Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wind, Ice and Snow

Yesterday was windy, windy, windy. Today was only half as windy. It rained last night, and everything was covered with a thick coating of ice this morning. The puppies had fun breaking the ice off the wire fencing and chewing on it.

The puppies have been outside for several days now. They were getting too big and active to stay inside.

The wind and snow the last two days caused huge drifts. It was hard work to dig out the gates, and one of them is still filled in with over two feet of snow. The warm temperatures have made the snow very dense and heavy, too. The trails are in excellent shape, though. The dogs are having no trouble pulling me at high speeds through the soft new snow. The irrigation ditch filled in with drifting snow, so that is one less headache for the moment. The small creek at the far end of the Stamp Meadow trail was still open, however. The dogs actually seemed to delight in taking me through the water, scorning the tiny snow bridge that was available. It snowed all day, so I came home quite wet from today's run. As of right now, it is still above freezing.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve

This being practically Christmas, I was in a relaxed mood in the morning, so I did not get chores and important stuff like breakfast done soon enough to run two teams of dogs, so I only ran one team over the 20 mile Stamp Meadow trail. I had Ghost and Luna in lead, and they made short work of crossing the open irrigation ditch. Ghost loves water crossings. He tends to get hot and enjoys splashing through the water. There was also a water crossing at the far end of Stamp Meadow road, and even though there was a bypass over a snow bridge, Ghost insisted on sticking to the main trail that went through the water. The water was shallow, so I did not really get my feet wet, but the sharp dip down into the creek and then steeply up the far bank threatened to toss me right off the runners.

I was very pleased with the speed and enthusiasm of the dogs. I am behind in mileage from what most people would be doing by this time of the year, but since the dogs are covering the distance at about 12 mph, they are well prepared for doing longer miles next month.

This picture was taken in my backyard, looking west toward Sawtelle Mountain. This is the mountain that I see as I go out the trail across the fields.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Icy Trail

It cooled down just enough overnight to cover everything with an icy glaze. All the holes where I punched through yesterday have been memorialized, like making a mold in concrete. Here is a picture of my dogyard, taken from an upstairs window, looking south. The trees in the far distance mark Island Park Village, a mile and a half away. The trail heads west from my property, so it is not visible in this picture.

I took a team for a 20 mile run today. I was planning to do the 15 mile Sawtelle loop, but I judged it to be too dangerous under these icy conditions, so I did the Stamp Meadow Trail instead. The dogs were crazy excited about the hard trail conditions and ran way too fast for my comfort. They were pelting me in the face with ice balls, kicked up by their feet. They had a great run, but I could hardly see the trail as I had to hold a hand up to protect my face. Next time I will remember to wear safety glasses.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Punchy Snow

It was spitting rain all day today with the temperature up in the mid to high 30s. My nice, hard packed trail from the house to the kennel turned punchy. That means I was punching through to about a foot deep on every second or third step. Even the dogs were punching through. The wind was blowing the rain every which way and thoroughly soaking everything.

Dogs can get injured by running on punchy snow, so I used that as an excuse not to run today. Yeah, that was it, I was protecting the dogs. Everyone knows that the dogs' welfare comes first. So if I had to sit inside next to the wood stove all day, it was all for the sake of the dogs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Open Water

I never expected the weather to warm up this much until March! It was all the way up into the 40s today. I ran two teams around the Sawtelle loop. Just a half a mile from my house, in the middle of the field, an irrigation ditch meanders across our path. Today it was running water as far as I could see with no snow bridges crossing it. Fortunately, it is quite narrow, so the sled can bridge it without getting my feet wet. The dogs had to put a foot or two in the water, though, and they didn't like that, besides the fact that it was a steep step down and then back up. They don't like anything that breaks up their rhythm that drastically.

