Thursday, January 1, 2015

Memoirs of 2014

The past three months have been a real whirlwind, and I apologize for not keeping my blog up to date. There just isn't time for me to do everything I'd like to do, and sometimes updating the blog ends up toward the bottom of a never-ending "to do" list.

So, to catch up, I'm going to start and end and work my way back to the beginning. Since I last wrote my life at work has been focused on work, and my life at home has been focused on puppies and some more work.

Fall and early winter sled dog training has been a real 'bust' this year. The wet summer persisted into September and resulted in a lot of erosion and damage to the trails. Combined with my work related travel obligations, we just weren't able to run the dogs as often as we should. By the time my schedule settled down it was already late in the season. The result is that our dogs are very much under-trained for this time of year. I'm hopeful that we can remedy that situation between now and the end of the winter.

The puppies are, of course, the highlight of the fall and early winter. Chetan proved to be a wonderful mother, and all six of her babies have thrived. We got our first 'sticking' snowfall of the season just days after they were whelped, so these snow dogs have never yet seen ground that wasn't covered in snow. Today, at 12 1/2 weeks, they are HIGHLY mobile and all are responsive to humans as well as to other dogs. Trish and I are keeping 3 of them here at the Stardancer Kennel.

Because the puppies are the result of an artificial breeding using frozen semen, in other words are 'pupsickles', we decided to name them on an ice related theme. The three we are keeping will retain their puppy names probably for the rest of their lives.

Aufeis is our female from the litter. From the day they were born she was the largest female, and second in size only to "Jumble", who is now known as "Griffin" and growing up in a mushing kennel in Minnesota. Aufeis has always been the boldest of the puppies. She was first to explore the world outside her whelping house, first to explore the world outside her pen, and remains the boldest today. Just two days ago she figured out how to climb over the low fence that separates the puppy play area from the main dog yard, to go romping about with the big dogs. She's a bit of a handful but I think she has promise as a great leader if we can focus that curiosity and bold attitude toward the job of a sled dog.

Aufeis, learning how to "run the ramp" to load up in the truck.
Glacier was the 2nd largest puppy of the litter. His eyes sometimes appear blue and sometimes green and his reddish buff colored coat is striking. He is the puppy most attuned to humans, sometimes preferring the company of people to that of other dogs. He's almost as bold as his sister and every bit as cute.

Glacier has striking eyes, sometimes blue and sometimes green.

Hardpack was originally selected to go to a local touring kennel, but life changes for that operation resulted in a change of plan. Trish and I have decided to keep him with us rather than search for a different home. He was born with a classic Hedlund Husky gray coat, but today his undercoat hides that silverish gray underfur. He is less bold than his littermates, more of a thinker than hell raiser. Once he joins the party he's all about being in the middle of the fray. He's a quick study and may prove to be relatively easily trained.

Hardpack showing his "happy face"
Of the other 3, Frazil (now Tonrar) is now enjoying the life of a very active pet near Minneapolis, looking forward to a long career as a skijoring pet, and 2 are home with Phoenix's owner at the Points Unkown kennel near Hovland, Minnesota.

Trish and I personally delivered Terra (Nilas) and Griffin (Jumble) to Linda Newman, the owner of Points Unknown, in November. It was our first opportunity to travel together, and we had a wonderful time not only getting to know Linda, her handler, and the dogs that have played such a huge role in the development of our kennel, but also exploring the surrounding area.

Linda lives only a few miles from Grand Portage National Park, which played a huge role in the historical Northwestern fur-trade. We had an opportunity to meet up with Karl Koster, who works at Grand Portage as an historical interpreter. Essentially we got the up-close personally guided tour of a historical site that I've long wanted to visit.

A big portion of my October R&R was spent in annual paramedic training. This year's version included the alphabet soup of courses I've described in the past on this blog. ACLS (advanced cardiac life support), BLS (basic life support) - pretty much the full meal deal.

Now that we've gotten caught up on the news, we can consider the rest of the year. Simply put, summer just wasn't summer. It was one of the wettest and coldest summers on record up here, which put a damper on a lot of plans and projects. The only major project I accomplished was the new chicken house, which seems to be working out well for us.

Dog yard maintenance was a nightmare this year. During the rare moments when the yard wasn't a sea of mud and muck, I was unable to acquire fill dirt to fill in the holes that sled dogs can't resist digging. Our local quarry operator essentially went out of business and created some legal problems that will likely result in long-term incarceration. The tractor got good use recovering as much of the packed earth as we could and repositioning it as best we could, but I was never really happy with the result.

