Wednesday, August 03, 2011

One more time with feeling

Since my first year in the North (1999), I have said that if I were independently wealthy, I would move to Haines, Alaska. This weekend though, my Alaska dream destination has changed. If I had oodles of money (that is to say, enough that I didn't have to worry about a day job. I know, I know, money's just money and it can't buy happiness and blah, blah, blah...I, of all people, know that much) I would live in Halibut Cove, Alaska. I don't know that they'd have me, but I'd sure try to weasel my way in. You can only get there by boat. There are only a couple of dirt roads with the main thoroughfare being boardwalks high above the water. The ocean, actually.
It is nuts.
I want to go to there.
Ah, but there would be no dog mushing...BUT I could build the free-range dog ranch I've always wanted...and I could write...and ride all the horses that are somehow over there...
I'd probably go all 'all-work-and-no-play' on everyone's asses, because it's quite secluded and only 25 people live there in the winter. But man, my first Halibut Cove experience was a good one. It's like a fantasy land. Hence, the above fantasy.
Anyway, enough gushing about it. Homer's cool too, with its roads and stores...
This summer has had some mighty big ups and some mighty deep downs, but that's life: up and down. In and out. Ebb and flow.
Work is still fun and challenging. I still love, love, love being part of something so important and unique. We're also getting ready for the annual Breast Cancer Run and soon after that, Iron Chef; a sexy, foody fundraiser for the clinic in, gasp, Halibut Cove! I can't wait to go back! The one and only restaurant there is a swanky place called the Saltry. It's spendy, but the food is good...worth it, even.
When not at work, I've been loose running the dogs to keep them happy and healthy. It's always hilarious and warms my heart to see the dogs running freely, getting along and peeing on every single thing in the yard. We've also run the team in harness a few times on cooler mornings and evenings.
I'm looking forward to winter, but I'm trying hard to enjoy every day, no matter what the season. We're not racing any more. Or doing tours. We're just going to enjoy the team for ourselves. I'm looking forward to  camping trips and exploring the area, but, like I said, I'm pretty happy with the warm summer days right now.
We've managed to get out on a couple camping trips and took a trip in early July for my birthday to Denali Park via the Denali Highway. It was a great getaway and it was nice to visit with friends I haven't see in a while.
I'm hoping there won't be such a stretch before my next post, but who knows?
Here are some pics from the summer so far...

 Doyon. And Ruby's butt.

 Saltry, baby.

 Happy in Halibut Cove.

 A coffee shop. See? I could totally live there. Take note of the yellow fisherman hanging on your left.

 A cool reflection.


Halibut Cove. 

 Visiting Heidi at Maclaren River Lodge on the Denali Highway. It was really neat to see the lodge in the summer. In the winter it serves as a checkpoint for a couple of races. The hospitality is second to none, no matter what the season.

 Roy loves road trips. He loves them so much, he ate the inside of the Subaru.


 Hiking around in Denali Park.

 Kathy and I. Kathy was in Alaska with her family and we managed to meet up for a night of Alaska Follies and reminiscing the good old Yukon News days.

The Savage River.

Summer. No, that's actually Summer. The blond dog running away...

 Fly fishing on the Anchor River.

Roy! Go camping!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mama said there'd be days like these

Happy Mother's Day tomorrow to all the mothers of two- and four-legged children. This is to my musher mom friends, many of whom don't have kids of the two-legged variety, who have wiped away puppy tears, gotten up in the middle of the night (and still do) to scare away the boogie man (moose) or to remind them that 3 a.m. is not play time; who have broken up fights and cleaned up poo (so much poo!), and (best of all) who have learned and loved and nurtured and played time and time and time again.We've fixed boo-boos, paced in the doctor's office, worried and put on a brave face when we're scared for them. We've tried to teach them that 'poop' is not a food group. We fret when they don't eat and have taken their temperature the hard way many times over. We are their family, vet, therapist, trainer, coach and best friend. We've watched our furry kids grow and develop and work hard and we are proud of them. We are mothers of sled dogs and we strive for happy, healthy, strong, hard-working, loving kids just like any mom would. Did I mention the poo? Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, April 08, 2011

