruised along I started picking up a “vibe” from my team. It seemed every time I encouraged them they would turn around and look at me as if to say, “Will you shut up!” So I did. They started picking up speed. When we started climbing up flat top I began to push to help them up the hill. Again they started glancing back, “Will you quit it?” Okay….obviously you guys got this covered. And they did, we started travelling pretty good up the trail. I just wanted to get to the other side of the road before I saw a team from behind me. I knew for a few miles they would pick it up, thinking they were going home, and then the last 4 miles they would be slow, after passing the house. I got out into the Peasant Farm Fields, still no one behind. Whooo hooo. Now to get past the house.

We got to my home trail and Samson and Meade pulled over. I hit the break, “No, Gee”

Samson pulled harder. “No, Gee.” Meade pulled gee and Samson followed. I released the break. The whole team looked down the home trail with pleading eye, “But…..are you sure???” They all seceded.

I started calling, “ GOOD DOGGIES, GOOD DOGGIES!!!! Yeee hawww!”

I go them cruising about 15 miles per hour for the next 2 miles. We did it! All of those other local races that we did this winter paid off. I think they realized, hey if were not going home, it just means we are going to the truck at the store.

We pulled into Pleasant Valley Store in 2nd. We were happy, all of the dogs looked great. Satellite was a little wiped due to a pulled muscle, but otherwise they were still ready to go. I am so proud sand amazed with this dog team. They keep beating my expectations of them in every race.

The team: Samson (5)
Meade (2)
Satellite (2)
Dark Star (2)
Nasa (2)
Gemini (4)
Bear (6)
Kobuk (3)
Stellar (3)
Apollo (2)
Polaris (1)
Captain Kirk (4)
Everyone finished except Kobuk an Apollo

Top 5 mushers:

1st: Tom Lesatz
2nd Abbie West
3rd Braxton Peterson
4th Mark May
5th Brent Sass

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Hamburger Run

The Cosmic Canines won the Hamburger Run Last Saturday. It is a fun race that usually runs from Pleasant Valley Store out to Angel Creek where mushers can have a hamburger, but due to bad trail conditions the race was rerouted. So we did a 25 mile loop back to the Store where we could have burgers provided by Quickie Pizza. The race is just a fun race, no purse, just prizes for different categories such as “Most Disorganized Musher” and “Happiest Musher.” It was kind of a warm day so I was going to where my shell parka, which is kind of plain, but then I overheard that there would be a “Best Dressed Musher” category and I happen to throw Jim’s Parka in the truck which is similar to mine, blue and yellow stars, just minus the skirt, so I threw it on, because I knew I wasn’t going to win “oldest musher” or “Ugliest dog truck.” The race is a Mass Start, which means the clock starts and then everyone has to hook up and harness their dogs, the first one done, is the first one out. I was at a disadvantage for this in two aspects, I had no handler, which most mushers had, to help me and I decided to run with the full 12 dog team that they allowed, most chose to run with 10 or less.
They gathered us around the starting line after the Skijorers left.
Susan Admundson looked at me in Jim’s big parka, “Where are you headed Abbie, the arctic?”
“ Ha, ha. Best dressed musher is mine. And I’m going to be the first musher out of this yard too.”
Suddenly the race marshal yelled “GO!”
Holy crap! Usually they wait until everyone is at their truck and they throw a hat in the air, then you can begin. I turned and I ran as fast I could to the truck which was all the way on the far side of the parking lot.
I didn’t have a handler but Sharka Meyer volunteered to hold my leaders for me while I hooked them up. She also had no idea we were going to start right then. So she was standing calmly with her 2 small children next to my truck. As I was running towards them full speed I saw her eyes get wide. Then she turned and scurried her kids behind the truck to the safety of their nanny and went to the front of my gangline.
Now I set myself up well. I hooked the dogs next to each other on the truck that would be next to each other on the gangline. So I grabbed 2 dogs at time and then I would put their harnesses on at the gangline then run back for 2 more. Back and forth, back and forth, I was sweating and out of breath in my huge parka. Last dogs hooked up, I looked around, holy cow! I was the first done. No time to think about it I pulled the snub line and off we went.
Half outta breath, pumped my fist in the air, “Yeah, 1st one out! 12 dogs, all by myself!!!” They all looked at me puzzled. Then I got on the trail. Ahead I saw Susan Admundson. I let out a deflated, “Ohhh. I didn’t see her leave.”
I caught up to her quickly. And we smoked past. She only had 6 dogs, no wonder she got out first.
I saw the mushers behind me for about 5 miles, and then I saw no one. I kept looking behind me, searching for someone. So I decided I would try to catch the skijorers that left before we even started hooking up. But skijorers are usually faster than dog teams, believe it or not, so it would be a challenge.
No of course since it is a local race, we had to pass the house. This race it was at mile 21, so it wouldn’t be too hard. They passed easily but they always get a little pouty when we do that. I know they are thinking, “Hey dummy….um….we just passed the house, do you know what you are doing?” So lots of encouragement is necessary. I saw a skijorer ahead, and I had to race somebody so I keep calling the dogs up but they were still whiny about passing the house, so I didn’t get much out of them. Slowly we gained on the skijorer. I felt kind of like a slacker behind her. Here she was skate skiing the whole time and I was just standing still on the back of a sled. So I started pushing. About 1/8 of a mile from the finish line I passed her. I felt kind of bad about it but she said she didn’t mind, she wished I passed her at about mile 15 so she could have drafted me the last 10 miles.
So we won the Hamburger Run, the next musher was 20 minutes behind. That’s quite a margin for a 25 mile race. And we had fun. And we did win best dressed musher because the officials liked how my parka, my dog truck, my sled, and my harnesses all matched. So we won 50 booties, and Gila Dolif was raking in the prizes, she won many of the categories, so she also gave me 50 more booties that she won.

