Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When Darkness Turns to Light…

Hey yáll,
Have finally returned to the hacienda at Annie Lake- the amount of snow here is unreal, after all this is the 16th of April isn’t it? Check out some of the accompanying pix: five foot snowdrifts still surround the dog pen and sauna, the roof of our dogbarn collapsed last week- what’s next?

Sophie next to our dog pen with normally 5' to 6' high fences. She was having fun jumping in and out of the pen.
Hugh had to dig out one side of the dog cooker so he could use it. I don't know how he even found it.

June-Mari and Deyaah sitting on the snow drift in front of our house.

The collapsed roof on the former greenhouse, now dog barn. We had planned to redo the roof this year anyway...

Our return trip from Kotzebue was enjoyable, spent a day in Anchorage then drove six hours north to Fairbanks to hang out with Lance and Tonya for an evening of laughs. Was amazed how quickly the snow had disappeared there, their yard being a muddy quagmire. Luv hanging with these folks though their midget dogs can be hell on one’s back as they scurry around in the middle of the night while I’m trying to sleep. Quite the year for Mr. Mackey, has been a true education witnessing the beauty of all that their pooches have accomplished. The best part of this whole story is that Lance and the family are still just the same down to earth fun loving folks that I met down in Kasilof many moons ago.

The 12 hour drive back to the Whitehorse area was rather uneventful – saw a fox, a few caribou and a bit of snow flurries - though each time traversing across the Alaska hwy. is always an adventure to behold. The dawgs love to travel not only by dogsled but dogtruck as well. The day after we had returned while unloading the truck I found Deyaah and Annie in the front seat listening to tunes on the radio. Special thanks to Jessie and Alisa Guzman of Anchorage who not only care for our dropped Iditarod pooches each year but babysat Ms. Deyaah and Ms. Shyela while we were traveling in the kobuk river area.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be training up our yearlings (Omen’s pups) as well as preparing for summer tourism rides in Juneau. Of even greater significance will be yours truly finally sitting his butt down and writing something that’s been ten years in the making—Iditaquest. Over the next few weeks we’ll show you a glimpse of this fairly unique journey that has become our daily existence. We hope it shall be a novel for all to enjoy and learn from – especially the dimwitted musher whose follies people so enjoy laughing at. Lord knows there’s not a day that goes by that my eyes aren’t smiling. What a view, how lucky can one be.

Thanks again for believing in our vision, would luv to hear how your adventures are coming along as well…

Tamra, Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

p.s.: we’re already receiving requests for our next school tour this October, don’t wait til the last minute, for more info. Check us out at: http://www.laughingeyeskennel.com/

Monday, April 09, 2007

As we Seek, so shall we find...the journey continues on...

Greetings from Kotzebue!
We finished up the 440 yesterday afternoon finishing 9th out of 18 teams. Though hoping to do better as any musher will tell you, I was quite pleased with the pooches performance. Of the nine finishers we had one rookie, one yearling and 2 two year olds. Kotz can be quite a demanding race with five 80 plus mile runs, though our youngsters Annie and her brother Watson had already completed the race to Nome as well.

Annie (right) and Omen - the leaders into Nome

Now lil' Miss Annie might have a book written about her but Watson has been the true workhorse this year finishing both 1,000 mile races as well as two other mid-distance races (Kusko and Cantwell). My main man of the future not only finished every race as a two year old-- he finished in the LEAD position.

Watson (front) in red harness with Nova at start of Iditarod

Can't help but put a smile on one's face as we marvel at the brutish raw strength of these magnificent lil' furballs of faith. That's why the whole key to mushing is keeping them happy. Some folks might look at us as competitors, I prefer the term 'artist'-- I'm just trying to paint as pretty a picture as possible every time we suit up to hit the trail.

