Thursday, August 8, 2013

Win a Trip to Alaska for Two

Win a Trip to Alaska for Two

$20.00 each or 5 for $90.00

June 30 - July 7, 2014

Raffle Tickets on Sale in Vermont at these locations;

                                                 The Wayside Country Store: 
                                                 Chem Clean: Arlington
                                                 The Reel Angler: Manchester
                                                  The Northshire Bookstore: Manchester
                                                  The Eagles Club: Manchester
                                                  HN Williams: Dorset
                                                  Machs Store : Pawlet
                                                  The Wells Store: Wells

If you want to pay by credit card go to my website, click here                                       

On the shopping page you will see Journey to Iditarod 2015 wristbands. Purchase wristbands in lieu of raffle tickets. You will receive a ticket with each wristband you purchase.

              PayPal does not allow the sale of raffle tickets as they consider it a form of gambling. 

       Please call Gwenn at 907-232-4166 or write if you have questions.    


Monday, April 1, 2013

The Sheep Mountain 200/300 Sled Dog Race: First Iditarod Qualifier !

Lunch Time at Lake Louise Lodge
Checkpoint #1

 French Fry is licking her chops in anticipation !

4th Place ~ Sheep Mountain 200/300 Sled Dog Race

The Sheep Mountain 200/300 Sled Dog Race was held over a three day period of time, starting on  Tuesday, March 26th at 6 a.m. My team of Northern Whites ran the 200 mile portion, completing the race in the afternoon of Wednesday March 27. This was my very first Iditarod qualifying race.

The day before the race, all the mushers arrived to put their "drop bags" into a truck that would deliver them to the first checkpoint at Lake Louise Lodge. A hearty meal was provided, followed by a mushers meeting. This meeting provided opportunity for the organizers to review rules and regulations and information about the trail. It was a short meeting as the race was to start at 6 am the following morning. Jim Lanier, who is allowing me to run his dogs, arrived to give me lots of support and to help Dave with his dog handler responsibilities.

The start of any dog race is a scene of total chaos. The dogs, all amped up, bark and leap, lunging in their harnesses.The cacophony is loud, very loud and as a rookie musher  the "all of it" worked on undoing me,  as nerves were already on edge. But, I kept my head clear and did not let it undo me and stayed calm within myself.  It is still dark here in Alaska at 6 am. Getting the team ready in the dark possess its own challenges but it is no different than working throughout the long dark winter days we have already been through. All the training in the dark pays off as races are no different.

Here we are at the start. Alpha is psyched, lunging and bouncing in his harness, while Verona is quietly 
getting her own game face on.

My headlamp (LED Lenser) is an necessary piece of equipment. This headlamp is powerful and cast's a long beam of light so that I can keep an eye on the front of the team and the trail in front of them. Verona and Alpha are in lead in this picture and they would continue to be my leaders for most of the race. They were awesome leaders.

From Sheep Mountain Lodge to Lake Louise Lodge, our first checkpoint was 60 miles, where we had our first mandatory 4 hour layover. This is to allow the dogs to have a rest and a well deserved meal. At 10 mph or less a team may make the 60 miles in 6+ hours. This is a very simple answer to how long it takes to travel 60 miles. There are variables to consider when trying to calculate running time, such as terrain, wind,  and temperatures. Mushers may not have any help while they take care of their teams. In order to feed the team, we heat water to melt the frozen meat(s) we have provided to ourselves in our drop sacks. (The race organizers transported our bags the previous day from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Lake Louise Lodge). By the time the meat has thawed and the team has been bedded down on straw, they are fed. Booties are removed and any lameness issues are attended to. Once the team has been completely taken care of it is time for a short rest for the musher. In this case the rest was about an hour. It was just enough time to eat a meal and put my feet up for a bit.  Getting the team ready to leave the checkpoint takes time, about an hour of time. That cuts into the musher rest time. When a non-musher type hears there are 4 hour mandatory rest stops they might think that this mushing thing is no big deal as there are so many rest stops. The fact of the matter is, the dogs get the rest, the mushers don't, not really.

Veteran Iditarod Musher, Jim Lanier giving me some sage advice
before I leave the Lake Louise checkpoint.

