Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Kuchen

Kuchen - What can I say? He is the spitting (though smaller) image of his uncle, Bobby. One of the cheerleaders of the team, preferring Wheel and Team and never causing any trouble in the yard or even really caring for attention at all...I hope to see him fill out to a 50+ lb dog and keep up that beautiful trotting!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November Training Update

    So we're sitting at almost 400 miles and have completed three 20-mile runs thus far. The yearlings are looking good - they have their moments of greatness...and then the not-so-great moments! There are times that I forget that they aren't veterans and I have to remind myself of how much they have to learn. I'm so thankful for the mentor who keeps me focused on the future - it's so easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that I'm molding a team for years to come.
    With that said, last week we backed off and did three five mile runs...running with Mouse's pups in the main string! The pups fit in well, Peppermint is a little shy of the "big dogs" while Jingle came back with a new excitement and dedication to his job. Frost...is Frost - always the center of the attention!
    Mouse's earliest due date for Mambo pups is the 9th. She insists on digging herself a bigger hole under her house in the puppy pen rather than using the house...but with the weather changing for cooler temperatures, maybe it'll be more snug. Since her last litter was Christmas/holiday/winter theme, I'm thinking of doing a Thanksgiving theme for the litter this time (Pilgrim, Squanto, etc.).
    About the time I bred Mouse, Sweetwater managed to get bred to Biscotti - not a breeding I would've planned although it's not the worst match in the kennel. I kept her running but it now appears that she may, indeed, have some pups...they would be due in about a week. The worst part about it is that I'd lose her for the season - and I wanted to see her and Belle side by side this year.

    Besides the kennel news, I've been thinking a lot about gaits this year as I run my team. One of my desires is to build a kennel of uniform dogs that trot effortlessly...and a lot of my dogs pace! In Alaska I learned that as long as they move comfortably (and pull, of course!) it's not a big deal...but it bothers me immensly.
    I remember several years ago when I got Jersey and Summer from Katie Davis that she told me to learn each dog's gait, because a shift in gait will tell you a lot about the dog's condition. Of my veterans Summer, Legolas and Mambo all pace until we get to the sled (which is another thing I learned - dogs move differently on the snow). I can handle that, but I think pacing dogs look terribly uncomfortable. I worry about the yearlings, two of whom pace and all of whom are still learning to pull straight and it will be interesting to see which ones become trotting machines on the sled.
    None of this can be resolved until we get to some longer runs on the sled, so instead I look at the team and smile as I see them moving down the trail at 7-8mph, however they do it. I remember when I ran siberians and it was "all out" downhills and crawling uphills. I would never have imagined that a team could be under control (ok, ok, I probably shouldn't say that - it's more likely just that the team lets me think they're under control!) and keep that steady, forward motion for so long. And that, regardless of whether they trot or pace, is an amazing thing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Brownie

Brownie - my littlest brother saw a dog named "Brownie" in a Mushing Magazine article and, when the pups came from N. Dakota told me that I got "Brownie"! And so, the rest of the litter had to get sweet names because of this sweet girl. Pudding may be heavier, but Brownie is more leggy. At the vet she weighed 38 pounds, the smallest on the team, but she's a hard worker in the back of the team. She started the season trotting beautifully, a lot like Summer, but now she thinks she needs to pace. I look forward to watching her mature...maybe later this year we'll put her up front.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Biscotti

 "Biscott" - another yearling and the biggest of them all. Smooth and always trotting, he's making his way to the front of the team. A calm and friendly boy in the yard, he keeps weight well and is always excited to go! As a puppy he had a big problem chewing necklines, but I'm hoping he's grown out of that...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Mocha

Mocha is another yearling who seems to always be on a caffeine high - dogs really do live up to their names! Nicknamed "wild eyes", he always wants to go. He feeds of the older dogs and as a pup he was already leading by the second run! As the fall progresses and he gets more comfortable, he's run more up front and truly prefers to be up there than in the back. Will be looking forward to seeing him race - will he be a second Legolas? Only time will tell...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Birdseye View

    Here's some snapshots of the team in training:
(From my phone, so sorry about the poor quality!)
 First 12 Mile Run
Mambo - Razz, Jersey - Summer, Nibbs - Biscotti, Zoomey - Brownie, Belle - Mocha, Kuchen & Sweetwater

 The official puppy training squad - kids and sleddogs; what could be better???
 No, Jingle doesn't have to do it all himself!

Hard working puppies - 4 mile run! Griz - Mouse, Peppermint - Frost, Jingle

And the beautiful white horse that greets us when we run by:
Razz - Zoomey, Mambo - Jersey, Belle - Mouse, Lego - Biscotti, Summer - Nibbs, Meringue - Kuchen

Mouse (brown) and her daughter Belle.

 Into the fog...

 From the back: Zoomey, Belle - Kuchen, Mambo - Razz, Summer - Mocha, Nibbs - Brownie, Sweetwater - Jersey, Biscotti - Legolas.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Training Philosophy and Goals

    While we are on the subject of teamwork and teams...
    Every musher has sponsors. They may give money or they may give time...but we couldn't do it without them. I was asked on a sponsorship application to outline my training philosophy and goals and thought I'd share the result:

