Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday Saunas w/ Salmon Stew

"Can you handle the heat?"
Hey y'all,
Weather has been relatively warm of late. We had a nice bit of snow a few days ago allowing us to run more right out of the yard. Having travelled numerous times recently on hilly Canol Rd. we've decided to concentrate on flatland training around the Annie lake area. Though the runs are rather short, averaging around 30 miles, it actually works out nicely considering the plus 30 (zero celsius) temps. Still not a lot of snow to set a hook thus we're running smaller 10 dog teams compared to the 16 we would run on the relatively safe Canol Rd. area. Strange how the skies have been filled with grey clouds yet no major amounts of snow descending as of yet.
The highlight of our weekends is the sunday sauna. Our handler Juho is from Finland where the sauna is religion. Not only does the extreme heat help to clean and cleanse the body by sweating out all of the dirt and germs but the sauna elevates one's spirit as well. I often think of my heroes when I'm sweating away- the Native American Indians. They used sweat lodges as well as other types of hothouses as a religious ceremony. Learning thru the BoyScouts, my friends and I became immersed with warriors such as Joseph of the Nez Perce, Black Elk, Grey Owl or any other literary novel we could get our hands on. Having been fortunate to have lived in various athabascan villages during my tenure in the north I have been constantly in awe of Natives unique abilities to become one with the land. I guess at heart I'm just a native wannabee.
Our sauna seats about 10 people and as it rests adjacent to the lake one can even jump in for a quick 'chill' if they want to. (thru a hole in the ice) On the sauna's outer wall is an amazing mural of a bearded fella running dogs. I often wonder who he was- is our sauna haunted? Not only is the heat refreshing for one's sore muscles it's great for dealing with colds as it helps to clear up bad sinuses. What about the Salmon Stew you ask? Well, it actually isn't for dinner. Stewart is a foam pad in the shape of a fish one can sit on if the seat becomes to hot to handle.
Enjoy the view, Hugh

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What would Caeser Say?

"In the end are you a foe? Or a friend?"
Hey Everyone,
Hope all is well in your worlds. We just returned from our latest overnight foray to Canol rd. for a short 100- mile overnighter. This is the heart of training season for many around these parts. While some folks might want to start a bit later in the year, we'd rather ensure the pooches have enough miles under their belts just in case the weather becomes bitterly cold in the not too distant future. Canol is a 'doggie hwy'- yesterday we saw famed musher William Kleedehn as well as Michelle Phillips, one of the top female mushers in the world. I commented to her in the parking lot that the trail already resembled a race environment with lots of doggie doo-doo. Michelle replied that we needed some more snow. Lo and behold as I looked out the window this morning the air was filled with large beautiful white flakes-awesome!
Canol is fun as well as good training. Nothing really compares however to hooking up a team right in the dogyard and heading down the trail. In this day and age it allows us to leave less of a 'global footprint' as well not having to waste any unnecessary gas. During our school tours I often mention that I'll see more cars and traffic in a week than the rest of the year combined up here. There will be times on our 14 hour drive to races in Fairbanks or Anchorage that the # of vehicles seen on the road is less than the # of digits one has on their own body. Road tripping is a wonderful side benefit of participating in racing events. One could travel all over the north in a lifetime and its beauty never ceases to amaze the soul. Finishing our run yesterday afternoon the sun was setting behing the mtns. leaving the sky filled with different tints of orange. Hard not to appreciate all the splendor the Great Almighty whips up on a daily basis.

Life on the trail has been inspiring. Of the two teams Juho and I ran, a dozen pooches were rookies to long-distance mushing. It's fun to watch them mesh together, surprises like Tutshi, a thirty-five pound female who was in lead for thirty miles are always enjoyable to experience. With so many pooches we stop quite often, not only to snack but love up the pooches and let them know how well they are doing. It's like that fella Ceaser says on tv- " It's all about excercise, discipline, affection." If you've ever seen the show "The Dog Whisperer" you know who I'm talking about. I swear Tamra watches nearly every episode of it. He also talks a lot about the 'pack mentality'. Though not all of his views would work with regards to dogmushing I think it would be great for someone to get this L.A. dude behind a 16 dog Iditarod team. Watching his show one realizes that most dog behaviours are a direct result of how they are treated by their human compadres. So if you have a dog that's giving you problems - get out there and give it some exercise, you could probably use some more of it as well!

