Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Musings

Dog Names:

I have been contemplating names for dogs that are new to the Stardancer kennel.  I think naming a dog is very important.  I’m partial to Native American and Eskimo names for working dogs, as they tend to be relatively unique and reflect a spirit that I admire and hope that I share. 

I’ve had two different ladies who are very important in my life suggest that Thor needs a new name.  Since both are very wise ‘dog women’ and I was once a very well trained husband, I can take a hint.  Although he has a light colored mottled splotch on his chest that looks a bit like ash from a fire, he is predominately a black dog.  In fact, his shining coat is VERY black. 

For this big, goofy adolescent pup the choices came down to the Greenland Eskimo word Gataan (guh-TAHN) meaning “black”, and the Inupiaq word “Aumaraq” (AHM-a-rok) meaning “charcoal”.  To prevent confusion with a name I plan to grant one of the To Points Unknown puppies, I’ve select Aumaraq to replace the name Thor.

Years ago, I had a yellow, pointing Labrador Retriever who bore the name ‘siyo ‘sunka (shee-yo SHUN-kuh), Lakota for “bird dog”.  Called ‘Shunka” for short, a Lakota speaker who once heard me call the girl looked at me rather incredulously and said “You REALLY named your dog ‘Dog’?” 

Yes, I did – and I’m going to do it again.  When she arrives at the Stardancer Kennel, Grand Marais will become Animosh (pronounced ‘Aw-neh-mush”), which is the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) word for “Dog”.   The potentially confusing name will be going to young Lutsen, the buff-colored girl from Minnesota.  Like my yellow Lab, her name will be borrowed from the Lakota language.  Lutsen will become ‘Cetan (pronounced “chay-DAHN”), the Lakota word for hawk. 

Thus we can acknowledge their Minnesota birth place with name originating from Native American tribes historically indigenous to that region.  

Off To the Races:

According to an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sebastian Schnuelle just can’t resist running the Yukon Quest, despite his best intentions.  Sab has signed up for next month’s race,  but Stardancer Kennel’s Denali won’t be coming out of retirement.  Sab will be running Gerry Willomitzer’s race team.  After training Gerry Willomitzer’s team for the Copper Basin 300, Gerry asked Sab if he’d like to race them in the Quest.  “It was a real spur of the moment decision,” Sebastian said. “I kind of look at it like you only live once, you might as well enjoy yourself.”  Schnuelle already has plans to visit Europe in March and has no plans to run the Iditarod.

Since Lance Mackey’s “Idta-Quest” wins, it seems like a lot of long distance racers are making an effort to run their teams in both races, even if someone else drives the dogs in one of them.  For example, the SP Kennel will have teams in both races.  The Quest will be run by Allen Moore, and the I’rod by his wife Aliy Zirkle and their trusted handler Rhyne Olson.  Sonny Lindner is signed up to run both races, as is Hugh Neff, Brent Sass, Lance Mackey and perhaps a few others. 

Two Rivers is going to be well represented in this years 1,000 mile sled dog races.  Four of the 70 mushers now signed up for the Iditarod list Two Rivers as their home base, and 5 of the 33 mushers currently listed on the Quest web-site are from our little community. 

All of the Two Rivers mushers signed up for the Quest are worthy of support.  Abbie West earned the title of fastest woman over the Yukon Quest trail during her rookie run in 2010.  Since then she’s developed an entirely new team of young dogs from Jay Cadzow’s line, which he has been developing for over two decades.  Although she says this year’s run is intended to be a training run for the young team, I’d be very surprised if she and her dogs didn’t perform incredibly well.  They are very, very nice dogs.  Abbie has a great coach (Jay), and is driven to excel. 

Mike and Sue Ellis are well known for their team of pure-bred Siberian huskies, and for the exceptional level of care and training they provide their dogs.  Sonny Lindner has been running dogs for at least 40 years, and has run the Quest 6 times, always finishing in the top 10. 

Although technically a Quest ‘rookie’, Judy Currier has been running dogs for some 15 or 16 years and is an Iditarod finisher.  Although a true ‘rookie’ to 1,000 mile races, Jason Weitzel has proved himself to be both physically and mentally tough.  His teams perform well in local events and it will be fun and exciting to watch his premier Quest run.

Sonny Lindner has won the race before, and there is no reason to believe he isn’t just as capable today.  Allen Moore finished in 6th place during his rookie run last year, and an SP Kennel team was barely beaten by Jeff King in the Sheep Mountain 150 last month. 

The Sheep Mountain 150 was just one of several middle-distance races in which long-distance mushers compete, some with an eye towards earning a few dollars to keep their kennels in operation, and even more aiming to provide their dogs crucial training in a racing environment.  This weekend the Knik200 drew some of the most well-known names in the sport.  It’s said that Martin Buser has 6 teams from his kennel all running in this single event.  The last time I was able to check (about 9:00 am Sunday morning), Lance Mackey held a narrow lead over Mike Santos, followed closely by Jake Berkowitz.  DeeDee Jonrowe and Ray Redington Jr. make up the last of the top 5 teams thus far.

Next week many of these same teams will be racing the Copper Basin 300.  Billed as the “Toughest 300 Miles in Alaska”, a claim that few would dispute, the CB300 is viewed by many as THE middle distance race to watch in order to assess the condition and abilities of the race teams and the skills and judgment of their drivers. 

News From Around the State:

Current events around Alaska today are dominated by weather related issues, which is certainly not uncommon.  Nome normally receives the fuel it needs to power and heat the city by barge, but this year early ice formation made it impossible for the last barge of the season to get through.  In an attempt to provide the necessary fuel, a Russian ice breaking tanker was hired to do the job.  Escorted by the U.S. Coast Guard’s only functioning ice breaker, the cutter Healey, the Russian flagged Rebna is making slow but stead progress toward the iced in community, and is expected to arrive sometime tomorrow or Tuesday.

Communities on the Prince William Sound have been getting hammered with a much heavier than normal snow fall.  The Richardson Highway was closed for a considerable time north of Valdez due to the risk of avalanches and need to remove snow with heavy equipment, and Alaska National Guard units were mobilized to assist digout efforts in Cordova, where more than 8 feet of snow has fallen in just the past few days.

Bird's Eye View of Richardson Highway, north of Valdez

Meanwhile the Interior has been enduring bitter cold since before Christmas, with little relief in sight.  At the moment the forecast indicates some moderation of temperatures early next week, followed by another deep dip of the thermometer. 

While trail conditions are pretty reasonable through most of the area, the Alaska Dog Mushers Association has cancelled all of their early preliminary races.  Lack of snow followed by grooming issues caused the initial delays.  Today, when everyone was looking forward to racing on freshly groomed trails, race marshal Mike McGowan arrived at the Musher’s Hall to find frozen water pipes, forcing yet another cancellation. 

Personal News:

I’m winding down a single week at work and looking forward to one week of R&R beginning Tuesday.  Each year we flip the schedule around so the opposite crew can enjoy the holidays off.  That’s what’s happening with the unusual work schedule. 

Tuesday and Wednesday will both be tied up with domestic tasks such as medical appointments, grocery and dog care supply shopping and so forth.  It’s likely to be Thursday before I can get my own team out on the trail. 

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