Friday, April 25, 2008

Somewhere out on that Horizon

Hey y'all,
Tis the time of season when life seems to really sloowwww down in the North. The days are gradually getting longer and warmer yet there's still plenty of snow to create quite a 'mushy' situation. Been training yearlings on a six mile loop that runs around the edge of the lake here. So much fun to watch the lil' poopers learn. All of that energy- hopefully it's heading in the right direction! We always make sure to run early in the day when temps. are typically at their lowest. So far Flicka, Nemo, Gypsy, and Capone all look great, it's all about experience. Their mom is Omen, one of our main female leaders. She's a bit quirky in the head but possessed by speed- finished 4 years in a row coming into Nome. My body is slowly healing up after all of the wear and tear we went thru this season- over 3,200 miles of racing alone. Left foot as well as right thumb still a bit numb, though it is awe-inspiring to not only watch one's body but one's spirit revive itself on a daily basis. Happy dogs create happy humans! What really motivates the Laughing Eyes Kennel cause is the chance to share our unique story, our lifestyle, and amazing tales with others. Life is a treasure. Hopefully by watching our misadventures up here in the North, folks from around the globe learn to chase their dreams as well. And, in the end, what matters most- the size of the $ you might earn or the size of the SMILE upon your dog's (or child's) face? Next week I shall be in Chicago with my buddy Spencer as we embark on our "Never Lose Hope" school tour. Spencer, a 3 year old male, competed in the Cantwell Classic, YukonQuest, Iditarod, All-Alaska Sweepstakes and Kobuk 440. Nearly 3,000 miles of racing- not bad for his 1st 'Pro' season, eh? The beautiful vistas, freedom of life and loving folks we meet along the trail are a few of the reasons why we admire our unique northern lifestyle so immensely. It's an honor to be able to share our experiences with newfound friends met along the way. Hope to be seeing you soon! (After a week in Chi-town we'll be heading up and down the Northeast Coast the 2nd week of May.) If we're not able to see you on this visit our next tour will be in mid-October.

Enjoy the view, Hugh and The Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Our featured Iditarod dog 'Spencer'

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wonderful Wanderings at the Kobuk 440

Hey y'all.
Greetings from the Greatland's "Hidden Jewel of the North"- Kotzebue, just above Nome. The Kobuk 440 has been a wonderful experience following the Sweepstakes fiasco. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways. Nothing like starting off your journey heading into a harrowing blizzard. Then the rain came, followed by open water once we reached the halfway point, the village of Kobuk. The return trip was a much more pleasant experience as the temps. dipped down below zero compared to forty above it felt like heaven. The trail hardened up and the dogs began to fly! Sure, the body is a bit beat up having to go through these conditions but the immaculate views- with valleys 30 miles in width- are more than worth it. The team was the center of this beautiful portrait. I've finally begun to understand that mushing isn't about how tough you are but how good of an artist one is at constantly adapting to the pooches needs. Coming down out of the hills, within a mile of the finishline in Kotz, tears began to well up in my eyes as I reminisced over the Alaskan rollercoaster ride we've been thru the last few months. I hope our 5th place finish sets the tone for a more successful season next year. The amazing aspect is that these DAWGS had just run three hundred miles the previous week in the sweepstakes. (In fact all the dropped dogs for 440 were the ones who didn't compete last week.) Omen, Annie, Flame and the crew have been on fire. Maestro, a beautiful blonde seven year old not only finished his 7th and 8th thousand milers this year, but the Kusko, Sweepstakes and 440 as well-- that's my BOY! (his mom's June-Mari) Our host family here has been great, Ida Peacock even presented me with a drawn lovely pic from the start of the race that she made. Her daughter Angela has been caring for our nonracing pooches with her father Chris- muchas gracias. We'll be heading home tomorrow- can't wait to start training up some yearlings. We're recieving numerous requests for our upcoming school tour 'NEVER LOSE HOPE' which encompasses the end of April and the 1st week in May. If you're interested please contact us asap for more details. Besides playing with the pooches on the trail there's nothing more enjoyable than sharing our adventures with YOU. I guarantee our story is one to put a smile on your face and hopefully ignites a passion in the viewers heart to imagine and achieve their dreams as well! Who knows if I'll ever become a 'champion'- whatever that means. However, few will ever contain the energy to enjoy this incredible lifestyle as yours truly- I'm possessed by this beautiful world of the north, a lucky man am I.
.Enjoy the view, Hugh and The Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Monday, April 07, 2008

Kobuk 440

Finishing the Kobuk 440 race

Just got a call from Hugh. He and the team are back in Kotzebue and had a good night's rest. They arrived yesterday afternoon at 3:15 in 5th position. Hugh was happy with his race. He finished with 8 happy dogs. The four dogs that were dropped along the way were the one's that hadn't done the Sweepstakes so they had a little less recent training. They had a good experience though that will help them next year. The dogs will be flying to me in Anchorage this afternoon. Until then, I'm hanging with 9 dogs here at our friends house. We can have them all loose in the backyard and its fun to watch them play together. Hugh will fly back tomorrow morning. It's amazing to think back over this past season. 3200 miles of racing combined with about 2000 miles of training. That's a lot of country these dogs have seen. Hugh and the dogs raced in the Cantwell Classic (Denali Hwy), Kusko 300, the Yukon Quest, Iditarod, Sweepstakes and Kobuk. People often ask how we pull it off, getting to all these races every year. I think Hugh has always just decided what to do and then made it work. If you think about things too much your mind can always come up with reasons why you shouldn't or can't. When you set you mind on doing something, your feet just follow. Our main goal is that our dogs are happy and seeing the dogs at the finish lines this year I would say mission accomplished!

