Friday, April 29, 2011

The newest Cosmic Addition

Spring is in full swing here a Cosmic Canines Kennels! The snow is melting quickly, geese and cranes are flying over head, and we are busy cleaning up the winter’s gear. The trails are slushy and muddy so that puts us in limbo. Not enough snow for sledding and too much for free running with a four wheeler or a mountain bike.

 I have been hiking with the pups though. This litter has been nicknamed “the tribe” or “the savages.” They are a crazy little bunch of puppies. They are sorting out who’s the boss, which is a difficult position to step up to when there are 8 of them. They have left a path of destruction behind them; unfortunately they are quicker at finding newly exposed things that pop out of the melting snow than we are. Soon, I have to be the bad guy and put them on chains. However, they’ll still be able to “escape” on hiking trips.

Spring also means getting ready for the garden. I have so many starts in the house they seem to be taking over. It still freezes most nights, and we don’t have a wood stove in the greenhouse yet, so I can’t utilize it so far. I did score some nice grow lights at a garage sale last year though, so it’s a pretty nice setup. Everything is taking off nicely. I think I may have a surplus, but Two Rivers is good at swapping.

The most exciting news is the new addition to the Cosmic Caprines! Last year my friend Sarah gave me 2 Toggenburg/Alpine Goats, Pallas and Vesta*. I bred Pallas to a neighbor’s Toggenburg buck. And Voila! A little baby goat came to us yesterday. I can’t wait to start milking. I have to wait because the mother only produces colostrum the first few days, which is super important for the newborn kid. It is a girl, which is good. I wasn’t going to keep a male and I still want to expand our little herd. It is amazing that they can walk almost instantly, and within a couple hours, little one was kicking and bucking around some goat attitude!

Toggenburgs are the oldest breed of goat in the world. They are known for their heartiness and good milk production. They are perfect for our little arctic farm.

* Pallas and Vesta are large asteroids in the belt that orbits through our solar system. So keeping with the theme I will name the new little one Ceres. Ceres is the largest asteroid, and is spherical so it is actually considered a dwarf planet. Hopefully, though she is the smallest now, she will grow to be the largest. Ceres is named after the Roman goddess of growing plants, the harvest, and motherly love. Sounds perfect for this time of year!
Pallas is named after the Greek Goddess, Pallas Athena. Athena accidently kills her childhood friend Pallas, a nymph, daughter of Triton, while practicing the art of war. Pallas was about to strike Athena and Zeus, Athena’s father, intervenes. Athena takes advantage of Pallas while she is stunned by the blow and kills her. In mourning Athena then adopts her friend’s name.

Vesta is named after the Greek Virgin Goddess for hearth, home, and family. Ironically enough, Vesta the goat was supposed to also be bred last winter but circumstances were it didn’t work out. Vesta is the brightest asteroid in the sky and is the largest non-spherical body in our solar system.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Morning Ritual: Coffee and Puppies

It's hard to have a bad day when you start it off like this!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yukon Flats 300 (Part 3)


Anthony, a local sprint musher, rode on the runners with me down the road to where the trail drops onto the Yukon. Its quite the drop off, and the dogs can’t see where you mean them to go. So the race helped us make the turn being, it’s so hard to stop on the hard-packed road.

“Abbie! You can catch Josh, your dogs look way better. He’s only one hour ahead of you!”

One hour! Ha! Realistically I knew that was a lot of time to make up in two 36 mile runs. The only way that would happen is if some radical, race shaking event happened. But if something like that was to happen, Lord knows THIS would be the year for that. I thought about this year’s Quest, Fur Rondy, and Junior Iditarod. What have we learned this year? It ain’t over until ‘til the fat lady sings. I wasn’t going to roll over, but in all likelihood Josh was the champion.

Right now I had to get Lady out of Fort Yukon with out a snafu. We dropped onto the river and I called the team up. The jumble ice and the windblown sand bar, mixed with the glow of headlamp made it seem like we were crossing the surface of the moon. The dogs got excited and we cruised across the river quickly.

Well, that was easy. Nobody even seemed to care we just left Fort Yukon. Cool. Actually, they seemed to be moving nicely. The Yukon River is few miles across until you round a sharp corner into Eagle Slough. Just before we slipped out of sight I turned and looked back to see if I could see a headlamp heading across the river. All I could see was the glow of the village. I felt better but not confident. Ken could be not very far behind and I know he knows how to keep a dog team together so he can push at the end. It seems he’s always that guy your not really paying attention to and then there he is, top 5 in the Iditarod. I had a lot of experience chasing me down, so I knew I had to keep pushing.