Further along the trail where it follows a powerline, there is a low spot that was very glaciated today, meaning a bunch of water flowed over the surface and then froze. The dogs handled that just fine. We also got rained on and went through some low clouds and fog. In other words, it was perfect training for the Race To The Sky, which we will be doing in February. At the last Race To The Sky, it poured down rain for a whole day and a night during the race.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sawtelle Trail

Today I ran a team around the Sawtelle Trail for the first time. This trail can be made into a loop of about 15 miles, and I am very tired of doing nothing but out-and-back. There is a locked gate on this trail with a steep bypass that threatens to dump you into open water below, so I stayed with my 6-dog team for safety. It turns out that the gate was opened just today, but I was glad, nonetheless, for my small team since they still wanted to take the bypass. It seems that whoever unlocked the gate didn't really go through it, so there was no track for the dogs to follow. It took a little convincing to get them to just go straight ahead through the gate and pick up the packed trail a few yards beyond. Silly dogs.

I had my good command leader, Fresca, in lead with Switch. Switch did a really good job of following Fresca's lead, and she did a great job of keeping the team strung out. Switch is my fastest dog, but she does not always pull as hard as I would like. She pulled real well today, though. Her best buddy, Breaker, got a break from leading today and followed just behind in the middle of the team. Breaker's daughters Raisin, Almond, and Walnut rounded out the team. It was an all girl, mostly-in-heat team today.

The Sawtelle trail is a beautiful, wooded, hilly, winding trail. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so did the dogs. The weather was very warm, close to freezing. I will run the second 6-dog team around the loop tomorrow.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Wind Chill

Windy and cold are the words for today. Mike finally put up the wind gauge and temperature sensor for his weather station, so now I have wind chill information at my fingertips. The low wind chill for today was 38 below zero, and the average ran around 20 to 30 below all day. The actual air temperature hovered near zero. When I woke up in the early morning, I could hear the wind howling, so I knew I was in for a cold one. I was tempted to stay inside all day, but nooooo, I had dogs to train and chores to do.

I did my first run with Voltage and Charge in lead, and Voltage set a scintillating pace. My face was cold, my hands were cold ... if I wasn't so pleased with the dogs' performance, I might have wished them to run slower to create less of a wind chill. Today I bumped the mileage up to 13 miles, and they averaged a little over 12 mph. An extra 12 mph wind in addition to the 20 or 30 below wind chill makes for a wind chill of ... well ... I don't even like to think about it. But I survived! The dogs stopped panting the minute we stopped, and that is very unusual in my experience, so it was even cold for them. I noticed a couple of them picking their feet up as though they thought the snow was cold, too.

The second run featured Ghost and Gravity in lead. I am still running 6-dog teams, so I have to make two runs to get the 12 main dogs out. I am also running two alternates, so I actually need to run three teams to get everybody out. I do not have a loop trail available at the distances I am running, so I go out a certain distance and then turn around and come back. Turning a large team around like that can cause big, snarly, dangerous tangles, so that is why I am still running 6-dog teams. The second team seemed a little slower to me, but the overall time showed that their average speed was the same as the first team.

I was extra glad to be done with my chores and get inside this evening. The house dogs seem super glad to be inside as well. I have the wood stove blazing and plenty of wood stacked nearby. I am going to snuggle under my electric blanket, and listen to the wind in total comfort. Ha!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dog Food

We get our dog food by the ton. That is the only way we can get it delivered since we are so far away from all the distributors. A ton of food lasts about two months in the summer, but in these colder months, I will be lucky to have it last more than a month. As you might guess, paying for a ton at a time is our biggest challenge. This week we faced the additional challenge of getting it to our house when our driveway had not been plowed for over a week. We ended up bringing it from the road to our house on a sled pulled by a snowmobile. It sure is nice to have a shed full of dog food!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Okay, it's not much warmer, but it is above zero. We got some more snow today, so the trails are covered, but it is the soft fluffy stuff that I can kick away from the gates, so it is not too much trouble yet. It sure was nice to have a dry week when I did not have to dig the gates out every few hours.

The trails are drifted, so I put my two steady leaders, Fresca and Luna, in front of the team to break trail. Because of the blowing snow, I took the day off from running my main teams, and I took out four youngsters instead. Thunder, Hail, Rain, and Foggy all loved the outing and did a good job of following my old leaders down a trail the youngsters had never seen before. We went six miles, and they were eager and happy the whole way.