We departed out of Lake Louise Lodge checkpoint around 4 p.m. in second place.  This leg of the race from Lake Louise Lodge to Tolsana Lodge would be 55 miles figuring I would pull into Tolsana around 10. But I knew, realistically, it would be more like 11:00-1130 p.m. I pulled into Tolsana at 11:30. I had not had a very good run because of many tangles when the team got all balled up into big tangles requiring several stops to sort out lines. I had changed leaders mid-run which proved to be a big, huge mistake.  I wanted to give my tried and true leaders a break as they were showing signs that needed a change. One of the dogs I put in lead was a poor choice as he would just suddenly stop running and look around at those behind him. After the fourth time of Sorbet pulling this action, I replaced him with the original leader and all finally was going smoothly. This slowed me so much that by the time I got to Tolsana I had dropped into seventh place.

It was about twenty below zero at Tolsana at midnight. Dave and Jim were there to greet me and help get the team parked. Handlers may help you park your team and communicate where the water and drop sacks are located. It certainly is nice to see familiar faces waiting for you when you have been out in the dark, cold wilderness for so many long hours. I was able to get through my checkpoint routine  quickly which allowed me to get inside and rest for a longer period of time. I lay on the camping pad on the floor and Jim, very kindly put his coat over me so that I could rest better. So very kind, indeed and rest I did for about an hour and a half. 

Jim woke me up and thrust a cup of coffee in my hand. In my mind, I did not know how in the world I would be able to get going. The thoughts of getting the team ready and standing on the runners of the sled did not appeal to me at all. I really did not know how I was going to do it. It all seemed so overwhelming. But, Jim said, it will take a bit of time to get your motor going again. And he was absolutely right. The coffee kicked in and I was ready to get going. 

It was about 3:30-4 a.m. when I pulled out of Tolsana checkpoint. This leg of the trip would now back-track trail we had come in on. Our next stop would be at Eureka Lodge 65 miles away. Off into the night we ran crossing frozen lakes and sloughs, flat expanses and kicked up steep hills. It was a full moon without cloud cover. The northern lights danced a bit but the brightness of the full moon took away from the brightness of the lights. It is a really something to witness the wonder of these things from the runners of a sled being pulled by dog team. It harkens back to so much history and lifestyles led for centuries across this wild territory. 

It felt like such a long, long run to Eureka. The temperature dropped to 30 below zero as  dawn approached. As the dogs trotted along,  the moon sunk and the sun came up, ever so slowly, spreading its rays, creating the pink alpine glow on the surrounding mountain peaks. As tired as I was, I felt I could feel my heart swell with a joyfulness at being so lucky as to be witness to all of this beauty. It was these feelings and the anticipation of a big piece of banana creme pie and a cuppa mud waiting for me at the final checkpoint, Eureka Lodge.

It was a bright, sunny day at I made my way across the Nelchina Valley and up to Eureka Lodge. The miles passed by slowly and I felt like I would never make it to Eureka Lodge. The team was giving me that feeling as well, but we finally made it there. Again, Dave and Jim met me there with smiles and positive greetings informing me I was in fourth place. This new really got me excited as I had never even given it a thought that I would possibly be competitive. I was only thinking about completing the race. The checkpoint stop was really great for the dogs. The sun was warm which gave the dogs a nice rest. Once they ate they could fall asleep on the clean straw nests in the sunshine. Once the team had a good meal in their belles, I watched them, stand and circle to make a nest in the straw. Once each dog was nodding off to sleep, I made my way to the lodge for a well earned meal.

The final run to the finish was only 18 miles long. I had a great feeling within me now that I knew I would complete the distance. I opted for a healthy turkey burger instead of the banana creme pie. I had not eaten much of anything during the race, just a few snacks here and there. Mostly I drank water from my insulated thermos all the while running the trail. The turkey burger was like turbo charge food. I felt great the last leg of the race. The three mountain climbs were not as bad as my imagination had made them out to be and I was able to complete the leg in less than two hours.

I completed the race around 5 pm on Wednesday March 27th in 4th place. As the finish line came into view I had that heart swelling feeling again and made a mental note again, of how lucky I am so be alive and able to do what I love to do. 


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Camping with the Northern Whites

Camping with Northern Whites

  Back on the runners and being careful for what I wish for....I have been re-reading Gary Paulsen's Winterdance, The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. My memory of specific stories within are foggy. That is why I have started reading it again. I, also, thought I might be able to glean knowledge from it now, that I can read it with a new perspective. And a new perspective I have. No longer am I amazed at the pure chaos he encounters, now I can totally relate. He certainly has not over-stated the stories. They are spot on. Any way, I had said to my husband, Dave that I wanted to be mushing dogs, not reading about, it as I had not been on the runners in a careful what you wish for....

