Monday, April 27, 2009

My own mama say I'm thugged out

Rich and I are mildly addicted to tide-pooling at the beach. We are getting familiar with the tide schedules and I'm looking forward to a -5 tide on May 5. We have yet to find anything really cool like an octopus or a shark or something, but we have found some neat little sea creatures and shells. We like to bring a few dogs down with us and let them run around and explore, though each time we go down, there are more RVs and tourists. Today we took Capiche and Roy, neither of whom were very much help looking for creepy-crawlies. Roy didn't like the water much and Capiche just peed and pooped in the tide pools. Anyway, Rich and I start work this week so our leisurely days of beach dwelling are numbered. Here are some photos of the beach and dog yard from the past few days, and a short video of the pups who turn four weeks tomorrow! They're wrestling like crazy and already eating soaked kibble. Soon they'll be asking for money and the car keys...oy vey...

Making fish-head stew with our cod!

Libby's yard with Meadow up front.

Me and my boy Doyon (who I now call Sweet Dee) at, you guessed it, the beach!

I rarely like tilted horizon pics, but I think this works...

Rich walking Roy and Capiche supervising the tide-pool expedition.

Super low tide today.

Low tide equals coolio patterns.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The old(ish) woman and the sea (kind of)

A spring storm blew in yesterday morning (high winds and sideways snow) and last night my man and I were set to hunker down with some luxurious morsels (meatballs, tater tots and Vitamin water) and watch a stimulating cinematic adventure (Snakes on a Plane).
But we got the call.
The captain (Libby) announced that the motherlode had arrived on the docks down on the Homer Spit. FREE FISH!
And not just any fish, my friends. It was black cod. The best, apparently, and highly coveted. I should clarify when I say fish, I mean heads and backbones. The fishing boats come in and get the fish filleted and then the rest usually gets ground up and sent to sea for the shore birds straight away. But tonight we had the pick of tons of leftovers which, when cooked up, makes a delicious, high fat meal and/or snacks for the dogs. At first, we hesitated as the wind whistled through our jackets, but after a short discussion we decided to head to sea for fish. It would be a fun adventure, a great opportunity to get the dogs some high-fat food, plus we hadn't done much that day because of the storm so we both felt like slugs. We armed ourselves with rubber gloves, boxes and bags, and a sturdy gaff (random stick we found in the truck) and headed out into the blizzard.
Only, by the time we were ready to go, the skies parted and the sun came out. Super!
We found paydirt down a road to a deep-fishing dock. Just outside the Homer Spit Grind Shack ('You find 'em, we grind 'em') we spotted huge totes full of heads, backbones and entrails. There were already a couple of dog mushers there pillaging the goods, but they left soon after we arrived. We got to work, sifting through the goo and glop for the precious heads and backbones, which, surprisingly, still had a lot of meat on them. There were two fishermen across from us at another big tote, cutting the extra meat from around the fish heads. They told us these meaty collars were great to eat when smoked. Huh. We managed to snag a few heads with meat collars still attached and are planning on sampling some of this divine black cod ourselves.
Upon first glance of the big, plastic tote of guts, I worried for a second that I might vomit. It's funny, sometimes I can stomach anything (runny dog poo, a bloody dog after a fight, raw meat and blood) but sometimes, my insides do one little flipflop upon the sight of raw animal goo and I promptly barf where I stand. I guess it doesn't even have to be animal goo. I threw up a few days ago when I spotted a dead fly in my coffee cup. (It touched my lips!!) But here, standing amongst smelly fish heads, random fish eyeballs, stringy guts, bloated guts, bloody guts and whole lot of thick fish slime, I was fine. Not even a gag or a burp.
We brought Roy with us and the little devil managed somehow to escape from the truck (I left the door open) while we were working. Our hearts sank when we looked behind us and saw Roy, tail wagging, ready to bolt down the dock. He's great loose, except when it's time to be caught and then he's a little bugger. But, to our surprise, he saw the fish, and the people, and the boats, and the gulls and immediately jumped back in the truck. I guess it was all too much for him.
We filled out bags and boxes, chatted with the fishermen and headed to the grocery for some celebratory ice cream before going home tired, stinky and satisfied.
This morning I had the task of unloading all the fish, dividing it into manageable bags and packing it into the freezer.
I guess this would be a good day for shower and laundry.

Guts! Glorious guts! Those grey heads are the cod.

Having fun with an idiot. What? Those pinkish fish are called Idiot Rock Fish. They're scary looking and not good for the dogs because they spiky fins, so we just had fun with them and then carried on collecting cod.

My man working hard.

Fishmen cutting off the collars.

