Thank you to all sponsors and fans for your support and encouragement. Without you, not only would Evening Star Kennel been absent from the 2010 Yukon Quest, but this incredible sport and these wonderful dogs would become a thing of distant memory. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I hope that you have enjoyed following this amazing event.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

First Sled Run Today!!!

Today I ventured out on a sled for the first time this season.  This is what makes all the work and time and expenses worth it.  To travel by dog power and enjoy the quiet swish of the runners is such an amazing feeling. 

I took 8 dogs from the yard out to the snowmobile trail and up into the Whitefish Range.  It was so nice to be on the runners again.  The dogs were excited for the sled and new trails!!  We had a very warm and spring-like day which made the snow like mashed potatoes and not so nice as I would have liked, but it is so much better than the 4 wheeler.

After a 36 miles run with the first team, I took out a second team of 10 dogs and did 32 miles in the dark.  Once the sun went down, the trail firmed up and we flew.  There were a few scary moments when I could feel my brake hit a rock or stump and remind me that there really isn't that much snow yet.

Everyone had to wear booties today and the young dogs who have never worn them were not particularly excited about this prospect.  But it was good that they wore them anyway as most of the booties were pretty worn from this abrasive snow.  Tomorrow a reporter from the paper is coming out to check out the dogs.  It would be great if I could take her for a ride, but I don't think it's safe yet.  We still need a lot more snow. 

As of yesterday, I am officially a full-time dog musher until the Quest is over.  I am done at work and with school and can now focus completely on getting everything ready to go.  And I bought a trailer yesterday so that I can haul everything we will need to Alaska.  I spent about 4 hours on Tuesday cutting and packaging meat for food drops and will be doing some more in the next couple of days.  Even though I learned how to do drop bags the Swingley way, I am trying to modify the schedule to go along with that and get food drops ready before the last minute.  There are so many details that I never thought of until I was well in the midst of this preparation.  But things are getting done and I have had a lot of help and support from friends, family, and community.  It is amazing how, as we get closer to the event, that this becomes less about me and my goals and more about everyone else who has contributed money, labor, time, or words of encouragement.  It is an amazing process.

It is 33 days until I head North and 50 days until the start of the race.  It will be here and done before I know it.  Now is the time to train hard and make sure that the dogs and I are all ready for our adventure.  We will be spending many hours on the trail in the next few weeks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Diablo Update...

So the best news is that Diablo is back to being like his namesake.  The monster is back.  He has spent the evening chasing Shilo around and trying to hump her despite he knocking him flat more than once.  Even though he got neutered on Monday, boys will be boys, I guess.

I got to observe during Diablo's procedure on Monday.  They put him under anesthesia and then used the endoscope to look in his stomach.  The endoscope is a camera on a long cable/hose type thing.  It was amazing how far it had to go to actually get into his stomach.  There is a cable they can slide into the hose of the endoscope that has little grippers.  They were able to remove a few things from his stomach.  It turns out, all of those things were pieces of the blanket he had shredded the day before.  Dr. Barton was pretty sure his stomach was empty when we were done.  We think that he must have passed whatever mass was in his stomach last Wednesday.  But I have carefully monitored everything coming out of him since he got sick.  So, hopefully, he is now clear and will not be eating any more non-digestible foriegn objects anytime in the near future. 

While he was out, I had him neutered.  I will spare the details of that procedure, but it was cool for me to see.  I've helped with horse and llama castrations before but never with dogs. 

Diablo has been staying inside for the most part since his surgery but went back to the dog yard this morning and spent the day with the sled dogs.  I am going to continue to bring him inside a night for a few more nights until he gains back a little more weight.  I plan on running him this weekend, and just maybe he will get back in shape to do some racing this winter.

