Monday, March 31, 2008

As clumsy as you've been, there's no one laughing (except Libby)

OK, here it is. I've watched it 600 times. My dogs shoot out like a rocket, I'm not on the metal brake because I'm on the road and lose my balance after hitting a berm. You can hear Libby chuckle in the background.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Berms and ditches are my kryptonite

Yesterday was my final hurrah for the racing season. I finished third in the 20-mile Valley Funale out in Two Rivers. There were seven of us in the 20-mile, 10-dog race. The trails were as hard as cement and extremely icy. When I wasn't squealing with delight as I skidded down the slippery trail, I was cursing the fracking ice and sharp corners. I also vowed several times to set my sled on fire as soon as I got back to the truck. I used my stout little toboggan sled, which is not flexible at all and I pretty much hate it now. (Instead of igniting it, I offered to sell it to another musher who was admiring it at the start.) Anyway, the dogs did really well as usual. Libby, her cojoin Paul Reuters and her visiting cousin Bill came out to cheer me on and Sam and pal Julie were there to handle for me. Um, let's see...anything else of significance to tell about the race? Uh, nope, don't think so. Oh yeah, I wiped out at the start and Libby got it on video. In my defense, a lot of people wiped out at the start. I mean, really, why the hell would the start chute include crossing two roads and going over snowbanks...with a fresh 10-dog team? I mean, come on. Anyway, I recovered from the fall within seconds and was actually impressed with myself. My wrist has rope burn on it and my knuckles are bloodied and raw, but other than that, I'm fine. Just a little stiff.
Will our mushing hero ever get out of a race start without falling again? Stay tuned. Actually, probably not.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Loved everything more than anything

Now I can check a couple more things off my to-do list before I kick it...the bucket that is.
Skydiving? Check.
Heli-boarding? Check.
Eating king crab for lunch on a Tuesday? Check.
Mushing in the most beautiful spot on earth with the best people ever? Check and check.
I still need to see Modest Mouse in concert, windsurf in Belize, drink a mojito at La Bodeguita in Havana, write a novel and make out with Sebastian Bach. (I know, I know, I'm married, but if Sam wanted to make out with, say, Dennis DeYoung, I'd be all for it...uh comes the visual...)
It's hard to know where to start this post. I guess I'll start at the beginning. We drove to Coldfoot last week in howling winds and whiteout conditions with 18 dogs, three dog sleds and a pocket full of high hopes and lint. The next morning, after spending a night in the cozy Coldfoot Inn (A bunch of ATCO units slapped together) and getting pissed when some old-lady tourists turned the one hotel TV (it had satellite, OK?) from Sex and the City to freakin' Wolf Blitzer...sheesh...we loaded half the dogs, all three sleds and me on the plane. The flight over to Iniakuk Lodge was amazing. The craggy mountains of the Brooks Range, the rivers snaking in and around, and tracks from countless caribou made for a non-stop gawkfest. The pilot was pretty damn cool, too.
The dogs handled the flight well. As soon as the engine started whirring and the plane lurched forward, they all froze, staying that way until we landed. The lodge itself is 30 years old. It's a gorgeous full-scribed log building. On the property there are several cabins, saunas and sheds - all log structures and all absolutely beautiful. Sam flew in on the second plane-load with the rest of the dogs, gear and the clients; Peter and Christine from Georgia. They are a young, enthusiastic couple who both work in the medical field.
We mushed each day and Peter and Christine both caught on really quickly...only a couple wipe outs but they handled it all like pros. The dogs took to them immediately. I had to borrow four dogs from Lance as I didn't have enough. Those Mackey dogs are strong, I tell ya, and were an added bonus for the clients. The weather was clear and sunny every day and though we didn't go too far by dogsled, we stretched out the glorious days by having trail lunches and taking our time to soak in the breathtaking scenery. It was fan-freakin-tastic. We skied and snowshoed when we weren't mushing...or eating. The chef, Philip, is a genius in the kitchen. Actually, John , the co-owner/guide knows his way around a pastry bag, too, but I have to say the dinners were a definite highlight. We had pork roast, filet mignon, salmon, caribou soup, king crab (for lunch!), homemade breads and pasta sauces...and don't even get me started on the desserts.
In the evenings, we'd share stories of our adventures while sipping coffee by the roaring fire. We watched slide shows of photos we had taken from that day's mushing excursion and go to bed exhausted, full and happy.
Peter and Christine were so nice; the perfect guests, I'd say. And John was the perfect picture of genuine Alaska hospitality. If it sounds like I'm gushing, I am. I can't help it. It was paradise 60 miles above the Arctic Circle in the middle of nowhere and I can't wait to go back. Thank you John and Pat for letting me into your Utopia.
Oh yeah, so the title of the last post (thank you, McRudeness, for the comments...) Out of the blue Peter asked Sam and I if we "had BJs up here?" Of course, we just giggled. Apparently there is a big chain store called BJ's in the South and he was inquiring about whether or not we had that particular store up here. After tittering like adolescents for a few, Sam replied "uh, yeah, on a good night..." hee hee.

