Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's a Wrong-kind-of-Jockey Christmas

Happy Boxing Day!
Well, the party was a success. We had about 20 or 25 people filter in and out through the course of the Eve. A nice big bonfire, good food and lots (too much) to drink. The dogs pretty much entertained the kids that came, starting with lil' Owen who I took on his first dog-sled ride. I hooked up Capiche to my little sled and she pulled Owen, who was on the runners, down the driveway and back. Congratulations, Owen for mushing like a pro and not falling off. Look out Lance Mackey!
The rest of the kids wandered through the yard passing out treats to my dogs and we eventually let them loose two at a time to run around. Like all our parties, the crowd was a good mix of mushers, media-types and other random souls. The Mackey-clan even made an appearance and I was able to talk dogs with Lance for a bit.
Later in the night a Christmas villain arrived and tried to steal Christmas. You may not know of El Bobcho Libre, but he is a fierce nemesis of Christmas (see pics below).
Christmas Day, Sam and I woke up late, ate waffles, opened gifts (thank you very much Mum and Dad, we loved everything.) and then realized the turkey was still frozen solid. We scrapped the turkey-dinner plan, hooked up two teams and took off mushing for the afternoon. Sam was awesome on the back of the sled considering the bumpy, windy trails.
We came home, ate leftovers from the party and fell asleep full and tired.
I hope you all had a great day.
Peace.Roy started out being a well-mannered, sweet Christmas puppy.

That soon went to shit and he turned into a little brat. His new favourite game is ripping stuff off the fridge and shredding it. He stays away from the tree after he chewed on the lights and electrocuted himself.

Later in the evening.

The spread.

My homemade truffles.

Happy camper.

First the villain beat up Santa.

Then he stole our booze.

Mark to the rescue!

Christmas morning!

After a long night and day, the couch dogs were pooped. Roy fell asleep with his new favourite toy: a stuffed, squeaky mailman that my parents sent.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Move over bacon, here comes something leaner

Well, I passed the Patty Imus kennel inspection and next week I will have three more dogs! Hooray! Patty has been racing and mushing for 25 years but her knee and her back won't allow her to do much mushing anymore (It is hard on the body). So she was giving her last three running dogs away upon inspection of the kennel and a little interview. She said she was impressed with my outfit and I can pick up the dogs next week. I only wanted two, but the third, a yearling named Sipsi, is part of the deal. All three are female (great, more bitches). Sipsi and Summer are Imus dogs while the third, a four-year-old named Kat is out of the late Susan Butcher's kennel. They don't have many miles on them, so I'll have a separate team for them, my young ones and Gus until they get up to speed. I'm really looking forward to their arrival. Meanwhile, we're getting ready for tonight's party. The cabin smells of fresh baked goods, spruce trees and wood smoke. It's definitely Christmas.
Merry, merry.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

There's only so much Hall and Oats we can take

That's what some random woman said to me as she was leaving Ivory Jack's last night. We celebrated winter solstice with a prime rib dinner at IJ's and it was great. We never did make to the bonfire as we stayed for an extra beer or two, but we'll have our party Christmas Eve.
I ran the dogs in Two Rivers yesterday and it was great. My dogs are getting stronger and learning to work together really, really well. When they're all pulling in sync, you can feel the energy come up through the dogs and into the handlebar. It always makes me smile.
Gal pal and my sort-of boss Julie showed me the wolf tracks through her yard and then she hopped on her snowmachine and gave me a guided tour of the trails. She and her hubby Rod have been mushing for some time and I appreciated her help. Two Rivers is notorious for being a confusing web of trails though the 20-mile loop I did yesterday was mostly on a logging road and fire break, so it wasn't bad. Nice big hills and great scenery. The dogs got a good workout and we all got to see some new country. My 100-mile race has been canceled due to marginal trail conditions and thin ice. My next race goal is the Tustumena 200 in January. If the dogs aren't ready for 200, there's 100-mile version we can try.
Today we're braving the crowds to do some last-minute shopping and then cutting wood for the rest of the day.
Peace.Bully and Capiche, the best lead dogs ever! The pups, Sneaky Pete and Parker behind them, then Sister and Happy, then Sally and Hitchcock and Strider and Hazel in wheel. Ten dogs with my little sled and 40 pounds of weight was a good amount of power and weight. I could set a hook and steer on the downhills pretty easily. The only time I broke a sweat was a bumpy downhill with corner at the bottom, but we did it and I stayed on the sled despite the dogs' best efforts to buck me off. Photo by Julie Stricker.

Here we are coming up a big hill. The vistas were great on this trail. Photo by Julie Stricker.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Over the hump, under the covers

Today, I am smiling. Grinning like an idiot. For today, my friends, is winter solstice, the longest night. But starting tomorrow (or within the next week anyway) we'll start to get our light back. Precious light.