Ready and waiting

Dark Star and Digger


Friday, January 23, 2009

Confessions of a junkie



Mushing is an addiction. Seriously, I have talked amongst other mushers about this, if you go a couple of days without running the dogs, you almost feel sick. The call of the trail, the power the dogs have over you is immense. When I cannot run the dogs I feel lost. A friend catches a case of PMS at the end of the season, "post mushing syndrome" and its not pretty. Luckily that time is far away and we are enjoying near perfect days on the trail. It would be nice to have a little more snow, but its not bad thanks to all of the hard work that Rick Swenson and Sonny Lindner put into maintaining our trails all winter.

The conditions are not so perfect down in the Mat Su Valley, where the Klondike 300 is held. It is getting colder down there but they need some snow to replace all the snow that melted. The mushers that live in the area have resorted to trucking their dogs to snowier places. So the Klondike has been postponed to Feb. 7th to give mother nature some time to mend the trail.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We're ready to race already!

Can we have our weather back please?

To catch everybody up on the Cosmic Canines. I travelled on some of the worst roads ever, almost 400 miles to run my last qualifier...the Klondike 300, only to turn around and come home again. Seems that mother nature thought it would be a funny trick to trade sub zero AK weather with warm and rainy lower 48 weather. Ha ha! That equals one big mess up here, and though it has been remedied up here in Two Rivers...the trails are wonderful still hasn't cooled down enough down in the Mat-Su Valley (where the Klondike is held) to get the trails up to par down there. It doesn't look good to run the race on their postponed start this weekend, and the following weekend there is one more 300 mile qualifier to run, but this is also the weekend my food drops are due in Fairbanks. Also my handler broke his leg, so I am searching for another to help Nina with the duties. With my options dwindling and my Quest hopes for this year waning I am stuck here in the waiting game. So I am doing the only thing I can think of.....running dogs! Whatever the dogs end up doing, they will be ready for it. I never thought I had to consider rain in Jan in AK cancelling the races I chose to run this year! Go figure.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Gin Gin Part 2