    Greetings! Fall training has begun and this year we’ll continue to move forward towards the goal of finishing our Iditarod/Yukon Quest qualifiers. Like any large project, the goal – the Iditarod – can seem very far away but like any distance race, my team and I take it one mile at a time.
     It all started out when I was ten – for several years I ran Seppala Siberian sled dogs before I was won over to distance racing. The dream that was kindled when I got my first little Siberian came back full force and led me to entrust the remnants of my team to my family for a winter while I handled in Alaska for Aaron Burmeister's Iditarod kennel. It was there that I learned how to really train a sled dog team.
    Last year, with a team of veterans, we completed two Iditarod qualifying races. The highlight of the season was being honored with the Best Cared for Team at the Eagle Cap Extreme. I say “we” because it takes a team to get to the finish line; I could never do it without the support of my family, sponsors and mentors…or the amazing athletes that show me time and again that I’m the weakest link.
    With this in mind, my philosophy has continued to develop as I look towards the coming year – filled with a new set of challenges. I love working with yearlings; they are enthusiastic and as they learn, it’s hard to get upset with them because they try so hard to be “big dogs”. But it means a slightly different approach to training. Rather than maintaining the trust built over years, a new bond must be formed with each of the young dogs. And then there’s the heart-wrenching decision of which yearlings will race and which will need that extra year to mature…but that’s hundreds of miles down the trail at this point.
    Last summer when a friend entrusted me with the litter of pups that are this years yearlings – I promised myself that these would be trained right. They would learn that there is no limit to what they can do and that I’ll never ask more than they are capable of giving. With such high-energy attitudes and drive as they show, it’ll be my responsibility to manage it.
    It’s not really a new philosophy, just a different angle. I’ve fully embraced the training principles I saw implemented in Alaska by Scott Smith. Fall is a time of building strength – not speed. It takes patience to go 7-8 mph while so many lower 48 sprint teams are going 10-12 mph, but the fact is that I’m actually building speed into the dogs for the end of the race.
    Training is about so much more than miles. I’ve come to a new appreciation of this because this year I completed a ½ marathon – it helps me understand a fraction of what sled dogs go through in a long distance race.
    With that said, my goal every year is to get 1,000 miles on the team by January 1st. To get there, it means we’ll have to do many 6-7 hour runs and when the dogs can handle the time (not so much the distance – because it will come) they’ll be ready for some camping runs.
    Last year, with veterans, I could focus on long distance runs and didn’t need to do more than two camping runs because they knew to rest and checkpoint routine. With yearlings it’s the opposite. Rather than pushing them to the mental edge for a long march, yearlings need to realize that they can stop and go – and that we’ll stop again. Next year they will be mature enough for those long marches.
    For the yearlings the entire season will be about instilling good habits. Eating, tight lines and no chewing are a few principles I require in the team. When the dogs are happy and confident, there’s little fighting. In a long run it’s important for the dogs to be able to run with anybody and get along comfortably. I also train them to be patient and under control – they have to respect that we don’t go until I give the command; if we need to stop suddenly, turn around or change course at a moments notice, they have to trust me to keep us safe out there.
    And then there’s the other side of training – the diet. Because of the abundance of beef in my area, I typically feed meat heavily. However, due to the warmth in the lower 48, it can spoil in drop bags and this year I plan on mixing in a bit more kibble and including some meat mixes that will increase palatability. In distance racing you want options and last year a single type of kibble and meat was not adequate for optimum performance.
    New this year, I’ll also be training three Alaskan Husky puppies that have been born at my kennel. I’ve not had pups in the yard (that were born here) in three years and to see them already getting comfortable on their short runs is rewarding. They are the future and although they are just a few months too young to make the race string with the yearlings, next year they’ll be ready to go.
    As I watch the team mature and look back at where it all started – a ten year old girl and her little Siberian Husky – I realize I could never do this alone and I’m thankful to all who have given their support. It’s been a pleasure to meet and work with so many wonderful people brought together by the common love of dogs…and I look forward to working with my sponsors this upcoming season as we blaze new trails together.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It Takes A Team

    At last the hot weather seems to have gone away and training has begun in earnest! This year is the first time I've ever had two teams to train and also the first time I've had more than enough dogs for the race team.
    In Alaska I learned you really don't need a lot of extra dogs - train them right and you should be able to get them through. I was very comfortable with my little 9-dog team. All that is changing!
    First, I have yearlings - which means I've got to be careful to make sure they can succeed and build a strong foundation for the future. I want them to trust me and know that I'll take care of them out there.
    Second, with more than 12 dogs I'm not always running the dogs together. This means someone often gets left...and it's interesting to see how this affects my core (the adults).
    Last year I remember leaving both Jersey and Summer at different times in the season because of sore wrists...and I recall how interesting it was that without their calm (or crazy!) influence, the boys just weren't themselves. But add them back in and now we were motoring up the hills rather than messing around.
    This fall I was reminded, again, that it takes the whole team to have a good run. Due to a yearling induced team tangle at our turn around, my leader Legolas was sore and I left him for a few runs to fully heal. Some of the dogs did step up to take his place, but it's like leaving an extension of you at home...things just aren't as comfortable if he's not in the team.

    Maybe it's just Legolas or maybe it's my imagination (it's many long hours staring at a team of dogs, after all!), but I think sleddogs have a lot to teach us about team work.
    Think about it:
    The right seasoned veteran next to the wild youngster; patiently pushing him where he needs to go to avoid running into the tree or the calm, cool and collected Mambo next to the shy female, not getting perturbed when she gets tangled.
    Due to a springtime squabble, Nibbs and Razz detest each other in the yard. But put them together on the line and they agree to disagree about who's more macho and become some great wheel dogs.
    Kuchen wasn't pulling up the hills, but would be screaming to go whenever we stopped. Move him back to wheel, stop a few extra times (while he was pulling) and now he's happy, comfortable...keeping a tight line!
    I also remember running and pedaling up Huckleberry pass. The dogs could've done it themselves, but we're a team and working together (even though I'm sure I wasn't that much help) got the job done...better than if the dogs or I had been alone.
     Putting everything to the side in order to focus on the job at hand. Working hard together...it's what sleddogs are good at!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Meringue


Meringue reminds me a lot of my old leader, Cougar, although she is no relation at all! She's all legs and very focused for a young dog - I think she enjoy's being in the front of the team. Dainty with her food; she still manages to be an easy keeper!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Pudding

Pudding is a little, stocky girl who is the most husky-looking dog in the "Dessert" litter. She's very prim and proper, comfortable wherever she's put in the team. This spring she led, so I'm confident she'll be a nice little lead dog as she grows up!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Spice

Spice lives up to her name - she adds spice to the kennel! Always wanting to play, well behaved around people, she got to run a road race with my dad in April. She's enthusiastic, devours her food and pulls hard. Just wish she was as big as her attitude...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Winter Litter's 1st Run

    So I was able to get the "pups" out on their first run...at 8 months old. It's times like this that I'm thankful for a photographer brother!
The fun part about hooking up pups - they always get tangled when you turn your back!

