Friday, April 28, 2006

Harness Breaking

Today was the puppies first run in harness. We went about five miles with Ghost and Walnut in lead. Here they are back at the kennel after the run.

Happy puppies. Soot and Cinder together. Sox by herself in wheel.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Skijoring Again

Since I had no more races to train for, I thought it might be fun to take up skijoring again. Here is how it went with two-year-old Lithium, who has limited harness experience and no skijoring experience. She reminds me a lot of her mother Luna, who is a great leader, so I thought little Lithium might be a good skijoring candidate. It can't hurt to try, right?

What exactly do you want me to do?

I am supposed to move?

Like this?

Wrong side, huh. How about this side?

Okay, a little more forward maybe.

Ah, perfect. A natural leader.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sinking Snow Level

Today it snowed. This is not unusual. We have had many days of snow in April as well as some days of rain. Last week we even had a couple days of sun. That is unusual, and I got a wee bit sunburnt.

In spite of all the snowstorms, the snow level has been sinking. Here is an illustration. This picture was taken on April 3rd.

There is no trace of the five foot perimeter fence. It is completely buried. Now here is a picture that I took today.

Whaddaya know, I do have a fence.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Quantum and Comet

Yesterday Quantum and Comet went to a new home. They are joining a recreational team in Colorado and will train the other team dogs and the next generation of leaders as well as training the musher (we hope). Comet is an excellent command leader in a small team situation, and Quantum is a very reliable leader who just needs a little work on commands.

Comet does not pull hard enough for me at fast speeds although she is a very fast dog, and Quantum is a little too slow for my team, so neither dog was getting much opportunity to run anymore. Every sled dog deserves to have the fun of running, so this new home is going to be really great for them.

I am going to miss them. Comet was on my 6th place Race To The Sky team in 2003, and she gave me two litters of puppies. In addition, she is a very sweet, affectionate, and beautiful dog. Quantum was from the first litter that I bred, and he ran in Race To The Sky with hubby Mike in 2004. He is a very playful, fun loving dog.

Here they are together after a run at my place. Comet is the alert looking black one, and Quantum is tasting the snow.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Lincoln To Cain Ridge

I picked up my handler/husband Mike, and we continued running next to the highway through downtown Lincoln. This year there were not many spectators downtown. There was also not much snow, but my experienced leaders knew right where to go and stayed on the small strip that had not melted yet. We got through town and continued along the highway toward the Hi-Country Beef Jerky plant.

As we were nearing Hi-Country, we passed another team, and the musher hollered something about the trail, but I could not quite distinguish what he was saying. Just after passing him, my leader Fresca made a sharp turn and tried to head across a field as though there was something out there that she wanted to get to. I commanded her back into the ditch, but I was astounded because this was very unlike her, and most dogs do not like to go off a trail into the deep snow anyway. It turned out that the other musher was trying to tell us that we were off the trail, and Fresca had figured out that the proper trail had diverged and was now across the field from us. She had been trying to cut across to get to it. What a smart dog! To correct my mistake, we had to negotiate two right angle turns and run up a short section of plowed road. This was not without mishap as I tipped my sled and dumped my handler out and wrapped the team around a tree. Nonetheless, we got everything remedied without injury.

The route went right through the Hi-Country parking lot, past lots of spectators, along a small ridge, and then down through a culvert under the highway. Upon exiting the culvert, I dropped Mike off and continued on alone. I was still feeling shaken from the difficulty at Hi-Country, and the next stretch of trail involved some tricky navigating on and around local roads. However, the trail was well marked, and Ghost and Fresca were superb at following my commands as they crossed roads, turned onto roads, got off roads, or angled onto narrow trails with never a foot wrong. Eventually we left the settled area, and there were no more roads to worry about.

At first the snow was very thin. We were traveling across sections of grass in addition to snow. There were a number of tiny creek crossings, and pine branches had been put down to make temporary bridges. I suspect snow had also been shoveled on top of the branches, but there was little left by the time I got to them. My dogs really looked askance at the pine branches, but because the creek crossings were not visible until the last minute, we would dip down and be out on the branches before the dogs had a chance to balk.

As the trail started to climb a little higher and the snow got a little deeper, I decided it was time to take Ghost out of lead. I put him in wheel where it would be easiest to load him in the sled when the time came, and I put Luna up front with Fresca. Luna was also running slow, but unlike Ghost, her gait was perfectly normal. She is my best command leader, and this section of the race really requires leaders that will follow commands without question.

We had a very enjoyable run through this scenic part of the trail. Luna and Fresca were slow but steady, and they followed the various turns in the trail without needing any guidance from me. There was one road crossing that involved a steep drop down a five foot bank. We negotiated that with no trouble but heard later that a number of teams had turned down the plowed road instead of shooting right across as they were supposed to. In previous years, this had been a big trouble spot, and I was relieved that they had routed the trail more sensibly this year. Every year the sportsmanship award seems to involve some musher helping other mushers at this particular spot, and this year was no exception.