I gathered on all of my layers that were drying around McClaren Lodge. It was a little over an hour before my mandatory 6 hour layover was over. The 5 teams in front of me were already getting ready to leave. I grabbed the cooler of food I had soaking in the back room and headed down to the river where the teams were parked. I fed the dogs the mix of beef, kibble, and hot water. They ate like monsters so I threw them a chunk of fat each too. They were pretty active, paying close attention to all the activities of teams preparing to go. I bootied all of the dogs and hooked their tuglines. The five teams before me left, and we were waiting for our count down to leave too. The dogs were barking impatiently. Bridgett Watkins was the only female musher due to leave close behind me, I overheard her tell the checkers she wouldn’t be leaving at her scheduled time. Cool, I don’t have to worry about her. The Gin Gin began as an all women’s race, but the guys wanted to play too. So they changed the race so that now the women race against each other in the “pro race” and the men against themselves in the “amateur race.“ I know I am just trying to qualify but its hard not to be a little competitive.
Off we went into the darkness. We were starting our run in the depth of the night. I had heard before I left that it was 42 below at McClaren and typically it would be colder down on the Big Su River, where we were headed. Honestly, I wasn’t that cold at all. I kept the coats on the dogs. Occasionally I would get a little chilly but I would just push the sled for a little ways and I would warm back up again. That means my gear was passing the test. What wasn’t passing the test was the dog coats. They kept getting built with ice. So part of my hourly stop was to beat, break, chip off the ice in the dog and the coats. It was pretty lonely out there for a couple hours. It wasn’t bad, just a little boring, its kind of like tunnel vision at night, just being able to see in the narrow beam of light cast by your headlamp. It was also very easy sled driving, flat and straight river travel. I imagine during the day this run would be absolutely amazing. Finally about 25 miles in I saw a headlamp coming from behind. The headlamp put out more lumens than a spotlight, so I knew it had to be Jeff King. He always has the latest and best in gear, he’s one of the only one of us that can afford it. Later we would ask him about that light, to find out it could be purchased from Cabela’s, his sponsor, for $459.00. Ouch! Most good headlamps cost about $80.
Jeff caught me and passed. We kept up with him as we traveled. Looked like he had the same game plan, frequent stops and take your time. Then 2 more teams from behind Sebastian Schnulle and Lance Mackey. At least no women, I was happy in 6th out of 18 for the women. I had figured myself in at 10th before the race started. We all were traveling in a pack for a while. All these big names, they weren’t that much faster than me, at least at this point, so I was in good spirits. The trail was nice. Eventually we came off the McClaren River and onto the Big Su, but at which point I can’t tell you, it was to dark to tell. Finally the “big 3” pulled away from me. I stopped to snack and replace lost booties and “de-ice” the dogs. We were going along just fine when suddenly my leaders stopped and turned back into the team. I got on the sled to see what was up. As I approached the front of the team I found myself knee deep in water. You couldn’t tell it was water because it was full of slush. Then Brent Sass came from behind.
“Brent! There’s water up here!”
But we were all pretty bundled up so he had no idea what I said. He went to pass but his dogs got confused and turned into my team. After walking back and forth in knee-deep water about 10 times we got our dog teams sorted out and through the overflow. Neos (my water-proof overshoes) don’t fail me now! Darn! I had just de-iced the dogs, and fixed the booties now I had to stop and change all of the booties and try to get all of the ice off the water soaked coats. We went on. The trail got a little bit punchy and I just wanted to be off the river. I was a crusty, frosty ice monster and so were the dogs.
Sunrise came magnificently over the mountains. No end to the river in sight. Every bend I would come around I would think its going around this one, I would come around, nope! This went on for some time. Finally! The bridge, and there was a team stopped. It was Judy. She followed me for a while then we popped up on the road. Only 40 something miles to go. The traveling was painfully slow. The road went up and down and up and down. It seemed like we were going forever. I saw a mile marker sign ahead. When I read the number my heart sunk, mile 67. Uggg! I though for sure we had come further than that. Later I found out that every musher felt the same way when they read that sign. The lodge was at mile 42. This was the longest run I had ever done and it was taking its toll on both the dogs and I mentally. I keep upbeat for the dogs. Yes I am asking a lot out of you, but it will end….sometime. I had to do a lot of maintenance just keep the dogs thawed out. The coats were coated in ice from the water. I came to the decision that they were doing more damage than good, the ice was rubbing them raw. But I had to keep their “privates” warm or it would be bad news. Finally I cut my coats so that they would hang down to keep “under there” warm without touching the dogs. It seemed the end of this run would never come.
Finally I could see the lights of McClaren Lodge down in the valley. Yes! We made it. We pulled in to our previous camping spot just to find most of the straw gone. At this point I was very concerned with getting the dogs warm and well rested. Something that can’t be done on river ice at 45 below with no straw.
“Is there any straw left?” I asked the checker.
“Yes but you are only supposed to have the straw from before.”
