Sunday, November 28, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside, but the dogs are on FIRE!

I went on a long, two hour run tonight with the fur kids on our first really cold run of the season. Two hours straddling a four-wheeler at 19 degrees is a bit numbing, even in the best of gear, but the dogs did phenomenal! They're naturally picking up their average speed by leaps and bounds now that the temps have really dropped. Our first race is about five weeks away, and we really have to make the most of that time with long, frequent runs throughout December. And with so many other activities going on - several presentations at local libraries as well as talks in downtown Akron, not to mention the holi-daze - my head is spinning just thinking about the next month.

But tonight, out with the dogs under a clear, winter sky and a gazillion stars staring down at us, my head was a blank slate.

Out there, it smelled of hardwood burning and the crisp, winter air. I snuggled down in my parka and neck gaiter, cold, but marveling at the fabulous night sky.

And my fabulous dogs.

They look amazing right now, all lean and muscled up from training all fall!

Racing gives me a solid goal to train for, but just being outside with the dogs is what it's all about. As I sat studying their gait tonight, I realized with pride that I have trained every one of my dogs from puppies, with the exception of Gwennie. I envisioned next season, with this current batch of pups grown as yearlings and running miles on training runs. I can't wait to see how they turn out!

By the way, I don't think it was "officially" announced: they are the "Jazz" litter. Their names are: Coltrane, Miles, Parker, Thelonious and Brubeck (boys) and Ella, Etta and Dinah (girls).

Their little eyes opened this weekend, and they are growing like crazy.

My big boy, Thelonious, named after Thelonious Monk

Puppies are certainly a nice way to start dogs.

Ella all curled up

Stay warm, and as always....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The dogs "pull" Santa into Akron during the Welcome Santa parade

The team just before take off with the keg. Photo by Amanda Stanoszek

After the keg pull, the dogs and I did a "meet and greet" with spectators. There was an estimated 1,000+ people at the ceremony and 10 minutes of fireworks after our run, so the dogs were really put to the test. My friend Amanda Stanoszek took this photo below; you can tell Jack was really frazzled...NOT!

Jack gives a hug to an adoring spectator at the tree lighting festival last night

The next morning, Amanda, the dogs and I had the opportunity to "pull" Santa into town for the Welcome Santa parade. We used my sled and made it look as if Santa was arriving to town via dogsled.

Amanda and I looked like Eskimos on the float in our parkas!

And so begins, officially, the holiday season - what I like to call the "holi-daze." Enjoy your family this holiday season. Consider a "buy nothing" Christmas. Remember the real meaning behind Christmas ...and love the one you're with, including your fur kids.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The dogs pull a keg of beer into Lock 3 - downtown Akron

What a rush!

As I said in a previous post, the dogs and I were very busy this weekend! We were honored to be invited to partake in an unusual sort of tree lighting ceremony in downtown Akron last night.

A few months ago, my high school friend Suzie, who works for the City of Akron, invited me to lunch to discuss the possibility of involving the dogs in this season's holiday ceremonies downtown. I was excited, but a bit skeptical. So many unknown variables come into play when involving animals in any event; mix in the other unknown variable of the public, and things could get disastrous quickly.

But over the course of the last few months, it became clear to me that Deputy Mayor, Dave Lieberth was intent on making grand things happen with the dogs.

His plan was to not only offer dogsled presentations and rides (weather permitting) downtown, but to also have the dogs deliver the keg of beer from the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company into downtown's historic Lock 3 park for the annual keg tapping and tree lighting ceremony!

I knew I needed the help of an experienced dog handler by my side. And who better than my wonderful friend and fellow musher, Amanda Stanoszek! She also loaned me the use of her great lead dog, Hoover, to run lead alongside my Yeti.

Things were quite crazy last evening as we drove into downtown Akron. I didn't yet know the route the dogs were to "mush" on, nor did we know how to get the truck to the staging area. Thanks to several police officers, we found our way, and at the last minute, everything went off without a hitch!

Chris managed to film during all the mayhem, and below is a three and a half minute synopsis of the events.

I am SO proud of my amazing fur kids, and so thankful to have such a small but mighty cast of friends to go along with me on this wild ride! It has been a wonderful Thanksgiving - one I won't soon forget - and I have many things to be thankful for!

Enjoy the ride!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lazy huskies will NOT be lazy this turkey day!

Some of the dogs on one of the beautiful trails near the Ranch

Fall training has been going well here at the Ranch, although I have not run the dogs during daylight hours in weeks. I'm learning how to function as a nocturnal animal. This will be good preparation for the Midnight Run, and gives me a chance to really put my vast collection of headlamps to the test. :)

Some of the dogs on what we call "The Creepy Trail."

