Friday, March 31, 2006

Mass Start at Salmon Lake Stampede 150 race in Nome. Hugh is 2nd from the left. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Greetings from Kotzebue

Hello fellow Dawg enthusiasts!
We're now just a few hours by plane north of Nome in the Eskimo village of Kotzebue. Will be competing in the Kobuk 440 which starts next Thursday. This year's contest promises to be an exciting race with most of the Iditarod's top ten expected to enter. Was hoping to compete in a sprint race In Noorvik, 50 miles to the east tomorrow but had to turn the team around up in the hills outside of town due to the 50 mph winds and low visibility. Couldn't find the trail markers, no need to tax the dogs energy before next week's big event. Out here on the edge of the ocean the storms are legendary as my wind sheered brown face is now a testament to. This is a beautiful area when the sun is out however, so hopefully things will clear up here within the next week. You wouldn't believe the prices here- was just at the store stocking up on supplies- milk was on sale: 2 for $12, large jar of jellybeans-$15, loaf of bread-$5 etc. In Fairbanks a bale of straw is about $10, here-$40. Last night I stayed with John Baker, an Inupiat eskimo musher, who consistently finishes in the Iditarod's top ten; fifth this year. It was great talking dogs with him as well as Terry and Buddy Streeper, two famous Canadian sprint mushers. Life's all about who you associate with and learn from- fortunately I've been honored to share time with some of the greatest dog people in the world since I came north from Chicago many moons ago.

Once again a reminder that we'll be performing our next 'Tails from the North" Tour of the lower 48 speaking with kids and community groups in early May please contact us soon at if you're interested in enjoying this unique glimpse of our northern lifestyle and beloved canine companions. The lecture includes a mushing video, equipment demo, posters to purchase, q and a session and perhaps a chance to pet one of our pooches as well. Besides mushing with the Dawgs there's nothing I enjoy more than showing others the beauty that I am so lucky to be a part of each and everyday. Enjoy the View!
Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Monday, March 27, 2006

Stampede Trail Stage Race

Morning Everyone!
This past weekend we enjoyed our most fun competition thus far this year- the 150 mile Stampede Trail Stage Race. Our squad consisted of only 11 pooches, Iditarod finishers, while most of the seven other dogteams had 12 fresh dawgs to play with. Dogmushing is more than just what place one comes in or how much money they earn- it's about living LIFE! Greg Parvin, the race marshall, as well as other race volunteers and the local boy scout troop, did a wonderful job not only providing a decent trail but fine accomodations, food and libations as well.
The weather was great, around zero to 10 above with twenty mph winds at times gusting at your back, the shimmering sun reminding us that spring is nearing rapidly.

Heading out of Nome the teams headed due east following the Kougerak mining road into the old goldfields from one hundred years past. We spent most of the race a few minutes behind local favorite Nils Hahn and legendary Eskimo musher Joe Garnie (the man whose dogs were responsible for Libby Riddles harrowing Iditarod victory back in '85). It was an honor to share trail time with these fellas - they're what it's all about- knowledgable folks with kind demeanors that never fail to put a smile on one's face. Also in the field were Mike Jayne, Mike Owens and a few other locals as well- a fun time shared by all. The terrain was rather hilly yet there was nothing too steep, though the ice cold waters of some of the overflow rivers was quite chilly on the feet. That's why I never stop kicking and running- don't want them freezing up again as they did in the Quest this year. This was a mellow race however- 50 mile run, 12 hour break repeated 3 times. Colby and Flame had the kids flying: Nova and Myrtle, Shyela, Sally and Omen, Titan and Blaze, with my main men Mahoosic and Maestro closest to the sled in the wheel position. I could have cared less what position we finished- was just having some more fun in the sun. Amazing what our beloved beasts have accomplished this past season: Sheep Mountain 150, Knik 200, Copper Basin 300, Yukon Quest to Dawson, Iditarod, Stampede Trail and just two more fun sprint races to round out the season. Over 4 thousand miles including training- can't tell ya how often my eyes have moistened staring ahead at these unique creatures that the Great Almighty has created for us to play with, admire and whose company we treasure. For me it's no accident that DOG is GOD spelled backwards.

