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 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.

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.