Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rain and Smoke

"Railbelt Complex" Fire - July 2009

One common question that I am asked is: When will you start training again?

My response is usually "It depends upon the rain and the smoke."

Much of the summer, Interior Alaska is a warm, dry desert. This week, day time temperatures have been in the upper 70s and even into the 80s. We have received very little rain the last few months with only an occasaional light shower in the evening. This, as well as thousands of daily lightening strikes, ignites the fire season. Currently, we have several nearby wild land forest fires that funnel smoke and ash into our valley depending upon the wind direction.

Needless to say, our furry coated huskys look for the nearest shade for most of the day and nap. It is, literally, the dogs' days of summer.

I have run some small teams late at night only after wetting each dog down with a watering can. But the trails are dust ladden and bone dry hard. When we stop for a break the dogs roll in dust and inhale smoke. The benefits of running a dog team the end of July do not seem to outweigh the negatives.

So ...... When will we start training?

Training begins when summer ends. The summer will end when the rain begins. Soon there will be cooler temperatures, no fires (or smoke) and huge puddles for the dogs. This has happened as soon as August 1st and as late as mid September.

It will all happen quickly and quietly and I will be left standing there saying "Where did summer go?"

Plumes of smoke and ash from a nearby Wildland Fire

Friday, July 24, 2009

As they Grow!


I was pointing out a few dogs to a kennel visitor yesterday. I eyed Viper in the foreground and said "He is just a youngster." Steve said, "Boy, he looks older to me." I thought about it and my little Viper is a real dog now. The car litter: Viper, Beemer, Ranger, Honda, Hummer, Scout, Rambler, Malibu and Olivia are almost 2 years old.

How quickly they grow up!

Ranger at 8 weeks

Ranger with his mother, Cha Cha, Spring 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Salmon isn't just for the Dogs!

We have documented the importance of salmon in our life with sled dogs. (See Blog Post "Fish Snacks" on December 23, 2008.) But, salmon's not just for the dogs!
Allen holds a Red Salmon

Every July Allen and Aliy head south to the Kenai to catch Red (Sockeye) Salmon and King (Chinook) Salmon in order to add meat to our freezer. Some of our favorite dishes are BBQ Red, King Cakes and deep fried sockeye with hushpuppies.

Kings and Reds are two entirely different fish and require different fishing tackle.

Adult Kings (Chinook) range in size from 33 to 36 inches (840 to 910 mm), but may be up to 58 inches (1.47 meters) in length; they average 10 to 50 pounds (4.54 to 22.7 kg), but may reach 130 pounds (59 kg). The current sport caught World Record is 97 pounds 4 ounces (44.1 kg) and was caught in May 1985 by Les Anderson in the Kenai River. The commercial catch world record is 126 pounds (57 kg) caught near Petersburg, Alaska in a fish trap in 1949. Allen has caught a 72 pound King in the Kenai.

A Red (Sockeye) can be as long as 33 inches (840 millimetres) and weigh 4 to 8 lbs, up to 14 lbs. It has an elongated, torpedo shaped body, with an adipose fin, and a bluntly pointed snout. The fish migrate in "runs" through out the summer. The largest runs in the Kenai are normally in mid July when hundreds of thousands of fish will be in the river at one time. They are so dense at this time that the river will look like it is boiling with fish as they jump and dart out of the water.

Allen will be down on the Kenai for a few more days - so wish him luck!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fan Letters

Most of our fan mail comes from school children, grades 3 to middle school. There are quite a few teachers - worldwide - who use an Iditarod Curriculum in their class. We also get letters from home schooled children and scout troops. The thousands of letters that we have received have included poems, book reports, pictures, and even small gifts.

One of the more touching letters came to me several years ago after a mediocre preformance in Iditarod. The little girl wrote "since you didn't get any priz money this race I sent you my allowance." She had wrapped up 5 quarters with Scotch tape and slipped them in the envelope. Heartwrentching! These quarters now reside next to all of my Yukon Quest and Iditarod trophies.

This year, I had many favorites: laminated banners, dog pictures and even writing pens from homeschooled children in New Zealand. Allen and I also received hand made patches from school kids in Buchanan, New York. I hope that you enjoy them as much as we did.

The letter that came with the patches explained a few things:

(Allen) "For your patch, we decided to highlight "Happy". Our teacher told us about Happy and we loved following the race to see if Happy made it to Nome. Mrs. Simon told us that Happy showed us that anything is possible! Don't tell anyone, but your patch was the funnest to make! We wanted to put the lips on Happy's butt, but our teacher said behind it was good enough to get the point across."

(Aliy) "For your patch, we decided to highlight that you made your own boots out of a snow suit and string or tape when your got wet. Our teacher tells us the Iditarod is full of problem solving and we liked your solution."

We do enjoy all of the letters and try to respond to all. We will gladly send used dog booties or postcards, but be sure to incude a self addressed stamped envelope so we can write you back.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Grandma Comes to Visit

The 4th of July holiday is a time for American families to get together. Things are no different here at SP Kennel this weekend. Mickey and Doug have been in Two Rivers for several weeks. Bridgett and Scotty have flown in from Nome, along with cousin Drew. And Scotty's folks, Pam and Joey, are up for a visit as well.

Along with the human reunion, "Grandma Girlfriend", the Alaskan Husky, has come to town for the holiday. Girlfriend retired from sled dog racing in 2008. Since then she has been a couch potato and occasional jogging/skiing buddy with Bridgett and Scotty in Nome. She flew into Fairbanks yesterday and will spend 10 days here with Bridgett and black lab friend, Remington.

Girlfriend had a significant impact on SP Kennel for nearly a decade. She came to the kennel as an shy, unwanted 6 month old pup with lice and skin problems. By 2002, she was becoming a super star sled dog and was one of the youngest dogs to compete in the Copper Basin for us at age 13 months. Later that year, she went on to compete in the Iditarod at 15 months. Girlfriend was a primary force at the kennel and went on to lead SP Kennel Iditarod teams for the next 6 consecutive years.

Girlfriend was not only a racing super star, but also had two fantastic litters of puppies for us in 2002 and 2003. All of her puppies raced and succeeded here at SP Kennel. Oddball, her first born blue-eyed pup in 2002, has become a super star in his own right and fathered two litters of puppies in 2007 and 2008. These Girlfriend grand puppies are now the future of our kennel. The oldest litter will be two years old this racing season and we look forward to watching their progress. They include: Ranger, Beemer, Rambler, Scout, Hummer, Viper, Malibu and Olivia. The younger pups will only be yearlings for the racing season, so their training will be limited. They include: Bubba, Scruggs, Waylon, Lester, Hank, Willie, Reba and Boondocks.

Happy 4th of July, USA!