Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
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.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Rich and his papa.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
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
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
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
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
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 (spitfirekennels.com) 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.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
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
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.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
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
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 (spitfirekennels.com) 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
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
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:
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
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.
Heading home. This is the four-way where the loose dogs hang out. All clear on this run...
Thursday, September 17, 2009
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
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 friends...it was BEAR POO!!! Since I'm pretty much an expert bear whisperer now, I reassured the group...plus I'm almost positive I could outrun LouAnn...you 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.
Friday, September 04, 2009
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
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.
Friday, August 14, 2009
'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.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
And now, I've channeled my inner girly girl and am presenting some pretty pictures taken around our cabin last week.