Saturday, November 29, 2008


Though not official until December 21, it seems winter is here.

Animals have an amazing ability to adapt to winter and changes in temperature. Some land-hibernating frogs, such as the wood frog, overwinter or hibernate by freezing solid during winter, resurrecting themselves in spring; within six hours after thawing, a frog in one study resumed breathing and its heartbeat returned to normal. Other frogs who are freeze tolerant are the spring peeper, chorus frog, grey tree frog. Communal nesting, such as that seen in beaver, and small rodents like mice and voles, is a prime way to fend off winter cold: the inside of a snow-covered beaver lodge may be as much as 35 degrees warmer than the outside air in mid winter.

To welcome winter, I have a small arsenal of books about winter ecology. Peter J. Marchand's Life In The Cold: An Introduction to Winter Ecology, where the above factoid came from, is one such book I've been reading with fascination.

Huskies are clearly animals superbly acclimated to the cold. Their double-coated fur protects them from wind, snow and rain. Jack prefers to be outside in the snow. And when we run, the dogs take frequent breaks to cool down, rolling in the welcome crystals of the cold snow eagerly. Huskies learn to eat snow while running, called "dipping," to take care of themselves and their body temperature.

So, why haven't people adapted?

People complain about winter, never venturing outside to see the amazing winter activities taking place every day. Crystals of snow drift slowly from a winter sky; a blue jay fluffing its feathers to keep itself warm; huskies running down one of the trails we train on :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back in Ohio, and Thrilled to Find SNOW!

CR 500 on the way out of Sled Dog Lodge yesterday. We're talking snow by the feet!

loaded up and headed for home

To my surprise, we have enough snow in NE Ohio to run on, so I took five dogs today, along with my girls, Sophie and Elise, and hooked up on the bridle trail at West Branch State Park where I run. We had a beautiful day for a hook up, and the dogs enjoyed pulling the girls in the basket.

Elise telling the dogs to 'line out'

Foxy, who will be 13 in about a month, is fully retired but still loves to join us for the runs. We let her run along side the sled. She's still in fantastic shape!

Alas, mushers' hands are never clean. This picture (below) was taken after scrubbing my hands. At this point, my hands are so calloused and beat up, I am losing feeling in them. Sadly, Chris has softer hands than I do!

I think I need a manicure!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Headin' Home

Pecs, delts, triceps, biceps, quads, name it, it hurts! I departed Sled Dog Lodge today around noon after digging my truck out of almost two feet of snow. I'm now about 10 miles north of the Mackinaw Bridge in Hiawatha National Forest, and happy for a chance to sit in my warm truck for a few hours!

As I was packing up today, Jim said, "So how do you think you're progressing?"

"I don't know: how do you think I'm progressing?" I answered.

"I think quite well," he said. Given the high octane nuts Jim calls dogs and the hellish trail conditions we went through yesterday, Jim says he thinks I'm gonna make it.

I leave today grinning ear to ear!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do." - Bob Dylan

Snowy Me! First run out with six dog team Second run out with six dog team

Ran 18 miles with 12 dogs in two different teams today in a foot of snow. First team pulled my snowhook because it's almost impossible to hook down well in this fresh powder. I caught the sled as it went by and they dragged me a good 1/4 mile up the trail with several attempts on my part to right the sled. Finally, success! And the most important thing: I didn't let go! Success is sometimes measured in the small things. Eighteen miles on rough-slogging trails with a bunch of wired crazy dogs...just getting out alive is sometimes a very good day! :-)

A few weeks ago, Chris and I were watching the Discovery Channel's series on the Iditarod. Chris said to me, "well, the dogs are the real athletes. It doesn't seem too hard to just stand on the runners and let a bunch of dogs pull you."

I almost choked on my diet coke.

Ever try jogging on a beach?

Ever try jogging in a foot of snow?

Slogging through a foot of snow with a dog yard full of crazed dogs trying to harness and hook up a team is nothing less than a workout. Moreover, running up hills behind a team pushing a sled in that same foot of snow with about 10 pounds of winter gear on takes some athleticism! As Jim says, no matter what kind of shape you're in, it never seems enough. Everytime I come back from a run with a team, my first layer is soaked with sweat. A musher works almost as hard as the dogs, especially when breaking trail.

But, giving credit where credit is due, these fine athletes never cease to amaze me with their prowess, diligence and tenacity. They are certainly the true athletes. And their undying loyalty to their people is something most of us aren't worthy of.

Mush on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who Said the Weather Outside is Frightful?

I can think of nothing that fills my heart with joy like this scene above.

