Monday, December 27, 2010

Her hardest hue to hold

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and is gearing up for a splendid New Year. Our Christmas was low key as usual, but it was nice to enjoy good food and drink with friends. Christmas day we hung around the cabin, cut firewood, ran dogs, made quiche and opened gifts. It was perfect. I'm getting ready to start work in the New Year and am really looking forward to it. It's been a couple years since I've had a 'real' job (read: one that requires showering on a regular basis) and I think it will be a nice change. Busier, yes, since I'll be running dogs in the mornings and/or evenings depending on my work schedule, but we're not doing super long runs so I think it will be manageable. All the dogs are running, though about half the kennel has picked up some kind of parasite so until we get it figured out completely, the runs are short. We've got meds on order and hopefully they'll be here this week so we can get the dogs healthy and get back to exploring the high country. Until then they're getting plenty of rest and eating a bland diet. We've done a few tours over the past month and have really enjoyed meeting new people and giving them the chance to experience dog mushing with us. Our friends Katy and Franny, who are working for Libby, have been coming over to help with tours and run dogs. They've been a big help and are fun to work with. I'm looking forward to doing some camping trips with them when the dogs are back to 100 per cent. Meanwhile, Rich is working hard on the new bottling facility for the winery and is enjoying being a bona fide builder.
I think that's it for now. Happy New Year from all of us here at the kennel.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Found myself just the other day

Rich and I took two teams out yesterday to explore some of the trails we ran on last winter and I had my first crash of the season. I thought I pulled every muscle from my waist up although this morning I wasn't really as sore as I thought I'd be. Let me paint a little picture for you:
The team was moving nicely up a side-hilly incline and we got to a junction which we call 'Moose Camp.' So far this year, we've gone left. Today I wanted to go right. Since we got new snow, the trail to the left wasn't even there anymore and the trail to the right was a highway, so I figured it wouldn't be an issue. Instinctively, my leaders - Ku and his son Tim - turned left. I stepped on the brake and told them 'Gee!' They went right. Good dogs. But then they ducked back over to the left. 'No, Ku! Gee!' Ku moved back over but this time, since we had moved forward a little, he and Tim went the wrong way around a big hump topped with a big stump. Dammit. I was now in powder, so there was no setting a hook. Well, Ku and Tim were pointed the way I wanted them to go, so we might just have to climb up and over this stumpy hump. So be it. I call the team up and off we went, each pair going up and over. Easy. Until my wheel dogs, Crush and Doyon got there. They went on either side of the stump and Crush's tugline got caught up. Double dammit. The team came to a stop and before I even realized what I was doing I ran up while the team was still fairly calm (confused) and pulled back on the gangline, releasing Crush's tugline and thus sending the whole operation slingshotting forward. I turned to get ready to catch my sled, got hit with the brushbow and rolled onto the sledbag. I grabbed the handlebar, flopped off the sled and, hand over hand, worked my way back. We were heading downhill so I tipped my sled hoping to create enough drag that the dogs would stop momentarily so I could get back on the runners. They did and I did. Off we went, the dogs with a renewed vigor knowing they had dumped me, and me with a parka full of snow and a huge, embarrassed grin on my face.
These days we still not doing big miles but gradually increasing and just having a bit of fun. I've come to the realization that I have to get a real (read: full time) job. I'm still planning on a entering a couple of races at the end of the season and we're still going to do some weekend tours, but taking the winter off from a full time job is just not feasible right now. I put a lot of pressure on myself and it's made things that I used to love doing very, very stressful. So, I'm taking the stress out and getting back to basics. A 1,000 mile race is still on my radar, but not this year and not next. Meanwhile, we've got all the dogs running and they're having fun, too.

Heading down the Swiss Cheese Trail.

Ku, on the left, cooling off while Tim looks on.

Million-dollar view.