Spring was a lot of fun, especially during Veryl Goodnight's visit and of course the races were very exciting to follow.

Probably the most important event of 2014 was work related. In January I transferred from site I had worked at for nearly 20 years to a new workplace, north of the Brooks Range. Learning a new job that is more active than the old one has been challenging, and generally a lot of fun. While my old position had me sequestered in a guard shack 12 hours each day, the new one sees me out on patrol keeping an eye on about 60 miles of pipeline and the infamous Haul Road, the Dalton Highway of television fame.

Like most years, 2014 was a mixed bag of the good with the less good. I can't use the word "bad" in that sentence at all. We've faced some challenges but so far we've been able to overcome them. I won't even venture a guess as to what 2015 might hold in store. All I can say with certainty is that I am looking forward to seeing whatever may come our way next.

This brings us back to the present moment. As I alluded to earlier, lack of sufficient snow has made it difficult to train sled dogs, not only our own team, but racing mushers in the area as well. As often occurs, many mushers have been trucking their teams to distant trails in order to prepare for races.

Some races, such as our own Two Rivers Solstice 100 / 50 have been postponed in hopes of more snow and better trail conditions. In our local case, the result was better trails for the race that is scheduled for this coming week-ened. Also coming up this weekend is the Gin-Gin 200. This will be our first opportunities to see which teams are most likely to be competitive in the more famous long-distance races later in the winter.

Arguably the most important of the early season mid distance races is the Copper Basin 300, scheduled to start on January 10th. All 50 places in the maximum field are filled, with 12 other teams on a waiting list, hoping someone else will withdraw to give them a chance to compete. Notable teams signed up for the CB-300 include Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe (Squid Acres Kennel), Matt Hall (Smokin' Ace Kennels here in Two Rivers), Ray Redington Jr (Redington kennels), Sebastian Schnuelle (who apparently hasn't retired after all), Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore (SP Kennels).

Perhaps the most exciting news I've heard the past few weeks is that Lance Mackey has signed up to run the 2015 Yukon Quest, which will start February 7th in Whitehorse, YT.  This marks another comeback for Lance's Come Back Kennel, which has not fared well the past few seasons. There are currently 28 mushers signed up for the Quest, including previous champions Allen Moore, Hugh Neff and Jeff King. Brent Sass, who was literally knocked out of the running in last year's race due to a head injury, is also signed up for the race.

So, exciting times are certainly coming on the long-distance race circuit and I'm sure they will offer plenty of stories worth hearing for years to come.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Puppy breath

While I was down in Kentucky remembering how to be a paramedic (after 38 years one does sometimes forget ;) ) Chetan decided it was time to whelp her litter. That was sometime during the early morning hours on September 29th. She gave us a litter of 6 healthy puppies. One puppy was stillborn.

Of course, it wasn't quite THAT simple. A pre-whelping X-ray showed 8 puppies on board, and we could only account for 7. Fortunately, our friend Anita Fowler of Sirius Sled Dog Tours and a member of our Hedlund Husky Preservation Project, was willing and able to provide some assistance. Trish was at work, so Anita drove down, picked up Chetan and the puppies, and trundled them off to the after hours veterinary clinic to ensure that Chetan hadn't retained a puppy or other products of conception (very dangerous for a bitch), and to get the little ones all checked out. They all received a clean bill of health.

Chetan X Phoenix litter, October 5th, 2014 (6 days of age)

The puppies are all thriving under the very watchful eye of Mama Chetan, while all the other dogs in the kennel maintain an intense interest in the new little Stardancer Historical Sled Dogs.

The puppies were born just in time to welcome the first significant snowfall of the winter season. In my mind, that bodes well for their future as sled dogs.

Trish and I are sorting through a list of suggested names and will announce those at a later time.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Travail to the Lower-48

Our modern English word 'travel' is rooted in the old French word 'travail', and for good reason. My trip to the Lower-48 for a week of clinical training has certainly highlighted that part of the definition that reads " to torment, labor, strive, journey."

My flights from Fairbanks to Anchorage and from Anchorage to Chicago went smoothly enough. We even landed at Chicago's O'Hare a bit earlier than scheduled, thanks to favorable winds aloft. Between the time we arrived and time it took me to hike from the far end of one terminal to the far end of an adjacent terminal, to catch the final flight of the trip, things pretty much went to hell in a hand basket.

About the time I was looking for some breakfast, a 36 year old idiot decided to commit suicide and "take out" the air traffic control center in Aurora, Illinois. The same ATC responsible for traffic bound for O'Hare, Midway and many other midwestern airports. At about 5:40 my trip went from being just another routine flight to the Lower-48 to it's own very special brand of hell.

