Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eagle Cap Prep

    With the 200 mile Eagle Cap Extreme only a half a week away, only one more run remains until we get in the truck and head to the vet check. As you can imagine, I've been out training as much as the weather will allow...we aren't what I would call "behind" in training (especially considering I'm basically running a yearling team, since I've got 4 yearlings on the team the training has to be geared towards them).
    The first order of business, once we got on the sled, was to get some longer runs to prepare to go camping. These were more or less as I could expect - there were a few bumps in the road, but nothing too bad...except the weather.
    I think this is the first year since I started mushing that I've had so much ice/dirt to run on when I'm on the sled...but look at it this way - it's great training! On our first camping trip, I left the truck and realized that I was going to be skating the last 1.5 miles to the truck. For the entire run I contemplated having someone pick me up - driving the truck up the mountain to meet us - but I decided against it (it was a late run - didn't get in until about 9pm) and I was amazed to watch Legolas lead the team safely down the ice track. Yes, we came close to the bank - but he kept everyone moving at a safe trot.
    I find that I constantly underestimate my dogs. For example; after all the years I've had Lego leading me, I should've expected nothing less than that he would be smart enough to keep us safe...after all, that's what a lead dog does: find the best trail!
    But it's more than just his trail smarts. Sweetwater came back from having puppies and a month off to jump into 30 mile runs...and now she's leading the team...and is even better about picking a good trail on the ice than Legolas! Today as I ran the team, with Sweet leading, I was thinking about our history together and...well, I'll tell the story in a later post and get back to camping tales.
    When I'm out running dogs, I watch the wildlife movement. The wolves have moved in closer than I've seen before - they are so much like dogs; marking the trail signs and prominent trees...but I wish they weren't here,,,or rather, I wish the Canadian Gray wolf wasn't here - our native wolves were perfectly fine with me because they kept everything in balance. 
    Anyway, on our first camping trip there was fresh snow and fresh wolf tracks...I'm guessing we've got about a 3-4 wolf pack. Their tracks led away from our camping spot so I guess that's a good thing - I didn't really want to meet them. We did our 44 and then camped for 4 hours...Mocha and Brownie laid right down, but it took Biscotti and Kuchen a while to settle in.
    I like running at night - you just focus on the world in your headlamp light (which equals your dog team!) and try not to worry about the possibility of running into a's amazing how well they blend in! Fortunately we didn't run into any moose; except for where I was expecting them - there's a cow and calf hanging out about 5 miles from the trail head. I just saw her eyes shining at me from behind a bush...and the dogs just kept moving.
   Our second camping trip required me to drive up 3 miles to a slightly less icy start (a little flatter too). This time we did a 36, 3 hours rest and another 36. The triumph of this run was that they ran both legs within 1 minute...I was so proud of how consistent they were. Here's some pictures from camping (sorry they are not great - phone camera doesn't like to work well in the cold!):

My focus this year for camping/racing is figuring out feeding. I've had a lot of help from Scott, of course, but in the end I've come to realize that you have to use what you have and keep it simple. I'm actually looking forward to using a 3 hour schedule - if all goes as planned, I'll just look at the Eagle Cap Extreme as a bunch of 3 hour segments.

The above is from our 30 mile run today. We had a change of plans because of the weather and a long, slow trail breaking rather than getting in another camping run, this past week the dogs completed their longest runs to date - two 56 mile runs. While they weren't as consistent as I'd have liked; all 14 of the race team dogs made it through without injury - despite the warm temperatures and icy trail.

So the training for Eagle Cap is essentially done. The 12 dogs selected to race will hopefully get a short, fun-run on Tuesday to stretch out before we head down to the race...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Training Update

   So I promised a long post about what's been it goes!

   Usually by the end of November we get snow (2012 I was on the sled on Thanksgiving day). This year was an exception - we got snow, but not enough for a sled. Then it rained and turned to ice. We also got a lot of wind, which knocked down trees across the road. Needless to say, with the the steep trails from the house I couldn't run. For a little while I could run the driveway, but that only lasted about a week.
   About the same time, a few things happened. First, the Northwind Sled that I bought had to be taken to Montana to be repaired. Second, Mouse had 3 male puppies - Achilles, Nestor and Odysseus. Later, just before the snow/ice hit, Sweetwater had 4 puppies (3 girls, 1 boy) - Cinna (m), Katniss, Prim and Rue (f).
    With Sweetwater off the team, that left me thirteen dogs to load up to take to the trail to run. It might sound like no big deal, to take the 4-wheeler and the dogs...but I haven't gotten a truck yet, so my dog box is on a trailer. This means that to take the 4-wheeler and plus the dogs I actually have to load them all in our Suburban and put the 4-wheeler on a trailer. It makes me smile to think of the fishermen and locals who see us down at the trail - it must be hilarious to see me pulling lots of dogs out of the car! But it's great learning for the dogs and they handle it well.
    Another great thing that happened was that the first week in December we got really cold temperatures...and a little snow. I got to use my new Beaver mitts and gear up for below 0 temperatures (including windchill). It made me realize how much I actually miss the Alaska weather - the dogs could do without the wind but the cold was like a breath of fresh air for us all.
    During this time of driving to train we got two night 4-wheeler runs and one of those was doing a 22 mile run, resting a few hours and doing it again.
    Here's some pictures from December 3rd:

