Thursday, January 1, 2015

Memoirs of 2014

The past three months have been a real whirlwind, and I apologize for not keeping my blog up to date. There just isn't time for me to do everything I'd like to do, and sometimes updating the blog ends up toward the bottom of a never-ending "to do" list.

So, to catch up, I'm going to start and end and work my way back to the beginning. Since I last wrote my life at work has been focused on work, and my life at home has been focused on puppies and some more work.

Fall and early winter sled dog training has been a real 'bust' this year. The wet summer persisted into September and resulted in a lot of erosion and damage to the trails. Combined with my work related travel obligations, we just weren't able to run the dogs as often as we should. By the time my schedule settled down it was already late in the season. The result is that our dogs are very much under-trained for this time of year. I'm hopeful that we can remedy that situation between now and the end of the winter.

The puppies are, of course, the highlight of the fall and early winter. Chetan proved to be a wonderful mother, and all six of her babies have thrived. We got our first 'sticking' snowfall of the season just days after they were whelped, so these snow dogs have never yet seen ground that wasn't covered in snow. Today, at 12 1/2 weeks, they are HIGHLY mobile and all are responsive to humans as well as to other dogs. Trish and I are keeping 3 of them here at the Stardancer Kennel.

Because the puppies are the result of an artificial breeding using frozen semen, in other words are 'pupsickles', we decided to name them on an ice related theme. The three we are keeping will retain their puppy names probably for the rest of their lives.

Aufeis is our female from the litter. From the day they were born she was the largest female, and second in size only to "Jumble", who is now known as "Griffin" and growing up in a mushing kennel in Minnesota. Aufeis has always been the boldest of the puppies. She was first to explore the world outside her whelping house, first to explore the world outside her pen, and remains the boldest today. Just two days ago she figured out how to climb over the low fence that separates the puppy play area from the main dog yard, to go romping about with the big dogs. She's a bit of a handful but I think she has promise as a great leader if we can focus that curiosity and bold attitude toward the job of a sled dog.

Aufeis, learning how to "run the ramp" to load up in the truck.
Glacier was the 2nd largest puppy of the litter. His eyes sometimes appear blue and sometimes green and his reddish buff colored coat is striking. He is the puppy most attuned to humans, sometimes preferring the company of people to that of other dogs. He's almost as bold as his sister and every bit as cute.

Glacier has striking eyes, sometimes blue and sometimes green.

Hardpack was originally selected to go to a local touring kennel, but life changes for that operation resulted in a change of plan. Trish and I have decided to keep him with us rather than search for a different home. He was born with a classic Hedlund Husky gray coat, but today his undercoat hides that silverish gray underfur. He is less bold than his littermates, more of a thinker than hell raiser. Once he joins the party he's all about being in the middle of the fray. He's a quick study and may prove to be relatively easily trained.

Hardpack showing his "happy face"
Of the other 3, Frazil (now Tonrar) is now enjoying the life of a very active pet near Minneapolis, looking forward to a long career as a skijoring pet, and 2 are home with Phoenix's owner at the Points Unkown kennel near Hovland, Minnesota.

Trish and I personally delivered Terra (Nilas) and Griffin (Jumble) to Linda Newman, the owner of Points Unknown, in November. It was our first opportunity to travel together, and we had a wonderful time not only getting to know Linda, her handler, and the dogs that have played such a huge role in the development of our kennel, but also exploring the surrounding area.

Linda lives only a few miles from Grand Portage National Park, which played a huge role in the historical Northwestern fur-trade. We had an opportunity to meet up with Karl Koster, who works at Grand Portage as an historical interpreter. Essentially we got the up-close personally guided tour of a historical site that I've long wanted to visit.

A big portion of my October R&R was spent in annual paramedic training. This year's version included the alphabet soup of courses I've described in the past on this blog. ACLS (advanced cardiac life support), BLS (basic life support) - pretty much the full meal deal.

Now that we've gotten caught up on the news, we can consider the rest of the year. Simply put, summer just wasn't summer. It was one of the wettest and coldest summers on record up here, which put a damper on a lot of plans and projects. The only major project I accomplished was the new chicken house, which seems to be working out well for us.

Dog yard maintenance was a nightmare this year. During the rare moments when the yard wasn't a sea of mud and muck, I was unable to acquire fill dirt to fill in the holes that sled dogs can't resist digging. Our local quarry operator essentially went out of business and created some legal problems that will likely result in long-term incarceration. The tractor got good use recovering as much of the packed earth as we could and repositioning it as best we could, but I was never really happy with the result.

Spring was a lot of fun, especially during Veryl Goodnight's visit and of course the races were very exciting to follow.

Probably the most important event of 2014 was work related. In January I transferred from site I had worked at for nearly 20 years to a new workplace, north of the Brooks Range. Learning a new job that is more active than the old one has been challenging, and generally a lot of fun. While my old position had me sequestered in a guard shack 12 hours each day, the new one sees me out on patrol keeping an eye on about 60 miles of pipeline and the infamous Haul Road, the Dalton Highway of television fame.

Like most years, 2014 was a mixed bag of the good with the less good. I can't use the word "bad" in that sentence at all. We've faced some challenges but so far we've been able to overcome them. I won't even venture a guess as to what 2015 might hold in store. All I can say with certainty is that I am looking forward to seeing whatever may come our way next.

This brings us back to the present moment. As I alluded to earlier, lack of sufficient snow has made it difficult to train sled dogs, not only our own team, but racing mushers in the area as well. As often occurs, many mushers have been trucking their teams to distant trails in order to prepare for races.

Some races, such as our own Two Rivers Solstice 100 / 50 have been postponed in hopes of more snow and better trail conditions. In our local case, the result was better trails for the race that is scheduled for this coming week-ened. Also coming up this weekend is the Gin-Gin 200. This will be our first opportunities to see which teams are most likely to be competitive in the more famous long-distance races later in the winter.

Arguably the most important of the early season mid distance races is the Copper Basin 300, scheduled to start on January 10th. All 50 places in the maximum field are filled, with 12 other teams on a waiting list, hoping someone else will withdraw to give them a chance to compete. Notable teams signed up for the CB-300 include Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe (Squid Acres Kennel), Matt Hall (Smokin' Ace Kennels here in Two Rivers), Ray Redington Jr (Redington kennels), Sebastian Schnuelle (who apparently hasn't retired after all), Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore (SP Kennels).

Perhaps the most exciting news I've heard the past few weeks is that Lance Mackey has signed up to run the 2015 Yukon Quest, which will start February 7th in Whitehorse, YT.  This marks another comeback for Lance's Come Back Kennel, which has not fared well the past few seasons. There are currently 28 mushers signed up for the Quest, including previous champions Allen Moore, Hugh Neff and Jeff King. Brent Sass, who was literally knocked out of the running in last year's race due to a head injury, is also signed up for the race.

So, exciting times are certainly coming on the long-distance race circuit and I'm sure they will offer plenty of stories worth hearing for years to come.

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear from you again! The weather is as unpredictable as ever! You have a beautiful litter of puppies and they are growing into some very fine sled dogs! Looking forward to your videos on the trails! Dave in NC mtns