Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy holidogs from Spitfire Kennels!

As Christmas gets closer, Rich and I are actually getting into the holiday spirit....even though we tried to resist. I had a burst of energy the other night so I went out in the snow and wind, plowed through chest-deep snow and hacked down a spindly spruce tree. We don't have room for it in the cabin, so I stuck it in a snow bank right outside. I decorated it with scrap ribbon and dog booties. Then I hung our stockings beside the wood stove. We're ready. We've been receiving colorful packages and homemade baked goods from Rich's family, which we have been scarfing down. Thank you, Maureen and Dave!! We got our Christmas bonus from work and used some of it for some small gifts for each other. My stocking is already weighed down and it's taking all my strength not to peek inside. Anyway, we're been training sporadically as the winds and new snow have covered the trails. The dogs are doing well at breaking trail, but it's a slog. Yesterday, we were scheduled to have our first tour, but had to postpone the ride part as the temps rose to 40 F and the trails were non-existent with drifts and heavy snow. Rich tried to break through the snow and two-foot drifts with the snowmachine, but to no avail. The guests understood and we still spent a couple of hours with the dogs, puppies and enjoying soup and hot chocolate in the cabin. We're aiming for Sunday for the ride. I'm thinking more people will be out on the trail over Christmas.
Anyway, below are some photos of our Christmas cabin.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walking the line between faith and fear

OK, I lied. I had H1N1. Have. Swine Flu. Gack! Man, it really kicked my butt. I missed almost two weeks of work. Double gack. And dog training was sporadic. But, I'm at about 80 per cent now and back on the sled. We're doing some longish runs and my goal is still the Copper Basin in mid-January. If not, then the Taiga 300 in mid-February. Then, in March, I'm planning on running the Two Rivers 200. We'll see how money holds up, but I need to do as many races as possible to qualify for Iditarod. And when I say qualify, I mean not just on paper (you need 750 miles of sanctioned racing to get to the Iditarod start) but also actually be qualified through experiences, trials and tribulations. Things have been up and down on the home front. We're in the middle of a blizzard right now...MORE SNOW...and the generator has been broken for over a week now, which means we have no power. I've been sucking down Vitamin D like it's candy to try and avoid the temptation to stick my head in the oven. I kid. (not really) The dogs are all really good. They're in good shape, they're spirits are high and we're all getting itchy for our first camping trip, which will be coming up shortly. Maude had three pups a few weeks back and they're at the perfect age right now. Not too bitey. We named them Audrey, Linus and Ty. Yes, it was unplanned, but we're in love with them and the breeding happened between two of our best young dogs.
In a few days, the longest night will happen and then, thank Dog, we'll be gaining daylight slowly but surely.
I've had an offer to cover the Yukon Quest this year for KUAC, the NPR affiliate in Fairbanks. I'm not sure yet, but I'm seriously considering it. Anyway, here are a couple of photos.

The newest Spitfires. From left, Audrey, Linus and Ty.

After a 30-mile training run the other night, Rich's leaders Hazel and Omar, jumped into the nearest house as soon as we got back into the yard. They were still hooked to the front of the team. We really don't encourage or appreciate that behaviour, but it was pretty damn cute.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Too much of a good thing

Well, I made it back to AK. It was another 12 hours of flying and I got home sick as a dog (NOT swine flu) with four feet of snow at our place. I had a great trip outside and got meet Rich's family. Love them. They are kind and funny and smart and best of all, love to party. I went home to Canada after for a quick trip to see my Gran and reconnect with old friends. My Gran looks good (as always) and seemed to be improving even in the short time I was there. We sang songs and I did her nails and showed her some photos on the computer of the kennel. I know she'll recover quickly.
Meanwhile, Rich came back to AK early and had to shovel all the snow in order to get on with daily dog chores. He also ran the dogs a few times, though breaking trail with snow that deep was very, very difficult for dogs and driver. But now the snowmachiners have been out in force and the trails are in and set up in most places. We went out for a few hours last night and it was great. Clear sky, no wind, the dogs did doesn't get much better. It's still warm here. It hovers around freezing (32 F, 0 C) even at night. Last night on the run we could really feel the temperature swings as we climbed up into the high country and then down onto a river drainage trail. Our first race is coming up in a couple weeks, but I'm actually debating whether or not I'll even go. I'm already signed up and it's only a 120-miler (60 on Sat. and 60 on Sunday) but I just don't know if the dogs will be ready. I could go and use it as a training run, but to be honest, I really don't want another red lantern. Sigh. What to do? Rich suggested I go and do the first 60 and if the dogs aren't into it, we go home, no harm, no foul. I dunno. We'll see.
Anyway, here are some really random photos from our time outside. More to come.
A couple great friends from high school. Leslie and Nicky. It was so great to catch up after several years.
Rich saw this magazine at the Minneapolis airport and couldn't believe it. Roy is on the cover!
Me and my Gran

