Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dancing amongst the Garden of Dawgs...

"Everyone clap for the wolf man, he's gonna set a record high... Everyone clap for the wolf man, you gonna love him til the day you die..." - Guess Who

Life is rarely 'normal' when one is a Freak of Nature. Everyone in their youth seeks to be a bit unique yet for some blessings can become a nightmare at times as well. Just over a decade ago I invited family and friends to a bar in Chicago as I presented a display of the Alaskan way- Dogmushing, the Iditarod, Freedom. At the time I was a golf caddy at Westmoreland C.C. barely making a few hundred bucks each week. You can only imagine what others must have thought about this city slicker's dream of becoming a modern day `Jeremiah Johnson`. In a few days time I`ll be seeing many of these same folks at another tavern in Evanston, my home town. Having travelled throughout Alaska's Greatland, racing more than any other dogteam on the planet, one views the world differently now. Each year I return to the `hood' to not only remember my roots and visit with old friends but to realize all that I have been so fortunate to have seen over the years.. I could never have imagined all of the beautiful sights, sounds, smells and senses over the 1,000`s of miles the pooches and I have shared together. What do I treasure the most? Which race am I the most proud of? That`s an easy one to answer- there`s nothing I enjoy more than waking up to the dawning of a new day. For this life is a gift to respect, enjoy and LEARN from.

I'm just a 42 year old kid still seeking to evolve. That's the beauty of Hugh- there's still so much to do! This time of year we wait for the rivers and lakes to break free from their winter ice cocoons so that travel into the bush will be a bit safer. Until then cleaning up the yard from last season's forays is our daily chore. Upon rising each morning, then downing a cup or 2 of coffee and watching the ladies on the "View" I head outside to get dirty. Truth be told- I'm just a caveman, I would not know how to survive if I wasn't covered in dog fur. My close dogmushing friends realize that Laughing Eyes Kennel's greatest trophy will never be 1st place in some race- it's our backyard!

Walking out the back door I descend down onto Annie lake with a five gallon bucket in each hand. A few hundred feet out is our water hole where we retrieve h20 for the pooches to lap up. Running water? Sure, we have a water pump that is powered by our generator and solar panels, yet why waste energy when you have plenty of your own to use? Heading back up to the doglot I get to gaze upon 'Heaven' each morning as the sun's rays bring the surrounding 5 thousand foot mountains beauty to life once again. Are the sheep having babies yet? Any griz around? Having mixed the water with some meat and RedPaw kibble our 60 plus pooches now enjoy their favorite part of the day. The yard is a chorus of hooting and hollering as the pooches run around their houses in circles- their inner beasts awaiting a chance to devour the day's prey. 10 minutes later there is silence except for the occasional slurping. Now its my time to unwind a bit.

Above our house is an old gold rush era horse stable that we have converted into a cabin for storing food and supplies. On the cabin's northern end resides my workout facility aka the basketball court. Hoops has always been a great way for me to loosen up these aging limbs of mine. Whether it's above freezing or 20 below, I always love hearing one sound- swish! Have to be careful with some of the dawgs however, especially Spencer who enjoys trying to puncture the ball. Our court rests above the house and lake, few sports arenas afford a view matching our backdrop. Watering and cleaning up the doggie doodoo are next on the list- this is done at least a few times each day. Some kennels brag about how fast they can feed and clean their dogyards, good for them. As time goes on I've learned to tone down the testosterone a bit and... relax. Is life just a race? Or a portrait we're seeking to make prettier each and every day?

I've been in the dogmushing world since '95 and have never seen such a beautiful community of canine athletes. There's a reason I'm such a hermit- we have 2 dozen kids under 2 years of age that are exquisite. Along with the other Dawgs, it's an honor to enjoy their beauty each day. One of the nicest comments I ever received was from another musher's wife who said, "Your dogs are so elegant Hugh." This year as I was approaching the starting line for the YukonQuest race, former champion Bill Cotter approached me saying, " Man, your dogs look healthy Hugh." Remarks such as these are worth a million trophies. It's a wonderful feeling to not only race but race with dogs that you have raised since their birth. As with humans, much of what a Dawg evolves into is a result of how they were cared for and not just genetics. How others can compete with dogs that they have to lease or borrow is beyond my beliefs. After all I moved north not just to be some dog racer but a true Dogman. This not only means raising and racing with them but ensuring that the pooches live long and healthy lives.

Much of the fun in dogmushing is not just how you interact with the dogs but having the chance to be a part of their pack. We usually have 3 or 4 pooches wandering around patrolling the premises and keeping all the younger pooches in line. Different litters are in various pens with the retired dogs enjoying their private area as well. We recently acquired a small Jack Russell named Ozzy that is a herding dog. We were hoping he would chase away any smaller varmits that were breaking into our stockpiles of dogfood. Considering he only weighs 20 pds. it`s comical to see him picking on other furballs that are three times his size. I`m just worried that one of our local Eagles might try to swoop down and snag him. This past winter we were fortunate not to have any wolf encounters around the homestead which was a blessing. Sometimes starving ones might sneak into the yard in search of some furry food. Every day at Annie lake is an adventure. Can you dig it!

