SP Kennel is a premier sled dog racing kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska, dedicated to the individual dog through excellent health, nutrition, training and specialized care.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Foot Surgery

I had foot surgery on Friday. It's been necessary for a while and honestly, a steroid shot enabled me to be two-legged throughout this last Iditarod. But, if I wanted to walk, much less run, on two legs without severe pain, I needed a big toe fusion. So, Allen and I thought seriously about the timing for such a major "inconvenience" and decided it would be best to have surgery immediately after Iditarod.

Well, "immediately after Iditarod" came and went. Being physically and emotionally drained, on top of surgery seemed like a bad idea… plus we had the two **FREE** Alaska Airlines award tickets from the Vet Care Award. So, we went to Mexico for 6 days. Mexico versus surgery - difficult choice?!?

I'm sure many of you have wondered why we have so many dogs with Spanish names. Well… Viva Mexico!

But, when we arrived home, got off the I.V. guacamole, quesadillas and margaritas, we became responsible again and scheduled the surgery for late April.

If you don't think that everything in Alaska revolves around dogs… you're wrong!

My Veterinarian, Dr T. Rose, originally examined my toe and her diagnosis went something like this:
"How do you walk on this? If you were a dog, I wouldn't let you walk on this!"
With that information, I started to think that I should perhaps see some human medical specialists.

I had two P.T.s look at my toe -- thanks Nicole and Claire -- Nicole has met Allen and I at the finish lines of both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod for several years now (she knows what it takes to get there.) And Claire made about 15 pounds of sugar free protein bars that sustained me on the Iditarod.

Then, Leslie Dean, a hand surgeon in Anchorage, and her husband Don Hopwood, who have been Chica's Dog Sponsors for many years told me the best foot surgeon to see in Anchorage is Ken Swayman.

During my appointment with Ken, I was greeted by his office dog, Jade, an Alaskan Husky from Iditarod Champ Dean Osmar' kennel. Jade's father is Dean's neighbor's dog, Lieutenant. Both my dogs, Clyde and Outlaw, were sired by Lieutenant. So, Jade is my dog niece… kinda, sort of…

The surgery went well -- according to Ken -- who drew husky faces on my now bionic right foot and showed us the X-rays on which you can see the hardware. The surgery basically removed the big toe joint (which was a mess) and then screwed the two bones together. Now they must fuse - like a broken bone would do. So, that means it will be 4 to 6 weeks of non weight bearing on my right foot.



Allen and I stayed in Anchorage for the surgery and post op appointment. Midnight, the wanna-be-sled-dog, and Linda Steiner got us a two-room suite at Extended Stay Downtown. It was perfect! Me, my crutches, 4 pillows and pill containers would rotate from the bed to the couch every few hours with a lot of help from my husband and nurse (same guy for both positions.)

The last day in town, we got out of the hotel, got an "OK" from the Doc (and Jade) and drove home.


Jade, Dr. Ken Swayman and Aliy Post Surgery; Allen is a very diligent third crutch!

The prognosis for full recovery is great. Basically it's all up to my body now because the bones must fuse together as one. This will honestly take 4 to 6 weeks. No rushing the body's mending process. I will check in with the Doc every week and send him photos of the incision. I will need X-rays at 4 week and 6 weeks.

As everyone can imagine, this will limit my physical activity substantially. I am, of course, planning on being very proficient on crutches very soon. (I will admit that going downstairs last night was a bit scary.) But, after "the OK" from the Doc, I hope to at least crutch up and down the driveway and out into the field.

After the Doc says so, then I'll be able to work on my upper body strength… which is so desperately needed (HA!) Perhaps I can also work on a "summer 6 pack"… no, not beer! Maybe Allen and I will continue the SP Kennel's Pull-up Protocol: this winter we asked most kennel visitors to do at least one pull-up before the left the premises. Who knows maybe I can beat Ryne in a pull-up competition this Fall?!?! I can dream.

Allen will not only be my nurse, but also take over all physical duties at the kennel. We have plenty of friends who have volunteered to help out. I can talk to all the dogs from my house porch, my living room window and my bedroom balcony. Plus, Allen will rotate my indoor canine companions daily. Only one rule… No lifting legs on my crutches.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Spring Cleaning

At the end of the mushing season there is one chore that is best to get done right away! That's the sorting, laundering and packing up of all the gear.

While we send a LOT of gear out on the trail it is possible to return non-perishable items home in "return bags". The Iditarod Airforce brought them all back to Iditarod HQ for mushers to pick up and once we got them home we all set to and sorted into piles of booties, dog jackets, fleece throws, human clothing, gloves and socks, vet supplies, hand warmer packets etc etc.

