Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Fur Rondy Sprint Race

Most of my musher friends run the Iditarod. But there are plenty of sprint mushers around. If I were to race, I think I'd like sprint. Fast trails, nothing to carry in the sled and go home and sleep in your bed at night. LOL! Today was the third round of teams in the Fur Rendezvous World Sled Dog race. Teams run 25 miles each day for three days in a row. I took lots of photos at the crest of Cordova Hill on the trail. These dogs look so happy! Just a few shots.
                 Blayne Streeper's team as he crests Cordova Hill. Blayne is the winner this year!

Blayne does his best, "Look Ma, no hands" imitation as the team heads down Cordova Hill!

A team I was really interested to see, Nils Hahn. I rode with Nils as an Idita-rider in 2001.

Jeff King crests Cordova Hill running a team from Blayne Streeper's kennel. Jeff is usually found on the Iditarod trail. Jeff finished in fourth place overall.
And of course, I can't forget JP Norris. His father Earl started the Fur Rondy race and JP still runs pure bred Siberian Huskies---my favorite! (Below)

2010 Jr. Iditarod

Yesterday was the start of the Jr. Iditarod. A 100 mile race from Willow to Yentna Station and back. The kids looked good, even if some had problems getting on the trail. The rest of my pictures are posted at:

Here's one shot of the dogs at the start---who says we MAKE them do this!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Freking Siberians---Iditarod bound

So, I am hosting another Iditarod musher. This time it's Blake Freking who also runs Siberians. He and his handlers, Forrest and Phil arrived today. First order of business after lunch was to take the dogs for a run
Leaving from the Willow Community Center, they went for a 25 miler. I'll be writing more about this company later.



Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Winter's Day---

---in a sunny, warm February! Actually, our whole winter has been very mild considering this is Alaska. I think my friends back in Maryland dealt with much more snow than we did this year. Fortunately, it has been going down in the teens at night, but the days have been sunny and in the high 30's. This is April weather. Hopefully, the lakes and rivers will stay frozen for Iditarod on March 6.

But, today, in my little piece of heaven, the dogs were enjoying the sunshine and the chance to nap in it.
                The six dogs who live here...Chena, Pearl, Rosie, Maggie, Jack and Spirit.

Spirit hardly ever sleeps in the sun. He is a "hot" dog and radiates a lot of heat.

Pearl sniffs the warmth.

Chena dozes

Maggie (above) and Rosie (left) soak in the rays.
But don't let their quiet demeanor fool you. In an flash they can be up playing and mouthing off!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Annual February Snow Slides Off the Garage Roof Fiasco!

It seems each winter we get a warm up of some kind. At least warn enough to make the snow slide off the garage roof. The problem with that is my fenced yard wasn't put in right, so the dogs can climb the snow mound and walk over the fence. Last year, after the second slide they actually climbed on the roof of the garage and went over. BRATS! So, another trench has been dug along the fence. The dogs sit on the remaining mound playing king of the hill. You can just see their little brains working---How can I get out of here??? And there's still more snow to come off.

The girls investigate the trench. Rosie(back to us), Maggie, the flying dog, and Pearl on the mound. Huskies just love to be up high.

Spirit walks the trench trying to figure a way over the fence.

Pearl, Maggie and Spirit take over the mound!

Meanwhile, the birds are really hungry this time of year and attack the sunflower seeds in the feeder.
These are female Pine Grosbeak with the yellow head.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Random thoughts on Handlers, Volunteers & Sponsors

The past few weeks have been very busy. The last weekend of Jan. began the Willow Winter Carnival. Part of that weekend is the running of the Don Bowers 200 sled dog race. My friend Karen Ramstead, who runs pure bred Siberians, asked if I would be her handler. Of course, I said yes! HA-little did I know. On friday, we went to the Willow Community Center for the start. I had asked a friend with teenage children who are also mushers, to help drop and harness dogs, so that chore was nicely handled. Many thanks to them: Ruthann, Miranda, Grayson and Skipper.

After harnessing and putting on doggie boots, the dogs were placed on the gangline. I would handle the leaders with my friend, Mike Dillingham. We would walk the dogs to the start line and await the count down. Karen tells handlers that when the count gets to 10, let go of the lines. the team is then her responsibility. So we did that----and the team took off like a shot! Those holding the sled and Karen on the brake could not hold them back! So they left.  :)

Ok, with the team on their way we still had chores to do. Friends Mike and Keith drove Karen's dog truck back to my house. Meanwhile, Mary and GG and I drove to Joe's cabin, the halfway point, to leave Karen's drop bags and straw. We also took stuff for another musher who didn't have a handler. My little blazer was packed full. After the drop, we went back to my home for food. 

The next day, Keith and I returned to Joe's cabin about 9:30 am. The drive there was beautiful with a setting wolf moon over Kashwitna Lake and a pink Denali ahead with the rising sun.
Karen was up and taking care of dogs when we arrived. There was nothing we could do but talk to her. We did take one dropped dog, See, and put her in the car to wait for us. See was not very happy about that. She would spend all day sulking in her dog box, but she would be fine. She perked right up when Karen got back later.

At the checkpoint, Karen repacked her sled, gave the dogs treats and generally got ready to go. As handlers, we waited for her to leave and then took her drop bags to the car and drove back to Willow.

Karen's Siberians rest while waiting to hit the trail again.

