Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Playing With A Dream

"It can't rain all the time." - Eric Draven
Been awhile, eh?
Never felt better to return home from a trip than just a few days ago. After enduring the winds and drenching rains of Bethel and the Kuskokwim region, the ice-slicked highways of Alaska, Iditarod food drops and a brief visit with the Cadzow family as well as Lance and the gang- the sheets have never felt so comforting on our bed. Still have no idea what type of team we have for our upcoming thousand mile jaunts but as long as they are smiling we'll be happy. Juho and Boris have been busy as well running pups and cutting meat for the Quest. The adreneline is pumping around our Annie lake oasis- wanna fly?
Strange world I've sauntered into- right now as food drops are being prepared we are all watching tv, as well as listening to "The Boss" on Sirius radio. Leno is on the telly, tonite's featured band is the "Neville Brothers" from New Orleans. "Hey I know that dude- we had beers at Aaron Burmeister's house!" I exclaim to no one in particular. My buddy Mike and I had met 'Mean Willie Green' , the band's drummer at the Capt. Bartlett hotel nearly 10 years ago. They came over to do laundry at Aaron's place next to the dog track just outside of Fairbanks. We figured they thought we'd be a bit rednecky- if they only knew! We were just cityboys from Chi-town. The funniest aspect I find when racing against others nowadays is how happy they seem to be when they beat me. C'mon folks you need to set your goals a lil' higher than that- I'm just a couch potato. Lord knows I'm just sick of beating up on myself thru my own stupidity- patience.
The beauty of the Yukon Quest is that the race can be quite different from one year to the next. Who knows what obstacle lays around the next bend of the river? So far this year most mushers have seen it all: wet, wind, ice, snow- could we end up seeing 60 below? As usual I don't have a clue but I'll tell ya what- Laughing Eyes Kennel is all about painting a pretty picture. I could care less what place we finish- I'm just trying to create 14 furballs filled with positive energy. The most wonderful part of our recent trip was meeting a fella who was promoting "Beads for Courage". This is a group who helps young children who have cancer. Many of the mushers in the Kusko wore beads that will now be given to the kids as we hope to strengthen their resolve to fight this battle to its fullest extent. Always remember that life is a precious gift- LIVE IT!
I've arranged that during our next school tour in May we'll visit a few hospitals in the areas I'll be so that I can meet some of these heroic youngsters. Having had two parents with cancer, friends like Lance as well as numerous village compadres, I believe this ailment is humanity's greatest obstacle to deal with in the future.
Racing is exciting, adventurous and spiritually uplifting. Yet dogmushing should at heart be all about the dogs. So if you don't hear from us for a bit every once in a while, well, there's just too much: love to spread around, meat to cut, kibble to bag, bags to label, ointment to organize, booties to bind, batteries to buy, etc. Feel energized? HHN
A special thanks to Jesse and Alisa in Anchorage, Pat B. in Bethel, Sebastian, Lance, The Cadzows and all the rest of you kids!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let's Get It On...

Hey Everyone,
Just a brief update. Starting time was switched until tomorrow so K300 trail can be rerouted as well as food drops sent out. I decided to pick a different starting position this year. The last 2 years I've picked the # 13 in honor of my 'soul' brother Mr. Lance Mackey. This morning Tamra asked me to pick # 14 instead. Unfortunately our good friend Sebastian was not able to fly in from Anchorage to participate thus I am once again numero trece. Who knows if we'll actually be able to leave tomorrow, another large band of clouds is moving into the area as these words are being typed. The streets are covered in ice- barely even able to walk. Most of us our putting screws on our boots for better footing. Bought a rain jacket, gloves, etc. for the upcoming wetness as well. The race has been shortened 40 miles due to the inclimate weather conditions though I remember vividly how long this trail feels from last season's expedition. Oh well, endeavor to persevere... HHN

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gaining Weight in Bethel

Hey Y'all!
So far it's much like our visit to the Yukon Delta last year-wet, wet, wet. Been raining for 2 days now, temps. in the 30's. Hopefully the race will start on time. Planes have been delayed with a few remaining teams that are not here yet. Considering those teams are the 'prime time' mushers that are well known in the video world the folks in charge have to accomodate for them. We always try to come an extra few days early just in case a scenario like this arises. The way the weather has been this year I think next year we'll come at least a week early. Tamra and I flew in on the same plane as Aaron Burmeister and Dee Dee Jonrowe. It was rather startingly meeting her as I was just stepping out of the bathroom in the back of the plane. Dee was just featured on Alaska's newest postage stamp- a pic of her dogteam running thru Rainy Pass.

