Thursday, June 29, 2006

From on top of the glacier

Dog camp on the glacier

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mushers can sing too?

Life here in Juneau is still wonderful. We went through a little bit of a wet spell, I mean downright raining for days, but that is kind of what I expected here in Juneau. However that last couple days have been absolutely gorgeous!

We still haven't been in full swing with our tours, but we had a little taste of of it today. I think by the middle of next week we will be completely slammed. This ground operation is new so we have to make a name for ourselves with the "shore x's". Those are the people on the cruise ships that sell and schedule tours for the passengers. Different cruise lines have sent their shore x's to our tour so that they know what they are selling. I had the Holland American X's and I guess they were completely impressed. The Alaska icefield Expedition Sales Head said they really enjoyed themselves.

It has been intersting to apply my entertaining skills that I have learned from 20 years (gosh I hate that number) of serving and bartending, to my dogs, but I am really starting to get the hang of it. Its all such a show, but what a wonderful show it is. Its great to be able to spread my love of mushing to everyone. There are a couple of those that say, "Oh the poor dogs" and turn up their noses but I'm even starting to firgure out how to impress them too. I like the really enthusiastic ones the best. In fact just today I think I have permenantly planted the dream in the head of a 10 year old boy. He was determined to take one of the puppies home to start his own dog team. In fact I pushed it a little further, telling his parents how my parents had always supported my dream and look now I came all the way from new Jersey and I am living the life I dreamed. They were pretty excited about it too. I bet I'll see him somewhere on the race trail in 10 years!

We still have had some time to play. I am really getting to know everyone at camp. We have so much fun. One day we went out and played capture the flag in the pouring rain. It was a blast! We were running aroung the forest and the old gold mine buildings. It was pretty intense. Another day we played soccer up on our heilcopter landing pad which sits above camp. We got pretty competitive, though my team had an advantage between my previous coaching skills and Amanda's past soccer playing.

I have begun running down to the sheep creek trail head and back, which is about 3 miles. But the trip back is straight up and switch backs so I can only run about half of the way now and have to briskly walk the other. Sarah, Sean and I have all been practicing so by the end of the summer we will be able to run the whole thing.I think Matt is going to start running too. Everyone else thinks we are insane running up the side of a mountain. We keep trying to explain how much we like it but they aren't buying it.

Last weekend I met the lead musher from the glacier. His name is Johnny and he is running Sebastian Schenuelle's dogs. We went hiking around a really cool old growth forest. The trees had to have been 6 or 7 feet in diameter. There also were some twisted hemlocks. For some reason the grow in a spiral and look like they are made of a bunch of twisted cords. It was raining pretty hard so we went down town. I went to a bar and sang kareoke to prove to him that he should sing too because who cares, everyone else in the bar is probably from a cruise ship and we would never see them again. So in the middle of my song that I was completely belting out, and everyone in the bar was screaming and cheering I look up and who is sitting there but Jay Ramras. For those of that don't know him he was my boss for 4 years at Pike's Landing Restaurant in Fairbanks. He still owns Pike's but he is now also a legislator here in Juneau. So after the song he goes out of his way to say "Hi Abbie" and asks what I am doing in Juneau, like he ever cared what ws was doing before! He made sure that every person in that bar knew that he knew me. Probaly because a group of very attractive blond women were all over me telling me how great I was, I see he hasn't changed much! So much for my stranger theory for singing Kareoke.

So Juneau has kind of won me over with is ever changing tide of people that come in and drown the city and go back out to sea again. It makes it so everything is festive all the time. Even though I still feel like King Kong attacking Juneau when I drive my huge dog truck through the narrow streets of Juneau I am getting pretty comfortable. I still would rather spend my time in mountains or on the beach, which is what I will be doing today. I am going to drive all the way up to Bridget Point, where the road ends North of Juneau about 40 miles. I think we will hike around the point and camp out on the beach again, ahh the good life. Cosmos loves to try to bite the waves and its a great place for him to play fetch

Emily, Matt, and Forrest on the cart

Cosmos in Town

Dog Cart

Along the Morraine Trail

Mendenhall Glacier

The Dog Camp From Above

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My 1st day off and more from camp