Jingle - reminds me of his older brother Ruger.

Who said sleddogs don't get excited about their job???!!!

Frost - as enthusiastic as his momma!

Zoomey/Meringue in lead.

Peppermint - lookin' like his daddy, Pepperjack.

Up the ridge.

Last hill.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Is Fall Here Yet?

    The weather keeps playing with us - it was extremely hot earlier in August (when in the past we've already started training) and then it cooled off for about two weeks. I've been training for a 1/2 marathon myself, so I didn't stress too much about running - feeling certain we were on the road to cooler temperatures...and because a recent conversation with Scott reminded me that for the older dogs, they just don't need so many early runs. But I was glad the yearlings got a few runs before the temperatures and humidity rose - taunting us with rain and 60 degrees!
    I'm also excited to announce that in October, Urchin will be joining us from Alaska! For those who followed my adventures in Alaska, he was a yearling that became my main leader. He led a lot last year (again on a yearling team since he was a young yearling the winter I worked with him). All the dogs from Scott are excellent athletes and I look forward to having Urchin on the team again!
    This season should be interesting; the seven yearlings from S. Dakota are beginning to sort themselves out and I'll be working with four on the team, and then all extra dogs will run with Mouse's pups (Frost, Peppermint and Jingle) to give them as much mileage as I have time to give them this winter. They're just a few months too young to run with the "big dogs". In addition, although I'd love to race Mouse for a season, I think I'll be looking for some Razz or Mambo pups...unless I can get her back up to Alaska to get bred.
    Here's some pictures from our run the other day:
Mocha & Mambo leading us out, Jersey/Zoomey in point.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sled Dog Remedies

    When you have a kennel of dogs - whether they're sleddogs or not - accidents happen. A dog gets loose, a fight happens and even when it's not serious enough to require vetrinarian attention, there are things you can do to ease the wound healing. It gets even more important when you're in training and you want the dog back in training as soon as possible.
    Over the years I've used a variety of antiseptics and different herbal remedies, but there are two that have really worked well - for dogs or people!
    Since coming down from Alaska, I've started using Providine ointment. It sticks into those hard to get places, protecting and cleansing the wound. A must have for your first aid kit! Surprisingly, I had trouble finding it...but usually it's in the horse section at your feed store.
    But sometimes it's nice to flush out the wound and not leave an ointment in it. This spring Pudding had a strange sore/infection under her collar. I started with Providine and then switched to my new favorite antiseptic - 50% white Vinegar and 50% Hydrogen Peroxide, mixed with a little water. This stings less than Schreiners liniment (my previous favorite!) and softens the wound, while the Vinegar takes away the smell (as in Pudding's case).
    Another thing that I first realized in Alaska is how much more quickly wounds heal if you put the dogs on an antibiotic - up there they use Amoxicillin for everything. However, preferring a more natural/herbal approach I did some reading and have started using the following blend of herb powders (mixed equally): Garlic, Ginger, Slippery Elm, Comfrey and Chaparral. I add a little Cayenne as well (helps with shock/blood flow) and give 1tsp morning and evening for 10 days with amazing results.

    Of course, if the dog is seriously injured don't wait to take them to the vet! But for minor wounds this stuff has worked for me to help get my athletes back in training and to optimum health...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Mouse

Mouse is an older female who was Scott's main female for many years and is the mother of many good sleddogs! She's the sweetest dog in the kennel and will lay down for you to pet her, or sit on your lap on her house. But her sweet demeanor is just the added bonus: she vies with Jersey for the most vocal cheerleader in the kennel! Smooth and confident in her job, she's a gift to run...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Belle

Belle (spelled with an "e" at the end because she's a princess, not a ding dong!) is another Mouse puppy and Sweetwater's sister. She's a big girl and this is going to be her year! Some dogs just take some time and I was so excited when Scott said he was letting her go...she reminds me of her big brothers that are still in Alaska. Don't know if she'll ever be a leader, but she's solid in team or wheel.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Sweetwater

     So summer finally arrived, with 90 degree weather and after the nice, laid back spring runs until June, things have slowed down and it's time to get on with those introductions...

Sweetwater was one of Mouse's pups that I harness broke in Alaska. She was a crazy, jump on you type dog...with amazing force for such a small girl! She ran with Leila last year to complete the Two Rivers 200 and then Scott offered her to me. She's calmed down, but is very driven and one of those dogs that keeps an eye on you. I can't wait to add her to my list of leaders...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thoughts on Foot Care