Finish of the 2008 Yukon Quest

Thursday, April 03, 2008

All Alaska Sweepstakes race

Hugh was meaning to write while in Nome about what happened in the race but ran out out time before heading to Kotzebue so we'll have to make due with my writing. I guess I was there too so its just as easy for me to write about it.

There were concerns for us going into this race but we tried to deal with each as best we could. First there was the race itself. It seemed like whenever there was something to do that would require more effort from the race itself all they did was throw it back to the mushers that they would have to do that themselves. All other distance races send out food drops for the mushers. In this race we would have to do that. Unfortunately the race trail was only put in a couple of days prior to the start so we were only able to get food out as far as Boston, about 100 miles along the trail. Having food sent by plane was far to expensive with planes charging $500/hr and even finding a plane able to take a passenger and land at Candle or First Chance difficult due to the remote locations. We, like almost every team had to rely on a support crew with snowmachines to carry dog food and supplies the entire race.

We had talked with Hugh's friend Dempsey over the last couple of months about helping us during the race. I was not comfortable in my snowmachine skills to want to drive a machine alone especially with the large weight in a sled behind. I was going to share a snowmachine with his wife Fanny, however the morning of the start Dempsey told us he wasn't able to get off work that day so Fanny and I each had to take snowmachine with loads and he would catch up to us. We also learned just days before the race that Dempsey also recently agreed to haul Ed Iten's food on the race. We didn't like this idea but there wasn't anything we could do at that point. The dog teams left at 10am. Hugh had Flame in lead, followed by Annie and Colby, then Nathan and Spencer, Wild Bill and Omen, Scotty and Mahoosic. Walter and Maestro, and Oscar and Jackson. The start was a bit crazy. We were told there would be volunteers to help us up to the start but there was no one. We had to try to slow down 13 crazy dogs while travelling down Front street with no snow. Hugh was on the back of the sled and I was on the sled. All we could think of was Jim Lanier's story from '83 when his dog was dragged down the street at the start.

After Hugh had left, we couldn't leave until the afternoon so already we were behind the race. We were travelling to try to catch the teams and didn't catch the back teams until Topkok cabin. At Solomon I had stopped to call Dempsey because the throttle switch was broken and I was hoping he could bring one in case it broke further. We duct taped it and carried on. We arrived at Council 5 minutes behind Hugh and the team. The dogs were already bedded down so I helped remove the booties and feed the team. Then I went through and tended to their feet and used Algyval on their wrists and muscles. Hugh stayed 4.5 hours and left at midnight. Dempsey had arrived at around 11pm. By the time we had retied the loads and fixed the throttle we had left about an hour after him. From this point I was trying to catch up. The trail had lots of moguls, hard wind swept drifts and areas of tussocks. The trail was hard packed though so the dog teams were able to maintain a good speed. I'm not very experienced on a snow machine and was travelling at 20mph in some areas but then having to go slow through the uneven terrain especially with the large load behind me. At Boston, we were about a half hour behind. I had to stop to refuel and getting out the fuel and retying it after meant I was leaving an hour behind Hugh. Ed was still in Boston so Dempsey wanted to stay. I decided to continue to try to catch Hugh and because I was moving slower than Dempsey. By Telephone I was a bit worried about the upcoming trail. Hugh had gone through and I'd missed him again. There were reports about a large stretch of overflow that was turning sleds around on the ice. There was no mention of a steep, long hill. I was worried about going on alone. Dempsey and Fanny showed up and said they would leave right behind me after Ed showed up. I passed Ramey Brooks but was worried the whole time about him being stuck behind me. The trail was really bumpy with tussocks and very little snow. It was about 3 in the morning and I had been on the snowmachine for 14 hours straight on rough terrain. Dempsey and Fanny flew by me without even a wave. I thought they would stop and wait for me every so often but I never saw them again.