The snow is almost up to my knees up here in Paradise, Michigan, and the dogs had a hard time slogging through it to break trail today. I think tomorrow we will take the snowmobiles out to break some trail the "easy" way - easier for the dogs and the musher!

And the snow just keeps falling...

Friends of mine in Alaska say they have no snow. Tonight, I went outside to look at the millions of stars in the U.P. sky, and the snow was up to my knees. Tomorrow, Jim and I are taking every dog in the yard out for a 15 mile run over to the Shaws kennel and back - for a 30 mile run.

Miles are exactly what I - and my dogs - need.

Mush on...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eighteen Miles and Enough Snow to Bring the Sleds Out

Yeti and Mandy

Patches Scratches

and scratches....

Patches is a little bit OCD

Eighteen miles today and the dogs still bark for more. Good training run today and enough snow to bring the sleds out. The dogs are happy as can be.

Crazy things happen when you hook 10 dogs to a line. Jim and I were talking just now and I said it's like trying to hook 10 very strong, meat-eating, high octane preschoolers to a line and expecting them to behave. I said to Jim,

"I wonder what goes through their minds?"

Jim just shakes his head, "don't wonder too long," he says.

So far, so good. I found my way down a very narrow, steep trail today and had to turn around. I ended up tying the team off to a tree, turned the quad around, brought each dog up to the quad and rehooked everyone one by one. Then we were off again.

Tomorrow, I'm hooking up with the sled for the first time. It will be good to get my "sled legs" back.

Until tomorrow...

Monday, November 17, 2008

First Good Snow

Nine happy dogs!

...and one bundled up me!

Today, after some issues getting out of the yard (again) me and nine of my buddies charged out of the yard for a fourteen mile run. We were celebrating the first good snow. And boy were the dogs full of piss and vinegar!

After feeding this morning, all of the dogs started howling as they always do after feeding. It's like their way of saying "thank you." I turned around, put my own nose to the air and howled with them...only, their reaction wasn't encouraging. They all stopped howling abruptly and stared at me, then started barking the short, quick barks they do when something is amiss. It was hilarious. Apparently humans are not supposed to howl.

Then, after our run, I sat down to cuddle with Sparrow, one of my favorite little dogs in the yard. She layed down on the soft straw beside her barrel, and I layed down with her. Once again, this odd human behavior prompted much alarm from the dogs in the yard, who started barking those same short, quick barks. Except for my own dogs. They're used to such oddities.

The wind is blowing hard up here tonight as the first real snowy cold weather sets in. Temperature outside is 25 degrees and dropping. I sit by the wood stove drinking tea.

It is always after the first week up here that I start to really miss my family. I am missing them tonight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Day Off

Snow fell steadily today, covering everything in a beautiful blanket of white

Jack perched on his house, waiting...

Paradise Weather

Light Snow
Feels Like:27°
Barometer:29.83 in and rising
Visibility:7 mi
Wind:NW 5 mph
Sunrise:7:45 am
Sunset:5:04 pm
27°High: 33° Low: 25°

Tonight: Snow, High 33° Low 25°

Tomorrow: Snow & Snow Showers, High: 30° Low: 22°

Tuesday: Snow showers, High: 31° Low: 26°

Wednesday: Snow showers, High: 33° Low: 27°

Thursday: Snow showers, High: 29° Low: 16°

The dogs and I reluctantly took the day off after strong words of caution from Bob Shaw and Jim Warren regarding running during opening weekend of hunting season. We made the best of it. All the dogs received a flake of straw since the temperatures are dropping and snow is falling steadily. With the sight of the straw, the dogs acted like kids on Christmas morning. Then, I took a drive into Paradise to look out over Lake Superior. Can't wait to hook up again tomorrow...

Lake Superior by Whitefish Point

Driving along Route 123 to Whitefish Point

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Photo Diary - Caution: this entry not for the faint of heart

My back aches and I'm reminded of my zoo keeping days. Carrying five pound buckets of feed around to feed 30 dogs is a lot like keeping. Some may say I'm odd for posting these thoughts - especially the photo below - but I felt it was worth a note about the work that goes into this sport.

Many probably only think of the ideallic images projected by Discovery Channel or Disney when thinking of running dogs. Allow me to dispel the myth with this photo...

Beef: it's what's for dinner. The dogs consume about 12 pounds of beef a day

Hard driving, hard working sleddogs consume many calories to make up for what they burn running. A lot of those calories need to come from fat. Currently, the 30 dogs in the yard consume 24 pounds of beef a day, along with 12 quarts of high-protein kibble. All of this is mixed together with water to provide adequate calories. And carrying these buckets around with all this slop isn't easy. The dogs also need constant care, rub downs, foot salve, and general lovin' to keep them running at top speed as well.