Finished yeasterday afternoon in 3rd behind Nils and Joe who both plan on competing next year in the Iditarod also. Had a great time with all the folks associated with the race- would highly recommend it to any musher- competitive or not- just get out there and exercise those dogs as well as yourself! As my buddy Lance Mackey always says, " They'll be plenty of time for sleeping when you're dead." Live life to the fullest my friends- it's a treaure, respect it and each other. Speaking of sleep, there were 20 of us crammed into one cabin snoring away early one morning, I could hear one of the scouts on the other side of the room talking in his sleep, " No, but I'm not tired yet." At Laughing Eyes Kennel, neither are we kid, neither are we- the future is wide open and I have a feeling with all of the effort, love and perserverance that has been pouring into this operation over the last few year's that, well... this mountain's just about ready to erupt...

Enjoy the view! Hugh, Tamra and The Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hugh from Nome

Greetings from Nome!
We'll be competing against six other squads including legendary eskimo musher Joe Garnie in the Stampede Trail stage race, 3-50 mile heats which begins tomorrow afternoon. Colby and Flame will be leading the way with the rest of our 11 finishers (including Sally who was dropped in Safety) in pursuit. It'll be a fun way to get back on the dance floor once again with the pooches. Of the ten dogs that made it to Nome 8 also made it to Dawson during our Quest experience as well. Next weekend we'll be heading north to Kotzebue to compete in a few local sprint races in Noorvik as well as the Arctic Circle Championships in Kotzebue. More than just the competition it's a time to spend learning the unique ways of the northwest Alaskan Eskimos. This week has been quite memorable as I'm staying with Dempsey Woods and his family, each day has been filled with constant laughter and smiles. Dempsey and I went on a thirty mile run with the pooches yesterday around the surrounding hillsides- beautiful , stark terrain- no trees but incredible sunsets. Once back home at Annie Lake in a few weeks I'll begin compiling a more detailed account of this past year's happenings, in fact it will be about the past ten years and I'm hoping to call the novel: 'HUGE MESS- A Cityslicker's 1st decade travelling by dogteam throughout the Far North'. Anyone have any friends in the publishing industry?- this one's sure to be a controversial memoir to enlighten the soul. Still planning on a school tour in mid May, we're more likely to visit areas where there is interest from more than one school or group. Obviously it's been an interesting year to say the least but the dawgs are happy, eating well with tails a waggin'- and isn't that what really matters? (As well as keeping Tamra happy!) Wishing you all well on your journeys too.

Enjoy the View, Hugh H. Neff and The Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel team on the new Lead Dog Ale boxes.  Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hugh and the team on the way from Safety to Nome at sunset on March 15. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Another pic of the start with Sampson and Shyela in lead and Sally in swing. Posted by Picasa

A little pic of Hugh with Blondie in McGrath Posted by Picasa

There's No Place Like Nome

The big news is that Hugh and the team arrived in Nome just after 8pm last night in 21st! In Nome after 10 days 6 hrs 22 minutes on the trail and just out of the top 20, but these are all just numbers. The real story is that 10 dogs made the long trip to Nome and were happy to be there. A great experience for the dogs and musher. This year's trail was much improved from last year, but this year the struggles were the weather. New snow along the early stretches, strong winds along the Yukon River and the Coast, bitterly cold temperatures, and bright sun. All the mushers coming in look weather beaten with bright red faces from long days in the sun and wind. I've just found out the final list of dogs. Friday and Snow were dropped in Ophir and Cripple, Darkie in Ruby, Dozer in Nulato, Blondie in Unalakleet, and Sally in Safety. This means the list of dogs to complete the entire journey was: Omen (who brought the team to Nome in single lead for the second year in a row), Nova, Mertyle, Maestro, Flame, Blaze, Colby, Mahoosic, Titan, and Shyela. An amazing group of dawgs! Besides Sally (who made it all but the last 20 miles) the other five dogs are new to our family this year. These five were sprint dogs up until this year and the therefore pretty amazing that they could switch gears so quickly to run between 500 and 700 miles so quickly. In only means great things for them next year.