    It has been said that, "No foot, no dog." And I think too often mushers settle for poor feet and blame it on the dog's foot structure or saying the dog just doesn't have tough feet...forgetting that it's our responsibility to keep our athletes in top condition. It's definitely something I did before I went to Alaska and learned proper foot care. And one thing I've learned is that sleddogs are much tougher than we give them credit for...so it's almost always the musher's fault if things are going well (probably should say...always!).
    First of all, I've come to firmly believe what Scott told me whenever this topic came up - "Booties ARE good foot care." This year I found learned my lesson there...
    My dogs had great feet through Eagle Cap and training but I made the mistake of not keeping to my plan and letting the dogs go barefoot for the last part of Race to the Sky...and several of the dogs that had not had any foot troubles for over 2000 miles got splits or nicks that could've been prevented. I also wonder if, with such a hard trail, the booties would've kept Mambo from getting sore feet - which had me bag him for the last twenty miles...
    So, I definitely believe in booties and using them unless the conditions are such that there is an increased chance of injuries because of booties. Fall training and early snow runs are the time to toughen up feet by using them less, since there's time to heal the nicks and cuts and conditions are so iffy, but once we're training long and hard in December I will put booties on for every run over 30 miles...even for shorter runs if the conditions are abrasive.
    In Alaska Aaron used a zinc cream called Ophir Gold. Scott told me this is no longer made, but that he likes pink ointment (a mixture of providine ointment, zinc oxide, triple antibiotic ointment, vitamin E cream and tea tree oil). This is the ointment I used all season with good results. After every run I went over every foot and applied ointment to the dogs with cuts, splits or abrasions. I also had a dog with rain rot and this seemed to clear it up as well (and make him pink!). It also helped with minor cuts the dogs might get on their nose from dipping snow.
    Over the season, using booties and the pink ointment, I was able to see wounds heal as we ran, which was very exciting, and none of the dogs ever seemed uncomfortable because of their feet or from wearing booties. 
    At Eagle Cap the vet told me that for splits straight providine ointment is best because it dries out the split and if you put a good amount on and put the dog in booties, a few applications can heal the splits. You just have to make sure you get the scab out of the way first.
    That's pretty much the foot care I do, until I learn how to do it better...the only thing I'd add is that I think nutrition also helps. The Bill Cotter's "Black pills" used in Alaska by a lot of mushers really helps the dogs feet/coat. I couldn't get them down here, but I did supplement with fish oil and I think it made a difference - and I didn't start until late in the season.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sixteen Dog Team

   I was reminiscing the other day and came upon some pictures of my first team. A four dog team. Gradually my team has grown bigger, but I always thought 12 was the limit to safely run down my driveway...until this spring. I hate to leave dogs behind and in order to run all the puppies-yearlings and adults, I had to start running a slightly bigger team - first 14 and then 16. What is pretty awesome is that many of these dogs I hope to take to the Iditarod in a few years...Could a few of these yapping puppies end up leading me into Nome? I hope so and can't wait to find out!

A 14-dog Team in March

A 16-dog string in May:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Meet the Dogs: Razz

    Looking over my previous posts, I realized I never introduced Razz, so here is a belated introduction! As summer gets underway, I'll be sure to introduce the little puppies, Mouse and the two new arrivals from Alaska...and we'll catch up with those puppies from last year, that aren't so little anymore!
Razz was a gift from Scott Smith and is one of the yearlings I ran in Alaska. He completed the Two Rivers 200 in Alaska as a yearling. The smoothest moving dog in the kennel, he makes up for his size with an always tight tugline. He's a clown, always playing with a bowl or a bone - whichever he can get! He's done a fair share of leading in training and I hope to see him mature into a steady lead dog someday.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Iditarod Qualifer #2: Race to the Sky

    Right after the Eagle Cap I was offered a chance to add to my nine-dog team from both Laura Dangereau and Billy Snodgrass. At first I was going to say no to both, preferring to work with my own dogs, although I was honored that both these experienced mushers would trust me to run their dogs through a 350 mile race.
    However, as I thought about it and ran the idea by Scott, I decided that it would be wiser to have two or three extra dogs. Even if they didn't work out, they would help for the first bit of the race and because the first 50 mile leg of the race is not continuous, there was a lot less pressure about dropping a dog.
    Then came the hard part: deciding who's dogs to accept. In the end I decided to accept the dogs from Billy because our training was extremely similar - down to the length of the last few runs! It was an encouragement to me as well, because if someone so experienced was training the same then I must be on the right track!
    Going to Alaska really boosted my confidence, but since few teams down here "train slow", it can be hard to stay focused.
    Between Eagle Cap and Race to the Sky my team peaked - they moved smoothly and punched out a seventy mile run like it was nothing...really picking up the pace.

    The Race to the Sky is handler assisted, which means that you can have a handler or two to help you in the checkpoints. I don't think my mom or I realized how big a job it was for one person - I believe she got less sleep than I did.
    This year the race started in Helena, with the first 50 mile leg starting at Camp Rimini and going to Elk Park (outside of Butte). The vet check was in downtown Helena and there I met Soggy Bottom, a huge black dog, and Lander, a nice sized cream female, who would race with me.
    Afterwards, there was a mushers meeting and spaghetti dinner before we went to our host family's home. I can't thank the Njos' enough for opening their home to us - it was good to get to know them and have a home for the weekend!
    Snow is, apparently, always a problem in Helena and this year was no exception. The parking lot was icy and the first mile was so bare (gravel in many spots) that the race marshal required handlers to ride on the sled for the first mile. And we were first out...

    I think it confused the dogs, having someone else on the sled, but perhaps Legolas remembered all the miles my mom used to run with me in years past. We survived the mile. I'm so thankful for my amazing leaders - at one point there was a switchback down to the road and a dead deer right on the trail which tempted the dogs to turn off the trail. Of course there would have been no stopping them if they went, but Mambo and Legolas heard my panicked "gee, gee!" and kept moving in the right direction. For a glimpse of the trail, there is a video on youtube -

    We started a pretty good climb into snow and for some time the trail was wide and well groomed - much like our home trails. But then we got onto some more alaskan-style trails - narrow, tree-lined and punchy. I hit a tree at least once and my wheel dog ran headfirst into one, but no injuries. Then, at the end, there was a steep, steep climb of the same narrow width and soft (warm!) snow. I just remember thinking that next year it was going to be fun coming down because on even years the race starts in Butte.
    I stopped and snacked the dogs when we were back on wide road and then got to enjoy the scenery for a few miles. The view was very pretty and I actually wasn't paying attention and drove right off the side of the road and dumped my sled...I'm sure my dogs were laughing to themselves, while Soggy and Lander probably wondered who the crazy girl on the sled was. Fortunately no one caught us while I was getting the sled back up.
    We saw a herd of elk on a sparsely snowed/icy section of downhill, but the rest of the run was pretty uneventful. I, however, was feeling pretty sick and the dogs picked up on it and weren't at their best when we finished - with a much slower time than I'd hoped. Still, I was glad the new dogs looked good and seemed happy and comfortable with my team.

