Dogs and ponies

The Quest

blogHey loves,

remember me? It’s me Archimedesthe most handsome pup in the whole yard. I am a big boy now. Just wanted to let you know, the Quest is on it’s way.

The Yukon Quest is a tough 1000 mile long sled dog race between Whitehorse (Yukon) and Fairbanks (Alaska). The race is on, no matter what the weather throws at the mushers and the dogs. Just 21 courageous teams signed up this year for the adventure, including 5 rookies.

Good luck!

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Dogs and ponies

All is quiet…

Iditarod has moved through Rainy Pass. It’s been a very fast race this year. Some mushers have pushed for long runs and little rest, some camped out at the checkpoints, some went stealth camping in the wilderness to get rest and keep the competition guessing. A few more days and the winner will arrive in Nome. The race goes on, until the last musher reaches the finish, which may be weeks…

In 2014 I was a caretaker at Rainy Pass Lodge, a hunting lodge and Iditarod checkpoint in the Alaska Range. As the crow flies it is about 120 miles to Anchorage. There is no road access to this remote place. Food and supplies are brought in by bush plane, when needed, or when the weather allows.

In the off-season it becomes real quiet there. Less than a handful of staff take care of the horses and the property throughout winter. All that changes in March, when three races come through and bring droves of competitors and spectators, press and support staff to the site. First, it’s the high-octane Iron Dogs, then the human-powered runners, skiers and bikers, and finally the furry stars of the Iditarod sled dog race.

I did not know much about the the sport of dog sledding then. It was an amazing experience. First, I was so surprised how small these dogs were. How could they pull a sled, a musher, and supplies for more than 1000 miles across Alaska? Where did they and the mushers sleep?

The dogs are amazing, so are the mushers. A small community of resilient spirits from all walks of life. Tragedy struck this year, when some of them lost their homes in the Sockeye wildfire. Nevertheless, this could not stop them from participating in this year’s race.

Everybody in this field has a story…

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Dogs and ponies

First musher into Rainy Pass checkpoint

142 miles into the race in less than 24 hours, not much sleep.

Rainy Pass is ahead of the teams, the highest point on the Iditarod.

In fast race years the first teams arrive in the dark, before sunrise. This year they get to see the mountains surrounding Puntilla Lake in full splendor. Nic Petite was first this year into Rainy Pass Lodge. Good luck.

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Iditarod 2014 – Puntilla Lake

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Dogs and ponies

It’s on!

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Iditarod is on!

It’s pretty amazing to see how anxious and motivated these sled dogs are. Maybe they won’t jump as high a week into the race, but running is in their blood.

The mushers? Not so sure. Probably happy to be done with training and having left the circus in Anchorage behind. They also know, what to expect. Long days and nights, little sleep, trying to keep their team healthy, resting just enough, and making good decisions along the way.

Will it be a hat trick for Dallas Seavey, three in a row, or can another musher break his winning streak?

 

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Dogs and ponies

Pooh

“I wonder what Piglet is doing?”
thought Pooh.

“I wish I were there to be doing it, too.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


Hello. My name is Pooh.

Something is up. We have not been running for a few days. We haven’t seen snow flakes falling from the sky for a few weeks. I believe the season is over. So sad. Just when I got into it. I had a shoulder problem for a few weeks, so I could not run with my friends in February. And I so love to run. I may look a little chubby, but don’t let this fool you. I may be quiet around the house, but boy put me on the line and I am becoming “jumping” Pooh. I think the most fun is in the front. Following my musher with good-looking Johnny Cash on my side, that’s just great.

Well, now it’s back to the off-season. Less food, higher temps, rain, sun… Not sure what to do with myself. Ahh, there is always food. I love to eat. I could eat way more than what they put in my bucket. Then, I would look like a sausage. Can’t have that. Oh, well.

I am a bit sad that my musher is leaving in a few weeks. We got along well. He was no trouble. In the beginning I chewed a few neck lines out of excitement. Well, he seemed annoyed, so I let that go.

Man, I can’t wait for winter. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

How many days til Christmas? 266? Ugghhhhh…

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Viking

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Hey, I am Viking, one of the strongest wheel dogs in the yard.

What?

I don’t look like a sled dog?

I have heard that a million times.

They always make fun of me.

I am an Alaskan Husky! Like everybody else in the yard. Just because I look like a Lab…

Anyways, I am even keeled. Not much that bothers me. I like our new guy. He always gives me a bit extra. I think it’s because I show my excitement, when the food arrives. Yep, I am a good eater. I have a thick fur. I am in good health. Life is good.

See my buddy Tiger in the background? We ran a lot together at the beginning of the season. He is blind! I have been very patient with him. He is so unruly at the start of each run. He barks and jerks as soon as he gets put on the gang line. Well he can’t see, so he thinks we are going to run any time now, even there is nobody in the sled yet. So, Tiger gets very anxious and that’s when he snaps at me, which our musher does not appreciate. So, for the last couple of weeks I have been running by myself. I like that. I have more space in the back and nobody is pulling the gang line sideways.

Viking

Last year I did bite another musher. I don’t actually remember why I snapped. Hey, it happened. Now they don’t let the kids getting close to me. Oh well. I have been good all year.

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Dogs and ponies

A day in a musher’s life

It is 6:30 o’clock in the morning. I don’t even need an alarm any more. Every day for the last 3 months we would get up the same time. A brief look out the window: A starry sky means long underwear, fresh snow on the ground calls for snow pants, horizontally flying ice pellets will be met by goggles and a face mask. Though before we leave the house a quick breakfast is in order. Nothing fancy, hot chocolate, bread and jam, sometimes an egg, yogurt, or fruit for variety.

