Sunday, February 22, 2009

What a Weekend!

There is nothing like coming home. No one loves or gives such a welcome homecoming like my critters, both human and four-legged. But, there's nothing like the festivities of the events of this weekend, or the wonderful accomplishments of this season. As I drove home through a blizzard that brought 11 inches of snow last night, finishing the trip today, I had the chance to think about a lot of the amazing animal atheletes I've met and worked with this winter. But first, here are a few snapshots from this weekend:

Dogs from Alcan Kennels, owned by Al Hardman, await the start of the U.P. 200 in their cozy quarters

Jason Barron from Lincoln, Montana prepares for departure at the U.P.200 start

>Pizza isn't the only thing "Hot and Ready" (sign in the background)

A U.P. 200 team runs along the shoreway of Lake Superior outside of Marquette

Geri Menard waves to spectators at the Deerton crossing

At the Deerton checkpoint of the Midnight Run awaiting Joann and other mushers' arrival

Shortly after 10 p.m. Joann came into the Deerton checkpoint - at that point, she was the second team to roll in! That's her team there in the distance

The Jack Pine 30

My trophy!

Other mushers had forewarned that the Jack Pine 30 is a challenging 30 miler not for inexperienced drivers. But, while I admit it was challenging, I really found the trail an absolute delight. In fact, my official time of 3 hours, 1 minute and 20 seconds seemed to fly by!
There were definitely parts of the trail that were challenging, though. Running up Marquette mountain has caused soreness in my whole body today! And coming down the ski lift via six dogs with skiiers passing beside me was quite interesting. My favorite part was running along Lake Superior coming into the harbor in downtown Marquette, though, when I knew I had clenched a pretty solid good standing and the race was almost over.

Unfortunately, I was by myself without a driver or handler for this race, so I have no pictures of myself, except for these which I took with my phone. I couldn't help smiling to myself, even though it was just me and the team traveling in the neighborhoods of Marquette.
My team, along the Lake Superior shoreline at the finish of the Jack Pine 30

Saturday, February 21, 2009

6th Place in Jack Pine 30!

So much to report! But I'm on the road, at our favorite little coffee shop in downtown Munising, enjoying a wonderful grilled cheese and latte at the Falling Rock Cafe, so I have to be quick. The most important thing I wanted to post is in the headline, but also

THANK YOU to JOANN and LARRY FORTIER for the use of their AWESOME, AWESOME DOGS!!! I had a fairly flawless run and these dogs made 30 miles super fast and fun!

Congratulations to Joann for placing 6th in the Midnight Run!!! The Fortier's had a spectacular year running dogs this year, and their success has been hard earned.

Congratulations to Caitlyn Curtice for WINNING the Jack Pine! Also, congratulations to Laura Bontrager for placing a close 2nd. These girls, only teenagers, have a bright future as dog drivers.

I have easily taken 500 photos in the last few days of teams, and do not have time to format them, but here are a couple:

Tim Calhoun talks strategy with Pete Curtice at the U.P. 200 musher banquet

Larry and Joann Fortier on our way to the races

Log yard. Logging is a major industry in the U.P. because of the plentiful hardwood

If you take highway 41 from Manistique toward Marquette, you will see this. Sculpture made from junk, which looked particularly cool in the snow.
More to come!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The girls

Too tired to write tonight. So, to pick up from yesterday, here are the girls in Joann's team:

Cowgirl, an absolute lover and the frontrunner of the team

Zoey, nope, she's not a Jack Russell. She is 100% the driving force behind the team, and very difficult to get a picture of I might add! She NEVER stops moving!

One of my absolute favorites of the Fortier kennel, Odessa, the matriarch. Many of the pups in the kennel are out of Odessa, including our Ruffian

Lilly - aka "Silly Lilly." Inquisitive, playful, and full of energy

And who could forget this girl! Making the best little doggy face...

Ana walks around on all fours for the better part of the day, pretending to be a doggy. And how could she not be impressed by dogs: she's been surrounded by 30 of them her whole life. She makes the best impressions of sled dogs I've ever seen! She also does a darned good snow angel!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blue sky blue

Snowmobiles buzz intermittently along Mancelona road as I drive into town to fax an invoice to a client. It is a gorgeous day - the kind of day worth living for. I used to think I had to live out west to find days like this: clear, crisp, snow-covered and sunny. Ice fishing huts perch along Otsego Lake in clusters; random tracks from some snowmobile lead the way across the frozen lake toward them where a guy in Carharts sits patiently awaiting a nibble from a northern Pike. The huts are tiny pinnacles on a horizon dotted with trees on the opposite shore, and the sky, hand picked straight from a fresh box of Crayolas, "blue sky" blue, the tip still sharp and new.

It's a day for loud music and singing, which is what I do as I drive. It's a day that celebrates the simple joys in life in a simple town in Midwestern America. And, it's a day for dogs.

Any day is a day for dogs. And here are some. These are "the boys" of Joann's '09 team.

Jackson, with striking eyes, he is aloof yet hard-driving

George, a handsome, leggy lad on the team

Boston, a sensitive, sweet boy

Gibson, who Joann says is Mr. Crabby to all the other males

Prophet, an absolute lover. Here he is eyeing Gibson in the foreground

As I sat with the dogs today snapping portraits of them, I felt a dark presence watching in the distance not 50 feet beyond the first barrel of the dog yard. Dark figures, at least 20 of them, hunched with their dark backs in sharp contrast to the snowy ground. I moved closer. Is it what I think it is?

