Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Test Driving

13 Feb 2007

So, we are test driving 10 new dogs over the next 2 weeks. They all look great. Long legs, sloping backs, strong, and feisty. Jason took 5 of them out yesterday. He is impressed with all of them. But, hey it was the first run. These guys need some miles. Jay is weary of only one of them right now. But, time will tell. Abbie West and Jim Bourqin have the other 5 right now. We plan on swapping them in a week. Never thought I would be test driving a team of dogs, but I have heard of funnier things. We will see how it goes....


4 Feb 2007

We took our 9 month old puppies out for their first run today. I remeber now why I love running dogs so much. It is pure pleasure to see for the first time the excitement a dog can have for running. The puppies radiate with eagerness and burst out of the yard like an explosion. Yapping down the road, onto the trail, and back on a quick 3 mile run. My heart is bursting. Months of caring for these little fellows is paying off now. I don't even care if they never make it into the A team. They are all pulling like champions today. I wish this could last forever...

Hamburger Race

27 Jan 07

Today is my first race. I am to be a passenger in a 31 mile run from Pleasant Valley Store to Angel Creek Lodge. It is hard to explain how I am feeling today, but mostly aggravated.
I woke up super early today. I start the water heating on the propane stove, and cut up treats for the dogs. Once the water starts moving around I pour into the well used water bucket and add cooler water to fill up the bucket the rest of the way. I finish my oatmeal and lace up my boots. I head out to the dog yard. The sun is just starting to rise its sleepy head, so I turn on my head lamp and the yard light. The dogs seem to know now something is different today. I feed and water everyone. The dogs have a great appetite and clean their bowls quickly. I gather 12 bowls up and pack extra food into a bucket. I take the extra water back over to the house and gather a few more things together.
Jason is driving the team today. He received a nasty blow to the eye Wednesday night by one of the puppies. His eye has been swollen and blurred. He is still sitting on the couch trying to get his eye to open. I have him help me load up the sled and call our handler for the race. He is running a bit behind and will meet us at the store. I grab the vet records and head up to the store to register for the race. Jason shows up a bit later with the trailer to drop the dogs on. He is having a difficult time seeing, so Alex the store owner parks the trailer for us. Plans don't seem to work out for me, ever, but I am thankful yesterday I packed my sled and gathered my harnesses. Now, I just need to get the dogs there.
Jason stays with the trailer and I head home to fit as many dogs as I can into my Jeep. The first trip I manage to get two dogs, Rocky and Suva. It is hard to keep them in the back when I keep opening it up. So, I head up to the store drop them and go back for more. This time I load them up from my passenger door. I am able to get two into the back and then I put one in my front seat. Five more dropped. Eight more dropped. Eleven dropped. It is five minutes to 1000. The drivers meeting is fast approaching. I grab the last dog, and the rest of the gear and head back up. I can't find Jason's eye patch, but I could of sworn he had it earlier.
I get there just in time to drop the last dog and hear the race rules. Meanwhile, two teams start off up the trail. The mushers did not want to carry passengers, but still wanting to make the trip they went on ahead of everyone else. One of the mushers ended up on the road instead of the trail, dumped his sled twice and was dragging down the highway last time I saw him, so Alex headed off with a snow machine to help him out. I head back over to the dogs to pet them all and calm them down a bit. I sent Jason to get a warm bucket of water, while I scoop up some poop. I then pack the sled with extra hats, mittens, and a jacket. I start organizing the harnesses. I put them all in the order I want to hook up the dogs. It is a mass start, so after the hat is thrown we have to race to hook up, harness, and leave. Everything is finally in order and I feel a bit happier. I then tell our handler what to take down to Angel Creek. Jason is back with the water. We quickly water the dogs. We serve them water baited with Elk burger. Some of them readily gobble it down, others just ignore the stuff. We have 15 minutes till the start. I put everything for Angel Creek in one pile for the handler. We make sure the gang line is pulled out and staked down. We talk nervously in great anticipation. Five minutes to go. Two minutes. We are off. We are in a spot with deep snow, and next to a large sign. I grab my first dog, Bruno, harness him and hook him up. I grab my second dog and hook her up, Jason is finishing with his first. I finish with all six of my dogs and grab two more of Jason. I take up the leaders neck line, while he grabs the small snow hook out of the front. The dogs are all lined out and look great. I jump into the sled and yelled at Jason to hurry up. He is having problems pulling up the snow hook, by that time the dogs are turning down the trail the wrong way and almost wrap around the sign. I jump out to head up to the front and they figure it out. We our out fourth. Seven minutes to hook up 12 dogs and head out. As we near the start line someone yells at us. Jason drops the snow hook and I run up to the front of the team. Our lead dog's right leg is out of the harness. I unhook him, quickly re-harness him, and run back to the sled. Now we are off. The dogs are looking like champions.
We quickly cover the first five miles, and overtake the beautiful and majestic Siberian team in front us, about a half mile before the road crossing. We cross the road easily and head up the trail. I can see a team ahead of us, but they are traveling a bit faster than us. I lose sight of them, right before the first overflow. The team slides all over the ice trying to keep traction on the rough trail. The overflow has grown since last week. We make it through without a hitch. We our nearing the old abandon cabins and dogs start to slow down just a bit. They are starting to reach for scoops of snow around Twin Bears. The trail is slow from all the warming weather, and of course they are carrying twice the weight they are used to today. We make it to Colorado Creek and trail is called, we are past by Tamara Rose. Her team is young and does not pass well. I jump up out of the sled and help her team around us. She is aggravated that one of my dogs snipped at one of hers. He is veteran dog, just doing what older dogs do to younger