Recognizing snack time, the dogs anticipate a treat. They had a full meal hours earlier. A frozen fish would provide extra protein and water for hydration.
Rocket does the Rocket dance begging for a fish!

After Karen hits the trail, Keith and I return to Willow where I will wait until around midnight to go back to the Willow Community Center and await the arrival of the North Wapiti team.

The team arrives just after 1 am. I help where I can: taking a dog from the basket and hooking him to the truck, getting out drop chains and helping move the rest of the team from the gangline to the truck, removing booties and harnesses, passing out a warm broth with meat, scooping poop and bringing dogs to Karen who loads them in the truck. Karen then goes inside to get some food herself. We finally get back to my house about 2 am. Karen needs more food for herself and at 3 am we drop dogs for a final time before heading to bed around 3:30. I think what people don't understand  is that handlers work hard, enjoy sleep deprivation as much as a musher and are generally ignored by everyone but the musher. I think most do it as a learning experience and of course, just to be around the dogs.
You can see more photos of Karen and her team:

 This race was a quick one, but handlers on the Yukon Quest ( face days of this same kind of routine, besides driving a dog truck to checkpoints on the road system. When the race leaves Fairbanks, as it did this year, handlers must get to the Mile 101 checkpoint before the mushers. Once the mushers leave that checkpoint, handlers usually haul butt down the Alaska highway to Whitehorse and on up to Dawson City. 

Inuksuk trail maker on the Yukon River at Dawson

There they build a tent city for dogs and mushers. With tarps strung to trees like sails to the mast, homes are made for dog teams. Arctic tents with wood stoves spring up next for handlers and mushers. Firepits burn for warmth, cooking dog food and a gathering place outside. The teams will have a mandatory 36 hour layover here. Handlers are allowed to help at this point and mushers rely on them a great deal. This is when mushers catch up on sleep, repair equipment, eat a decent meal and take a bath! Thanks to the handlers, who usually stay in the tents, mushers know the dogs will be fine. Handlers will feed them on a schedule, walk them and clean up after them.

Lance Mackey's site in the 2008 Quest. A quiet place for dogs and people. When the musher and team leaves, handlers will remove the tents and clean the site. Then they will drive probably to Pelly or Carmacks to wait for the team again. Handlers clean up in each checkpoint on the road system if a team beds down there. The only place tents are allowed is in Dawson.

Lance feeds his dogs at the Braeburn Checkpoint while Larry watches his every move. Larry then leads the team out on the trail again. Lance's wife Tonya cleans up the site Lance and the team have just left. Handlers are the unsung heros of this sport and everyone owes them a huge thank you. The teams could not do what they need to do with out handlers. So, I for one, offer my thanks.

After Karen's Don Bowers run and getting to bed at 3:30 am, both of us got up and were back to the Community Center by 8:45 am. We even dropped dogs before we left.  Karen is such a good sport and agreed to be a timer for the women's race that was part of the Winter Carnival. This was a five mile race with two classes...women under 47 and the AARP class for women over 47. I had planned to run my team, but with the lack of sleep decided it was not in their best interest. So, Vern Halter made me the race marshall. LOL! Thanks to Bonnie Church, my job was really easy. I made sure everyone signed up, made the musher meeting and then announced times to the race as the teams prepared. It was really a fun race of five miles. Everyone finished in good time. And even though it was a short race, it was volunteers who made it happen. Without the guys who smoothed and marked the trail,  the timers, the handlers and those who helped at the start chute, none of it would have happened. It's like this for every sled dog race. Those who do what they can so teams can get out and be on the trail. I thank all the volunteers time and again!

A head on pass in the Willow women's race. A team of Siberians finishing the race. Notice Denali sparkling in the background. These are the days we Alaskans love!

One last thank you. None of the races would be held without race sponsors. From individuals to small businesses, to corporate sponsors, all the money donated goes to make the race happen. Sponsors are needed in every size race. I try to make note of who sponsors and if it's a business I can use, I will. If I meet someone from that business, I make sure to thank them for helping keep this sport alive. Despite what some animal groups will say, I think MOST sled dogs lead better lives than any fat, backyard dog who is left out on a chain in boredom. Sled dogs are happy, noisy, boisterous creatures and I can't imagine a life without them. So, thanks to all of you who support this amazing sport and these wonderful dogs.
My wonderful pack, my constant companions, my reason for moving to Alaska.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Musk Ox Farm

One of my favorite places to take visitors is the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. On a chilly, windy day, Mary took Marian, Keith and I on a private tour of the farm. Back story: Mary works in the gift shop of the farm in the summer. She got the job after our friend June, told me about a job on Craigslist asking for a film maker for the farm. Mary helped me make the movie(which you can see in their visitor center), made friends and asked for a job. She's been there for a couple summers now. Anyway, if you knew Mary, you'd think she was a Musk Ox Whisperer. When we got to the farm she yelled to her "babies" and they came running. It was like this at every area we went to visit. The Ox just think of her as Momma Mary. She brought them treats and we all fed them.Some are friendlier than others. Their fur is so warm. I have a hat and a headband made from qivuit and I love it. Very soft! Here are some photos of our day at the farm in winter!
The Musk Ox waiting for us.

When Mary calls they come to the fence.

Mary feeds treats.


Hey Keith, where's my treat??


                                     Marian gives it a try.

They really are quite sweet.

Even the ravens had a hard time with the winds.

Hope to see you at the Musk Ox farm!! Well worth the visit.