With less than ten miles left to the next checkpoint, the trail dumped us onto a plowed road for a short distance before turning abruptly off the road and climbing some steep hills. Luna and Fresca gleefully took us up the bank off the road - something we had done a lot during training as there are a number of road crossings with more or less steep banks on our training trails. Before climbing the first hill, I decided to pick up Ghost. He was beginning to tire, and I knew the extra weight would not be a problem for my team. In fact, I was having to ride the brake anyway in order to keep the faster team dogs from overrunning my slower leaders.

With Ghost safely tucked into the sled bag, we climbed the hills, went around some sharp corners, and negotiated some open, drifted areas. Ghost seemed a little restless, so I opened the sled bag to let him stick his head out. He took a long look forward up the team and then gave me a look that told me as plain as could be that he had decided to stay in the bag and enjoy the ride. I petted him, and he never took another look at the trail. I was sad, knowing that this would be his last race, but I was glad for the chance to spend a little quiet time with him in these last few miles to the checkpoint.

At Cain Ridge I put Ghost back into the team so that he could have his food and water with everyone else before being dropped. I also took a quick dash inside to use the restroom and get a bite to eat. Actually, I was not very hungry, so I merely looked over the food to see if there was anything I couldn't resist (there wasn't). Then there was a bit of a discussion with the head vet about Ghost - she couldn't find anything wrong with him, but I was sure there was. Finally, I watched my handler lead him away toward the truck while I packed up my sled with all the necessary gear for the next leg of the trail. My planned short stop had stretched out to almost an hour, but it was still light enough to see the trail without a headlamp. I strapped my headlight on, knowing that it would be dark very soon, and off we went.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Restart At Lincoln

Getting from Deerlodge to Lincoln was done by truck, but not until after a mandatory dinner and meet the public event in Deerlodge. Then there was a pretty bad blizzard that we had to drive through, so we got to the host family in Lincoln fairly late. The host family program in Lincoln was new this year, and we scored a really great family out in the country.

The next morning we weren't moving too swiftly due to lack of sleep. The race officials wanted us in the staging area by 10 AM, and we were about 15 minutes late. Never mind that the start wasn't until noon, and because of my bib number, I would not be starting until 1 PM. The officials wanted me there at 10 AM, by golly, not a minute later, so I was penalized. They would tack on 5 minutes to my mandatory rest at the Whitetail checkpoint.

When I had unloaded the dogs that morning, Ghost had come out on three legs and seemed to have a sore wrist. There was no swelling, but he was reluctant to put weight on it, so I decided to have a vet look at him to help me decide if I should drop him. I had already massaged it with algyval (a race-approved liniment) first thing in the morning. My handler, Kit, went to look for a vet and returned with a woman that we had never seen before. We never learned her full name, but we heard others call her MJ. She quickly proclaimed that Ghost's wrist was still swollen and that she thought he had arthritis. What the heck?!? The wrist never had been swollen and was definitely not swollen at that moment. He had full flexion, which is simply not possible if there is any swelling. Luckily, the vet who had examined Ghost the day before happened by. That vet declared that the joint felt nice and soft and that he could find no evidence of pain or tenderness anywhere in the joint. As I trotted Ghost around, all signs of a limp had completely disappeared. The vet suggested there was no reason not to take him.

I decided to take Ghost as planned, but I was also prepared to carry him in the sled for most of the leg if necessary. After all, I still did not know what had been wrong with him the day before. I had fitted him into a different harness, but I had my doubts that that would fix him. Twelve dogs is a lot of dogpower, though, so the thought of carrying Ghost did not bother me in the least, especially this early in the race when the dogs were still fresh and energetic.

I put pink ointment and booties on three of the dogs - Breaker, Raisin, and Almond - who had some web splits in their feet, and I also booted an odd foot here and there on two or three of the other dogs. A couple young kids happened by and wanted really bad to help with something, so I let them take a few of the friendliest dogs to the line. Ghost and Fresca went up front for the honor of leading me out of Lincoln.

The Lincoln start involved carrying a passenger for a few miles as a fundraiser. They said it was eight miles, but it seemed shorter. I guess I must have enjoyed it as much as the passenger! We wound around a scenic, hilly section, crossed a stream or two, and had the occasional panoramic view. I know we passed a team or two, but I wasn't paying much attention to that. Instead I was concerned with keeping my foot on the brake so that the team would not overrun Ghost in the lead. While his gait looked okay, he was running much slower than normal, right from the start. He is one of my best command leaders, though, so I really didn't care about the speed as long as I gave my passenger a good ride.

My passenger was having a good time and was very interested in how the dogs seemed to know what they were doing with only voice commands and very few of those. All too soon we were descending down to the highway by a gravel pit and then running in the ditch back to the starting line at the Lincoln High School. That was where I had to drop off my passenger and pick up my handler for the next part of the trail that went right through downtown Lincoln.