Back in the dog yard checking feet after the run, the alpenglow cast warm tones on the mountains beyond...and on Mr. Lahey...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happiness is just outside my window

Man, I have really become a wimp since moving to Homer. It's 10 degrees (F) outside and I'm all 'This is cold.' Rich keeps reminding me that I used to live in Fairbanks where 11 degrees is T-shirt weather. But still, here I am at 7 a.m. with my wool coat on, huddled on the couch with Roy who is wrapped in a fleece blanket. Sister and Bully are pretty much sleeping on the wood stove. The wind doesn't help. It finds every little nook and cranny in the cabin. I'm actually really excited for colder temps. Hopefully the water holes on the trail from our yard will freeze before our training run tonight. And I like getting bundled up for dog runs. Plus colder weather allows me to eat like a hog and not feel as guilty about it...What? It's cold out!! I need this entire stick of butter!! The dogs are looking really, really good these days. They're happy and strong and we've got some solid leaders with a few young ones that are just oozing potential in the front end. We're still not doing big miles yet, but I'm satisfied with where the team is and am looking forward to getting back on the race trail later in the winter. We're still not sure what races we'd like to do, but that will come. We've divided the dogs into three teams. Currently, Rich is running a 10-dog string, I'm running eight and then I run another eight-dog puppy/oldie/not-interested-in-longer-runs-but-doesn't-really-pull-on-the-short-ones-either (Hitchcock) team, which means all of our dogs get out on a regular basis. We've got enough snow for sleds and the trails are great right now with exception of a few water holes which the dogs handle like champs.

We take off for New York early next week for the family Thanksgiving event and I'm really excited for a holiday. Yes, upstate New York qualifies as a holiday, thank you very much. Our friend Tory will be taking care of the dogs while we're away and has promised to take Roy on a few outings when we're gone.

Rich is still working his butt off at the winery and the new winery building, and I'm working as an Outreach Advocate for the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic. The hours are really flexible which is perfect for running the dogs and my co-workers are really nice. We focus on women's health so I'm actually learning a lot, too.

I'd like to welcome Susan Tavares and Mark Atkins to the Spitfire family. They both made a generous donation to the kennel which will help with dog food and other day-to-day expenses around the kennel this winter. Thank you so much for your support.

I think that's it for now. Time to feed the mutts and head to work.


SNOW!!! And lots of it!

Breaking trail after the first big dump on the Swiss Cheese trail.

Deep snow = hard work.

I didn't get you that shovel to lean on!!!!

And now, the trails are beautiful. Coming home on Sunday morning.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Act Three: Corn relish

Well, we've got snow. It's borderline for running the team with a sled but we're very, very close. For now we're still bumping along on the wheeler but are pulling out the sleds this weekend.
We've decided to bite the bullet and buy a snowmachine. We just can't rely on other people to break open trails for us anymore, especially when it really starts snowing here. We also need it for getting wood to heat our cabin.
I took off a couple days ago to visit Libby (Casey) who was in Anchorage from D.C. covering the election for APRN, for whom she works in Washington. We realized we hadn't seen each other in nearly three years!! We both talked a mile a minute and it was so nice to catch up and reminisce. I drove up in a snowstorm and had to keep pulling over just to unclench. I listened to three-year-old podcasts of This American Life because for some reason, Ira Glass really calms me down. Don't ask why because I don't know. "Act one: fishtailed through Sterling. Act two: nearly hit the ditch coming down Turnagain Pass." And on and on. I left the next day in a blizzard but the plows were out and the roads weren't as bad. I returned to new snow here at the old Love Shack and am looking forward to less bumpy times ahead. That's it for now.
I've been trying to put some pics up, but it's not working and irritating me so you'll just have to imagine for now. Sorry.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let's pretend we're in Antarctica

Things are rolling along here. I haven't posted in a while because, well, honestly, I feel like there's not much new to report on. We've been running multiple teams daily to get miles on them because the trails are still a muddy mess. Rich is still working long hours at the winery and we're still trying to get the addition done before winter, which at this rate, is still a while off. The dogs look great and we're all excited for freeze-up. I've taken a part time job with the Katchemak Bay Family Planning Clinic's Outreach Center which I start next week. I'll be helping to educate the public on breast and cervical cancer screening among other things. I'm looking forward to being part of such a worthy cause and such a stand-up organization. I've been doing a little writing on the side and trying to get our little business organized for winter.
That's about it. We're excited for our trip to New York for Thanksgiving.
We're giving the main team a day off today but will run the pups and oldies...I'll take some photos on the run...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Healthy, free, the world before me