Rich and his papa.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I'm sitting at this table called love

I'm heading home to Alaska in the morning. Home to over three feet (I'm not exaggerating) of snow. Good, but enough already. The dogs are traveling even shorter miles because they're breaking trail. The snow's even too deep for the snow-go, apparently. Rich has been busy shoveling since he got home on Sunday night.
It's always a little nice to come home, I fall back into the same old moods and routines, but I'm really excited to get back. I've been visiting Gran, who's making progress steadily. I did her nails and we did puzzles. I wish I could just pack her up and take her home with me.
I fly out of Syracuse at 6 a.m. and I've picked up a bug somewhere so my 12-hour marathon on many planes is going to suck. Big time. BUT, I'm going home to my Rich and that's all that matters. Oh, and the dogs, of course. Can't wait.
Photos of random trip stuff coming up.

Friday, November 27, 2009

So what we gon have - dessert or disaster?

We arrived, after a long series of long flights, in Albany yesterday. Thanksgiving. Of course in Canada we call it American Thanksgiving, but here in America they just call it Thanksgiving. We went to Rich's mum's brother's house where a whole heap of relatives and friends had gathered. Rich being home has garnered him celebrity status. But here in upstate New York, he's known as RJ. It's nice here, warm weather, nice peeps and lots of food and drink. My parents and sister and nephew are driving down today from Canada to spend a couple of nights here. Should be interesting. Rich and I brought two cases of wine from the winery, so that should help everyone get a little more comfortable. And by everyone, I mean me. Apparently Roy is doing fine with our friend Patty, though he got a little snippy with her Fletcher at dinner time. Other than that he's been infused into her couch. The other dogs are doing fine, she said. I miss them dearly but am actually enjoying a little time away. It's been a long time since I woke up in the morning and didn't have to think about dog chores. We're staying in a large rental house with a couple fireplaces, a jacuzzi tub and these strange little knobs on the sinks that when you turn, water comes right out of them like magic! This morning we've been watching the news with clips of crazed shoppers mobbing department stores for 'Black Friday.' It's crazy and a little scary. Today we're lounging around waiting for my family and a big list of more friends and family that are expected for dinner and visiting. RJ will be signing autographs on the pathway to the house later this afternoon.
Sunday we all part ways. Rich will head back to AK while I will jump in my dad's new truck and head to Canada for a couple of days before flying out of Syracuse on Thursday to head home and train, train, train the dogs.
OK, enough for now. More soon. Stay tuned, kids. I'll have plenty of stories from this ongoing saga.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ain't no love in the city

Last night, we were getting ready to hook up a team for the second time that day when Kelly came over to chat. 'Jason's gone on a run, but he hopes to be back before the storm,' she said.
Storm. The word made my heart skip a beat. Storm. I marched over to Kelly with sort of a lunatic glaze over my eyes. 'What storm? Storm? Did you say storm??' I was yelling now. Actually, it was more of an excited screech.
Now, if I hear that word before a race, it's more of a have-to-run-to-the-bathroom-every-five-minutes nervous excitement. But if it's during training, when we're been waiting desperately for snow, that word is music. So the storm came and is still here. We've got eight inches of snow so far. Jason's going out to break trail today and we'll have our first run on a sled tonight. We leave tomorrow for Anchorage and then Wednesday we fly out to New York for Thanksgiving with our families. I'll keep you posted on the chaos that will most definitely ensue whilst traveling the day before the holiday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hello out there, we're on the air