     Tuesday morning was met with temperatures in the 30's. Jim's plan had us running the teams four hours, then camp for four hours and then run again for four hours. We trucked the dogs to the Chugiak Mushers Club to run the wonderfully wide and  groomed trails there. With lots of little delays, we finally pulled our snow hooks to start the run at 12:30, lunchtime for many. It was a wonderful run, all around the edges of the Cook Inlet, along through wooded groves and around frozen lakes at the base of the Chugach Mountains. The sun was shining, a glorious day to be running dogs. It was lots of fun as we coursed our way along our 4 hour run. I loved it.

     Camping with the dogs is quite involved. It is a practice of sorts for race activities, along with giving the dogs a well deserved break. We pulled into our camping spot at 4:30 in the afternoon. I planted one of my snow hooks, firmly into the hard pack snow of the trial, stomping it in firmly with several good hard kicks. Taking the second snow hook to the front of the team, I hooked the carabiniere into the front end of the gang line to secure the lead end in place. This keeps the gang line tight so the dogs stay put. On the way back to the sled, all the dog booties are removed, collected and put into a bag to save for laundering and regrouping for later runs, and tug lines are unhitched from the dogs harnesses. 

    Then it is time to feed the dogs with pre-mixed baited water (frozen ground chicken melted in warm water and put into a garbage bag lined, small cooler, placed inside the sled bag) One ladle full of water and a ladle full of high-octane kibble in a bowl for every dog. You can imagine the noise that comes from the team as they are frantic for water and calories.  Once this is done, the dishes were collected and places off to the side to freeze, so they don't stick together once the are re-nested. With the dogs fed, it was time to spread out the straw for the dogs to nestle into for a good rest. They know exactly what the straw means and eagerly help spread it out, circling to make their nap-nest. For the veteran dogs, it takes very little time to settle. For the young rookie dogs, they think it is time to play with the straw or each other..more training...I yell at them....."knock it off".....

Feeding time

Nap Time

   During the camping rest day turned to night. We donned our headlights to start packing up our sleds. At one point, we heard some noise nearby, in the dark woods. The dogs went nuts, barking wildly with eyes focused and ears pricked all in one direction. Suddenly, in the cone-lit beam of my headlamp, I spotted a moose, its eyes reflected back at me, an alien-like green, which spooked me. It was the  first time I have had an "encounter" of sorts, with a moose. I had a pit of fear in my belly when we pulled our hooks to continue our evening run. I wondered where the giant animal had gone. Fortunately, the moose had moved on as we did not meet it again.

     At 7:45 pm, we started to re-bootie the team for a an on-time 8:30 pm departure for another 4 hour run. The night time running brings a whole new set of sensations and feelings. Jim runs his teams much faster than Ray and this makes it all very different for me. The trees go by much faster, the turns of the trail become sharper and the speed seems, at some points like a swirling surreal dream.  When you don't know the trails, all your attentions are on managing sled riding skills, keeping the sled on the trail and managing the running speed, all awhile keeping your eyes on the dogs. Better than any amusement ride in the world !

     Phew ! Finally12:30 am, we arrived back at the truck to end the run. After the days activities, it feels like no small feat (no pun intended) to remove the, 4 X 12 booties, remove harnesses and load each dog into its box on the truck. Six of the dogs in my team had to be loaded into the top, higher tier of the dog boxes. This required me to lift the dog up, over my head. The dogs had to crawl, claw and  push off my shoulders and head with their feet, to get themselves into the high-up resting spot.  After loading the equipment and sleds we drove the 15 minutes back to Jim's. We let the dogs spend the night on the truck and would unload them in the morning. I stayed at Jim's where I spent an utterly sleepless night, that is if you call 4 hours of "rest" a night. My body ached and every time I closed my eyes, I felt like I was riding on the runners, swishing through the curvy dark, snowy trails. I could not sleep. 

     At 7 a.m. the scent of coffee met my nose so it was up and at em’.  I felt like I had been on an all night drinking binge. I thought about my day and wondered how I would manage the tasks I would face. There was nothing of any danger, it is just I was so darn tired. I could not allow myself to think about being on the comfy sofa, resting, watching the evening news, as I felt like I had to take it all moment by moment to make it through the day.