Once time on the trail is over it's essential to spend quality visits with the pooches not only caring for their feet but massaging their stiff muscles as well. More mileage requires more food- 3 meals with a few snacks a day is our average this time of year. We just don't leave food out for the dogs to eat endlessly however. Personally seeing an overweight, obese dog on someone's couch barely able to move is just as horrfying as viewing a pooch that is too skinny. All of us should constantly be seeking to live in harmony with this gift we call life. Not only for our own sake but for the well-being of our beloved pooches too. As I'm writing this in our living room I am surrounded by 6 of our pack of pooches - 2 of them are this week's featured Dawgs.
Griffin and Tutshi
Griffin is a fifty pound male yearling whose father is Zorro (Lance Mackey) and mother is one of our main Iditarod leader's, Omen. Grif is a bit young to be racing this year but has done admirably in training. He has that star like eagerness to please that one finds in many great leaders. Our other featured pooch is a bit of a project.

"Famous" Amos

Amos is a 3 year old, forty-five pound male with loads of talent. I rescued him after a race last year. He was having problems bonding with his musher so I decided to make him our kennel's personal pet project. He is quite shy and must be dealt with delicately when putting a harness or booties on. Typically your houndier pooches tend to be a bit more sketchy but thru endless hours of attention this obstacle may be overcome. Amos is often brought into the house to socialize with other dogs. It's like Caeser points out, "You need to have the dogs train each other- that's how a team works." Who knows if Amos will mellow out enough to participate in many races this year but he's already the proud father of 6 adorable pups. Their mom is Annie and both parents have impressive lineages that will hopefully shine thru in thier offspring!
Well, we've had a few hours of rest now- time to hook up a different team and head for the hills. Up here in the north- it's just another beautiful day. Peace, HHN

Here's a pic from my buddy Steve's wedding last month. Tamra's mom couldn't believe that I was actually wearing a tuxedo.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our 1st Camping Trip...