    I had planned on running the Race to the Sky on what I considered a "yearling" schedule - what I would have done with the yearlings I trained in Alaska. The reason for this was not only that due to the shortened Eagle Cap we were going much farther than some of my dogs had ever gone, but also because it was going to set me up for faster run times. But my long run on the first day made me change my plan: not only did I have 40 minutes of additional start differential to take somewhere along the trail, I now had another two hours (if I remember correctly) of differential from the first leg - meaning that was extra time I had to take at Seeley Lake or Owl Creek along with the mandatory 4 hour rest.
    The dogs moved nicely on the first leg up Huckleberry. From the Jr Race to the Sky I'd remembered the first half of the run being much longer and the pass much shorter, but we made good time. I fed the dogs and rested short in Whitetail, meaning to be the first out of the checkpoint. Jessie Royer and Alea Robinson left right ahead of me and we never saw them again, but it was a nice night run. I was very happy with the dogs and although I knew the next leg was going to be tough - I'd now have to start that leg in the heat of the day - the dogs would have a nice rest to go off of.
    In my opinion the leg into Owl Creek was the toughest. The trail was great, but the mountains seemed never-ending. Perhaps it was because I could look back and see a team chasing us (who never caught us), perhaps it was because I got tired of counting the sets of cougar tracks...either way,  the dogs just chugged along. It had taken them a while to get into their groove and they were tired when we pulled into Owl Creek.
    I'd dropped Duke in Seeley Lake and I thought a short rest in Owl Creek, based on how they looked, would be fine - knowing we'd be taking a 6 hour in Seeley before the final 70 miles to the finish. At this point some of the dogs weren't eating so well and I figured it'd be best to keep them moving and let them eat in Seeley...and it might even widen the gap between us and the teams behind.
    My first mistake was probably changing leaders; but Zoomey finally got us out of the checkpoint and then I ended up putting my trusty pair - Mambo and Legolas - back in front (Legolas had single-led the leg from Lincoln to Whitetail). At least they enjoyed a little snack on the way out - someone had left dogfood scattered on their hay.
    It was dark soon and we worked our way up out of Owl Creek and had a nice run. For as long as my MP3 player battery lasted, I sang to the dogs and we just chugged along. I was very proud of them, especially when we pulled into Seeley Lake and no one had passed us.
    At Seeley Lake they instantly hit the straw and although a few didn't eat both meals, I knew everyone would make it back to Lincoln. I think Jersey and one or two others were a little sore, but I was more concerned about the bad diarhea we'd been battling. I think that was why we were having appetite problems and each leg more of the dogs seemed to come down with it.
    Something I'll do in the future is get the dogs up and walked around before leaving - otherwise their stiff and don't want to leave. I had a lot of trouble leaving Seeley, until we got about an hour into the run - then they looked awesome - and made the mistake of not booting all the dogs - something I'd kick myself for later when I saw the beautiful feet I'd maintaned all season with so many nicks in them. I had figured on it being hot and thought the dogs would enjoy some time without booties; not to mention that the dogs usually run a little faster without booties. 
    It's nice to see your dogs looking so great when they get warmed up. We had a rough patch a few hours in - I stopped to snack in a bad spot and the dogs weren't hungry and wanted to mess around - but we got moving again and I stopped for quite a few short breaks (not all on purpose - because Soggy wasn't pulling and I wanted to make sure he was just tired and not injured).
    Coming into Whitetail, which we would bypass, I was so proud of the dogs listening to my commands and running along the snowmobile trail off the plowed (and gravelled) road. The trail had been very hard the entire race and I noticed Mambo limping. The softer snow almost hid it, but not quite and before we reached Whitetail I bagged him and moved Razz, the youngest dog on the team, to lead with Legolas.
    It turned out that I was needlessly worried about passing Whitetail. The dogs didn't even balk and when we started the climb up Huckleberry they were a little surprised to find Mambo's extra weight in the sled but I helped them the whole way and with the wind and snow I think the temperatures dropped a bit and we didn't stop all the way up. I think it took us abotu 50 minutes to climb Huckleberry - and even poor, tired Soggy pulled in spots.
    At the top, in the blowing saddle, I stopped and praised the dogs. Jersey was jumping and the dogs followed suit - barking and ready to go. At this point we didn't set any records for speed, but their steady, indefatiguable pace kept us moving nicely.
    I realized, as we came to the last few miles, that I really shouldn't have worried about Billy catching us on Huckleberry (I thought I saw him behind us several times) - to have a team moving so comfortably is much more important. At that moment I didn't want the race to end.
    We came into a windblown field and the dogs navigated at my command, zigzagging across the punchy snow until they felt the trail. I was listening to the Peter Pan soundtrack just then and it brought tears to my eyes - it was a magical moment. Maybe it sounds silly, but I'll remember that moment when I forget the other details of the race...the bond of trust the team and I share, and the dog's amazing abilites made me realize, once again, that I'm the weakest part of the team and how God has blessed me to be able to enjoy a life with sled dog athletes. Again, I didn't want it to end.
    We finished, I said goodbye to Lander and Soggy - who both finished their first distance race with me and whom I hoped would make Billy's Canadian Challenge team - and returned to the Njos' for some rest. I don't know if I was very coherant...I was pretty sleep deprived.
    By the next day, the dogs were eating well and most of the soreness was gone. I felt pretty beat myself, but it must be miserable for them - having to sit in a dog box for so long, unable to stretch out. Needless to say, I took them on a few short walks.
    I mention the walks because there is something very special that I noticed while walking the dogs. Legolas led all of Eagle Cap and all but a mile or two leaving Seeley and Owl Creek for Race to the Sky. I've had him since he was a yearling and this year he led over 50 runs and probably the majority of the mileage we ran. While the other dogs wanted to drag me here or there (they are sled dogs, after all), Legolas walked with me and is focused on me. It's very special and it's not like Mambo or the other dogs aren't great leaders, but I think every musher has a special leader at one time or another and Legolas just might be mine...and if so, it will be fun to watch him get even better!
    Of course there was a race banquet and it was good to meet old friends and make new, as well as hear stories from the trail. I was surprised at how few and hard-working are the people that make the Race to the Sky possible. It is amazing and I'm so thankful for their hard work and enthusiasm.
    Finishing 6th out of 10 in the Race to the Sky was a good place to end the season, although I wished I had the time off work to do more races this season. The more I run dogs, the more I enjoy distance racing and am continually amazed by what our canine athletes can do. One of my favorite quotes from my Alaskan winter is from Scott Smith, "I know my dogs aren't the best in the world, I just treat them like they are." That seems to be a good philosophy for training and racing sleddogs.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Iditarod Qualifier #1: Eagle Cap Extreme

