Saturday, December 27, 2008

25 Dec 08

I had intended on running tonight and when I woke up at 2 PM, it was snowing fairly heavenly. While still in bed, I called the local time and temp and the forecast was for 2-4 inches. I looked outside and we had more than 4 inches and there is no sign of it letting up. I hurt my good knee on the run last night and my right ankle and left shoulder are sore. Something deep in my gut tells me to give the dogs the night off. I call Mary and explain everything and she says “it’s your decision”. Not much help. After mulling it over, I decide to follow my gut and call off training and let the dogs have the next four days off to recover from any sore muscles. If I have them I am sure they do also.

The bonus round is I get to spend some time with Mary. When I work the night shift, I don’t see her as she is going to work when I am coming home or vice versa. It turns out my decision was a good one as the snow continued until about 6 AM on the 26th. I have over a foot and a half of snow in the driveway. That would be a great deal of snow for the dogs to have to break through. If this were a race that would be different, but this close our debut, I can’t afford an injury.

24 Dec 08

Yes it’s Christmas eve and we need to get a longer run in. The Knik 200 is 11 days away. Realizing I am still on the night rotation from work, I make it to the 6PM Christmas mass. There is a 9PM, Midnight and 10AM (Sunday) mass. The 6 PM is the best one for me to keep on the night schedule and not rush training.

Mary waters and collars the dogs. I am re-loading everything into the dog truck as it had to have a sensor for the blower replaced the previous day.

Apparently Bear and Cyphers had a difference of opinion and got into a scuffle. They are kennel mates and Bear looks after Cyphers as Cyphers is Bear’s little brother. Cyphers, who is taller than Bear, got the best of bear and injured Bear’s front left paw. It must be injured because Bear is sitting looking at me holding his paw off the ground. Not good this close to the race. So Bear is off tonight.

I get to the track and tell Mary that we should be out about 10:45 PM and will should be home around 7 AM. She tells me Bear is moving around the back yard fairly effortlessly. This is good news for the team.

There is some fresh powder on the trails and they haven’t been groomed. It looks like one other sled has been here before me. The run was planned for 50 miles. Realizing there is fresh powder on the trail, the run is going to be slower than normal. I keep Luna up front and try to use Mae, but she has decided in the last week she doesn’t want to lead. My only other leader on the team is Zia who is in season. Zia is a back-up leader and still lacks a little self confidence when she is up front. I have a few girls between the leaders and the boys, and we have the trails to ourselves, so I move Zia up front. It was a slow run and Bear’s leadership was missed, but we made it through. We broke trail for a few miles here and there and I decided to call it a night after 45 miles. With all of the trail the dogs had to break, I figure they made up the last 5 miles. This was our longest straight through run to date.

Chugiak 50 - Heat 2 (21 Dec 08)

We arrive at the track and get set up. Today we decided to water at the house and then load up and go to the track. This builds in a little time at home. The plan is to do the same thing as yesterday, but with 50 pounds vice the 35 pounds of weight in the sled.

We follow Christine, but the dogs aren’t going as fast as yesterday and 8 of the 13 have pooped in the first mile of the race. This slows us down and the junior musher catches us pretty quick. I see her approach and let her pass. Then Wayne caught us after 2 and half miles. Now that everyone is in front of us, we settle down and get into a nice pace. Much better than yesterday. Remember we are not sprinting and have a higher objective for this race.

As we drop onto Clunie Lake the layer of fog is pretty thick. This is great as your competitors can’t see you. The run is very enjoyable and the dogs are working well as a team. After about 19 miles, I noticed Alli is doing her best to keep up with the team, but having to work really hard at it. Then she slipped her collar. I stop the team and put her collar back on and off we go. I keep an eye on her and although she is running, she is still having to work a little harder to keep up with the team. She isn’t limping. I think about bagging her, but want to watch her for a little while. We drop onto Beach Lake for the last 2 and half miles of the race and Alli slips her collar again. Hmmm. She isn’t limping and is very cooperative when I put her collar back on. Off we go. We get back to the truck and I tell Mary what happened and that Alli should go home with her and not back out.

Once again we finished strong with a time of 2 hours and 48 minutes. Our total time was 5 hours and 45 minutes.

