Friday, February 29, 2008

Banana eating, beer scramble and dog races

Welcome to Nenana Tripod Days. This weekend I'm heading down to Nenana for the annual Ice Classic dog sled race. It's two days of 40 miles each day, although I'm hearing now it's actually only 30 miles a day but they say 40 to keep the sprinters away. Either way it'll be a fun training race. Sam's got the weekend off, but isn't coming as there's lots of paperwork to be done at the cabin.
I'm hoping that we'll have a good showing, but if we're at the back again, I'm OK with that. It's strange because I'm very competitive by nature, but when it has come to my first racing season, I've been good at taking it slow and easy to make the experience as fun as possible for the dogs and, ultimately, myself.
Anyway, wish us luck.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our courtship was brief and magnetic

Just found this as I was cleaning out my inbox. Love those FFA kids. See you all in October!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Vive la turista!

Here are some photos from the hellish bus ride home from Whitehorse. I was smart this time. I ate some Dramamine and knocked myself out for almost the entire trip. Along the way we saw a lynx, two coyote, fox, moose and whole whack of dall sheep on the road. I felt like a big tourist on this Holland America bus snapping away whilst ooing and awing. Lord. Is this what I've become? Oh well, it was pretty cool.
The Silver Sled race has been cancelled, so I'm thinking of going to Nenana for the Ice Classic races. It's two days of 40 miles per day. We'll see. I might just take the dogs and head into the White Mountains for a couple days.




zzzz. (That's Matias, Quest reporter for the News-Miner.)

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be mushers

I got a text message last night after midnight. I felt like a teenager. Then I cursed the bastard for waking me up as I had been in bed for a couple hours. Funny, how quickly you can go from feeling really young to feeling really old in less than a second. In Whitehorse, a 19-year-old thought I was 24. I was giddy. Then I yawned, pulled the crumpled up tissue from my sleeve, wiped my nose and put it back. Old.
Shot of jager. Young.
Turning down the second on a count of having to get up early? Old.
See how this works?
Taking a break from working to get on Facebook. Young.
Having a co-worker tell me that yes, woot is actually a word? Old.
I'm having a bit of a crisis.
A pre-mid-life crisis.
Sam just tooted and snorted in his sleep and woke the dogs up. Old.
The fact that I'm laughing hysterically and sharing it online? Priceless.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Being good isn't always easy

Back in Whitehorse after a 14-hour bus ride from hell with a bunch of blue-hairs, Captain Obvious and the devil herself. I'm here for 24 hours and then, you guessed it, another bus ride back to Fairbanks. I really miss it here, but am looking forward to getting home to the dogs. The Silver Sled race has been canceled so I'll go to Nenana on the weekend for the Ice Classic, a 40-mile per day, two-day race.
Sam and I went watched Bill Cotter, a former Quest champion and at 61, the oldest competitor, come across the finish line today. It was a glorious morning up on the bluff watching Cotter's team make their way down the river.
Anyway, back to work.
Peace. Cotter hugs his handler after finishing.

The Quest banner in my baby's shades.

Cotter on the river. Almost done!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oh. My. God. Becky, look at her butt

