Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Surviving the Journey

" Life's hidden treasures can always be found in the EYE of the Storm" -John Muir
Happy Holidays to All!
Barely made it back to the casa here at 6 this morning. Our truck was having fuel line issues and we had to get a tow truck just outside of Whitehorse. Boris, our handler, came out with another vehicle to haul all the pooches back home. Half of these dogs were 'rookies' a few days ago as we set off on our journey to Paxson to participate in the 'Gin-Gin'. Though the race is primarily set up to showcase the women of our sport, numerous other mushers share the trail. Not in search of 'winning' a few hundred bucks but introducing their younger pooches to the racing environment as well as inhaling the breathtaking views along the Denali Hwy. This area of Alaska has some gorgeous scenery that I was looking forward to experiencing for the 1st time.
Races such as this are a bit more mellow allowing us the chance to spend time with good friends without all the tension associated with larger mushing events.
Mother Nature had other ideas up her sleeve however this time around. Ten miles down the 200 mile trail, teams were forced to travel thru a 'gauntlet' of 40-50mph winds on an ice encrusted road with barely any snow on it at all. As we came into the picture numerous squads were floundering down in the valley alongside the road trying to reorganize their jumbled up teams. One lady was calmly walking down the road, mentioning that her team must have gone just up ahead a bit. One fella was actually holding down two teams while the other musher straightened out another squad. All of these scenarios were playing out simultaneously in the midst of a massive wind storm. Think about it! My immediate reaction was to stop, survey the situation and seek the safest route thru this canine course of craziness. I would end up being drug twice after the winds flipped the sled off the side of the road. Lance spent nearly a half hour sorting out his situation down in the gully. No one really made it thru this 7 mile obstacle course without a story to tell. I just wish my friend Jon Van Zyle could make a portrait of it- a video would have been even better. Fortunately no one, especially the dogs, was seriously hurt. Unfortunately a few rookie teams didn't make it thru and turned around. The funniest part was when the National guard fellas showed up to lend a hand and ended up getting most of their snowmachines stuck. Alot easier to get a team moving again than a cold piece of metal.
Our handler from Finland ,Juho, was participating in his 1st mid-distance event with 2 veteran and 8 rookie pooches. Though Juho finished as the "Red Lantern" I could not have been more proud for he finished with every dog he started with- in decent shape. This was quite an accomplishment considering temps. hovered in the minus 50's at times on the rivers. I was fortunate to finish with all my dogs as well. Having two jackets helped protect them against the fierce winds, I wore four or five layers around my head as well. This season I have yet to carry a pooch in my sledbag, part of this is do to training at a slower speed. Mostly though I have to admit that with age my desire for speed, to be some 'great' race champ is diminishing. I'm just seeking to be a true 'Son of the North'- as I've stated before my overall goal is to complete at least 50 thousand mile races in my life-the Lord willing. An even greater goal is to finish at least one major race with every pooch we start with. This can be a daunting task considering all of the obstacles presented on a daily basis. I had a chat with Quest Veteran Dan Kaduce at McLaren Lodge during one of our layovers. The "Spirit" of mushing, Redington's Dream, has been dwindling in recent years. With so many striving to achieve personal greatness and monetary wealth the focus on what the purpose of our lifestyle is has been diluded. Having been 'around the block' for a few years now I've learned to have a greater appreciation for moments in time: The wagging of my leaders' tails, Walter's goofy smile- a puppy's transformation into a prime athlete.
And Nature? What is there not to appreciate? The Great Almighty has created some divine space up here in the Alaska Range. It's no wonder that men like Jeff King, John Schandelmeir and Sebastian Schnuelle train here on a regular basis. If you travel around these twisty, windy parts you'll end up with one heck of an outfit. As we descended down into Paxson with just a few miles left of this harrowing saga the early morning sunrise erupted into a pinkish hue blanketing all of the surrounding mountains. It was at this very moment I realized why we mushers put ourselves thru so much each year. Not to earn a buck or see our faces in the paper but to honor this gift called life. For many of us this isn't just some sport to be viewed on the Discovery chanel- this is our religion; a way to honor the Almighty One for bestowing so much beauty within our eyes reach. And the Dogs? Without them we'd all be spiritually worthless. For they bring out the beauty within each one of us humans by how we care for them. It will be nice if one day the mushing world returns to admiring one another's beautiful Dawgs and not seeking to villify each other's personal weaknesses. This chaotic world is challenging enough for all of us. I do have a personal request, please remember the number one rule of participating in races: NO Whining. If you don't LOVE what you are doing-- enjoy another view of life. For the rest of us? We'll be smiling all the way to the top of the next mountain's peak! Peace to you, Hugh
p.s.: A special thanks to John S. and Theresa Daily for their help coordinating the race, this was a "Dream" for Juho-muchas gracias! And a special thanks to Tamra- for putting up with me. Love you honey.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Spreading the 'Wealth'

