Friday, January 20, 2006

Heading to Chistochina (photo by Brad Henspeter) Posted by Picasa

Going under the bridge in Gakona. Posted by Picasa

Hugh following Lance into Meiers Lake  Posted by Picasa

Snow and Mahoosic before the start of the race (photo by Marc Henspeter) Posted by Picasa

Copper Basin

So Hugh wanted me to write a bit about the race this past weekend and he's promised to write some from his perspective soon. In case you haven't looked at the final results, Hugh came in 6th and Dean finished 13th. First I wanted to point out to Craig Medred of the Anchorage Daily News that Hugh was only in 2nd place for about 5 minutes and was mostly around 5th place, and his team did not falter badly between Wolverine and Tolsona. He had 6 out of 12 dogs on his team that had never raced before and one dog that has only recently recovered from a strained tendon injury. We use the Copper Basin race as training for the Yukon Quest; the prize money is hardly worth risking dogs for. The trail between Wolverine and Tolsona was the worst he's ever seen (and he's seen a lot of bad trail). There wasn't enough snow and the snowmachiners had created about 20 miles of moguls. With all the new dogs Hugh had, he slowed the team way down to prevent injuries and to not totally demoralize their spirits. Arriving in Tolsona, he saw three teams that didn't want to continue - it took their handlers a few miles of leading to get them out of there. He was so upset by this sight that he wanted to call it a day there but decided as the remaining 20 miles of trail was downhill and flat he would let them finish. Anyway this isn't meant to be a list of excuses but an explanation of why he didn't push the dogs at the finish.

The race itself started good. As usual I got about 1 hour of sleep the whole race. This makes it increasing diffcult to get to the last couple of checkpoints on time. I find it takes me longer to clean up the site and then I always end up rushing to drive the next 50 miles to the next checkpoint. The first section of trail was ok except for the present once again willow bushes that are annoying and dangerous to the dogs. All the mushers were raving about the second run to Paxson. So beautiful with the full moon out. The third run to sourdough was ok and the moose holes turned out not to present too much of a problem. The conditions at Sourdough left much to be desired. This time the cabin from previous years was not available and all the organizers could find was an old canvas tent with missing poles and a bit of straw - not even a source of heat. Needless to say a lot of mushers were hanging around a campfire for seven hours instead of getting some much needed sleep. The trail to Wolverine was good but the trail out was poorly marked. Hugh left about 10 minutes before a pack of 4 teams but ended up on the wrong trail and had to return and leave right in the middle of them. After Hugh had left Tolsona I found out that our little Mojo on Dean's team had died on the trail to Wolverine. Apparently she had vomited and then aspirated the vomit into her lungs. Clint Warnke was right behind Dean and tried to clean out her throat and give her CPR but unfortunately it was too late. Mojo was the fastest leader in our kennel. A talented little 4 year old reddish-blonde husky-hound with the biggest heart. Karen Ramstead told Hugh that at least she died doing what she loved but I would prefer she had at least a few more years with us. Anyway I was really upset but had to hide my feelings until Hugh had finished and I could tell him in private. We spent the next day feeding and looking after the dogs and returned home after the banquet with a heavy heart. It's nice to be back home with the dogs again. I think they like being home too, back to their own dog house. We'll train in the Whitehorse area until the Quest. Speaking of Quest we'll be working on food drops this weekend.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Years Trip to Tanana

Greetings to All!
Spent these past holidays travelling back thru time. Tamra spent her vacation with her family back in Toronto so we decided to go for a little walkabout ourselves. 2 days after x-mas we loaded up the pooches and departed our casa at Annie Lake as we headed north by northwest. Our 1st night we spent on the road at my old boss Bill Mitchell's new digs in Tok, Alaka. The following day brought us to our old stomping grounds up on Murphy Dome on the outskirts of Fairbanks. Rich Doran, the man whose always been there for us, was kind enough to take care of a few pooches - we still weren't far enough north yet! Thursday afternoon found us in Manley Hot Springs hooking up the main squad our destination-- the Native Athabascan village of Tanana up on the Yukon river some seventy miles to the northwest. Most of the dogs that own us come from this village; you could literally feel their excitement being around familiar trails-- we were Flying. Down Tofty road, thru the old Woodchopper mining district, across 3 mile long Fish lake, a dozen other small bodies of water, then there's Hay slough's notorious glare ice, another portage or 2 finally descending onto the majetic mighty Yukon. This year they even had tripods to guide one across it and into the village. Of course in lead as usual was her highness June-Mari with Mr. Piccalo. Several new dogs made up the rest of the 14 that made up the team- Darkie, Oscar, Dozer and their compadres were pumped up as we covered the terrain in less than 6 hours, with a sled loaded to the hilt with food, some 3 to 4 hundred pounds worth.