We climbed up the steep bank off of slough. The trail then makes its way through the Birch Forest. The trail has little turns and hills through the trees and then it opens up into meadows or little lakes. Its actually quite beautiful. We follow the same trail in and out of Birch Creek. I thought how nice it would be to see it in the morning light on the way back.

The team really was coming together. You couldn’t tell they were 2/3 of the way through a 100 mile run. Or maybe you could, this team isn’t about the high end speed. We aren’t going to go down and win the Nenana Ice Classic Race. They are trained to move at the speed they can carry FOREVER. This team knows how to travel. There are moments when they rumble like a freight train, and there are moments that they seem to float across the snow. You might not see it, but you can feel it on the sled.

Every time the trail opened up I would turn back to look for Ken. I like to keep my headlamp off often so other mushers can’t see where we are at, but it was too dark. However when I would turn back I would cover my light with my hand so that if Ken was back there I wouldn’t instigate his team to try and catch me.

I had a few scares because the Northern Lights were so spectacular and bright, I thought at first glance it was the glow of his headlamp coming.

There is always that moment in a race that you think back and remember, that was when it all was perfect. This is the moment I will think about for this race. The dogs traveling like a silk ribbon down the trail, being chased down by Ken Anderson and the Northern Lights. Trail marker reflectors streaking by in the night. Dropping into the low lying river cold of Birch Creek. And pulling into the spinning airport light of the tiny village of Birch Creek.

Josh’s team again was well at rest, so I could tell I hadn’t gained any time worthy of being a threat to him. But I never caught a glimpse of Ken either.

The volunteers were very helpful and brought me hot water for dogs and coffee. I had to maximize this short rest. I personally do not like 2 hour rests. I know they help the dogs recover a little, but I’m still not convinced its not wasted time. Someone once said any rest under 4 hours is a waste. But in this race, and usually in other races, they are necessary to be competitive. I incorporate 2 hour rests in training runs often, I just kept reminding myself of this. Also the team was rolling, but I was still holding them back a little. I didn’t want to stove them up before resting them so short.

The dogs were bedded and fed. So I went inside. There really was no point in trying to sleep. Josh was resting but I could tell, not really getting any sleep. It was just as well because there was a lady named Mackey who entertained me by telling lots of stories about Jay and his mother, and all her Aunties, and all her Cousins. Every story began with, “Oh so and so, she is my mother’s uncle’s sister-in-law’s cousin….” or something of the sort. As she told these stories she threw in phrases like “I dig it” or “it was a trip man. ” It made the time go quickly.

Ken pulled into the checkpoint about 35 minutes after me. That made me nervous. I didn’t want 2nd place taken away in the last few miles like on the Two Rivers 200, but with only 35 minutes separating us, that certainly was a possibility. Ken also mentioned that he had turned down the “New Trail” at the overflow, and realized quickly that it was a bad idea so he turned around to that the “Overflow” route. So that meant he had wasted some time. How much? Is that the only reason I am still in front of him? I had my work cut out for me in the last 36 miles.

Birch Creek to Finish

All too quickly, it was time to go. I went out and got the dogs ready. They weren’t as perky as usual, but I could tell we were going to leave well. Jupiter was a little stiff, hopefully he would warm out of it. We took off into the night. There was just a hint of a sunrise on the horizon. It would be day light by the time we reached Fort Yukon.

I had a head on pass with Tom Lesatz, just outside of Birch Creek. He didn’t seem very positive.
“I had a mutiny Abbie. How far to Birch Creek?”
“Its just right there.”

Then on the other side of the spectrum I met Jodi Bailey about 20 minutes later.
“Whoo hoo! How far?” she called as she whizzed by.
I had to call back to her, “About half an hour!”

After the dogs warmed up completely, Jupiter did run out of his stiffness, I decided we better start moving. Who knows if and when Ken was going to pull up behind us. So every open area I would call the dogs up, then I would let them slow down and rest in the trees again.

They really looked great. It was a beautiful sunrise. It was a great morning! Next I had a head on with Hugh Neff and Jessie Holmes.
Hugh said, “He’s about an hour in front of you.”
“I don’t care about him, I’m worried about Ken behind me!”

It seemed a lot quicker going back then heading out. But then it always does. Sooner than expected we dropped onto Eagle Slough and the dogs really started to drive. We made the sharp turn out onto the Yukon and we cruised by our midnight moon landscape which had lost its eeriness in the morning light. Now I could see the water tanks and shacks on the banks of “the Fort” and no Ken in sight behind. The dogs seemed to skip across the river ice and up the bank. They did it!