This is a dog trailer that Rich built before we moved to Homer. Handsome and handy, what a find!

Libby's dog yard. Yes, this is where we work and play. Love it.

Our dog yard. It's quite compact for now, but in a nice spot. The dogs are happy, especially when we toss a few in the back of the truck and head to the beach!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane

Hi from Homer,

Not much new here. The weather has been warm and sunny and the dog yard is a soupy mess. But the snow is melting quickly and everything seems to be draining well. We've been moving dogs and houses around to avoid the sink holes. Rich and I both have some pretty cool job prospects, but I won't say anymore until we get them because I don't want to jinx it.
We're planning out all the hikes and cool things we want to do around here this summer and have all but decided to stay indefinitely. We shall see.
Here are some random photos and a video of the pups. They sure are growing fast with this healthy, mountain-sea air.

The view at sunset from our porch.

Our cabin.
This is what Roy does as soon as we're out of the bed in the morning.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll both live again

Rich and I spent the morning on the beach walking a few dogs...or rather they walked us...We brought Roy, Brady, Hitchcock and Crush. We let them loose and then put them back on the leash and then let them loose again...they were all pretty well-behaved and enjoyed playing in the surf and sand. We had to tether Roy to Brady because Roy's not to be trusted...Brady just dragged him around for a while. Roy got really excited when he saw the little waves crashing was pretty funny.
Anyway, here are some photos and video from our first (of many) walks on the beach.



That tiny thing in the distance is Mount Redoubt...the active volcano in AK...we've got the ash to prove it here...

Just beachy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

All I'd want is you to be my sweet honey bee

Hello from Fritz Creek!
We love it here! It's so beautiful, Libby is so cool and our cabin is perfect. Rich and I have both run puppies with Libby as there is still much snow here. The weather has been cool and a little windy but nice overall. The dogs are doing well and Summer's pups are growing like crazy. We've been busy with dog chores, odd jobs and looking for work. If anyone is coming to Alaska, make sure you visit Homer, it's quaint and liberal and colorful and there are a shitload of good coffee shops! Perfect.

The view from our porch.

The ocean off Homer Spit.

Homer Spit.

Rich and Bully taking a nap.

Summer and the boy Cinch.


Roy checking his e-mail, facebook and twitter pages. He did this on his own, I swear.

Rich setting up the kitchen.

The eagles are everywhere! Protect your puppies!

The old man has never found a porch he didn't like.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Watch your puppies, people, we're not in Big Lake anymore

Rich and I made it to Homer and up, up, up the mountain to Fritz Creek, our new home for at least six months. We've already got a PO Box (Jill and Rich, PO Box 15033, Fritz Creek, AK, 99603-6033) and some cool job prospects. I want to work in the hippie-friendly Fritz Creek bakery because it's funky and only a few miles from here (all downhill on the way to work and uphill on the way home) and I am truckless at the moment so I'll be biking all summer. Rich will most likely work on a fishing boat or for a bear-viewing company down on the Homer Spit as he has the wheels and the will. So our cabin is fantastic (electricity AND water, what luxury!) and there is lots of room for the dogs to roam. We're caretaking for the one and only Libby Riddles (first woman to win Iditarod) as she works in Juneau all summer. We have our own cabin and dog lot but access to her house and giant bathtub. We will be taking care of her 40 dogs and house plants and daily chores along with working and enjoying Homer. It's dreary and snowy right now, but the weather here is usually great (not like soggy southeast). The view from our place is crazy! Mountains and ocean everywhere. Rich just called via payphone. He was on his way back to Big Lake to get the dogs (we hauled a trailer with 14 dog houses on it yesterday) but blew a wheel bearing on the (borrowed) trailer. SHITBALLS! He's fine, it just set us back in time and money...
Anyway, here are some photos and a video clip of the pups on the drive down. We brought Summer, the babies, Roy and Bully with us on this first trip.
I'll send some photos of the cabin and area tomorrow.

Little Alice crawling on Uncle Bully, who apparently was done with his coffee.

Puppies snoozing. Libby has a pen we can use for the pups but she advised us to cover the top with fish net or else the bald eagles will swoop in a get them. I've never had this issue before...interesting...

Surprise! They're still snoozing.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A puppy for your thoughts?

Well, these little boogers are growing quickly. Summer's already sick of nursing (bad mama!) but she's being quite the trooper...just wait 'til they get teeth! Ouch! Rich built a new trailer for our trek down to Homer and we're painting it today. Sponsor booty has been mailed, things are packed and I'm itchin' to get outta here! The days are getting longer and the dogyard is a soupy, poopy mess...spring has sprung. I've been told it's Easter weekend so I must get to Steve's Food Boy and get some chocolate.
Here is a photo and video of our newest editions. They grow up so quickly...sniffle...soon they'll be staying out all night and wasting their allowences on make-up and cell phones...