On my last day off I went to the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier. Cosmos and I hiked the Morraine Trail, which was extra beautiful due to the fact that it was misting out and the trail goes through the green and mossy lowlands. The mist and moss seemed to mute the edges of everything. It was like walking in watercolor. Then we went down town. I wanted to get some flower identification books because it is a completely different eco-system here in South east Alaska so I don't know the wildflowers here very well. I also heard there was a good bagel shop downtown so I wanted to buy some to take back to camp because 1. I am a bagel and coffee addict when it comes to breakfast and 2. Our camp cook really isn't very good. So at least I have another option when he makes us "light as lead" pancakes, oatmeal cement or mystery eggs ( so named because they usually have something leftover from the night before in them such as rice and pasta). Anyways the nice thing about downtown is that they let you bring your dog into many of the places. So I stopped at a bar that is open to the street and sat with Cosmos on the stool next to me and had some awesome tacos and a Alaskan Pale Ale (which is brewed here in Juneau) Everybody stopped and said hi to Cosmos . Infact anywhere we walked downtown people want ed to stop and pet Cosmos. It is funny because Matt brought some books to camp about Gold Rush Dogs so we could study up for the tourist. There was a Bull terrier named "Patsy Ann" who would hang around Juneau and great all the steam ship passengers when it docked. So Cosmos is just upholding the tradition.

After I had my fill of town, which didn't take long. I drove about 25 miles north of Juneau to Eagle Beach. There Cosmos and I went hiking along the beach and spent the night there. Sleeping right on the beach listening to the seagulls and the waves,

Life at camp just keeps getting better and better. We finally have most of the set up done. We have two carts now and expect 2 more. The carts are unlike anything I have ever seen before. Matt still laughs ever time he sees one of the carts go off on a run. I compare them to something out of a Hanna Barbara cartoon. The carts are stripped down Honda car chassis. The musher sits high up in the back on a boat seat and steers with a regular steering wheel. In front the are 3 rows of seats for the passengers, for a total of 8 passengers. There is a little hood on the front and a windshield. One is named Raven and the second Orca. The 2 others will be Puffin and Mad Jack ( named for the mechanic who built them). I have been deemed the camp artist even thought there are a couple other people with talent. So I painted the Orca to look like an Orca with the black top and white bottom. I also have been studying South West Native Tribal Art so I have designed logos in that style for the Orca and the Raven. I'm still working on the others.I painted them on the hoods of each.

Tours have begun thought we are still slow. Its a pretty easy job honestly. The handler seems to do most of the work. I have to entertain tourists, I take them through our historical and race tents in the fake Gold Rush Town and talk about mushing then I walk them to the cart where the handler has all the dogs hooked up and I drive the team around our trail. When the ride is over I take the tourists to pet the puppies and the handler puts all the dogs back to their houses. What a difference from the way things usually are at my kennel where I do almost all of the work! I'm going to be one spoiled musher come fall!

We were assigned handlers while I was gone on my last day off, I got the best one! Her name is Emily and she is from Talkeetna, Alaska. She is 16 years old and Matt and Sara's neighbor. She has her own team of Siberian Huskies at home so she is very experienced. Not to mention she is really a smart and sweet kid, a real hard worker, and a devout Christian, so she always has a positive attitude. And she is really into training the dogs, where as some of the other handlers are just into doing their job. She takes extra time to work with some of my dogs with problems such as shyness or line chewing. The bad news is that she leaves at the end of June and a different handler takes over for her, so who knows who I will get next. Emily is also my roommate along with the photographer, Caelyn. We definitely are the tent that has the most fun. Many nights we lie in our sleeping bags giggling about all kinds of things while the other tents "shhh!" us. We always answer with a good ole Waltons stye, "Good night John Boy."

Being that we are still slow we have had a lot of time "extra-curricular" activities. I am by far the most exploritive (is that a word?) of the group. They always make fun of me when I come back, "What did you discover this time Abbie?"