Unfortunately our trip from Whitehorse was a nightmare. The folks who 'fixed' our truck last week never really solved the problem. An hour out of town we were once again forced to find a tow truck and return back to town. Our friends John and Laura from Icy Waters were true Angels helping to haul the trailer full of pooches. We then had to rent another truck at an astronomical rental fee for a week. As Tamra says, "The real mushers figure out ways to solve problems that seem to always happen- whether it be on the trail or in everyday life." It's been refreshing here in southwestern Alaska to enjoy the warm air though hopefully the temps. drop a bit before race time. We'll know by tomorrow morning whether it's going to start according to scheduele or on saturday. In the meantime we've been enjoying our wonderful hostess's, Pat Barrett, fine southern cuisine. (she's a Carolina gal)

I took Tamra for a drive around the area yesterday. Showed her the road where Martin Buser and myself finished on last year. It wasn't the main trail but Bethel resembles the Minto flats outside of Fairbanks- it's tundra with a maze of trails that are easy to become confused within. While driving around I ran into my friend Mike Williams from Aniak, a local Eskimo village. Had a wonderful chat- Mike will be heading to Washington for the inaugural in a few days. He is one of the head 'chiefs' around these parts. Mike performs the Iditarod banquet's prayers each year. It's been an honor to share trail time with him these past few years- he truly represents the spirit of Alaska. Well, hopefully the Great Almighty will give us a chance to enjoy a brief run soon- I need to lose a few pounds. And the Dawgs? We think their starting to get a bit restless laying around on all of Pat's couches. The picture is priceless, however. You folks down in the Lower 48 stay warm now ya hear? Peace, HHN To follow the race go to:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Another Day at the 'Office'

"What is the secret of that strange and powerful attraction? An attraction that is so strong that the minute you are back to civilization that you immediately forget the moral and physical sufferings you have undergone and think nothing of returning to them again? In what lies the indisputable charm of a landscape that is barren and intimidating. Is it the attraction of the unknown, the elation of struggling to get there, and struggling to live once you have got there. Is it the pride of achievement, or the pleasure of attempting something that no one has done before, or perhaps the satisfaction of being far away from all pettiness and meanness? A little of all of these things, perhaps, but I have realized for a long time that in such desolation and bareness I feel the joy of life more deeply than I do elsewhere." -- Schackleton
Hey y'all,
40 below- whatta ya know? That time of year where you're itching to be out on the trail but the pooches health and welfare must come 1st. Thankfully there's plenty of races to prepare food drops for. Been doing a bit of reading lately as well. Memories harken back to my initial winters in the North reading a few novels per week by candlelight. At present I'm reading George Plimpton's bio on Sir Ernest and the "Age of Exploration". Back in '95 my dogmushing heroes were the original Iditaroders- Redington, Mackey and associates. What their generation created on the Alaskan landscape was spiritually uplifting for all to be a part of. Yet Amundsen, Nansen, Scott, Peary and others were a part of the greatest race ever.
It's hard to feel bad about one's circumstances after reading what these men had to endure during the early part of the 20th century. Sure it takes a bit more to heat the house, keep weight on the dogs as well as water for all. Life is continually testing all of us, seeing how determined we all are to keep our eyes laughing. Appreciating the small treasures found along the trail helps to enhance one's perspective on things. It may be nearly noon here but the sun is rising once again over the mountainside - and we shall enjoy its warmth- if only for a few hours time. Still enjoying the view, Hugh

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Respecting One's Roots

"The measure of a man is seen thru his family, friends and loved ones..."
Happy Frigid New Year,
Had a wonderful surprise on the 1st, "Hey Hugh, it's Chuckie- we're in town with 30 dogs and need to do a quick run." An hour later Lester Erhart, John and a few other friends from Tanana pulled in the driveway. What a wonderful way to start the new year. While John and Chuck ran their racing dogs around the lake. Lester chatted it up with Tamra and myself as the Sirius satellite radio played some country tunes in the background. "Man, I'm having a good time." was Lester's emphatic declaration of his brief visit. Along with being an incredible dogman , Lester is an accomplished musician as well as most of his children. They are a native version of the Von Trop family from the "Sound of Music". My Athabascan gunnas were heading south to participate in a race in Ft. Nelson. They were probably hoping to find warmer weather but this time of year it's cold everywhere this far north.
Most mornings I wake up in the wee morning hours not only to stoke the stove but turn on the generator in order to thaw out our water pipes. Along with preparing a warm breakfast for the pooches each sunrise requires hours of preparation in order to ensure a successful day. We sure do enjoy our extended freedoms up here but nothing in this world comes without a price. All of those miles of training and racing across the Yukon and Alaska demand daily preparation. Whether it be slicing meat on our band saw or preparing booties and jackets for the dogs. Each day's run begins hours before we even set out on the trail. The -40 temps. also ensure that nearly 20 pooches share the hacienda with us on a nightly basis- talk about a snore-a-thon!

13 years ago when I decided to chase this dream I realized that I would only see my family members and friends down in the lower 48 a very brief time for the rest of my life. Lil' did I realize then that I would become a part of a new 'family' when I moved to the Greatland. Lester and his extended members from Tanana and villages beyond not only taught me about dogs but about surviving daily life in the North. It's been over 2 years now since I've visited Tanana and this has been continually nagging at me. Fortunately Tanana came to visit us- a reminder what this life is all about: sharing stories and smiles with one another.
Will be heading to Bethel with Tamra next weekend for the Kusko 300. After last year's swim we're looking for better trail this time around. Besides doing food drops for Quest and Iditarod this week I'm also running about 20 pooches during the warmer afternoon (-30) hours trying to put together the best squad possible. Not really interested in the 'big win' just hoping to finish with as large a squad as possible. The more pooches pulling the sled= the bigger the party!
Peace to you, Hugh