“Look at my spot then look at that one, “ I pointed at Judy’s spot, “Or that spot.” I pointed at Bridget’s. “I think when the other teams were leaving they might have gone through here because I was one of the first mushers out and drug their brakes through my straw and drug it off.”
“ Yeah, there is quite a difference.” He let me get more straw. They could fine me, penalize me, I didn’t care I just wanted the dogs taken care of.
The dogs ate well again. Going through them I found no injuries but quite a few rubs, mostly from ice. I applied ointment and massaged all of the dogs with emu oil on their shoulders, wrists and thighs. I took off the worst iced up coats and put them in a garbage bag. The only place I knew of to dry things out at the lodge was by the woodstove in the main room. I didn’t think they would appreciate me melting the ice off my dog coats being that some of the ice was yellow. Pee yoo! I thought maybe I could get them part way melted in the bag and go from there. I felt sick about the dogs going so far and I couldn’t keep them warm in their coats so they would get good rest. I asked about the coats they had a generator shed that I could hang them in and they could dry in the warm exhaust. It worked well. I rotated the coats so eventually I got them all dried and back on the dogs. This made me feel a lot better.
As I ate some food and talked to other mushers I discovered that everyone had runs similar to mine. I was feeling like I had really made some mistakes. But I found out it was just the conditions.
Most everyone decided to leave the next morning instead of right at the end of their 6 hour layover. The winds that we encountered at mile 10 through 22 on the highways were still blowing, maybe even worse. No one wanted to go through it at night. Jeff King decided to scratch and just run home (his house is back the other way on the road) he was in first place too. I was nervous but more importantly I really felt I pushed the dogs a little too far on that 110 mile run and I thought they needed more rest. But another part of me was wondering how good of quality of rest they would be getting on the river ice at 45 below. I went down to check on them. They were resting and they looked warm in their DRY coats and under their blankets.
Aliy and Michelle figured they only had enough food to give their dogs a 12 hour rest so they would leave at 12 hours together and make their way over the pass together with Ed Hopkins. This made sense to me, over 12 hours would be a waste. Maybe I could leave so that I hit the pass at sunrise then I could see well. Tom and I talked about it and decided that that would be a good idea. We tossed around the idea that if Aily, Michelle, and Ed weren’t leaving until 12 hours we could leave at the end of our 6 hour and we would both get 3rd (in the money) in our divisions. I didn’t want to risk the dogs being tired and balking in the wind. I didn’t want to sour them, we had bigger races later in the season. I decided to get some sleep. I fell asleep on the couch, my favorite place to sleep.
I was awoken by Michelle, Aily and Ed getting dressed to leave. I got up to and ate some food. After getting some rest it was all clear. I would leave at my 12 hours too. That time came quickly. I went outside and fed the dogs. Still eating well, that was a good sign. I massaged all the dogs and walked each of them individually on a leash up and down the river to stretch out their muscles a little from such a long rest. They seemed lively. I bootied and packed my sled. I hooked up their tuglines, and though they weren’t barking this time they didn’t look miserable either. The checker helped me weave the dogs through the resting teams to the trail. He let go….it was the moment of truth….off we went. The next mile or so we had to stop a few time to let everyone poop, but after that we started cruising. I timed us between mile markers on the road. We were going about 10 mph, not bad! I was elated, 42 miles to go and we were done, and in 5th place! Better than I had ever hoped of doing. Still in the pit of my stomach something was churning. I was worried, almost to the point of being sick, about the wind. What was the worst that could happen? We could be blown off the road and have to hole up until help arrived. No! We would be fine.
When we arrived at Tangle Lakes, the beginning of the wind area, the wind was blowing but only enough to make you cold. I saw a falling star. Guess what my wish was? The wind increased and there was less and less snow on the road. I had to teach the leaders who are always taught to run on the right side of the road to run on the left on the upside of the wind or else my sled would be blown off the road. They eventually figured it out. I was only blown off the road once. It wasn’t nearly as bad as on the way out.
Johnny Schandelmeier, the trail boss said that once you get to the dead snow machine on the trail you were in the clear. As we passed it a felt a sense of relief. We made it! Just 10 miles left to go! The dogs slowed down. That wind took a lot out them. If they only could understand how close we were! I was still happy. The last 3 miles are all down hill into Paxson Lodge. Sunrise was gorgeous! A final reward for all of our hard work. I always felt this was one of the most beautiful places on earth. We crossed the finish line in 5th with all ten dogs!
Honestly the finish was pretty anti-climatic. No big crowd, no handler to tell me how good I did. I just drove the dogs to the truck, praised and fed the dogs and loaded them into the truck. Packed up and went inside for some food. It didn’t matter though, I felt proud of the dogs. They did great. I had so much confidence in them now for future races. We learned a lot, and have some new experiences under our belt. It was truly a qualifier. And though I didn’t think I needed one when I started, now I realized that I actually did. I wonder what is in store for my next “easy” qualifier, the Klondike 300.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