But that's not all. Yesterday morning I stepped outside and the thermometer said 41 below. Today?
Six below! It's downright balmy out there!
Anyway, we're heading to Cripple Creek for a solstice bonfire tonight but before that I will run the dogs out in Two Rivers....
despite all the wolf trouble out there recently. If you don't hear from me by Christmas, send help.
Stay tuned.

DECEMBER 21 2007..........SUNRISE  1059 AM AST   SUNSET   241 PM AST
DECEMBER 22 2007..........SUNRISE  1059 AM AST   SUNSET   242 PM AST
LOSS SINCE YESTERDAY........................1 MINUTE

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Just because I can, so I do

Well, I got up today and the mercury had plummeted to 36 below zero at our house. I got bundled up in umpteen layers of fleece, wool, synthetic and shoved chemical warmers in every pocket, nook and cranny. I tinkered with my sled for a while, set up the drop lines and dug out the dog coats before I finally decided it was too bloody cold to run the team. It's not supposed to be any warmer tomorrow, but I have to take them out, so I've delayed the freezing of the nips for another day. Meanwhile, I brought some dogs inside to thaw out and we listened to Christmas music, did the dishes, futzed around the cabin and I did some chiropractic work on a few of the dogs. Sister got into the Christmas packages while I was outside chopping meat and came out with a pair of socks and a squeaky toy meant for Bully from my parents. Bull didn't care but Sister and Roy fought over it for a while until I took it away from both of them.
I've decided on a Christmas-Eve-party menu...ahem...meatballs, baked brie with cranberry chutney, tomato-feta kabobs, salmon dip, shortbread-jam thumbprint cookies, fudge, orzo salad with black beans and a spicy cilantro dressing, and mini quiches. Hooray! That reminds me, whoever is in Fairbanks and reads the blog, stop by for some good eats and spiced (spiked) cider. Email for directions to the cabin. We'll have a rippin' bonfire, dog sled rides for the kids (until I start drinking) and, for the brave, sauna!
Here are photos of Roy that I made more fun with my Photoshop prowess. Yeah, I was a little bored today...come on, it's almost 40 below!

Because I think it's funny.

Yes, he was really chewing on a wooden candy cane and no, his eye is not supposed to be that big.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Just give me that old fashioned morphine

Here's a quick overview of our weekend in Denali and you can decide if you want to keep reading.
Sick on the way there, wind blowing my sled off the highway, 30 miles, camping, cold, windy, 15 more miles, sick on the way home, Sunday night in the outhouse at 20 below having issues at both ends, don't eat egg salad from a gas station in Healy.
Well, I'm just now recovering from my bout with food poisoning. Um, I won't get into the gory details, but Sunday night was one of my top three worst nights of my life. Thank Jebus we were home at least, although I did force Sam to make a few unscheduled stops between Nenana and home. Ok, enough poop talk.
We got to Cantwell late Saturday morning and while Sam and Mark set up camp, I hooked up the dogs and took off. We did 31 miles in three hours and 20 minutes and they handled it really well. Oh, I should mention that when I said I did back-to-back 30s earlier in the week, I was wrong. This time I brought my GPS and realized my previous 30-milers were actually only about 23. So this time I actually did 30. As the sun went down it got really cold and the wind picked up. The gusts were so strong my sled was getting blown all over the place. The dogs put their heads down and pushed through the wind like champs. Back at camp, I laid out straw, fed them, massaged sore muscles and feet, and bedded them down before retreating to the heated tent for salmon and rice that Sam made for us. The next day I decided to do a faster, 15-mile run sans Parker who was still a little sore. I let Mark, who has lived in Alaska all of his 45 years and never been on a dog sled, drive the team for a few miles. Then it was Sam's turn and then I hopped out of the basket and onto the runners for the remainder of the run. After, we hung around by the fire, ate lunch and then took off for home around dark (3:30 p.m.). It's still cold, about 25 below F, but I'll take the dogs out today for shorter, faster run. We took all the dogs to Cantwell including the oldie (Ruffles), the fatty (Gus) and the puppy (Roy). Roy just ran around bothered everyone, Gus was pretty chill and Ruffles spent most of her time huddled in the cab of the truck trying to stay warm. I put a fleece dog coat on her and we eventually let her in the tent to warm up. The trail was good but pretty hard packed from all the snowmachine traffic, so it was a little hard on joints. The weather was good except for the wind and there wasn't too much traffic on the trails. A couple other dog teams and a few snowmachiners and that's it.
I got bad news about lil' Roy. My vet said because he was so malnourished at such a young age that his joints are deformed and he'll never run in harness for more than a few miles. Looks like we have another couch dog.


