Sunday, October 2, 2011

On a String and a Prayer

The dogs are back home! All the dogs. Darrel and I travelled to Juneau last weekend and brought our canine family home. It wasn't without adventure of course which is pretty normal for us. I am highly stressed if the proverbial poop doesn't hit the fan when we travel. This trip was no different.

It started with the 6 a.m. flight to Juneau which seemed like a good idea when I was doing the booking. Get there early. Enjoy some time in the capitol city.

The trouble started as soon as we got on the plane. Well actually getting up at 3 a.m. was really when it got crappy but that's to be assumed. We boarded the aircraft and the plane was in a Disney motiff. As in Tinkerbell, Mickey Mouse and Pluto, Disney. Aaargh. I hate Disney. The very word makes me cringe.

This summer the Disney ship Wonder docked in Juneau and so Saturdays for us was Disney day. That meant untold numbers of children and inattentive parents at our dogsledding camp. Our dogs are friendly enough but a fast moving little kid or a squealing toddler triggers a prey drive in most huskies and Disney days set me on edge. I used to want to go to Disneyland. Now I'm quite certain I'd rip the ears off Mickey and slap the tiara off Tinkerbell's head if I did. I think I have issues.

The best way to cope with all the Disney crap was to close my eyes and sleep. Which I did. Well until I woke myself - repeatedly - because I was snoring. So was Darrel. And the guy across the aisle. Did I mention we were awake at 3 a.m?

We got to Juneau and saw our dogs. They look awesome. Fit. Muscled. And deliriously happy to see us. The feeling was definitely mutual.

The ferry wasn't leaving until the next day so we figured we'd head to the hotel for a nap and then do a bit of shopping. Darrel tried to start the dog truck. And tried. And tried. Battery(s) were dead. So we got a jump start and off we went. Straight to Napa - for windshield wipers. I don't pretend to understand my mechanic husband's mind.

The dog truck doesn't start with a key. Oh no. You tilt the steering wheel a bit and then manually cycle the glow plugs and then hit a toggle switch which will hopefully start the beast. here's what it looks like.





Next stop was the Super 8 Motel. Not fancy but it's clean and comfortable. And pet friendly. And the manager is awesome! We decided to have a 1 hr and 10 minute nap and woke up 3 hours later.

After we woke up we got some wine, ordered a pizza and just had a nice quiet night together. Next morning we needed another jump start. While I had breakfast with Naomi, from the summer, Darrel went and bought a new battery.


We went to camp, loaded dogs and headed to the ferry. About 5 miles down the road, not even off North Douglas Island, the truck started to shimmy like mad and smoke poured out the front. Diagnosis was a seized brake caliper. My awesome husband backed up and rolled forward which did the trick. We were off again.


For some reason I thought the ferry left at 3 p.m. It does - every day except Sunday, the day we were travelling. On Sundays it doesn't depart until 4:30 p.m. So we took the dogs for a drive to keep fresh air cooling them off. Finally we got on the ferry. It was an uneventful trip...until we went to the car deck after docking in Juneau. PeePee the amazing lead dog had chewed a hole in the roof of the dog box, stuck his head out and promptly got stuck. I still wonder why none of the ferry workers called us. We were the last dog truck to leave Juneau so it wouldn't have been hard to find us. I am just thankful that no other dog followed suit. Having 34 dogs running around on the car deck would have been awful.


We couldn't exactly drive down the road with a dog stuck in the roof of the truck. What we needed, besides a new truck, was rope. For some reason we had stuffed some in a cubby hole and so Darrel and I got PeePee unstuck and roped the roof down.


You'll notice in this picture that there are 2 wheels mounted on top of the box along with the dead battery. Juneau Napa wouldn't warranty it so we're taking it to the one here in Fairbanks. And that's the rope holding the roof down. Pretty slick really.





We drove straight for the Canadian border because it closes at midnight. And then we dropped dogs for their pee and food break at the top of the pass. I thought it would be cold and miserable up there like usual but while chilly, it was clear and calm. After taking care of the dogs we turned off our headlamps and stood in awe of the heavens. The stars, the milky way, the northern lights - what a gift!


We loaded up dogs again at 1 a.m. and then drove. And drove. And drove. We grabbed a quick nap and then drove some more.