When my flight to Kentucky, scheduled to depart shortly after 8:00 AM was cancelled I was rebooked for a later flight. When that flight was cancelled, I was rebooked for a third. When it was obvious that that flight would also be cancelled I was rebooked to a different destination (CVG in Cincinnati) and when THAT flight was cancelled I was finally able to catch a flight into Cinci which arrived about 6:10 PM. The flight arrived, I arrived on it, but my luggage was nowhere to be found. In fact, even as I write now (11:45 AM), my luggage is STILL nowhere to be found.

At one point I considered renting a car in Chicago, but quickly learned that no more one-way rentals were to be had, at least not through the rental company used by my employer. One traveler was going up and down the line asking if anyone headed near his destination had a CDL (commercial driver's license) in order to rent a large truck. He wasn't having much luck with that idea, either.

All in all, over 1500 flights, including four of my own, were cancelled as a result of this miscreants malevolent behavior. News reports indicate that he intended to "take down" the flight control center and take his own life. His suicide was thwarted by paramedics who found him sawing at his own neck with a knife.

As I was standing in one of innumerable lines of people to rebook yet another cancelled flight, I couldn't help but be impressed by the behavior of the vast majority of people surrounding me. After all, there was plenty of frustration to go around, yet most folks took the inevitable travails in stride, maintaining their patience and senses of humor throughout. As I made the long hike across the airport toward my final flight, I passed by a line of people waiting their turn at the United Airlines Customer Service Desk that was easily a quarter mile long, if not longer.

According to an ABC News report, the man responsible for the shutdown gained access to the facility by swiping his valid key-card. Apparently there was little or no other form of security at the facility. Perhaps because of my own job (dual role security officer & paramedic), I find that appalling, especially considering the gauntlet one must run to enter a Federal courthouse or any other Federal office building - most of which are not particularly vital to national commerce. A human security officer may, or may not, have elected to search the huge roll-on suitcase the perpetrator used to conceal the gasoline and other items used to damage the facility, but odds are it is not something workers commonly take to the job, so probably would have been scrutinized pretty carefully.

In any event, I have safely reached my destination, but I'm not able to do what I need to do, because the uniforms I need are somewhere between here and Chicago - at least I hope they are. Otherwise this entire trip will be a serious waste of my time and my employer's money.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Puppy pictures.

Yesterday I arrived home from the job, grabbed a quick bite of lunch, and then Trish and I took Chetan to the vet clinic for X-rays. The goal is to count puppies, and ensure there are no exceptionally large puppies that could complicate whelping (she's due on October 3rd).

First Puppy Pictures
Ms. Chetan is FULL of puppies. The vet counted 8 little ones squirming around in there. He says they all appear to be developing normally. There are no dangerously large ones, nor any exceptionally tiny ones.

Meanwhile, I home for only a few hours before I fly off to Kentucky for a weekend of work related training. I should be home just a couple of days before Chetan is ready to whelp.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Did the Earth Move for You?


When Trish got home from selling at Farmer's Market yesterday, she commented that one of our dogs, Thowra, was behaving in an unusually anxious way. He was circling his tether post, slamming into the chain from time to time, but mostly just running in circles, jumping on and off his house, and generally expending more energy than is typical of him during early evening. All of the other dogs were just hanging out, doing the same sorts of things they usually do at that time of day. We didn't think a whole lot about it until later.

At about 7 O'clock (7:06 to be more precise) Trish and I were sitting at the table discussing our division of labor for evening chores when the earth moved. Dishes rattled, art work on the walls started jumping, and even the heavy, 3 layers of wood custom door on our cabin was rattling about. It was a severe enough earthquake that we both decided it might be safer outside, and the house dog decided to join us with no coaxing at all. About 10 seconds or so of hard shaking later, the earth finally settled down.

When I brought up the Alaska Earthquake Information web-site, they reported a magnitude of 5.3, from a depth of 8 miles and centered about 60 miles (more or less) to the northwest of us, near Livengood. Though certainly no record-breaker, it was a bigger than average quake for our part of Alaska.

Today the morning newspaper is reporting an aftershock at about 4:30 this morning, of about 4.2 magnitude. I don't recall feeling that one, though Trish did have to get up and let the house dog out at about that time, so it could be related. I haven't read or heard reports of any significant damage.

Our house is basically a log cabin perched atop a heavy wood-frame construction lower story. Both types of structures generally fare well during seismic events, especially compared to masonry construction (bricks, concrete, &c).