" Climb the Mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." - John Muir

Enjoy the view, Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Living The Life...

"I don't care if it's three in the morning or the middle of the afternoon- I'll run dogs anytime."
-- L. Mackey

If Hans only knew what I put his sleds through. One of the greatest dogmen in the world is named Hans Gatt, a neighbor friend from the Whitehorse area. He has also been making some of the finest sleds around for years. In a typical YukonQuest race 2/3's of the teams are pulling one of his contraptions. I'll get a newer model every few years as their design is constantly evolving. "Ya know Tamra, Hugh is really hard on sleds."- H.G. Yeah, my man, it isn't every musher who is out there in late April, getting up early every morning to haul firewood through slush, dirt and rocks- with a lil' bit of snow here and there. The rewards of this labor is not judged with trophies or $ but in enjoying life itself. Being grimy and sweaty puts a smile on one's face as well as a pounding in their heart. For soon Thunder will be Rolling through the Mountains...

On this morning's run Walter and Watson were on the hunt as the spring season up here unleashes endless varmits to chase after. What was that boys? "Sick 'em!" One must be cautious as the waterways slowly open up, with a fully loaded sled of wood you best be sure that ice bridge is still safe. There are pockets of slushy water to run through here and there, bare ground as well. (Rather deal with that than actual bears) This is wonderful K440 and K300 training. In bush races one feature is usually a constant- on the trail you're likely to see almost anything. Why not teach the pooches about more dangerous conditions at a younger age. If there's one thing I've learned along the trail- Experience helps to dictate success in the long run.

It's interesting what one daydreams about from the back of the sled while whizzing thru the trees. Today I was pondering how many other mushers were out running dogs this morning. The temps. might be warm for the north but would actually be normal for our friends who run dog teams down in the lower 48. For some reason I was thinking about my early years in dog mushing when I once worked for some of the top sprint mushers in the world. Believe me, nothing means speed more than getting on an empty basket sled with 2o Erhart or Taylor dogs flying in front of you. These folks are some of the greatest dog racers I know but how many of their dogs could compete in the Iditarod- Not because of talent but training. There probably are not too many sprint mushers nowadays doing chores with their teams like in George Attla`s `Spirit of the Wind`movie. In Kotzebue a 25 mile race was cancelled due to overflow water on the trail- many of the sprinters were nearly in tears over the decision. It made me want to puke.

That`s the beauty of long-distance racing, as proven by my buddy Lance Mackey- it`s all about the bond between the master and his or her beloved beasts. Whereas in sprint mushing , genetics and breeding play a dominant role in which teams win races- there are numerous other `pieces to the pie` with regards to our extended adventures. Watching my team plow through 2 feet of water this morning reminded me of something Mitch Seavey once told me. It was during the Tustemena 200 race which is an Iditarod tune up event. At one of the checkpoints I asked him if he had big dogs or small dogs. His reply- Ì have real dogs!` Mitch would go on that year to win the Iditarod while yours truly received the `Rookie of the Year`award.
Here`s to REAL Dawgs.

Enjoy the view, Hugh www.laughingeyeskennel.com

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Travelling within the Dream World of Dawgs...

"I made a pilgrimage to save the human race, not comprehending the race had long gone by..."

What's it like to be free? Where am I again? Who is this? Wake up Neff! Been a rather busy past few months- lots of gorgeous places, plenty of smiling faces. Now that it's over and done with I can relate a few of the hidden truths that were better kept hidden at the time they happened. Before we get to the Iditarod saga I'll quickly divulge the info. from our fun in the storm up north in the Kobuk valley. There is no greater feeling having finished another season of mushing madness than to relax out on the dock with a nice glass of wine and listen to the wind blow through the mountains- the wilderness is calling your name!

I wonder how many layers of skin my hands and feet have shed over the past 3,200 miles of racing we've participated in since January? Been a month now since the Iditarod finished and I'm finally starting to get some more feeling in those three fingers on my left hand. Suppose doing those two other races wasn't much of a help. Well, as my buddy William Kleedehn would say, "Whatever." This season it was more like wherever- been a fun one, travelling through an Arctic spring coastal blizzard would be a day for the memory books. At the time we were 10 minutes behind local Eskimo musher John Baker- he's one of the best in the world, especially in these conditions.

Though I left Ambler a few minutes before him by the time we descended down onto the river from the portage he was already leaving us in the dust. I wasn't complaining however, the kids were doing great. After all this was just as young a team as our Iditarod squad, we were down to 9 pooches having dropped Jewel, Simba and Zodiac during previous layovers. Tyler, Jester and Tolliver had been doing most of the leading. Following behind were Juanita, Ellsworth, Nathan, Sicily, Geronimo and Walter. 1o miles downriver the winds arose, from there on we'd be travelling thru drifts from inches to feet thick. Life was transforming from chasing to surviving.

