Monday, October 01, 2012

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Fall has been good to the Cosmic Canines. We are enjoying our fall training; building our miles, working out the kinks, and waiting impatiently for snow. Yesterday I was woke to snow falling, and a nice little dusting on the ground. It had melted away by mid-afternoon, but it made for a beautiful morning run. Each blade of golden grass and every willow branch held up a tiny line of powder. It was cool to watch the snow and leaves kick up under the team’s feet and disappear. It was slightly foggy so everything seemed diffused, almost like winter was gently going to arrive soon. However, any seasoned Alaska Interior resident knows that this is deceitful and in fact winter is rarely gentle. So the neighborhood was up in a bustle, cleaning up their yards before it all disappears under not a dusting, but a thick blanket of the white stuff.

Of course it just excites us. I am getting close to being ready. I have wood cut, split, and stacked. And some fuel in the tank. The freezers are getting full of meat for both dogs and humans. Soon I’ll be able to turn them off. Just a few repairs to my barn and repairing the 4 wheel drive in my truck and I should be good to go.

I love to watch the progression of the team this time of year. For a little over a month the dogs have been living off of moose scraps and fish. It’s perfect timing. As the dogs get in shape I am “jacking them up” on high protein, high fat food. They eat wild meat and it brings out the little savage in them. Their coats get shiny, their muscles get bulkier, and frankly, they get cockier too. 

Its starts in late August when everyone realizes that they have no room in their freezers for their anticipated moose they plan to shoot during hunting season. Not to mention, the mystery Ziploc labeled “Steak 2009” will probably never be eaten not only because it is freezer burnt, but also because they have no idea just what kind of steak it is anymore. Well, the Cosmic Canines don’t really care about either, so the back of my truck stays open in the parking lot at work, ready for any drop offs. People come by the Lodge; grab a beer and say, “Hey Abbie cleaned out my freezer today.” “Thanks, throw it in my truck.”

Once hunting season starts, then the moose scraps start coming in. I pick up loads of moose fat and sinew, bones, anything. I cook it in a large wood fired pot. Many mushers have these “dog pots” and they like to poke fun at me at the lodge, saying, “Don’t make her angry, have you ever watched “Deadwood”? Remember Mr. Woo?” I cook up the scraps in boiling water until it falls off the bones. Before I throw the bones in I’ll crack them open with an axe so that the marrow seeps out as they cook.
This is also the time the fish wheels are catching the chum runs. This year was an exceptional year so there was lots of fish around, however it was also an awfully warm fall. That means all the fish needed to be split and dried or it will spoil and get wormy. I like the split fish, but I prefer to feed cribbed fish. It has been just too warm to do so until just recently. Basically I take the fish and stack it carefully so that it actually partially rots. I don’t want to get wormy, but I do want it to get good and stinky. So it has been a little bit of a stress wondering if I was going to miss out on fish all together because I was waiting for the temps. I made a trip down to Nenana and bad luck would have it the day the river rose so high everyone pulled out their wheels. So I came home with no fish and directions to come back later.

Then I was to have a friend go back down to Nenana and pick up some for me, but he called back to report there wasn’t enough. So I thought I had really screwed up. Ironically enough that same day my friend Courtney was headed down to Anchorage for an interview. About 200 miles north of the city she came to a 2 mile section of road covered in fish. Yes, fish all over the road…..only in Alaska. I guess a truck full of fish from Nenana was over loaded and spilled fish all over the place, and lucky me, my friend just happened to run through it. And let me stress how good of friend. Not only did she stop to pick up over a hundred fish for me, but she also put it in the back of her brand new car. I mean not-even-had-it- a-week car. So thanks to good friends and a God with a good sense of humor, I got my fish. Can’t help but quote the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (how appropriate for the Cosmic Canines) right now. “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

Friday, June 08, 2012

Running free

I have been running some of the trails around Husky Homestead. I still hope to run the Equinox Marathon in September. Here are some of the views along the way. Sometimes I bring the pups along but usually its just me and Cosmos and the big wide world.

