Friday, October 24, 2008

Morning Snowfall is Playtime!

We were greeted with over 6 inches of fresh snow this week. This, of course, energizes the mushers and the dogs. All of the dogs.

The puppies are almost 5 months old now. The litter of eight is happy and healthy. They spend time both in the puppy pen and at their own houses. Bubba and Reba are the athletes and are constantly on the puppy wheel. Scruggs and Willie are the food hogs and bullies. Boondocks and Waylon are loud mouths - when they are not barking at each other, they are barking at Fats, who might casually stroll by their pen. Lester and Hank are calm yet playful.

Lester and Hank went for a walk this morning to help check out the snow conditions on the trails. They soon got side tracked in their own puppy game: Snow wrestling.

Everybody has a good time in the SNOW!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Training Run

Come for a run with me!!

Today I hooked up 15 dogs and went on a 15 mile training run. Want to come?

I decided to put ChaCha in lead. She is magnificent and really wants to be up front. She will run in team, but she barks and hollers and is generally a nuisance when I don't put her in lead so I often give in. I like to put a junior leader up there with her and today I pick her son, 2-year old Pud. Pud isn't as confident in front of 15 dogs, but he is full of energy and stands at attention.

Pud, left, and ChaCha in lead. A mother and son team.

My swing dogs (those right behind the leaders) are reliable and steady. I choose Tony and Butterscotch today. They are brothers, although Tony is one year older, and they get along perfectly. Neither dog really has the overwhelming desire to lead, but, they are strong and confident and they will follow ChaCha and Pud. In the third spot back are Heeler and Stormy. Behind them is Rose. She is running by herself today. Rose is hyper and unfocused while in harness. She doesn't like to stop and certainly has no patience for hooking up. She circles and spins whenever we are sedentary and this inevitably tangles her running mate. Since I had an open spot today, I put it next to Rose. Then comes "the brawn": Tatfish and Paco, Huey and Chica, Biscuit and Betsy. Running right in front of the ATV are Moonpie and Bonita.

After hooking up, I leave the yard while the dogs still at their houses sing "Pick me! You forgot me? Hey, me!" But, the rest of the yard will get their turn in due time.

We immediately take a sharp turn to the right as both leaders are accustomed to this maneuver. We have not started to train to the left yet: that will be next month. We come to our first split in the trail in several hundred yards and ChaCha barks, asking for a command. I tell her "Gee" as she nears the split and she nudges Pud to the right. Pud doesn't know yet how commands and turns are correlated, and I think it still baffles him when his mother pushes him this way and that. Stormy hears the command from 3 spots back and nearly drags her section of team into the trees before the turn. She is only 3 years old and her vocabulary was just like Pud's only a year ago. This year she loves to lead. The rest of the team rounds the corner in form.

My team hard at work.

We descend a small steep dip in the trail and rise to the other side. The ATV slows on the uphill climb and the dogs grind into their harnesses. I like them to know that they are pulling me and I have no reservations about turning the motor off on the ATV and letting the team muscle me down the trail. In the rear of the team I see Betsy and Biscuit working harder than any other dogs. They are both larger and built to pull. Although, Tatfish and Paco aren't looking bad either. I get one glance back from Bonita, who isn't as big and strong as some, but she looks forward and leans into her job.

We come out of the dip and around the field. There are several more trail decisions and I wait until the last minute to yell a command. This is a game for ChaCha. Pud will be picking it up soon. We continue on the flats for several miles and some of the dogs want to go faster. Rose is pulling way to hard, as she always does. Huey and Chica are both 2-year olds and they would like to see some speed a well. But, I know that the hill is coming soon and I resist the urge. We then begin a 2 mile slow climb to the top of the hill. There are several sharp switchbacks that lessen the slope of the climb. Most of the dogs put their heads to the ground and pull. Moonpie tries to grab a quick drink of snow off to the side of the trail and he slips in a rut. The rest of the team leans in and he catches his balance. Some dogs "dip snow" more than others and Moonpie is one of them. I stop the team half way up the climb to take this photo. The first 6 dogs are lined out nicely but next in line you can see Rose, circling. I have the parking brake set on the ATV or it would roll down the hill.

Half way up the hill and ready for more.

We start again and climb to the top of the hill. Then we run along the ridge line. There are quite a few grouse on this hill and two fly out at the team like kamikaze pilots. This excites Tatfish and he tries to bolt off after them. Tatfish is a dear, dear dog, but he is not the brightest bulb. As a yearling he raced with Allen on the Tustumena. Allen claimed that Tatfish spent more time "playing with turds on the trail, than working". He has certainly improved since then, but he has a way to go. We then descend down the other side, where we run for several miles. The trail then loops back around to an extremely steep incline which brings us directly back to the ridge top. Once again I see Besty and Biscuit pull into their power. Chica slacks just a little on the steep slope and I call her name. She looks back at me and resumes her job. She is learning nicely. We come down the hill and across the flats. In the last mile to the kennel there is a split in the trail again. I ask ChaCha to go away from the kennel. She turns on command and then immediately changes her mind. But she had already convinced Pud, Tony and Butterscotch - so they pull her my way. We circle a willow bush and resume our return to the kennel.

When we come back to the yard the dogs pant and roll in the snow. A few of them lay down, but most dogs stand and wait their turn to run to their houses for a hot meal and a rub down. Job well done.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Early Winter

Winter arrived at SP Kennel in Two Rivers, AK on October 1, just after the dog yard grading project. For several days the temperatures had been dipping to the high teens at night. Then, on Wednesday, the first day of the month, we awoke to small white flakes that steadily grew in size during the morning. By afternoon we had a clear blue sky and 2 inches of snow on the ground.

Since then we have had at least another 4 inches of snow. Jenny M. Creek, adjacent to Chena Hot Springs Road, and our Moose Slough, beside our outbound training trail, are both frozen enough for small animals to use as an ice bridge. Is winter here to stay?

The forecast for this weekend is mid 40’s during the day and low 20’s at night. Remember that we have only 9 hours of daylight now with the sun hanging low in the southern sky. Not conducive to melting snow. Next week we will see temps between 12 and 36 degrees F with frequent snow showers. We predict that the snow and ice is here to stay until Spring 2009. Yippee!

Nacho and Hunter ready to run in October 1st snow .

Training Tidbits

Despite the snow, we are still hooking our teams to 4 wheel ATV’s for training runs. We need at least 12 inches of snow for the brakes and snow hooks to grab before we can switch to sleds. Our ATV’s have made the change to winter equipment. We now must train with chains on the ATV tires in order to maintain full control on icy and snow laden trails.

Our yearlings (9 Oddball/Chacha pups) are proving to be very talented. They knew exactly what to do when they were hooked to a gang line for the first time. Each yearling is developing his/her own talents. One blossoming leader, Malibu, is assertive, mouthy and one of Allen’s favorites. She is a tiny little dog, but her enthusiasm and smarts put her at the head of her class.

This week’s training runs are about 1 ½ hours in duration. We began to incorporate long gradual hills and some shorter steep climbs. Our training regime is on target for a first race in mid December.

Aliy and Allen are seriously into their own personal training. The SP Kennel ‘training cabin’ houses a treadmill, a Bowflex, sit-up board, TV with workout CD’s, etc. The better shape the mushers are in, the more assistance they can be to the dogs. The motto is: TEAM WORK.

The hot tub is up and running. As the training runs get longer and colder, the hot tub becomes a more important part of the training protocol for the mushers. There’s nothing better than a late night soak to warm the bones and watch the Northern Lights while the dogs howl with contentment.