This is a lucky little dog as I was sure he was going to have to have open-abdominal surgery and be out for the rest of the season.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he will stay healthy and continue to be my little monster dog. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Diablo is going in for surgery on Monday.  He got sick last weekend and threw up all of his dinner.  I thought at first that he just had a bug.  When he hadn't eaten for 2 days, I started to get a little more concerned.  While out running the other dogs on a very slippery trail last Sunday, it dawned on me.  Diablo chewed his collar about 6 weeks ago and I never found the majority of it.  I was fairly sure this was the best explanation.
I took him to the vet Monday morning.  We couldn't see anything on the X-rays so we decided to wait and give him some antibiotics to fight a possible infection of some sort.  He did seem better on Tuesday and I was hopeful.  He woke me up on Wednesday morning in major distress so I took him back to the vet. 

After running barium through his digestive tract, we were able to see something in his stomach.  You could almost see the texture of the webbing from the collar.  Since his digestive tract isn't actually blocked and it was getting late in the day before Thanksgiving, we opted to wait until Monday for surgury.

I thought I was going to be spending the next few days syringe feeding him soaked food and water.  But, after Thanksgiving dinner, he started getting into the trash.  When I offered him food, he devoured it.  I have been feeding him small meals every 2-3 hours and he hasn't stopped eating.  This is very good and hopefully he won't lose any more weight.

We are hoping that we will be able to remove the object/collar from his stomach by pulling it back up the way it went down.  The vet is not overly optimistic that this will work as a collar is a fairly substantial object and the claws on the endoscope are not especially strong.  If this doesn't work, he will have to have his stomach cut open.  I am hoping for option one as this will mean a quicker recovery and less stress on all of us.  But, if it has to be option two, I think I will be having another house dog for the winter.  Wiley (my Border Collie) is not really happy about having another boy dog in the house.  But I have always loved this little guy who came into this world kicking and screaming and is a little monster.  Having him inside with me has been interesting especially the last couple days when he has been feeling better.  I can't take my eyes off him even for a second.

I am sure all will end well with Diablo and I look forward to putting this week of too many vet visits behind us and moving forward with the endless list of "must dos".

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is it really almost Thanksgiving?

Time is just flying by and it is just over 10 weeks to the best part of this whole adventure.  There is still so much to do before we head North and so many details to figure out.  We have had a fall full of all kinds of weather, even a skiff of snow here and there.  The dogs are ready for snow and sledding and the longer miles that those entail.  I am ready for those things but not for all the extra work that is involved when the snow comes.  Everything just takes longer.  

A few things that have been going on:

I went to Missoula on Halloween to pick up 1000 pounds of meat for the dogs.  I made it about a quarter of the way home before I had to stop due to a major oil leak in the truck.  Brooke and Sean were kind enough to come and get me, Wylie, and 40 boxes of dog meat.  My friend and fellow dog musher and diesel mechanic, Steve Riggs of Condon, MT, has been working on the truck to help get it prepped for a long trip to Alaska.  It sure helps to have friends you can count on, though I feel like my IOU list is growing...  The worst part of the whole ordeal was that I didn't get to where my Halloween costume I was so excited about.  Watch out next year.

November 5 was my 30th birthday and this was the sunrise that day.  I made it through 3 decades and have had a lot of fun.  What can I do to make the next one even better?  Well, to start with, I am going to run the Yukon Quest with my own pups.

I sold Happy to my friend, Robin Beall, of Grand Marais, MN.  Hopefully Happy will fit right in with Robin's team and help her to win lots of races.  And then I will truely regret letting her go but at least I know she has a great home.

On a sad note, I have to share that Chinaco passed away, on my birthday.  He was happy in the morning and ate breakfast and was ready to go for a run.  The time between the first sign he was not well and his passing was less than 10 minutes.  I could not even get him to the car to go to the vet in that short time.  Chinaco was born on the floor next to my bed and died in my arms exactly 17 months later.  He went quickly and with little suffering.  I miss my gentle giant very much.  I am glad that I was there for him and he knew I was there.

Patron stepped on a stick during a run that stuck over an inch into his foot.  I thought for sure we would have problems getting it to heal.  He spent one night inside with me and was raring to go the next day.  He had about 12 hours that it was sore and hasn't looked back.  These sled dogs amaze me with their toughness.

