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 around...it'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!