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!!


At 2:23 AM , Blogger SkagwayReba said...

Hugh & Tamra!!!
I *love* the site and your writing has completely sucked me into your adventures!!! I am so looking forward to cheering you on this year!!!

It was great to see you last week Hugh... Thanks so much for the autographed Lead Dawg Ale 6 pack!!! The Yukon is lucky to have you~ and we're lucky that you call Skagway home as well.

Happy Trails & Safety First!


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