We're up! Spitfire Kennels is now online. Some of the pages are still under construction as I have to finish writing them, but click away and see what you can find. Thanks again to Don at Timber Bay Bed and Breakfast, for sponsoring us with the website.
Well, our slump is done. I want to thank Karen Ramstead for her advice. What a great dog driver and mentor. I took her advice and gave the dogs a day off and then a really fun day of loose runs and time in the house. Our training run last night was awesome! We flew! Capiche was in lead and didn't want to come home. She knows where home is but lead the team in the opposite direction to keep on going! Amazing. What a difference.
I was thinking of my Gran the whole time on last night's run. She had a stroke and was in the hospital. She's doing much better now and is expected to recover almost completely. But if I know my Gran, the original Spitfire, she'll recover 100 percent and then some! So, when Rich and I head to New York at Thanksgiving I'll take a couple of extra days to head North to Brockville to visit her. I know that most of you don't know her, but please send her happy thoughts. I know if she could, she would want to be up here in Alaska with us flying down the trails on the back of a dog sled! I love you, Gran!! See you soon!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I try to walk away and I stumble

It was cold here. Now it's not. We ran the dogs this morning in rain but now it's snowing. To be perfectly honest, the dogs and I are in a bit of a slump right now. We need to bump up miles but I'm worried about the dogs and their morale. We took a different trail today and the dogs did well and that seemed to perk them up a bit. Le sigh. Finding the perfect balance between keeping the dogs happy and motivated whilst maintaining and increasing their physical conditioning is, like, hard. Very hard. I'm struggling with that a lot these days. Of course, me being a bit down isn't helping the dogs at all as their moods play directly off mine.

On a lighter note, Don Cotogno is helping with our new website ( and it's nearly ready to be launched. Also, Lead Dog Mead is selling like hotcakes at the winery so that sponsorship should be coming in soon. Just in time, too. We're picking up a ton of dry food and several hundred pounds of meat in a couple weeks in Wasilla.

Random photos to follow.


Puppies!! Ruby leading the charge with big Cinch and lil' Alive behind.

Our dog-water source.

The yard.

Raven marks in the new snow...since I've been writing this it has rained and is now snowing again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

If dreams were thunder and lightning was desire

Guess what's frozen?? No, not my heart. The trails! The mud bogs and puddles are frozen! Oh, happy day.
That's the most exciting thing I have to report. Oh! I got another sponsor. Lee Smith of Wasilla joined our team and it couldn't have come at a better time! We're making plans for ordering a few hundred pounds of meat and signing up for races this season, so yeah, we are very, very appreciative. Thank you!
We've been busy moving things around and getting dog-yard chores done before everything is buried in snow. It's a nice time of year.
Halloween was uneventful. I didn't dress up, though some woman said I looked 'very festive' and I had to explain to her that I wasn't wearing a costume. Sigh.
Everything else is great, especially- despite what some think - my fashion sense.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The warnings were swift and ample

Well, it's official. There's no turning back now. Not in my mind, anyway. With the sales of Lead Dog Mead underway, and more sponsors and supporters jumping on board, my plight for the 2011 Iditarod has become a reality. Even though it's still more than a year away, I wake up at night with thoughts of the Dalzell Gorge, the Happy River Steps, the Farewell Burn, Little McKinley, the Blueberry Hills, Norton Sound, even Cape Nome. Don't get me wrong, I'm really excited to see the trail and the villages and meet the people and simply to run 1,000 miles with my dogs, but, yeah, I'm pretty nervous. I guess I'd be more worried if I wasn't nervous at all. Mostly, I have visions of wiping out on the main drags of downtown Anchorage during the ceremonial start. As a photographer, I know about waiting for that great action/wipe-out shot during a dog race and for those of you who know me, I have a reputation (if only in my own mind) for crashing and dragging at the start of races.
Training is going well though we're still running through water and mud. No snow and no cold, makes Jilly a grumpy girl.
All the dogs are doing well and a couple of the yearlings have shown that they are promising leaders. We're still relying on Capiche, Bully and Drake a lot but hopefully once the younger leaders-in-training get more confident we can start giving the older ones a break. I've also been trying our teenage dogs up front but to no avail. I guess Doyon (aka Sweet D) showed the most promise, though he gets distracted by anything (rocks, puddles, his own feet) when there's not another dog butt in front of him. Oh well, he's secured a spot in the back of the team.
Lead Dog Mead is selling well at the Winery and at stores throughout the state. Also, I acquired a new sponsor yesterday. Terri Segesser, owner of T.J. Seggy's in Soldotna, AK, has donated $250 worth of diesel fuel for when we travel to races this season. Thank you, Terri!
We're still working on details for the winter tour biz, but we've already had some inquiries so I'm very optimistic.
As promised, here are some random photos from the past couple of weeks.