The new "kid" on the block.

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This little guy was born on Tuesday. He is Pallas' first kid.
It is amazing how they are able to walk in just a matter of minutes.
At 3 days old he is already jumping and kicking around.
Any ideas for a name? He also will need a home in about 3 months.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Epiphanies and mountain tops.

And I'm packing my bags for the misty mountains, where the spirits go now, over the hills, where the spirits fly!  Led Zeppelin 

Well its been a while since I last posted....again. I'm not going to promise to be more committed to my online journal, but realise that I have made it a goal to post more frequently.

I will say this....lots of exciting things are happening with the Cosmic Canines! We have an awesome summer ahead of us. For those who don't already know, we have relocated for the summer to Denali Park. I am pretty excited about this because it is not only one of the most beautiful places is in the world, but it is also one of the places in Alaska I haven't had a chance to experience and explore yet.

Shortly after the Yukon Quest I received an email from Jeff King inquiring if I would like to come work for the summer at his Husky Homestead Tour, located near Denali Park. At the time I had no intentions of returning to the sled dog tourism business, but this was not because I didn't enjoy it. The 4 summers I spent working for Dan and Chris Turner in Juneau doing dog sled tours were some of the most fun and memorible summers of my whole life. You really can't beat getting paid to do what you love.....hanging out with dogs! But Juneau is far away from my home in Two Rivers, I wanted to focus a little on some home projects and such. I hadn't even seen my newly purchased home in the summer yet. So after 4 great seasons I decided to move on and stay the summer in Two Rivers.

Denali Park however isn't a 12 hour drive and a 6 hour ferry ride away, it is just a quick 2 1/2 hours away from Two Rivers. Jeff also offered me a conveinent schedule of 10 days on/ 4 days off, totally doable to maintain, shall we say, 2 different lives at once. I have to admit after a long hard winter I was looking for a change. Plus how could I pass up an opportunity to work for the winningest dog musher in the world. Surely I could learn something this summer, get paid to do what I love, and still have time to go home and keep improving my house. Sounded like a winning combination in itself!

Funny how things work out. I have always felt blessed with a well marked trail through life. Perhaps some of trail markers along the way were in a "x" formation (in sled dog racing, when there is a dangerous section ahead on the trail the trail markers are set in an "x" to warn the musher of upcoming obstacles). I have survived those obstacles, with perhaps some minor bruises, but also with knowledge and experiences I feel there was a neccassary reason I was due to learn. There has never been a question of which trail I should take. So many people wander in life in a metaphorical "whiteout" of direction. They are searching for guidance. Searching for a trail marker. I have been lucky enough that just when I thought I lost the trail, I see that next trail marker pops up off in the distance.

Before I started the Yukon Quest this year, I had definately lost the trail. I remember having a conversation with my good friend Jodi Bailey about my situation. I told her, " As silly as this sounds, I want to do well in the Quest, but really I am looking for an epiphany out there."

Well the Quest ended be just that, but it wasn't quite what I expected. Though the scenery, travelling during a full moon, and  night after night of by far the most amazing northern lights display I have ever seen made for a spiritual race. I thought an epiphany would be the mental equivalent of lights and angels bursting out of heaven heralded by trumpets playing epic music. But come to find out it was more of a sigh, or more of an "Oh!"  I don't even know if I could pinpoint the one exact moment that it happened at all. It was as if I looked back after a while and realised that in fact I had had an epiphany. 

And when you get your priorities and your soul straight good things come parading in! Working at Husky Homestead was just one of those opportunites that followed my "epiphany." I think its going to be a great  summer and an even better race season this year. I won't get too anxious for snow yet though. I'm going to enjoy the fun here in Denali for now!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Some pics of the team

The Team at the start of the CB 300, 
picture by Theresa Daily

Big Dude

Lady, the best leader ever!