" So do you believe in Heaven now Juho?"
Howdy everyone,
With the lack of snow so far this year around the Annie Lake area we decided to load up the dogs and drive a few hours south to Canol Rd., an old mining road that is wonderful for decent snow conditions on a yearly basis. Temps. tend to be a bit warmer at this higher elevation. The endless views are breathtaking as well. Fortunately for us, this night their would be a full moon to guide our way-beautiful. Before setting off there was much preparation needed in order to be fully outfitted to feed and care for thirty pooches for a two night stay. Our handler Juho and myself would not only be carrying a bag of Redpaw kibble each but a bag of fish as well as beef. Combined together each sled load would weigh around 200 pounds. As I've said before we humans tend to live on mac and cheese or soup and hotdogs where as the pooches are fed like kings. After all without them you won't be going anywhere.
Arriving at the hwy. we visited with Hans Gatt, his partner Susie and a Jamaican dogmusher who will be participating in the Quest this year. Hans is one of the true geniuses of the sport. Not only is he a multiple race champ but expert sled builder as well. Lord knows we have all learned alot from watching this Austrian musher's success over the years. An hour after his teams departed Juho and myself set out on our initial sled journey this year. It was wonderful to not have the engine noise from the snowmachine or 4-wheeler. Of the thirty pooches a half dozen were yearlings who were participating in their 1st major camping trip. We were hoping to establish good habits for them- no hurries, no worries. I wanted them to think of our 1st journey as an extended buffet line. Every few hours we would stop to snack them- my goal was to feed all of the food, except for a snack at the finish.
Just over five hours we camped out beside Quiet Lake which is still wide open with lil' ice on its edge. The dogs having been fed and straw on the ground for them to sleep upon we settled down for a few hours of shuteye. The temps. were rather warm, around freezing, which was quite comfortable for us humans. At 4:20 in the morning the pooches awoke and began growling immediately. Was their a varmit around? No, it was just my buddy Sebastian Schnuelle (who finished 10th in last year's Iditarod) and a few of his friends out running teams as well. "Ya know Hugh not everybody is as crazy as we are." I've probably known Sebastian longer than any other musher I've competed with. There are only a few other people on this earth that travel by sled each year as much as we do. Why? Well, I guess it's like a fella told me a few weeks ago that we ran into up by Alligator lake. He was on a snowmachine and I stopped the team for a quick chat to see how trail conditions were up ahead. I introduced myself and this man's reply was one of the kindest gestures I've ever received. "Yes, I know who you are Hugh- you're the guy who really loves what he does." Talk about a humbling experience- made me realize how lucky a man I truly am.
Much like everywhere else nowadays the mushing world has been hit hard by these difficult economic times. Entry fees for races continue to go up as prize $ diminishes. Yet the main throng of dogmushers are unwavered in their determination to excel in this sport/lifestyle. This alone is proof that the majority of people mush out of love for their dogs and this amazing northern landscape that we wander thru and play upon. For me personally it's all about the energy; the enjoyment of each and everyday despite the hardships encountered along the way. After a decade of racing its obvious by now that there are alot more talented people on the trail than myself yet we're all winners if we choose to be.
We might be 'winners' yet compared to the dawgs we're all weak- what these beasts can do from a physical standpoint leaves one continually in awe. 50 mile run, break, 40 mile run, break- then another 50 mile run straight into a snowstorm. (and this was their 1st extended run of the season) The team performed wonderfully and many of the dogs gained weight during our training run. Most of the younger dogs learned to mellow out and sleep properly which can be difficult to learn at such a young age. Many of these yearlings won't even race this year yet this is a great time to teach them about trail life- from the sound of their yipping and yapping; Geronimo, Amigo, Nemo, Griffin, Juanita and Gypsy can't wait to fly thru the mtns. once again.
This time of year we're also beginning to prepare the plethora of meat, fish, fat and kibble that will be used for future dog runs as well as races. Each chunk of food must be cut into small snicker sized pieces so that it's easier for the pooches to chew. Along with organizing booties, medicines, jackets and assorted human needs we are always preparing for future endeavors. At Laughing Eyes Kennel life is about learning how to continually explore- not only the surrounding landscape but the beauty of one's very own soul. Hopefully all of you kids out there are reminded of what a treasure this planet is and how we must all respect the very beauty of this sacred world. Now some may define success thru victory and accumulation of wealth yet hopefully most of us define accomplishment thru the smiles of others who come in contact with our very own eyes. Peace, HHN

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Reason to Believe...

"Where are you going, where have you been.." - DMB
Howdy folks,
Well, quite the interesting times lately, eh? This past summer we installed satellite television so that we could enjoy the olympics as well as a chicago cubs world series victory-oh well! The past few months have been mesmerizing as we have analyzed the presedential election. It was surreal to see Obama's Grant Park victory speech. As a child I went with my older brother and lil' sister to see Pope John Paul II speak there. Just before Barack and his family went up on stage the phone rang at our house - it was my sister Monica who was at the rally with her family. The strangest part of these elections was seeing some familiar faces at various political events. Is that 4-time Iditarod champ Martin Buser sitting next to Todd Palin? Another week it would be one of my heroes, Hobo Jim, on CNN speaking with Alaskan senator Ted Stevens. What a small world after all.
Strange season so far up here in the mountains. It's often cloudy yet lil' snow has accumulated so far. Unfortunately the temps. have been warm enough that conditions are unsafe as of yet to run pooches on the lake. I'm not too woried about going thru the ice but the slushy conditions are not good for the pooches feet. Fortunately for us there are numerous other trails to play with the dogs on. Each day we seek a different direction whether it be Alligator lake, Coal lake rd., the Wheaton river rd. or Mary lake. School's in session and like any young child it's important for the teacher to make each day's lesson interesting and enjoyable. As a musher one is constantly experimenting with their imagination, coming up with ways for each pooch to grow. Life is about experience - whether it be 4 thousand foot ascents, bushwhacking thru two feet of unbroken trail or learning how to run thru open water; a team is molded together by overcoming shared obstacles as well performing daily rituals.