Rich and his burnin' loins. Just kidding (Sorry, Lou). Rich made a grate for the top of the wood stove so we can have hot water for the dogs.

A rare cool morning.

Our 'kitchen.'

Bedroom, living room, dining room, TV room...etc, etc, etc.

Rich steppin' out. This is our new cabin. She's tiny but mighty and soon to be a little less tiny. Jason and Kelly (our landlords/friends/fellow mushers) are building a bedroom on the back of this little beast. Just that little extra bit room will be a big improvement.

We still marvel at the beauty outside our front door.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's a black fly in your Chardonnay

I have a new issue. One I've never had to deal with or have even thought about before. I have moths. Moths that are eating my clothes. I mean, seriously, does that really still happen? I guess so. You'd think it'd be a good excuse to buy some new clothes, but broke mushers don't get a chance to go on shopping sprees very often, unless it involves the brand names 'Taiga' or 'Redpaw.'
I'll have to go to Ulmer's and get some sort of pesticide, I suppose. Now I'll smell like dog shit and moth balls, oh joy!
Training is going well, though we've been having some minor leader break-downs during the past few runs. The dogs and I are learning from every run but I still have so many questions and my instinct is to call one my mushing mentors for help, but I know there is no one answer. It makes me realize how much I still have to learn and how it's easy to run dogs, but hard to train them.
We're plugging away and the dogs' hearts are all in the right places, so that's a big bonus. It has finally cooled down enough here and we've even dipped below freezing on a few occasions. With frozen bogs and sink holes, everyone's morale is up. We had a head-on pass yesterday morning with a local sprint musher and the dogs passed beautifully despite very, very tight trail conditions. It was a nice ending to a frustrating run where every leader we put up front was in opposite world (gee meant haw, etc.). Sigh. And let it go. It's gone. Tomorrow's a new day!
OK, photos of everything, including the moth-snack clothes are coming soon, I swear!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mud treatments for free at Spitfire Kennels!

What is up with the weather here? I mean, really? What the hell is going on? It's 55 degrees outside!! We were told that where we are living now has enough snow by this time of year to be doing 35-mile runs ON A SLED! Yeah, right. We're in a mud hold on the four-wheeler careening down slip-n-slide trails while the dogs are up to their tits in mud. It's nuts. So, why am I complaining about things I have no control over? Well, it's kind of my thing, in case you haven't noticed.
Anyway, we're making do by splitting the dog runs into two: one in the morning before work and one in the morning after work. That way, they're still getting the miles on them, just not all at once because it's so hot out.
The dogs are doing really well and our young superstars: Mr. Lahey, Maude, Wayne and Bubbles are awesome! Lahey and Maude have been running in lead a lot and are starting to take commands. It's so rewarding to see these young dogs coming into their own. Drake, Capiche and Hazel have been our go-to leaders with Omar starting to shine in the front position. Bully runs in lead on the days he feels like it, but I don't want to over do it as he's older and sensitive. The rest of the crew get moved around in the team and they have all really taken to charging right through open water...there's a lot of it around here. It's all very exciting and I can't wait for snow.
Our new cabin is growing on me, actually, more than that, I'm really starting to love it. The dogs have lots of space in the yard and the pups (Cinch, Alice and Ruby, in case you'd forgotten) get to run loose every morning. Alice is our current escape artist. She gets out of the puppy pen often, but then just runs laps around it until we open the gate and she jumps back in.
I just applied for a business license for Spitfire Kennels and am currently working on getting some winter tours set up. We're getting brochures made, joining the Chamber of Commerce and the Bed and Breakfast Association to get our name out in the community. We'll also be working closely with Don Cotogno, owner of Timber Bay Bed and Breakfast, to work out a partnership for the winter. Of course, this is all in the planning stages but already we have a lot of support. And if all goes well this winter, well, who knows?? Don will also be doing our website ( so stay tuned for the launch of that. It's been my dream for a while now to not only live and race with sled dogs, but earn my living with them, too. Rich and I are really motivated to make this work and I hope that some of you will visit us sometime and meet the dogs before hopping on a sled and taking off into the hills outside Homer.
Photos soon, I promise.
Also, Lead Dog Mead is now for sale at the winery and it's been selling really well. It's a Fireweed honey wine and part of the proceeds will go to Spitfire Kennels. Bill and Dorothy at Bear Creek Winery have been so generous and flexible. We're excited to have them on board!
Also, I'm just finishing up a review of Ken Anderson's 2009 Iditarod journal for the next issue of Mushing Magazine, so check it out.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