    The Eagle Cap Extreme was very welcoming from the begining. I'm so glad it was my first qualifier - not only because it was so well run and had me leaving the starting line very confident but also because the challenging trail and non-handler-assisted checkpoint allowed me to focus on the dogs entirely.
    An unexpected sponsor, Jim at Chandler's Inn supported me at the last minute - sponsoring my lodging! I was so grateful and he even came out to see the dogs and see me off; which was nice. There were also lots of grade school kids who came out to the Vet Check and Race Start. It was so special to see one little girl and Legolas; I've not seen him so friendly with anyone before! And then at the start the kids made signs and asked for signatures - just a lot of fun. Being alone on the trail so much; it's nice to get to share your experiences and the wonderful sport of dog mushing with so many enthusiastic kids (and their parents!).
    The afternoon start is great for spectators, but hard on the dogs because of the beautiful sunshine. The race started up a ski slope and I really had to help the dogs - as well as manhandling my sled to stay on the trail. Needless to say, I was soaked when we got to the top...and wondering if I was carrying too much gear.
    The next few miles of our first leg, 50 miles, was along a steep hill side and the trail, being a bit icy, tended to slope towards the edge. The trail was somewhat rolling and we got passed by a team and then caught up with another 200 mile team.
    Just when you thought the hills had levelled a bit; we came to a steep uphill. Here we ran with Chris Miller for a while; as darkness fell. His team was so well matched and they all seemed to be cookie cutter dogs - when I looked back at one point they were all in the same step so it almost looked like he had a 6-dog single string rather than 12!
    It was a long run. It took us longer than I'd expected; but I guess the heat really slowed us down at first. The fog rolled in, which didn't bother the dogs at all, but left me with my headlight on low as I tried to see the trail.
    We came down about ten miles into the checkpoint, Ollokot. There were christmas lights and almost too many people to help us find our spot! The dogs ate and bedded down and I was only taking a short break, so I ate and tried to get some sleep - which didn't happen because I was too awake at that point.
    The second leg was almost entirely in the dark - I'm sure the view would have been stunning, if only we could've seen it! We climbed up and up, I believe to about 7,000ft. The wind was blowing and snowing at the top, which reminded me of some trails in Alaska, except you were on top of a mountain.
    Towards the top we saw Jill Taylor coming back, which was a relief because it seemed to be never ending.
    There was a brief respite, coming down the other side to a dedicated volunteer in a tent who took our tags (rather than signing in/out) and then I stopped to snack (I usually snack every 3 hours). The way down the dogs really looked good...and then we hit the rain. According to my time, we were faster than I'd expected on the second leg and I was very happy that all nine of my dogs were going to finish the first half of the race strong - and looking forward to drying out at Ollokot for the 6 hour layover.
    All the dogs ate, but I'd noticed Duke limping coming in and decided to drop him - he ate and his feet were good but a sore wrist could easily turn into a more serious injury and he's such a hard-driving dog I didn't want to risk it.
    The hard part about the six hour layover was that I was tired, but it was daytime so I didn't get much sleep. Plus, everything was soaked from the rain. The poor dogs had soaked blankets and I wasn't much better.
    About halfway through the layover it was decided to shorten the race to 150 miles because of the excessive rain...which meant heavy, wet snow posing avalanche risk in the mountains. I was rather disappointed, because I wanted to see the whole race through, but it was my first distance race and I knew that even if it wasn't going to be a qualifier for me, it was still a great learning experience.
    The vet's checked my team and one of the vet's asked what I did to my dogs feet. I was afraid there was something wrong, so I explained the routine care I gave to them (not mine really - all learned from Scott). He smiled and said he'd not seen such good feet from any of the teams in the race! I think this might have been the highlight of the race for me - but at the moment I was a little too tired to properly appreciate the compliment.
    When we left Ollokot, I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. The dogs were slogging through slush and with eight left on the gangline I felt the disadvantage against a twelve dog team. But after the first five miles, we got to more snow than rain and the dogs picked up the pace. It was really a good run; I didn't realize until the end that we'd been pretty close to Jill and 2nd place about 14 miles from the finish!
    The most challenging part of the race was the last several miles. The sun and cool night temperatures left the trail icy along the extremely steep hillside - and my dogs insisted on running right next to the edge...and going fast! I almost went over numerous time and thought that I would die if we went over; I didn't think I'd be able to get the sled back up on the trail. To prevent us rocketing off the trail, I ended up running and pulling the sled on one runner towards the middle of the trail. The dogs were miffed at me; and maybe that's why they decided to have some fun going down the ski hill...
    We started out well enough, but while my brake did work on the icy trail I zoomed off the trail and flipped the sled. The dogs were patient enough while I got going again, but then I did it again - this time with the snowhook pinning the sled on it's side.
    I was so, so thankful for the help from some volunteers up at the top who helped me unhook tuglines to give more control and help me get going down the right direction - ON the trail.
    Nevertheless, farther down the hill the dogs decided to go straight down the slope - and there was nothing I could do to stop them. It was straight, but punchy and without the tuglines I was terrified that one of the dogs would get a shoulder injury.
    Laura Dangereau and Steve Riggs were waiting to see me in. I stopped the team in the chute and they said I could go up and praise the dogs. I didn't want to let go of the sled or get off the break, but Laura and Steve convinced me it was ok...I think I may have been in shock from the crazy ride down on such little sleep. But I knew even then that I would be looking forward to next years race...
    The dogs all ate pretty well and although they weren't lunging and barking, they were rolling in the snow and happy - so I was happy!
    Now it was really late and, driving down alone and not thinking I'd need a place for Friday night (because I'd expected to finish Saturday morning), I'd not booked a room for Friday night. I was still soaked and really, really appreciated the chance to get a hot shower and collapse in my damp sleeping bag on the floor of Steve's hotel room.
    Saturday was spent seeing to the amazing athletes - my dogs - and hanging out with mushers while we waited for the finish banquet. I really enjoyed the afternoon spent talking dogs with Laura and going to breakfast with Steve and Roy; I'd really missed all these friends last year when I was in Alaska...and it's always fun hearing about great sled dogs and past races.
    The banquet went late and I was touched by the amount of enthusiasm from the locals...and the surprise of getting the best cared for team award!
    I wish I had pictures, but not having a handler meant I didn't get any (and I'd probably have ruined a camera if I tried to take one!). But there are lots of great pictures of the race, including the Ollokot checkpoint, at the Eagle Cape Extreme website.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Preparation for Eagle Cap Extreme