Then there's chopping firewood, building fires, running in the rain, wind, snow when you really would rather stay in a cozy sleeping bag, not to mention the sawing of raw meat which usually includes anything from beef to fish to venison, moose,'s a lot of work and not for the faint of heart.

"And the dogs they run in the good, good morning sun" Damien Rice Dogs

But then, it's all worth it for a good run in the morning sun.

Felled birch on the trail

Today, I ran across this felled birch on the trail. Luckily I had my axe, but a saw would have been much better. Clearing trails is part and parcel for running dog teams too.

So, I thought I'd post this to show that there's a lot more to this sport than sitting by a fire...although, when the work is done, it's a nice thing to do too.

After a hard day's work, a fire is nice

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ain't It the Life

Russ-stick Acres
Over the flat, barren corn fields of my home, the Toyota and I eat miles back up to Michigan. Random raindrops fall over the barren gray, and I listen to Neko Case’s “South Tacoma Way” along the highway, happy with hot coffee and the silence of wheels humming on asphalt. Along with the leaves, all the election signs are down along Route 2 now, leaving only a barren array of gray-brown forest beside an angry, cold Lake Michigan that will soon be frozen. Old broken down snow machines from years past sit in yards; I wonder absently what day it is. It’s so easy to lose track of time here.

Steps leading down to Lake Michigan along Route 2

Perhaps that’s why my good friends Sherry and Russ Sutherby refer to their place as, “Russ-stick Acres: where time stands still.”

I was able to stop on my way up north and spend the night at their place. Sherry and I were up talking dogs until the wee hours in the wee house – a tiny cabin where she is able to connect to the internet. Then I retired with my three dogs to the Bear’s Den – the even tinier cabin where Lance Mackey slept when he visited Michigan in September (see previous post).

Inside the Bear's Den

There is a whole culture of mushers here. They are generally a quiet bunch living close to the land. They tell stories of hooking up Seppela Siberians to the chasis of Volkswagon Beetles in the 1970’s. Russ Sutherby is a prime example.

Thin and quiet, Russ is about my height (5’8”) or a little taller with thick wavy, shoulder-length gray hair that still holds hints of the blonde that undoubtedly wooed women years ago. Russ and I stand in the new saw mill he built recently. He explains how he was so inspired by this project, he built the mill in three weeks. His quick light blue eyes dart to some of the equipment as he’s showing me, then back to me; his eyes are the most striking thing about him, although he is altogether a striking figure. Above his eyes and wavy hair sits a felt hat, complete with feather and, on the opposite side, two matches tucked away. Russ rolls his own tobacco from Bugler, and his mustache and fingers are stained tobacco-color.

This morning, Russ wasn't too happy with me. Or, should I say, he wasn't too happy with my dogs.

I let my threesome out of the Bear's Den for a run. I had done the same thing last evening when I arrived and they came back without a problem. About half hour after calling for them without seeing any sign of them, I fired up the Toyota and headed the 1/4 mile up to the main cabin.

First, I saw Yeti running frantic circles, a look of worry on his face.

Then I saw Russ, with another emotion entirely on his face.

"Your dogs were chasing my (expletive) cows!" he said, blue eyes firing at me.

Of course, I apologized profusely, and almost immediately, Russ's eyes softened. He accepted my apology, but he added,

"Will you do it again?"

"No," I promised.

"Okay, then I accept," he smiled. "But if I hear this happens again with you, I'll not accept!"

Who'll Stop the Rain?
Today I took the quad out for a 20-some mile ride to familiarize myself with some of the longer trails. I ended up coming back along CR 414 by Pike Lake. It rained all day here - as it's done for weeks. I am a muddy mess.

Random phone booth along 414 by Pike Lake

Later, I took two teams out, first a 10 dog, then an 8 dog. First team was like a dream. Second team - not so much. It took me about 15 minutes just getting out of the yard because Ernie and Rachel, my two leaders, decided they didn't want to run. I had a couple minor scuffles; then finally everyone figured everything out and we had a good run.

I'm exhausted. More to come...Mush on!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's Official: Click the Link Below

I depart for another 10 day stint at the Sled Dog Lodge in two days. And, after submitting my entry fee two weeks ago, finally seeing my name on the musher listing for the Midnight Run is impetus for my nerves to start going batty. Suddenly it's mid-November. The snow is falling in Michigan already and time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking.... There's so much to prepare for! And in these moments, when my nerves start getting batty, those little doubting voices in my head pipe up.

"What do you think you're doing signing up for a race like the Midnight Run?"

"Isn't it a lofty goal to jump headlong into a season like this?"