While the main trail went down the river a small offshoot cut to the right and into a portage of rambling hills which leads to the halfway shelter cabin. (I'd tell ya the names of all of these places but I can barely remember my own- get a map.) John's squad was out of sight by now yet the winds were just waking up. Finding the trail was a struggle , Tolliver and Tyler plowed thru endless feet of fresh powder as an hour or two passed by. Fortunately we had found the trail at the last minute or we too might have been lost as other teams had endured. Upon reaching the shelter cabin I immediately decided to press on. Though shelter was tempting we were here to play- not hide from life indoors!

My hero of heroes is a Scottish fella named Muir. Johnny would run around Yosemite enjoying a good rumbling in the mountains- an earthquake- learning from the powers of Mother Nature. Believe me, her wrath can be just as viscious. In fact I had gone out and bought some sealskin mitts from some friends from Shishmaref before the race began. My fingers had froze on the coast in Iditarod, another lesson hopefully learned- life is easier with 2 hands! Competing in 2 races with 1 and a half hands has been interesting to say the least. Jumping back down on to the river I knew by now that John would be hard to catch, we had other things too worry about. Glancing towards the horizon a massive black cloud arose, as did the winds. I could only giggle in awe, knowing that we were heading INTO this thing.

Storms usually start off softly, as if lulling you to sleep. Flakes descend, the skies darken, the trail slows down... Moments later you have 40 mile an hour winds at your back, drifted trail in front of you and nary a trail marker to be seen. Bush living- can't beat it! Fortunately I had Walter (Annie's brother), wheel dog from another world. He's 5 years old and has done at least six 1,000 mile races. He'd been on this section of trail before. Replacing a worn out Tolliver and Tyler, my main man was on his own. He would lead us the remaining few hours into Kiana, the local mining community- our next checkpoint. The stretch of trail into this village is known as the 'small channel' but I can assure you that there are only a few other places in Alaska's Greatland that can present the hardened-in winter warrior with as many challenges. Ice, beach, rocks, drifted in trail, - WIND.

I was quite proud of the kids as we came into town, after all some of these two year olds were competing in their 3rd major race this season. If there's one thing about humans I've learned this year is how weak we are compared with DAWGS. Each time we slowed down on the trail, missing a marker and getting a bit lost, instead of yelling gee or haw I should have just kept quiet and let Walter ' have his head' . We probably would have had a less winding road- and I'd probably still have my voice. Our Eskimo friends along the way were as awesome as ever- that's why the Kobuk is so beautiful-- Happy Faces! Upon arriving at each village each musher drew from a hat a lucky # for someone to win an easter egg basket. Yeah, the 440 is a competitive event yet more so- it's a celebration of the northern lifestyle.

After pretending to sleep in Kiana for a few hours I hooked up the team as we headed back to the finish line in Kotz, thankfully the storm had diminished by now. The remaining miles were pretty much a ceremonial run as catching Mr. Baker's fine team was out of the question. Two promising future talents, Pete Kaiser and Quinn Iten were a few hours back. It's great to see these kids who grew up out in Alaska's bush country doing so well. Joe Redington would be proud to see that his dream thrives. Cresting over the last hill, I stopped the team and snacked them as the military plane's engines roared in the background at the local airport. Putting Walter back in lead with Tyler I figure he had earned the right to cross the finish line 1st. Little did I know minutes later he'd be chasing after a tan labrador, as I ducked underneath an airplane's wing- fortunately we avoided Front 1st.- which would have lead us into town. All's well that ends well... Will the Fat lady please start singing?

A special thanks to our host family, the Peacocks, my good friend Mr. Darrin Nelson, Mr. Warren Coffin, Shane Goosen and Pat Barrett for the airline miles to get us there! Iditarod blog coming soon! Enjoy the view, Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Kennel Sale!

Zuril (Mackey)

Well it seems like we're bursting at the seams here at Laughing Eyes Kennel with amazing dogs. Though we love them all, at some point we have to face reality and realize that some of our dogs might have just as great if not better lives somewhere else. The more dogs we have, the less attention they all get I guess. So we have decided to have a kennel reduction sale. We're not as worried about the amount that they sell for, as we are the home that they are going to. We only put a dollar figure on each dog to ensure the buyer is willing to make the investment in this dog's life, not looking merely for a free dog, therefore not realizing the expenses involved. Almost all of our dogs are spayed or neutered. This is a significant cost savings for the interested buyer. We're not selling stud dogs or breeding bitches generally. We have found that by spaying and neutering, the dog is healthier, there are fewer growls and fights, they can run loose without worrying about accidental breedings, and they tend to hold weight better. We will sell individuals or a whole team for those interested. We can discuss transportation options. Almost all of our dogs are well socialized, house-trained, enjoy being in the house and come when called. We would sell any dog as a pet, and can recommend good choices for such. We have dogs for all levels and all distances. Most of the dogs listed have been in the Yukon Quest and/or Iditarod. The complete list is on our website.

We have dogs right out of Lance Mackey's kennel and with Mackey/King/Erhart lines. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to email (laughingeyeskennel@hotmail.com) or call 867-456-7714. This opportunity is going out first to our loyal blog followers but will be put up on SDC in the next few days.

Bullock (Omen x Maestro)