Congratulations to Mike Jayne for getting Rookie of the Year! He arrived in 25th place and finished strong to obtain this position on the last day. His dad is our vet and Hugh took Mike on his first dog ride many moons ago. In fact their first dogs at Chandalar Lake were former Quest dogs from Hugh.

Also thanks to those that e-mailed telling me about an interview with Hugh at McGrath. Check out this website and scroll down the list of interviews they did this year. The volume's a bit low but I found with headphones I could hear. Something about ravens eating his beaver meat at a bunch of checkpoints.

Anyway, so Hugh is in Nome for a few more days. The banquet is on Sunday night. The dogs are in the dog yard in Nome but apparently it is very windy so they are going to bring the dogs to where Hugh is staying so they can rest in a big tent. Hopefully he'll take some photos. I'm stuck in Whitehorse, at home looking after the other dogs. I'm not sure when we'll see Hugh again - he hasn't firmed up his schedule yet. :) Hugh has promised though to write a blog soon. When I last talked to him he was falling asleep while talking so it may be a little longer until he surfaces.
-- Tamra

Monday, March 13, 2006

On the Bering Sea Coast

Sorry for the lack of updates over the weekend - no computer at home which also gave me two days off from checking the Iditarod stats every five minutes. I did get a call from my Mom on Sunday morning to say Hugh was in 5th place. I was a little suspicious when she said he spent only 1.5 hrs in Kaltag. Usually a team will either spend 5 minutes or at least 4 hours otherwise the dogs rebel. Anyway a couple of hours later they fixed the stats - his out time was actually his in time. It looks like the computer is going to give me another heart attack this afternoon. Hugh is apparently still in Unalakleet. Fortunately I talked to Hugh today (yippee!) and he said he was just about to leave (around 1:30pm). He had taken a long break there after the hard run in through high winds and was planning to make a long run. Being as though they missed Lance leaving I'm hoping that they've missed a couple of other teams leaving. Hopefully I'll find out soon. Anyway, Hugh said he was feeling good, the dogs looked great and the weather had cleared up. I found out I was wrong in my last post about dropped dogs. The first two dogs dropped were Snow (sore foot) and Friday (tired). Before the race I would have picked these two as the weakest links as they were last minute decisions. We got Snow and Friday in December and they had the least miles and least experience. Pretty amazing they made it to Ophir and Cripple. We're not sure yet who the other two dogs are. One photo of Hugh on the Iditarod site has a photo of Hugh with Dozer in the sled, so I'm guessing he may have been the last one dropped at Nulato.

So in other news Hugh was finally mentioned as being in the race. It amazes me how much attention they spend on the two front runners and how little space they give to everyone else in the race. Anyway, Jon Little wrote: "I did meet up with Hugh Neff this morning, and he seemed relaxed and happy as he cut up chunks of red meat and fed it to his dogs. Neff reluctantly scratched at the halfway point of the Yukon Quest this year over the health of his dogs, and he said that, from a physical standpoint, it was the best thing that could have happened to his Iditarod team. Most of the Quest dogs are here, he said." Here's a photo of Hugh looking after his dogs at sunrise in Unalakleet. In front is Titan, and no Mom that's not blood on his hands, it's Provadone cream :)

So I'm off to look after our dogs at home. Hopefully Hugh will shake things up tonight.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Onwards to Ruby!