For example I had been looking from camp for sometime down to the valley where a HUGE cottonwood tree grows in the center. I kept thinking, " What a perfect place to sit and read." The branches are huge and spread wide so that there is a moss covered saddle. So one day I spent 2.5 hours cutting a trail through the thick Alaskan Brambles to get to it. It was even cooler than I thought, it is hollow inside. 3 people could fit inside the trunk. However I couldn't climb so I ran back to camp so I could build a rope ladder to get up to the saddle. Then I convinced the tallest one at camp, Sean to climb up it and tie the rope ladder around it. It's been deemed Abbie's tree but everyone goes down there now for quiet time. It is soft and perfectly formed like it grew just that way for people to enjoy reading or writing in it. One day I took all the girls down to it to see ( all of them except for Emily are scared to go very far out of camp because of bears.) We wandered off past the tree to see actually how far it was from the Sheep Creek trail which runs next to camp. On the way we found a huge little meadow full of chocolate lilies, buttercups and violets. We spent the day laying amongst the flowers. We made jokes that this was strickly a "faerie meadow" And no boys were allowed. It seems we have regressed slightly at camp. Weather it be climbing trees or being faeries.

We all climbed to the top of the Sheep Creek trail which goes the top of Mount Roberts on the back side. Eventually we want to try to make it over to the tram that goes to the top of the otherside from downtown. We were way above tree line and there is still a lot of snow up there. So we will have to wait a couple months for that adventure. It was fun though "skiing" on the snow on our boats. We would post hole up a ways and then slide down. I was laughing so hard I was crying.

I still get out by myself. I keep picking waterfalls that a raging down the sides of the mountain from camp and then trying to get up next to them. It is amazing sitting up on a rock watching the water rage into snow canyons while the fog creeps in from the channel. This valley is pure nirvana. Words cannot describe how nice it is.

I picked fiddleheads the other day for everyone to try. Fiddle heads are young fern sprout. The are tender and remind me a little of asparagus. I lightly breaded them and made a garlic Aioli to dip them in. Everyone loved them. But that could be just because it was nice to have some food the "cook" didn't make. Everybody likes it when the cook has a day off because then Emily and Amanda cook usually, and they both are great cooks. In fact he cook is so disorganized that usually someone jumps in to help. It is amazing how much other everyone else does the cooks job for him. I usually refuse to because I have a problem in that the cook gets paid more than the handlers and they are out busting their butts all day while he sits in the kitchen and reads his book. Then it is a huge task to make even a simple meal like Sloppy Joes. He can never make a meal on time or organize everything so that every thing is done at once. And usually there isn't enough made for everyone. But hey! If that's the only complaint I have here life is pretty good. I certainly not starving, its just I wish Emily could get paid more.

The dogs are so happy here. They get so much more attention then they would if I were back in Fairbanks working. I think we are going to have a real nice race season. My "sun pups" that turn 1 year old June 18th are getting some great training. Matt has some puppies here that are 6 weeks old. I think I am going to take the male. The are from excellent breeding, plus it will be nice to get a new line in my kennel. Even though I think they are related to Comet somewhere back.

Pictures on the drive down to JUNEAU

Chilkat Lake, where I dropped the dogs just before getting on the ferry in Haines

The dogs running free by Takhanni River in the Haines Pass

Home Sweet Home

Dropping the Dogs near Takhanni River

Sheep Creek Dog Camp

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cosmic Canines Arrive in Travel to Juneau