dogs. Put them in there place, and perhaps that is why is previous owners Dave King and Sue Sprinkle named him Snipper. After they pass, I quickly grab one of my snack bags and offer treats to the dogs. We are about an hour out. Some of them readily accept the treats, others decline. We our back off in less than 2 minutes. We are not 3 miles down the trail, and Susan Amundsen approaches quickly. She is not carrying a passenger and has absolutely no weight in an old stanchion sled. As she passes, one of her dogs gets into a belly wrap and she stops in front of us. We pull our team to a stop and try to hold them while she adjusts her dogs. As she heads back to her team the snow hook gives loose, the sled hits her leg, she makes a hard dive for the sled, and misses. Jason immediately pulls the hook and we our off after her team. We are already heavily weighted down, so we leave Susan on the side of the trail and pray the next team will pick her up soon. Her team is so fast, our dogs are trying so hard to keep up, her team keeps picking up distance on us. We can see the snow hook bouncing trying to grab, but no luck. They slow and then speed up. I tell Jason to stop and I jump off the sled and run with all my might. I barely reach her sled and they take off this time with me on it. I am holding on the best I can. I yell commands at her dogs, and they ignore me, after all who am I but a mere stranger stealing a ride. I drag the snow hook looking of a hold no luck, these guys are not stopping. The trail is wide and clear of trees. I see a few trees up head, and manage to slow the team a bit. I try to snag a small tree with the hook and miss. When is this ride going to stop. I think to my self the first checkpoint is up ahead less than 2 miles. Worse case scenario I can stop them there and that when it happened. We hit the worst overflow I had ever been on. Okay so my greatest fear up to today has been overflow. I don't like it, who does. The overflow slants hard to the right. I ride the left runner hard, with all my weight leaning, trying to grab her drag pad with my foot, but it is so far back. Wham, the sled slides down the the right hard, flips, and lands me in the water, and the sled in the trees. At last the dog team is stopped. They are looking back at me, and I pull myself up out of the water. I turn around and Jason is pulling up. I yell for him to pass me and get off the over flow. Another team is pulling up behind him and they are carrying Susan. I feel terrible that I flipped her sled. There appears to be no damage, and I hope the dogs are okay. I tell her I am sorry, and she seems more concerned about me than anything. She grabs the front of her team and pulls them back as I struggle to pull the sled off the pine it is stuck on and out of the ice and water. We walk her team up a bit and I stand on the old brake and her snow hook as she untangles her front four dogs. I am amazed at how much more well behavior these dogs are when Mama is in the picture. Finally, she is on the back of her sled passes us once again and we are all off. What a trip.
The other team follows us into the first checkpoint. We stop and grab a card for the poker hand. We got a jack of heart at the start and now a king of spade. Two face cards, but not much of anything the other team stops to snack and we continue on. We are past by one more team, so I grab our snack bag and snack again. Again most refuse, but some partake. By the time we reach the quarry the team that stopped and snacked is ready to pass. We get a seven of diamonds here and the other team passes us easily. The passenger of the other team this time hops out and leads the team around. This is the first and only team that has assisted their own dogs around us. They pass without any problems. We follow them closely for quite some time. They are traveling just a little faster. We hit the river and wind through some open spaces and then into the big old spruces. I see so many down trees and all I can think of is fire wood. I am no longer wet I am frozen. My clothes are hard with ice. We cross under the road at North Fork and head up into the hills. The wind picks up at this elevation and I can stand it no longer. The climb is slow the dogs at having a hard time, but I am having a harder time. I get out and run along side the sled as all as a can, hop back in, and do it again. I have to warm myself up. Finally we start to descend. I am comfortable again. My clothes are stiff, but I am warm inside. We descend and cross under the last bridge. We can smell the wood smoke of the lodge and I yell at the dogs to pick up the pace. We start to exit the river and head up into the last stretch when Snipper sees the running stream of water. He immediately halts, all the dogs look like bumper cars at this point. Jason yells on by and Snipper turns to the left and tries to go back the way he came. Rocky is pulling him with all his might, but Snipper will have none of it. There is no snow hold here on the river and I jump out and pull the dogs back towards the water. Here I can see the creek is about an inch deep and four feet wide. I have to drag Snipper through the water. I really have to drag him. Finally we are through and up on the bank. I untangle everyone and we are off. The go through a series of turns and then we are there. We have made it. Angel Creek Lodge. We check in and try to head to the dog truck. Our dogs a bit tried and confused and seem to want to go every way, but where they should. I get turned on the side in the sled during this whole process and luckily Jason is able to pop the sled back up on right side up before I spill out. I jump out and grab the lead dogs. Enough is enough, I am lead dog now. We make it to the truck. Unhook all the dogs. I snack, Jason goes for water. Everyone seems so tired. I remove my frozen pants and shirt. I put on a extra hat, mittens, and jacket I had packed and thanked myself inwardly for thinking ahead. We feed the dogs a warm meal. And then pack them into the warm straw filled dog box.
We head inside for a cool drink and some warm food. It has taken us 3 hours and 40 minutes to come 31 miles carrying more than 400 pounds - and caught a run away team. We receive and award for having the most fun. And well yes I did have the most fun, if that is what you choose to call it. I walked away with some great stories and bit more knowledge than I started with. One thing I can say about being a passenger on a dog race - make sure you have something to shield yourself from the flying poop and snow, bring extra clothes, hold on tight, and be prepared for the ride of your life knowing you have no control of where you might go or end up especially when a blind man is driving. And for my fear of overflow piece of cake with icing on top:)