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.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

5 days...

Sunset from the Tanana River a couple of days ago.  We ran 70 miles and came home under the brightest full moon of 2010.  I didn't use my headlamp except in the trees because the moon was so bright, it didn't seem to do anything.  The dogs had a great run and finished strong.  They picked up the pace as the daylight disappeared and we loped the last several miles. 

Saturday, we had the vet check.  I had to pull the truck into a warehouse and we weighed and checked each dog carefully.  Patron was the biggest weighing in at just over 62 pounds.  Whitney was the smallest at just under 42 pounds.  Most of the dogs were between 45-53 pounds.  The dogs were a little nervous at being inside a strange place and having to stand on a table for some poking and prodding.  Herbert was the most nervous and spent his few minutes on the table with his toes curled around the edge of it and bracing against my stomach to keep him from launching off.  Everyone passed with flying colors except Detour.  She has a heart murmer, not at all uncommon in sled dogs.  But the vets want to do an EKG to be sure that there is not something else there to be concerned about.  Hopefully it was nothing to keep her from racing as she is the rising star in the team.  Detour is the toughest dog I have ever run and a phenomenal lead dog.  We will find out in the next few days.
Otherwise, all the dogs are happy and healthy.  The temperatures are supposed to start dropping this week and be -30 by later in the week.  The extended forecast shows below 0 temps for all of the 10 days it shows for the Alaska side of the trail.  It looks to be a cold one.  Still trying to find the perfect footwear combination.

Brooke, Anita, and my mom all arrive on Tuesday around midnight.  It will be nice to have everyone here.  Just 5 days until the start and we are pretty much ready to go.  I am trying to get a lot of sleep not as I won't be getting much for the next 2 weeks.  I feel so lucky that I have not one but 2 great friends and handlers coming to help me.  I won't have to worry about the dogs not on the trail and I know that they will handle anything that comes their way. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

10 days and counting...

For frostbite prevention, this is about all the skin I will be showing for the nearly 2 weeks that I will be running my 1000 mile journey from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.  I had some minor frostbite on my cheeks when I ran Iditarod in 2006 and I can feel it wanting to come back with minimal exposure.

The temperature here has not been so cold as it might be during the race.  I has been only down to about -10 or -15 degrees these last couple of days.  That is cold enough for me and my dogs to feel it though.  I have been wearing all my cold weather gear and have been almost too warm.  Except my feet.  I have to say, I am hugely disappointed in my Cabela's boots.  I am going to have to try to figure out something else in the next couple of days to keep my feet from getting frostbite if it gets colder.  I am going to town tomorrow to run errands and am going to look at other options for footwear.

We went for another run on the river today.  The navigation on the glare ice was not so smooth as it was yesterday.  Whitney did not like the ice one bit and we had a bit of a tangle that I could do nothing about as they dragged me toward the shore.  I managed to set my snowhook in a small snow drift and untangle the team and get them pointed mostly in the right direction.  I will get a few more river runs in before we start on February 6th, so hopefully the leaders will get more comfortable with the ice. 

My camera was working today and I got lots of pictures of the long shadows at high noon, fish camps and fish wheels on the river side, and, of course, dog butts.  I wanted to get a picture of the glare ice to share, but I had to have both hands on the sled and would have liked at third to help hold on.  The snow is a bit skimpy everywhere this year and should make for an interesting trip.  Vet check on Saturday, bib draw and start banquet Wednesday, meetings all day Thursday, and out into the wilds on Saturday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Last Month

Yes, I have been slack with the blog updates.  I apologize for having to sleep at least a little.  The last month has been a whirlwind of training and race preparations and I am now in Nenana, AK just outside of Fairbanks.  It is only 11 days until the start of the race and the reason for all this effort.

Since my last posting, I have spent close to 150 hours on the runners covering almost 1200 miles.  I was able to do 2 runs from home right after we got snow enough for a sled and then it got warm and rained.  With the loss of snow and subsequent freezing of the rain, it was not safe to take the dogs from home.  I had to load them in the truck and drive 4 miles down the road to the trailhead and spend the first 7 miles hoping that everyone did exactly like they were supposed to because there would be no way to stop on the ice. 

We all survived this part of training.  Having to truck for training added about 3 hours extra work for each run.  I had little time for much else.  But the positive thing that came from this is that the dogs became very professional loading and unloading, prepping at the truck, and taking off in precarious conditions.  I was running 16 of the 18 in training on each run, with 120 pounds in the sled.  We made several trips to Red Meadow Lake, up and over Stryker Ridge, and up to the Valhalla yurt.  These are some mountain climbing puppies. 

Starting January 1, we had enough snow to leave from home.  We took a few short test runs to make sure the trail was safe and broken out and then did a 3 day stretch where we ran 5-6 hours with a 6-8 hour rest.  We covered some serious miles and the dogs got to see a glimpse of what it will be like racing.  For me though, when we race, I get to rest some on the breaks as well.  But for this training, I couldn't take the daytime breaks to rest.  I had other details to take care of.  We ended of tough 3 days of training with tougher and tired pups, but I was completely exhausted.