Here's Mark driving the team with me in the basket.

Roy running circles around the team as I'm trying to hook them up.

Me and the team and the mountains.

I never get tired of mushing through the mountains.

Me again with the team.

Me on the second day.

Sam on the runners and me in the sled. Brrr.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm headin' down the Denali Hiiiiighwaaaay

Running dogs on the Denali Highway earlier this week was fantastic!! Tamara and I took off early Tuesday morning and got to Cantwell four hours later as the roads were bad and it was snowing like mad. We set up camp about 15 miles down the Denali Highway, which is not plowed in the winter. It makes the perfect spot to get some long runs in without worrying about trail conditions. Plus, it is absolutely beautiful. Mountains all around, the roads runs along the Nenana River for a while, caribou everywhere...superb. I did back-to-back 30-mile runs and the dogs were fantastic. Bull and Capiche were amazing in lead. I would hook Bully up first and he we sit and hold the line out perfectly. Capiche was really great when we met other dog teams out there and had to pass. Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King was out there training as was Iditarod contender Ramey Smith and Quest favourite Dave Dalton. Hazel and Hitchcock go completely mad before a run, they are definitely my most energy-packed dogs. They both got a little tired at the end of the first run, but they're young and have learn to save some energy for the second half of the run. Sister, Happy and Sally were my strong and steady dogs. Sister was having some issues with snowballs between the pads of her feet so she wore booties on the second day. The yearlings, Sneaky Pete and Parker, were great. Parker got a little tired but never stopped pulling. They didn't know when to settle down and rest, but they're young and will learn. Strider paced quite a bit but I think he was just tired, not injured. I had Tamara (who is a vet) look him over and he seems to be in tiptop shape. I was really proud of the whole team. I slept in the truck and resisted urge to start it up when I got cold in the night because I have to get used to camping out too. Bully and Sneaky Pete slept with me in the truck and kept me warm. Anyway, enough rambling. Sam and I are going back there tomorrow. We'll bring a heated tent called an Arctic oven for Sam but I'm going to try and sleep outside with the dogs. I'm going to bump up their miles slightly. I was supposed to race a 20-miler on Sunday, but it got postponed because there's not enough snow. There's plenty on the Denali so off I go again.

I left early on the second morning to run the dark. I like running at night but I do getting a scared sometimes...don't tell anyone.

Ok, that blur is me dancing around the fire. I set up the camera on my dog food cooker and opened the shutter, ran to the fire and danced around. Tamara thought (thinks) I'm nuts.

My dogmobile.

Running like champs. I passed Ramey Smith and he said later at camp that my team looked good. I take that as a huge compliment.

I am the fire starter.

To the untrained eye, this might just look like a blurry photo. We in the biz call this motion blur. Ok, so it's a blurry picture, but I really like it because you see the truck, dogs, mountains, trees and those red squiggles are Tamara leaders which have red lights on their collars to warn snowmachiners. The white squiggle is Tamara's headlamp. I pretty much leave my headlamp on all the time, as it's only light for three hours.

Caribou on the trail.

Tamara lighting her cooker. She used 15 bottles of Heet (fuel) to my four.

Driving out Wednesday, the sun came out for a brief time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

This is the last thing that's coming out from between these legs!

Apparently that's what my sister screamed at her husband when she was giving birth yesterday. That's right, I'm an auntie! Little Jaden Fitzgerald was born at 11:45 am weighing in at six pounds, one ounce. He is several weeks premature and will have to stay in the hospital for a while. Dana was doing well but she's still full of fluid and is having some sort of scan today to see what's going on. She was in labour for three days and it put a lot of stress on her body. My dad says she'll be fine, but I'm on stand-by to fly home to Ontario.
I went to the Denali Highway to run the dogs and it was amazing, but that's a post for tomorrow. Here are some photos of my new nephew taken by my dad...Jaden's GRANDPA!!! Hahahaha!! My dad is a grandpa. Gramps. Pappy. Weird. Of course, my mum is a granny, but she's not as fun to tease as my dad. Plus, she has freakish upper body strength and punches really hard.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Never go with a hippie to a second location

This weekend was all about the holidays for us. We hiked back into the woods on our property and not only killed one tree, we killed four! The trees are so tiny here that we cut down four little ones and strapped them together to make one slightly less scrawny tree. We have quite a collection of ornaments now because of our families. My mum sent us some really cool ones last year and Sam's mama gave us a whole bunch of really old, cool ornaments when we were there in October. The puppy tried to help with the decorating but fell asleep after stealing the tinsel and stockings. I'm heading to the Denali Highway for training tomorrow morning and will be gone for a couple days. The dogs did a 20-mile run on Friday and handled it really well so I'll try to do back-to-back 30s on the highway, which is closed in the winter and has an abundance of snow. It's been snowing here so I think I'll be a sled for good now. Fingers crossed.
This weekend we also made our holiday photo card. We put all the dogs in the pen and strapped the camera to the top of the pen. The results were pretty funny. If you want a Christmas card and haven't received one from us in the past, please email your address to They're really funny.
Here are some photos of holiday fun around the cabin.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