At the Start of the Gin Gin

The Gin Gin Team:
Samson(5) Leo(4)
Meade(2) Apollo(2)
Space(2) Captain Kirk(4)
Stellar(2) Polaris(1)
Kobuk(2) Bear(4)
Everyone finished! Samson, Meade, Leo, and Polaris all led. I thought Polaris and Meade did exceptionally well. They are all males except Meade is a little 35 pound female.

Check it out
You can check out the race website at this link. If you look at the Gin Gin blog there is a picture of my team leaving the start.

Gin Gin 08 Part One

I chose to run the qualifiers I picked based on the fact that I thought they would be easy. Ha! I have already qualified for the Quest, its just been too long ago logistically, I’ve run half of a Quest and lots of other races so I hardly considered myself a dumb rookie. Ha! Again. Little did I know that I had entered one of the hardest races that I, and according to veteran Iditarod and Quest mushers, including champions, have ever ran. I also learned that although I may not be a dumb rookie, there were a couple of skills both the dogs and I needed to learn before taking on the “big one.”
I traveled down to the GinGin 200 with Tom Lesatz so that we could save money on gas. As we got closer to Paxson, the start, we started to laugh nervously about what we were getting into. The wind was howling. You could feel the wind blow against the truck. Snow would kick up and make the road disappear for a couple of minutes so I would almost have to come to a complete stop to wait for the gusts to die down and the road reappear. Gulp, what’s this going to be like on the trail?
It was a social affair the night before the race, an advantage having over 40 teams entered. Lots of catching up and talking dogs. Good food and hospitality at Paxson Lodge. I recall being asked a few times, “Are you nervous?” To which I would reply, “Nah, I’m just going to take my time, I am just qualifying.” Ha!
The next morning was beautiful! (well at least at Paxson Lodge) About 10 below and sunny. I left 3rd which would turn out to be an advantage. The first few miles were wonderful. Travelling at good speed despite my sled loaded to the max. We were carrying all of our food and gear for the entire 200 mile race, so that makes for a heavy sled. We were surrounded by mountains. Within a couple miles I passed bib 2, Christine Roaloffs. Then we hit the wind. We have never been in anything like it. The wind would gust and snakes of snow would whip across the road. Some claimed it was blowing 30/40 mph some claimed 50/60mph, all I know that with the snow blasted off the road leaving only ice and asphalt it was strong enough to blow you and your sled clean off the road! The dogs would be running on the right side of the road and I would be dragging behind them, sideways, barely hanging on to the left side. At one point the dogs got confused and were like, “Oh, you want us to go that way.” and the turned haw off the road. “NO! NO! NO! GEE!” To no use, we were in the deep snow down off the road. I got them stopped and pulled them around to the road and went back to the sled to help them get the heavy load back on the road. Christine showed up by then and held my leaders on the road while I got them out. After thanking her profusely I began to pull away again. But a particularly strong blast pushed me back off the road and dragged the dogs with me so again they ‘hawed’ off the road. I got them turned quickly and I was pulling the dogs back onto the road I saw Christine pull up again. She stopped for just a moment when a team pulled around the side of her, it was Yuka Honda, and at that moment the wind blew Yuka and her sled into Christine and her sled and they both rolled down off the road together. Their teams were tangled, sleds tipped and their dogs began to get tangled with mine. I pulled my dogs away, and was about to go back and turn my sled toward the road, but Yuka turned it for me because she was standing right there and held her dogs out of my team. I caught my sled as it whipped past me and we were off. I felt terrible leaving Yuka and Christine behind, but there was nothing I could do with no snowhook hold, plus sometimes its better to eliminate a team out of the situation because it just causes more problems, which I would find out later was the case. Yuka said, it was better to just get out of there.