We are training about 80 miles a week now.  Seventeen of the 19 in training now are running in lead and all the dogs are now responsible members of the team.  I am very proud of how they are looking and doing.  Though this is a fairly young and inexperienced team, I feel confident that we will have a successful trip and positive experience as we run the Quest.  The next several weeks will be consumed with training dogs, planning race tactics, organizing food drop bags, gathering equipment needed, testing new gear, and, of course, working my "real job" and keeping up with the day to day necessities of eating and sleeping (though these are the first to get dropped when time gets short).

A few pictures from a run last week when my friend John Welch stopped for a visit on his way back to Fairbanks, AK.  It is hunting season in Montana and I see more deer than the hunters do!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Catch up News

It's been a while since I have posted an update.  Life at Evening Star Kennel is busy as usual, and combine that with my personal life and job and all the other things I decided to overcommit myself to, things have been crazy.  But, all in all, things are coming along nicely for our Quest starting in just over 14 weeks.  Training is going very well and everyone is building great pulling muscle and enduring stamina.  We are running approximately 20 miles each run now.  There are still 21 dogs in training and all are healthy and happy.  19 of those are taking their turn in lead and several are showing great promise for leading this winter. 

I sold 3 puppies to Lacey Hart in Livingston, MT a few weeks ago where they will go on to train and race with her and hopefully take her great places.  I plan to keep 2 of the 4 remaining pups.  They now have names.  For those horse race followers, I have "Rachel Alexandra", "Bird" for Mind that Bird, "Summer" for Summer Bird, and "Calvin" for the jockey who almost won a Triple Crown riding different horses.  They are getting big and now run faster than I can keep up.  My long-time friend, David Toren, came to visit for a weekend and I saw something I thought I would never see...

My friend of over 12 years who always got annoyed with me for stopping to visit every dog I saw on our college campus was actually cuddling with the pups and talking about wanting a dog, a conversation that shocked both of us.  Maybe next year.

Some of the stars of training right now are the 2 yearling sisters, Voodoo and Margarita.  The more we go and the harder I push the dogs, the crazier Voodoo gets.  She pulls harder than anyone in the team, despite being half the size of some of her brothers, and spends every rest break barking, well, actually screaming, to go.  She is running in lead and has one heck of a motor on her.  Margarita is very smart and loves being in front and is already starting to learn directional commands.

I have been running 20 dogs on each run which is a very long string of dogs.  Fortunately, they have been learning some manners and only drag the ATV with front and rear brakes on a few times every run.  My Border Collie pet dog, Wylie, goes on every run with us and comes home much more civilized than when he doesn't get to run.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I just got great news tonight! My friend, Brooke Bohannon, is going to be able to come to the Quest with me to be my handler. This is a very important job as she will be driving the truck from start to finishe, checkpoint to checkpoint. She will be able to help me only at the halfway point at Dawson City, but she will be taking care of any dogs that don't make the final team and any dogs that are "dropped" along the way. If, for any reason, a dog needs to stop and not continue the race, I can "drop" them to the care of my handler. This system is set up to protect the health and livelihood of all the dogs. This is a great system to have in place for a younger dog on a more mature team. I will have at least one yearling to fill out my team. He or she will be going with no expectation but for the learning experience. If at some point s/he needs to stop, I can leave the dog with Brooke and know that it will get the best care possible and be well fed, rested, and loved when I see them again at the finishline. Knowing that Brooke will be there to care for my dogs not on the trail with me will give me great peace of mind and let me better focus on the dogs that are still racing with me.

I first met Brooke in Juneau, AK in the summer of 2005 when we were working for competing glacier dog sled tour companies. We met on a day off in the upstairs of the Alaskan bar in downtown Juneau on a day off. Little did we know then that we would end up living in Whitefish, MT and training our teams together. Brooke and her husband, Sean, have had sled dogs for more than a dozen years, starting in New Hampshire. They have done some racing and had a lot of fun but are slowly phasing out of sled dogs and on to the next thing.