We arrived at the American border. Now I know we kinda look like the northern version of the Beverley Hillbillies but the border agent was a butthead. He asked us 3 times how many people we had in our rig, what we were transporting (despite all the canine faces peering at him), if we had run into any RCMP in Canada and how I knew Darrel. Makes me wonder if he had ever seen a musher before. Finally in Tok we dropped dogs again. Many thanks to the nice lady at the motel across from the musher's hall who gave us water for our canine crew!


After a quick bite to eat at Fast Eddy's we hit the road and made it home at supper time. It took us about 3 hours to get everyone settled and fed. And then we slept. For 14 hours.


I'd just like to thank Lance Mackey who gave us the dog truck. He is a generous man - even willing to loan us his good truck if the old beater wouldn't start. He only asked us to pay it forward and we have. And will continue to do for that's really the best way to live.


Here's the truck. We love it. Thanks Lance!!









Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Normal Life

My life feels a bit more normal. Well as normal as it gets around here. We once again have dogs in the yard! For the past month since coming back from Juneau I've been really quite lost. No dogs to cook for. No poop to pick up. No lost sleep because the resident moose are grazing near the yard driving the dogs nuts. Sigh. It's been lonely.

But today dogs arrived. They're on loan to us for the winter from our great friend Hal Barber. Hopefully they'll make the Quest team but if not, they'll at least get lots of miles on their paws. You see, some of the dogs who would have run on the team last year are a bit on the old side this year and I suspect I might be too. But I digress.

The rest of our canine crew comes home at the end of this month so I'll have some time to let this group stretch out their legs. They're mostly young and hyper which means that taking their pictures was a wee bit of a challenge. Two of them are from our kennel so it feels a bit like a homecoming.

I thought I'd introduce them.

Here's Trouble:




He was born two summers ago in another friend's dogyard. And yes he is trouble. He really doesn't like other males, considers himself a bully really, so I anticipate he and I will be having some very serious talks. He considers himself a ladies man and loves people. Already he has endeared himself to me.






Next is Girl:




Remember Chrissy on the old sitcom "Three's Company"? Well that describes girl. She is very sweet natured but not the brightest bulb on the tree. She is also a champion digger which keeps her nails short but makes walking through the yard a bit of a challenge. Girl is the daughter of Pester and Diablo - both our dogs.

Third up is Blue:

This is also Blue:






Blue has blue eyes. And the only way I could get him to stand still for a picture was to scratch his little pinhead. Unfortunately that translated into canine ecstacy and he couldn't open his eyes. He is brother to Trouble and Bolt who you will eventually meet.



Here's Kavik:



Kavik is the great-grandson of my dear Scotty, the most amazing lead dog I've ever owned and who left us on her eternal journey in the fall of 2005. In Kavik's eyes I see that same sparkle of intelligence and also, much to my chagrin, that wicked sense of humor.

Next up is Bolt:



I took 23 pictures of this dog. This is the only one that isn't blurred from his faster-than-the-speed-of-sound motion. I was told the only thing this dog likes to do is run. Not rest. Run. Run. Run. Well, this will be an interesting season of training.



And last, but certainly not least is Ami:




This little leader is all drive. She is a bit shy but not as much as I thought. I love shy dogs. The bond that develops between me and the dog is not one to be taken lightly and these dogs usually are the most honest workers on the team. I like her already.



And so there you have it. The new recruits. Tomorrow is our first run. I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve!
















































Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yukon Quest

At long last I will get to run the Yukon Quest - a 1,000 mile dogsled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon. So on February 4, 2012 I'll pull the snowhook and make my way over three summits and along the Yukon River to the finish line. There will be snow of course and wind and temperatures possibly as low as 50 below or colder. Sounds like a hoot doesn't it?


The trail follows an old mail route, hearkening back to a time when freight was still delivered by dog team. It also mostly the same trail that legendary Japanese musher Jujiro Wada blazed to Dawson to spread the news of a gold strike near Fairbanks. I love history so why not run a race built on history?


The next few months will be pretty intense. Training, training and more training. And spending money. Lots of it. Running a race like this is not cheap and so in the next couple of weeks I hope to have some creative ways posted on here for folks to sponsor my efforts.


I'll be training 29 dogs of which 14 will be at the starting line. Spud, below, will not be one of them. He is directionally challenged poor thing.