We've been on the road for the past week or so in, get this, an RV! It really is a home on wheels! Rich's parents made the trek up from Illinois and rented a Winnebago in which we all four piled in and hit the road. We drove down the Parks Highway to Denali National Park where we spent a few days hiking around and looking for wildlife. It's been a nice, relaxing vacation for all four of us and we are very grateful to LouAnn and Bob for this opportunity to get away for a little bit. We arrived in Talkeetna last night and went straight to the local brewery for a pint. The power was out in town as this whole area was hit hard by a wind storm. But we are back up today, the wind has died and we're fixin' to head back to Anchorage. Bob and Lou head back to the real world Sunday morning and Rich and I will drive to Wasilla to pick up a ton of dog food before heading back to Homer. We've been training teams daily and decided it would be okay to give the pups a few days off before we bump up the miles. Here are a bunch of photos from the past week. More updates coming soon.

Leaving the yard with a team before heading out for our road trip. You can see our cabin with the new addition on the back.

Rich and I coming back from the second run. Tim and Hazel in wheel with old Sister and young Linus in front of them.

The great Denali, North America's highest peak. Here she is on a nice calm day.

The wind was rippin' on Denali a fews later.

The railroad trestle over Riley Creek on our morning hike in Denali.

Me being hilarious and doing the old 'Anyone know when the next train is due?' routine. I'll buy you a Coke if you can tell me what movie that's from. (Family is not allowed to guess.)

Riley Creek in Denali National Park.

Mud meets ice on the Teklanika River farther into the park.

The Teklanika River.

Cool ice on a small creek in Denali. It was pretty chilly while we were there.

Me in the RV. 'Get that camera out of my face!'

RV bliss.

Weird creatures come out at night in the Park. Richard lovin' life on the road.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Take me home, country roads

The good news is: I'M HOME! The great news is: Our cabin has an addition that's almost done! The best news is: I have a man who loves me and 20-something dogs who are as eager for winter as I am!
Yes, people, I am living the dream.
The last days on the glacier were pretty uneventful. Bad weather, I think. I've pretty much blocked it all out. The transition from ice to ground went surprisingly well. I was saddened to hear that the very tour after I got down to the ground had a woman on it who was looking for me. Apparently, she's been reading the blog and wanted a ride with the Spitfire crew. So, Mrs. So-and-so (sorry, I didn't get your name from Andy) this is an invitation to come to Homer this winter and take a ride with us. Heck, you even have a place to stay with all the room we have now.
Upon arrival back home, Rich and I spent a day relaxing and unpacking. And now we're in full swing with training pups, looking for land and getting ready for the winter tour and race season. We've got a freezer full of moose, salmon, halibut and other goodies for us and the dogs this winter and will picking up our first ton of kibble in the next week or so. The weather here has been clear and sunny with temps cool enough in the mornings to run the dogs. The newest pups are doing great and getting better with each short run. The glacier dogs will be back in action this week and then, I'll be training three teams! Of course, Rich will be there too, but with him still working long days at the winery, most of the training will be left up to me. I can't wait for winter! We still need to stockpile more wood to keep us warm this winter, but we've got enough now for a while yet.
Rich's parents arrive on the 17th for a week or so, and we'll take a few days to road trip with them, which I'm also really looking forward to. I think that's it for now. Expect more regular updates. Here are some photos from our first week training the puppy team. They actually look like real sled dogs now!


Linus and Tim.

Poncho and Lefty.

Angie and Dolly.

Ty and Audrey.

The crew with Ku and Sister in lead.