The next 10 miles or so there was very little snow and the wind continued. I managed to keep the sled on the road by riding on one runner or tipping the sled towards the wind, which was quite the workout with such a heavy sled. Plus Samson and Leo learned to stay to the right even if I was dragging of to the left helpless in the wind. With some of the big gusts I would have to run along side the sled and jerk it to the right with all of my might. I fell twice when the sled would be pushed hard to the left so I would be swung sideways then it would catch an edge. I clocked my head once hard on the exposed asphalt. After a while the wind calmed some, but I just wanted off of the road.
At mile 30 we finally got off the road onto the Mountain Loop Trail. It was punchy and a little slow but absolutely amazing. We travelled in a valley around a mountain and the alpine glow turned everything pastel. All I could think was how it was our reward for making it through the wind. At one point we were in a big open valley and the wind started to pick up again, the trail was already blown over from the team in front of me. I held my hand to the head of the valley, where the wind was blowing from. “NO!!!!” No more wind, but it wasn’t bad compared to what we had come through. I could see a team behind me in the distance, it was Aily Zirkle we were tavelling about the same speed so she never caught up to me. After about 15 miles we popped back out on the road. It was dark now, I could see the lights of McClaren Lodge down in the distance. Finally, the first checkpoint. Time for some good rest for the dogs. I pulled into the the checkpoint, we all were staged on the McClaren River below the Lodge. I set to my checkpoint chores. I was the 4th musher into the checkpoint, but I would be the 6th out because our times would be adjusted at this stop from our start order. I gave the dogs a fat snack. I pulled off all of the booties and checked feet and muscle soreness. I put straw down for them. We were each allotted ¾ of a bale of straw. When we returned to McClaren after the next leg we would return to the same camping spot and straw. I went up to the lodge for hot water for the dogs meal. They ate heartily, that was a good sign. I massaged the dogs and worked liniment into the dogs with past injuries as a prevention. I applied ointment to some minor toe burns and sores. All and all the dogs looked happy and healthy. I put coats on the dogs and laid blankets over them. Time to let the dogs rest. I went back up to the lodge, I was starving, a feeling that would continue through out the whole race and a couple days after. I ordered a reuben, and drank lots of hot tea, as I ate the lodge filled with more and more mushers. Each with stories of amazement and adventure. Comments were being thrown around like, “You’re definitely qualified now“, “ I’ve never been in anything like that., “ and “ I would have scratched, but I didn’t want to go back through that.”
I stayed up through the 6 hour mandatory rest, something I would never do on a race over 200 miles. But the conversation was good and I had to keep a eye on the dogs. We had a big 110 mile run in front of us. I was going to try to take my time, take lots of breaks and push through the whole thing with no long rest. I was a little nervous because it would be the longest run the dogs had done this season. I wasn’t sure if they could do it. The temperature had dropped to 37 below at the lodge and colder on the river. It would be an interesting run.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Greetings from the Global Warming Zone

Well one qualifier down, one to go. I will be writing about my trip over the next couple of days while I am holed up inside due to cold temps. 43 below right now. It was 40 below by the time I came back from my training run yesterday. Low tonight is expected to be 55 below. Yuck! No end in sight to the cold weather until maybe wed when it will warm up to 20 below. Yeah! I researched around the state and its cold everywhere. Blah....well might as well get used to it, could be what's store for the Quest.