Saturday, December 3, 2011


Good morning.  I'm sort of easing into another rest day for the team, enjoying my coffee and catching up on Emails, news and so forth.

There is an interesting discussion on Jeff King's FaceBook page about an article that appeared in the Alaskan Dispatch yesterday.  Craig Medred wrote the article under the headline Baker's back to defend Iditarod title, but he's got 68 challengers.  Some of Jeff's supporters have taken issue with Medred's somewhat harsh observations concerning mushers over the age of 50.  I can't say I blame them for taking offense.  A few years ago, writing in the Anchorage Daily News, Medred described Rick Swenson along the lines of a washed up has-been, that drew my ire.

Wanna see that allegedly washed-up has-been training just the other day?  Well, I recently learned who I encountered at the trail intersection - it was Rick, running the second of three teams he was training that day.  As a reminder, here's the clip again.

Considering that most of us are running small (six to 8 dog) teams short miles because of trail conditions, I'd say that "washed up has been" is doing just fine, thank you.

I guess the point is that we have to take what Mr. Medred or any other journalist writes with a huge grain of salt.  They are writers, not dog mushers, and though they can be very expert they don't necessarily "get it" when it comes to the bond between musher and dogs or the importance of experience in a game where so many variable factors such as weather, trail conditions, human or canine illnesses and many others, plays such a huge role in the outcome.

Speaking of running small teams short miles, I ran two teams yesterday, having given them a day off to rest and build muscle after increasing the mileage by a huge jump.  The first team's run was nearly perfect.  No tangles or major issues though at 1 point I was concerned that Capella might have been injured (she had a very pronounced limp in her gait).  When I stopped to check her out I couldn't find any tenderness at all, and when we started out again the limp was completely gone.  I don't know what to think of that.  In any event, here is my training journal entry from that run.

Date, Day, &c:
12-2-11, Friday
Mileage & Speed: 
8.5 miles.  13.5 mph max speed.  7.7 mph average speed
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Home to Two Rivers Rd trail to Wood Cutting Road to Little Chena Ridge to Rod and Julie's feeder to home.  1" and growing depth of new snow on hard packed, icy base.
21 degrees at start.  25 degrees at finish.  Overcast and snowing.
Just & Capella
Cassie & Selene
Beau and Seamus
Nice, steady run throughout.  No major tangles or issues except that on the wood cutting road it was looking like Capella was limping.  I stopped and checked her over and could find no tenderness, but also no snow balls or any other explanation.  When we started again she was running along normally, so I'm not sure of the cause of that. 

Ted helped the team figure out the "straight ahead" to cross the driveway to the new leg of the Y on our feeder trail.  The team took the haw onto that new Y with no hesitation at all. 

As I was preparing to run the second team I got a call from my handler.  He wanted to introduce me to the friend who helped him get Torus to the vet last week, and I wanted to meet her as she is interested in taking over the handler position when my current handler moves.  Since the day was growing a bit late, we exchanged greetings and I then invited her to go out with us on the run.

With only 6 dogs on the line, this made for a considerable load.  Since we are at a stage where we can focus on strength training, I didn't really see a 'down side' to that.  I did have to work just as hard as the dogs in a few spots, because there are some significant hills on that route, but the spontaneous idea of bringing along a passenger seems to have had a big pay off.

Those who follow the blog know that I've been concerned about Orion.  He's a gang-buster dog full of enthusiasm and drive, to the point that he works MUCH harder than any other dog in the team and consequently exhausts himself on relatively short runs.  Well, yesterday I saw Orion settle down to work along with his team mates rather than doing his own thing, trying to speed things up to his preferred lope.  He kept a tight tugline through the run, but truly worked as part of the team.  In my mind, that is huge, and I hope it represents a change in attitude with the guy.

Here is the journal entry from that run:

Date, Day, &c:
12-02-11, Friday
Mileage & Speed: 
8.5 miles.  Speed not measured
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Home to 2 Rivers Rd trail to Wood Cutting Road to Little Chena Ridge to Rod and Julie's feeder to home.  1 to 2 inches fresh powder on hardpacked, icy base.
Light snow at start, moving out as the run progressed.
Rose & Midnight
Grace & Denali
Nels & Orion
Judy Cooper's handler made a spontaneous decision to come along and help, which added some weight to the sled and made for an excellent strength training run in the hills as well as providing some help for badly needed leader training. 