So the first half of the field have arrived at the halfway point (Cripple) and many have continued on to the first checkpoint on the Yukon River (Ruby). Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel team are doing great! The plan this year was to take it easier in the beginning to hopefully finish with a stronger team in the end. So far it looks like Hugh is following this plan. He has been taking longer rests and trying to keep his runs shorter. He kept all 16 dogs until Ophir (500 miles into the race) - a record for him for sure. He has since dropped one dog in Ophir and one in Cripple but at 14 still has a lot of dogs compared to other teams. Although officially the team is in 19th place, they would appear to be closer to the top 15 when taking into account leapfrogging teams (pretty good considering 83 teams started this year and probably 40 of them are contenders). After taking 5 hours of rest on the trail into Cripple and another almost 9 hours of rest in Cripple it would appear that Hugh plans to run straight to Ruby (a 9 hour run) and take his 8 hour mandatory rest there. There's a lot of teams within a few hours so it will be interesting to see how things shake out. I spoke to Hugh in McGrath and he seemed upbeat about the race so far and how his dogs were looking. So far the trail has been great - a bit of new snow and not too warm for the dogs. Currently the thermometer has dropped a bit and it's been hovering around 40 below at night with some wind thrown in for good measure. Good for dogs, hard on mushers. The forecast is for warmer weather this weekend on the coast. Hugh wanted me to mention that his plans are to do the Kobuk 440 race in early April and then spend the month of May on the road travelling to the lower-48 to do another school tour talking about the Iditarod and living in the north. If you know of any schools that might be interested please send me an e-mail so I can start figuring out the scheduling ( Happy Trails!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Leaving Ophir for Cripple

So Hugh and the team came off of their 24 hr layover early this morning and went quickly through the checkpoints of Takotna and Ophir. They're now on their way to Cripple. It looks like Hugh dropped his first dog before leaving. I'm not sure who it was yet but I think it might be Darkie. Hugh mentioned that Darkie had a sore wrist in McGrath that he was treating. He's now with 15 dogs - one of the largest teams at the front. Speaking of front, Hugh is officially in 12th, however some ahead of him will likely not come off of thier 24's until Hugh has past by. Part of Hugh's decision to 24 at McGrath was to avoid the congested checkpoint of Takotna and to be on a slightly different schedule to everyone else to avoid other teams as far as possible. It looks like his plan to start slow is paying off. He has a good strong team coming into the halfway point. This evening should shuffle out the teams as they start coming off their 24's with the order out of Cripple being a good indicator of position. Here's a couple of shots from the ceremonial and real start in Willow:

Hugh leading the team to the start line of the ceremonial start (his first time ever doing this). You can't see but I get to ride the sled this time!

This is taken during the ceremonial start. I'm riding second sled and took the photo while we're on the x-country ski trails in Anchorage. That's Martin Buser and his son in front.

This is with the team all hooked up and waiting for the time to leave the real start in Willow. There's about 10 handlers to make sure the team makes it safely to the start line. Our good friend Bruce Hagstom is there is front leading the team.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Laughing Eyes Kennel team progress

So I'm addicted to looking at the checkpoint times for Iditarod. The problem is the information is not always accurate or fast enough. At one point Hugh had left Nicolai after 1.5hrs rest and then next time I looked he had left after 4 hours of rest. Mistaken identity? That and lots of teams don't sign out so it looks like they've stalled somewhere for a long time and then all of a sudden just appear at the next checkpoint. It's very difficult to figure out who's in the lead and what position the other teams are in until they've all done their 24 hr layovers. It's not until this point that the start differential is taken into account. I just talked to Hugh at McGrath. He's taking his 24 there. The plan this year is for Hugh to take it slow from the start - take more rests, and not make any long runs or start cutting rest until close to the coast. He wants to finish with as many dogs as possible and have a good looking team come in. So far he's been doing this. He still has all 16 dogs! and they're all looking good. Despite making shorter runs and taking more rest than normal the team is doing really well. From the times into McGrath - Hugh was 10th in. Taking into account start times he's about 2 hours behind the front runner - Doug Swingley. Seems like most teams are taking their 24's in either Takotna or Ophir (20 miles and 50 miles from McGrath). Hugh said he didn't want to push the dogs and he thought it would be quieter in McGrath. He said a lot of mushers have been giving him funny looks about his strong team and his good position. They've also been very supportive about his Quest problems this year. Seems like Hugh's not the only musher with a bad taste in their mouth about that race. Anyway, so Hugh and the team are doing great and able to leave McGrath around 5am in the morning.