Look for a complete list of dogs and other cool stuff in the next couple of weeks. We're winding up our season here in Juneau so I'll have more internet time. Until then, you can check out the race site at www.yukonquest.com




Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dogs

There are 150 dogs outside my front door. They're not all mine of course but for this summer I am responsible overall for their well-being. We're a crew of 13 humans and so the dogs get plenty of love and attention. It follows that I spend a lot of time thinking about dogs - those I have and those who've gone on before me. And I realize how fortunate I am.


It's fun too, to see our dogs through the eyes of the tourists who come to visit us. I am proud of our sometimes motley canine crew.


Here's Mouse:

Mouse is one of our smallest sled dogs. She had a rough start in life at the hands of a callous individual who thankfully is no longer allowed to own dogs. She's a mighty 28 lbs but her heart and drive is as big as any of our other dogs. Her favorite nickname is crazy eyes to which she'll demonstrate a full on body wiggle.

Sasha is another of our unique kennel residents. Your guess is as good as mine as to what breed she actually is but she sure loves to pull. Remember the song "One of these things just doesn't belong here?" That's what runs through my head when I see her in a 16-dog team. She's a people pleaser though and is probably one of the most photographed "sled dogs" wherever she goes. Here she is:

See what I mean?

Sasha's nemesis is Solo, a female Malamute. She is what people expect a sled dog to look like. Big. Furry. This is Solo with her summer musher Naomi.

Not exactly the Hollywood image of a bad-natured sled dog is she? Her temperament is sweet, reminds me a great deal of the cartoon character Baby Huey.

Solo's new boyfriend is Glacier. I'm hoping that in a short time they will make beautiful music, and puppies together. Here's Glacier and Naomi.

Then there's puppies. A litter was born three weeks ago. Not our puppies - had to say that so my husband won't panic! I am always amazed by pups. I can watch them for hours. Here's one just a few hours old:


Want to see some puppy toes? All pink and with tiny, little toenails. And for some reason puppy feet always smell like popcorn.


And that is the perfect spot to finish this latest post.















Sunday, May 22, 2011

Juneau Adventures

Juneau. Alaska's capital. Stunning mountain and coastal scenery. Rains a lot. Ferry or air is the only way to get here. And in the summer home to hundreds of sled dogs, mushers and handlers - all working either on glaciers or on land giving sled and cart rides to the hordes of tourists who flock off the cruise ships. This year the dogs and I are working for Alaska Excursions which gives cart rides to folks. Getting here was a typical Harpham adventure.

It started with loading dogs onto the truck. Thirty six very muddy dogs. The highlight was having Sasha put her back foot into my mouth as she tried to leap into a dogbox. Now I know what dog poop tastes like. Sigh.

After a very sweaty 60 minutes, we were finally underway. We stopped in Tok to let the dogs out for a pee and a stretch and as always happens in Tok, I got hurt. A dog's toenail caught my chin and there was a lot of blood as it was sliced open. Last time I dropped dogs in that tiny town my chin and my hand were cut.

We got across the border without incident and then pushed on to Haines Junction, Yukon where the credit card promptly stopped working. I spent 30 minutes on a pay phone, at 1 a.m., listening to bad elevator music and a cheerful recorded voice telling me that Wells Fargo valued my business and they would be with me shortly. Finally a nice young man somewhere in Arizona, assured I was in fact Peg Harpham and that I was travelling, turned the card back on. Good thing because we were out of fuel and weren't going anywhere until we got some.

We decided to keep driving, thinking we'd cross the border again at Haines, Alaska and then let the dogs out for a good long while. Did you know that they close the country at Haines from midnight to 8 a.m? We didn't either.

What followed was 6 hours of fitful sleep in the front seat of the dog truck. Fitful because it was snowing/raining and cold. Here's my cheerful self the next morning.



The country finally opened and we hit the border. The customs officer really hated his job. You know the type. Mirrored sunglasses he didn't take off even though it was cloudy and raining. Monotone voice. Even Solo, the wonder Malamute, didn't get so much as a pet on the head. Quite a difference from the Canadian officer in the Yukon.


As we are answering questions, Darrel's window falls completely down in between the door panels. At least it didn't fall onto the ground. We pulled ahead and tried to fix it - all under the watchful eye of US customs.


Here's the dogs stretching their legs in Haines, before getting on the ferry. This is how you manage 36 dogs at a dog drop.