Good, well controlled launch and the team realized they were hauling a pretty good load so settled to a working pace relatively early.  Nice steady run up the 2 Rivers Rd trail.  Hard slog up the wood cutting road and big hill up Little Chena Ridge.  The dogs needed quite a bit of help from me to get up some of the hills.  Good, steady trot down to home.

Midnight's first run in lead, and he did OK with it, though he doesn't have the drive or desire of his siblings.  Grace did well off neckline on the initial portion of the run, but was a bit snarky with Denali once I put her back on a neckline for the wood cutting road portion.  Had I been thinking about it, I could have taken off her neckline once we got onto Little Chena Ridge trail.

Leaders missed almost every cue, and once tired did not offer alternatives, so gee/haw training was not particularly useful for good on this run.  Things need to be moving a bit more quickly and the dogs need to be a bit more fresh to offer alternative behaviors I can reinforce.

Perhaps the most important thing is that Orion seemed to figure out he needed to start pacing himself.  He pulled well, but at the team's pace rather than trying to speed everything up to his preferred lope.  That could be HUGE for him.

Today I'm giving the dogs another rest day.  As with humans, rest is as important to strength training as is exercise.  I may benefit from the rest as well, as I also got a pretty good workout on that second run.

While the dogs enjoy a day off, I need to make a run into town to pick up some moose bones from a friend who enjoyed a successful hunt.  I haven't been able to give the dogs bones in quite a while so I'm sure they will enjoy a good chew.  Later, Stephanie Little Wolf plans to come over to take some measurements of the handler's yard.  She is also interested in the position, but needs to be certain there is room enough to house her team and include a fenced free-run play area for her dogs.

So, I have two very qualified, experienced candidates for the handler position.  Stephanie is my first choice because I've known her for several years, she and my dogs already know and like each other, and Steph shares my passion for the nearly-obsolete aboriginal types of sled dogs.  I already told the other candidate that she is second on the list - and she understands the situation.  If Steph decides to accept the offer, I'll do everything I can to help Courtney find an appropriate position, because I think she is quite capable of doing a great job for any musher who needs the help.

So, my coffee cup is empty, the day is progressing along.  It's time for me to feed the team, feed the primate, and accomplish a few domestic chores before heading into town.  Tomorrow promises to be a busy day.  I'll have help in the morning to run some dogs (perhaps a larger team??) before heading over to Mike and Kim Green's annual holiday party at three-ish.  I'm sure I'll give you an opportunity to read all about it.


  1. I picked up Graveyard of Dreams, Medred's book about the Iditarod, soon after it came out. I was disgusted. Not only was the writing sloppy (had an editor even been involved?) but the narrative was dripping with contempt for the mushers and the race. "Journalist" or not, it left me wondering why he follows and reports on dog mushing at all.

    I hope you find a perfect handler-fit for your kennel. It's gotta be a great feeling to have two great possibilities right there!

  2. Tangle, thanks for your comment.

    I have not read Graveyard of Dreams, and probably won't unless I've given a copy. I'm just not impressed enough with Mr. Medred's commentary to spend the money to buy the book (it's not worth half a bag of dog food to me). My impression from his ADN and Alaskan Dispatch work.

    It's possible that an editor was NOT involved in the book. I don't recall for sure, but it may have been either self-published or published through a so-called vanity press. Although that isn't a bad way to get one's work out on the market, the lack of editorial support is a disadvantage.

    One of my problems as a free-lancer is that I don't have easy access to proof-readers, and I've been rather embarrassed a time or two when something that was published wasn't quite what I thought I had written, but had clearly overlooked through numerous proofs of my own. It certainly happens here on my Blog pretty frequently.

  3. As always, am pleased to hear of Orion's progress - I remind myself again that that "big" dog I met was only a puppy. Good on 'em.

  4. I probably wouldn't have picked up the book if I'd read his other writing first. I hear what you're saying about editing, though ... no matter now many times I go over blog posts (or documents for work) I'm always finding errors after the fact. Amazing what a second pair of eyes (or two) can find.

    I hope you got some sleep - glad nobody was hurt worse than an ear nick.