Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Assume nothing, you silly twit!

Ok. So, here's my very best SJP impression with an Alaskan twist:

In life, we make choices every day. And as we mush down this twisted trail, there are many obstacles to avoid. There are forks in the road and, on occasion, we choose the right path, but sometimes we take the wrong way and are stuck traveling over thin ice. Once in a while, you can turn the team around and get back on the right track, but only if you're a little lucky (ducky). So as I try to slow down around the sharp corners, I can't help but wonder: did I leave the oven on?

Ta da! Thank you, thank you. Now. Down to business. The reason for this post.

WANTED: A handler for the Chatanika Challenge March 9 and 10.
You must be kind, you must be witty
Very smart and fairly pretty... that's not right.
So, I do need a handler. Basically someone at the start and finish with the dog truck. Moral support would be nice too as this will be my first distance race and I'll be scared out of my mind. It doesn't pay anything except my undying gratitude because I can't really do it without a little help.
Pass it on and email me if you're interested. For friends on the Outside, if you were thinking about coming to Alaska for a visit...March would be a lovely time...wink.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Good news for people who love bad news

So, like I said previously, Sam and I went into the White Mountains on Sunday. I took 10 dogs and we went to 32 miles (to Moose Creek cabin and back). We stopped at the cabin to have a sandwich and some coffee (meat snacks and kibble broth for the dogs). It was really, really warm and overcast. The trail was nice and there weren't that many people out there, so it was a really pleasant day. I had a couple of major tangles, one with Phil Joy, a Quest musher who we tried to pass head on but his leaders, instead of going around my team, plowed right up the middle. I ended up letting about half the team loose just to untangle all the lines. Then, leaving the cabin, Sister turned around into the team and got all tied up. Another lesson in patience for yours truly.
Anyway, here are some photos that Sam took of me on the trail, at the cabin with Hazel on the kitchen table and feeding at the break with Gus jumping up to get his lunch.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Get outta my team Phil Joy!

I did not freak out on the waitress at Boston's. Believe me, I have freaked out on service people in my life and this was not one of those times. I will not return to that crappy, jock-filled, chain restaurant/lame bar in my life. LAME! Photos and stories from our trip to the White Mountains yesterday. Me on a dog team and Sam my moose-scarer-awayer on a snowmachine.
Stay tuned.
Oh yeah, the waitress who said I freaked out is Sam's new photo intern. Oops. I was in a hurry, she couldn't figure out how to take the green paper stuff I was giving her and give me some more green paper stuff back. Not my problem. I asked her to hurry up because my husband had run out of gas and was sitting in the cold waiting for me to come to the rescue. She got all squirrely and I didn't tip her. There. Does that sound like a freak out? No. There was no foul language and I'm 99 per cent sure I didn't even raise my voice except over all the jocks chanting at their favourite (random sport) team on the big screen. Yuck.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Holy Boardwalk, batgirl!

Last night Meg had a hankerin' to play Monopoly. Wait, it gets better. So, her and John went to the village to find a used a copy of the game. They found two. One was slightly heavier according to John so they bought it without actually opening it for 99 cents, what a deal! When they got it home and had the ol' 'I-want-to-be-the-shoe debate' they opened up the box and what to their wondering eyes did they see?
Well, the box was heavier because there was dried up play-dough in there. When they opened the board they were flabbergasted to see that some Jesus freak had whited out all the property names and prices and replaced them with biblical names. For example, there are disciple names, and places where Jesus preached or built bookshelves...whatever he did. Here are some choice examples: 'Peter denied Jesus three times, pay $10' and 'You gave a sacrifice to God, collect $50' and 'Camel Services.' Oh man, it is HIL-AR-I-OUS. Where it says 'Go To Jail,' it's been changed to 'Go To Heaven' and they drew a halo and wings on the cop. I have to stop typing to laugh...just wait....
Ok. There's 'Sabbath Day, lose a turn' and 'Galilee, $500' (that and Bethlehem are the most expensive, though Bethlehem edges out Galilee by $50.' I mean, this is creepy and all but isn't it a little sacrilegious?
Here are the creepy pictures. Peace be with you all.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Get that corn outta my face!