About 5 miles from the checkpoint of Haven, I saw some lights in the distance. I was really tired by this point and my right hand had little feeling in it. I couldn't tell that there was a large hill coming up until I was started up. Half way up was Anna's stuck snowmachine and load. I tried going around but with the loss of momentum and deep snow I was stuck too. Then Jim's other handler came up, tried to go around the other side of Anna, almost flipped the sled and got stuck too. We were able to push Rob's load down the hill, and Rob and Anna pushed down her load as well. We dug out and lifted their machines and got them out. Lastly we worked on my load. Two mushers had gone by, Ramey Brooks and Ed Iten and I had asked them to pass on a message to ask Dempsey to come back to help get this load out. I was thinking that Dempsey would come back when I hadn't arrived at Haven. Dempsey had given me to use a wooden sled to carry the food. It was really heavy to begin with. The other thing was that the back of it was straight so every time we tried to push it it just dug in further. Rob and I would dig out the back, push with all our might and get it move about a foot. We repeated this about 10 times. Anna was mad at me for not carrying bags up the hill. Each bag weighed over a hundred pounds and at that point I just knew I couldn't do it. It would have taken forever to carry even one bag and I knew Hugh was waiting for food. I knew it would be faster to have another machine to help shuttle the load up. Rob helped me get the machine out which we had trouble starting and digging out. During all this two other empty snowmachines flew by and didn't even stop to see if we were ok or offer help. Meanwhile, Hugh had stopped at Haven because he didn't want to continue without seeing me and he was out of trail snacks. He then got word from Ramey that I was stuck. Dempsey was already at Haven and had arrived shortly after him. He asked if he would go back to help me to which he replied, "No she'll be fine, I'm going to carry on." Ed hadn't even arrived at Haven so helping me wouldn't have affected his race. Dempsey also had food and straw on his sled that was Hugh's but didn't give it to him. He did give him some hot dogs and a can of spam for the dogs to eat. This was the only food they had for about 8 hours. The official at the checkpoint told us that we weren't allowed to ask other teams to borrow food until ours arrived. He said this was against the rules? Most mushers were really mad when they heard about this after the fact. They were all tired as well and focused on their own race and didn't realize what was happening to us. Cim and Mitch's teams both said they would have helped if they'd known.

I got to the checkpoint around 9am? The BLM folks offered to go back to get the sled of food. They couldn't get their machines started for about 2 hours. When they got there Ramey Smyth was stuck where Anna had got stuck. The Tuluksak school folks were also helping and they rerouted the trail to a better area. Hugh's food finally got back around 2pm. At this point Hugh had decided to scratch. The race had gone by. He had arrived in Haven in 3rd and was now in 10th and hours behind the leaders. We were so upset and mad at Dempsey. He had said he would help us. We had given him money and were paying for him to be there. We still don't know why he turned on us at this point. We couldn't figure out why someone would do this. Not only to screw us over in this race but it is a code of north not to leave someone in trouble. I was really upset. I felt like I had caused this trouble. I couldn't believe that Anna getting stuck resulted in our team having to scratch. I felt though that if Hugh was to continue on, I didn't think I should continue with the snow machine and gear as the trail was reported to be worse. Hugh would then have to carry much more weight and be far behind. Hugh also didn't want to have to see Dempsey down the trail and for him to think what he had done wasn't that bad. The worst thing was that the dogs were doing great. All dogs were doing great. The first reports out were that Hugh had scratched because the trail was more difficult than he was expecting. It's crazy when people speculate as to why someone has scratched. At the start of the race Hugh said he was hoping for a challenging trail which would suit his dogs better than the fast trail that it ended up being. After all the racing that Hugh's done in the last few years its laughable that someone would think that would be why Hugh would end a race.

After scratching Hugh was told he couldn't leave until the next four teams got into Haven so he left around 5pm. He then travelled back through Telephone and Boston and stopped in Council again. The people there were great and gave him a steak and use of the hot tub. He left Council and went through Timber. At the base of the Topkok hills a snow machine stopped him and said the Race Marshall, Al Crane wanted him to stop and wait for the race leaders to go by. Lance and Mitch were stopped in Council. Jeff King stopped to rest in Timber. When he stopped there he knew Hugh was travelling faster and questioned why the officials kept holding him up. At this point Hugh was allowed to continue but he had to stop at every checkpoint and ask if he could continue. The only reason he did this was because he was worried about the form he'd signed that basically signed over his team to the race. Hugh ended up pulling into Nome at 9pm on Friday. I had arrived Thursday night having hitched a ride on a plane out of Haven.

Before I left Hugh, he wanted me to change our flights so we could leave Nome earlier. He had talked briefly about possibly doing the Kobuk race in Kotzebue. I decided to wait to deal with flights until I could talk to him. He was all pumped up when he got in saying that the runs home were the best he'd had all year. He was excited about going to the Kobuk and finishing the year on a good note rather than a scratch. So this is where he and team are now.

A few hours after he got in the teams started rolling in to Nome. We were so happy to see Mitch Seavey win. He used a good race schedule, gave more rest and it paid off with faster run times. I talked with Danny and they said their crew got about 45 minutes sleep the whole race. Jeff King came in 10 minutes later and Lance came in an hour later. We had heard that Lance's team was hit with a snowmachine. When he arrived the back of his sled was all broken and Zorro was in the sled and looked like he was barely conscious. Al Crane was holding the sled and I commented on the sled and he said they would talk to Lance about what happened. Lance took Zorro home and the next morning he said he was in bad shape. They ended up sending him to Seattle where it was found he had 4 broken ribs, damage to his spine and a concussion. We're sending prayers that he will make a full recovery. Zorro is the father to our puppies at home. I can't wait to go home to see them and all the other dogs. Sorry for the long post but I'm sure people wanted to know what happened. I will try to post again if I get any updates about the Kobuk 440. I think their website is down so it will be difficult to find out what is going on.