Realizing the dogs have run 75 miles in a 27 hour period, I decide to only go out for a 10 mile run. This way I can get Bogey out and run straight through.

Once Mary got home and was able to walk Alli, she stared to limp. Mary fed Alli and off to a crate so she wouldn’t further injure anything.

Chugiak 50 - Heat 1 (20 Dec 08)

The team consisted of Bear, Luna, Gabby, Amizette, Timber, Mae, Thursby, Lasar, Hawkeye, Tolby, Cyphers, Alli and Velma.

This race is 25 miles each day.

Mary gets everyone fed, watered and collared in the morning. We load the dogs and double check all of the equipment and off to the track. We arrive at 11:30 and get the dogs dropped and watered by noon. The race starts at 1PM. As I sign up there is only one other musher entered. The musher is Christine Roalafs and I see her and her handler out at the trails at least once a week. Christine is fairly new to distance mushing but has a 200 miler under her belt from last year.

I talked with her earlier in the week about this race and told her my plans were to run the 25 mile heat (with about 35 pounds of weight in the sled), feed the dogs and then go out about 3 hours later for another 25 mile run. She asked what my thinking was and I explained that, my focus is getting ready for the Knik 200. Since the club asks those not racing to train in another area or come out after the race is over, I wanted to take the opportunity to utilize the trail close to home , get some race experience for the dogs and support the club. I am still on the night rotation due to work. The back to back runs will help condition the dogs recovery system and will get them used to what they will see on the Knik race, although the distances will be longer. Since Christine is running the Gin Gin 200 on Dec 27, she said she would do the same.

The driver’s meeting started at 12:45 and Christine and I are the only ones signed up for the Chugiak 50. The Chugiak 32 (16 mile heats each day) is being held simultaneously with our race. There is a junior musher entered in the 6 dog class and Wayne Curtis signed up for the Purebred class.

The timer counts down and off we go. The dogs are in chase mode and I am standing on the drag with both feet. I look at my GPS and we are hauling ass at 16.5 MPH. Way too fast for distance dogs. At about a mile and half into the race, I catch a glimpse of Christine and won’t see her again until we drop onto Clunie Lake. The junior musher catches me around the 3 mile point and we coordinate for a good spot to let her pass. She is pretty quick with her 6 dogs. About a couple of miles later, Wayne comes up and I let him pass. The team is still in chase mode and I can’t get them to settle into their pace. I think I pulled a calf muscle by standing on the drag. You would think the 35 pounds in the sled would have helped.

I follow Wayne around Clunie Lake passing him once and then getting re-passed. I want to stay behind and let the dogs catch their breath. The pace is still too fast, but the team needs to learn this and compensate. After 9 miles, I stop the team and give them a breather and let Wayne get further ahead. The desired affect was achieved. The dogs settled down and now we are running the pace I want. I just hope they have enough gas to maintain this pace. They get a little slower and I give them a few rest breaks, mostly to roll in the snow and cool down.

We finish strong with a time of 2 hours and 57 minutes. Not too bad for their first race.

Mary helps get everyone fed and 3 hours later, we are back out. The team had the trails all to themselves. It was quiet and great. This run took us around 3 hours and I had everyone back in their kennels by midnight.

Christine took a fall getting onto Clunie Lake and hit her head. She opted not to go back out.

I hooked up Bogey and Zia for this run. Zia didn’t race because she is in season and that’s just asking for trouble. Bogey is recovering from a shoulder injury and isn’t at the 25 mile distance yet. I coordinate with Mary to meet me to drop Bogey off after 10 miles and I keep Zia for the whole 25 mile run. By having Mary meet me on the trail, I don’t have to take the dogs back to the truck. It’s very demoralizing for the team to go to the truck to drop a dog off and then have to go back out.

This run took us around 3 hours and I had everyone back in their kennels by midnight.

19 Dec 08

We have our first race of the season tomorrow and Sunday. The race will be more to support the club and to get experience for the team in a “race type” environment. We are not out to win, but to maintain the same pace we will for the 200 mile and longer races.