Training with a 4-wheeler and snowmachine has been great. Sure, it might be a bit louder and more expensive to train but there are numerous advantages as well. With the lack of snow it's easier to control a large team without worrying about your snowhook flying out of the ground. The noise is also loud enough to scare off any varmits in the area - this is no time to be running into a pesky porcupine or ornery bear that has yet to settle down for their winter's sleep. Some of the more seasoned pooches hang out with me in the morning as I travel on skis through adjoining trails to the end of the lake and back. For me this is the time of year when sleep is difficult - too many voices in my head reminding me of all there is to do. Fortunately our handler Juho from Finland has been a godsend helping to share in each day's chores. As I often mention in our school talks up here in the north we don't use the word 'work' instead we call it 'play'. This ensures a more enjoyable day.
Once my truck is finished being repaired we'll head a few hours south to Canol road where we can take some of the younger dogs on an extended camping trip. There's nothing that is more enjoyable than sitting around a campfire enjoying a starlit night with the auroras overhead. Surrounding you are teams of dogs resting comfortably on some straw snoring away. What better background music could there be to enjoy- true harmony with mother nature. Speaking of which one of our goals for this year is a word that is easier to say than achieve: P-P-Patience! Lord knows you can take the boy out of the city but often it`s hard to take the 'city' out of the boy. During the Iditarod not staying in Ophir last year was a prime example of my ineptitude to 'chill out' and assess the situation. Much like in the past I decided to 'go for it' and ended up hauling Walter, a 70 pd. male leader nearly the whole way to Cripple. Walter was fine, just tired, the 30 plus temps. were tough on our heavier furred pooches. He did finish the Quest, but he's probably a bit large to compete in both events. Sure, it might have been raining at the time but the weather cleared up within minutes of my decision to continue on. That simple choice allowed numerous teams to leave us in the dust-Patience.
Obviously with a tough season such as last year, life continually tests one's belief in their abilities. Fortunately for me there's still much to improve upon. We haven't even touched the surface when it comes to achieving our personal strengths. And when I say strength I mean more so mentally than physically. It may be wonderful to follow your heart's desires but one must seek to harness the energy within their head as well. That's why mushers enjoy this time of year as we use our given talents each day to mold a beautiful work of art - our very own DOGTEAM. To see these furballs become one solid unit is a joy to behold. An ever-evolving, undulating orb of beastial energy. The 'Magic Carpet Ride' is what we all seek; few things in life compare with this unending rollercoaster ride thru the wilderness of the north.

Amigo with his brother Jericho

This week's featured pooches are Amigo and Shaman. Amigo's mom is Annie and papa is Brady, a Lance Mackey dog. At this point in my career it's nice to be running dogs that we have raised ourselves. Up until a few years ago I was racing sprintier hound dogs that I acquired from various native friends. People would often remark that they looked more like an Open North American Sprint Team than Long-Distance pooches. Amigo is a yearling that will probably compete in a few 300 milers but is still a year away from participating in any of the big dances. Along with his brother Geronimo and sister Juanita this charismatic fella has bucketloads of talent. Shaman is a pooch that we acquired from my buddy Ray Redington this spring. He's out of Ray's dog Jet and a Robert Sorlie pooch, Barley. Last year in White Mountain near the end of the Iditarod I had the opportunity to see Ray, Gerry Willomitzer and Aaron Burmeister depart ahead of us. It was amazing to see how beautiful each of their teams were. It made me realize that racing isn't just about training but breeding as well. Along with his sister Sicily, Shaman is easily one of the most talented dogs we have. He's all legs and resembles a wolf as much as a dog. He's quite friendly and eager to please. I can only imagine what the rest of Mr. Redington's yard is like. For me it's just a privelege to learn from folks such as these on the trail. Life is more than just a competition with others: it's a competition with yourself-Patience!

Shamen (also known as Silas and Rhyme)

Wishing you all well on your own personal trails. Feel free to send us a line some time and if you're ever in the area stop by for some coffee and a story or two... Enjoy the view, Hugh