Pulling into Lester Erhart's yard that evening was certainly a heartfelt homecoming. Spending time celebrating our unique lifestyle with my Athabascan gunnas was as enjoyable as ever and a great way to get motivated for this upcoming season. Of course Lester and his boy John provided the soulful musical entertainment for the holidays- a country/blues mix. The village also had a fireworks display which was beautiful as the colors reflected across the frozen slabs of ice that adorned the mighty Yukon. Much like the rest of the north the temps. were way above average some 10-20 degrees, right around zero. Yet as we departed a few days into '06 Mother Nature once again reminded us who was in charge as the thermometer hit 25 below. While in Tanana Lester sold me a new dog named 'Snow' which was ironic considering our lack of it this year. He's an awesome blonde 4 year old physical specimen, always eager and barking to go. In fact he probably would have been on John's main sprint squad this season but as my native friend explained to me, " We just want you to win Hugh." If he only knew I was already a winner just being lucky enough to be a part of this unique journey. The return trip was a bit haphazard. A few miles out the dogs took a gee when they should have went haw to the left - suddenly we were heading the wrong direction on a trapline trail. A mile down I found an open spot to quickly turn the team around. Unfortunately the team balled up and Piccalo got loose. The next twenty minutes we were in pursuit of our lost leader as he (of course) took off in a beeline back towards Tanana. Fortunately for us I had earlier agreed to transport some dogs for Lester to Fairbanks to give to his boy Curtis. Another son, Paul was hauling them behind his snowmachine, catching Piccalo and saving the day for all involved. With temps. hovering around 30 below down on the slough (river) we turned the team back around with June-Mari and Blaze now up in front. Heading back to the truck the only part of my face that was visible was a small slit around the eyes; it was cold enough to leave a nice patch of frostbite on my nose, with the bizarre warm weather this year though it actually felt kind of nice. As darkness came upon us around 4:20 that afternoon a tiny marten flashed across the trail, the team's energy instantly exploding in beastial fury. Parking the squad next to the truck at 7 that evening I congratulated everyone on a job well done. Walking up the team I noticed Snow, our newest, rolling on his back playfully-an awesome sight indeed. And Piccalo? He was just smiling!

Presently we're back up on the hill at Rich's training as well as purchasing endless supplies for the Copper Basin, YukonQuest and Iditarod; you can imagine with 2 professional teams this year there's not a moment to be wasted- History is in the making. Laughing Eyes Kennel has performed admirably over our rather short 7 seasons of long-distance racing. Much of our veterans, nearing ten years of age unfortunately can't keep the pace of our newer pooches, fortunately Dean Rosiar has volunteered to care for and train them this season as well as our younger yearlings. That leaves more time for yours truly to spend with the main squad. Let me tell ya folks these DAWGS are some physical specimens. Where in the past I acquired solid dogs at discount prices or as puppies our level of natural raw talent has skyrocketed thanks to the Erharts. I am humbled to have the opportunity to be on the sled runners with a group like this in front of me to dance with down the trail each and everyday-- we're gonna have some FUN this year.

Started off this story some ten years back with 200 bucks to my name. At present that still stands true, a few crumpled bills in my pocket is all I possess financially. Yet with a will there's a way- I believe we've proven that by now. Besides the real GOLD is in LIVING life, in Laughter and enjoying times with loved ones, and in appreciating all that we have witnessed along the trail across this blessed Greatland. When we race, it's not for "Hugh Neff", it's for the Dogs to enjoy their unique abilities, to honor the northern landscape and hopefully provide one heck of a story every once in a while for you all to enjoy. The future is bright my friends if one is willing to see it that way. Would luv to hear from any of you -- once again thanks for the continued support. Without it we would never have had a chance!
Enjoy the View, Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew Box 532, Skagway, AK, 99840 Sponsor info can be found at or 867 456-7714
Best wishes in the coming year!!