Monday, February 11, 2008

Too Much Fun - Too Little Time

The past week has been so busy and so much fun that the time is almost a blur. I'll try to get you caught up a bit.

First, the uncontrollable factor that has had the biggest impact. It has been stinkin' COLD. The headline of an article in today's Fairbanks Daily New Miner reads "Warming temps should end worst cold snap since 2000." Thank goodness it is warming, the dogs need to run and it's been way too cold to enjoy dog mushing.

My friend Janece Rollet is visiting from Kentucky. She's been up here during winter before with no significant issues, but this years has been exceptionally cold. She has done a great job of dressing properly for the conditions but none-the-less has had some rather uncomfortably cold experiences. With the warming temperatures I'm sure she'll have much more fun for the duration of her visit.

On Thursday evening she and I attended the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race start banquet. We were joined by my friend Kyle Belleque. Kyle is a musher from Dillingham, Alaska who owns and operates Nushagak Kennels. Like me, Kyle is an old-school sort of musher who prefers the larger village or trapline types of dogs. My dogs Nels and Rose originally came from Kyle's kennel. We all had a wonderful time visiting with mushers and friends we hadn't seen in some time. Kyle stayed at my place through the race start on Saturday.

On Friday Kyle had to go into town to conduct some business, and Janece and I hooked up my primary team for a trip into the woods. Although the air temperature had risen to a balmy -15 degrees or so, the snow hadn't warmed much at all. I had planned on a 16 mile training run up into the hills behind my home, but the snow was so cold that it was almost abrasive under the bottom of my big "freight train" toboggan. It made the trail very "sticky" and required much more effort on the part of both the dogs and the musher to move it along. Matters were made worse when snow melting in the sled bag soaked through some of Janece's clothing. Since water conducts heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature the result was she got way too cold way too quickly.

We cut our run short, only 8 1/2 miles returning down the "Swamp Trail", which we found to be very rough and challenging with that long toboggan. Given the conditions I was very proud to note that the team gave us an average speed of 6.5 mph, only half a mile per hour off their typical average.

Saturday was start day for the Quest. Janece, Kyle and I loaded into the little motorized roller-skate that passes for my car and headed to town to enjoy the start of the world's toughest endurance race. The temperatures were brutal down on the river, but the teams and drivers all looked great.

After the race Kyle took his leave to return home and Janece and I headed up to the trail crossing at about 26 mile Chena Hot Springs Road to serve our volunteer shift as crossing guards. It was really cool being able to watch the teams in motion as they crossed the road. Most made the crossing with no problem at all, though a few tried to detour up the pavement. Janece was quick on her feet and quickly able to get errant leaders pointed back in the correct direction.

After our volunteer shift Lynn Orbison joined us and we drove up to the hot springs for a well earned soak. We got back to the house about 2 am, tired by glowing from the hot water.

Yesterday was a quiet day here. Too cold to comfortably run dogs we concentrated instead on miscellaneous chores at home. Today we will be getting our gear and supplies ready for an overnight mushing trip into the White Mountains. Look for a report on that adventure later in the week.

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