The Knik Goose Bay 120. What can I say? It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I guess to more experienced mushers, the GB 120 is super easy, but to me, it was hard. But not impossible. It was also probably the most rewarding experience. I also had the most embarrassing moment of my life during the race. It was a real roller-coaster of musher emotions.
My gal pal Tami Rose and I drove down to Wasilla Friday night. It took about six hours and we stayed in a hotel. We got up early to feed and drop dogs, eat breakfast and then head down the Knik-Goose Bay Road to the race start. We were the first ones there. Eager much? Yeah.
I drew starting position 23 but had bib number 5 (don't ask why, no one knows). This year 30 teams started including a couple of the Redington boys, Vern Halter, Judy Currier and Karen Ramstead...all Iditarod veterans. There were also lots of newbies and hackers, rednecks and goofballs - a real mixed bag. My friend Julie came over from Talkeetna to handle for me at the start. We got the team harnessed and bootied in plenty of time and I had about six people help hold my team. The dogs looked good, all banging in their harnesses to get going. I, on the other hand, was having an internal freakout. Man, was I nervous.
They counted me down and the dogs took off. Now comes the embarrassing, no mortifying, part. The team crossed the road out of the chute, hit a snow berm and my sled tipped into the deep, deep snow in the ditch. It all happened so fast, I couldn't react. So there I was stuck in the snow, big arse in the air, holding onto my sled with the dogs screaming and lunging. I managed to get the sled upright when they lurched and the handle bar slipped out of my hand. Yes, I lost the team. I LOST THE TEAM. Worst thing that could happen...ever. Within two seconds a blur ran by me and caught the 10-dog team. It was Iditarod musher and our cabin builder-helper Cim Smyth. I was still standing in the deep snow, completely stunned. What the hell is going on? Now Cim was yelling at me (in a nice way) to move my ass and get back on the sled. I hoofed it (with all my gear on) down the trail jumped on the runners and we were off. Jesus Christ. Okay, I'll let you all have your chuckles. Done? Okay. I had eight hours on the runners to ponder what happened at the start. Eight hours. One of the Redington boys passed me and asked what was wrong. I yelled 'Didn't you see me lose my team at the start??!' He looked back and shrugged. 'It happens to everyone. Your team looks great so go out and have fun."
Huh. It hadn't occurred to me to simply get over it. But I did. I'm over it. Our race trail followed the Iditarod Trail, which is also used partially for the Klondike 300, the Knik 200, the Don Bowers 300 and the Susitna 100. The first 40 miles was riddled with very steep ups and downs, wind blown ponds and marshes. It was tough but manageable. The weather was very warm, so the dogs were slow.
I passed a bunch of snowmachiners who warned me about a groundstorm on Flathorn Lake. I looked back. "Where's that?" I asked. They all laughed. "Oh, you'll see."
By the time I got to the lake it was almost dark and the groundstorm had pretty much turned into a blizzard.
I managed to get across the lake but only because I have excellent leaders: Bully and Capiche. They would lose the trail in the deep snow and immediately started sniffing and looking for it. They felt around for more stable ground and when they found it, they pulled the whole team back on track. I was so amazed and proud, I almost cried. By the time we zigged and zagged across the lake, I thought the worst was over. I was wrong. We hit a little wooded area where I stopped to re-boot the dogs and catch my breath. There were a couple other teams there and one guy warned me about what was coming up. A large open slough where the wind would be much, much worse, he said. I have never been in conditions like this and the trail markers were confusing (they were a bunch of markers from other races). The musher, Wayne, said I could I follow him over the slough and then pass him if I wanted. We headed out in a two-team train, my leaders right on his butt. When we hit the slough I was almost blown off the sled. The wind of whipping and blowing snow like crazy. All the dogs immediately put their heads down and dug in to get us across. I crouched behind the sled and covered my already-covered face with my mitts. The blowing snow felt like needles in my eyes so I shut them. I couldn't see anything anyway, so it didn't matter. Slowly we made our way across. I passed Wayne once we hit the Big Su River, thanking him profusely and giving encouragement to his dogs as we hurried on-by. Once we hit the Big Su it was about 20 miles to the checkpoint at Yentna Station on the Yentna River. The wind was still blowing but not as bad and it was snowing heavily now. The trail in front of me disappeared under a blanket of new snow. Bully and Capiche took over, finding the path when we'd fall off the side. We got into Yentna just before 10 p.m. I quickly got to work laying out straw, taking off booties, massaging sore muscles, heating water, feeding and feeding some more. I covered my sled as it was snowing really hard and put coats on the dogs even though it was warm, the coats would at least keep them a little drier.
I went up to the lodge had some moose stew, coffee and water and found Tamara. She had passed me on the trail and gotten in about 90 minutes ahead of me. We had a debrief and then tried to find a place to sleep. We weren't allowed to sleep in the lodge (don't ask why, I don't know) but there was a heated tent outside. It was full of snoring mushers. I wandered around wondering what to do. I went back down the river and curled up in the straw with the dogs. I couldn't sleep. I walked around some more. I tried to sleep in my sled. Nope. I went back up the heated tent and sat on the floor chatting with others who were still awake. Pretty soon, the front runners were getting ready to leave. I snagged a lawn chair right beside the propane heater at about 4:15 am and promptly fell asleep. I woke up at about 5:15 with a start, looking at my watch. I had less than an hour before I had to leave. I got up, went to the team and gave them some broth, took off their coats, rubbed them down and re-bootied. I took off at 6:08 a.m. It had stopped snowing but the trail was soft from all that new snow. On the river, the wind had blown it in and so, once again, we broke trail with my leaders plowing through. The sun came up at about 9 as we made out way up off the river. I stopped to snack the dogs and take their booties off. There was slushy overflow on the trail out. I didn't re-boot because it was so warm out and the dogs sweat through their feet. Back over the lake, the trail was gone again. It was a tough slog back but we took it slow. I passed a guy about 15 miles from the finish and managed to stay ahead of him. We got in just before 2 p.m. in 23rd place out of 30 mushers. Three of those 30 scratched because of the tough conditions. The best part for me was the dogs were all wagging their tails at the end despite being very tired. A lot of other mushers injured their teams driving them too hard to the finish in that deep snow, so I felt good that my team was healthy. Sister had a sore wrist, but she's fine today after I iced and massaged it. I got to bed at 3:30 a.m. this morning after a long, long drive back from Wasilla. Tamara, who finished 16th, and I took turns driving. I have to work tonight but not before I take Roy into the vet. Parker beat him up while I was away. It's nothing serious, but he might need a stitch or two on his foot. I wonder when I'll get some sleep. Maybe in my next life when I come back as someone boring.

