Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mushing Adventures with the 'Mad Hatter'

"Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand..." - Vincent Price

Magical, simply magical.. Dawson City and the surrounding area have captured my heart like no other area of the north. The haunted history, endless myths and mind numbing landscape leaves one in awe of all their eyes are fortunate enough to see. Some of us are lucky enough to check out the sights along this section of the Yukon river often enough to feel at home- whether travelling in sunshine or thru howling blizzards. Legends were born from this area, dogmen who earned their keep by delivering the mail to the folks in 40 mile, Eagle, Alaska and points beyond. It might have been 60 below yet that mail better be delivered on time- or else someone else might be given the well paid position. One of the greatest? Percy Dewolfe, what he and others accomplished was a feat of amazing endurance- they were the trail. Nowadays we're honored to participate in races that commemorate such heroic figures.

This would be our 2nd time participating in the Percy Dewolfe Memorial race that runs 100 miles downriver to Eagle and then returns to Dawson. Teams are limited to 9 Dawgs and must finish with every pooch, whether they be pulling or resting in the sled. Fellow IditaQuest mushers, Gerry Willomitzer and Hans Gatt were participating in the revelry as well. There were 12 teams in the main race, an additional 20 would participate in the Junior race, a 100 mile event. I promised our handler Elie that he could run a team in this race. My squad consisted of the younger pooches returning from The Iditarod, Annie and Watson will be lounging for the rest of the spring, we have other pooches that deserve a chance to get out and explore. Our leaders were Tolliver, his brother Tyler followed by Ellsworth, Delilah, Walter, Nathan, George, Mahoosic and Juanita. All were veterans from this year's Iditarod and Quest except for rookie racer Juanita and Mahoosic who would be competing in his last race.

Daughter of Annie, lil' Miss Juanita was simply amazing, as much energy as her bros, she was definately overlooked this year- can't wait to see how she performs in 440 next week. She's a howler- always announcing her arrival to passerbys. Hoosic has raced over 8 years now, travelling some 25 thousand miles. A couch potato, he can be a bit fiesty but his heart is tremendous- some dogs only like certain humans. The whole squad did wonderful, finishing 4th. Congrats To Hans for yet another victory. Amazing how competitive he is, for me though this `race` was to see the powerful effects of Mother Nature. Last spring the Mighty Yukon flooded numerous human outposts that lay in it`s wrath. The native section of Eagle was ripped apart as large chunks of ice rammed homes into pieces. Passing by nearly a year later one could see the bark missing from halfway up the sides of trees- swaths of smaller timber lay on their side. Frightening yet intriguing- humans, out here in the bush, are but pawns of the mighty Queen of the Wilderness.

In the future I plan on continuing to race more mid-distance events in the spring with our younger pooches and less in the colder, more severe winter weather months. Warmer temps. create a more lively atmosphere as varmints are more likely to be out and about and not burrowed down in the earth trying to stay warm. On our return trip just outside of 40 mile, as the sun rose ever so slowly we had an enjoyable encounter. Rounding the river`s bend I glanced up to see a small 4 legged creature running down the trail in front of us. At 1st it seemed to be a lost pooch yet the massive fluffy tail gave our foxy friends secret away. These curious critters are more likely to stick around compared to the shy intelligent wolves. We followed our red furred buddy for nearly a half hour til he veered off to the left and up a hillside. He casually stopped underneath a small spruce staring at our merry band of furry pranksters. Once we were gone, it would be back to the trail in search of free dog kibble.

Outside of 40 mile I loaded Delilah in the sled, she was becoming dehydrated and needed a breather for awhile. Fortunately the rather smooth flat trail afforded our speed to stay constant with the additional weight. The great surprise from the race was one of my new main lead dogs-Nathan. Natey boy loves Tamra -"When are you going to put him in lead Hugh!" He was steady which is sometimes all ya need from your main pooch, in long-distance events speed is overrated, consistency is the goal. Tolliver was the main fella upfront, a 3 year old, he completed the Iditarod and Quest as well. Late that afternoon we came into Dawson, 200 miles in just over a day and a few hours- not bad. The following few days were a celebration of life in one of the most unique areas of the planet- with a beauty like no other. Last week at the Iditarod banquet in Nome my mushing friend Ramey Smyth asked me why I race the YukonQuest and Iditarod every year- that answer is easy. To see strange sights with my furry friends - especially in NOME and DAWSON CITY.

Truth be told, racing or not- I am on a dogsled every day. Cannot help myself- I need to be out on the trail with the pooches for my own sanity- it is where we belong after all. Unfortunately the days are warmer and the snow shall slowly disappear yet one more race is on the horizon up in Kotzebue- a few hours north of Nome next week. Love the country up there as well as the amazing native folks. Once we return there shall be a few more weeks of training pups then on to our school tour. This cacophonous life of Neff the Nomad is never ending, hopefully Tamra and I can have some downtime to ourselves this summer. Speaking of which, we are searching for some kennel help for the next few months, house sitting while we are on a few brief working vacations- if you know of anyone interested in playing with some pooches feel free to spread the news. We live on a lake at 3,000 ft. surrounded by 5-6,000 ft. mtns. to run around and play on. There is plenty of canoeing as well as whitewater kayaking in the area too.

If you are expecting a presentation in May please contact us asap to finalize arrangements. There are available dates if you might be interested in our unique Vision of life with our furry compadres. Our spring tour will be centered in the midwest, east coast and southeast regions. Next to dogmushing nothing gives me more pleasure than helping others achieve their dreams as well. Throughout the Iditarod numerous kids -whether it be in cities or native villages exclaimed- Hey there is the HAT guy! Dr. Seuss spirit was alive during this Iditarod, I was honored to help out a bit. Truth is I have hundreds of souvenir hats that are remembrances of places visited. Now I just need to learn even more about what is in that great round head that they rest upon...