Anyway, here are some pics I took on the trip. Sam has a bunch too, but I have to dig them out, so get started on mine.

Iniakuk Lake from the air.

Dogs on a plane! Bull and Sally enjoy the view.

Peter and Christine out on the trail.

At our first trail lunch, I let the dogs loose to play. Here's Summer coming for a pet.

Best handler/husband ever.

Booties drying by the fire.

Philip, the kitchen wizard preparing bacon-wrapped scallops.

Room with a view.

I turned around backwards on my sled to get this one.

Christine and Peter with the Mackey dogs: Vinnie, Foster, Winter and Hayden.

The great and powerful John Gaedeke.

Hazel and Gus with their eyes on the prize: the bucket of food.

Even the outhouse was pretty.

The lodge.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do you guys have BJs up here?

Um, yes, we do. More on that title later.
We're home! The trip was AMAZING! I mean really, really fantastic. Iniakuk Lodge is paradise. The dogs were superb, the guests were ridiculously nice, the guide/owner was so accommodating and kind; and the chef, well, he's in a class of his own. Needless to say the food was unbelievable. Sam and I are exhausted but drove the six hours home from Coldfoot (where we caught the plane to Iniakuk) with huge smiles on our faces...the dogs did too. OK, I'm going to bed so more on the trip and tons of photos tomorrow.
Whirled Peas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No more baby-puggle-mama drama

What the hell kind of name is Bootsie? It's just so generic. So vanilla. Well, apparently it's the name of the puggle. Yes, we found the owner. And by we, I mean Mary-Beth and myself. Mary-Beth agreed to foster the dog for a while, but it was only for a day before the owner called. Bootsie had gone missing on March 8, a full week before she showed up here. The woman said she had called it in to the pound, but when I called the shelter to inquire, they said no. Hmmm. Anyway, the woman saw the add in the paper and called. I had a couple people interested in adopting her, so she would have gone to a great home either way.
OK, we're getting ready to go, so I'll post again when we get back from the mountains next week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Get your puggle on

Yep, Princess Consuela (I changed her name) is still here. Looks like no one is even looking for her. I'm not sure what we're going to do, but we can't keep her. Seriously, we can't keep her. No! I'm still trying to get gear and logistics organized for the Brooks Range trip. Sam's still in bed with the plague. He was starting to feel better but then went downhill again and today he says he's feeling better again. I may be going on this mountain adventure alone. Well, I'll have 18 dogs, a couple of tourists, the lodge owner and a chef, so I won't be totally alone. Either way I'm looking forward to it.
Anyway, here are some pics of the Open North American Championships which were this weekend. My friend John and I walked onto the trail from my yard to watch teams and get some photos. Also, here are some photos of Princess Consuela just in case I can tempt anyone into taking her. She's housebroken, calm, snuggly, quiet and sits on your lap while driving (and on the toilet).
Someone take her!!!
I'm still not smoking, but it's been very hard.

ONAC dogs.
Johnny in a tree.

Monkeyman chimping in a tree. Chimping is what we in the biz call it when a photog looks at the back of the camera to see what photos they've got.

Magili Philip coming around a corner.

A team coming down the stretch.

Roy and Princess C on the porch this morning.

She's always on alert.

She needs a home away from sled dogs who want to eat her.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oops, we did it again...

So last night there was a commotion in the dog yard. It was a peculiar cacophony of barks. It was the alarm bark mixed with a more aggressive "We're-going-to-kill-you" bark. At first I thought they had Ruffles but when I flicked on the yard light, I saw what they were barking at. A puppy. Not Roy, either. A new puppy. Or at least I thought it was a puppy. It turns out this strange dog that appeared last night is a Puggle. A cross between a pug and a beagle. She looks about a year or two old, is very small and friendly, and after several tries, it was Sam that finally caught her. I've named her Marcy, but we're not keeping her. She belongs to someone as she's got good weight on her and is a wearing a collar. She slept with me last night and is house trained, quiet and fearless. She ran through the dog yard and nobody attacked her. Roy keeps trying to bite her butt, but she snarls and sends him whimpering away. Anyway, I'm going to the pound to see if anyone has come looking for her yet. I don't want to turn her in yet as it's $100 to bail a dog out and so I'd rather find the owners. But if doesn't happen in the next day or two, I'll send her to the clink. Sam pretends he doesn't like her, but I think he does.

