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!

Winter Training Tales - a series of stories

    Before I get into the race stories, I figured I'd compile stories from training - since that was what the dogs and I experienced the most. It might seem like a waste, 1500 miles of training for 500 miles of racing, but I run dogs because I love to run dogs and I remember Scott telling me that it's not worth entering a race if you're not prepared...and I agree. When you run your dogs enough, you know if they're even a little bit "off" and being able to read your dogs just might prevent a serious injury in a race when you're exhausted and not thinking as intently as you usually do.
    Moose used to be one of my biggest fears; when I was younger I was terrified of them...sure my team, sled and I would get trampled each time I saw one. Now I'm not terrified, but I'm often reminded that they aren't an animal to mess around with.
    During fall training, with the 4-wheeler motor on, we really didn't need to worry about wildlife much. We have enough hunters in the area that the wildlife stays pretty low until snow hits. We did have some amazing run-ins with a herd of elk living in the mountains behind us. We came around a turn and basically had to stop and watch a herd jump across the road in front of us...amazing sight!
    Closer to home, we saw a cougar - probably the same one I saw when I was jogging last summer - and fresh cougar tracks in the snow as winter began...but the dog / cat thing still seems to hold true.
    The moose seemed to band together more this winter than I've seen before...probably because of the wolves moving in. Three bulls, two of whom I nicknamed Comedious and Macho because I saw them so often I could tell them apart, liked to hang out on the trail every morning - but they moved off when we came up...even when the cows moved in.
    Cows and calves are the most dangerous, and one day when we came around the corner where a cow and her yearling calf had been hanging out, the cow went up the hill and the calf went down the road. The dilemma - you never want to get between the cow and her calf. And, of course, Razz was leading and he thinks moose are food...
    Another time I was at the river and saw a cute calf laying down across the river. When I looked up the trail, there was momma! She moved away, fortunately, and got off the trail a short ways later.
    Sometimes we chase them for a while - which worries me because you never know if they'll get tired of moving and turn around. But it is a beautiful sight - moose are such powerful, fluid animals. I can understand why they survive so well here!
    In the dark in December, when we had so much snow that the moose were using any trail available, I saw two eyes shining ahead of us in my headlamp. The moose are so dark that sometimes all you can see is their eyes - but the smell is unmistakable. He moved up the trail for some time and went off the trail into the trees right at our turn around. You can be sure I didn't hang out at the turn around for him to see what we were up to!
    On the same trail, we had a moose burst out of the bushes right in front of us and trot down the trail - which made me laugh because she obviously scared herself just as much as she surprised us...and the dogs just kept trotting like nothing happened! Just a few miles later we rounded a corner to find a big momma moose bedded down at the side of the trail. I thought she'd move off, but she stood there shaking herself and I was so thankful that I'd taught the dogs 'come-Haw' and that they took it - because it wasn't a situation I wanted to prolonge!
    And then there was the big bull that we saw one the way up and down the same trail - he obviously didn't think we'd come back down the same way!
    But the most exciting moose story from this season - and the scariest experience I've ever had with moose - was the day before I left for my first race. I had almost not let my mom come with me - because I'm used to training alone and wanted a short, fun run for the dogs - but now I know there was a reason for her insisting on coming - to help hold back the sled!
    The dogs ran fast, even with the extra weight (which wasn't much extra because I always train with weight), but at the corner before the parking lot (about a stones throw from the trailhead...which makes it all the more annoying!) a young cow and two calves were standing contentedly in the trail. I yelled at them, the dogs barked...and nothing fazed them. I tried firing into the air, but she didn't even flinch.
    At first I laughed, but when they continued to stand there - for about twenty minutes - my mom and I thought we might be able to get by...because the trail was wide and they weren't scared at all (I really think I could have gone up and pet her - she was so unconcerned) bad idea and now a lesson learned.
    She but her head down and ears back and came within ten feet of my leader - who didn't care about her at all; he just wanted to get to the truck. Again, thanks to the 'come-Haw' command, we got turned around and gave her some space. Eventually (not in any hurry!), she moved off and we got by.
    The other thing I learned during that encounter is not the "baa" like a goat - the moose actually seemed to like the does NOT scare them!
    Well, that's all the moose stories. This ended up longer than I thought so I'll continue 'trail tales' tomorrow...

It's been a long time...

    Wow! Has it really been so long since my last post? I confess that I've been putting it off...I'm going through serious post-season withdrawal and knew writing about the good times would make me restless when I couldn't be running! But today I ran our first spring run on the 4-wheeler and decided I'd better get the stories written down while everything is fresh in my mind.

    Throughout the season, we logged over 2,000 miles - my nine dogs and I. Nothing went quite as planned or expected (but, hey, that's mushing!) and we were able to complete both races we started - which means we just need one more Iditarod qualifier!
    I've been thrilled to watch Scott's training philosophy work and we'll be training the same way again next year. Dogs I've run for a few years grew leaps and bounds; Legolas in particular who led all but 2 miles of the 500 miles of racing we did this year - 50 miles in single lead.
    The more I run dogs, the more I enjoy it and realize I could never go back to sprint racing...there's something particularly awe-inspiring about watching your dogs work. You realize you're the weak link and if anything goes wrong; it's your fault.

    The highlight of the season, in my mind, was a mile from the finish of the Race to the Sky. It was afternoon, snowing softly and the Peter Pan soundtrack was playing on my MP3 player. Mambo was in the sled and I'd put Razz (the youngest on the team) up with Legolas. They had just climbed a seven-mile pass without stopping - through drifts and wind with the extra weight of my biggest dog in the bag - and then down the other side. When I stopped at the top of the pass, they were jumping to go!
    Nearing civilization, we crossed the road into a field of drifted trail. The markers weren't good and I wasn't quite sure where to go; but saw a lone marker and directed the dogs towards it.
    They lost the trail and floundered until they found it again, as I called them 'Gee' and 'Haw' - intent on finding the trail they snaked across the field in perfect order until we were back on track. It brought tears to my eyes - seeing them so comfortable and trusting when they were tired and the trail had been changed from the outbound route. It might seem a silly story, because I can't adequately explain the bond between a musher and team, but the moment will remain in my memory forever...