Annie on one of her runs around the house

What was really great about this year's race was that the average age of the top 5 mushers was nearly 60 years old- made me realize that I'm still just a pup. With the likes of Rick Swenson, Louie Nelson, Martin Buser and Gerry Riley among others there's plenty of mushing wisdom and stories to soak up. Mark May, whose father Joe won the Iditarod, was our trail veternarian. We enjoyed sharing old tales from the trail. Chuck Schaefer, the race marshall instructed all of us to have fun because that's what mushing is all about - I'd make sure to remind myself of this notion whenever the muscles became sore or swollen. After all the body's been through the last several months a few weeks recovery is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately 'recovery' for me includes two days travel getting home then an intensive puppy training program the rest of the month - training up in the mountains near our home anywhere from 20- 30 miles every other day. This year I've always been focused on getting ready for the next leg of the journey. It'll be fun training Omen's (our main leader) pups. A Lance Mackey pooch, she finished alongside Mr. Watson in lead with her usual lick on the face, "Hey boss where's the nearest available couch around here?"

Omen with Hugh in Nome

Kobuk 440 is school - not only about mushing but spirit. The friendly native souls met along the way in the villages of Kiana, Ambler, Shugnak, Noorvick and Selawik remind you that this life is what we make of it. We reap what we sow. All of us face challenges everyday though our greatest 'enemy' can usually be found right in the mirror. Over the years I've been fortunate to realize the power of seeking out one's weaknesses. Knowing yourself enables continual growth which is why I plan on smiling for some time to come. It's hard not to when one is lucky enough to witness the beauty not only of the north; her mysteries and people but of the beauty hidden within one's very own soul. Best be heading back out to the doglot now-- there's doggie massages to perform - don't ya think they're well worth providing?

Love to hear from ya, Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Kobuk 440

Greetings from Kotzebue! Located a few hours north of Nome up above the Arctic circle on northwestern Alaska's coast this beautiful Eskimo city is the sight of our latest adventure-- the Kobuk 440 (www.kotzdogmushers.org). As usual some of the finest mushers in the world will be competing- my buddy Lance Mackey, Paul Gebhardt, Martin Buser, Ed Iten, and Ken Anderson to name a few. With Annie, Omen and Flame leading our squad we're hoping to have a good, clean run to finish out this magical winter. It's been an inspiring education to have front row seats watching Lance's amazing feats this year - a true inspiration for the future.

My apologies in being delinquent with stories from the trail but we've been trying to stay a bit more focused this season and it has definately been paying off with a top ten finish in the Quest followed by a top 20 Iditarod finish. The Quest was an eye opener, the Iditarod was quite the physical challenge yet the Kobuk and other village races that are off the 'road system' is where one finds the true beauty of the dogmushing world. The positive spirit and huge smiles of the native peoples are amazing- truly genuine and unique folks.

Race runs: Kotzebue - Noorvik - Kiana - Ambler - Shugnak - Ambler - Selawik - Noorvik - Kotzebue (click on map for larger view)

Once we're back at Annie lake next week I hope to begin writing IDITAQUEST, our 2nd dogmushing novel. ANNIE, My Life on the Trail So Far... is a children's book we put together with Derek Crowe last summer, an outstanding professional photographer from Carcross - it's geared towards school children. Any teachers or students interested in a copy are more than welcome to contact us through our website. The book's star, Annie, was our team's main leader for over 800 miles in this year's race -- as a 2 year old! Amazing girl, I have a feeling she'll be a pooch who will leave her mark in racing history within the next few year's time.
We'll be heading to Juneau the 1st week of May for tourist rides with Alaska Excursions, if you're planing a cruise in Alaska this summer be sure to look us up when you pass through town. Once again thanks to family, friends and the thousands of supporters we have around the globe - this lil' Chicago boy's VISION is definately coming to fruition. I would NEVER have believed back in 2000 that over the next seven years we would be competing in 11 One-Thousand mile races; it just goes to show you much like the song says: "There's magic in your eyes". All You have to do is believe in yourself and soon the 'fantasy' shall become reality.

Enjoy the view, Hugh, Tamra and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew http://www.laughingeyeskennel.com/