  I will put an end to this saga now. Suffice it to say, I made it through the day of many physical chores which included cutting up six 50 pound flats of course ground chicken into small snack size pieces using the band saw. Cutting was very slow as the blade was so dull. I sure wish these "big-time" mushers would give us schleppers the proper tools to do the task. It seemed to go on  FOREVER. I ended the task short of completion. To tired, I was making mistakes and was aware that I was in danger of cutting myself. 

I made it home, feeling to exhausted and tired. My neck muscles decided to attack me. Thank goodness the prescription strength dosage of Advil made it all o.k. in the morning.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Are We Waiting For, Lets Get Going !

Ready.....Let's Go !

  Mushing in the New Year has brought many new canine friends. Here you can see just how happy they are, so excited to go for a run. This short video clip will give you a little idea about how excited the team gets when it is time to run. Here, my team of 12 dogs are anxious to run the trail from Lake Louise Lodge back to Sheep Mountain Lodge, approximately a 60 mile run. 

Heading down the middle of Lake Louise with a spectacular skyline.

The trail leading off Lake Louise

The trail leading off the lake was soft and made it kind of slow going for the team. Once we got off the lake the trail was firm and fast. It was a wonderful, uneventful run, for the most part. We saw a herd of caribou in the Nelchina River Valley. 

Adjustment Stop

We took a stop to make some minor equipment adjustments. The mid afternoon sun was getting low in the sky which made for an wonderful photo opportunity.  The dogs are turning their heads wondering why we are stopping and looking to me for an answer. In a matter of moments they start their loud cacophony of protest, leaping and lunging into their harnesses.

One in the Basket

About 20 miles into the run, May was showing signs of fatigue. I gave her a bit of time to work through her "wall" but she was just not up to it. For the first time, I put a dog in my sled bag. May was more than happy to go for a ride. She turned her head to look at me with her blue expressive eyes, as if to question, is this o.k. ?  I patted her on the head, told her she was a good girl and she settled in for a rest. About fifteen miles later she was ready to get out of the sled bag and be back with the team. She had a great run and finished up the distance in great form.

Entering the Woods

 I love this photo. We wove our way across frozen sloughs, over rivers, weaving our way along narrow wooded trails. The trees in this photo look like they are laden with a thick sugar coating of frosting. There is beauty everywhere. Between all the sights, keeping a watchful eye on the team and the trail, the miles seem to effortlessly slip by.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Alaska; The Big Wild

Another story, un-embellished !!!!

New Years Day 2013

The trail conditions in Knik had all but evaporated, making it necessary to travel elsewhere to train the dog teams. The decision had been made to travel north to Willow, to join Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson and her handler Miriam Osredkar for a run on their snow covered training trails. 

I got my team of 12 dogs harnessed up and at the ready in order to follow the other mushers out of the yard. For this run, I had two new leaders I had not run together before. These two female dogs, Patsy and Straight,  had been run together as leaders plenty of times by others,  but I had not had the opportunity to run them, until this day. My usual leaders Shred and Right Eye had been switched to another team. 

Just before leaving the yard, Karin, very thoughtfully took the time to give me a brief description of the trail.  She explained the trail immediately took a very sharp right hand turn after leaving the dog yard, followed by twisty, windy, narrow trail through the woods, then across a couple hundred feet of  glassy ice, followed  two road crossings. 

I wasn’t worried, I had learned to navigate many sharp turns and was ready for this one. With Karin and her team leading the way, I was the third out of 4 teams to leave the yard. I handily maneuvered the sharp right turn by taking my foot off the break lever allowing the sled runners to skid, smearing the cold-dry snow around the turn and continued on down the trail. My team was fit, fresh, ready for a nice long run on new trails. They pulled hard, charging strongly, pulling into their harnesses with strength and determination, ready to conquer the world.

We moved along quickly, following the narrow serpentine-like trail through the piney forest, when suddenly my lack of sled skills came shining through when I hit a snow covered stump on the inside of a turn. In a split second, the sled turned over, as the left runner hit the stump, flipped, and came to an abrupt stop. The momentum, tossed me over the sled while my foot got caught up in the skinny rope used to raise and lower the stomp pad. It all happened so fast that one moment, I was on the sled and then next, I was on the snow. No big deal, this happens a lot.  I sunk my hook in the hard packed snow of the trail, by stomping on it with my bulky arctic boot, to hold the team until I could get my sled upright, jump on the runners, pull the hook and off we went again in no time at all. 