Today I had the run from hell. Hell! Worst run ever. I'm still reeling. Sigh. Bull is injured so I had Sister and Hazel in lead and it was like I wasn't even there. I'd say right, they'd go left etc. Sam was out on the trail trying to help me but nothing went right. Nothing. Needless to say, I freaked out. I yelled and screamed and lost my mind. Today was the first time I really wanted to just throw in the harness and call it quits. After an hour or so of fighting with the dogs to simply just go forward, I ended up at the musher's hall. The only problem was, I didn't start at the musher's hall, I left from my yard. So being at the musher's hall, which is where I usually start from, without a truck to load the dogs into was problem. Turn the dogs around and go home, you say? Well, yes, I tried. And tried. And tried. And tried. Eventually I phoned Sam, who probably should have just told me to take a flying leap, and asked (ordered) him to bring the dog truck over. Thankfully, he did. Sam is so good. So kind. I've been phoning him to apologize for my behaviour all day. I'M SORRY HONEY! It's all good. I phoned my friend and bona fide Quest musher Regina to whine and she told me what I needed to hear. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Hi Gina, it's Jill. Boo hoo, Boo hoo. Cry, cry, cry. Whine, cry, sob, whine."
Regina: "Suck it up! Stop whining. S**t happens. You're fine. You need a leader? I have one for you. Come and get him tomorrow. Phone your husband and apologize!"

She's so wise. I'm heading to her kennel in Healy tomorrow to pick up Gus. A six-year-old, black and white, blue-eyed, lead dog from Charlie Boulding's brood.
So, that's my day. I had an interview this aft. for a business article I'm writing and now I'm sitting at John and Meg's.
Oh yeah, yesterday I went into a local coffee shop with a small portfolio to ask if I could show my photos. The owner loved them and as of next week I'll have a selection of random pictures from the past few years hanging in LuLu's.
I think Bull will be fine, but I'm not running him for a while just in case. The crazy thing is, he didn't strain his muscle running in harness...he pulled it playing with puppies! I keep telling him he's too old to play like that, but does he listen? No.
Pictures of Gus will be posted shortly.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Changing my life, five minutes at a time

Hey dudes! So this week has been really full of ups and downs. Monday morning the News crapped out on me saying that they would no longer need me to help cover the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse next month. Bummer. Later that day I went grocery shopping with Sam and was convinced that the trip to Fred Meyer would be the highlight of my day. But later still, I got a call from the Associated Press in Anchorage. They had an assignment for me. Whooopeee! Things were lookin' up. The assignment was to drive the 60 miles (one way) to Chena Hot Springs Resort to photograph Japanese tourists who flock to Alaska each winter to get a glimpse of the northern lights. I drove out there under cloudy skies hoping for the best. But 4 a.m. rolled around and it was still cloudy so I drove home. These tourists wait up all night to try and seem them. I got shots of the tourists sleeping and playing cards and running outside to look up and check for the Aurora. I slept most of Tuesday then drove out again that evening. As I was driving back out there, sure enough, the Aurora blazed across the sky. I was tempted to stop and photograph them there, but no, the AP wanted Japanese tourists in the foreground with the northern lights in back. So, I hauled ass, driving as fast as my pickup would allow hoping to get out there, shoot and scoot. When I finally arrived, the aurora had fizzled out and it started to cloud over. DAMN! I thought I had missed my shot. Around 11 p.m. I was about to drive back home, but a translator (and Sam) convinced me that since I had already driven out there, I might as well stick around. I jumped on a snow coach that hauls tourists to the top of a mountain and when we arrived at the top, it was clear. Hallelujah! I set up my camera, tripod, and flash and waited. Around 1 a.m. green streaks started to flicker across the sky. With each blast of colour and twist of light, the tourists shrieked with delight. They spend thousands (some even take out bank loans) to come here and see this. Then it happened. Holy mother of god. Red and purple and green filled the sky. I have never seen anything like it. IT WAS CRAZY. The lights were moving so fast and changing and it just kept getting better and better and better...YES! I was shooting and shooting and then I just had to stop and watch. Then, just like that, it was gone. I flopped down in the snow and lay there for about half an hour. Tears in my eyes and huge smile on my face, I vowed there and then to be a better person. This was a sign from something. I was spent. Of course, my resolution was short-lived. I'm back to my old crabby, jaded self. But, man, I'll never forget that. I sent the pics off to the AP and editor loved them. He gave me another assignment right then. It's not for while and I don't know the details but involves me traveling to the villages later in the spring. Sweet.
I also got a call from the CBC in Whitehorse yesterday. They asked if I would cover the second half of the Yukon Quest for them. I love radio and am really looking forward to that assignment. Since I don't have any radio experience it'll just be phone hits to their morning and afternoon shows...sort of a reporter-in-the-field type thing. Anyway, life is good. Gotta go run the dogs.
Here are a couple photos that I did not send to the AP.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sam's bringin' sexy back