"Are you ready for this?

Many would say no. I gained a reputation last year for losing my team, an error that Bob Shaw to this day teases me about. But, some lessons are best learned through experience.

You can hear many times, as I did, that the number one rule in mushing is "don't let go." But until you actually learn through experience what it means to watch your team dart away leaving you in five degree weather without provisions 10 miles from camp deep in the woods of Michigan, hearing that doesn't mean jack. Having had this happen, I guarantee I will NEVER let go of that sled again.

And there's still so much for me to learn.

Some have questioned already my readiness for a race such as the Midnight Run. There were so many set backs last year, but I can't look back. Those set backs served to help me learn a lot. This year, my focus is keen and my drive high. Things are going really well so far this year, so I'm going with it and jumping in. And I think it's precisely because time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking that I am determined to jump in and make the most of this.

My good friend Sherry, who is always the best person for bolstering me when I'm down, encouraged me saying "Just do your thing and follow the rules. You have just as much right to be out there as anyone else. You paid your entry fee."

Indeed. Thank you, Sherry, for helping to quell those nagging, doubting voices in my head and reminding me to keep focused and keep it simple. I am not "in it to win it."

I'm in it to enjoy the ride with happy huskies.

I am in it to connect with a long, rich history - a time and place when people utilized this ultimate teamwork between animal and man to achieve a pertinent goal.

The 1917 Sled Dog Derby from Winnepeg to St. Paul

I am in it because nothing has ever fulfilled me the way hearing dog teams clamoring for the trail has. Nothing makes me happier or gives me a rush like seeing huskies jumping three feet into the air slamming into their harnesses with such enthusiasm and drive to run, run, run.

And, until I find that something that fills me up like this crazy sport does, I'll be in it, despite the odds or challenges.

To hear the song running through my head right now, please go to

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Poem My Husband Wrote for Me

An older photo of "Angry Bird" playing a coffee house

A reformed Angry Bird playing in '07

Chris (left), Chad and Mark played at our wedding as Angry Bird

My good friend Eric and me (behind the drums) played also at our wedding

Many don't know I used to rock and roll. Before running dogs, I played every Tuesday night in a little artsy bar in Canton called the Luna Grill with my good friend Eric, pictured above with me. Though it kept me out until the wee hours on a work night, the energy and good vibe from playing all night was worth the exhaustion the next day when I had to work all day at Akron Children's Hospital and come home, as a single mother, and take care of my Sophie who at that time was only a toddler.

It was during this time that I met Chris. And our families and friends thought it was so cool when, at our wedding, we provided the entertainment. One of the things that connected Chris and I was music. Having played saxophone for years, Chris's musical prowess was one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

Now, nearly seven years have passed since the days when we'd meet to play at the Luna. And, during difficult times, we all reach back and pull out those highlights that keep us focused during a storm. Many things have served to weather us this last year: my losing my job at the hospital, our frequent travels which keep us apart. So Chris wrote this for me from a hotel room in Vegas just this week, about the days when we played together until the wee hours at the Luna Grill.

To hear a sampling of Chris's music, please go to

Tuesdays at the Luna

We never seemed to mind losing sleep
On a weeknight,
The hours were in short supply,
But we made the most of our time.

Inspired notes bloomed
From my horn, and nearby
You kept time with a primal pulse,
On your drum kit, a jangly
Folk blues beat that
Shared stories of sadness and joy

In moments between downbeats
We shared a smile
And watched each other make music,
Engaged in our own psychic foreplay,
We pined for the moon to
Illuminate the way.

We shared the silence between notes,
A river to wade into,
No past or present, only now,

The eighth notes and staccato,
Maraca as a drumstick,
Were leaves and buds climbing
This tricky vine, which twisted
Into elegant shapes, but now, I'm afraid,
it¹s contorted in too many directions for us to follow,
The vines have grown over the windows
And darkened our eyes.

Where have we left those two lovers,
Who faced simplicity and modesty together,
Their hope a cornerstone,
A simple mattress on a bedroom floor?

Maybe they're still in that
Smoky room, eyes locked,
Waiting for the next song to begin.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Elise just got out of bed, came to me in the living room and said, "I want a snack. I can either have an apple or grapes," she gestured seriously with her small hands, brown eyes big, serious. "Which one should I have?"

We decided on an apple.

I helped her pick one out, small and deep red from the crisper drawer in the fridge.

Elise doesn't like eating the skin. Slowly, I peeled back the red, leathery skin, revealing the tart-looking green fruit glistening underneath. My mouth watered. And she looked up at me with those big brown eyes again and said, "Girls stink like blossoms," and took the peeled apple and went silently back to bed.