There was a small crowd gathered, Jay, and of course Earl. I couldn’t believe he was still out there! Cosmic Canines, the 2 time Yukon Flats 300 2nd place winners. Even though Josh declared at the finish banquet that we could all come back and try to beat him, but it would be tough. Maybe 3rd time will be a charm for us.

The Team:
Lady       Grumpy
Sleepy     Sirius
BossMon  Jupiter
Mud        Big Dude
Dopey     Cloud

After the race

I want to thank Fort Yukon for being so hospitable. We stayed for the dances and the Sprint Race. I spent time with Jay’s daughter and granddaughter. It was a nice banquet. And although I didn’t want to leave, I had a wonderful run back to Circle. It was sunny and just the PERFECT spring day. And to top it off Circle served us some of the best Moose Stew, biscuits, and Salmon Salad I have ever had when were done. Thanks to you too!

This race has me anxious for the year to come. The up and coming pups combined with this group are going to be fun to drive. They’re solid, they’re happy, and know how to travel. I can’t wait to show ‘em off next year!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yukon Flats 300 (part 2 of now 3)

Circle to Fort Yukon

The hot sun really softened first 50 miles down the mighty Yukon River. The spectator and volunteer snow machine traffic didn’t help either but, I figured hey, we are all on the same trail. Sprint musher Clifton Carroll passed me not even 5 miles into the run. He was calling up the dogs and driving them like he had 30 miles to travel not 300. I wondered when his team would run out of gas. Sure enough about 40 miles later we caught the sprint dogs again. I honestly think that if the trail had been good the whole 80 miles, he would have smoked us all on the first run.
The Yukon is wide open and fully exposed to the sun. Sometimes you travel along a cut bank and get a little shade. I have only been up and down the river 5 times, but its enough times now that I recognize little landmarks. “We camped there once.“ “That’s where we set the fish net.“

I traveled with Ken Anderson and Tom Lesatz, most of the trip. At one point the trail was so bad Tom was making breast stroke movements with his arms. Making light of the wallowing dogs. We stopped a lot and changed booties often. I started running out of booties. I would pick up discarded booties from the mushers in front of us to check to see if I could use them. By the end of the run I could only keep all of the dogs back paws covered. If I could peg one mistake I made on this race, it would be I didn’t have enough booties and the ones I had, were used. I went through over 3 sets of booties during the first 40 miles! This is a race when I really could have benefited drawing an early bib number. But luck definitely is a huge factor in dog mushing. After 50 miles the sun went down and trail got nice and hard. Not to mention Lady realized she was getting close to home. We cruised that last 30 miles into Fort Yukon. I was in fourth after the first 80 miles.

Fort Yukon to Chalkyitsik

After a four hour rest we left FYU. It was early morning now, still dark but the sun was coming up soon. We were the 3rd team to leave. The mandatory rest for the race was 4 hours at FYU, 2 at Birch Creek , and 6 more musher’s choice. Ken chose to break his six up, add one extra hour to the 4 hour rest in FYU and then only stay 5 in Chalkyitsik. So that meant I wasn’t really in 3rd yet.

I caught Jessie Holmes in one of the portage trails right after the sun came up. The Portage Trails are probably the most fun part of the race. They are narrow and twisty. You have to “drive them like a ninja” according to Jay. You have to be quick to dodge over hanging willows and tree wells. Then the trail opens up onto a series of meadows, lakes, and sloughs until you arrive at Chalkyitsik 75 miles away.

It was mid afternoon now and the sun was beating down hot. Perfect for resting dogs, and mushers! We were warmly welcomed to the tiny village. Josh Cadzow’s team was already resting well, so clearly they had been there a while. It truly was his race to win. So I waited to see who would be next and how far behind they were. Tom Lesatz and Joel Swisher pulled in about 20 minutes later, so I had already gained on the seven minute lead I had on them. Next Ken pulled in, with the hour extra rest, that put him seven minutes behind me. I rested well and ate even better.

Chalkyitsik to Fort Yukon

Before I took off to leave some trail breakers mentioned about some nasty overflow ahead on the trail.
“We broke out a new trail that goes around it but it really soft.”
“How far out of the way?” I asked.
“About 3 miles.”
“How deep is the overflow?”
“I don’t know, I just gunned it.”

I decided that Josh is from here, I’m following wherever his sled tracks lead.