Before getting on the ferry we drove around Haines a bit. I needed to call my employer but didn't have a cell phone. No worries, because everyone we asked was willing to let me use theirs. That's the nice thing about Alaska - most people are generous.

Darrel decided to put fuel in the truck before we got on the ferry. Every old dog truck has idiosyncrasies and ours in no exception. The pipe into the fuel tank is practically horizontal, which makes using the nozzle at the gas station really tricky. You have to fuel very, very slowly. But if you have a jerry can and a hose, well, it's just like fueling up a regular vehicle! This is definitely not Sarah Palin's Alaska.


As we arrived at the ferry terminal we saw we weren't the only musher truck. The parking lot was littered with them. On the boat we were informed that there were more dogs on board that people.

Darrel and I napped, snacked and occasionally spotted whales. Here's how you nap on the ferry. Mushers can sleep anywhere!




After almost 32 hours on the road we finally pulled into camp. And that is where I leave off for now.











Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caribou In The Bathtub

Um, Peg, there's a caribou in your bathtub." A nonchalant comment made by a dear friend after she used the bathroom. Now there wasn't actually a whole, live caribou standing in my bathtub contentedly contemplating whatever it is that these herbivores think about. No, rather there was the frozen hind quarter of a caribou thawing in my bathtub. Where else would you put a 50 lb chunk of ice-encrusted meat, hide and hoof? The bathtub seemed logical then and it still seems logical today. That particular piece of caribou was later skinned - and yes on the bathroom floor - and fed to both me and the dogs. I think I received the best parts but the dogs may differ in opinion there. There was a minor skirmish over bone marrow until I discovered that the marrow tastes much better when the meat is fresh. So, am I grossing you out yet dear reader? I hope not for you see, this is a big part of being a dog musher. Sled dogs, particularly hard working ones, need more than just kibble. Ours enjoy a smorgasbord of caribou, moose, salmon, halibut, beef, chicken and just about anything else that we either harvest ourselves or that people will donate to our kennel. Last year an old mule named Daisy was donated to our kennel and she went on to nourish our crew all season. That's the way of things here in Alaska. It didn't make sense to her owners that after 36 years as a good, honest working pack mule that she be put to sleep and buried in the ground. So we took her, put her down quickly and humanely and used every last bit of her. In a way she carried on working through our dogs. Just two weeks ago a fellow musher sold off a bunch of silver salmon for 40 cents a fish. She had purchased it way back in the fall but climbing temperatures and lack of freezer space meant that the remaining stock had to be unloaded. We bought 160 fish and I'm still cooking up 7 or 8 every night for the dogs. The fish is mixed with their kibble and I swear that some nights the stuff actually smells pretty good!

160 Silver Salmon

In early August I put an ad in the paper for freezer burnt meat people will donate hundreds of pounds of food to our dogs. And then during moose season we get whatever can't be consumed by humans. There was a point last fall that every time I pulled into our driveway there were moose legs, ribs, spines and even a head or two waiting for me to cook up for the kennel. This fall I also got a bunch of moose hearts from the Anatomy teacher but I'll spare you the pictures in case you're eating! Needless to say our dogs are fat and happy.


A ton of kibble - literally


Now I bet some of you are wondering if the cooking goes on in the house. Rest assured we are not that primitive! Like many mushers, we've taken a 55-gallon drum and cut it in half. The bottom is left as is where a fire can be built in it. Then the top is turned upside down and place on a sturdy screen welded to the bottom. And there you have a dog food cooker. Feeding dogs is a serious subject and mushers will either tell you everything they know or will keep their routine and recipes to themselves - particularly if they're trying to win prestigious races like the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod. Me, I will talk about dog food all day long. And don't even get me started on one of the by-products of food - and that is poop. But we'll save that for another day!




video

Friday, January 21, 2011

Perfecting the Art of Being a Couch Potato

This is Spud....the one facing the wrong way and all tangled up. Despite his working Malamute and Alaskan Husky ancestry, being a sled dog is not his forte.

He earned his name by being as close to a canine couch potato as I've ever seen. Spud was born in the spring of 2006 so he is by no means an old dog. But he might as well be. His favorite past time is laying on something soft.

Even though he is not a pull-the-sled kind of dog, Spud is very good at certain things.

He is patient and kind.


He is a great sleeper.


He is able to tolerate extreme heat. I think he is in love with the heater shown below. It's set to automatically come on about an hour before I get up in the morning and when I pad into the living room Spud is parked right in front of, moments away from combustion.


