It's been a while since I've posted. In fact, it's been a bit more than two weeks. I've been so stinkin' busy that I had to return to my place of employment just to rest up a bit.
On Wednesday, February 21st my Star Dancer Historical Freight Dogs team starred in historical segments of an upcoming Weather Channel documentary on the Nome Serum Run of 1925. The day started out bitterly cold (around -30 below zero F.), and didn't warm up a whole lot. We were nonetheless able to stage the footage needed by the production crew, including some cute "boy and his dog" footage with my biggest dog - Sheenjek, and some nice footage of my team "arriving at the roadhouse" to transfer the precious cargo to another musher in the relay.
Stacy Robinson and Doug Clevenger of Tower's Productions were wonderful people to work with. They were properly respectful and appreciative of my dogs and of the human "actors" as well. Mushers involved in the relay were portrayed by myself, Mike Green and Manny Rego. We quickly came to learn that the most dreaded words in a film production are "That was PERFECT. Let's do it again." The finished documentary is expected to air sometime in 2008.
I spent much of my time Thursday sorting through gear that had become a tangle mass of disarray during the filming, and tidying up my house in preparation for a visit from an old friend who lives Outside. She arrived on Friday (February 23rd), and after resting all day Saturday we decided to go dog mushing with Lynn Orbison and her gang on Sunday.
Lynn put my friend behind a team of 6 sprint racing dogs, at which point that very lightweight little Southern girl learned that the first time one has reason to question one's sanity is when standing upon the runners of an ultralight sprint sled, and the time to seriously doubt one's sanity is the precise second when pulling the quick release to turn 'em loose. Very much to her credit my friend only fell twice in an 8 mile run, which isn't bad considering she was on a very unstable, lightweight racing sled and moving at a speed that averaged very close to 20 miles per hour on icy, hard packed trails.
While Lynn and my friend played tag through the wilderness behind very fast racing dogs, I enjoyed a relatively sedate ride behind my four freighters and two borrowed friends, Swift and Pinky from Lynn's yard. I had originally planned to only run them about 6 miles or so, but they were pulling so strongly that I did eight instead. Even with the longer run they maintained a steady lope throughout.
After feeding on Sunday evening my friend and I gave each dog a very thorough physical exam, including a complete range of motion exam of every limb of every dog. All were doing absolutely fine, so I was totally taken aback Monday morning when I found my leader limping on her right rear leg. Apparently she had been a bit stiff after our fast run and had banged her foot on the doorway into her doghouse or some other obstruction. The soonest I could get an appointment with our veterinarian was Thursday, but three of rest with frequent massages using Algyval made everything right prior to her vet visit.
Meanwhile, Linda Frederickson contacted me about a gentleman in Dillingham who was offering three Hedlund husky pups free for the price of shipping. Over a series of three days and a huge volume of Emails I was able to arrange adopt these dogs. Two will come into my own team and the third, a young male, will be placed elsewhere.
At the same time, my friend and I were off for Anchorage and the start of the Iditarod, handling for Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore. We drove all day Friday just to arrive in the big city at a reasonable hour. The work began with the ceremonial start, on Saturday.
The ceremonial start is, of course, a staged event for the fans and spectators. Handling dogs there consists mostly of calming overly stressed dogs from overly curious bystanders, and answering the same questions over and over and over. It's much like being a crew member in an "open pit" at a NASCAR race or something.
I was amazed at what some people consider "appropriate headwear" when visiting animals that rarely see more than a dozen different people at their home kennels. For instance, the tall guy in the viking hat with long horns painted red, or the kid in the "court jester" hat with mutli-colored tails. The poor dogs have enough trouble relating to humans, let alone humans that look like mutant beasts of science fiction.
The restart involves standing for several hours on lake ice while waiting for a huge flurry of work to get the team ready and on the trail. The bystanders are kept well away by a system of snow fencing and very large and aggressive security guards. If you don't have a visible official ID (the proper armband) you are firmly and not so politely escorted elsewhere.
Fortunately for us, our mushers (Aliy Zirkle and her husband Allen Moore) started well apart from each other, so we had plenty of time to go from one team to the other. At the restart Aliy was parked side by side with Lance Mackey and Jason Baron and all three camps were very mellow compared to many. Allen was parked next to Dallas Seavey (Mitch's son) who is running the "puppy team", and a team of Europeans (Italy comes to mind) who smiled a lot and said very little. One of the finest sounds I ever heard was the countdown to launching Allen's team, so we could then load gear, load dogs, and get back on the road and away from the crowds.
Following the restart we returned to my house, arriving home well after midnight. We caught up on our sleep most of yesterday before I took my friend to the airport for her flight home.
This morning was a bit of disaster. I was headed down the road toward work when the serpentine belt on my little Toyota RAV4 shredded itself. I turned around and headed home, 9 miles distant. By the time I got home the coolant was boiling and the little car appears to have been blowing oil. I'm afraid I probably did seriously expensive damage to it.
Meanwhile, my diesel powered truck had not been plugged in, so it needed to be warmed before it could start. The end result is that I late for work by about an hour.
But, I'm finally here and quickly settling back into the "day shift" routine. Mostly, I'm just looking forward to getting some rest over this next two weeks so I can be prepared to bring the new pups home and begin another cycle of fast and furious fun.