Friday, January 26, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I don't know whose truck this is. I saw it on the Quest last year, and then again last weekend at the CB 300. I can't help but smile every time I see a dog poking through. It's seriously one of the cutest things I've ever seen. I think those dogs look like they have an idea of how cute they're being.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Me at the beginning of the race with the lead dogs before all hell breaks loose. The start of any race is hard because the dogs need to be lead to the starting line, and they are rarin' to go at this point so it's not easy to control them. You get as many people as possible to help lead them, preferably one person for every dog. (This is how I met Susane at Dawson during the Quest...begging her and her daughter to grab a dog!) This race was easier because they attach a snowmachine behind the sled so the dogs are much more under control, as opposed to it just being the musher stomping on his brake as hard as he can, with little effect. Also the distance between the parking lot and the start was literally across the street..sometimes it's several blocks away and you have to literally sprint the whole time with your arm being yanked out (as Susane can attest to)! Plus there's only 12 dogs as opposed to 16. Still there's pressure to get to the start on time or your musher loses precious minutes. They leave in 2 minute intervals. The second pic shows how many people were involved in this process. Everyone is so happy to help and in the spirit. Some of these people are other musher's handlers--they help until everyone is off and then take off for the next checkpoint. And these people are not just holding the dogs, they kiss them, talk to them and calm them. I've really never met a group of people more willing and happy to help out than volunteers at a race! It's such an exciting and upbeat environment which continues throughout the race, even with the lack of sleep! On a side note, regarding my fashion choices, I misplaced one of my gloves before the race and found these orange striped ones at Fred Meyers for 59 cents! Perfect. And I am happy to have black Bunny Boots. Bunny Boots are heavily insulated on the bottom and look huge and ridiculous, but they're slightly less silly in black than in the usual white. I was given these as "payment" from a musher I helped on a long run two winters ago and they're priceless! I'm also wearing my ever-present cap with sheepskin flaps--again, a ridiculous look that I couldn't live without!
Thursday, January 18, 2007
John arrived at Wolverine checkpoint before dark. This was the first time I was able to take pics of the team in motion because they were always arriving and leaving in the dark, which is not hard to do in the winter in Alaska! John only had 30 minutes mandatory rest for the dogs left, which is why he didn't bother putting down straw. He just fed them and they took a quick nap and they were off again. The dogs seem to understand that checkpoints equal rest and they waste no time getting to sleep. All of the activity around them (other teams coming and going, snowmachines, etc.) does not seem to bother them at all The pic below is John getting the team lined out to take off again. The weather was getting worse.
Zoya and John have the kind of dog truck I love where all the dogs are inside together and facing each other, as opposed to being seperate and facing outside. I swear the dogs are calmer traveling this way and they just can't wait to jump into their boxes. Here is John doing some pre-race prep with the pups in the truck.
This is right after Zoya arrived in Paxson after a nine hour run from Chistochina. Her leg had been banged up by a tree stump on the trail and her legs were soaking wet from overflow but first things first, she made sure the dogs had straw and food. I like how the dogs are looking at her in this pic, anticipating a delicious snack.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The race was grueling due to blizzard conditions which created deep snow for the dogs to slog through. John came in third and unfortunately Zoya made the decision to scratch with 100 miles left in the race. She was not alone--out of 26 mushers, 13 scratched including top Quest and Iditarod mushers. Even though she scratched, Zoya gained invaluable experience from running 200 miles of a race as tough as this one. I have to now catch up on sleep...handling for two people is tricky in that there's always something to do, be it waiting for your musher to come into a checkpoint or picking up after him/her after they leave a check point. And then of course there's driving the dog truck to the next checkpoint, usually in the middle of the night, and caring for the three dropped dogs that traveled with me in the truck. I can't complain--the mushers have it worse by far but sleep deprivation is definitely a big part of race handling! But so is meeting amazing people from all over and learning so much about dogs. More later!