Since the feed store in Palmer finally received their shipment of lamb, I need to run out and purchase that for the dogs. I also need to take the lamb from Palmer out to the other side of Wasilla so it can get cut.

Let me jump ahead to Monday. When I pick up the lamb, I find it was a good move as the lady cutting the meat is trying to open up a store for mushers, however she still has to keep her full time job to keep a paycheck coming in. After talking with her, I find out she is Lance and Jason Mackey’s Mom and is really supportive of the mushing community. I look forward to supporting her efforts.

15 & 16 Dec 08

Since I am working the night shift on 17 and 18 Dec, I am running at night which is good training for the dogs and myself. I have the trails to myself, for the most part, and we have two uneventful runs.

I am still a little leery about seeing a moose, but that doesn’t stop us.

We ran 40 miles on the 15th and 30.5 on the 16th.

14 Dec 08

This was a planned day off realizing we trained on 10, 11 and 13 Dec and will train on 15 and 16 Dec. This worked out since I spent about 8 hours with the Fort Richardson Game Warden / Conservation officer. I realized I needed to notify the conservation officer about the warning shot and the attempting shooting of the moose. In addition to filling out a mound of paperwork, recounting my story and providing statements for Fort Richardson and the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game I had to take the conservation officer out to the site of the stomping. The moose was still there. The conservation officer used his binoculars and ascertained that the moose was in deed a young bull which recently dropped his antlers and that I did in fact hit him in the front left shoulder. If I had moved the gun to the right, I would have killed the moose. The Conservation Officer ruled this as a text book “Defense of Life and Property”.

13 Dec 08

This could be titled: 1. Eat Moose, can 10,000 wolves be wrong. 2. Those that have and those that will and everyone eventually will. 3. God loves sled dogs.

Earlier in Oct, I had a run in with the same cow moose twice in a two week period. Each time I had a different set of leaders and almost lost them. For those doing math in public, I would have had 4 leaders stomped.

The plan is to take the 14 dogs on the sled with no weight in order to have a positive experience for all and make up for the 11 Dec run. Bogey is nursing a sore wrist and Apollo is still recovering from a front shoulder injury, so they will stay at home.

The first 5 and half miles go great. As we round the northeast end of Clunie Lake I plan to take a right and run on Ft. Richardson’s training areas. The roads aren’t plowed and we can go longer distance without repeating the same trail. Running 14 dogs makes the gangline quite long and as you come around a bend you can’t always see your front end of the team. This holds true in this case. Coming off the lake Bear and Luna take the Gee and all seems well. They round the bend and start to charge up the small hill to the connecting road. As the sled rounds the turn I see a moose coming down the middle of the gangline even with my leaders. Her ears are back and at any one time only two feet are on the ground. The other two are kicking in all directions. She comes down the middle of the gangline passed the first 5 sets of dogs and then steps about 2 feet off to the right of the team. At this point I get the hooks planted and fire a warning shot. The goal was to get everyone to stop moving and let the situation dissipate. The moose remained two feet off the right side of the dogs between the fifth and sixth set and was staring right at me. When it appears that everyone is calm, the moose puts her ears back and then takes off back across the top of the sixth set of dogs, which happen to be Lasar and Hawkeye. Both boys hit the ground and do their best to get out of the way. At this point I lowered the gun and fired in the direction of the moose. The moose didn’t flinch as I fired and didn’t run off as if she had been hit, so I thought I’d missed. She stopped about 10 feet off the left side of the team between the wheel dogs and the sled and looking right at me.

After a couple of seconds, it appeared she wasn’t going to come back, so I double check my snow hooks and then go forward to check the team for injuries. There are no physical injuries, but now I am worried about internal injuries. Everyone seems fine. I go to the back of the sled to ascertain whether I did hit the moose or not. I am about four feet behind the sled looking at the moose and then Mushing Rule #2 comes to mind. Never get out of position of your sled in case the dogs pop the snow hooks. I realized I have violated rule #2 and think about securing the sled to a tree. I try to get a quick look at the moose and see if I did hit her. No blood on the snow, no red blood on a very dark brown hide. Maybe I missed. Then, I hear the sound of 2 snow hooks being drug through the snow. For those that have ever been in a car accident you are familiar with the sound metal on metal makes and the associated shudder you have when you hear it. There is also a sound when you hear your snow hooks being drug through the snow and the associated pop when the dogs get enough power to break them loose.