I finished my second race today and bettered my time by 11 minutes. I came third. The winning team had 16 dogs! (nuts) I had nine. The trail is getting a little crazy because we haven't had any more snow but there has been a lot of dog traffic on it so the corners are more slippery and the bare spots are even more bare. I almost bit it around a few corners today but managed to stay upright. I had Sister and Hazel in lead but switched Hazel for Wie about half way through. I also ran Serena, Sorlie, Pikea, Puck, Wylie and Magnus.
So here's a run-down of my pre-race routine sans all the gory anxiety-caused trips to the bathroom. Enjoy!
Wake up. Drink coffee. Smoke a cigarette. Give the dogs their breakfast. Tell Sam I can't eat any of the lovely quiche he made until after the race. Drink coffee. Go over which dogs I'll take. Change the team. Ask Sam what he thinks. Change the team. Bull's in. Bull's out. I need Bull tomorrow but he really, really wants to go today. Bull's in. No. He'll get too tired and he's too slow. Bull's out. Fill a cooler with meat broth for the dogs to drink after the race. Get dressed for the race: long johns, synthetic socks, fleece socks, synthetic undershirt, fleece pullover, wool coat, insulated bib overalls, down parka, big arctic boots, balaclava, wool toque, neck gaiter, wrist gaiters, synthetic gloves and wool gloves. Now I have to pee again. Load the dogs in the dog truck. Drive to the racetrack. Sign in and get my bib. Unload the sled and dogs. Talk to whoever is around or whoever will listen. Talk. Talk. Talk. Gab. Harness the dogs. Hook up the dogs to the sled. Try not to fall off while bringing the team to the start chute. Deep breath in. Three, two, one...Go! And we're off. Flying down the trail past photographers and other gawkers. 'On by, Hazel. Good girl!'
So that's about it. We saw a moose on the trail today. I couldn't see very well and at first I thought it was a person so I didn't slow down. Then I saw it start running down the trail away from us and I slammed on the brakes. For the last several miles I was forced to scare away any other wayward moose by singing 'I'm brining sexy back' by Justin Timberlake which of course, I don't know the words to so I made them up. Next race is in two weeks but it's just a 35-mile fun run. Actually, it's passenger race, so I need a passenger. Anyone interested? Let me know. Sam didn't bring his camera today, so no photos.
Sexy out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I'm sailing away...from a moose

Hey y'all! Oh, man. I actually just typed y'all. I just did it again! Have I lived in 'Merica too long already? Anyway, where did we last leave off? Oh yeah. So this week it dropped to 44 below zero and therefore I did not take the dogs out. It's just not worth the potential injuries to the dogs when it's that cold and, let's face it, being outside for hours in that bitter temperatures is not fun for anyone, especially the thin-coated dogs who have a tendency to get frostbite on their, er, twigs and berries. So we sat around and complained about how cold it was. I fed the dogs more often and started giving them turkey skins and fish oil in their daily meals to ward off the effects of the cold. Even though they were sitting for several days, they were still losing weight and we just can't have that, so it was fat, fat and more fat for the dogs. Finally, today we got back on the trail. Ken and Gwen's current handler, Forrest, met me at the track and we ran two teams 20 miles. He took my second string and though he can be a bit of a D-bag at times (who can't?) he did a great job today. So all the dogs were run and I really appreciated his help. Bull and Wie ran in lead for me and did an amazing job, even with all the traffic (skiers, walkers, mushers, skijorers) on the trail. We came across one moose but she wasn't interested in sticking around to see what the crazy girl (me) on the dog sled was screeching about. After that, I sang at the top of my lungs to warn anything else up ahead that we were approaching. Mostly I made up lyrics to the tune I'm Sailing Away by Styx. It went something like this...ahem...'I'm SAILING away...but I don't know the words to this I'll just say stay away from me you big, dumb moose...' And so on and so forth. At one point I came winging around a corner and a group of skiers had stopped on the trail because they heard me coming. They tried not to burst out laughing when they saw me, mid-belt, singing on the sled. I tried to tell them it was the moose, the moose are making me sing, but then we were gone, whizzing past them. I guess you can tell by now that I did not go to the Copper Basin with Ken. He withdrew a couple days ago and opted instead to compete in the 200-mile Cantwell Classic, so I stayed home. Sunday we will race another 20-mile event and I hope we can better our time from last week. We'll see. Time for bed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A for effort