The girls: from left, LuLu, Alice and Ruby

Monday, April 06, 2009

Livin' it to the limit and lovin' it a lot

After lots of sleep, a few beer and some tasty food, I'm feeling 100 percent again.
So here's my Taiga 300 story. Settle in kids, get a cup of coffee because I've got stories.
Rich and I arrived in Lake Louise on Tuesday afternoon with the team (Bully, Capiche, Crush, Drake, Omar, Steven, Jerry, Stanley, Peter, Ku, Rohn and Hazel) I signed in and we fed the dogs, then ourselves. After getting caught up with other mushers, we went out and parked on the lake, organized drop bags and packed the sled. We slept in the truck that night and got up early for breakfast, dog chores and the pre-race drivers' meeting. Rich was such a huge help, he pretty much took over to let me rest and fret.
I was the third of 21 mushers to leave and took off at 11:06 a.m. One concern on this race is that April temperatures can be pretty high (up to 40 degrees F) but we left and is was clear and cool. The first 60 mile run went well. The dogs got a little hot in the afternoon as there were some surprisingly steep uphills (with white-knuckle downhills to follow!). We finished in about seven hours in 16th place out of 21. Not too bad. It's not like I went into this with the expectation I was going to win. I know my team is slow and being my first 300-mile race, I just wanted to relax and take it easy. The coolest thing on this run was a snow tornado that spun up the trail at us. We went right through it. Also, we saw a wolf-kill on the lake near the end of the run. Apparently a lone wolf has been all around that area recently.
So we arrived back at Wolverine Lodge for a mandatory six-hour layover. The dogs ate and rested well. I ate but only got about half an hour of sleep before heading out on the 110-mile leg shortly after 1 in the morning. I dropped Hazel here as she was being pouty and didn't want to go anymore. I left her in Rich's care and took off into the night.
The 110-miler, traveled over three lakes and three rivers to Maclaren Lodge. I ran the dogs for six-and-a-half hours (stopping to snack a couple times along the way) before making camp at 7:30 a.m. I rested for the same amount of time I ran. I cooked them a hot meal, ate some frozen pizza and curled up in my sled for a three-hour nap. I woke up at noon feeling great. The sun was out and the dogs and I lounged in the sun for another hour or so before taking off for the last 55 miles into Maclaren.
Along the trail, we were passed and passed teams camping or snacking or just slowing down in the heat of the day. We crossed some nasty overflow up to my knees and that's where my feet got wet (not on the 30-mile loop like the website said). It dropped to 30 below on that run and my boots froze completely solid. It was like wearing casts on my feet. I wasn't all that cold though as I was pedaling on the sled to stay warm and help the dogs. About 25 miles out of Maclaren on the Maclaren River we hit a canyon where the trail twisted over shelf ice and ice bridges with rushing, open river on either side of us. It was kind of spooky, but I was never scared. Some teams had a tough time over the ice-bridge crossings and almost ended up in the drink! Not me, though. My team was steadfast and fearless over the many water and ice crossings.
We loped into Maclaren at 10:45 p.m. for a mandatory eight-hour layover. We stayed nine. In that time, I fed the team twice and carefully went through each dog massaging and wrapping wrists, rubbing shoulders and putting ointment on their feet. I tucked them into their straw and heavy dog coats (thanks again Lou Ann!) and headed up the hill to the lodge for a burger and some sleep.
I napped for about three hours before heading out to the dogs to do it all over again. At around eight, we took off for a quick 30-mile loop on a super trail past the Maclaren Glacier. It was socked in so I didn't see much. On this run, Bully started limping a little and looked really tired, poor old guy. I loaded him in the sled and gave him a ride the rest of the way. We still managed to finish the 30-mile in two hours and 45 minutes. We got back to Maclaren for a mandatory four-hour break. I dropped Bully and sent him home. It was here that I also dropped Jerry, one of five Greg Parvin dogs that I borrowed for the race. Jerry should have remained in the team as he was uninjured and doing great, but I'm an idiot and in my tired stupor, I gave him a cough suppressant to ease a tickle in his throat. I mentioned it to the vet AFTER I gave it to him and she informed me (actually race marshall John Schandelmeier informed me) that the substance was banned and Jerry would have to go home. Live and learn, I guess.
I left Maclaren for the last time at around 4 p.m. on Friday (the winner of the race had already crossed the finish line at this point) for the final 110-miles to the finish at Wolverine Lodge. We started out slow but eventually settled into a pace and the dogs were moving well, back over the ice bridges, one of which had apparently collapsed but I didn't notice (couldn't have been that bad). After about five hours I stopped to camp, fed the dogs, rubbed their bodies and crawled on top of my sled for a quick hour-long nap. I camped with another woman because she was a little afraid to be out there alone. I would have preferred to be by myself, but I wanted to help her out. We set out at 1 a.m. and ran another five hours before stopping to camp for the last time. I cooked the dogs a meal and crawled into my sled for a long two-hour nap. I was so sore and tired at this point, I could have slept there for days. But the end of the race was calling. At about 9:30 a.m. two teams came whizzing by us and I knew that I was in last place. Oh well. I slowly packed my sled, watered the dogs, bootied and took off for the last 40 miles to the finish. It took us about six hours as we were running in the heat of the day. I stopped often (probably too often) to rub snow on the dogs to cool them off. The woman I had been camping with was long gone. It was just me out there and the last 20 miles across the lakes to the finish was, at times, excruciatingly slow and painful. I was popping four Ibuprofen about every four hours, but my body was screaming at me. I got the finish line with my Capiche in single lead and my faithful Rich there waiting. Zoya and John, the husband and wife duo who put on the race, were also there to check my mandatory gear and look at the dogs. Most other mushers were still around so I knew I wasn't that far back...only about 15 minutes actually.
It was then that I found out that I wasn't last. Whoohooo!! A woman who had been in first place for most of the race had gotten lost in the night and took a 100-mile detour. After I realized that she and the dogs were good, I smiled because I wouldn't be last. Not that it matters to me. I had a great time and learned so much. The trail was challenging at times but beautiful. The weather was fantastic and people were absolutely amazing. The Taiga 300 was better than I could have ever imagined. It was well organized and as always with a John and Zoya race, the standards of dog care were very high. In fact, two mushers were withdrawn from the race because of poor dog care. So of the 19 teams that finished, I was 18th. The dogs were so great on this race. I love them so much and adored every second on the trail with them. They teach me something every time I get on the runners.
I need to thank Rich for his ongoing support and love. You are my everything, Rich!
Also thank you to Greg Parvin of the Nome-Kotzebue-Two Rivers-Big Lake-Lawyer-Musher ilk, for the use of Jerry, Steve, Stanley, Ku and Rohn and for his support and friendship. I love ya, Parvo! Thank you to Darrin Lee and Heidi for their kind words and support and to Ed Steilstra for complimenting my smile at Maclaren and for the good company while we both shoved burgers down our gullets! Thanks to Susie, Alan and Ed at Maclaren River Lodge for their support, great food, excellent company. See you all again soon! (thanks Ed, for putting my socks in the dryer and for the pizza bread!) Thanks to Jodi and Dan for Omar and Drake (they did awesome!) and for your friendship. Thanks to John and Zoya for putting on the race and for your support and advice. Thank you to my sponsors, especially Arctis Carts in California for your support this season. And lastly, thank you to my family for your interest.
Anyone else who helped me in any way, I appreciate it very, very much.

