Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 14 of 14.

Happy February 1st.  Tomorrow is "Groundhog Day" when traditionally a groundhog will awaken from hibernation, pop out of  his den, view his shadow and declare that we will have at least 6 more weeks of winter.  Up here the poor beast would likely die of hypothermia and frostbite before determining that we are more likely 12 weeks away from breakup. 

Tonight will be my last shift for this tour of duty at work.  In preparation I have my laundry washing.  Once on duty much of my time will focus on cleaning, restocking supplies, packing my personal stuff and preparing to turn over the protection of this facility to our counterparts. 

I'm looking forward to some well earned R&R, and there are a few fun things happening in the area.  Of course fans of long-distance sled dog racing and followers of this blog are probably already aware that the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is scheduled to start from the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks at 11 am Saturday.  The "start banquet", at which the competitors draw their bib numbers and entertain the crowd of fans with stories of the trail, boasts of great expectations and so forth.  I'm looking forward to the start banquet, and so far my "official starter" bid for a spot at musher Josh Cadzow's table seems to be holding up.

At 22 years of age, Josh will be the youngest musher in the race, but he won't be the least experienced.  Josh is a Gwitch'n Athabaskan Native from Fort Yukon and mushing dogs, including racing, is a huge part of his cultural ancestry.  Although Eskimo people probably invented dog mushing, the best available historical evidence indicates that natives of the boreal regions didn't adopt dog mushing until the advent of the European fur trade.  The Gwitch'n people were introduced to the fur trade in about 1789, when Alexander Mackenzie first floated the river that carries his name to the Arctic Ocean. 

Although there is a good chance that Indians of the lower Yukon River may have been introduced to dog driving by Russian fur-traders earlier, it is very likely that the Gwitch'n Athabascans were the first Alaskan Interior Indians to travel through the boreal forests with teams of dogs.  I have friends who grew up in Fort Yukon, and they have reported that during their childhood in the 1960s and early '70s, each family had their own dog team to meet their day-to-day transportation, well after the introduction of the snow machine.

I haven't yet met Josh Cadzow, but he has attracted a lot of positive attention in the dog mushing world.  He has done exceptionally well in mid-distance races and won the Yukon Quest 300 in 2008.  It can be difficult for young people from bush villages to break into the "big" races due to logistical issues.  It's tough enough transporting 20 dogs to a distant starting line when you can do so by truck.  Imagine trying to do it from a village that has no roads.  I'm looking forward to meeting this  young man and learning more about his operation.

At some point in the next few days I'll start placing my wagers in the annual Nenana Ice Classic.  This will be the 94th consecutive year for Alaska's annual guessing-game.  Now in its 94th year, the Ice Classic is a springtime tradition in which Alaskans try to guess the date and time — to the exact minute — the ice will go out on the Tanana River at Nenana, 55 miles south of Fairbanks.  Tickets cost $2.50 apiece and are sold at more than 200 locations around the state through midnight April 5.  The reward for guessing right, depending on how many other people do so, is usually thousands of dollars.  Personally, I don't expect the ice to breakup until sometime between April 28th and May 1st. 

In between festivities associated with the Quest, I'm hoping to get my own dogs out on the trail, even if it just for some short little 'stretch out' runs.  Our lack of snow doesn't bode well for sled dog training, and the weather forecast doesn't offer much promise.  The current forecast is calling for a cold snap starting tomorrow and lasting for at least through the weekend.  I think it won't be so bitter that we can't safely run, but I'll have to make that judgment call on a day-by-day basis. 

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