We need another couch...

A face only a mother could love...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hot dogs and one dead-seal flop

I took 14 dogs out to North Pole today and it was bloody hot out - 20 F. The pups were feelin' the heat. We only did 12 miles because of the warm weather. The dogs did great at usual and I had a blast running 14 dogs. Man, can they fly... stopping was a big of an issue but my hooks managed to hold them for a second or two. Parker and Sipsi had issues with the heat and the speed. Parker had a hissy fit and threw herself on the ground at one point. I stopped and checked her out. She was fine, just a little hot. I doused her in snow and took it slow from then on, stopping every couple of miles to let the dogs eat snowcones and roll around.
Sam and I leave Wednesday for Coldfoot. From there we'll fly into Iniakuk Lodge. We're still getting gear together, but everything is coming together nicely. I'm borrowing four dogs from Lance Mackey for the trip to round out three teams. I hope the tourists know who he is and get a thrill out of running his dogs in the mountains...I know I will!
Anyway, I still want to smoke, but am coping...for now...thanks again for all the support...

My team.
I made Tamara take my camera partway through the run to get some blog photos...She ran 10 dogs and is getting ready for Taiga 300.

This is the face of a woman on the edge

Day 3
Weight: None of your damn business
Cigs: None!
Alcohol units: None
Coffee: A cup a day (as opposed to a pot per day I drank when I smoked)
Water: Lots
Exercise: More each day
So how do I feel? Like shit! I'm so edgy...
The thought of smoking has completely consumed me. It's all I think about. Driving is the worst. Mornings are not so bad. I drink a lot of water first thing and then exercise. Today I did a pilates DVD. Our TV is upstairs and so Sam was in bed (he's still very sick, but getting better) and I was doing my workout tape. He just watched (probably the skinny, scantily-clad chippies on the tape and not me) and then started critiquing my performance. "You're too spastic," he said to me.
It's a good thing he's so sick or else I'd have to put the smack down.
I talked to Theresa yesterday about the ciggie cravings. She suggested that instead of denying them, I explore them. Knowing that I won't give in, I'm trying to just let myself go when the cravings hit, instead of fighting them.
I'm not there yet.
I'm looking forward to writing about it, but right now it's just too hard. I'm shaky and fidgety. I can't sleep that well and I'm seriously considering punching Josh in the face. OK, well, on that note, I'm heading out to North Pole to run the dogs. I'm taking all 14, which is the biggest team I've ever run, so wish me luck. I'll take photos.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Watch for bumps in the road

Well, tomorrow is it. My quit date. I've got a plan. I've got nicotine gum and nicotine patches are on the way courtesy of the State of Alaska. Today, I'm cleaning out the trucks before I go to work. I'm overwhelmed with all the support. Thank you so much, it means the world to me. Tomorrow morning, instead of sitting on the porch with my coffee and cigs, I'm getting up, having a glass of water, grabbing Gus and going for a walk. Gus is the only dog who will actually walk on a leash without pulling my arm off. Instead he trots ahead and when he feels resistance, he runs back to me and jumps up in my arms. It's super cute the first couple of times, but Gus weighs about 55 pounds, so it gets old fast. But, he's my walking buddy now whether he likes it or not. I'm looking forward to be a nonsmoker. To getting healthier. Sometimes I worry that I'm trying to change too much too fast, but I've made drastic life changes in the past and they've seemed to work out just fine. My quit coach is a nice guy, though I was disappointed to find out he's in Seattle, not Alaska. When I told him I was a dog musher, he asked if I was on the Iditarod trail right now. Uh, yeah, I took time out from the Iditarod to call you, you douche bag. Oh well, he was actually helpful and very nice so I let that one slide.
OK, say hello to Jillian the nonsmoker!
Peace.The aurora were rippin' the other night.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Where have all the cowboys gone?