The little puppies are getting some time outside since the weather warmed up. They are more comfortable with the cold each day. When they first went outside, they just shivered and looked lost. Now they play for quite a while before huddling up. The one who is least suited for the cold is Sox. She has a shorter coat and seems to get cold feet. Comet's puppies have thick, furry coats, like little Malamutes.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


It got down to 30 below last night. Now it is supposed to start warming up. By next week, we will have lows that are above zero. That will seem very pleasant. I am burning wood like crazy, but it looks like I still have an ample supply.

I had a great run with a 6-dog team of veterans led by my old standbys Fresca and Luna. Then I took out Holly's puppies for their first ever time pulling a sled. It was partly great and partly comical. They were so eager that they had a tendency to tangle at every hiccup by the leaders and every bump in the trail. In retrospect, I should have chosen harder driving leaders who would have kept them strung out and less tangle prone. I used Amtrak and Olive in lead. They did okay, but not great enough for these super talented pups. I am running six miles, which the dogs are covering with speed and enthusiasm, so I think this is a good distance for now.

Comet's puppies are six weeks old today. Three of them have blue eyes, so this means that Amtrak cannot be the father. The possible candidates are Blackberry and Raspberry, who broke a lot of chains all summer. They are Holly's puppies, so they are super dogs with super pedigrees. Abba's puppy, Sox, also has blue eyes, but we know the daddy is Helium, so blue eyes were expected. Abba has been nursing four puppies (her own plus three of Comet's) while Comet has been nursing three, yet Comet is still much thinner than Abba.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


It got down to 21 below last night with moderate wind. The wind seemed to have died down this morning, and it was a beautiful sunny day but never got above 2 degrees, Fahrenheit. Lots of wood got eaten up by the wood stove. It seems the whole day gets planned around coming in at suitable intervals to feed the wood stove.

I decided to bite the bullet and run larger teams today. Yup, I ran a whole two dogs more. Twice. Six dogs have a lot more power than four dogs, so they go a whole lot faster, too. The trail from yesterday was still visible although somewhat soft and drifted. The first team had Charge and Breaker in lead. These two are littermates, but Breaker is small and Charge is large. They have the same enthusiasm and powerful lope, though. Charge followed his exact trail from yesterday even though it sometimes deviated slightly from a firmer snowmobile track that overlayed it. Silly guy. Nevertheless, the two extra dogs made it easy for the sled to bust through the drifts and the soft spots. Hydrogen and Helium got picked for their first time ever pulling a sled, and Switch and Current rounded out the team.

The run was over so fast that I had ample time to take a second team out and still nip inside to load more wood in the stove. The second team featured Ghost and Walnut in lead. Ghost is one of my best and oldest leaders, but at 9 years old, he needs to be training replacements for himself. Walnut is a 3 year old daughter of Ghost, and she has been very solid and enthusiastic in lead. The rest of the team consisted of Gravity, Coconut, Cinnamon and Nutmeg. They also had a great run, and I was surprised to find the sun still well up when we got back. How nice to still have ample daylight left for feeding.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


We have hit the deep freeze. Yesterday and all last night was a howling blizzard. I had to get up in the middle of the night to replenish the wood stove for fear that it would burn out and get cold before morning. The low was about five below, but who knows what the wind chill was. Today was merely windy rather than super freaking miserable windy. It only got up to four above, and it is supposed to go down to 20 or 25 below tonight.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and I only had to dig out the kennel gates once. The wind was drifting the trail over - slowly - but not filling in the gates. Hurray. I took out two four-dog teams. The first team had to break trail, but they did a wonderful job of following right where the trail was a couple days ago. I had Fresca and Charge in lead, so they clearly remembered where we had been. I put Ghost and Gravity, father and son, in wheel for their first run of the winter. The second team had Luna and Switch in lead, and all they had to do was follow the tracks from the first team. In wheel were littermates and best friends Almond and Raisin, who were very happy to finally be chosen for a run.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Breaking Trail

It was not as much work to shovel the gates today since the temperature had dropped, and the new snow was light and fluffy. I tramped out a path for the dogs to run on, but that darned wind just drifted it right over again. I took out a four dog team, putting Luna and Charge in lead and Voltage and Phase in wheel. An all white team today; maybe not the best for visibility with weekend snowmobile traffic.