Me on Lake Louise after the first 60-mile run.

On the Maclaren River shelf ice. Notice the open water to the left.

Our first campspot on the Susitna River.

Sunset on the Maclaren River.

Bully in the sledbag. The old man is feeling much better now and is enjoying some quality couch time with me.

Leaders cuddled up at Maclaren. Rohn, Ku, Stanley and Capiche.

Jerry enjoying the sun at one of our campouts.

Me enjoying the sun at one of our campouts.

We arrived home Saturday night and to our surprise saw that Summer's pups had grown exponentially. Here's Rich with Cinch, the boy. They mostly grew out and are now fat little roly-polies.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Slow and steady, sunburnt and still smiling!

Hi Everyone!
I finished the Taiga 300 yesterday (Saturday) at around 4:30 p.m. It was a little slower than I wanted, but we had a great time out there camping and meandering down rivers and over lakes that I guess I just didn't want it to be over! I had so much fun and I think the dogs did to! The nine I finished with looked good at the finish line, just a little tired. Over the four days in the race, I got less than eight hours of sleep, so I was little out of it but still enjoying the experience. I learned so much on this race and had a blast. I will write a detailed yarn later today with photos and video from the trail. My fingers are very swollen right now and not cooperating with the keypad. Thanks for your support and thanks to Rich for writing the updates.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Taiga Update #5

