Friday, January 23, 2009

Sad News - Happy Run

First, I must apologize for falling a bit behind. The past few days have been rather hectic around the Stardancer home place.

I returned home from my place of employment on Tuesday, and of course that day is taken up just in the various tasks required to be home. By evening I had all the dogs back in our home yard, fed and settled in very nicely. I have two guests for this R&R. Jethro is an older rescue dog from the Daisy Acres kennel. Although smaller than my dogs he runs very nicely with the Stardancer team. He's a wonderful, loving little guy who is just a lot of fun to interact with. If you're looking for a 10 year old with a great attitude toward people, other dogs and life in general you should check out his Pet Finder listing.

I think Just will be a permanent part of the Stardancer kennel, though he isn't a freight dog. Just is a gee/haw leader who has run on both sprint and long distance racing teams. He runs very nicely beside the talented albeit inexperienced leader in training Amazing Grace. Like Grace, Just will belong to my friend who lives in Kentucky but visits up here as frequently as she can. Meanwhile I'll run him with the "bigguns" to keep him in good condition and reinforce his training. Oh, did I mention that Just is a pretty little fellow?

Wednesday was one of those days when everything I tried to do took twice as long as it should have. My goal was to get my yard set up for running out of home rather than trucking the team over to Lynn Orbison's place, and to get in a training run for at least one team. First, I needed to break out and groom my "feeder" trail, which goes out of my yard, down to a power line right of way and then about 1/3 of a mile or so to intersect a popular and well used trail.

First, I checked the fuel in my snowmachine, and found I had enough to break out the trail and scout out some of the side trails I like, but not enough to finish the grooming process (sigh). I fired it up and headed out to do those things. The main trail was in great shape, but the 'swamp trail' had seen little traffic. I used the machine to break it out and firm up the snow underfoot. It has some seriously rough spots but is certainly "runable".

When I returned to the house I fired up the dog truck and headed over to Pleasant Valley Store for fuel. Back at the house I headed over to pick up an old truck tire to drag behind the machine to smooth out the snowmachine tracks, only to find the damned tire buried in ice. Not just snow, but solid ice. I searched around the place for something else to use, to no avail. No pallets or anything else that would do the job. Finally I hauled one of my summer truck tires out of the storage shed and used it. I was very careful to not let it snag on anything and damage the tire, it's nearly brand new and they are very expensive up here.

With the trail broken and groomed I next set up two of my picket lines, used to confine dogs while camping, as drop lines in the yard. The drop lines make it easier to bring the dogs close to the sled and mainline for a more efficient process of harnessing and hooking up the dogs.

With that work done I headed inside to warm up a bit. While I was checking Emails I got a phone call from my sister - a very rare event. That's when I learned that our father died on January 14th, his funeral was scheduled for yesterday so of course there was no way for me to get a flight out to attend.

Our father left our mother when I was about four or 5 years old, and I never met him until I was 18, so he wasn't a real influence in my life. I lived in his home for about a year and got to know him a little bit, but we were not particularly close. At that time he was a long-haul truck driver, an owner-operator trying to eke out a living during the oil embargo of the 1970s. Over the next few years I moved back out west (Wyoming, and then Colorado). He would sometimes stop at a near-by truck stop and call me up, so we could meet for a beer and conversation.

I suppose my father and I could be an interesting study in the "nature or nurture" debate. I inherited my father's body to a large extent. If you compared a photo of me to one of my father you'd be hard pressed to determine which is which. We are both outgoing, gregarious fellows, a bit foot-loose. We are both attracted to strong, intelligent red-headed women. My mom and my father's second wife were both red-heads, as was my late wife and my current girlfriend.

In any event, it's a real bummer to hear of his death in such a roundabout manner. A friend of my sister's happened to see his obitiuary in the Kansas City Missouri newspaper and called to express her sympathy. My sister was a bit floored by the news. She called me to share the news. Neither of us have any idea if our half-brother, David, knows. Like our father, David is a truck driver spending most of his life out on the road.

That had me in such a mental funk that I decided to wait until yesterday to take a team out on the trail. Yesterday's training run was excellent, though. Between illness in the kennel and the extreme bitter cold of my last R&R, most of my dogs hadn't run in nearly a month. Those that boarded with Lynn had gone on a couple of training runs, so I decided they could wait a day, and focused on the dogs that hadn't had a chance to go on the trail.

Here is the training report from my journal:

January 22, Thursday: 8.0 miles in hilly terrain on freshly packed and mostly groomed trails. Home to swamp trail to Little Chena Ridge trail to wood cutting road to intersection with “home trail” and return home. 6 dogs with empty toboggan sled. Temperatures 0 degrees (F) at start, +9 degrees (F) upon return.

Max speed 14.2 mph, average speed 7.1 mph. No significant stops during the run.

Torus & Just

Seamus & Grace

Sheenek & Jethro

Between illness in the team and bitterly cold weather it’s been a month since the dogs have run, but they did a marvelous job in hilly terrain today. I couldn’t be happier considering we are basically starting from square one. Since Nels, Rose and Beau all had a chance to run with Lynn O while I was at my place of employment I decided to take the other workers, and brought Grace along to help her settle her little brain.

There wasn’t a lot of chaos at hook up. Seamus was surprisingly well behaved as was Amazing Grace. I made them wait on the gangline while I started the GPS and got well settled. As we launched Just dove away from Torus for a second or two, and slipped his collar. I let them get down to the powerline and called them to whoa. I had no problem hooking them down and they were pretty reasonable while I slowly walked up to the leaders and slipped Just’s collar back over his head. That was the only stop we made the entire run.

When we hit the main trail that parallels Two Rivers Road I was amazed to see it has been professionally groomed. As we passed the public trail head I had a head-on pass with the groomer, who was making another pass over the trail. Just dove as far away from the machine as he could get, but no one had any significant difficulty making the pass.

We took the haw onto the Swamp Trail like pros, the dogs digging in for an extra burst of speed that was downright exhilarating as we zig-zagged our way through the black spruce. That trail has been broken out with the snowmachine, but not groomed at all. There are some rough spots on the trail in that first section, but Just and Torus were paying attention and when I asked them to go “easy” on some of the more hazardous parts they did so very, very nicely.

Before long we were working our way up the hill to the Little Chena River ridge trail. That’s a pretty steep bit of trail at the beginning, and then climbs fairly steadily over a couple of miles. We slowed way down (not enough dog power), but kept chugging along without any stops at all. Just wanted to take a side trail at the top of the ridge but corrected instantly when I cued “straight ahead”. That boy knows his job and he’s good at it.

We took an instant “gee” at the intersection with the wood cutting road and hit more groomed trail. Again the dogs had to work very hard on the uphill parts, but I never asked them to stop, and they never did.

I had to ride the brake on that steep downhill where the main trail comes off the wood cutting road, but we made it down unscathed. When we reached the public trailhead Just wanted to go haw onto that side trail, probably because he has stopped a race checkpoints set up there in the past. Again he corrected with no problem. When we hit the powerline trail (my feeder trail) they gave an extra burst of speed and came sprinting home.

I am very impressed with this team today. They did GREAT given they’ve had so much down time lately.

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