Rubber boots, insulated pants, a long down jacket, mittens, goggles, face mask, hat?

Check!

Leatherman, knife, lighter?

Check!

And don’t forget the sunblock!

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Walking uphill to the kennel we are sometimes greeted by a howling wind out of the west. A few times we walked in a foot of fresh pow, more recently it is more like a dicey mix of rocks and ice… During the longest nights of winter it is pitch dark. Walking by the kennel we are greeted by some sentinel dogs, pacing outside their house, in any weather. The rest is asleep, staying out of the wind.

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It is now 7 o’clock. Time to take care of the dogs. Feed, scoop, harness and hook-up. Every musher has their own routine. I walk straight to the barn, grab an empty poop bucket and a shovel. While scooping some dogs greet me with wagging tails, other stay in their houses, watching me barely with one eye open…

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Then, when I come with the food bucket all hell brakes loose. Johnny Cash is the first one to spot me coming out of the feed room. A scoop or two for every dog. It’s all gone in about a minute. Some of my pooches don’t eat out of the metal can, some don’t like to eat in the morning, period.

Then there are some general chores mostly related to cleaning the feed room.

Around 9 o’clock our guest arrive. They get an introduction into the history of dog mushing and the story behind our kennel. Once they are dressed appropriately we greet and meet the dogs impatiently waiting for us. As soon as they see me arrive with guest in tow they start a storm: barking, jumping, and jerking on the gang line. Let’s go!

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We tuck some guest into our sleds, some will ride with a musher on the runners. As soon as I pull the snub line it all becomes quiet. My dogs put their head down and accelerate from 0 to 100 in a fraction of a second, if I let them.

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A 10 mile ride to the hot spring is ahead of us. The trail conditions are different every day. I bring different dogs every day. Except Clumber, my lead dog is almost there every day. Without him my life would be much more difficult. He always takes the right turns, keeps my team straight and is always happy to run. It takes us about 1.5 hours to travel 10 miles, with photo stops and little breathers.

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Once we arrive at the hot spring our guest go swimming for about an hour, then come back, have lunch. In the meantime the dogs rest. After lunch we head back to the kennel, mostly downhill. Going home the dogs run a bit faster. After returning to the kennel we say good-bye to our guest, and return the dogs to their houses.

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Another round of feeding, storing the sleds, some general chores and that was it, unless there is something to repair for the next day. Another 12 hour day comes to an end.

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Dogs and ponies, Into the Wild

Sir Ernest Shackelton

ShackeltonToday we celebrate the birthday of Ernest Shackelton, who was one of the heroic polar explorers. His expeditions may not have reached their ultimate goals, but he deserves our respect and admiration for unfaltering endurance and fine leadership under the most extreme conditions on Earth.

A friend of mine told me the story of Shackelton’s Nimrod expedition to the South Pole. It was the year of 1907, when Shackelton sailed from England to New Zealand and the Ross Sea. The plan was to drop 3 crews on Hut Point Peninsula. The ship would then sail back to New Zealand, to avoid getting trapped in the ice, and return one year later to pick up the explorers. All three groups had different missions and modes of transportation. Shackelton’s team was planning on using Siberian ponies to reach the geographic South Pole. Under the most adverse conditions they reached a point where they had to turn back, because of exhaustion, starvation, and frost bite. They came within 97 miles of the pole. They lost all of the ponies on their way, becoming life saving food sources.

Even with the occasional pony carcass on the way back the four men in Shackelton’s party lived for more than 14 days off tea, cocoa and a little pony maize. The agreed upon pick-up day was February 26.

“On February 27 Shackleton decided to leave Marshall and Adams behind while he and Wild took off for Hut Point.

When they arrived, they found a letter telling them that the Nimrod had picked up the magnetic pole party and would shelter near the glacier tongue until February 26. It was now February 28. After a bad night, they burned the magnetic hut and shortly thereafter the Nimrod appeared. By 11 am they were on board and three hours later Shackleton led a rescue party for Marshall and Adams. At 1 am on March 4, all were safe on board the Nimrod; they had walked 1700 miles.” [http://www.south-pole.com]

Imagine, they burned the hut, the only shelter they had, in a last ditch effort to send a smoke signal to the ship that was possibly already several days away!

This is just a glimpse in the courage and will of Sir Ernest Shackelton. He documented his adventures (in an understated British tone) in several books most notably “South: The Endurance Expedition to Antarctica”.

Let me finish with a Shackelton quote:

” We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”

You are a hero.

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Stage Stop: Finale

After eight days of racing we have a winner: Five-time Stage Stop champion, Blayne “Buddy” Streeper from Fort Nelson, BC, Canada, successfully defended his title with an overall time of 27 hours, 45 minutes and 28 seconds. Congratulations!

Thumbs up! Buddy Streeper wearing the yellow bib in Driggs, ID.

Thumbs up! Buddy Streeper wearing the yellow bib in Driggs, ID.

John Stewart from Draper, UT, came in close second, just a tad over 15 min behind the winner.

John Stewart cruising to a second place overall.

John Stewart cruising to a second place overall.

Third place goes to Bruce Magnusson from Michigan, 12 min behind the second place.

JR Anderson from Minnesota missed the podium by just a minute!

JR Anderson on his way up with the Tetons in the background.

JR Anderson on his way up with the Tetons in the background.

All 15 mushers that entered the 20th anniversary race finished. Well done! Find more information about the race here.

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