We fed, watered and tended to the animals about half an hour later. By then Thowra had settled down and none of the critters seemed particularly concerned. We didn't immediately notice any downed trees or damage, so I think we came out of it completely unscathed.

National Geographic Contest Update:

As of 6 O'clock this morning our Expedition Granted proposal is competing against 353 other proposals. The deadline for submissions is midnight, eastern time tonight. Next we will have to wait until September 14th, when contest judges will announce up to 10 finalists in the contest.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Summer that Wasn't

Although it was sunny today, the graph from the National Weather Service tells the rest of the story. We've had the wettest summer on record up here, and it hasn't been pretty. I have friends who still have a foot of water standing in their yards and more seeping into crawl spaces and basements beneath their homes.

That is soon to end, however. This morning the temperature was 30 degrees here at the house, the first hard frost of the season and a sure sign that freeze up is on the way. I won't claim to be disappointed. If wet stuff is going to fall from the sky I'd much rather it be in the form of snow rather than rain.

National Geographic Contest Update:

As of this morning, our entry in the National Geographic Expedition's Granted contest is competing against 308 others. The deadline for submissions is tomorrow, so they will probably get a few more. Another group of dog mushers has submitted their own project, which is somewhat similar. They plan to go shorter mileage, but over a more challenging route. Their laudable goal is to draw attention to the impact that a proposed commercial road will have to people living within that region, which is also part of our intent. I hope that one or both projects makes the "cut" to be finalists in the contest. Obviously, I would prefer it be ours.

Finalists will be announced on September 16th, and the outcome will be decided by popular vote between the 16th and 29th. Don't worry, I'll post a reminder here when the time comes and will no doubt be nagging you to vote early and often.

Chicken House:

Trish and I spend much of yesterday moving the new chicken house into place. That required removing the old one, which was a considerable effort. Putting the new one into place was relatively easy, because I was able to sling it from straps under the loader bucket of the tractor to move it around. It's currently in serve and the birds seem to appreciate the additional space it creates in their yard.

Two of our buckeye hens checking out the expanded chicken yard.
That brings us up-to-date on this R&R thus far. I've many more tasks to accomplish, but with the cooler weather the most important of those involve preparing for the new training season. It won't be much longer and I'll have videos of our working dogs to share.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hen Haven

I haven't completed very many projects this summer. Finanaces have been a wee bit tight around Stardancer Central, so the focus has been on maintenance rather than improvements. One exception, however, is a new hen house.

The old hen house was a modified shipping crate, roughly 8 feet tall, 8 long and 4 feet wide. It has served the purpose but is really much to large for housing only 6 hens. I felt a smaller, especially a shorter structure would make it easier for the birds to keep themselves warmer in winter and encourage egg production during winter. 

I spent a fair amount of time looking at photos and plans of hen houses others have created, and then combined the features I most liked into our own structure. I wanted easy access to egg boxes so we can collect our breakfast treasures without disturbing the birds or opening a huge, heat-stealing door. I wanted a cozy area in which the chickens can roost, feed and generally do 'chicken stuff', with just enough space to get the job done.

I also wanted to be able to clean the hen house conveniently. 

Once I knew what I wanted it was a matter of gathering materials and putting them together. The structure has a foot print of 16 square feet (4 feet squared). This is a bit more than the recommended 2 square feet per bird. Keep in mind they have immediate access to much larger run area, so the space inside the hen house needed be so large.

Here are some photos of the resulting hen house. Unfortunately I just finished it yesterday and have to spend today preparing to return to work. It probably won't be put into service until early in my next R&R.

Front view on new Hen House
 When I place the house in service there will be ramp leading from the open hatchway into the chicken run, making it easier for the birds to get in and out. The hatch is hinged so it can closed to confine the birds at night and protect them from marauding predators. The plexiglass window is unbreakable and provides the inmates with a good amount of natural light.

Side and nest boxes
A drop down door in the back of the coop provides access to the nest boxes for egg collection and refreshing next materials when needed. The roof overhangs the back by a few inches to prevent icing of the hinges during winter.

Open front
When it's time to add feed, refresh their water or clean out the house the entire front panel drops down to provide easy access to the main "living area".

I intend to install a light fixture on a timer, to provide full-spectrum light for 15 or 16 hours per day during winter, to encourage egg laying. I'm thinking the heated poultry water fountain we already use during winter may be sufficient to keep the house warmer than it would otherwise be. If not, I may install a small space heater with a thermostat. At the moment I'm thinking that probably won't be necessary.

If I were to do it again, I'd build less pitch into the shed type roof. Otherwise, I'm quite satisfied with it and looking forward to putting it in service early during my next R&R from work.