This post is incredibly personal. If you don't want to know more of me than crazy mushing antics or unfounded rants, then stop reading now.
I started smoking at the age of 13. My sister and a friend down the road introduced me to the seductive and bad-ass world of cigarettes. We were rebels. Sneaking ciggies from friends' parents, finding the biggest butts in the ashtray and running off to puff our brains out. In high school, there was a clan that would gather between classes to smoke. My friend's brother bought me my first full pack of Du Maurier Lights. They stayed under the mattress of my bed forever. I contemplated taking the plunge. Diving into the world of 'my own packs.' I took that step and now, 17 years later, I still smoke. I don't know if any of those girls still do. In Whitehorse, I would hide it. I was the sports editor and would interview and photograph svelte athletes on a daily basis. How could I have any credibility if they saw me puffing away. So, even driving around town I was very aware about who might see me. My parents don't smoke and my father has been the biggest advocate of me quitting. A few years ago he said he would no longer accept Christmas or birthday gifts until I quit. That would be his gift. But no matter how much he pleaded, I still couldn't even begin to imagine quitting. Smoking is the ultimate addiction. It puts you in a strangle hold in so many different ways. Nicotine, tar and all the other carcinogens are just one facet. The physical act, the habit, the routine, nay ritual. I like it. I like smoking. I don't like the discerning looks, the cost or the stench, but I like how it makes feel. I need it.
But, now, after 17 years, I'm quitting. I have to. It's too hard. It's too much.
The final straw was a couple nights ago. I've been sick for about a week now and the other night I left work early because I was coughing so hard I kept throwing up. On the drive home, face still burning, lungs on fire, I lit up. I felt so disgusting and helpless. I knew then that it was time to say goodbye, once and for all, to my stinky lover.
This morning I called the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance. They set me up with a quit coach. I'm going to buy some nicotine gum and hopefully that's all I will need. The problem is, I'm still so unsure about quitting. How will I have coffee in the morning? I sit on the porch with the dogs, smoking and drinking coffee. Or beer. How can I go out for beer and not smoke? I realize that this huge step will take some adjustments in regard to my other vices as well and that scares the crap out of me. Can I do this?
I have to.
I don't want to die.
I need support from you. And posting this, for the world to see, is a commitment in itself.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Oh, I'll give you some sign language

I have completely lost my voice. Well, not completely. If I strain I can make pathetic little squeaking noises. Sam's in heaven. I am finally (finally!) silent. Sigh. Though I am feeling much better, i.e., I can actually walk around now, my throat is killing me and my voice has wandered off. I have to cover the Limited North American Championships (dog sled races) tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday for the paper. Maybe I should buy a chalkboard to write down my interview questions. I told the sports' editor I'd find a way and not to worry, it'll get done. Should be interesting. This morning I took a friend's father-in-law who is visiting from Croatia for a dog sled ride. This stealthy oldtimer wasn't riding in the basket though, no way. I hooked up a second sled to mine, clipped up all 10 race dogs and away we went. The dogs looked fantastic. I rarely let them lope full steam because we mostly do long runs, but today I knew it would be short so I let them go. What fun! We rounded a bend within the first five minutes and there was a moose on the trail. She leaped off the trail and trotted along side us for a minute. I forget the gentleman's name already, but he was so happy to see his first moose on the back of a dog Alaskan! He tipped once, but learned quickly and seconds later, we rounded another very steep corner. I looked back in time to see him up on one runner skidding around the turn with a huge grin on his face. He stayed on and did it fine style. What a guy! Sadly though, Lovro slipped Sam some cash for the ride while his father-in-law and I were out on the trail even though I told him I wanted to do it for free because I really love seeing people experience mushing for the first time. I think it's more fun for me to watch their faces. But thank you, Lovro.
So this weekend is busy covering the LNAC and working nights on the copy desk. Hopefully my voice returns. I hate depriving Sam of my rants, nagging and morning songs...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Was Moses really just trippin'?