Bully getting reunited with our little piece of paradise.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

And I believe it's gonna rain

Man, sorry about the lack of posts this summer...but...yeah...well, yeah...
On a good note, I've only got two weeks left until I get home to my baby and my little cabin and fall training and a budding winter business and Roy and, and, and...good things are going to happen this winter, I can feel it!! I'm excited to race this season and start in earnest on my book and, and, and....
You know, it's funny, whilst wallowing in my sorrows on the glacier during the endless weather days, I'm surprised to find that I am actually enjoying the people around me. I know! I was surprised this past week when a few of my fellow glacier geeks left early and I was genuinely sad to see them go. I even cried a little...but don't tell anyone....
Peter is recovering down here in Juneau, we've acquired a few more dogs from our friend Greg AND we have a four-wheeler! Things are looking up.
Since I have been too 'blech' to take many photos I'm adding a few taken of me by other people. Stealing them, if you will. Enjoy! All of the following photos were taken by my ex-roomie Tessa and used without permission. Sorry about the sizing...blame Tessa...

Trying to get the group assembled for a group photo...Josh's ass kept getting in the way...

Weather-day baseball.

Bully is a camp he is on Tessa's bed

A tiny pic of me and puppies.

Weather-day poker game. I just watched this one as it was $100 buy-in...too rich for my blood.

Giving a tour....ah, tours...I remember those...

Weather-day auction. We got random items from our tents and them auctioned them off and traded for other useless things.

Weather-day dog running.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What else do you do with a 33-pound punk?

You hook her up in single lead and hit the trail!! Mr. Lahey had her first single lead adventure the other day and she AMAZED me! Despite being horribly homesick, having the worst luck of my life over the past few months and being wet and cold while not making any money, this one single dog run made my whole week! Amazing what these dogs can do when you're feeling blue. Aaron and I hooked up a couple teams on one of our (many) weather days last week and went off trail. I tried Lahey up front on her own and she dug in and took charge. I was so proud I wanted to cry. So yeah, instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself I hooked up a couple teams and focused on training new leaders. We haven't done tours in several days and I'm fearing the weather will never get better. But, only six more weeks and then it's home to Homer. I ran into Sebastian Schnuelle last week and he made a good point: Even though we're not making money, this is a good chance to train dogs. So that's what I try to do. I mean, really, what else is there to do when we have no guests and it's pouring rain?
Peter's foot is still infected. It's been two months. I am fearing the worst. He's still on antibiotics and hopefully a vet will be up soon to look at him again. He's been hanging out in my tent a lot so his foot can stay dry, but it's still oozing. His spirits are good though and he's eating well, so we'll see what happens.
The countdown to Homer and my Rich is on!

Monday, July 12, 2010

So much beauty it'll make you cry

Last week, we got weathered down on the ground while the other half of the crew got weathered up. We took advantage and went hiking (on my birthday, no less) to the ice caves under the toe of the Mendenhall Glacier. We did get three days of tours in following our stretch of bad weather and then the fog rolled in again. The other crew got weathered on the ground this week while we were weathered up. Finally yesterday, there was a small break in the fog, rain and snow so that we could switch crews and come down. We, and when I say we I mean the South Dog Park crew: Kym, Dustin and Aaron (fellow mushers) Josh and Claire (handlers) and Dale and Martha (boss and cook), are down just long enough to shower and do laundry (and blog) and we're going back up today. It's sunny now so hopefully we can get some tours in. Peter is still at the vet, but hopefully will be returning to the glacier today if the weather stays good. This week I had great guests who asked great questions and had a great time. (I guess one exception was the guy who asked if we were in Alaska. Uh, yeah! I'm not sure where he thought he was, but I just smiled and said yes.) I also started running our yearlings, Ruby and Alice, in lead and they are amazing! I feel like a proud mama. So all in all, pretty good week. I'm still counting the days until I get home to Rich but hopefully our bad weather is over for a while and I can stay busy.
Here are some photos that Kym and I took on our hike to the ice caves.
Kym and Dustin on the way to the caves.

Getting there was half the fun. It wasn't a long hike but there was some rock scrambling and river jumping.


Kym, me and Tessa at the toe of the glacier.

Heading into the caves. I can't even begin to describe how cool it was. What a nice way to spend my 33rd birthday. It would have been perfect if Rich was there to share this cool adventure.

A completely different world.

Kym raising the roof!

Here I am scrambling.

Look up...look waaaay up...I think I'm looking for my youth in this one...