Busy, busy weekend. Saturday I took eight dogs into the White Mountains by myself to do a 32-mile training run. All went well. The dogs were pretty tired at the end but they all worked hard the entire time. Bull and Hazel were in lead. We stopped at the halfway point (Moose Creek Cabin)for about half an hour and I gave the dogs some broth and meat snacks before heading back. On the way back we were slogging up another endless climb when the dogs lunged a freakin' moose! A big cow was standing on the trail about 20 feet ahead (I didn't see her earlier because it was around a corner) Just as I was about to drop dead of a heart attack, the big beast sauntered off the trail into the woods. Of course I didn't have a gun (I still don't feel comfortable with them) but I had a hatchet, which probably would have just annoyed her, but it was something sharp in my hand and that made me feel better. For the rest of the trip back to the trailhead, I looked behind me every five seconds and sang songs really loud to warn other moose that, not only am I there, I'm also a really bad singer.
Ok. So yesterday I did that 19-mile race. I came in second. I was really, really nervous in the morning and with the temperature hovering around 25 below F (minus 32 Celsius) I thought the race would be cancelled, but it wasn't. So I froze my ass off for 20 miles but we made it and it was actually really fun. The dogs did amazingly well. I had Sister and Puck in lead and despite a few pile-ups, there were no major catastrophes. So, the dogs will get a couple days off and then it's back to training. My goal now is a 200-mile race in March called the Chatanika Challenge but we'll see. It's a qualifier for the Quest but I've resolved that even if I don't do any major races this season, I'm ok with that. This weekend I'm handling for Ken at the Copper Basin 300 in Glennallen. I'll be gone for five days so that will put a glitch in my training. Anyway, gotta run. Here are some pics from the White Mountains on Saturday and the ADAM race on Sunday. Check out my hottie handler.
My computer's gone wonky so I can't tell which photos are which. There's one of Sam holding out my leaders, one of me kickin' it to the finish line, another of me coming into the finish, one of my frosty self shortly after parking my team. One of my dogs just before we left the start (that's Wie and Gretzky with Strider yelling 'Let's go!' behind them. Then there's two that I took in the Whites before my camera froze. Enjoy. It's 30 below right now! (35 below for you Canucks).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On the right track

Today was magnificent. I went out on the Alaska Dog Mushers Association track with a six-dog team and we flew! It feels so good to be on a sled again. Sam came with me to help hook up the team and off I went. On the way back my dogs (Sister and Puck in lead) didn't know the command: 'back to the truck' so instead they dragged me over to Curtis Erhart's truck. For those who don't know (or care) Erhart is a big name in sprint mushing here and I was a little embarrassed to have to call out to him to grab my leaders. I've met him a couple times and he actually remembered me from an interview I did with him some time ago. Back then I wasn't mushing so he was surprised to see me on a sled. I believe his exact words were: 'when the f*** did you start mushing?!' We chatted for a few before I watched him hook up 14 dogs and take off down the trail. Tomorrow I'll take eight...maybe 10.
Tonight I had an ADMA meeting where I signed up for Sunday's race. I drew bib #1, which means I go out first. Luckily there are only two of us in the 19-mile class. There are about six different classes from a few miles to 19. I need to do the longer distance for training and also, my dogs are not sprinters so I'd get schooled if I tried to keep up with those guys. Although 19 is actually a sprint...
I'm just using it as a training run and also to get used to bringing a team through an official start chute with all the people, announcers, other dogs etc.
I'm not nervous yet. I know Sunday morning I'll be a wreck. Even those this will be my third race; the first two don't count because they were strictly recreational races. Sam's coming to the track with me tomorrow to get some pics for the blog, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

12 more bundles of joy

They have arrived. The dogs that is. So now in our yard we have 20 sled dogs. I feel like a real musher now. Two buckets of food each day, two buckets of crap, fixing houses, fixing lines,'s a big chunk of the day. This morning I got out on the sled...finally! Sam helped me hook up and we left right from the yard. Because there still isn't a whole lot of snow I started small. Just a little four-dog micro team. It's really not as fun with that few dogs, but I really had no idea what I was in for. I had never been on these trails before and heard they were pretty bumpy. There was some fresh snow, which made for slow going, but it was fun and dogs got a good workout. I got turned around a couple times and had no idea where I was or which direction I was heading. The trails are directional and I knew a couple times I was going the wrong way on a one-way path. Meh. The worst that could happen is that I have to head-on pass another team and I would get yelled at. I was prepared for that but we saw no one out there and no signs that anyone had been out that far. Tomorrow I'm going to load up six or eight dogs and drive to the trail head so I can start from the beginning and get my bearings. The new dogs have settled in nicely with exception of one big boy named Hawking. Sam calls him Squawkin' Hawkin' because he whines all night long for some reason or another. Usually it's because he's tipped his house over. Last night I got up twice and stumbled down to the dog yard to see what he was yelling about. I'm sure he'll calm down eventually.

So. My new additions are: Gretzky, Pikea, Serena, Hawking, Magnus, Boo, Puck, Maggie, Wylie, Sorlie, Jordan and Wie. Yes, there is a sports' theme to some of these dogs' names. Anyway, tomorrow I'll take out another team, start from the musher's hall and try to find my way home. If I don't post in a couple days, I'm still out for help.
Photos of the new ones are on the way.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy Happy! 2007. Man, where does the time go? Meh. I hope everyone's nursing their hangovers well. Bonfire was good. Lots o' fireworks.