Thus I hear the sound and make the dive at the sled hoping to catch any part of it. After the slow motion dive and coming up empty I hear the hooks pop and off they go. I chase after them yelling “woe”, but to no avail. If it’s any consolation, a couple of them did look back at me.
Now I am concerned about my team. Although we have trained out here before, it’s anyone’s guess where they may end up. They are heading toward the main road that links the ranges to the back side of Fort Richardson. Although it is a Saturday, there is still the chance of some road traffic as well as the team getting tangled in the gangline or tuglines and hurting themselves. We won’t talk about the two wolf packs that roam out there.

My first thought is to call Karl and see if he can help find the team. I worked with Karl for 8 and half years before he retired and was hired on to work the back ranges where I train. Karl is a great friend and was our dog sitter back when we only had four dogs. Needless to say Karl knows the area where the team is approximately at and is quick to drop everything and make a run out. I then call the Military Police desk and explain to them what happened and ask if the conservation officer is on duty and if he were in a position to help. I get a call back and the conservation officer is working his way toward me. I then call Mary, who is coming back from watching the Sheep Mountain Race, with Jill, and picking up my new sled. They are about 45 minutes away from Fort Richardson, but would get there as fast as they could.

Approximately half hour later, I get a call from Karl and he has the team. Apparently an individual driving out in the area saw the driverless team stopped and went over and stood on the brake. The team was perfectly lined out. Karl shows up and the guy explains what happened. Karl assured him he did the right thing and knows who the team belongs too. At this point, the dogs see Karl and get excited to come over and say hi that they tangled themselves into a big knot. At this point, I am still walking and am about 5 miles away. I see a small truck approach and pass me and then it turns around. I flag them down and hitch a ride. I show up and Karl, the conservation officer and the guy who found the team are all there. I start untangling the knot and everyone looks ok. I thank everyone and then get the team moving back toward the truck.

I want to get the team home and further check them for injuries.

11 Dec 08

The plan is to break the team into 2 smaller teams. This is necessary for several reasons. 1.) Zia is in season and I can keep her away from the in-tact boys. 2.) This is our first run on a sled this year and we don’t want to get in over our heads in case we can’t hook down. I remember from yesterday’s run that there were a few places where there was only an inch of snow or so. Not too many places, but enough to make me cautious.

The first team has 7 dogs and a majority of the rookies. Needless to say there isn’t enough experienced dogs to put with the rookies, so I have to do more babysitting and make sure everyone gets along. The boys know there is a girl in season, but don’t know where she’s at. I have a 30 pound bag of cedar chips in the toboggan and off we go. The temps were a bit warmer than the last few days and the trail was soft due to some fresh snow. Although it was our first time on sleds, I don’t expect the same results as the 4 wheeler, but this was a very painful run and almost not enjoyable. The boys weren’t working as a team and it became very frustrating. We’ll see how the second team does.

I get the boys back to the truck, watered and put in their boxes and then hook up the girls and Lasar. Lasar is 6 years old and neutered and doesn’t seem to be affected by Zia. He is just happy to be running. I put Lasar at wheel and Zia at lead with Luna. This team only has six dogs and after the trail conditions I just observed, I take the weight out of the sled. This was a much more enjoyable run. Five experienced dogs and one rookie. This was a great run and put me in a better mood.

The trails look pretty good and from here on out we will be on sleds as long as the snow doesn’t melt. Today’s run was only 10 miles.

10 Dec 08

As I unload the four wheeler, I see Eric Rogers setting up his sled and getting ready to hook up 10 dogs. Eric is always willing to share information and is very approachable. He has run 2 Iditarod’s and training again for 2009. I chat with him about trail conditions and to find out if the trail will support a snow hook. He told me he had no choice but to go to his sled as he broke the axle on his trailer and doesn’t have a means to get his four wheeler out to the trail. I watch him go out and get jealous. He send me a favorable trail report.

Our training run was good. The dogs were pulling and having fun. I think tomorrow we will go to the sled. Today’s run was 35 miles.