    Still, before too long we did get on the sled. Since then, it's been a battle between starting at the trail head or braving 3.5 miles of icy's really just the first/last mile or so of the run that gets pretty icy (or down to dirt). 
    Since the middle of December we've gotten quite a few good runs on - including two 40's (the dogs impressed me with their consistency - 5h2m both times)...and made our 1,000 mile goal for Jan 1st! So now it's time for camping trips...
    But before I finish up, there's more news!
    The longer I run dogs, the more I realize how I underestimate them. During November I checked the dogs feet, since we'd been so long on rocks and frozen dirt. Most of the dogs had worn pads or nicks, but I was impressed by the stoical attitude of the yearlings. They had by far the worst wear and tear - still having soft feet - and yet they were still the ones on the team most enthusiastic to go! Even now, though I have seen them at some of their worst with the change to the sled (as I've probably noted before, it's completely different movement on the sled), I don't think I've found their limit yet...they still pull the hooks and don't want to stop for snacks. 
    Also, Sweetwater is back on the team after 4 weeks off with puppies! She was going crazy and I took her on a run with the puppies/Mouse and then had the idea of throwing her back into the main team (you know, just putting her into the bag if she got tired). She made it 32 miles with a tight tug...two days in a row! She led with Urchin on yesterday's run and is very proud of herself...gonna have to watch out for her puppies.
    There's also been some challenges as we finished 2013. One of them was Razz. He's as amazing as ever, but the team dynamics are changing as the yearlings get older...and since he's taken a dislike to poor Urchin. This resulted in Mocha being seriously chewed up and having to take a week off to heal...and Urchin needing a few days off as well. Sad times...but everything should calm down the farther we go.
    I also miscalculated mileage on our first three sled runs. It turned out the be a good thing in the end, because I didn't (and don't) want to be going 11 miles per hour. With the corrected mileage, we were at 7.9 - 8 mph - exactly where we needed to be and I didn't feel so bad about Brownie's sore shoulder because it wasn't from speed...probably from all the moose holes in the trail. (Speaking of moose holes, what is better than watching a trotting team place their feet well and go for miles without stepping in a hole? To me it's amazing - and why I don't have my dogs loping all the time.)
    Even with the miscalculation, the dogs have been moving well. Maybe it's just running 12-14 dogs vs the 9 I had last year, but they are very consistent up and down hills...and usually faster on the second half of the run. Scott's training that I've been following really works! As more of the dogs start to trot rather than pace, they get more and more fluid. The focus this year has been on moving up hills, since last year I locked them down so much that 8mph was our top uphill speed. I have hope that we'll be moving better this year - whether it's just me or me and a second sled (basically doubling the weight) and whether I have 12 or 14 dogs, they move the same speed. Consistency is key!
    Earlier I mentioned the ice. I had a moment earlier in December to praise God for his protection. My trailer slid off the driveway and onto it's side. I was thankful that none of the dogs or sleds were hurt or broken...but even more thankful to have a great family (dad and brother) who came and got it unstuck. Praise God, it's built like a tank and is still roadworthy...just has a new dent in the front. However, I really hope to get a truck next year - I'm a little terrified at the bottom of our driveway now!
    Thus is the life of a dog musher...the ups and downs are all adventures along a most exciting path. I'm just glad the Author of it all gives me the strength and health to continue along the less traveled road - overall it's a lot of fun! Who knows what adventures God will bring my way this year...but I'll keep they'll be documented here!
    And, finally, here's some pictures from December training. Getting excited for the races! Just 3 weeks away from Eagle Cap...
One of the great things about getting on the sled is that friends and family are more likely to want to come along! My friend Kate, who has my first Siberian, Nakota (red dog), brought her and her puppy Cosmo (black) to run with the puppies on our first sled run. Glad Nakota's still going strong at 11yrs old!

I was going to go to MT to train with some friends, but ended up staying home. The next day I got into the trailer/driveway accident. It was also the day that I was supposed to take Emily, a young girl interested in mushing, for a ride. Not daunted, we still ran dogs that afternoon. 

The week before Christmas my family still didn't have a tree up...But aren't God's Christmas tree's out in creation even more beautiful? And, better yet, their there all winter - and always changing decorations!

Legolas, my beloved leader. What else can I say about him?

The snow gets good above snow line...

What???!!! How'd this picture get in here? Handsome sometimes feels forlorn and neglected when I spend so much time running dogs. So he spends his time as seen below (when he's not bossing around, I mean watching, dogs left at the kennel when I'm gone mushing):

On a Christmas Hike

But back to the sleddogs....

The day after Christmas. I was having fun because I have cell service most of the run...texting and driving - a dog team, that is!

Trees still in the trail...the dogs take all these obstacles in stride.

Urchin - Summer
Sweetwater - Mocha
Razz - Legolas
Kuchen - Biscotti
Mambo - Zoomey

I admit it, I'm spoiled...being out in God's creation with a team of dogs is amazing!!!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Years 2014!!!

    Wow! Is 2013 over already? It's been a busy end of the is going good. A long update is in the works but in the meantime, enjoy your News Years and here's some pictures from today's 24 mile run:

And happy 1st birthday (yesterday) to Mouse's Pepperjack puppies! These are old pictures from the end of November (snowhook conditions aren't great, so I can't stop to get updated ones because they don't like to stop!)



Frost (and half-sister, Belle)