Monday, January 22, 2007

Kusko 300

Hey y'all,
Just finished our 2nd mid-distance race in the last two weeks. Thus far the prospects for a successful season seem advantageous. Laughing Eyes kennel's squad of Dawgs finished 6th out of 19 teams in the Kuskokwim 300 which finished yesterday afternoon. Temps. hovered just above zero which was pleasant travelling weather. Martin Buser edged out Jeff King in a thrilling down to the wire finish. Our Yukon Quest dogs fared pretty well compared with the highly rated Iditarod teams we were up against. Though in retrospect many of the teams were 'fine tuning' their dogs for the "Last Great Race on Earth" which begins the 1st weekend in March.

Typically the Kusko is a relatively flat trail, however this year they put in a loop over to Pike lake that traversed over a small mountain range. As is her custom, Alaska offered some breathtaking views as well as throngs of new friends to meet along the way. What was truly amazing is that in most of the villages along the river system the native Yupik is still spoken. Much fun was had sharing stories with local dogmushers in the villages of Kalskag, Akiak and Tulusak where we had layovers at. This race did have one MAJOR problem I had to encounter-the BEARS. Obviously the local ones are hibernating this time of year though the football team in Chicago was busy making history on its way to the Superbowl. A local lady, Lori, taped the game which I watched at 5am this morning. Much like the snow falling down onto the players' helmets, tears flowed from my eyes while watching tv- though no team will ever match the spirit of '85's Ditka squad. When it comes down to it for our kennel that's what dogmushing is all about. We'll let others concentrate on making money- our focus is on personal perfection. Lord knows we have a ways to go, yet we're heading in the right direction. Standouts on the Kusko team were a recent Lance Mackey dog Storm, lil' lady Shyela in lead as well as mama Colby and her son Watson.

The last two pooches have has quite a busy agenda having finished in the Cantwell Classic 200 event which we finished 2nd behind Mr. Mackey out of 26 teams. That course travelled along the Denali highway winding its way through some majestic mountainous scenery. There were two reasons we decided to participate in the inaugural running of the 200 mile event. The chance to explore new terrain is always high up on our list of things to do. The main reason was that the race was honoring the greatest competitive dogmusher of all time Mr. George Attla. The 'Huslia Hustler' is good friends with my mentor Lester Erhart. With 50 miles left in the event, as we descended down a hill onto the Big Su river, we flew around a corner and into some major trouble. My main leaders Watson and his brother Walter lunged off of the trail into some bushes-what's up fellas? I then noticed that a fat varmit was waddling deeper into the thicket. The pooches faces suddenly popped out full of porcupine quills. Fortunately the checkpoint was only minutes away. Unfortunately for Walter he received the majority of the punishment and would be dropped immediately for medical attention. (He's resting comfortably on the couch back at our casa on Annie lake now.) Watson went relatively unscathed with only a few quills on his nose that were removed immediately. He would end up running well and finishing both races (along with his mom). I could have sworn half of the time we were moving down the trail to back to Bethel he was sniffing and scanning through the bushes just waiting to get some revenge on that pesky porky that messed his brother up.

During our 'break' between races Tamra and I prepared our food drops for the Iditarod in Anchorage at our good friends, Jessie and Alisa's place. She returned home with one team of dogs once everything was organized into dozens and dozens of 50 pd. bags supplied to mushers by the race committee. Quest bags were done a few weeks ago allowing us now to concentrate on the poopers without all of the numerous shopping distractions. Many thanks go out for all of the positive feedback and warm wishes. Special thanks for my host family in Bethel Pat Barrett. She has a lovely fenced in yard for the kids to run around in as well as numerous couches for them to lounge out on. The wine and sauna kept yours truly focused on finishing as soon as possible also.

We have our finishing banquet this evening, a plane flight to Anchorage in the morning followed by a 14 hour drive back to Whitehorse. This surreal mushing life of ours can be quite demanding at times yet up here in the north we have a saying, "Instead of calling it work, call it play- that way you're more likely to keep smiling all day." Have a good one.
Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Crew DA BEARS

Cantwell Classic

A few notes about this great race. The race runs along the Denali Highway from Cantwell, through Big Su to Maclaren Lodge. Hugh ran the first half in mostly one stretch with stops every hour for snack breaks. He was the first to Maclaren and was on his own for a few hours. The race format however is that the race re-starts the next day in the reverse start order meaning the dogs had a long 10 hour rest before heading out again. Here's some photos from the start:

This is Watson (right) and Walter (left) in lead at hook-up. In behind them is their mom Colby.
This is me putting booties and harnesses on in preparation for the start. Hugh was leaving second with bib 3 (dual-starts).