The team Friday before heading south.

A truck at the race.
My sled.

Me and race marshal Bud Smyth (Cim's dad). He's an Iditarod veteran and has three wives...Bud, not Cim...but Cim is an Iditarod veteran too.

The start.

Tamara doing her best 'Jill's freaking out' impression.

Me and my dogs.

Racing chicks.

Me coming into the finish. I didn't bring my camera out on the trail with me, though I wish I had.
Julie was waiting at the finish for me. Thanks Jules!

Look at those leaders. Happy dogs. My next race is the Silver Sled 100-miler in a couple weeks in Haines Junction, Yukon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hi petty; bitter much?

Mushers are petty. They are jealous and small. Not all of course. I know some really, really good ones. But some are just, well, they're assfaces. Tuesday I got home from covering the Yukon Quest up to the third checkpoint of Circle. Sam's going down the whole trail and I will meet him in Whitehorse next weekend to cover the finish banquet. This has been an interesting race so far with a lot of mushers scratching because of harsh conditions...nothing unusual. Our hometown hero Julie Estey had to scratch at the remote cabin called Slaven's a couple days ago. She twisted her knee in the crazy jumble ice on the Yukon River. I talked to her last night after she was flown out of the remote site and into Eagle. She was crying. I feel so bad for her. This was pretty much her one shot at the Quest. I really hope she tries again as she was doing so well until this freak accident. She's tough and optimistic and is amazing with her dogs. She's my inspiration. Lance is going to win this year's race. Sure, Ken is close behind, but this is Lance's race. No question. Just watching their dogs come into the checkpoints is a sure sign. Also, Lance has a great attitude which translates to his dogs. The guy is always positive. Ken on the other hand isn't as upbeat and that too translates down to his dogs. Some of the middle-pack racers are also miserable and so I think we're going to see a lot more scratches in Dawson, the halfway point. I'm getting ready to head to Wasilla today for my 120-mile race. Since this is a small one, they really don't track it online, but results should be on after the race. Or Google 'Knik Goosebay 120.'
Anyway, here are few photos I shot from Mile 101, Central and Circle. Wish me luck! I'm seeing another Red Lantern in my future.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The 25th Yukon Quest is underway and I'm overwhelmed

Well, we made to the 'R' rating. Congratulations to us. I couldn't have done this without you all. I'd like to thank my parents for yelling at me every time I swore which made me want to do it more. I'd like to thank my friends far and wide who I like to swear about behind their backs. But mostly, I'd like to thank Sam, without whom I wouldn't feel the urge to swear at all. I love ya, baby! Now please stop swearing at me. And go wash your mouthes out with soap at once! Dirty bitches.
I covered the start of the Yukon Quest today and, yes, it was cold. We're still in the clutches of a bitter cold snap here in the Interior. I'm kind of over it now. I'm getting accustomed to sprinting to the outhouse, having dogs inside, having sore cheeks from daily frostnip as a result of doing dog chores outside and mostly, I'm getting used to saying things like 'Cold enough for ya?' to random strangers and having them narrow their eyes in disgust at me. The sky was clear and mushers to were all frosted up at the start. Twenty-four teams departed Fairbanks on the Chena River headed for Whitehorse, including three-time champ Lance Mackey, Ken my old mentor and boss who now hates me and won't talk to me, Julie Estey a close personal friend and Quest rookie...GO JESTEY!..., Frank Turner who has been a huge mentor to me and has started all but one of the 25 Yukon Quests, and many others from Alaska, Yukon, across Canada, the Lower 48 and Switzerland. Should be a good race though I'm pretty sure Lance is going to win again. Ken might challenge him and Brent Sass, though he's pretty new to the race, has great dogs and is full of gumption. Then there's Hugh Neff, who could also be a threat as he finished second a couple years ago. A lot of veterans aren't racing the Quest this year but have instead opted for the Iditarod and several are doing both. Anyway, it was nice to visit with all my old Quest friends and I look forward to hitting the trail tomorrow at 5 a.m., if only for a couple of days. It's better than nothing! I'll get my Quest fix and then buzz back to town for my race: the Knik-Goosebay 120.
I have some great news. Stay with me now people, I'm almost done and will finish this post with a whole heap of Quest photos.
First of all, in March I'm getting flown into Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge , deep in the heart of the Brooks Mountain Range. It's a fly-in lodge that offers amazing summer and winter packages. So the owner is flying me and my dogs and my sleds and my handler (Sam) in for five days to give some tours to visitors who are staying at the lodge. I'm so excited! A chance to mush in the Brooks Range is something not many get to do. You're my new hero, John Gaedeke! (Except for you Gran).
The second bit of big news is that I've been offered a job doing sled dog guiding in Skagway, Alaska, for five months this summer. The money is great and I get to bring and run my own dogs. They pay for food and housing for me and the dogs and I earn a great salary plus tips. Guiding isn't something I want to do forever (except at Iniakuk, I'll do that forever) but for now it's a good way to earn money and keep my dogs in shape for the racing season. It's win, freakin' win, baby!
Okay, here are photos I shot today of the race start. I'll be out of touch for a few days but will post as soon as I get back. Thanks to Andrew Lesh for looking after my babies while I'm gone. You know, final thought here, seeing all this makes me excited to start my own Quest journey. Maybe next year? Stay tuned.