Well.....HERE WE GO! The Cosmic Canines are in their final week of preparation for the 2012 Yukon Quest. Most of the hard work is done, we are just packing and tying up a few loose ends. We cannot wait for the start this Saturday in downtown Fairbanks!

Let me tell you this has been one of the toughest winters in my whole entire life. If I continue to channel that drive and perseverance that got me through this winter during the Yukon Quest, we will have a great race. 

This has been the coldest and snowiest winter Interior Alaska has  had in years. November was the 3rd coldest in history, and January was the 2nd coldest. We had 52 below a few times in November, and in January the temperature never got above 0 except one day. We hit a new record low at my house two mornings straight, 62 below. What does that mean for us? When temps are that cold it takes twice as much food to keep a dog team healthy, that means our food budget was wiped out way before we anticipated. Also its hard on all the equipment.. When we drove to our Vet Check the temp was 60 below. Now my truck is in the shop getting the broken exhaust fixed. The race dogs have been living in the house for a few weeks now. That's 14 sled dogs in a 12 by 20 cabin!

We have endured being flat out broke, totalling my truck, losing two race dogs that were hit by a car the week before the race, a 2 week bout with bronchitis, running a race that was cancelled a third of the way (I was counting on some of that purse money), and a relationship on the rocks. But that didn't stop us! When you dream, you dream BIG. And you never give up!

I cannot honestly claim to have endured all of this by myself. First of all. I have to thank my dogs. This is by far the best dog team I have ever driven. Every time I felt like throwing in the towel, I would think about losing the opportunity to drive this team in the Yukon Quest and I just couldn't give that up.

Then there is my family. My parents taught my brother and I how to dream and how to work hard. Goals will not be just handed to you. If you try and fail, try again. I cannot tell you how many times I called my parents in tears this winter. Their support of me in the hard times, and their pride in the good, helped get me through it all.

I also have the best friends in the world. From loaning me dogs to donations to them cheering me on, they were always there. Two Rivers is a great community that stands behind their own. There is always someone who will bail you out when you're in trouble. Who will listen when you need an ear. And will definitely give you advice, whether you want it or not!

Even though its been a tough go, I would like to thank Jay Cadzow. This is his bloodline I am driving. I have tapped every ounce of 40 years of knowledge about driving dogs that I could from him. He has the best eye for dogs I have ever seen. He also knows how to keep dogs at their prime health even when you have nothing. I have tried to absorb all of this and learn. I feel I have grown as a musher more in the last 2 years than I have in 15 years of mushing. I have learned "old school" techniques and ideas that few in the world still remember. Though our cultural and ethical differences has made this relationship a battle, I cannot claim honestly that I did not gain anything out of it.

Lastly and certainly not least I would like to thank our sponsors. Economically this has been a hard year for us. I am just a bartender. I make good money but I am supporting 2 people, 30 dogs, 2 goats, and a mule on my own. I could get another job but that would take time away from training dogs. I am not alone. Individuals, businesses, and race organizations are all suffering. Gas is expensive, dog food costs twice as much as it did a few years ago. If it were not for my sponsors, this Quest would have been impossible. They believe in me and decided to join our team. I would like to recognize my awesome list of supporters.

Tom Schulz
Wes Madden Real Estate
Heike Feidler-Phelps
Peter West and Susan Hyman-West
Sarah West
Peterson Technologies
Two Rivers Lodge
Dew Claw Kennels
Iron Pearl Kennels
My anonymous sponsor superlady! You know who you are!
Lyle and Cindy Kirgan
Irish Jane and Paul Namtvedt
Mariska Wright
The Two Rivers Community
And everyone else that donated.

I will try to post again before the start. On the trail I won't be able to update, and though I have amazing handlers. They were chosen for their dog savvy and proficiency for logistics not their technological and social media skills. So maybe an update in Dawson and hopefully a recap at the end!

Hopefully we see you at the start!