Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meet Bernie Willis: Sled Maker for the Famous Iditarod Mushers

Meet Bernie Willis. He makes dog sleds. Starting in October, Bernie will begin this years crop of sleds and will be performing minor repairs on others, made in years previous, in preparation for this winters mushing season. Bernie is a well known craftsman in the world of dog mushing. He has crafted sleds for many well known and successful Iditarod mushers, such as Lance Mackey, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Cym Smith and my mentor, Ray Redington Jr. just to name a few. Bernie's wife, Jeanette, makes the top quality sled bags and as I have found out first hand there are lots of choices when ordering one of Jeanette's hand made sled bags. Bernie and Jeanette raise and train Icelandic horses, have beautiful flower and vegetable gardens along with a fantastic jungle gym for their grandchildren to play on during their frequent visits.

Bernie is a retired captain from Alaska Airlines. He and Jeanette have done mission work on St. Lawrence Island. For those of you who may not know, St Lawrence Island is off the coast of the Alaska in the Bering Sea. It is actually closer to Siberia than Alaska. As Jeanette remarked "St Lawrence Island is where the weather is born". Well said, Jeanette !
In this photo Bernie is showing me various features on one of the sleds he made several years ago. This sled will under go some changes in order to make the sled 6 pounds lighter per the mushers request.

In this photo, we are looking at a sled, which belongs to a well known, very successful Iditarod musher. I am looking at the seat configuration on this sled as it looks like something I would like to have added to my sled. For a rookie musher, I learned it is not a good idea to have a full sit-down sled as it can be an ankle breaker if you have not had a lot of experience mushing. I will heed the advice.
Bernie is demonstrating, what I will refer to as the Yukon Squat. This is how you drop behind your sled to get out of the gusting winter winds that can howl for days.Getting low helps the dogs. Lowering the wind resistance, while traveling down such wind blown places like the long stretch of the Yukon River helps the dogs endure the many miles ahead.
In the background you see an airplane that Bernie is also building. He is a man of much knowledge, many talents and a very kind heart.
Thank you Bernie and Jeannette !

Buy a Zipper Pull. Help me along my journey to Nome

I am making these zipper pulls to sell as one of my many fund raising endeavors. The musher charm and paw print beads are unique very unique ! Not only are they a very creative zipper pull but are also great for backpacks and keyrings. Christmas is coming and these make an easy and thoughtful stocking stuffer. 

Zipper Pulls $22.95 ea.   or   $20.00 ea if you order 5 or more ! Shipping not included.

Send a message if you would like to order one or more.

Thank you for your support !

Monday, September 10, 2012

The temperatures in Knik, Alaska have finally dropped below 40 degrees F, which marks the beginning of dry land training for the mush puppies. Here Ben Harper, co-musher and I run a team of 8 youngsters. This is how we teach the young dogs (1-2 years) to follow directional call commands, "gee"(right) and "haw"(left). We encourage them with praise and give rest breaks. The season begins with a 3 mile run and the distance will slowly increase over the following months. Young dogs learn to adopt the energy saving trot, instead of the energy burning loping stride.

Race Schedule

Our tentative race schedule for 2013 is as follows,

January 1, 2013: Knik 200
January 12, 2013: Copper Basin 300
January 25-27, 2013: Northern Lights 300
*February 4, 2013 Paul Johnson Memorial 450

*I will enter this race only if the Copper Basin is cancelled.

Making Booties

Dog Booties are an important item to have for mushing dogs. They provide protection by eliminating snowballs in between the dogs pads. They also protect paw pads against abrasion from some types of snow. In the Iditarod, a musher's team of 16 dogs will use approximately 2000 booties throughout the race. Booties must be replaced often due to the fact that they wear out quickly. Booties cost about $1.25 each if you buy them in big quantities. I am decided to make my own. Cinthia Coburn in North Carolina and Suzie Founier in Arkansas are helping me make the several thousand booties I will need for training and racing for 2013 and for 2014. Check up our FaceBook page Bootie Brigade.