I went down the river a bit to shoot teams. As they passed they headed right into the sun which made for some cool photos what with the cold temps and all, the dogs were all steamy.

One blue eye, one brown.

A musher from New Hampshire had his team order sitting out for his handlers.

Down the trail goes Wasilla's Kelley Griffin.

Cor Guimond from Dawson City. This guy cracks me up.

Lance Mackey.

Dogs on the river.

Headed to Whitehorse...see you in 10 days!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

No honey pot to piss in

Come ON! This is day five of 40 below or colder. What the hell? I'm cold. The dogs are cold. Sam's cold. The trucks don't run right (The F150 is pretty much dead for now)...I'd cry, but my tears would freeze! According to the weather service, there is no relief in sight. It's going to be cold forever. The 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race starts on Saturday and mushers from all over are here for pre-race festivities. Last night, Libby and I, who together have covered 14 Yukon Quests for radio and print media, went to Meet the Mushers. It's a chance for the general public to see their favourite dog drivers up close and personal. Libs and I went to mingle and visit with mushers, vets and race officials that we haven't seen since last year's Quest. I'm going to write a long feature on the race for Mushing Magazine, but I'm not going down the trail from start to finish like I usually do, as I have my own race to run. I'll drive up to a few checkpoints and then go to Whitehorse for the finish. Sam is going all the way from start to finish for the News-Miner along with a sports reporter. Tonight is the start banquet and then Friday night I'm hosting a Quest bonfire here at the cabin. Yes, it's going to be 40 below at least, but we'll stand around outside pretending it's not that cold. That's what we Alaskans do.
I wanted to add this, below, to show that my blog has recently been rate PG. Huh? Come people, let's aim higher, god dammit! Let's swear until we see the coveted 'R.'
Boob, crap, damn.

OK, people, we're moving on up. Let's keep those curses coming!


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Is it cold enough for a honey pot yet?

For those who don't know what a honey pot is, well, it's a pot. That you go to bathroom in. In the house. When you have an outhouse. And it's 46 BELOW! Yes, it's cold. Cold. Bitter. The dogs are being filtered into the house, I have to go get dog food this morning and then I'm coming home and not leaving. I'm snuggling up with the dogs and working from home. I put yet another bail of straw into the dog houses yesterday in anticipation for the forecasted 50 below temps. It's supposed to be like this all week.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

My hairy boy is getting so big ... and so is Roy

It's no surprise that Sam and I are not going to have any children. Sure we like kids - ahem, other people's kids - but we both knew when we met each other, breeding was not something we were interested in. The closest thing we have is Roy. Our little, hairy, whiny, annoying baby. Recently, it struck me that our boy is growing up. It seems to have happened over night and it has made me nostalgic for the times when I could easily scoop him up in my arms and scratch his chin until he fell asleep. Of course, that was just a couple months ago. This week I noticed he had lost all but one of his baby teeth. The last one is clinging on, even though his adult canine tooth has pushed its way through Roy's gums. I tried to yank out the remaining baby tooth yesterday to keep as a memento, but Sam made me stop. So I took photos of it instead. Roy is almost as big as Bully now and oh, he's not done growing yet. Our little boy... sniff, sniffle



Then. This was the day Sam found him in the woods. Half-dead and oh, so innocent.

Now. A holy terror, indeed.

Friday, February 01, 2008

No one's interested in something you didn't do

I just got back from a 52-mile training run with the dogs in the White Mountains. It was warm, about 10 below F, and the trails were in good shape. The dogs did great today despite the endless climbs and fast descents. My superstar today was Hazel. At the halfway point, I stopped to snack and booty the dogs and Hazel was looking tired. I gave her some extra love and an extra meat snack and she put her head down and pulled hard all the way home. The rest of the team slowed way down on the hills, but Hazel just dug in even more. About 10 miles from the truck, I stopped the team to watch the northern lights for second. All but Hazel gladly stopped to rest. My little spitfire just kept barking to keep going until I pulled the hook. She rode up front in the cab with me on the way home. (Along with Bully, Sister, Capiche and Strider.)
I'll take the pups out tomorrow with Gus before work and then we'll all take Sunday off. Yea!