Saturday, January 27, 2007

See You In Two Weeks

I am about to head up north for the Canadian Challenge, so you won't hear from me for a while. It will take me two days to drive up there, and the race itself will take three or four days. I am so tired from all the training while still caring for the kennel all on my own that I am not so much looking forward to the race as looking forward to it being OVER. Hopefully I will get into the spirit once it starts, but right now I am just dreading running day and night with little or no sleep for days on end. Anyone else ever feel that way?

It is going to be pretty cold according to the forecast. If I am lucky, there won't be much wind, and I will be pretty comfortable. If there is a lot of wind, it will be like last year's race, which may have been their coldest ever. I was hoping for a warmer one this year; it just makes everything easier. It is hard to apply foot ointment in the cold, for example, and yet cold weather usually makes ointments more necessary.

This past week has been warmer, and the dogs seemed more sluggish but handled the long runs okay. We had some real picture postcard days with deep blue skies and no wind. Naturally, those were the days when I needed to rest the team. Today was sunny but cold and windy, and we did our last 50 mile run. The dogs now get to rest for four days while I pack the truck and drive, then go through vet checks and musher meetings.

See you all back here in two weeks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sore Back

I have a seriously sore back. Why, you ask? Well, it is all because of the weather. Until last week, I had not been putting any booties on the dogs. But then the rain followed by extreme cold made it necessary to start booting the dogs. In fact, a few of the dogs were developing splits in the webbing of their feet. It is important to put booties on those dogs so the splits can heal up and to boot the other dogs so they don't follow suit.

I did a series of long runs last week, and I had to bootie most of the dogs to insure that their feet stayed healthy. Longer miles are more likely to put the feet at risk from cold, icy snow, which is also churned into sharp crystals by snowmobiles. Putting booties on requires bending over and keeping a bent position while trying to hold on to a (possibly) struggling dog long enough to get the bootie over the toenails, which always want to spread out and impede progress, and get the velcro fastened with all the cloth nice and flat against the leg. Straightening up and changing position between front feet and back feet is also part of the process, at least for me. Even the dogs who don't need booties have to have their feet examined to be certain that they are still okay.

Dogs with splits in their feet need ointment to help them heal, so that is more bending over. Then add all the bending over just from harnessing the dogs and hooking them into the gangline and putting down food and water every day and putting more straw in the houses once in a while, and it all adds up to a very sore back. But I was doing okay until I had to start putting booties on the dogs, so it is really all the fault of the weather.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wind Chill

That was some blizzard! The second day was even worse than the first, with wind chills in the 50 to 60 below range much of the day. We hit a low wind chill of 70 below zero! (Fahrenheit) I had to be out in it to feed the dogs, of course, but no way was I going to run them. When the wind finally quit on the third day, the 22 below temperature felt heavenly.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


The weather has been terrible here. First we had warm weather and rain, then warm weather and wind, and now extreme cold, wind, and snow. Not a lot of snow, but then it is hard to tell with everything blowing around so fiercely. I was in the midst of trying to do a series of runs to simulate a race and get the dogs toughened up to the miles when I had to abort because of the blizzard. It wasn't the cold that scared me; it was the howling winds which create a whiteout and leave no trace of the trail. It is not too bad in the woods where the dogs can't get off the trail, but in the open areas, there is often no clue where to go, especially when you cannot see more than a few feet. The dogs are used to following a snowmobile track, so even though they may know the right direction, they will leave a blown in trail to search for a stray snowmobile track if it promises better footing. The snowmobilers around here like to spread out in all directions in the open areas, so that is why I cannot trust the dogs in these situations.

Today, they closed the highway which runs in front of our house. They do this when the winds create horrendous drifting and poor visibility. It was closed all day, but they did reopen it this evening. The temperature stayed below zero all day and should reach 25 below tonight. The wind chill was in the forty to fifty below range all day. We believe our wind gauge reads a little low because of the diminished air currents around the house, so who knows what the wind chill was out in the yard.

I went outside only to do the bare minimum of chores - mainly feeding the dogs. Unfortunately, I did discover a dog in distress. Little Lizzy, one of the purebred Siberians, was frozen into her doghouse. We had to bring the doghouse into the kitchen and turn some electric heaters on it for three hours before it thawed enough to release her. The rear leg that was stuck the worst felt like it was frozen solid; the foot was immovable, just like rigor mortis. Amazingly, when she came loose, she walked around perfectly normal with no sign of a frozen foot or a limp or anything. Nonetheless, she is spending the night inside in a crate.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Windy, Windy, Windy

We had such a blizzard today that I canceled my run. You could hardly see a thing, and trails were blown over within minutes, so I figured it would be crazy to try to buck that. Even the tow truck got stuck in its own driveway, which had drifted completely over. (The tow truck lives just behind us.)

That blue sky only made a brief appearance late in the day. It was snowing most of the day. I spent some time digging dog houses out and lifting them on top of the snow. One house was completely buried with just a tiny spot of blue to show me where it was. The dog who owned the house was sleeping out in the snow, and he was also buried and obviously cold, but coping. It was very rewarding to get his house out, put some fresh straw in, and watch him snuggle inside it. Some of the houses were filled with snow, and I had to use a small, sharp shovel to get the snow out so that a dog (and some straw) could fit in. It was too big a job to do the whole kennel in one day, so only half the dogs have fresh straw tonight. I will have to try to finish the job tomorrow. I hope the wind decreases because strawing the houses is a very nasty job in the wind.

In case you are wondering, the doghouses get buried because of the wind creating huge drifts, not because of the amount of snow falling from the sky. We have had much less snow than last year, and I could easily keep up with it if it were not for the wind. My snow gauge is only showing about two and a half feet of snow. The dogyard fence is still well above snow level although I am able to step across it where the drifts are the greatest.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

One Hundred Miles

I have been keeping busy training dogs. I am building up their mileage in preparation for the Canadian Challenge, a 350 mile race up in Saskatchewan. I reached one goal this week of running 100 miles in two days. I did this by running 40 miles one day and then the next day doing a 20 in the morning and a 40 in the afternoon/evening with about three hours rest in between. The dogs are handling it really well. The hardest part is that the musher (me!) gets so terribly tired. The next step is 200 miles in two days, which I am contemplating doing this weekend.

Today was a rest day for the dogs. It gave me a chance to catch up on some
chores. One of these chores was fixing the sled. It needed new brake tips. Get a load of how worn out the old ones were! Those are the new ones on the right for comparison. I can hardly wait to try it out on the trails now that I will have real braking power!

In other news, Abba got sick, so I brought her inside. She was just lying outside, letting herself get completely crusted with snow. When she refused to eat, I knew something was terribly wrong and I had
better get her inside and warmed up or risk losing her. Here she is still crusted with snow but starting to melt. Luckily, one night inside made a world of difference, and she is totally healthy again, but she was very weak and wobbly for that one night, and I thought she smelled of parvo.