I don't give a damn about my bad reputation

A couple weeks ago, whilst I was in Portland, I got a phone call from fast-talking television producer. His name was Jody and he is a producer for the Discovery Channel's show American Chopper. For those of you like me, who had never really seen the show, it's been on the air since '03 and it's about a father and sons and crew who build specialty motorcycles. They own a shop and make custom bad-ass bikes for a variety of people, mostly celebrities, I think. I had to do some research and talk it over with Rich and but we eventually decided that yes, we would take the cast and crew of American Chopper on a dog sled tour. Over the coming weeks I was in constant communication with Jody sorting out the details. And with each conversation, my stress level grew. That's just me. I love doing tours, but they tend to stress me out a little. We decided on Friday, April 8th at 7 a.m. Rich and I made arrangements with our respective jobs to come in late and commandeered a slew of handlers for the occasion. Fast forward to Thursday, the day BEFORE they were supposed to come. We had a close call with an ornery moose in the dog yard and then as I'm driving to work, I got a bunch of messages from Jody saying that they needed to do the tour today, preferably right now! Well, shit. I called him and said we both had to work and that we weren't really ready for it to happen until the next morning. He seemed a little desperate. I called Rich and our prospective handlers and asked them about bumping the tour to that evening. Everyone was on board! I called Jody back and said we could do it that evening. Anyway, long story, long, I was kind of a wreck at work, thinking about all I had to do in the two hours I would have before the tour after I got off. My super flexible and understanding boss let me go early and I raced home and started cleaning up, rigging sleds, etc. At around 7 p.m. I drove the quad to the top of the driveway (it's too slushy to drive trucks down right now...break up...) and waited. After a few minutes, I heard vehicles approaching. And then, my stomach dropped. Six big SUVs crested the hill and were coming toward me. 'How many freakin' people are there??' I thought. A lot, that's how many. No less than six (maybe eight) camera guys, sound guys, producers, creators, mechanics and, of course, Paul Teutel Sr., simply known as 'Senior' on the show. Rich and I were 'miked' up and 'Action!' There were a couple of staged shots. The first was Senior and crew walking into the dog yard and Rich and I standing there to greet them. Handshakes all around and then we launched into a talk about the dogs, sleds, what we do, etc. From there, Rich took Senior et al over to the sleds and talked about how to drive, safety stuff etc., while Katy, Jason, Kelly and I hooked up three teams of six dogs. We kind of jumped the gun on the hook-up because none of the camera guys were in place by the time we had the dogs hooked up. Oops. So there were several minutes of 18 dogs going absolutely apeshit and us standing there while the camera guys scrambled to get into position. So we finally took off. It was myself, then Senior, then some other dude whose name is failing me. They dumped a couple times and struggled to get up in the gooey snow, but they never let go! Amazing! Jason and Rich helped them up and off we went again. And again. And again. The dogs did three passes with different crew members and everyone, especially the dogs, did great. My team was Nova and Lahey in lead, Hitchcock and Doyon in swing and Maude and Audrey in wheel. The second team was Ku and Tim in lead, Lefty and Ruby in swing and Pancho and Dolly in wheel. The third team was Capiche and Strider in lead, Omar and Crush in swing and Drake and Hazel in wheel. We swapped a couple dogs out after the first two runs, just so everyone could have a chance. The dogs were superstars (as usual). We thought that, even though our little loop was short, the soft conditions and warm temps might tire them out a little. Not so. They seemed to get more and more amped up with each run. It was a proud moment for Spitfire Kennels. Rich and I did short on-camera interviews after the dogs were put away. I think we'll come off okay, but I am a little concerned about how we'll be portrayed. I guess we'll see. We just did what we do: run dogs and love life. Before they arrived I had even contemplated, albeit briefly, putting on a little makeup and wearing something I knew I wouldn't be comfortable in. I quickly came to my senses (I also quickly realized any makeup I still had was years old and would probably turn my skin green). I wore my smelly old dog bibs, a fleece jacket and a hat. That's me. Chubby and plain. No frills. And we like it like that! The crew left after two hours at the ranch. They were all happy and smiling and I really think they had a good time. I know we did. The episode it set to air in early May. Since I was wrapped up in the tour, I didn't take a single photo. But luckily, our friend Kelly took lots and some video. Thanks, Kel! Peace.