OK, I get it now (I still don't get it)

My good friend Karen, and by good friend I mean stranger, tagged me. Now, I've been tagged before (wink) but didn't really know what the hell it meant. Apparently now I'm supposed to list seven random, weird things about me and then tag seven other people. (SIDEBAR: Sam was just futzing with the wood stove and got soot on his hands which he rubbed on his face. Now it looks like he has a unibrow. I haven't told him yet.)
OK, back to this tag thing. I guess I'll list seven random things about me first. Karen, I hope you still read me after this. (My name is Jill, by the way. Jillian Rogers. Pleased to meet you.)

Here we go.
1) I hate balloons. It's a phobia really. Hate them. The smell, the sound, the inevitable pop...hate them. Mylar balloons I can handle, but I'd rather just have cake.
2) I hate frogs and toads. I'm glad I live in Alaska where they are more rare. I just got a chill thinking about the tree frogs stuck to the back door of my childhood home. And the toads that would sit on the front step waiting for me to come home at night. They'd flash their knives and I'd give them my money. Stupid toad gangs. I can shoot a gun, stitch up a wounded dog, clean up doggie diarrhea, spend days outside a 40 below, but put a frog (or balloon) in front of me and I screech like a howler monkey.
3) I'm a compulsive paper roller-upper. I tear off tiny pieces of paper (the corners of my notepad, books, whatever's in front of me) and roll them between my fingertips into tiny tubes which litter the floor and counter around my workspace. The tiny tubes clog up the keyboard and this habit used to drive people crazy at the newspaper where I worked in Whitehorse. And now it drives Sam crazy.
4) I had OCD as a kid, but in my adulthood have done a complete 180. Sam calls me Messy Bessy for good reason.
5) I pick up frozen dog poo with my gloved hand. It's faster and it doesn't smell.
6) I have loved Elvis since my babysitter would set up the record player at the front window and blare Jailhouse Rock to us kids on the lawn who would dance until we couldn't catch out breath.
7) I love, love, love dill pickles and sour cream together.

So, I'm tagging Dave, Stacey, Phoebe, Jeremy, Brian, Sue and Kelly!
So, um, I guess now they write seven weird things about themselves...? Yeah, that's it.
My sister is labour!!! I'm going to be an auntie! She was in the hospital yesterday but they sent her home until she is a little more, um, gaping. If she has the bambino in the next week, the baby will be premature and will have to stay in the hospital. She's really uncomfortable and a little freaked out, but otherwise good. Hang in there, Dana. We love you!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wakey, wakey, time to flakey

I'm not going up the Denali Highway tomorrow. My mushing partner bailed on me and though I contemplated driving there and doing the camping trip on my own, I've chosen not to. Not yet. It's not her fault at all and we've agreed to go next Tuesday. It's all good. I'll do back-to-back 30-milers tomorrow and Friday and see how the dogs handle it. Our goal, as I've said before, is the 100-mile Solstice race at end of the month.
This weekend is holiday mania around the cabin. We're choppin' a tree, decorating, taking our Christmas-card photo, crafting, baking and mailing. Whoopee!
So, last weekend Sam went a-huntin' with his pal Mark and...wait for it...they a got a caribou! Even though our freezer is full of salmon, I crave red meat that's not injected with hormones and other yuckies. We've ground it all up into burger with the bones and scraps cut and frozen for the dogs. Meat for everyone! It's getting cold here, about minus 25 C but still no snow. We need snow!!! Races are already being postponed and I fear I won't be competing until January. My first race (a little 20 miler) is next weekend but will be put off if we don't get a dump. Of snow.
Roy is good and growing every day. Today while we were at work, Roy ripped an 8x10 photo of Denali I had taken a couple years ago and chewed it up into tiny pieces. Anyone want a puppy? At least he's a hard-ass editor.
"You call dis art? Dis is crap. I chew it up and spit it out!"
Yes, in my head Roy has a French accent.
Anyway, here are photos of the caribou and me on the porch. Beware, they are a little graphic...the carcass, not me.
Peace and snow


Roy! Shut up!

Mark atop Eagle Summit with the fresh kill.

Sam grindin' up the meat. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it...somebody that's not me...

Run away! I can't! Sick? Yes, I am.

Uh, yeah. Enough said.

Our packages of meat and bones for the dogs.