We have many, many dog jackets of different types that go out on the trial. Aliy and Allen carry wind jackets and insulated jackets with them but there are also fleece jackets and spare wind jackets at various checkpoints. All the dog jackets and fleece blankets were laundered, repaired if necessary and packed.

ALL the booties had to be sorted, one-by-one, and strung up to dry. We check every single bootie for holes, as they will not be reusable, and we set them aside for giveaways at specific events. We then sort the "good used" booties into their different sizes then we hang them to dry. As you can imagine, the garage is rather fragrant currently! Once dry we'll put into sets of four and we use them for training next season. Booties can have a life of one wearing or up to perhaps even three or four depending on how long they were used for, the trail conditions and the dog.


Booties, booties everywhere...


Bags full of clean and dry gloves and socks to be packed and sent out in drop bags next season; We found the Yukon Quest fundraiser booties each with individual messages from supporters.


Fleece throws, jackets, booties... all ready to be packed away for the summer.

It's a nice feeling to get it all done and we feel like we are ready to start the season on September 1st! That's not far away!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

ID: AliyCam "Running on Ice"

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.

This is the last video of the series.

Welcome to the Western Coast of Alaska!
It is often very obvious, that we have arrived on the coast. That's due to: ice and wind.
The ice. The trail transverses many, many miles of ice: ice on the ocean, ice on lagoons, as well as the occasional icy lake or icy river. Sometimes it's rough, sometimes it's smooth… but always ice. Sometimes, I can’t tell one icy water body from another. Especially when the it is semi-covered in snow and the dark of night limits my visibility. But, since I’ve run this route for years, I can usually guess where we are.
The wind. It's unpredictable. You never know when it's going to pick up and blow like the Dickens. Thankfully, the trail markers in this area are drilled into the trail, so that they will hopefully withstand most of the brutal coastal storms.

The trail into Shaktoolik is like no other section on the race. For 15 mies south of village, the trail is on a frozen lagoon that runs parallel to the Bering Sea. There is a very thin strip of land that is a barrier between the lagoon and the ocean. There are occasionally trees and bushes on the thin land mass.

This year, we traveled on the lagoon for just under 2 hours. There were many sections of complete glare ice and the team couldn’t keep their traction. It was the ultimate challenge when a 20 mph wind gust would hit us from the side, blow us across the ice, to the southwest, towards the sea. But, we would inevitably plow into the tiny strip of land protecting us from the sea. Thank you very much! How hard we hit the and mass would depend on the strength of the wind gust. We would gain control when we regained traction on the land. Then we could continue in the general direction of Shaktoolik, slowly making our way back to the marked trail.
Just another day on the Western Coast of Alaska.

I took this video on a section of the lagoon that was snow covered. YAY! So you will see no crashes. You can see the thin piece of land to the left of us. And you can feel the power of the wind gusts every so often. I do remember noticing the wind picking up in force as we neared the village. I also knew that my plan was to not stay in Shaktoolik but to head out onto the frozen ocean directly into that increasing wind.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Blueberry Hills”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


I look forward to the Blueberry Hills because it really grabs me with the realization that we have crossed the entire state of Alaska by dog team. It’s the first time that I can see the Bering Sea from my sled runners. That’s a far distance from the downtown streets of Anchorage. Thus, this spot is often a ‘Holy Cow’ moment.

This spot is also special because I stopped here - on the highest hill - in the year 2002. Back then, I left a small memento of a deceased friend who had introduced me to long distance racing. So every year since then, I speak to him when we mush by. I usually tell him how it's going: great, good, poor, so/so, etc. Over the years, I have told him a lot of different things!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “50 Miles out of Unalakleet”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


I thought that I had lost my video camera back at my camp spot. I only found it right before the sunset faded.

The team was not 100% enthusiastic here. You might notice a few dogs taking a little “down time” from pulling. If I would have videoed myself… you might have seen the same thing. I was acting enthusiastic for the good of the team, but I wasn't 'feeling it'.