    About two weeks prior to Eagle Cap, I finally got some camping runs on the team. We'd gotten a few long runs on (about 70 miles), but the camping had been hard. There has always been an invitation for me to go up to my friend Wendy and Steve's in MT and I was excited to finally get a weekend off to drive up for some training.
    Earlier in the season I'd attempted to go, but a broken trailer axle stopped me before I'd even gotten an hour from home!
    Needless to say, I was a little worried about the trailer axle even on this trip but my dad and older brother's repairs held...the entire season in fact.
    We got up there late on Friday night, and the plan was for me and Steve to run a 30, rest a few hours and run another 30 before  a third 30 mile run on Sunday - when I needed to drive home.
    The trail was snowplowed from their driveway for the first five miles or so. The dogs moved fast and I was on the drag a lot. Then we came to the loop, which was not groomed at all. I was kind of disappointed becase we'd broken trail all December, but Steve was kind enough to break trail for us and we had a nice ride down once the loop came back onto the road.
    The dogs bedded down on the line, but we realized it was going to be rough on the plowed, icy road to go a second time so at about 9pm we loaded up the dogs and went to the trailhead.
    Here the trail was snowmobile groomed and we had a nice run in the dark. It was a lot of fun. Steve did the loop once but I went twice to get the miles and it was so nice and cold - the dogs had a lot of fun and I did too!
    I'd planned to get up early to run on Sunday, but I slept in and we got out about 10am. Again, I ran twice and since Legolas had a sore wrist, I actually left him and Razz single led. I was pretty impressed with Razz, since he's not my main leader, that he stepped up and led single.

    Coming off of the camping, I decided to get one more camping trip in on our trails. The dogs were a little confused when I turned them away from the truck and bedded them down, but they figured out what we were doing once the food came out! Then they bedded down and I snuggled into my sleeping bag with Summer and waited for 3 hours.
    They left the campsite as if they hadn't run before! It was a decent run out to our turn around and then they really flew back - not sure if it was because of all the night smells or that they were just feeling really good.
    And that pretty much wrapped up our Eagle Cap training. We had over 1500 miles on at that point - and the goal I'd set was 1200; so I was stoked with my little 9-dog team!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April Training...brings puppies to the team!

    So before I finally get to the race stories; a quick update on training:
    The puppies have now had 15 runs on them - the longest being yesterday's four mile run. All seven are getting stronger each run and all three of the boys have led and didn't have any problems up front. Next week we'll see how the girls do up front...
    One of my favorite things about mushing is watching the young dogs grow up. The puppies are changing every run and you can tell when things start to 'click'. I really enjoy watching them settle down and
    This spring I've been running a 14-dog team, which is kind of crazy going down the driveway but thanks to two bags of dog food and, sometimes, my 'litter handler' (my sister) we've navigated down safely. Those extra dogs really make a difference coming up - even though they're just pups. It's also caused me to realize I should really turn in my "racing style" 4-wheeler for a 4X4 model with a rack so I could carry extra weight and have better control when I try going up the back hill into the mountains.