This is Hugh with the Cantwell team just before leaving. Most of these dogs will be on his Iditarod team. And a picture from of Hugh in Maclaren lodge:
And this is Hugh giving Watson and Colby a rub-down before leaving Maclaren.As Hugh outlines in his story (above), on his way home, just outside of Big Su checkpoint, the team came across a huge porcupine in the middle of the trail. After waiting him out and thinking all was clear, Hugh let the team continue, only to have Walter pull over into the bushes to go after the porky. He and his brother Watson came out with quite a few quills mostly in their snouts. They made it to the checkpoint where Hugh and the vets started to pull them out. They were able to get Watson's out fairly easily but Walter needed to be put under to remove some quills that were deeply embedded in his back leg. This delay meant Lance was home free to the finish line as Hugh left about an hour late. No worries - we'd rather have 2nd and two ultimately happy, healthy leaders. Here's a great photo from the banquet where none other but George Attla was in attendance (the race was in his honor after all):

Overall, a great race - hope to be back next year!

Next we drove on to Willow where we took the dogs that were to go in the Kusko out for a training run. Here's a pic of the team:

After a longer than expected run (5 hours instead of 2) by taking the wrong trail and many interesting events due to deep snow next to the trail making turning 14 dogs around a challenge, we finally had some quieter dogs in the truck that night.

The next two days were focused on Iditarod food drops which had us running around town, cutting, bagging, and labelling. Thankfully they'll all complete now though. Then early Thursday morning (3am) we arrived at the airport for a fun-filled two hours of kennel assembly, and pallet loading for the Kusko. Hugh only just made his flight at 5:30. I drove the first team home to Whitehorse and Hugh will have to continue with his Kusko adventures....


Thursday, January 04, 2007

How we spent our Christmas vacation

Sorry for the delay in posting. We've been really busy of late preparing food drops for not one but two 1,000 mile races. This has meant cutting up a lot of meat, bagging meat, kibble, booties, socks, etc..... Here Nathan is helping with the cutting but I think he's not saving it for the race dogs.

We just bought a 12" mitre saw and have been using it with the generator for days on end. This is much faster than in previous years when we had to haul the meat over to a neighbours (who had both a saw and electricity) and cut meat for a couple hours each day for weeks on end. Also now we can keep the meat dust and use it for broths at night for the dogs. However Sophie has other ideas on how to clean up the meat dust. Hopefully she doesn't lick too close to that blade.

Also notice Marcellus is in on the action. Any loose dogs we now have head straight for that table.

I also spent a fun-filled week fixing Hugh's dog truck. We couldn't find any heated garages available over Christmas so we ended up bringing two sheets of plywood into the cabin over Christmas so I could paint the side panels of the dog box and install all the hinges and latches on the new doors. It's all finished now and is good to go for this season. I'll have to post a pic on the next update.

Besides the work which never ends we've of coarse been running dogs as well. Christmas was a quiet day. Hugh and I each took out a team of 10 and did a 30-mile run together. We didn't see anyone else out that morning which was good because we took a wrong turn and ended up on the road for a portion before we could jump back on the trail system. Here's one of the lakes we crossed:

Hugh was doing a lot of 80-mile runs from the house to Alligator Lake, Mount Mac, and Fish Lake. Recently though with the warm weather it's not that great of an idea to take the teams up 5,000 ft where it's even warmer, and harder on them to go up the hills in the heat so he's been doing shorter runs and running from Takhini to Braeburn which is flatter and faster. With the warm weather we've also been getting snow everyday. The snow in the trees is over my knee and on the lake where the wind blows in our water hole every day the snow's over my waist. Not good when you fall off the trail. Here's some recent pics of the dog yard taken while Hugh was shovelling off the roof:

We've been figuring out our race plans for this winter. Hugh's signed up for the Kusko300 - one of the only mid-distance races he hasn't before competed in. He would like to do the Cantwell Classic - we're on the waiting list. Then we have the Yukon Quest and Iditarod, and possibly the Kobuk440. We are also possibly sending a team in the YukonQuest 300. I'll be posting more frequent updates during the races to let everyone know how we're getting along. We want to wish everyone a Happy New Year! We had a great 2006 and we're looking forward to an even better 2007.