Sunday, March 30, 2008

Winding Down at Work & Winding Down the Mushing Season

I'm a short-timer here at my place of employment. Only one more 'wake-up' and I'll be heading for the house bright and early Tuesday morning. I'm going to have to hit the ground a'runnin', but that isn't particularly unusual. There is a fair amount of news to report and opinions to share, so please make yourself at home. Grab a cup o' coffee or a nice, cold beer and we'll get started.

On The Home Front:
Little Dutchess, shown below, is a leader I borrowed for the season from Tammi and Manny Rego of Rogue Summit Kennel has gone home. I understand that her future may include a breeding with another exceptional Redington dog.

I borrowed Dutchess to help train the yearlings and she has done a tremendous job for me. She is a "spot on" gee/haw leader and having been a mamma-dog before, she was also a wonderful teacher. I loved watching her interact with her charges over the course of the winter, and having her up front of the team has been a pure delight. I'm going to miss having her in the yard, but it sounds like her future includes many more adventures both in the kennel and on the trail. Tammi and Manny - thank you ever so much for letting me borrow Little Dutchess. She was a true godsend and the yearlings are doing awesome thanks to her wise leadership.

Dutchess went home just in time to clear a space for Kyle Belleque's bitch, Lucky. As I've mentioned before Kyle and I plan to breed Lucky to my leader Torus (also from Rogue Summit - they have the BEST dogs). I've often said that I'd clone Torus if I could. Lucky represents the foundation of Kyle's team of working dogs in Dillingham, AK. Originally bred by Wil Forsberg of Healy, Lucky is reputed to be an awesome trail leader and she has a good track record as a brood bitch, having produced most of the leaders on Kyle's team. Lucky is mother to my Hedlund twins, Rose and Nels, and both of them are proving to be excellent sled dogs. Kyle will be bringing Lucky up from Dillingham in conjunction with a business meeting on Tuesday, so I'll drive straight to Kyle's hotel from my place of employment, we'll "do breakfast" and I'll bring Lucky home with me.

Kyle and I have agreed that I will keep Lucky through whelping and return her and Kyle's share of the litter when the pups have been weaned. That will probably be in late summer or early autumn. There is probably no need to mention that I am very excited about breeding Torus and I'm very much looking forward to whelping and raising the next generation of little Stardancer dogs. This is just WAY too exciting. This will be the last litter from Torus as I plan to have him neutered once we've confirmed that Lucky is indeed pregnant.

On Wednesday Rose has an appointment with our veterinarian, Dr. Jeanne Olson, to be spayed. Although she's showing some incredible leader potential, she has some gynecological issues that require that she be sterilized. That is a bit disappointing, but having her spayed now will help ensure that she has a longer, healthier and happier life.

Once Rose and Torus have both been sterilized it will be much easier for me to manage the kennel, as I won't have to worry about the risk of unplanned breedings when all of the dogs in the yard have been spayed or neutered.

News From the Rest of the Local Dog Mushing World:
The Nome Kennel Clubs 100th anniversary commemorative run of their All Alaskan Sweepstakes race is winding down. Mitch Seavey won the race, and the $100,000.00 winner-take-all prize while shattering John "Iron Man" Johnson's 98 year old record. Jeff King arrived only slightly less than 20 minutes later.

Johnson set his record in 1910, driving a team of newly imported Siberian Huskies from Nome to Candle and back in only 74 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds. When the NKC ran the 75th anniversary sweepstakes in 1983 winner Rick Swenson (5 time Iditarod champion) didn't even come close to the record. This year, the top six mushers all bested the record that stood for nearly a century.

Mitch Seavey - 61 hrs, 19 minutes, 45 seconds
Jeff King - 61 hrs, 39 minutes, 05 seconds
Lance Mackey - 63 hrs, 59 minutes
Sonny Lindner - 67 hrs, 19 minutes
Ed Iten - 72 hrs, 37
Jim Lanier - 72 hrs, 52 minutes.

The All Alaska Sweepstakes was run over the same trail and under the same rules as the first formally organized long-distance sled dog race in the world, which gives us a unique opportunity to compare modern teams against those that raced during the golden age of the working husky. I'll write a separate blog entry regarding the comparison later, assuming I can stay motivated to do so.

Some of the joy surrounding the 1998 All Alaska Sweepstakes as dimmed as word spread that a snow machine had crashed into third place finisher Lance Mackey's sled, severely injuring his dog Zorro. The core of Lance's team, Zorro is the most popular stud dog in Alaska today. As I write Zorro is en route to Seattle for specialized treatment of his spinal injury, and it is unknown if he will be able to walk again, let alone run with a team.

According to the initial report in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Mackey was in third place in the Sweepstakes at around midnight Friday just 20 miles from the finish line when two snowmachines came up fast from behind.

"I was flashing them like mad with my headlamp," he said. "I was shining my headlamp right in his face, but they kept on coming at me. I jumped aside, and by 30 feet further up the trail, there was a snowmachine sitting on the middle of my sled."

The machine impaled the sled bag with its runners.

"Three or four dogs were sucked underneath and Zorro was trapped in the sled bag," Mackey said.

The accident happened several miles west of the Safety checkpoint. The driver who hit Mackey and his partner on the other machine helped Mackey right the mess, then left as Mackey continued on.

If you would like to stay updated on Zorro's condition or donate toward his veterinary expenses, check out Mackey's "Comeback Kennel" web site.

Winding Down the Mushing Season:

Yesterday the Two Rivers Dog Mushing Association held our annual "Valley Funale" race and event. My friend and training partner, Lynn Orbison, took third place in the adult 6-dog class. The "Funale" traditionally marks the end of the racing season in our area, though the Kobuk 440 will start this weekend, out on the coast.

Having been at my place of employment the past two weeks, I don't really know what kind of shape the trails are in. Until today the temperatures in the region have held steady at just below the freezing mark, but with no new snow it is hard to imagine the trails are holding up particularly well. Break up is on the way, and I can expect to have only a few more days in which to run my own team before the snow gives way to muck and mud. I hope to take as much advantage of those few days as possible.

Time and distance on the trail will be determined by the weather and my team's response to the climbing temperatures and deteriorating trails. Since my own circadian rhythm is set to "night shift" from my tour at work I may decide to take the dogs on some night runs. I've never done that before, so it will be a good experience for all of us. My primary emphasis will be on running the yearling leaders up front and doing lots of gee/haw work with them to help cement the lessons of the season into their brains. Unless something surprising happens with the weather, I imagine I'll be putting the sleds away just before I return for my next tour of duty at my place of employment.

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