It was hot, the dogs were crawling. I just let them go their speed. I kept waiting for Ken to pull up behind. About 26 miles into the run I stopped to snack and change booties just after John Steven’s cabin, also known as Ni’chii Village, where the trail drops onto the Black River.
Sure enough here came Ken. We traveled together quite some time. He must have stopped at some point because soon he disappeared from view.

I came upon a sign, “New Trail” with an arrow pointing one way, “Overflow” with an arrow pointing the opposite. I saw Josh’s tracks going towards the overflow so I followed. Someone had broke a little trail to avoid the overflow, so there really was no trouble at all.

The trail firmed up with a little wind as we traveled down the Black River, over onto the Grass River and eventually onto the l2 mile portage, across 12 mile lake, where Pete Wallis had is camp. You might remember that from Velma Wallis; book “Raising Ourselves". Then Iver’s Bridge over the Sucker River and onto the Wood Cutting Road that leads into Fort Yukon.

One of our most difficult obstacles we would encounter was soon ahead. It is 70 miles from Chalkyitsik to Fort Yukon, and to stay competitive, we would have to pass through the checkpoint at FYU, and continue onto Birch Creek another 36 miles away. That is a 105 mile run, which is a long run, but not unheard of. However the dogs had stopped and had a nice rest last time we passed through so they might think that that is the game plan. That coupled with the fact that Lady used to live in Fort Yukon and probably thinks this is the end of the run, made me nervous about getting through Fort Yukon. Probably not as nervous as Josh was, stopping in “the Fort” is what his team has done a hundred of times, not a handful.

I stopped just after crossing the Sucker River, to give a big snack to the dogs and change booties. I gave them a good rest, because once we go past Fort Yukon , I wanted to keep rolling for quite a while. We took off again and approached quickly pulled into the checkpoint.

Earl Cadzow was waiting. Which, by the way, he did the whole race. That man sat out under the Yukon Flats 300 banner for at least 3 days! He asked, “Are you staying?”

“No! Just grabbing my drop bag and I’m outta here.”

I literally ran over to where my food drop bags were and ran the bag back to my sled. Terri Cadzow packed me a nice lunch, threw it in the sled, and I pulled the hook.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yukon Flats 300 (part one)

Spring has come to Alaska, it really is the best time of year here. The sun is reflecting on the winter’s snow making it so bright you gotta wear shades! The dogs are miled up and all the trails are in. Every village in the North takes their turn in celebrating. Fiddle dances, potlatches, ice fishing contests, and the crowning of the Village Princess all make up each community’s Annual Spring Carnival.

Of course at the center of all of the festivities are the dog races. Almost every community features a Sprint Race. Some add women’s, children’s, and some add longer distance races. Thanks to an idea contrived by Hugh Neff and Josh Cadzow, lots of hard work by families such as the Cadzows and the Carrolls, and some greats sponsors, the villages of Circle, Fort Yukon, Chalkyitsik, and Birch Creek get to add a World Class 300 Mile Race too.

This was the second running of the Chief David Salmon Memorial Yukon Flats 300 Sled Dog Race, and it was the second time the Cosmic Canines made the roster. Actually there was a little bit of déjà vu for us, it was our second run, both times with bib#7 and both times finishing 2nd place.

That made us something rare in this race, veterans. Hugh Neff and double rookie (the first. rookie finisher in both the 2011 Yukon Quest and Iditarod) Jodi Bailey came back to make their way around the land of the Gwich’in. Everyone else was attracted to the race for the first time for different reasons. Some to train pups, some for money, some to see new country. They all went home with all of that, and more.

There was a 12 dog limit, but I only had 10. Thanks to some recruits from Dew Claw and Iron Pearl Kennels. It was my goal to finish with all of those dogs. Sure enough the whole team made it around the track. The only other team to manage that was Ben Peter, running Chester Fields team. Not a race experienced musher but growing up in the Yukon Flats he was no stranger to driving dogs. Ben said he didn’t realize you could drop a dog. I guess one way to finish with all of your dogs!

The best thing was my team got stronger, as we went farther. By the end, we posted the fastest times on the last two runs. This is a good thing, keep in mind we are training for the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest. We still had 700 miles left in us, for sure!

What do I attribute this to? Training for fast recovery. Learning when to take your time and letting the dogs call the speed, even if it is slow. Knowing when to drive. Keeping your sled light. And reading dogs to know when to feed, when to let them rest first. Great breeding helps, but ya gotta run ‘em right too.