Camera guys.

Rich and I waiting for Senior to walk up the trail and greet us. I kept forgetting I had a microphone on....and I really can't remember what I was saying to Rich...uh oh...

Senior arrives.

He was quite interested in the dogs.

And the sled...I wonder what he's thinking...

He made it back relatively unscathed and kept saying what a workout it was. Now that I look at this photo, I think we could have at least moved the shit buckets...

Me talking to one of the welders, Mike. The whole crew was really nice and very interested in what we do.

Our friend and neighbor Matt skied down to check out the circus and offer up a hand. He got there a little late and we were just wrapping up. He got bit by Roy and skied home. Poor Matt. (Roy was having trouble controlling his emotions. He wasn't biting out of aggression, it was more of a 'what's up, neighbor?' bite. And we just found out that Roy bit him in the leg and the ass.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cool town, evening in the city

Well, as most of you could have already guessed, I am most definitely a country mouse. Cities are nice for a visit, but I start to get all itchy and twitchy from the abundance of stimuli around every corner. I can hang, though. For a week at the most. Last week I went to Portland with four of my cohorts for a conference on all things reproductive health. It was fascinating and I learned so much useful information that I was giddy. In the evenings, we'd debrief over fancy cocktails and unbelievably fresh and tasty vittles. It was heaven. But, I missed my dogs and my Rich. And my outhouse. The hotel we stayed at was a five-star joint called The Nines in downtown Portland. With their bazillion-thread-count sheets and evening turn-down service, I felt like a queen. A bloated queen (I ate a lot!), but a queen nonetheless. It was almost a little too fancy. One evening after our meal, three of us ventured out to find some nightlife. We ended up at a drag show talking to one of the performers who was from, get this, Soldotna! Soldotna is a small town north of us and not very conducive to guys who wanna be girls and vice versa, I'm sure. So Alli/Dustin ventured to Portland where she/he now performs nightly in sparkly outfits and a bright blond wig. I'm back at home now and we're gearing up for our last tour of the season. We're crossing our fingers that the snow holds for one more week, because out last tour is kind of a big one...more on that later... Peace.

A nightcap after a great conference day.

A greyhound that looked like Roy. This guy's owner thought I was freak, but I needed a Roy fix.

Oh, Portland.
Heading into Chinatown for dinner at Ping.

The view from the 14th floor of our hotel looking down onto one of the hotel restaurants.

One of the trains near our hotel. We were all very excited to see this message.

Michelle, Alli/Dustin, Theresa and me.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The wayward wind is a restless wind

March means a few different things for us here at the dog ranch. Usually it means warmer temps, which in turn means running dogs with fewer layers on. Last year it meant a huge blizzard that nearly trapped us in the cabin. March usually means getting ready for new summer employment with the dogs. And it means heading to Anchorage for the start of Iditarod. This March is a little different. It's cold, colder than it's been all winter. And clear. No storms in the near future. And no Iditarod start for us. Also, we've found jobs we love and will stay put for the summer months. The dogs, it seems, have gotten over their little stomach bug thanks to a couple rounds of meds and a switch in food, and are healthy and strong. This winter has been nice and relaxing for mushers and dogs alike. We've been doing tours on weekends and have once again been lucky to have great and interesting people visit our kennel. On days when we don't have tours and on weekdays after work, we've been running the dogs lots on the great trails right out of the yard. With the daylight returning quickly, March is already proving to be a great month!
I'd like to take a moment to thank Mark Atkins for his ongoing support of the kennel. Even from across the pond, as they say, his contributions have helped us maintain the dogs and even helped us get closer to our goal of spaying and neutering the whole kennel. Last week, we were able to get three more males de-balled. Lil' Wayne, Linus and Ty have recovered from their minor surgeries and are ready to get back in the team.
I head to Portland later this month for a work conference and am really looking forward to learning from, and interacting with, like-minded folks from across the country. My job is going better than I ever could have hoped, by the way. I'm enjoying the work and the people immensely.
As for this summer, I'd like to continue training the dogs on the cooler mornings with the ATV, do a lot of loose runs and even try some swimming with them. We'd like to get back on the race trail next winter and hopefully, we'll be in a better place financially to load up the team and get to a few events.
I guess that's it for now. Below are a few photos from last weekend of our friends Theresa and Hez out for a visit and a dog sled ride.