We returned to the crew house tired, wet and hungry. Martha had graciously prepared a birthday feast and a cake! That's a lot of candles!!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sometimes the rain must fall

Rich is here in Juneau and all is well in the world again. Today, I'm working on being positive and with Rich here, it's easy. We pick up where we left off, just like we were never apart. Must be love. Meanwhile, this week has been the worst yet on the glacier. I'm just going tell this story and then I am all about being positive. Sneaky Pete has had a festering infection in his foot for weeks. Three different kinds of antibiotics coupled with soaking in Epsom salts twice a day was doing very little. A vet came up, took one look at Peter's foot and said how nasty it was and that he needed to be sent down to the ground for a more extensive exam, x-ray and probably some kind of surgery. I was more than happy to send him down because his foot had been messed up for so long. He went down to Southeast vet clinic upon the request of Juneau vet (also a Quest vet) Nene Wolfe and had his foot opened up, drained and cleaned with a culture sent to a lab to see exactly what the infection is. Peter is a young male who is an amazing leader but a hard keeper. With him being on the ground and me being up on the glacier, obviously I was concerned about his recovery and often asked my bosses to ask about him when they were in radio contact with the ground. Thursday morning one of the ground crew told us he had good news and bad news about Peter. The good news was that the procedure went well and was performed by one of the owners of Southeast vet. The bad news was, and this is where I exploded into expletives, Peter 'got away from them' and had been running around Juneau with an injured foot and a cone on his head since the night before. Yes. It's true. They let my dog go. So Thursday, the next day, Rich arrived in Juneau for our lovely, romantic birthday weekend, but I, still swearing at anyone who would listen, was stuck up on the glacier because the fog had rolled in. Rich spent the night with some AIE peeps searching for Peter. When they went home at 10 p.m., Rich stayed out until after 1 in the morning. People had been spotting Peter in various neighborhoods and animal control ran around trying to catch him. To say that Peter was scared is the understatement of the century. Finally, late Friday afternoon, with Peter on the loose for 48 hours, the weather cleared and I got down to the ground. We rallied the troops, my co-workers, fellow mushers and handlers and started searching. We saw him many times but he was not coming to anyone, even me. People in the neighborhood started coming out of their houses to look. Cars were driving past yelling 'We just saw him over there!' and 'We jumped out of the car to try and get him, but he's fast!' A woman even drove up with border collie and tried to herd Peter. It was awesome. I don't know if it was that people cared about our dog, or rather that he was becoming a massive traffic hazard and had dodged cars several times on a four-lane highway. Regardless, we rallied. In the end, about two hours later, it was my former handler Ben who chased Peter into a backyard, cornered him at a dead end and grabbed him. I was so happy that Peter was finally safe and that Rich and I still had a day to relax and enjoy each other. Peter is back at the vet for a second surgery to fix the damage caused by two days of running. He'll stay at the vet until he is sent back directly to me. Positive end to a ridiculously negative story. Sigh. Most of the week was weathered out again. Monday is my birthday. A new year and a new week. A new week of me being positive. Thanks for your help, Juneau.

Peter, on the right, when he was healthy. Here's wishing a speedy recovery to my Sneaky One.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day, Cliffy!!

A word about my pop: He's fantastic.
A word about weather days on the glacier: They suck. Nice segue, eh?
This week on the glacier was full of crappy weather which means, very few tours. Which in turn means, I don't get paid. Yes, we get paid by the tour and when the tours don't come, we sit in the rain, in our tents and make the best of it. I learned how to crochet. I am also the reigning champ at speed Scrabble. Sorry this is a short post, but we're on our way back up to the glacier. I'll post more next time, I promise. Thank you to all the supporters who have left comments or emailed me, I really appreciate it. Meanwhile, enjoy photos of my first three attempts to crochet myself a hat. None of them fit my head, thought the last one was really close.

The first one. I tried to add stitches too fast and so it made really ruffled edges. We decided it would be best suited for a fancy monkey.

Instead, I gave it to Kyle.

The second one. This one would fit a toddler so I gave it to Adam to send to his nephew.

The third one. It would fit on my head if I shaved off all my hair, but I wasn't willing to do that, so I gave it to Kym. Now I'm out of yarn.