"The Road ahead will be long..." -Obama
Howdy y'all,
What can I say- It's the Holidays. Heading to Gin-Gin 200 in th morning-should be fun. Will let you know how the adventure and trails are in a day or 2. Peace, Hugh

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Ghost Riders in The Sky..."

'Is it just me or do the Stars look brighter?'

Happy Holidays to All,

Enjoyed yet another wondrous night time trip with the pooches this past evening. The vibrancy of the lights shimmering down from the heavens above was inspiring. Santa's elves must be wrapping presents with brighter wrapping paper this season. Around the kennel we are nearly as busy as the folks at the North Ploe as we are diligently preparing food drops for the upcoming races. Thousands of pounds of meat, fats, kibble and other assorted items must be cut, packaged and labeled. Fortunately for us this year we have other folks around to help spread the various chores around. Being the 'everlasting cheechacko' I realize that individual dreams are a myth- in every story there are always others who play a part in the overall success that one person may achieve.

This past weekend we participated in a 'fun' race up at Icy Waters. John Lucas, who runs the fish hatchery was the organizer. Teams would travel just over 10 miles straight up to Fish lake and then back down to the finish line. The trail encompassed just over 20 miles of beautiful terrain. Juho was running a younger team as well. In these early season events we are just hoping that the pooches pass other teams safely and enjoy the camaraderie of all the other canines on the trail. Of the 22 dogs we entered most were competing for the 1st time. They all performed well- Juanita, Amigo, Griffin, Tyler and Tolliver have limitless futures awaiting. For now though some of them are too young to participate in the longer races and will have to wait til next year.

The area around Fish lake, some 4 thousand feet up is beautiful. As mushers approached the top a volunteer handed them a nice present- a cerveza to enjoy on the way down! Plummetting down the final few miles one gazed upon the surrounding Whitehorse environs. I could not help but smile, saying to myself, "This is awesome." That was the beauty of this event- the sole focus was'nt on what place one finished but on the enjoyment of the day- for all involved, especially the Dawgs. Participating in the event was a particularly fascinating character named Harvey. While most of the teams had 10 pooches on their squad, Harvey's only consisted of 6. This man seemed to possess more energy than any one else- especially at the finish. His spirit is truly admirable for Harvey happens to travel all over the north with just a few pooches; at the youthful age of 65 years.

A few hours ago I was flying around up above our homestead near Alligator lake. At night the brilliance of the stars can be entrancing. A sudden surge from the pooches reminds you that their are other varmits playing around in the woods as well. Often on trails I'm familiar with a headlamp will be shut off in order to have a better focus on the surrounding environment. This isn't a good idea on unfamiliar terrain however as numerous racers have learned throughout the years. Back in '02 during the Quest I had a discussion about this at Biederman's cabin with two of my favorite mushers- Mr. Rick Mackey and Timmy Osmar. Though I might have finished higher in other events, 2oo2 will always be tops on the list in my memory. Both of these fellas are true dogmen and the opportunity to spend a week on the trail with them was heaven. Rick mentioned that he enjoyed running without his lights but warned me about the hazards of the Yukon river in the dark. A few hours later I was heading down the wrong river with my headlamp off- oops!

Listen, Learn, Live!! HHN

Saturday, December 13, 2008

King Solomon's "Gold"