This is life, so we'll survive

I know I've used that title before, but it's something I've had to repeat to myself many times over the past week or so.
We're in (as much as we can fit) to our new cabin. It's nice. It will only get better.
I've had two serious meltdowns in the last few days. The first one I had to assure Rich that this was me at my worst. Poor guy. He's been the rock during this whole move and usually he's the stressed out one. Anyway, the dogs are great and we're loving being able to train from the yard. I think I'm going to steal Libby's mantra of 'trucking the dogs for four-wheeler training is against my religion.' Yep, no more truckin' except for races of course and maybe a camping trip or two.
Our new cabin is down in a hole with no cell service and I have to come into town for internet right now, so my access to the outside world is limited for the time being.
The Lead Dog Mead is being released this weekend and we've already sent three cases to stores in Fairbanks! Who knew Mr. Lahey would be such a huge star?
OK, photos of our new cabin and then our new cabin being moved by an excavator (it's portable!) and some pics of the pups coming up in a bit. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Maybe I'm a poor girl, but it doesn't bother me at all

There's a mouse in our cabin. I know what has to be done, but I'm hesitating. I named him Grundel. I tried to get Roy to eat him, but he's more interested in the couch.
We move in two days so I have until then to get the mouse out.
Training is going well, we bumped up miles the other day and are running on new trails in the dark...the dogs LOVE it! It's getting colder here and it did snow, but nothing stuck. Work is slowing down and we're debating whether or not one of us should get another job. I hope not, but we do what we need to, to do what we want to.
We bottled a new wine at work. It's a mead, actually, which means it's a honey wine. It's called Lead Dog Mead and I made a label with Mr. Lahey (our newest lead dog) on it. A few bucks from every bottle sold will go to Rich and I and our Iditarod plight. It's a cool way to sponsor us and I can't wait for the release. I'll be there with Mr. Lahey. Gold Hill in Fairbanks is excited to release it too and it'll be sold around Alaska.
Here's the label:

We need to tweak the label a little but you get the gist. Exciting times around here.
More photos to come soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I used to be an angel, now I'm just like everybody else

Fall training is going really well and we've got a lot of potential in the team this year. It's funny because Rich and I have such different styles of training dogs and we've done nearly every run together so far. Some days we're on the same page and some days I want to push him off the 4-wheeler and then run him over. Same with him, I'm sure. But the dogs are getting good miles on them, they're happy and we're running a lot of different dogs in different positions in the team. One thing we can agree is the loose dogs along our trail need some discipline. At first the gang of pet dogs (a big fluffy, black thing; a brown fat mutt and a pitbull mix) would run around the team as we passed by but as of late they're getting more brave and one of them tried to take a chunk out of Bully on the run last night. I swear to all that is holy, you touch my Bully, you get a whippin'. On the way back, I was armed with a stick but the loose dogs sensed something was different and kept their distance. We don't exactly want to start a hillbilly war by trying to approach the dogs' owners but instead really like the idea of catching one of them and spray-painting a bull's eye on the side of it. What? I wouldn't actually do it, but the owners need to know their dogs are wreaking havoc out on the road. But like some of my pro-musher friends have told me, these loose dogs will help us make leaders that will go on-by anything in their way. Bright side, bright side, bright side.
We're training every day, rotating our 18 race-eligible dogs (just the three pups and Capt' Roy are not running) so that they run two days in a row and then have a day off. It's working out really well and I'm excited with the progress thus far.
On a different note we're heading to Boston and New York for Thanksgiving!! (American Thanksgiving in November not Canadian Thanksgiving in October...I'll be spending that one crying quietly in the corner of our cabin...) Yahoo!! A holiday!! I can't wait to meet more of Richard's family and put some more pieces of the Savoyski/Taft puzzle into place. (Side note: his family calls him RJ for Richard John.)
OK, dogs are waiting for breakfast.