Rich and I hooking up. Lahey and her brother Lefty in wheel.

Theresa sporting the latest winter fashion: Painted on, hot pink snow bibs and a camo balaclava...we call it Homer Couture...


Rich demonstrating the puppy kiss.

Theresa and I ready for a cold ride.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I tried to do you right, why'd you have to go and turn to ice?

Bark! Bark! Arf! Ruff! Yip! Yap!
Ready? All right!
Now comes the sound of the sled brake on ice...I don't know how to write that.
The weather has not been cooperating as of late, but the show must go on, so Rich and I took out four, six-dog teams yesterday over the icy, hard-packed trails. Running small teams with weight in the sled is manageable, but still quite fast and very rough. We had our mid-winter thaw a couple weeks ago and shortly after the temps dropped but unfortunately, no snow dropped from the sky, so the trails were/are in less-than-desirable shape. Icy, hard, overflow with a ton of moose holes and ruts. We're taking it as slow as we can with little teams.
Easy guys, eeeeasssy...
Yesterday, we passed our neighbor head-on with our first two teams and then again with our second two. The second time we passed, we were leaving our narrow, windy trail which we affectionately call 'Swiss Cheese Trail' and our neighbor was coming home. We had waited to hook up because we knew he was out there and passing head-on on Swiss Cheese is, well, it sucks. But, we didn't wait long enough and sure enough, here he comes. Everything went as smoothly as we could have hoped for, including another pass with a loose dog that was running behind his team. Good dogs!
It's nice to get out there again and with snow in the forecast, it can only get better.
I am really, really loving my job and feel fortunate to be part of such an amazing community asset. Plus, I think I've finally got taking clients' blood pressure down.
Between the dogs feeling better, getting back to running, and loving my job and co-workers, I feel optimistic and excited for whatever the future holds. Whether or not we race this year is still up in the air, but I feel like the dogs' recent hiatus has done them a world of good and we are all loving life and having fun!
I hope you all are as well. Happy New Year.
P.S. Wherever you are, please do a little snow dance for us up here!
P.P.S. Thank you again to Mark Atkins for your continued support.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Her hardest hue to hold

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and is gearing up for a splendid New Year. Our Christmas was low key as usual, but it was nice to enjoy good food and drink with friends. Christmas day we hung around the cabin, cut firewood, ran dogs, made quiche and opened gifts. It was perfect. I'm getting ready to start work in the New Year and am really looking forward to it. It's been a couple years since I've had a 'real' job (read: one that requires showering on a regular basis) and I think it will be a nice change. Busier, yes, since I'll be running dogs in the mornings and/or evenings depending on my work schedule, but we're not doing super long runs so I think it will be manageable. All the dogs are running, though about half the kennel has picked up some kind of parasite so until we get it figured out completely, the runs are short. We've got meds on order and hopefully they'll be here this week so we can get the dogs healthy and get back to exploring the high country. Until then they're getting plenty of rest and eating a bland diet. We've done a few tours over the past month and have really enjoyed meeting new people and giving them the chance to experience dog mushing with us. Our friends Katy and Franny, who are working for Libby, have been coming over to help with tours and run dogs. They've been a big help and are fun to work with. I'm looking forward to doing some camping trips with them when the dogs are back to 100 per cent. Meanwhile, Rich is working hard on the new bottling facility for the winery and is enjoying being a bona fide builder.
I think that's it for now. Happy New Year from all of us here at the kennel.