He is excellent at warning us to a stranger's presence. The minute he hears a vehicle that isn't ours coming into the driveway he runs down the hall to the bedroom and hides under the bed. I once took him for a walk in the woods and we met a man walking his dogs. Spud ran and hid in the trees and I lost him for two hours. Now when we go for a walk he wears a blinking light so I can find his hairy butt.


And lastly Spud can create space where there is none. He likes to curl up between Darrel and I on the couch. Problem is that he's not exactly small and at 70 or so lbs he takes up a significant area. He used to have a lot more room to sprawl but now a few of our old-timers have moved into the house and so his life isn't so cushy.


Who couldn't love a dog with all these quirks?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pester: Then and Now


Pester, aka Pester Pain in the Ass, is the son of Jewel and Zen. Jewel died two winters ago but let me tell you, she really isn't gone. Sometimes it amazes me how much of her is in Pester.

Jewel was a little sprinty kind of dog I got from a friend when she could no longer keep up with the top speeds of those fast dogs. She easily made the transition into distance running and was just about one of the sweetest dogs I've ever owned. She was a real dogyard dog - wouldn't leave the boundaries of the kennel and always worried when other teams did. She could be trusted to be loose and towards the end of her life the only time we tied her up was when we left home to go to town.

Three of her most endearing habits were this snorting sound she made when she was really happy, her constant woo-woos when you talked to her and her visits to the cooker when I was getting dog food ready. Jewel always came up for a tidbit and wandered happily back down to the yard, prize in her mouth.

And now there's Pester. He snorts when he's really happy and is a real talker just like his mom. Pester has taken the woo-woos to a new level for he always has something to say when I'm just in the yard. I don't even have to be near him. It can be a bit much sometimes and that's what earned him the pain in the ass part to his name.

Here's Pester then.

video

And here's Pester now.

video

Enough said.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wrecking Crew

Solo is a one-dog wrecking crew. Remember the cartoon character Baby Huey? Big, sweet and not the brightest bulb on the tree? Well that's Solo.
She was born on Easter Sunday 2009 and is the daughter of Kiah (Malamute) and Mongo (Malamute/Polar Husky). We were sure the breeding hadn't worked so her arrival was a bit of a surprise. As the only pup it seemed natural to name her Solo. Here's a pic of her first day:


She was not like any pup we'd ever had. She was exploring her surroundings almost as soon as her eyes opened and more than once we found her amongst some of the adult dogs in the yard.


She also developed a fondness for small spaces, a habit which persists today. As a pup a tiny area to curl up in worked. Now as a more than 100 lb dog it's a bit more challenging. She'll belly crawl under the coffee table which is not a problem - until she stands up. More than once she has taken that particular piece of furniture with her.

In the truck she'd squeeze herself between the door and the seat and at night she'd curl up under the bed. Then she started to grow.


And grow......

(She's the same age as the other pup in this photo)

And grow......

(Solo at 7 months with then 9-year-old Amy)

And grow.....

(Solo at 8 1/2 months)

We think she's finally finished growing up but is not quite done filling out. She's an incredibly powerful dog, so much so that it's near impossible to hang on to a leash if she starts pulling. Solo is a monster in harness and has a beautiful, fluid gait I could watch all day long.

Her sweet nature matches her monstrous size. She's a snuggler and more than once she's pinned me on the couch or bed simply by draping herself over me. Solo loves to put her head against yours and she melts when you sing "Lolo Cabana" - with apologies to Barry Manilow.

She'll also occasionally lose her mind and get destructive which turns into a bit of a mess really. Last night I arrived home from work to find this:


How she managed to get almost all of the clean silverware into the fry pan I'll never know but at least she's cleaning up after herself now.

As dogs go she hasn't been terribly destructive but there have been adventures. A pot of noodles left on the stove one day resulted in the house being filled with propane. She had put her paws on the burner dial when she dragged the pot onto the floor and flipped it on. It took an hour before the place was aired out.

At one point we were duct taping the fridge door shut to keep her out. This was after she opened it and ate a loaf of bread, sandwich meat and leftovers. We've also had to use a eye bolt and hook to lock the door to the trash closet. Solo is nothing if not creative.

Despite the moments of exasperation, our lives our enriched by this Malamute giant. We wouldn't trade her for the world.