Mr. Lahey, right, lickin' her chops before a run. Capiche, left, has been an excellent teacher for the young leaders-in-training.

Bubbles, Lahey's sister, screaming to get going.

Rich hooking up the last dogs in our 12-dog string.

Heading home. This is the four-way where the loose dogs hang out. All clear on this run...

A couple who trains dogs together, stays together....wink....(or kills each other in the process, but we're both still alive and kickin')

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nothing much but love to give you

Well, I'm back down to one job, am full-swing into fall training and getting ready to move at the end of this month. Currently, it's 7:30 in the morning and I'm watching Rich give Roy chips for cheap tricks. Roy can 'sit,' 'shake,' 'run away looking like he just saw a ghost,' and 'lay down.' Good Roy Boy. The real dogs are doing really well in harness. The first couple of runs were on a brand new trail with plenty of distractions (loose dogs) and tribulations (no leaders), so needless to say it was kind of frustrating for musher and dogs alike. But we've been running some young dogs up front and have been pleasantly surprised at all the potential. We started at 4 miles and will stay there for about another week before bumping up to six and then hopefully 10 by the first week of October. But we'll see how it goes. We've got 18 running dogs and have divided them up into three, six-dog teams. We run 12 dogs at a time alternating the six-dog teams so that every dog runs two days in a row and then has one day off. I love fall training (until, of course, it's November and we're still on a four-wheeler doing 40-mile runs at 40-below) because the dogs are new and fresh, and we watch them improve with every run. I keep forgetting my camera but photos are coming soon.
Soon Rich and I will be moving down the road to a cabin on property owned by friends and fellow mushers Jason and Kelly. The cabin is very small but extremely adorable and we'll be going back to no water or power. That means wood heat, hauling water and a generator. This time though, we have a battery bank and a propane fridge and stove. I'm really excited for winter for a few reasons: it will be significantly warmer here in Homer than in Fairbanks, we have hundreds of miles of tough trails directly from our dog yard and a supply of fresh fish heads all winter. Bring it on!
Rich will continue to work at the winery as will I, but he's also taking classes at the college and will help me train the team for races. I'm hoping he'll race a little this year too because he's quite good at it. But if not, I'm really excited just to camp out with the teams and get to know the area.
I guess that's it for now.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I got this far with no direction

Richard's parents rolled into town a few days ago and we've been trying to make this their best Alaska trip yet, even though I've been working 10-hour days. I did manage to have a day off and we took a water taxi over to Seldovia for the afternoon. If I were wealthy, I would live there. Rich has been showing Bob and LouAnn the trails and sights around our house and, of course, LouAnn has been cooking up a storm. We have enough halibut chowder, banana bread, pasta sauce and chicken stew to last the winter. Thanks Lou! While LouAnn is dicing, chopping and mixing in our modest kitchen, Bob and Rich have been fixing things around the dog yard and tinkering with the truck. Quality time. Today I'm at work down on the Spit at the Emerald Air office. After Labour Day, the tourists make a beeline for the airports, so town is pretty dead. We're still offering bear viewing trips until the 17th however, so here I sit. All the other stores and shops on this boardwalk closed yesterday for the season, so no bakery runs for coffee and goodies. When it's slow, there's not much to do, so I've been working on some freelance stuff and watching Will and Grace bloopers on YouTube. Not much else to report except that it's really cooling off here and I'm excited for scarves, mitts and toques!
Here are a few photos from the trip across Katchemak Bay to Seldovia.

The Savoyski invasion...but where's Julie?? (Yes, Rich's head is really that big.)