Hi everybody!
The news since last night has the top 9 teams across the finish line. Michelle Phillips finished at 3:33pm (4/3), Micha Degerlund at 7:12pm, Cindy Barrand at 7:26pm, Angie Taggart 10:35pm, Jason Mackey 12:23am (4/4), Darrin Lee 1:44am, Robert Tasso 2:53am, Wayne Curtis 4:19am, and Wattie McDonald at 6:41am.
I received news this morning that Jillian is running a four hour on, four hour off schedule on the 108 mile run to the finish. This is a running strategy which ensures that the dogs and the musher are going to have a fun run without tiring out. Many of the Mushers that have already finished had talked to her at the McClaren checkpoint, and report that she is in a great mood, and having good dog runs. Due to the change in running schedule, her finish time is likely going to be a little bit later than the 12:30- 12:45pm finish that I had previously expected. I will let you know as soon as she crosses the finish line. Keep Cheering !!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Taiga Update #4

I finally have some news! First of all, it sounds like one of the ice bridges collapsed while Jillian was on the 30 mile loop, leaving her with wet feet! Being such a short run, I don't think it left her too uncomfortable. I received news from the race Marshall that after the run, she was doing well, and was prepared to leave McClaren after her 4 hour rest at about 2:45pm this afternoon. She dropped two more dogs while at McClaren, which means that she will run the remainder of the race with a string of 9 dogs (still a good sized team). Her run from Wolverine to McClaren on the outbound took her 21 hours and 50 minutes, so if she runs the same schedule and the dogs are moving as efficiently on the way back, we can expect her to cross the finish line between 12:30pm and 12:45pm tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon.
Michelle Phillips is the winner of the race crossing the finish line at 3:33pm. We are still waiting for the next team to arrive. I'll update a little while later. Its going to be a long night as the rest of the teams start to drift in to the finish.
You can view fairly uncurrent race statistics at, and click on Taiga 300!

Minimal Taiga Update #3

Sorry about the delay, but the information from McClaren has been very sluggish. What I know is that all but two teams were into McClaren before 11pm last night. There is a quick 30 mile loop after an 8 hour rest in McClaren followed by a 4 hour rest back a McClaren Lodge before the teams leave to head to the finish line, 108 miles back to Wolverine Lodge.
As of 10:30 this morning 12 teams had completed their 8 hour, 30 mile, and 4 hour rests, and were headed towards the finish line. I am not sure when Jillian arrived at McClaren last night, so it is impossible for me to update her progress as of right now. I will let you know as soon as I hear something. Sorry for the lack of information.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Taiga Update #2

Hi it's Rich again!
The most recent update has some corrections and new information.
Corrections: Tanya Schletner actually arrived at McClaren at 12:24 (not 12:04)
Michelle Phillips was in at 12:25 (not 12:05). They both ran straight, and did not rest on the 108 mile run.
New: Cindy Barrand showed up at McClaren at 3:20pm, followed by Micah Degerlund at 3:41pm, and Angie Taggart at 4:03pm. Each of these three teams reported that they took a three hours rest on the trail between Wolverine and McClaren. Talk to you again soon!

Taiga Update #1

Hi folks this is Rich reporting on the Taiga 300 and Jillian's progress on the trail. I'm not the seasoned blogger, nor as computer savvy as Jillian is, so just bear with me. 21 teams showed up by Wednesday morning to start the race, Jillian being the 3rd team to leave the starting line. The first teams arrived back here at Wolverine lodge on Lake Louise about five hours and fifty minutes later. Jillian took it easy due to the warmer weather and hot sun, finishing the first 60 miles in seven hours. There was a mandatory 6 hour layover at wolverine before the next 108 miles to the next checkpoint at McClaren Lodge. The first teams left here about 11:30 last night, Jillian left just before 1am and the rest of the teams were out by 2am. Jillian started the race with 12 dogs, but decided to drop Hazel out before leaving Wolverine this morning, because she wasn't having any fun. I will take care of Hazel here at the truck until Jillian returns, hopefully Saturday morning. That is all that I have right now, but I will update as I hear more reports from the trail.

A report from the trail marshal this morning, who is ahead of the teams on the 108 mile trail to the McClaren checkpoint said that a lot of the natural ice bridges on the McClaren River have broken leaving big spots of open water in the race trail. This isn't as big of a problem as it sounds. The river isn't very deep, and the team that Jillian is running is very good in water. This will slow the run times down a little bit. Jillian is planning on taking a rest about half way through the 108, while the teams that are racing hard will run straight through.

News just arrived that Tanya Schletner pulled in the McClaren at 12:04pm this afternoon (108 miles in 12 hours and 33 minutes). and Michelle Phillips showed up just behind her at 12:05pm (108 miles in 12 hours and 27 minutes).

I will write up more reports as I get them!