Iditarod: The Real Alaskan Race

So I just got home yesterday after being in Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod. I'd have to say that the week prior to the start went great. In the past there's always been some crazyness to add to the stress of the Iditarod start. This year a big thanks goes out to Eric Jayne who helped with our vet checks and our endless Iditarod paperwork, all while he was stressing over his own son being in the race. Our biggest support was from Alisa and Jesse Guzman though who not only pick up and look after our drop dogs during the race but opened their house and backyard to Hugh and I and our 20 race dogs. It was so great to not have to drive back and forth to Willow all week and to be able to let the dogs out of the truck and run around their backyard.

So starting at the beginning - the Iditarod banquet. It was really long as usual. Hugh's plan was to pick the earliest number he could which would still get him out around 4pm to start him on a good run-rest schedule. He ended up with #57. When he finally got back over to the table after signing loads of pictures, he asked, "so who am I leaving near anyway?" He almost flipped when I said, "uh Hugh, actually you leave between John Baker and Martin Buser." oh well lots of pressure but good role models. The ceremonial start was on Saturday. I got to ride the second sled and our good friend Bruce Hagstrom drove the truck over to BLM for us. About 100' past the start line Hugh stopped the team to fix a line. As he was walking back the leaders jumped over the berm onto the road. We waited a moment but no one came over to help. Hugh ran up and pulled them back onto the snow which resulted in his sled with the Iditarider in butting up against the side of the berm and flipping over on its side. Of course the crowd were all laughing, and thankfully so was the Iditarider. Hugh ran back, righted the sled and we were able to take up just before Martin Buser took off. Through the 11 miles we took it slow but still passed a couple of teams that had pulled over to the side. Martin passed us on one of our stops but we ended up staying with him the rest of the trip. On the last downhill before BLM my sled flipped going around a corner (they call it a whip sled for a reason!) I dragged with the sled to the bottom of the hill where Hugh, laughing finally stopped the team. And there we were at the end of the first day - with me brushing off all the extra snow.

The real start was from Willow again this year. We got to Willow in good time - by 10 and had until 4pm when the team was scheduled to leave. Hugh was packing his sled when he realized he didn't have his cooker. This cooker was specially made this year and is part of the mandatory gear. Luckily Jesse and his friend were coming from Anchorage to help out. We gave them a call and they'd just arrived in Willow. Being the kind souls that they are, they agreed to run home and bring it back. The equipment checker came back a few times until finally Hugh borrowed Sebastian's extra cooker just in case. Jesse arrived just 5 minutes before Sebastian was leaving so we were able to sort things out. That chaos averted we had the sled packed and the dogs all harnessed and bootied with lots of time to spare. Hugh had Darkie and Blaze in lead, followed by Colby, Mertyle, Flame, Omen, Sally, Shyela, Snow, Friday, Blondie, Dozer, Nova, Titan, Mahoosic and Maestro. Hugh had decided in the Quest that he really didn't like the Seavey harnesses he had so I had to run out two days before the start and buy all new traditional H-Back style harnesses. From what he's said they're working out good. With the help of about 10 people we got the dogs to the start and Hugh left on time. I then got a ride from Mike Jayne's girlfriend Michelle up to Fairbanks. Sunday night and Monday I stayed with our friend Janie and then I flew home to Whitehorse on Tuesday. I've been trying to figure out ways to get to Nome for the finish but besides the cost (about $800) I'm not sure I could make it in to see Hugh and the team arrive. I'm still working on it though....