Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Camping

Spring Adventure! It has been a few years since I went on a spring camping trip with dogs. There used to be a time that I went down the lake for exciting trips that lasted for four days and three nights. Didn't know how much I missed it. My summer employer, Michelle Phillips, asked me to come with her family for an overnight at Moose Arm. This is a place south about 40 miles on Tagish Lake. It is a few miles south of the B.C./Yukon border. There is a 10 mile portage to the east over to Atlin Lake and another 30 miles to Atlin, B.C.
The Southern Lakes are a giant frozen highway in the winter. We usually don't get too much snow and people are using snowmachines to go icefishing, leaving a nice trail for the dogs. Later in the Spring the snow level goes down and has a nice hard crust, so with good lead dogs you can go anywhere.
The top pictures are of the kennel in Tagish and a view south from our camp. Then a picture of my team, complete with some of my favorite dogs from the summer. Allosaurus and Optimus were my wheel dogs (those closest to the sled). Both of them are great pullers, honest and hard workers. The middle ones are Zappa and English. Zap is one of my favorite leaders, along with Patti (nicknamed Patti Wacko, a little 40 pounder that thinks she is a pit bull and fun as can be) his sister. The leaders I got to use were Daisy and Franchesca. Daisy is Michelle's main race leader and Frannie is a really driving speed leader that wants to pass everything in sight. She is Daisy's daughter. You can see good photos of all these guys at
The trip was wonderful and I had a great time. Going home the wind was from the North, blowing 30 mph right into our faces, temp -17. Brought back many memories of other times down there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dog Racing Season

Yep. that time of the year again. All of the 'dog people of the North' are glued to our computers day and night getting race updates, reading blogs and the northern newspapers on line. The first race is the Yukon Quest, It started this year on Feb.9 in Fairbanks. Last year was Whitehorse's turn. This is my favorite. So many of my friends have run it, I worked as a handler in Dawson for a friend of mine one year, and my summer employer Michelle was in it this time.
The Quest was crazy. Temps were in the -60s in parts of the start on the Alaskan side. Then there was insane jumble ice on the Yukon river. Then it warmed up above freezing, complete with really deep overflow to swim thru!! Michelle came in 4th. These are the same dogs we use at the dog cart ride in the summer.
Now it is the time of the Iditarod. You can see it at Lots of our neighbors are in it this year. They now have experimental GPS tracking units with 20 of the teams. This is really great. You can see exactly where they are, if they are resting and how fast they are traveling. They are always really slow on the checkpoint updates so this lets you know where these guys are. This year there are so many competitive teams that it is anybodies ballgame. Of course we are glued to the computer.....totally addicted!! Another first-the Humane Society finally realized that their energies are better used trying to help animals that are really being abused and leave the grandstanding they were doing about sled dogs. So no protest at the start.
Part of my summer job is giving the 15 minute sled talk to our longride clients. I tell them about all the parts of the sled, how to stear it, pull out all the gear and explain its uses. Then I get to answer their questions. This is the fun part for me. They all flip when I tell them that we camp out at -20 without a tent and spend up to 4 days on a trip. They always want to know how we stay warm. They think we are wonder-women, which really makes us laugh.
After the Iditarod the 100th running of the All Alaskan Sweepstakes takes place. Now this will be a cool race. 400 some miles with 12 dogs. No dropping dogs, take your rest where you want and winner takes all the $100,000 purse. It will go out of Nome to Candle and back. It will take place a couple of weeks after the Iditarod ends.
There will be a few mid-distance races in late March and early April. A few weeks rest for the dogs then the cruise ships magically appear and our summer cart rides start. Amazingly enough the dogs aren't the least soured by all this running. Those few weeks off put them back into crazy mode. That means that when they are hooked up they jump, scream and bark. They lunge into the lines (what we call banging), putting lots of stress on the brass snaps and lines that they pull from. It never fails, just as a team pulls out one of the snaps will break, have to try to hold the team while one of the handlers runs full blast getting a new snap in place, then off you go.
It seems like several times each day I get the comment "They really like it". The people are amazed by the fact that a working dog LOVES its job. Gee, I also love my job(s). Guess they have never experienced our fun a job can be. Learn from the dogs. Actually these dogs are lucky. They get to do what they were born to do. And that is run. If we don't keep them chained when not working most of them run off into the bush and can get into lots of trouble. Like being eaten by wolves, shot for chasing game and hit by cars and trucks.
I am really looking forward to another summer season. After getting out of dogs six years ago I can't pretend I don't miss it. After all, 30 years of doing something 5 days a week each and every winter becomes a big part of your life. Working with the dogs in the summer fills up that void. And getting paid for something that is so much fun is pretty neat.