Friday, January 12, 2007
I'm headed to Glenallen to be the race handler for a husband and wife who are both running the Copper Basin 300--John Schandelmeir and Zoya deNure. I spent a month at their place in Paxson last April and I really can't say enough good things about them as people and dog lovers. They race competitively with many second chance dogs, dogs that have behavioral issues for a myriad of reasons--or just weren't fast enough--or whatever random reasons people have--and are dumped at the shelter. They have the patience and passion to bring these dogs around to being happy and healthy competitors. Zoya left a lucrative modeling career to live off the grid as a dog musher--a pretty huge change. I've heard John refered to as a "dog whisperer" and have learned a great deal from them both about treating dogs as individuals with kindness and respect, hard work and the crucial importance of a good cup of coffee! John will be running the Yukon Quest in February and Zoya will be a rookie in this year's Iditarod. I'm looking forward to helping them out since I can't do the Quest this year (that takes three weeks and I gotta work!) This should be a fun couple of days and will take me to places in AK I haven't been yet, like Chistochina--I've never even heard of it! The weather is supposed to be in the zeros--super warm, yeah! Anyway, check out Zoya's blog for updates at www.dogsleddenali.blogspot.com!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
SusanE was surprised that I rarely use my engine block heater. The even bigger shocker is that I didn't own studded tires until a few days ago! Two years ago I drove up to AK from Los Angeles in December (and even found a rider to accompany me from Craig's List--that's a whole other story!) I picked up snow tires on the way in Oregon, which I sold when I got to AK because it was such a mild winter and I didn't feel that I needed them. Last winter was generally easy as well, but this winter it's been snowing like crazy. The Anchorage paper said it's the fourth snowiest winter on record. That still probably wouldn't have motivated me to get tires--I'm one of those people in the slow lane on icy days on the Glenn Highway going 45MPH --there's a whole line of us usually--but I actually got a TICKET for going too slow! And it's no joke--$110 and 4 points! I'm actually going to try to fight it, as I was going 40 MPH on Jan. 3rd which was basically whiteout weather in Wasilla. It's not like I was going 15MPH! Unfortunately, I was on the Palmer-Wasilla highway, which is only a two laner, and I had a line of cars behind me a mile long, according to the officer. I still don't think I should be penalized for driving safely in terrible winter weather but it did motivate me to get some beautiful new studded tires. I'll bring the receipt for the tires to my court date to show that I did do something to improve the situation after the fact, maybe that will help. The officer didn't say I should have sped up, he merely said I should have pulled over. Easier said than done in foggy icy weather! If you live in this state you know that there are ditched and totaled cars all over the place during a winter storm. The officer actually warned me that many Palmer drivers are easily brought to road rage and I don't want to get blown away by one of them, which I found amusing. Anyway, I know the studs will, if nothing else, improve my winter driving confidence. And for a good price, too! Johnson wanted almost $500 but I found them in a smaller, less known place for $380. Just in time, too--I'm driving to Wasilla tomorrow to be a handler for the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race. The road from Anchorage to Glenallen is extremely curvy and there's lots of cliffs so I'm happy to have the studs! About the pics--I especially enjoy the trees during winter--the improbably curvy ones, the tiny ones bursting from the snow and the stumps with precarious piles of snow on top!
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
It's -22F now at noon in Wasilla. My truck did not want to start this morning and required 25 minutes to warm up. I got my engine block warming system put in last February when I had to leave my truck in Fairbanks for three weeks for the Yukon Quest. I whined at the time about the cost and the fact that I would never need it again. But I'm actually going to plug my truck in tonight! I've got to find an extension cord. I'm not complaining...it's Alaska, after all! Here is a pic of me on the "highway" between Nome and White Mountain. Another surreal icy landscape.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
I thought I would post a few more pics of the Mendenhall Glaicer from the view of a helicopter. From the airport lifting off you have the typical glacier view of the town of Juneau with the glacier in the background. As you get closer, you notice the stark difference between the green, grassy mountains and the whiteness beyond. Higher up the glacier, there's no way to tell that its the middle of summer! And then out of nowhere, this little "City" shows up, 12 miles in. It's very surreal and beautiful. In the last pic with the dogs if you look closely you can see a tiny red helicopter, they are coming and going all day to drop off tourists. It gives you a sense of the scale of the mountains surrounding the camp. In that same picture there are piles of snow at the base of the mountain. Those are avalanche piles--there are avalanches going off constantly, and you get used to the constant rumbling. Getting buried definitely crossed my mind once or twice!
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Before a dog sled trip out of Coldfoot, we had to camp for a few days to wait for conditions to be right. You can't go to a motel with sixteen dogs. But winter camping is warm and cozy with Arctic Oven tents, which allows the proper ventilation with a stove inside the tent. Besides the tent and stove, the most crucial part of winter camping is to always have a dog in your bed.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Thursday, January 04, 2007
farthest north truckstop
If you want to eat in Coldfoot, this is the only place to do it. And there isn't another place for hours in each direction. There is one rule however: see that table with the guys in the cafe? This is the Truckers Table and it's for truckers ONLY. It doesn't matter what time of day or night, it's always reserved for the guys who drive the treacherous Dalton Highway back and forth from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks. The bathroom is back there, too, and its a little intimidating to walk by that table but the guys are nice.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Another cool Alaskan experience
Not much time today cause it's back to work but I realize I haven't posted any pictures of working on the glacier. Last summer when I was done with the Black Oystercatcher project I worked as a sled dog handler for Alaska Icefield Expeditions. This entailed living 12 miles up Mendenhall Glacier six days a week. I will post more pics including some of the helicopter ride in to the camp but here's a quick one of the camp and the insane scenery. Pretty desolate but obviously an incredible experience! More info is at www.akdogtour.com. If you are ever in Juneau with a day to spare during the summer, this is the thing to do!