The second weekend of January was Flathead Sled Dog Days, the race that I help organize with Brooke Bohannon and Sean Hard, though this year, they did most of the work.  I brought my dogs to the race on Saturday.  And after helping get all the racing teams out on the trail, I hooked up 17 dogs with 160 pounds in the sled and ran just over 50 miles, up and over Stryker Ridge both ways.  After that tough run, I don't think my team will even notice any mountain to summit on the Quest trail.

On an important side note, FSDD 2010 was a huge success and, I expect is no longer the new race to go try but a destination.  Check out this video on YouTube: Flathead Sled Dog Days 2010.

On January 15, I went down to Lincoln, MT to run the Lincoln-Seeley 200.  I took my 5 yearling, 5 2 year olds, Whitney, and Etna to see what the younger dogs could do.  I didn't plan on racing and took extra rest.  All 12 dogs finished strong on a hard fast trail, through very warm conditions and even a bit of rain (enough to soak 4 pairs of gloves in 50 miles).  We finished 10th, about 3.5 hours behind the winning team, but I was very pleased with the performance of my team.  They all slept when they were supposed to, ate when food was served, worked hard, and kept their composure through it all.  All of the dogs on that team on on the truck here in AK except Diablo.

Diablo finished the 200 and was probably one of the better yearlings in the team.  But with his illness in the fall, I don't quite trust him to be completely well yet and decided to leave him home, though I miss his crazy attitude.  Jersey also stayed home as she has a minor Achilles tendon tear.  She will almost certainly fully recover, but I am so disappointed not to have her here with us.

After finishing the 200 in the wee hours of January 17, I headed home to finish packing.  With a lot of help from a lot of friends, I hit the road around noon on January 19.  With 1800 miles to cover in 4 days with 16 dogs to care for and only me to drive, we made it to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and the finishing point for the Yukon Quest, four days later, in time for the January 23 deadline to deliver food drops to the race. 

Food drops are all the supplies that I will need during the race.  The race organization takes these drops out to the designated checkpoints.  Except for the halfway point at Dawson City, these food drops are all we will have to work from. I can no longer add anything and I can't get anything from my truck once I leave the starting line.  Anything I have forgotten, I have to carry from the start or do without.

Preparing my food drops has consumed a lot of time and resources.  I have prepped all my dog food, cutting meat on my neighbors, the Parrs', band saw, bagging both meat and kibble in exact amounts.  I have cooked for myself and vacuum sealed meals for the trail.  I gathered all the extra sled plastic, linaments, foot ointments, extra clothing, handwarmers, and all the miscellaneous things I might need.  Leaving these bags in Whitehorse was a major relief.  Whether I got it all right or not, I can't do anything else about it now.  I can now focus on the dogs and getting the last few runs  to make sure we are all ready for 1000 miles.

So, now we are in Nenana and the dogs are out of the truck and in Jacques and Magali's dog yard.  I can sleep more than 5-6 hours at a time and don't have to lift 16 dogs in and out of the truck (half over my head) 4+ times a day.  Yesterday, I took 2 8 dog teams 20 miles each for a little stretch.  Today, I took 10 50 miles to the Tanana River and showed them their first glare ice and it looks like Margaret might be the leader I need to count on when I can't get off the runners.  I took my camera and, of course, when I had the best shot, the batteries died.  I think I am going to have to try the lithium batteries tomorrow. 

It has been sunny and cold, but not cold for Fairbanks.  The days are not as short as I had expected though the sun never gets very high in the sky and the shadows are long all day, even at noon.  I feel like it is late afternoon all day.  I have been told that we are gaining 6-7 minutes of light a day.  That will be about an hour more light by the time I start the Quest and an hour more by the time I finish.
The moon has been beautiful and red as it waxes to full this weekend.  This means that it will be slipping away to the new moon during my 1000 mile run.  I love running dogs by the moonlight, but I can expect to have very little of this on the Quest.

We will do a few more training runs in the next 10 days.  The vet check is on Saturday and next week is mostly consumed with meetings, banquets, and other obligations.  I can't wait to be on the trail where I get the luxury of spending 12 or so days with my dogs with no other worries but what is in fron of us.  It looks like I will have 3 yearlings on the team which means that I might have to slow down a little from my original schedule.  That is OK.  We will travel the same speed on the trail but might have to take some longer rests.  I am sure everyone will do just fine and I am not sure who the 2 alternates will be yet. 

I will do my best to do a couple more updates before the start of the race.  Hopefully my camera will cooperate with me tomorrow and I will be able to share some of the beautiful Alaska scenery. 

PS - The last 2 photos are from Magali Philip's Facebook page.