Brooke, Sean, and I started a dog race, Flathead Sled Dog Days, here in NW Montana. 2010 will be our 3rd year and it's been a great event and has been nice to give something back to the sport. We have been neighbors for the last 2 1/2 years. Without Brooke and Sean, I would never get to go away without worrying about my dogs. We swap dog sitting and thus we all get a chance to have a little vacation here and there. I wish Sean could come along too. Then I wouldn't have to worry about a thing. Thank you, Sean, for letting me borrow your wife for a few weeks.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sled Dogs are Tough

If you don't believe that sled dogs are tough, you will now. We got back from a 16 mile training run today and I noticed that Jersey had a cut on her hind leg about and inch and a half long. I brought her home with me and put four sutures in it with no anesthetic. She only squeaked once on the first stitch but hardly moved. When I finished, she got a cookie, a car ride, and a walk at Round Meadows. She is good as new and doesn't even know that she got hurt.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

They Grow Up Fast!

GROUP PHOTO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wait, where did everybody go? Puppies at 8 weeks old don't stay still long enough for a group photo. You think you have them all together, but by the time the camera clicks, they are gone. I did do a few more shots, 135 to be exact, to get some better pictures of the newest additions to the kennel.

Feeding time is the most important time of the day. And it apparently doesn't come often enough. This pup wants to make sure she won't miss dinner!

Sled dog pups are often named with themes for the litter. I am at a loss for a theme for these guys. I only plan on keeping 2 and am looking for home for the rest. I have 2 names in mind for the 2 who are staying. But I am thinking that they need names pretty soon. If you have ideas for names, send me an email,

Fully weaned for a week now, the pups are excited for new adventures!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Evening Star Kennel: Origins

I was in North Carolina last weekend in the area where I grew up for my brother Jamie's wedding. It was a nice wedding that completely represented Jamie and my new sister, Sarah Jane. I got to see lots of friends and family as well as several people from the distant past. As I was handing out Evening Star Kennel business cards, I got one question from almost everyone, "How did you come up with the name 'Evening Star'?" I guess it is time to tell the story.

My first sled dog job was as a tour guide in Jackson, WY. One of my main leaders was a little freight train of a dog named Venus. She always wanted to go and made it quite clear that she was not happy to be left behind. Once February and March roll around, most tour dogs know the routine and don't get excited about going until the harness are actually being worn. Venus, on the other hand, would bark incessantly as soon as the sled came out of the barn to get set up and ready for the day. In order to stop the noise, I often let her loose to hang out by the sleds where she immediately quieted down and found a good spot to take a snooze near her spot in lead. Needless to say, I got a little attached. At the end of the season party, I asked my boss, Frank, if I could have her. He said yes and the rest became history.

Venus went everywhere with me for 6 years. She was my constant companion. We made at least 3 road trips across the country. We hiked 500 miles on the Colorado Trail in 5 weeks one summer. She went to Alaska to do glacier tours. Venus saw more states than a lot of people. She was the only thing I didn't lose in my cabin fire the year I ran Iditarod. She wasn't just my dog but my best friend.

Venus lost her hearing as she got older and gave me a scare a few times when I would come home and see her stretched out in the sunshine but never moving until I slammed the car door. In March of 2008, I left Venus at a friend's house while we went out for dinner. While we were gone, the roommate came home and Venus bolted out the door. She just wanted to go do something fun. She wouldn't come to him and ended up taking off towards town. Despite postering the town, going door to door, and driving many hours looking for her, I never found her.

I still miss her everyday and wanted a way to keep her with me as I go down the trail. I was struggling with a name for the kennel when someone told me that Venus is the Evening Star. I knew instantly that it was perfect. So, the kennel is named for Venus, in her honor and in her memory.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Pups are getting Personality...

The puppies are growing fast and becoming little individuals. When they first opened their eyes and could see the world, they were terrified of me. But they are coming around and most of them are getting very social. No one has a name yet because I can't keep them all. But they aren't an amorphous mass anymore either. One of the black females is super sweet and is definitely vying for one of the spots in the kennel. Everyone is looking healthy and eating real food. Etna is still being a good mom, even though the pups now have teeth and tend to use them. I wish they could stay this size and then become dogs overnight. The totally obnoxious stage isn't too far away.