Fly down? Showlace untied? Oh no, my was BEAR POO!!! Since I'm pretty much an expert bear whisperer now, I reassured the I'm almost positive I could outrun never know though...I realized this morning she's a lot like my mother; tiny with freakish upper body strength. And she did set a blazing pace on this trail (called the Otterbaun) just outside Seldovia. The trail winds through the rainforest and pops out at Outside Beach. It was really beautiful. Bob tried to get that perfect shot by climbing on jagged beach rocks, slipped and cut his hand open. These Savoyski men, I tell ya, always hurting themselves.

We chased this eagle down the Spit Road for a mile or two.

Dog outside the bar in Seldovia. If you're wondering: yes, there are loose dogs everywhere in the tiny village and yes, I found the bar straight away. Oh, and yes, ice is $200 a bag! What a rip!

Drive to work this morning.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Love the wine you're with

So sorry for the delay, but things have been busy 'round here. And sadly, I haven't even started training yet! Tomorrow. First run of the season happens tomorrow! Anyway, I've picked up a second job temporarily and am working seven days a week 10-hour days. Plus dog chores. Poor me. I'm actually staying amazingly upbeat and alert. Even though Rich insists I'm grumpy, I'm really not. (You ain't seen grumpy yet, honey!)
So work at both the winery and Emerald Air are going really well, though the season is winding down.
As the cooler weather settles in, the dogs are getting amped. I can't wait to get them back in harness. Rich went down the road a couple nights ago to scope out a new trail and unlike any years past, we will not be running through swamps! It's a dry trail with a few big puddles for the dogs to drink out of and lots and lots of hills. Ha, ha! The dogs and I will be ready for those endless climbs on the GinGin 200 this year! We'll start with all 18 of our adults (ranging in age from 1.5 years to 10 years old) in two teams of nine and the whittle it down as winter arrives. I'm pretty sure Bully is ready for retirement and that Sister and Hitchcock won't be interested in those long runs (they'll be doing tours and puppy training) BUT we're going to give every dog a fresh start and go from there. You never know, Bully might have one more year of running in him or Sister and Hitchcock might be interested in, oh I don't know, pulling (!) this year. Who knows. I sure am excited to see what happens. The dogs are always full of surprises and seem to pull through when I really need them. We have four yearlings on the team this year: Maude, Mr. Lahey, Bubbles and Wayne. They're all siblings, very small and full of gumption. Rich and I harness-broke them all this spring and though it was a little nuts at times, they all did really well. The rest of the team I had last year, so I'm hoping they will be even more cohesive this season. My race plan changes every day, but right now I'm thinking about the GinGin, the Copper Basin 300, the Tustemena 200 and the Taiga 300 with some shorter races thrown in like the Aurora 50-50, the Goosebay 120 (Rich will run that) and the T-100 (Rich will run that, too.) We'll see how the dogs and the money hold up, though.
We're taking a new approach to fall training this year. Dog whisperer John Schandelmeier talked last season about training to learn and not just to stack up the miles. So, while we have the stability and braking power of the four-wheeler, we're going to train the dogs, not just run the dogs. That means putting my most non-leader dogs up front and moving the dogs around a lot. This is the time to do it. Last year I relied on Capiche and Bully in lead through all of fall training and then as my first race approached, Bully decided he didn't want to lead anymore and Capiche got a tweaked shoulder. That was not the time to find new leaders, I should have been running everyone up front throughout the season. Anyway, I ended up borrowing leaders from Greg Parvin but this year, I want backup leaders and backups to my backups. Anyway, Rich and I will both be on at the winery through the winter but are also going to try and get our own winter tour business going. We both have experience (I guided four-day wilderness tours via dogsled in Finland and Rich worked giving day trips in Montana a few winters ago. Plus we both did summer tours in Skagway.) and love introducing people to the dogs and the sport. Plus, with Rich's Iditarod stories and my Iditarod plight, I think people will engaged and excited. We'll see how it goes. So here's a little brochure I've been working on. It's not a final, just a draft. Tell me what you think. (I realize that saying 'competitive mushers' is a big stretch, but we do race...) The dog on the front is Mr. Lahey.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Take a bear to lunch today

I went bear viewing Monday as part of training for a temporary, part-time gig I got with Emerald Air. I'll be helping them out for a couple weeks in September and thought it would be a good idea to go on a trip and see what they do first hand. The owners, Chris and Ken Day were great. They've been guiding bear-viewing trips in Katmai National Park and in the Preserve for two decades and have a wealth of knowledge about the area and bears. They're meticulous about every aspect of the trip to assure the safety of their clients and the bears. I had a good time and we saw many bears. Here are some photos from the trip.