By this time, Miriam had caught up with me, which I was very happy about as I was feeling uncertain about the trail. I had lost sight of the teams in front of me and I didn’t want to take a wrong turn. I let the team chose the pace, which was fast, in order to catch up to the leading teams. By the time we got to the ice section that was described to me earlier, we had caught up with the teams leading the way.

Things started to deteriorate, in earnest, with the run at this point. My leaders were proving to me they did not want,  nor did they care, to show me any respect. My directional commands were being ignored, creating more difficult situations. If it were just me on the training run I would not have minded but when the other mushers had to wait for me to get sorted out, it made a tense and unpleasant situation. It was not fun any more. 

Up ahead, I watched as Karin’s team made their way across the road and then turned right as the trail ran parallel to the road along the other side of the snow bank. The trail did not cut straight across the road, instead it crossed at an angle. My team made the way up and over the first snowbank and instead of staying on the trail and completely cross the road, ignoring my commands, they made a beeline down the pavement. 

The other mushers, their voices, I could still hear yelling over the scraping sound of the hard tungsten steel brake tips, as they etched lines on the pavement. They were yelling, screaming in fact, “stop the team, stop the team”. I stood on the brake bar with both feet, and with both arms under that handle bar, I pulled up, with all the strength I could muster. This is a technique used by mushers in an attempt to make the brake points dig in deeper to the ground. It had no effect on stopping the team. Thinking, perhaps I could create more drag, I flipped the sled on its side and held the handlebar with my hands as tight as I could. The team kept going, dragging me, belly down, along the cold-black pavement. 

Unbeknownst to me, while I was dragging face-down over the pavement, a compact pickup truck had come along. Recognizing the situation, thankfully this dog-smart driver knew what to do. She accelerated merging into the on-coming lane, inching ahead of the leaders and with percision driving veered her vehicle into my traveling lane, nearly hitting the leaders, but stopped them. With their long-glistening tongues lolling long dangling near their knees, they seemed to look around with question, while all I could do at that moment was lay on my belly, death grip on the sled handlebar and pant in an effort to regain myself. 

I flipped my sled upright, I stood on the sled runners as my leaders were led to the the snowbank and encouraged to take the trail, following my fellow mushers. They did as encouraged and off we went, continuing on our 40 mile training run.

While running along, smart Karin made a call to her husband from her cell phone she had tucked away in an inside pocket, arranging to meet us on our return run to save me from the second, potentially hazardous, homeward bound road crossing. At the intersection of the road and trail, there he was, looking at me, imploringly. to get off the runners, saying “I’ll take it from here”. In hindsight, it was a smart and necessary decision to prematurely relieve me of my musher duties that day, but I felt like a failure and felt the downward spiral of grief and heartache in my soul and spirit of total and complete failure that was painful and humiliating.

The silver lining came when the teams came sluicing back into the the yard. I learned Karin’s husband, all 230 pounds of him, on the return road crossing, was also taken down the road. No one really wanted to say, but I was able to eventually draw it out that he had a challenging time as well. 

2013 has came roaring into my life with more trials and tribulations, but, with it come welcome change and anticipation of the next stage of Iditarod training with my  new musher/mentor, Jim Lanier

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Kink 200 and The Don Bowers 300 Cancelled !

For many Alaskans the unseasonably warm, dry climate is a welcome relief, but for the sled dog mushing community it is nothing but bad news.

The Knik 200 and The Don Bowers 300 are both cancelled due to warm temperatures and bad and unsafe trial conditions. Open water on the rivers and frozen exposed ground are both dangerous and unsafe for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Sled dogs get serious shoulder injuries when running downhill on frozen ground. A nice layer of snow provides a cushion for the dogs but when that cushion is not there it becomes a question of safety for the animals and mushers alike.

Without these races, it has become much more challenging, if not impossible to reach the required 750 mile race requirement to qualify for Iditarod 2014.

The cancellations of the Knik 200 and The Don Bowers 300 follow along with the cancellation of the Sheep Mountain 150 which was scheduled for the weekend of December 15th.