    In other news, I'm super excited about two new dogs to be joining the team from Scott's kennel. Belle and Sweetwater were just puppies when I was up in Alaska, but they are yearlings now and Sweetwater raced a 200 mile race with Leila this year. Since they are Mouse daughters, they should be good!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lost Team

     A musher's greatest fear is losing their team. A few years ago, I lost the team and they ended up in my county 4-H coordinator's longhorn cattle herd...by a miracle they went through the barbed wire fence without breaking anything (dogs or sled) and the cows didn't trample them. It ended well, but the frantic minutes (or hours - I can't remember) of tracking them down, all the while imagining that they had run all the way down to the highway and that my team was destroyed, will never be forgotten.
    One of the challenges of mushing is hours and miles spent all alone in the wilderness. Most places there isn't cell service, so I try to check periodically at different summits or saddles and see where I have reception in case the worst happens...but no matter how careful you are, accidents happen.
    Before going to Alaska, I confess that I had a great fear of going out alone with a team. But miles and miles on the back of a sled, and learning how to properly train a team, cured me - or at least taught me to worry less. One of the things you learn is that the more miles you put on a team, the better you understand your team - it might be the little things that make a difference in tough situations.
    Lots of heavy snow early in December made the dogs calm down a lot, which helped with control on iffy trails, and by the time we had a fast trail the dogs had been trained to the point that they didn't lung and jump until I put on my parka.
    But one day when the snow on the parking lot had melted almost entirely off, I unhooked from the truck and the dogs surged forward before I could pick up the snowhook. Where I parked the truck, I needed some speed to get around the snowmobile fence so I let it drag as I steered - barely missing the gate. And then the hook caught - and held fast.
    I'm so thankful that when the cable and rope mainling snapped, my wheel dog's neckline snap broke - else he may have had a neck injury. So it was he and I, while my eight remaining dogs went their merry way down the trail - seemingly unconcerned.
    I immediately took off after them, calling them to 'come haw' - which got their attention, but not enough to turn around. One of my leaders has a terrible time 'going' on the run, and this made the team pause long enough for me to catch up and get them turned around.
    Thinking they would go back to the truck, I let them go as I followed them back up the trail...only to watch them pass the truck and continue down the plowed road out of sight.
    I wasn't panicked, but I was afraid they would get hit on the road - there's not much traffic, but it's a narrow road. I left the sled, threw my wheel dog in the truck and headed down the road. I found them just out of sight, standing quietly in the road - apparently waiting for me.
    I kept hold of them and loaded each into the dog box; then back up to the trailhead to get the sled. I seriously thought about going home - but decided it would be best to patch up the line and run. For the next several runs, I was paranoid about my snowhooks and lines...but nothing else snapped.
    This is one of those experiences that will never be forgotten; and I will never forget to pick up the snowhook first!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Winter Training Tales - part 2

    We've covered moose, but before we finish up with the wildlife, I should talk about the wolves...
    First of all, I'm very disappointed with the reintroduction of the Canadian Gray Wolf because we already had native wolves in my area and the Canadian wolves don't belong here...our local wolves have been killed out now and the intruders have ravished our elk and moose populations. I could go on, but I'll just say that I miss the trails five years ago, when the woods had more elk, deer, moose and bobcats...
    That being said, wolves are still amazing creatures - I just wish they were left in the correct habitat; like Alaska!
    I watch tracks constantly - trying to see where the animals are moving. It's rather disconcerting to come upon fresh wolf tracks that are the size of your hand...makes you wonder what they would do to the dog team if we met.
    But they never bothered us; although there were times I had serious concerns about meeting a pack. However, one incident made me very upset. Anyone who knows dogs, knows that when they get bored they make trouble - chewing, fighting, etc. It's the same with wolves. When they're not in their correct habitat, they have too much time and they kill for fun (exactly like when a sled dog gets out and kills all the chickens, but never eats one...). People will dispute this, but I'd like to know how many of those who would dispute it spend a significant amount of time in the woods...because the fact is that back in the woods up the river there is a moose carcass that the wolves chased over the cliff and left without touching anything except guts. And here's the proof from my phone camera:
    But to get back to the important things...sled dogs!
    On this same trail, I discovered some goregeous loops. One I took, planning on a seventy mile run, I only made forty miles because we ended up breaking trail and I was afraid we'd gotten lost because the forest service trail markers weren't very good. But we also discovered a fun, thirty mile loop I started using - and plan to use more in the future - which I find refreshing and dynamic because you start at the river, inbetween mountains which are pretty narrow and shady (nice and cool for the dogs) and you climb out onto the mountains for this view:

The tall mountains in the far back are Silver Mt ski resort!

Just cruisin'

The faint hazy mountains are what we see from our house!
    So the end of this post is that, despite the imperfect wildlife management, I'm so thankful to have the health and ability to travel into the wilderness. It makes me realize how amazing creation is and how unique every day is - because you always find something new to appreciate and be thankful for.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The New Years Eve Litter

    I'ts been so long since I've posted, I'm afraid I'm out of practice a little...and very behind in the kennel news!   
    Spring time just isn't the same without babies! I'm much behind on introducing the six bundles of fur that joined the team on 12-31-12...the winter holiday litter.

The Boys
Frost - Is a goregeous boy and he knows it. A bit of a bully because he's the biggest - but I think the's going to be sweet like his momma!

Ghost - named from A Christmas Carol. He's super calm and friendly.

Jingle - one of the two little boys. He eats and eats and reminds me of his older sister, Midge, from Alaska (see previous posts on Scott's dogs)

Peppermint - named after his daddy, Pepperjack (see previous posts for more on Mouse and Pepperjack). His face reminds me of 'Pepper' and I hope he turns out just as great a sled dog!

Solstice - is just a little guy. He's had some balance problems, so the chiropractor had to do an adjustment on him and now he's doing better. He doesn't like being left behind and holds his own at the food bowl.
The Girl

 Being the only girl, Star gets two pictures. She is a show-off and momma's girl - following Mouse around and taking her cues from the adults. But don't let her fool you; she's up for a tumble with the best of them...and she is faster than her brothers on walks!