The flight in was on a 1960 de Havilland Otter. Flying time was about an hour and a half. We even had to fly over the rainbow to get to the bears.

Augustine Island, where Augustine is still steaming from its last eruption in 2006.

Follow the tracks.

Mama and babes.

Babes following their mum.

Hey! Who are you? Spring cubs are curious but one snorty grunt from mama sent them running back to her.

Chasing fish in the river.
Here fishy fishy!

Got one!!


Friday, August 14, 2009

I use that sloppy English all the time

Even though fall is definitely in the air, and I'm obviously excited to run dogs again, I'm also a little anxious. Anxious about the team, learning new trails, earning money to finance all the races I want to do...I guess it's par for the course, so to speak. A woman came into the winery yesterday and we got chatting about dog mushing. She paused for a while and then looked at me with a serious expression. 'Can I ask you something?'
'Sure,' I said.
'What do you like about dog mushing?' she asked, adding 'I mean, why do you do it?'
I thought about it for a sec because there are a lot of reasons why. I love the dogs. I love being out on the trail. I love the hard work.
Then I answered her.
'I do it because it's hard. There's always something, some obstacle to overcome, some problem to figure out all the while making sure the dogs are performing at their best and staying happy and healthy. And at the end of day, after a long training run or a tough race with cold and wind and open water and tough trail, we're all OK.'
I don't know if that was the answer she was looking for but she accepted it.
Rich's parents are coming up in September and I'm looking forward to exploring more of this area with them. Work is good, but slowing down a little. The dogs are restless and so are we. Here are some photos from the past week or so.

Christina and I at work.

Bill, the owner, sampling some strawberry-rhubarb wine.

My dad's maple syrup on the shelf. We sell it at the winery now!

Rich at work building a new garden shed.

Bully on our trip to Kenai the other day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fox report: Poor is the new Rich

Sometimes, on rare occasions, I wish I was more girly. Like a girly girl. There are a few reasons for this and I realize how bad this is going to sound, but I mean no offense. Sometimes I don't want to haul/chop wood. Sometimes I don't want to lug buckets of meat and poop around. Sometimes I want to wear makeup and skirts and be clean. Not often, but sometimes. I don't really know very many girly girls anymore, I guess because I can't really relate. I had a day off from the winery yesterday and maybe it's just because I was feeling lazy but I just wanted to stay inside (it was raining) and bake. But, things have to be done around here when we're not at the winery and so I drag my big arse outside and work. Not very hard, mind you, but I work. I'm obviously really glad that Rich isn't in to girly girls and I think he likes me because I'm tough, or at least I act tough. But yesterday, as I washed dirt off my face under the outdoor facet and then hocked a farmer blow off the deck (for those who don't know, a farmer blow is when you plug one nostril and blow snot out of the other one instead of just blowing your nose like a normal person) I wished I was more girly and less, shall we say, disgusting. The cherry on this sundae of grime and dirt was when I glanced at myself in the mirror in natural day light. First off, natural light is my only enemy. Secondly, I realized I had let my monthly pluck/wax ritual lapse and was looking disturbingly like Burt Reynolds. One positive thing about having less-than-desirable hygiene habits is that I get a lot of comments on my skin. Random people often ask me when I do to keep my skin looking young and fresh. (I happen to think my pours are big enough to serve dip out of, but I digress) Genetics play a part of course, but also I think my skin looks young because I don't wash my face every day. I'm not sure where any of this is going but it's been on my mind, so I thought I'd share. Of course, this is all a choice. I choose to live like this. And don't think it's a mushing thing because I know of plenty of female dog mushers who are looks only of course, but girly nonetheless. My hands are always dirty, when I'm not at the winery, and so are my clothes. I guess that's what I love about Alaska: nobody cares.

And now, I've channeled my inner girly girl and am presenting some pretty pictures taken around our cabin last week.

Pretty flowers.

Pretty rainbow.

Pretty view.