We left Fairbanks at 1:30 am on Friday the 12th. 29 sled dog, Cosmos the Jack Russell and everything I need for the summer. They trip was okay but it was foggy, for the first half which is a bummer because it is such a beautiful drive. The stress, anticipation, and the fact that it was the wee hours of the morning got to me so I had to stop a couple times for a power nap. The trip was pretty uneventful except the couple times I had to stop and drop the dogs. It is quite a chore getting 29 dogs in and out of a dogs box that sits in the bed of the truck . I am lucky in that I can let my dogs free but the dogs I borrowed from Jason I had to hook up around the truck except for Rocky who is a good boy and will stick around.
On one of my stops on the border town of Beaver Creek I lost Venus. Its sometimes hard to keep track of everydog when you are watching 22 free dogs. So I went to load the dogs back up and I am wondering where is Venus??? I called and called and she was nowhere. Finally I went inside the the restaurant and asked. Now keep in mind that Beaver Creek is a Canadian town so everybody is pretty laid back, eh?
I ask the woman who is working as the clerk the waitress and the cook, "Has anyone come in to tell you they found a white dog?"
She looks at me puzzled, "Your white dog?"
Now I am puzzled, "Yes."
Oo....kay. So I go back outside and look some more. There is a hitchhiker hanging outside waiting for his ride to get up from taking a nap. I put ou some food and water for Venus and ask him to come inside to get me if she comes back.
I have lunch inside and no one has come in to report a found dog. Now I am gettting really worried, I have to meet the ferry in Haines so I can't hang out for ever. I go back outside and look some more. I walk way down a trail behind the lodge....still no sign. I go back inside and ask the woman behind the counter if she has heard any word yet.
"Has anyone seen my dog yet?"
" Is this the dog from a little while ago or a long time ago?"
" Um....has ayone seen ANY dog?"
" Oh, yeah a white dog came into the kitchen a while ago but we let it back outside."
What?!? Now I feel like Abbie in Wonderland talking to some cryptical prankster tortoise. I go back outside completely frustrated. I am on the verge of tears. I go over to the truck and look inside at the dogs. I find myself doing this often when I am upset or confused, its like I am looking to them for answers. Even stranger is thats usually how I find them too. I look up at the one the top cubbies, I see a white face with a little pink nose, its Venus!!! She is looking at me , "Can we go yet? Don't we have a ferry to catch.
So now I am happy again, off we head done the Alcan Highway, radio blaring, one happy little travelling kennel.
The trip is cloudy, which is kind of a let down because it is such a beautiful drive through the Kluane Mountains. It really is one of my favorite places on earth. Instead it is blowing and snowing until we get to Haines Junction where we turn South toward Haines. The sun pops out and the mountains tower around us. How beautiful! One particular place we stop is gorgeous. Way up in the mountains near the Takhanni River. The dogs run around and play in the patches of snow and the river. The sun is out and life is good.
As we drop down into Haines the first thing I notice is that the trees are huge. No more interior scraggly black spruce but big towering Old growth white spruce. The road follows the river and reminds me of Valdez in a way. The town is is cute little fishing town I stop at the Pioneer Bar to have some real fresh Halibut fish and chips and a celebratory beer. The locals are very friendly and it doesn't take lond for me to make friends. Infact I had to turn down some free beers and an invite to the other bar or else I wouls be a little tipsy getting onto the ferry. The ferry leaves at 2:15am so I go down to the end of the road to a little lake called Chilkoot lake to drop the dogs one more time before we load onto the ferry. We watch the sunset and is beautiful as it reflects pastel colors unto to lake contrasted by the silouettes of mountains that hold it.
I drive back to the ferry terminal and check in. While we are wating to load one of the attendents comes over and asks if I could please put out my wood stove in my camper. He thought thats what my exhaust pipe that runs up along the side of my dog box is! I explain to him that my exhaust is set up that way so I don't suffocate my dogs with carbon monoxide. By the time we get on the ferry I am exhausted. So I go up to the observation deck, which is outside and lay down on one of the lounge chairs. There I fall to sleep basking in the full moon that comes up over the mountains and seems to like a path on the ocean for us to follow.
I wake up to the intercom announcing that we have arrived in Juneau. The sun is up and I am excited. as I dirve the truck off the ferry I am greeted by a guy in a black sweatshirt with the Alaska Icefield Expedition logo on it. He tells me to follow him. We drive off to Temsco Helicopter Airport which acts a base office for AIE. There I drop all the dogs and we wait for instrcution from AIE. I need an escort to get up the road that leads to our camp, but no one knows who is going to do it. I later find out that to work for AIE you need to learn to go with the flow. Everything is dependent on weather, helicopter landings, cruise ship arrivals, and dogs, so that is to say everything can change in a moments notice. I talk to the guy who met me, he came up from Wyoming with his wife and the other 4 mushers that will be at the Sheep Creek camp with me. They all work for Frank Teasley who is a competitive Iditarod musher and runs a major tour kennel. They all came up in a modified school bus, 100 dogs 5 people, one of them 8 months pregnant, and one cat. That sounded like quite the trip.
While we are waiting one of the mushers who will be working on the glacier arrives, her name is Emily and she is running one of my favorite writers dogs, Gary Paulsen. She is really sweet and we play fetch with Cosmos and her lab husky mix. Finally a group of trucks comes down to the airport and they tell Emily that she has to get ready to take her dogs up to the Glacier, now! Her dogs are being kept up at the camp that I will be at so they decide that I should just drive her up to get her dogs and her truck. We drive through down town Juneau to get there. It is a quaint little tourist town, every little shop has a clever name, because everything is set up to accomodate the cruise ships. When these cruise ships come in the tower over the town making it seem smaller than it realy is. The whole atmosphere reminds me of Martha's Vineyard or Rehobeth Beach. We reach teh road that leads up to the camp. Which is about 4 miles south of town.
"Wow it looks like hobbits should live up here!" I exclaim as we turn onto the road that leads to camp. The bottom portion of the road is the home of the AJ Mine Tour. There are old mine buildings and equipment dotting the whole way up the road. We keep getting higher and higher, until we are far above where you can look out and see the ocean. There are a couple nasty switchbacks. It is a narrow one lnae raod and you definately don't want to meet some one coming the other way as that it is prety dangerous to back up with the huge dropoffs on the side off the road, so every trip up and down has to be planned. Especially with the bus tours for the mine that happen periodically during the day, that combined with the fact that AIE bearly got the permit to use the Sheep Creek Mine and the road make for everybody extra careful about their road use.
The higher we climb the more excited I get. The road finally ends up in a little valley nestled high up in the mountains.