Just getting off the property was a hard slog for the dogs. I actually had to help by stepping off the runners a couple times. Of course, I sank real deep and had a tough time regaining the runners. We crossed the ditch and got up onto the road which was windswept and hard packed. Down the road a short distance and then through an open gate into the fields. At that point I had snowshoed a path through a fence line and up onto a dike that is well traveled, windswept and packed. Unfortunately, a snowmobile had recently cut through my snowshoe trail, and the dogs followed the newer trail and missed the turn up onto the dike. That was bad because the snowmobile had gone right up the line of the deepest, softest snow, and my four dogs were really floundering.

I am continually amazed at the incredible ability of these dogs. In spite of the small team, the deep snow, and the difficulty of pulling a sled that was sinking and plowing up snow, we made steady forward progress. Once we got to the far end of the field, the trail was smooth and hard through the trees, and the rest of the run was wonderful. Charge did really great. I think Luna is getting tired of having to make decisions in lead, so I will probably give her a break from leading.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Deep Snow

It snowed a significant amount overnight. I went out to do the morning chores, and Holy Cow, the snow is deep! I could not get the gates open. Had to dig and kick at the snow to get them open enough to get in to feed the dogs. In fact, I had to do the chores on snowshoes because it would have been way too much work to get around the dogyard without them. The wind is blowing like gangbusters, and everything drifts over in jig time. When I got done feeding, there was no trace of my path back to the house. The temperature stayed very warm all night and all day, so this is a dense, heavy snow.

Later in the afternoon, as I was digging out all the gates again, I discovered that a couple of the doghouses were completely buried. It was easy enough to pull them out and set them on top of the snow, but poor Ghost, who uses his house constantly, was shivering and looking miserable. And no wonder ... his house had not only been buried, but the inside had completely filled up with snow. Poor guy.

I snowshoed out to the trail and packed the various paths in the yard, but I don't know what good it will do since the wind continues to drift things over, and the snow continues to fall. I did not run today. I was too worn out.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Today I rode a snowmobile. It is not one of my favorite occupations. Especially not as a passenger. However, I wanted to see this one trail with Mike before I tried it with dogs. It turns out to be an incredibly scenic route, and Mike assures me it has even better views on a sunny day instead of the blowing snow we had today. I can't wait to run it with the dogs, but the snowmobile was reading 17 miles, which is a bit farther than the dogs are ready for yet. We did a certain amount of backtracking in a confusing spot, so the real mileage is a little less, but still too far for the dogs. There were a couple creek crossings, but they will probably be completely snowed under and frozen by the time I get back there. No problem in any case as the dogs can easily jump across.

After returning from that trail, Mike took off by himself to explore another trail, and I hooked up a four dog team and headed out behind him. I put Olive and Switch in lead since they had both been skijoring with me. Nevertheless, Switch wanted to follow our old ATV route. Olive is not one to impose her will on another, so I stopped the team to give them a chance to think about it. Olive kept looking in the correct direction, and Switch finally figured out where I wanted her to go. After that, the run was flawless. I had Breaker and Current in wheel for a team of all girls.

They were crazy happy and fast for three or four miles. Then I turned them around, and we went slightly slower back home. Olive and Breaker were just happy to be out running, but I think Switch and Current were ecstatic to be hooked up with a team and not out all by themselves with me on skis.

We had quite a blizzard coming back that last mile across the open fields. This is probably going to be a common scenario all winter. Luckily, the two trail options at the far side of the fields both run largely through the trees, so they are more sheltered. I just hunkered down and endured that last mile in the open, knowing that the dogs would unerringly stick to the trail and get me home. It was a really nice run, overall, and I warmed up as soon as we got to the kennel and I could face away from the wind.