I came to realize for the latter part of this race, that this team worked that way. Not everyone was excited all the time. Often times, one or two dogs would slack or even the musher. Overall, there was no real standout and no real disappointment. But, I didn’t want to send any of these dogs home and I had decided that I didn't want to go home either. I was very pleased that we were all simply “trying our best”.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Camp Spot”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


We had some really unique camp spots this year on the race. This section of trail, which is a historic trade route between Katag and Unalakleet, is one of the most spectacular portions of trail in the race. That’s mostly because of the intense Indian and Eskimo trade history, but as you watch the scenery, you won’t complain about that either. Camping right at the summit of the portage trail was pretty breathtaking. We could see mountains along the entire 360 degree horizon of our camp spot. There was a tiny group of six sapling trees that tried to block our view but only managed to add to the grandeur. My overall goal for this camp spot was to try and camp in and around beauty, uplift my spirits and of course, bond with the team. Schmoe was unsettled during most of this camp. He has always been one of my most emotional dogs, so that didn’t surprise me. We had been through some rough events together about 12 hours prior to stopping here.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Mismo Single Lead”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


This video is short but really, really neat. I could only start recording after the light of the day made it’s way to the camera lens. I wish I could have videoed in the dark because that was impressive.

We made our way through Ruby and down onto the Yukon River. We were the second team on the trail at this point until we passed Brent Sass - camped just outside the village. From here, to Galena, the trail hadn’t been traveled by another Iditarod dog team. We were the first. This is good (a winning team by definition is the first on the trail) and this is bad (the trail is not always an obvious route to follow).

The trail was not obvious and there were few signs of previous snowmachine travel. It was on a sheet of slippery Yukon River glare ice. The ice was covered with an inch of fresh snow. So, as we started down river, the dogs (and I) assumed that we would have traction. Nope!

The trail markers were either drilled into the ice or water had come up and frozen around their bases. As well, this section of river hadn’t frozen well and there were many open water holes. One had claimed the life of a man traveling by snowmachine earlier in the winter. So, following the marked trail was paramount.

We were on most of this section of trail in the dark. We weaved this way and that with the team actually showing some fearful energy as they slipped and I hollered directions. It was a bit unnerving.

So, I dropped my chains under my runners (my brake did little to slow the team) and we stopped. I told everyone to just relax. I decided to put Mismo in single lead. He was really shining right then and he didn’t seem too concerned about slipping and sliding on the ice. For the next hour, he obediently trotted down the trail, watching and listening as I scouted for the reflective trail markers with my headlight and then and “Geed” and “Hawed” him directions. He’s no dummy, so he started to pick up on the visual clues and would steer the team toward the reflectors before I would command him. I have to admit there were a few “Haws” that he was convinced should have been “Gees”. In the end, not only did we get safely down the trail but we laid down an excellent track for all the other 80 plus Iditarod teams to follow.

Mismo says “You’re welcome.”


Friday, April 15, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Rural Alaska”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


We all have moments out there when our minds drift this way, or that. Here I am pondering the absolute lack of humanity in this part of Alaska. I don’t know if “rural” is the correct terminology but that’s what came out.
The amazing fact about this area of Alaska is that many years ago -- when travel across our great state was more challenging than it is now -- there were actually more people and more towns in this area. One hundred years ago, life was harder, but it didn’t matter to the men and women who mined gold and lived in and around Poorman or set up tents or cabins along many of the creeks the Iditarod Trail crosses today.
Pretty amazing to think about.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “The trail into Cripple Checkpoint”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


This is a rough ride and you might get dizzy from all the pounding. I guess this goes to show you that not all of the 1,000 mile route is smooth and straight. The fact that there is little snow cover is not surprising. This section of the trail is in Interior Alaska and, after training in Two Rivers all winter, we knew the Interior snow conditions were sparse. While certainly enough to mush a dog team, the snow is not enough to cushion my sled (bang! bang!) or cover all of the vegatation and tussocks.

Monday, April 11, 2016

ID - AliyCam 2016 “Dalzell Gorge”

I have carried a hand held video camera on the race for years now. Honestly, I don't always think "Gez, this is gorgeous… I need to take a video!" But, I really did try to capture some amazing portions of the Iditarod Trail this year.
There are 13 videos in the ID: AliyCam 2016 Series.


Yippee. I don’t often get a video of the gorge because we go through it during the night. But, the fast paced trail enabled me to get footage just before sunset Monday night. It is a little dark, but entertaining all the same. Notice the tremendous effort that the volunteers have put into building ice bridges and routing the trail around the enormous holes in the sometimes not frozen river bed. The team zigs and zags with enthusiasm. The dogs enjoy this kind of trail even though they might look over at the open raging river and “Gulp” now and then. (Maybe that was me?)

In the end of the video, the team pops out on the Tatina River. As this happens, I don’t know if you can understand me. I am saying “Alright. Alright. Alright. Yow! One piece. One Piece. And I got it on video. Where are we going now?” This pretty much sums up my astonishment of making it through the gorge in one piece.