Star doesn't seem to notice the dark visitors beyond

Yep, apparently it's a day for turkeys too.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"We're the Fortiers"

I arrived at Larry and Joann Fortier's last night around dinner time. Ana, who is four, took my hand soon after I arrived and led me to her room to color pictures in a Dora and Diego coloring book. As we colored, she talked about random things: her dogs Odessa and Tefa, her preschool, her friends. She said she's going to be a good musher girl when she grows up. Finally, out of the blue, she said,

"We're a family. We're the Fortiers."

This is Ana, decked out in her little helmet atop the snowmobile.

She spends a lot of her time outside with her mom and dad running dogs. And the dogs are part of her family.

Cowgirl (left) and Zoey (right) prepare to head out on a training run

Ana goes along with her dad on the snowmobile while her mom runs the dogs on a 19 mile run. Joann is preparing for the Midnight Run this weekend. And she and her dogs look awesome!

Joann and 10 dogs hittin' their stride along a 19 mile training run

Joann and Larry have graciously allowed me to run a team of their super-charged dogs in the Jack Pine 30 this weekend.

These dogs are unlike any I've run before. I had to ride the brake almost the entire run, and at one point, when I finally let them go full bore, I looked down at Joann's GPS watch and they were cooking at over 16 miles per hour! Whoa!

It is such a privilege to be able to drive seven dogs as smooth-gaited and fast moving as these. This is what running dogs is all about.

When we come back home, Ana changes quickly from musher girl to ballerina in a tutu. She slurps spaghetti and juice, like any four year old. But not many four year olds can hang out in the Michigan cold all day running dogs. She truly is a Fortier.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Don't knock the weather. If it didn't change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn't start a conversation."

But, knock it I will. Sorry, Kin Hubbard.

What gives with this weather!!! My thermometer in the kennel said 40 degrees today, and the weatherman is calling for highs in the high 50s tomorrow. Arg! People praise this weather - this rainy, dark humidity - but they don't have to live with this:

Am I the only person who hates spring thaw? As I walked around doing kennel chores today, my boots sunk two inches into the mud.

And it's only February - not even close to being spring yet! Did the groundhog lie?

One thing I do find fascinating about the thaw are the things that suddenly surface. Today, I walked out front to get the mail to find my daughter's long lost stuffed deer, "Deery," lying in the front yard sopping wet. Buried under the reliable and heavy cover of snow, Deery had been missing for nearly two months.

Driving to pick my other daughter up from track practice today, the sides of the roads looked like thrift store shelves: a dirty maroon hood from someone's jacket, random litter, a CD, a shoe. My husband found his tiny Kung Fu Panda fingurine in the driveway (don't ask why he carried this in his pocket). Excited, he exclaimed, "I've been looking for this!"

The snow covers what's forgotten, sealing up trinkets and clutter in its neat shell of ice. Snow is a blanket, clean and bright. The snow reminds us that we really don't need what's forgotten, protecting us from the dirty clutter of everyday life.

To those to cheer this weather on, beware. Snow will fall again. You're not free yet.

For now, I prepare to head north again where the snow is more reliable and paws are not so muddy for my final stint of training before the final race of the season: the Jack Pine 30. Stay tuned ...and as always, Mush On, despite the weather!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What we do when we're not running dogs

Don't go ice fishing when it's 46 degrees out!

Friday, February 6, 2009


No pictures on this quiet night. All are sleeping: the kids in their bunks, Chris, asleep (but pretending not to be) in his "easy" chair, and dogs at my feet and out in the yard. It's the way we like it - a bit doggy.

I love these moments. When the quiet seems to echo all around me like a cushion, enveloping me in the warmth of my home and those I love. I do wish I had a wood burning stove, though.

And that's just it, isn't it: we always want more. Dogs don't. They embody contentment.

The most amazing thing happened earlier this afternoon. While I was out doing kennel chores, the dogs were running and playing in the sunshine. Foxy has been joining me out back in the kennel lately, and seems so relieved to be with her pack in the snow. She smiles in the sunshine, then dips a wide-mouthed gulp into the snow for a taste happily. Her eyes sparkle.

Today, as the dogs played in the sun, Foxy caught the fever.

She ran!

On all four feet, she seemed to buck like a colt in spring; she ran across the yard joyfully, stopping at at my feet, then, to look up at me.

"Look what I can do again!" she seemed to say. I patted her furry head, so thankful for this day, and to see her smile.

We endure. We feel heartache, pain, sorrow, loss, joy, love, growth. We endure.

A dog does not ponder these things or question why. A dog celebrates each day and simply is. I want to be like my dog.

If you have a chance, listen to this song by Jane Sibbery and pat a dog on its furry head.

"If you remind me of my dog, we'll probably get along!"

Mush on...

Monday, February 2, 2009

My former thesis advisor, Bob Pope, whose blog is linked to mine, pulled a reluctant leg (or maybe just a toe, to check the water temperature) back into the literary world for a moment today. Check out his blog, features local writers and their memories about a book that shaped their writing/life. Thanks, Bob :-)