"I don't know if you'll ever be much of a racer but I sure do enjoy reading your prose."- Mushing Champion Gareth Wright
Hey Everyone,
With temps. hovering above freezing around here lately I decided to load up the truck and head north to visit my friend J.D. Britten who is staying near Dawson City this winter. Dawson rests alongside the banks of the Yukon and Klondike rivers. This town has been immortalized in the writings of London, Robert Service and so many others. Though many folks came here during the gold rush over 100 years ago in search of riches few remain during the winters today. Why stay during the bitter cold months where 40 below can be an 'average' temperature? Well, for some of us Clark Gable sums it up best in "Gone With The Wind"- ' It's about Terra- THE LAND'.
The highway that thousands of tourists use in the summertime to visit this hallowed area is known as "Top of The World". Some may believe it is called this due to its proximity to the far north. For me personally, whenever the dogs and I are flying up the 4 thousand foot dome's hillsides, constantly viewing incredible beauty for endless miles in every direction it's as if we are literally hovering above the earth. King Solomon's dome is easily one of the most picturesque spots on the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest trail. This year the snowfall has already nearly reached the same amount Dawson had for all of last year. In the far north the sun barely shows her face in the winter months thus travelling high up above is a chance to catch some extra rays as well.
J.D., Mari and their 2 year old son Odyland were wonderful hosts. They are of french ancestry and have a wonderful relationship with their dogs. J.D. has been mushing for over 20 years and did wonderful in his 1st Quest finishing 9th. Odyland is a wonderul alarm clock as well, regularly waking us at 6 each morning, "Momma!". Dawson's a historical city with numerous structures dating back to the gold rush era. One favorite is the "PIT", a tavern at the bottom of the Westminister Hotel. Now some may believe in haunted houses, for me the whole entire area surrounding Dawson is possessed by the spirit of adventure. It's an exquisite area that I hope to explore more of in years to come.
The Quest has one of its largest fields ever this year. Our friend from Fort Yukon, Josh Cadzow, recently signed up. As a native 'wannabee' it's wonderful to see an athabascan musher back in the field. Hopefully, in years to come we will be able to help others achieve their dreams whether it be a 1,ooo mile race or just a walk around the block. It can be quite distressing to view all that is happening around the world these days. Life is a challenge- believe me, I've learned what the word 'suffer ' means over the years. Sure, the temps. might continue to become more bitter yet it is the glow in one's heart that allows each one of us to carry on with a smile on our face.
Enjoy the view, Hugh

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What Have I Become?

"And I have'nt seen the sunshine since I don't know when..." - Johnny
Looking back at life what a strange saga this journey has unleashed. To think it all started off sleeping underneath some trees with my two dogs, Mav and R.E.L., on the outskirts of an Anchorage park. The years of never really knowing if the dream would ever survive. Tanana, Manley, Nenana and Coldfoot- so many vivid memories, tales of adventure-tails of happiness!
Reflections have been prominent on the mind of late. Thanksgiving would have been my father's 80th b-day. My dad was 'old-school', not exactly the easiest guy to impress. After my ma died when I was a kid he cared for our family of 6 alone- well, we kids helped too.
It has never been easy to live up to the expectations of a man with his integrity. Hopefully one of these days I'll figure out a way to honor his name properly- the last words he ever said to me will always be within my head,"Keep me advised."
Not only was Phil my dad but Boy Scout Troop Leader as well. In scouts each winter in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, we would have the "Klondike Derby" on the edge of Lake Michigan. Our troop actually built beautiful dog sleds that were kept in our family's garage. Bizarre coincidence, eh? My whole life has had a few of those along the way.
From being a 'lowly' handler to racing to have as much fun as possible- my rebirth in Alaska is a true miracle. Without dogmushing where would I be? Lost. This whole running around in the woods scene can be a bit nippy sometimes. The aches and pains might be a daily occurrence yet for some reason it's hard not to just keep smiling. The energy of the Dawgs really does reverberate thru one's soul if they have a solid bond with their furry compadres. It's funny listening to people who fear the weather or the hazards of the trail. If they only knew what an amazing playground we mushers of the north are so blessed to enjoy.
Juho and I returned from Canol rd. or as I like to call it "Doggie Hwy.". We figure there's at least 100-150 dogs running around its twisty roads every day this time of season. Typically we camp out next to the lake after our initial run, explore a bit more of the road on our next leg and then return back our final leg of the journey. With the numerous younger pooches we`re training this year it`s been great training. The run alongside Quiet lake is breathtaking. Yesterday the sun was setting over the mtns. as the waves lapped the shorès edge. As we neared the finish I was running with the headlamp off since the snow was falling and it was difficult to see the team. I have the trail memorized thus alleviating any stress of hitting unforeseen objects. Suddenly my leaders Nathan and Wonka began barking. Quickly I turned on my headlamp as another light flashed on just in front of the team. How is it going- Hey Sebastian. Few mushers will ever be as strange as our 2 souls.
Will post our feature dogs on next blog so that we can include pix. Tamras in Torontovisiting her Parents. I can barely type as it is. We all know she is the brains behind this outfit- guess I am just the one chomping at the bit just to get back out on that trail again. Pleasant journey to you! Hugh