Its like a dream come true! Mountains shoot up on either side, the tops are snow covered and there are waterfalls raging down everylittle ridge. And in the back is the biggest one Completely snow covered with a little glacier at the bottom. There tucked in this pardise is 150 dogs houses, four wall tents (one of which that will be my new home), a little fake gold rush town, and a big shop which is left from the mine and will be our kitchen, living area, showers and laundry.
Everyone gathers to help Emily load her dogs into her dog truck. Then I unload mine to their new homes. Its nice to get them permanently out of the truck. I meet all the other memeber of the Sheep Creek Camp, or Gold Rush Tours.
Matt Hayashida the head of the camp. An Idtarod musher who used to work for both Frank Teasley and Martin Buser. Then there is the 3 other mushers that came up from Wyoming in bus. Each of them is running a team of Franks Dogs. There is Amanda who is 24 outdoor education major. She has been mushing for a couple of years for Frank. She is an boastful and aggressive woman. A little crude and definately a tomboy. She is the one who brought the cat to camp. We get along but don't realy click. Then there is Dustin and Kym who are 21 and 23, a couple who also work for Frank. They are vegetarians, which ends up being very hard for them being that it is so expensive to eat that way in Alaska. We are cooked for but the company certainly doesn't cater to special diets.Remember I too was a vegetarian when I first came up to Alaska. It took less than 2 summers at fish camp for me to change my lifestyle. They don't ever seem very happy up here. I think Alaska is a little to "wild" for them. They are from somewhere in California originally and I think life is alot different there for them. Then there is Sean, one of the handlers and who is by far the most interesting memeber of the camp. He is from Texas, and recently graduated with a Economics Degree. But he has been inspired by writers such as Jack Kerouac and Hemingway to travel the world. He just wants to do as many exciting things as possible. I guess he finnally received an email that the camp was a go and he got the job and 2 days later he is calling Matt from Seattle telling Matt to meet him at the Juneau airport in a couple days! His next adventure is travelling by car with his friend who will be graduating with a law degree down to South America. He has absolutely no dog experience though so he has a lot to learn here.
Matt tells me to take iteasy for the day and to go into Juneau and check things out.
Juneau is divided into to basic parts. Downtown, and the valley (for the Mendenhall Valley). Downtown is the pretty front for the town all the cutesy gift shops, bars and restaurants. The mouantins in Juneau come right to the edge of the ocean. So the town is built in a small space. The streets are what I whould expect San Fransisco to look like in that the are steep city streets. The cruise ships dock right there next to it all and almost dwarf it in a way. Across the inlet or straight is Douglas Island. Which I hope to cross the bridge over to soon.
The Valley is more for locals in that there are grocery, and hardware store, and even a Costco. Everything the layout of the streeets, and the layout in the stores in Juneau seem cramped and choatic. Like everyone was just trying to stick everything where ever they could find a space. I buy a couple things and head back up to camp.
Life is good! What a perfect heaven this is as I fall asleep in my sleeping bag with Cosmos tucked deep down inside. It gets pretty cool at night so having him certainly is a bonus. We are finally at our destination for for our summer adventure.