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.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Downhill from Rainy Pass Summit” - Part Two

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.


The day was gorgeous and the trail was entertaining so I kept the AliyCam recording. In this video you will notice three types of Iditarod trail markers that are used to mark the route. There are: permanent yellow metal reflectors nailed to willows or trees, red flagging on branches or bushes and the annually-placed wooden lathe with a white reflector and a blue ribbon. On other sections of the trail there are tripods or tall “telephone pole” type markers.
The end of the video could be deemed somewhat embarrassing to me - if a musher was inclined to be embarrassed by their dogs’ action - which I’m not. Here you see the entire team come to a decided HALT. Seriously? A third place Iditarod team? Yup. I won’t lie. My dogs do not like water and I have limited opportunities to train them to change their minds. During the summer months, we play in puddles and run through very shallow creeks. But, ironically, my only husky who really enjoys swimming in Mac. He was the only dog who had left our team at this point in the race.
Go figure!


Friday, April 8, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Downhill from Rainy Pass Summit” - Part One

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.


After the trail sneaks over the top of Rainy Pass, it plunges downhill. As the trail comes off the summit and down into the creek, it is a roller coaster ride. I try to steer my sled -- sometimes successfully and sometimes not -- around pinball corners, over ice bridges and past rock faces all with the gorgeous Alaska Range on the horizon. Thick willow bushes often define the edges of the trail. That shows how much volunteer trail work has been put into the Iditarod over the years.

One of the reasons that I love our dogs not being secured by a leash to their collars (a “neck line” in mushing terminology) is evident in this video. Each dog can maneuver where ever they need to in order to avoid holes in the trail or run far out to the side, switching sides of the main tow line. As you can imagine, each dog has his or her own opinion of where they want to place their feet for the fastest, safest route. Now it might seem that all of the dogs aren’t “pulling their hearts out” all the time. You are correct. And I ask you: “During your 8, 10 or 12 hour work day how many of you are putting our 100% effort?”

Yea... that’s what I thought.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

ID: AliyCam “Rainy Pass - Climbing to the Summit”

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.


The day was brilliant. The mountains were laid out all around us. I couldn’t help but record many minutes (and miles) as we climbed from the Rainy Pass Lodge Checkpoint, up into the mountain pass itself and then over the top. I could see teams off in the distance at times -- both in front and behind us. We kept a steady pace for much of the climb. On the steeper sections you will hear or see my ski poles as I helped the team with the ascent.

There is actually a metal sign demarcating the pass itself. I have passed directly by it some years and other years the trail goes far to the left or right of it. This year there were two people standing by the sign. I learned later that one of those folks was Iditarod photographer, Jeff Schultz. I only learned that was him when I asked him “Did you get any really good photos of my team this year?” He said “Yup, while summiting Rainy Pass.”
So, we’ll have to wait and see!

Monday, April 4, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “Long Snack Break”

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.


People often ask me what my dogs eat on the trail. My answer usually involves talking about the fact that the team eats it’s big meals while they are stopped at a camp spot or checkpoint - usually twice a day. But, just as important, are the snack breaks that the team gets along the trail. Every musher has his or her own idea of how many, how often and how fast a snack break should be. I believe that while the Iditarod is a race, not every snack break or stop needs to be a stressful, "hurry, hurry, hurry" act. I kept the camera rolling while I stopped the team for this snack break. This was their longest rest during a 55 mile run that took us from our camp spot before Rainy Pass Checkpoint, up through the mountain pass, down through the Rohn Checkpoint and out into the Farewell Burn to our next camp. This stop was about halfway. We took additonal breaks both before, but not for as long of a duration.
So... if you think it’s always: "Go! Go! Go!" Think again. 1,000 miles is a long way!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

End of Season "Break-Up"

March 31st marks the end of the racing season. Nature has decided it is the end of all mushing for us as our trails are now slush and no fun for anyone! We are even seeing some green on the ground already.

March 31st was also when we closed team memberships and the Dog Fan Club for the season. A truly sincere thank you to everyone who has joined the Red Team, Black Team, Dog Fan Club, Supported the Dog Log or sent other contributions and donations. Each of you has helped get our teams down the trail and without you all we couldn't do what we do! We are lucky to have so many of you interested in our kennel and giving us your support.

The Dog Log will still be active over the spring and summer and the first thing you can look forward to is several more "Aliy Cam" videos from the Iditarod Trail. We are working through the footage and will share with you over the next few weeks. We'll also let you know of summer happenings, dog walking, events and, hopefully, PUPPIES!!!!!!!

What happens now for us is we start the "clean up" - packing away all the sleds, harnesses and mushing gear for a few months. Moira goes back to New Zealand, Chris moves on to his summer employ and Aliy and Allen will take a short break, before starting their summer employ with Princess Cruises Denali Train presentations.

Later in the summer, Kennel Mom and Dad come up from Florida and all the summer chores start. The dogs put their mushing thoughts away for a few months and get to do lots of free running on the summer trails. It's a complete change for everyone!

We would still love to hear from you all so do please check in on the blog now and again.

Thanks again for helping make this season AWESOME!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

ID: AliyCam 2016 “100 miles into the Race”

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.


ID: AliyCam 2016 “100 miles into the Race”
At this point in the race, my team and I are still sorting out the kinks. This is only our second run in and the sun had just come up. We were happy to see the greater depth of snow as we traveled towards the Alaska Range Mountains. The snow makes a sled dog team’s progression so much easier. We can safely travel with complete control of the sled. As well, the dogs can grab bites of snow whenever the feel a little thirsty. The entire team is getting used to the routine that we will follow for the next 8 plus days.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Final Dog Fan Club Draws

To mark the end of the racing season and the closure of the Dog Fan Club for the season we have done two random draws.

Both winners win a set of Yukon Quest and Iditarod Race Guides signed by Aliy and Allen.

Congratulations to Beth Lockwood who is a fan of WEDGY and to Ingabritt who is a fan of SCOUT.



Wedgy is the girl who hasn’t had her chance yet. She is gorgeous, enthusiastic and certainly wants to please. Wedgy is ready for her ‘break-out’ year and wants to surprise everyone. She is steady in training and is always excited. Wedgy is such the combo of her Mama and Dad.

Scout is Aliy's best buddy. He really is such a phenomenal dog. He is both professional and charismatic. Scout is walking in his Mother’s foot steps as one of our best lead dogs ever. His wisdom and confidence led many of our teams down the trail this season.

Thank you to everyone who joined the Dog Fan Club this year. We hope you had fun following along with us this season and having a special dog (or dogs) to make it more intimate. Keep an eye out in October when we open the Dog Fan Club for the 2016-17 season!