Thursday, January 1, 2009

Reflections on 2008

First - Happy New Year!!!

New Year's Day is a quiet holiday at my place of employment. We only have 5 people here in the camp, though a few more are commuting back and forth to town to do some work. Meanwhile we're in the midst of a bitter cold snap that precludes most travel along the trans-Alaska pipeline, so there isn't very much at all for me to do other than stay awake and try to stay warm.

I'm generally not one to dwell on the past, but during the quiet hours of New Year's Day I make a point of reflecting on the previous year, relishing the memories of the good times and trying to remember the lessons of the others. Although 2008 had it's share of issues, overall I would have to declare it a pretty darned good year.

It was a great year for the kennel. In January alone:
1. I got to know my admirable leader - Torus
2. I put my historically authentic toboggan on the trail
3. I started doing longer runs and exploring new trails

In February;
1. Received some new cold weather gear, courtesy of the great folks at Wiggy's.
2. Had a great time visiting with Kyle Belleque and Janece Rollet and discussed breeding my Torus to Kyle's bitch, Lucky.
3. Did a challenging cabin-camping trip in the White Mountains NRA.

In March I ran my dogs a lot. I ran my first race and earned my first red lantern. Rose was spayed and began treatment for her hypothyroidism.

By the first of April the local trails were unrunable. Kyle Belleque brought his girl Lucky to me for breeding and whelping. She was here through the summer, as she whelped her litter in late July. Lucky and Torus were boarding with Lynn O while I was at my place of employment in April, and they succeeded in escaping their pen. Lucky was finally discovered - running amok in a nieghbor's chicken coop.

May and June I focused on rennovating and expanding the kennel. I built new dog houses, expanded one of the free run pens, and took down a lot of fencing in anticipation of the dirt work.
On June 1st, Terry Snow of Cootberbear Enterprises went to work with his Case dozer and his large end-dump truck. He cleared some land of dog-fir spruce, filled in a huge sink hole, and allowed my to expand my kennel considerably. I built some new fences, installed the new houses, and the dogs and I have been enjoying the 'new' kennel immensely ever since.

Of course the highlight of July was the birth of Torus & Lucky's litter. Although it may be the only breeding of my mushing career, the little ones aren't so little now, and they progressing at an astounding rate. I think this next generation of Stardancer dogs is going to be something awesome to behold on the trails.

It was a cool and wet summer, and August signalled the start of the fall training season. In September Lucky and Kyle's share of her litter went home to Dillingham. When we weren't training dogs, Lynn O and I were busy processing meat scrap we received from successful moose hunters. We both feed a lot of meat to supplement the dog's normal ration of exceptionally high quality and outlandishly expensive kibble.

By October the dogs were running strong and we were bumping up the mileage and intensity of training runs regularly. In October I brought my puppies to work to camp in the truck and to focus on some behavior training that just isn't possible when trying to work with so many dogs at home. With an early snowfall and early cold-snap training progress in October was truly astounding. Also in October, I was elected to the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. board of directors.

Early season training was marked by steady progress as I was more willing to 'push' the team than in year's past, but early winter training has been difficult due to illness. In November I came down with flu-like symptoms that cost us a couple of training days and of course last month I had a contagious disease that affected nearly every dog in the kennel, resulting in some serious setbacks in our training schedule. With this current cold snap in place over the Interior, and in no hurry to dissipate, I suspect we'll loose even more trail time before everything is said and done.

I did very little historical reenacting during 2008. My work schedule conflicted with both of Alaska's large rendezvous', and I was unable to find someone to tend to the dogs during the fall Rendezvous. I was able to buy a book that provides the information I need to reproduce historical dog harnesses, though. That will greatly help me in putting together a more authentic presentation with my historical freight dogs team.

Financially, 2008 stretched my budget to the very edge, but fortunately I didn't quite tumble over it. By mid summer I was truly worried that the extreme price of energy, especially of heating oil, would be a budget buster. Though energy prices have moderated a little we here in Alaska are still paying the highest prices in the nation, and for no good reason other than to enrich the oil companies. The national economic melt-down that has resulted in cheaper energy and lower retail prices in the Lower-48 hasn't yet been of much help here in the last Frontier.

My employer finally signed a new contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. It includes a pay raise for me, but in all truth it's not a very large one (4%) considering that my household and kennel expenses have increased by nearly 2o% in just the last year alone. If a higher paying job with a reasonable schedule should come available I'll have little choice but to go for it.

Physically I'm doing reasonably well. Although I had an upper respiratory infection in November that was pretty miserable my annual check up in December was pretty positive overall. I have a few aches and pains that are most likely age related and I'll be following up on those over the next couple of months.

Predictions for 2009:
Of course New Year's Day is the perfect time to consider what the new year might bring but predictions can be tricky for those of us who don't possess crystal balls.

My employer has reinstituted our "Clinical Skills Training Program", which means I'll be making at least 3 trips down to Georgetown, Kentucky to run ambulance calls in order to maintain my medical skills. In late February into early March I can look forward to completing yet another paramedic refresher course and partaking of another course of alphabet soup (ACLS, ITLS, BLS, &c.). I honestly don't expect any major changes on the employment (or overall financial) front.

In the living history arena, I'll be able to attend all of this year's Memorial Day Rendezvous and the first few days of the annual Alaska State Rendezvous in June. I'll also have nearly all of the general moose hunting season off duty, so will most likely spend a lot of my time taking a rifle for long walks in the woods and keeping an eye open for any bull moose that might be in a mood for committing suicide. I've been asked to present at the North American Voyageur Council's annual conference in November and with the increase in work related travel I'm certain I'll have more than enough frequent flyer miles to do so.

This coming R&R I'll dig through the materials in my cache to see if I have enough leather to start building new, historically authentic harnesses for the team. If so I'll get started on that project straightaway, but it's a project I'll mostly pursue during the 'down time' I so much enjoy when on night shift at my place of employment.

I really should make a concerted effort to finish building the canoe that's been sitting on the strong-back in my garage for nearly a decade. I've let that project slide for much too long, and I can't move on to other interests (such as new dog sleds) until that one is finished. I'm not currently planning any major home improvement projects for this year, but of course I reserve the right to change my mind about that. There are projects that "should" be done, but the current financial outlook doesn't make big projects feasible.

Next winter's mushing season will probably be very exciting. The three puppies will begin training with the main team in the fall. Thus next year's "A-team" will include 3 three-year olds (Grace, Rose and Nels), the three yearling pups (Orion, Capella and Cassie) and two dogs in the prime of their lives (Seamus and Beau). Considering how little he has contributed to the team this year I suspect Gump will join Darling Daisy in retirement. Depending on how well they hold up, there is a good chance that Torus and Sheenjek will also remain on the team. I may be training them as a 10-dog team, or perhaps I'll borrow or lease two more dogs to train them as two 6-dog teams. Either way it will be a very ambitious training schedule.

That really is about all I can predict for the new year. My hopes are modest, but realistic. It will certainly be a busy year, but when seeks the companionship of dogs 'busy' is to be expected.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed all your comments, reflections, and adventures in 2008! Saw you on the Weather Channel tonight! Wild Bill Shannon and his dog team helping to get the serum to Nome! You and your team looked great! That was a surprise to see the Race To Nome on the Weather Channel tonight! Best Wishes for the New Year to you and your team!