A word about my Hazel.
Hazel, my dog not my Gran, was born in 2004 out of Dirac and Edge at Windy Creek Kennel. That was the summer I took off from my job at the Yukon News to get a taste of dog handling in Alaska. Right away, Hazel was my favourite. I named her after my Gran. This tiny gray sweetie was the most outgoing of the litter. As a pup, she slept with me in my cabin and was always game for snuggles and puppy walks. Who would ever guess that just a couple years later, I would be living in Alaska and Hazel would be mine. In 2005, Hazel had a litter, but they did not survive and that changed her. Though she is still a little spitfire, she's weary and more cautious now.
In the team, she's always enthusiastic. I ran her in lead for a while last year, but her goofiness was not conducive with being a great lead dog. Even in swing, she would manage to pull the entire team off the trail to scoop snow or take a pee. This year, I started running her in wheel (the position directly in front of the sled). Wheel is usually reserved for bigger, stronger dogs, but in my experience, a smaller, more agile dog in wheel works best. Hazel found her spot. She is tiny, but mighty and is a very integral part of the team. She's as strong as any of my big males but more sensitive. When she gets tired, she pouts and will stop pulling. I always stop and make sure she's not injured and then with a few pets and kisses, she's lunging to go again. Hazel has a swimmer's body - big muscular shoulders and a slender lower half. She's at the front of the yard because she's the best guard dog there is. Her weariness of strangers always results in loud alarm barks whenever anyone enters the driveway. She's all smiles when I come out to greet her, though.
On the weekend in Nenana, she worked her butt off and on the second day, when I asked the team to give me just a little something extra, she was all for it. As a result, we knocked a good 24 minutes off our time from the previous day. Coming down the river to the finish line on Day 2, Hazel knew what was going on. She started screaming. A sound unlike any other I had heard from her. I slowed down and looked at her wondering if she had hurt herself. Nope. She knew we were about to finish and that scream was a rally cheer. 'Come on guys, let's bring it home!'
She put her head down and dug in. The rest of the team followed suit and within seconds of her cries, we were loping down the finish chute at warp speed. A crowd that had gathered on the river for the raising of the tripod (Tripod Days is what the weekend centers's a long story) all turned to see what the commotion was. When they saw what was going on they all started cheering loudly. Even though I was sick, I stood up tall and proud and had the biggest smile on my face. My team. I could not have been prouder. And it was all because of my little mouse, Hazel. What a girl. All the troubles from the day before, my frustration and my aching body; it didn't matter any more. We finished strong and happy. And we weren't last!
I've recovered from my bout with the plague and will go back to work tomorrow. I'm busy getting details sorted out for my trip into the Brooks Range.
NWT sprinter Brent Beck waxes his sled. He was second overall. Frackin' sprinters!

My bib. I was No. 2.

Me and the race marshal. I forget his name.

A musher unloads his sled. I like his kennel name.

The bridge over the Tanana River. If you look closely over to the right, near those trucks, you'll see the Tripod. Each year, during Tripod Days, a large tripod is erected on the ice. In Alaska's only lottery, people buy tickets and guess when the river will break up and when the tripod will fall. The tripod is attached to a clock and winner(s) have to be right on the day, hour and minute. Last year's jackpot was over $300,000. It's huge. The weekend also includes the Ice Classic dog race, snowmachine races, and tons of other fun and weird activities.

One of those other weird activities is a pop scramble. They chuck cans of soda down the street and kids have to run and collect as much as they can to win a prize. They used to have a beer scramble for adults but I think it got a little out of hand and thus was canceled. Welcome to Nenana, folks, where the local bar is open until 5 a.m. every day. Hooray!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Best weekend ever...until now

Am very sick...I hope death comes swiftly...Second day of race was frickin' amazing. I cut 25 minutes off my time from the first day finishing 40 miles in 3 hours and 56 minutes. I didn't fall off once. Hazel is my new superstar...I won back my entry fee. Am going back to bad to wait for death...Want my mommy...instead have Roy....not the same...more details and photos later...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Follow the dog-poop dotted, spruce-bow lined trail

The Nenana Ice Classic is a fun race and yes, this year it is actually 40 miles each day. Today the sun was shining and the wind was a whippin'. We made it through Day 1, however and came in ninth out of 10 teams. Even though they try to scare away the sprint teams, a few inevitably show up and whiz by in a blur of fur and shiny snowsuits. The distance mushers show up with big sleds and ripped parkas...ahem...
The dogs ran great and we finished 40.3 miles in 4 hours and 19 minutes which is a pretty good time for my slowcoaches. The fastest team, a sprint crew from the NWT did it in less than 3 hours. It was cold and windy at the start so there weren't really any spectators or volunteers and with no handler, I was scrambling to get the dogs hooked up in time. Oh well, now I know I can do it all myself. I biffed it a couple times along the way but that's nothing new. At least it wasn't right out of the gate. I also fell off the top of my dog truck at the end of the one was left at the finish line to see and the last-place guy wasn't in yet. The trail was run mostly on the Tanana River, over sloughs and through some narrow wooded sections. The route was marked with spruce bows. Interesting. The good news is, if I finish I win back my $100 entry fee. Hooray! I'll try to take some photos tomorrow, I was just too nervous today.