Over the Hump
Tonight is my eighth of 14, so I’m officially ‘over the hump’ and starting the downhill slide of this duty rotation. So far it’s not been a bad shift at all. I’m becoming comfortable with my expanded duties and actually enjoying them much more than I would have predicted. I don’t have quite as much free time to myself as I did before, so I do have to plan my nights in a bit more detail, but that isn’t any particular hardship. I still have time to keep an eye on Alaska’s various news sources and to anticipate activities I’ll enjoy during my next R&R.
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art though, Romeo?”
Romeo is a rather famous black wolf who lived near Juneau, a suburb of Seattle and the capital of Alaska. According to an article in the Juneau Empire newspaper, and run in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Romeo has gone missing and is probably dead. The most likely cause of death – “being a wolf.”
Romeo was famous for instigating play behavior with dogs being walked on the trails near Mendenhall glacier. "He would make noises, wanted to show us something. He wanted to play," said Harry Robinson, who was joined by the wolf on daily walks with his female dog, Brittian. "He'd jump eight feet straight up in the air and grab a branch, be like, 'Look at me, I'm so cute, look what I can do.' He'd play tug-of-war with other dogs but act like he's pulling it, so the dog would not get discouraged or something. He liked to be chased by other dogs."
Romeo’s interaction with domestic dogs was very unusual. Most of the time when wolves and dogs come together the relationship is one of either predator and prey or one of competing species within a similar ecological niche. Either way it usually isn’t an interaction that could be described as particularly amiable.
Since recent research has shown that black colored wolves are a result of a generic mutation inherited from domestic dogs, I think it possible that Romeo may have also inherited an affinity for the company of dogs, as well.
Welcome Back – Real Daylight
Working night shift during winter, it is pretty rare to see daylight. Today I was awake a bit early in order to do my laundry. As I stumbled around the living quarters in search of a hot cup of coffee, I realized there was really honest to goodness, direct sunlight right outside the windows. This wasn’t just the low golden glow of the sun barely above the horizon, either. I’m talking obvious, bright, in-your-face, potential snow-blindness type, sun in the heavens daylight.
It is slightly more than a month after the winter solstice, and we are gaining about 7 minutes of possible daylight each day. More importantly, the sun is rising higher above the horizon each day. The return of direct sunlight means several things. First, it means there is enough light to trigger vitamin D production so those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder can soon expect some relief. It also means enough solar warming that we can expect to see more moderate temperatures.
Of course we can still get exceptionally bitter cold snaps as late as March, but the odds are much lower. The return of direct sunlight gives the promise of comfortable sled dog runs. Now all we need is more snow to go with the light and life will be much more fun. Here is a photograph I shot through one of our living quarters windows at about 3:30 this afternoon, as the sun was settling below the horizon. Even in the golden glow of the sunset one can tell by the blue color of the sky that we are in the second half of winter, and break up is actually coming.
El Nino – Spanish for “No snow”.
A strong El Nino oscillation in the Pacific has had a major impact on North American weather. Of course down in the Lower-48 the impact has been a stormier and wetter winter than is typical. Here in the Interior of Alaska the predictable impact of El Nino is a combination of relatively warmer than typical temperatures, and less than typical snowfall. I appreciate the warmer temperatures, but the lack of snow is becoming increasingly frustrating to those of us who enjoy playing in the white stuff.
Although we got an inch or so of new snow last week, it really wasn’t enough to have much of a positive impact on the trail system. Reports from ‘home’ are that the trails are just as rough, icy and ratty as they were before I returned to my workplace. Although rough, there does appear to enough snow on the trail to run the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in it’s normal fashion.
It’s Yukon Quest time again, and I spent some time this afternoon to renew the Stardancer Historical Freight Dog’s “mile” in the 1,000 Mile Club. Sponsoring the mile lets me support my favorite long-distance sled dog race and maintain my membership and vote in the race giving organization (RGO). This year, 1,000 mile club members can get a very nice Northern Outfitters jacket, rated to minus-30 degrees.
Last week I ran into a Quest board member who told me “If you are planning to support the Quest, NOW is the time.” Financially things are pretty tight for the race. They have locked in the purse guarantee, but are having to cut costs in other aspects of the race organization. That’s no easy task as the Quest operation is very lean even in good years.
If you’ll be in Fairbanks the first week of February, there are some other fun ways to help support the worlds toughest sled dog race. The race start banquet is THE social event of the year, at least for those of us who are fans of long distance racing. Banquet tickets are only $60.00, and the start banquet is always entertaining. It really is a very reasonable price for a full evening of entertainment. The banquet is scheduled for Wednesday, February 3rd.
This year the Quest is trying a new fund-raiser, their “Official Starter” auction. If you have the winning bid you’ll receive a banquet ticket and a place at ‘your’ musher’s table, and at the Saturday (February 6th) race start you can ride to the starting line with your musher. It strikes me as a fun way to support the race, so I’ve put in a bid, and though I’m unlikely to win the bid I submitted last night, I intend to bid what I can to support the race and perhaps win a chance to spend some time with one of my favorite racers.
Even if you aren’t in the Fairbanks area, you can help support the race by donating a few bucks. Information on all of these fund-raisers, and probably some more, is available on the Yukon Quest website at http://www.yukonquest.com . The Quest does a good job of keeping their on-line leader board current, so it’s relatively easy to follow the progress of the racing teams, and a fun way to follow the action out on the trails.