Although the White Mountains cabin camping trip was a high point of my last R&R, it wasn't the end of it and now that I have a few minutes to call my own I'll try to catch you up.
Janece had to return to her home on Thursday, so the day was spent saying good-bye to her growing pool of Alaskan friends, packing up and of course seeing her off at the airport. Her visit seemed very short, and indeed it was short simply because Northwest Airlines changed her itinerary several times and essentially stealing two days away from her trip in the process. I swear the airlines make every effort to punish those who dare to use mileage awards for flights, by making those flights as much an ordeal as is humanly possible. There is nothing anyone can do about it except complain, and obviously the airlines really don't care how many complaints they receive.
I ran my dogs three days in a row, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday's run was just an easy stretch but I bumped up the mileage and difficulty of terrain both days over the weekend. Monday was spent running errands and preparing for my return to my place of employment on Tuesday.
Retrospectively, the last R&R seems a real whirlwind. Janece was up to visit during one of the worse cold snaps of the year. We did lots of things related the Yukon Quest, including a volunteer shift at the Chena Hot Springs Road Crossing that demonstrated to my Kentuckian visitor the importance of dressing in layers and getting rid of the killer cotton clothing that sucks heat like a sponge sucks water.
Although the weather moderated a bit before our White Mountain trip, Janece needed some better gear to ensure a degree of comfort. To that end, I learned her the parka and bibs that are issued to me by my employer. Doyon Universal Services requires that all security officers and medics working on the pipeline contract carry a bag of cold weather clothing from October through April of each year. The gear they issue to us happens to come from the company that is rapidly becoming my very favorite source of extreme weather gear, Wiggy's.
In all honestly, I rarely use the company issued gear. I carry the gear at work to meet the company's requirement, and I carry it in my car to always have some reliable cold weather gear at hand in case of an emergency. Most of the time when I'm out mushing I layer up in my own gear. Having the extra gear at hand paid off in a big way on our White Mountain trip, though.
In addition to the bibs and parka that Janece wore, we also had our new Antarctic Sleeping bags and Sunwalker pack-boot liners to test out. I just can't say enough good things about this stuff. It all worked better than advertised. To be comfortable in Alaska's winter extremes it isn't enough to buy the best gear you can afford. You absolutely must afford the best gear you can buy. In my personal opinion, Wiggy's gear qualifies as the best. I'll be buying more from him as next winter approaches.
We enjoyed a challenging back country adventure, and kept the training schedule more or less intact even as the cold was replaced by temperatures at the opposite extreme of the winter spectrum. I found some weaknesses in gear that I can resolve during my free time here at my place of employment, in between my services to my employer. In my spare minutes I'll be making another new bridle system for the toboggan, as one of the three strands of nylon on the original that I made was worn through by the carabiner used to fasten the gangline to the bridle. That much wear in such a short distance demands a permanent fix, which I'll do be seizing the spliced eye loops that will be incorporated into the new one.
I also brought a harness up with me that requires some repair. On the last run of the R&R one of my wheel dogs developed itchy teeth, slashing the webbing on one of their harnesses. I'm not sure if Sheenjek slashed the harness while grousing at Grace, or if Grace did it herself out of boredom. Both dogs have been known to chew on lines, though. I clearly have some training issues to resolve as we mush on into the future.
We are also working through some health issues with Rose, the female Hedlund Husky and twin brother to Nels. Rose's reproductive cycle has been very unusual, starting with a dry heat cycle in July. This winter she seems to have come into, out of, and again into estrus cycles with no apparent ovulation. Following her latest cycle this month she's blown much of her undercoat and has developed some bare patchy spots consistent with hypothyroidism. We are treating her with thyroid medications, trying to put some weight on her, and are making plans to have her spayed as soon after the Centennial Passenger Race as possible.
Although I won't have company during my next R&R, I will be staying out on the trails a lot with the dogs. It will probably be my last opportunity to get in some seriously long training runs this season. Over the course of this work cycle I'll think through the details, but my inclination at this point is to plan on giving them some LONG mileage runs over moderate terrain to help prepare them for the upcoming Chena Hot Spring Centennial Passenger Race. Whether or not trail conditions will hold up well enough to allow that race to go is far from determined, but I'm remaining hopeful that our Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs gang can not only run it, but can run it well.
Here are the entries in my training journal from the last three days of the R&R:
Team 1: 4 miles. Empty training toboggan. 12 mph max speed. 5.0 moving average. 4.0 overall average. Home to logging road to trailhead to home.
Gump & Rose
Intended to be an easy run for Daisy and Chinook. Very slow run with several resting stops on the hill to the logging road. Daisy was tired and tried to stop at the trailhead. I had to hook down to line her out, but she picked up when she realized we were heading for the house.
Team 2. 8.4 miles. Training toboggan with 80 lb ballast. 13.4 mph max, 7.4 moving average. 7.0 overall average. 6 degrees at finish. House to Little Chena Ridge trail to Swamp trail to home.
Grace & Torus (lead)
Dutchess & Nels (swing)
Sheenjek & Seamus (wheel)
Grace scotched at Torus a bit at the start but he shut her down straight away and she did well the remainder of the run. All of the dogs pulled really well today and I think they enjoyed hauling an easier sled. I know I very much appreciated having a more controllable sled on the Swamp Trail.
Overall, this was an excellent training run.
02/16/08: Saturday. 11.5 miles. Home to wood cutting area to Little Chena Ridge to Swamp Trail to Home. Hilly terrain. Packed trails. +7 degrees at start, +14 degrees at finish. Max speed 13.7 mph, moving average 7.5 mph, overall average 7.3 mph. Training toboggan with 80 lb weight plus gear bag.
Dutchess & Torus in lead
Grace in single swing
Gump and Nels in team
Sheenjek and Seamus in wheel.
I left Rose home today as I want her putting her extra calories into gaining weight instead of running on the trail. Sheenjek chewed through a kevlar neck line during hook up, and tried to chew through a second one. This could start getting expensive in a hurry. Grace messed around from time to time dipping snow when she didn’t need to, but overall she ran well.
Torus proved the better leader today, responding much more quickly to “gee” cues than did Dutchess. Dutchie still has a lot of bloody diarrhea while running.
We had three head on passes with snow machines, one within the very narrow confines of the Swamp Trail. Those went well, as did a machine that passed from behind. One head-on pass with another team. Sheenjek tried to take a bite out of one of her dogs but missed his chance (thank goodness). It was not the cleanest pass we’ve had this season, but no fights, tangles or breedings so I guess it will do.
2-17-08 Sunday: 14.5 miles. Max speed 12.8 MPH, moving average 6.8 mph, overall average 6.4 mph. Moving time 2 hours, 07 minutes. Home to base of dozer trail to Little Chena Ridge trail to Swamp trail to home. +7 degrees F at start, +27 degrees F at finish. Training toboggan +80 lb and gear bag.
Dutchess & Torus in lead
Seamus single swing
Gump & Nels team
Sheenjek & Grace at wheel.
No problems at launch. Team ran very well. Passed 2 pedestrians with loose dogs. They corralled their dogs when I called for trail but Torus wanted to visit anyway. It was difficult but I was able to call him up to finish the pass. I apologized to the people as the dogs lined out and whisked me away.
Took the wrong turn at the dozer trail turn around and ended up going most of the way up the first nasty steep hill before I found a tree close enough to the trail to snub to. By snubbing to the tree I was able to get the team turned around without any nasty tangles, and we headed back down. The team gave me a very nice ride over some very challenging terrain. It was a positive way to end the R&R and I’m very proud of the furry ones.