We are stepping up the mileage now in preparation for our first race which will happen on January 8. This race, The Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Classic, contains an extensive ribbon of pristine trails winding throughout the beautiful Two Hearted River country of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan along Lake Superior. It is prime winter country, and the kick off of racing season for many mushers in the Midwest.

My racing plans, which were originally to compete in the 8-dog classes, were mildly set back with the birth of Aspen's puppies. But the dogs are running like a well-oiled machine at this point in the season, and I don't think it will take much to get Aspen back in the team after she weans her pups.

Besides, we are going to be extremely busy at the Ranch starting in just a couple of days.

We are honored to have been invited to partake in several big events in the city of Akron starting this coming weekend on Friday, November 26 with the annual tree lighting ceremony at Lock 3 park in downtown Akron.

I have been asked to "mush" a keg of beer from Akron's own Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, makers of Siberian Night beer, into Lock 3 for the keg tapping which kicks off the Holiday season in downtown Akron.

Sled dogs and beer. How cool is that?

And the next morning, we will help usher in Saint Nick himself as he rides my sled with part of my team during the Welcome Santa parade downtown starting at 11 a.m.

Jack waiting for Santa beneath the Christmas tree

I've told the dogs they have to be on their best behavior because Santa will be not only watching, but riding with them! ;-)

Please join us if you are able. We will be available both days after the festivities for questions and belly rubs.

Happy Thanksgiving and, as always....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A tale of two dogs: "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans"

I recently added to the kennel with a couple of great dogs who have been a perfect fit here at the Ranch.

Tak, half-sister to our beloved Big Brown and Ruffian out of Joann Fortier's kennel, has been such a wonderful addition! She's beautiful, a good loper and a very hard worker.

Miss Tak in her kennel run

With her came Aspen, a very sweet, leggy yearling who I considered sort of a "rescue." She has great bloodlines, but the person I got her from was in over his head in dogs and needed to get rid of some dogs fast. So he offered Aspen for free, and I agreed.

Aspen in her kennel run yesterday. She has gorgeous, unusual eyes with bright blue on the inside and brown on the outside

Around the same time, my good friend and fellow musher, Amanda, bought several dogs from up north to add to her growing kennel. Several had been far up north working on an Alaskan glacier all summer and early fall. One of them was sweet-faced Linney.

Linney, who I brought back from the Upper Peninsula for Amanda a few weeks ago

About two weeks ago, I began noticing that Aspen was growing wide despite our regular 10 mile runs and a strict diet. I began to look at her more closely...

I began to realize, slowly, that Aspen was expecting! She had come to me in heat, and was quarantined for three weeks immediately upon coming to the Ranch in the "girl confine" of kennels, made from hog panel. But she had come from a kennel where she was tied out in the open with other sled dogs around. It became clear to me that she had come to me pregnant.

This photo, taken on November 12, shows Aspen's bulging middle

I wrote my friend Amanda an email telling her my suspicions. I guesstimated Aspen's due date of November 26 based on the first day I'd gotten her, which was from September 23. She could whelp any time, however, given that I don't know when she was bred.

Surprisingly, Amanda wrote me back saying how odd it was that I would voice concerns that Aspen was "with child" because she was beginning to suspect the same about Linney!

She offered these "before" and "after" photos as proof:

Linney before (left) and after (right): clearly pregnant

On Monday, November 15, x-rays confirmed that Linney had at least five to six pups and would give birth within five to 14 days!

Linney on November 15, enjoying life inside the Hoof & Howl Kennel home and growing fat

I often quote the famous John Lennon line, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Quite literally, life happened when I was planning otherwise.

No sooner than I added two great dogs to my race team, I was down one because of pregnancy. I intended to run in 8-dog classes all season, but already my race plans are compromised back to the 6-dog classes.

What can I do but make the best of it, and welcome puppies into the world any day now? And puppies are always cute, especially Christmas puppies!

Amanda, on the other hand, is very excited about Linney's coming litter! But she, too, feels torn about this unexpected gift.

"Right smack dab in the middle of race season, I will be caring for puppies and missing races and training time," Amanda says.

"But, I do feel that I'll learn extremely valuable skills that I'll carry with me for many years, so it is a fair trade-off," she continues. She admits feeling a very special bond forming with Linney helping her through her pregnancy and is looking forward to meeting her surprise pups!

Amanda and I are talking about naming Aspen and Linney's pups co-themed names. Aspen and Linney are both due within the next week or so!

Stay tuned for puppy updates! Mush Love!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It ain't always easy: a word about discipline

"Discipline is remembering what you want." David Campbell

Okay, I admit it: some days, I don't want to run dogs.

Some days, I would rather curl up with a book and a cup of coffee and just watch the sun set like any normal person.

There's a cavernous ocean of space between the romantic image of a team of huskies gliding effortlessly across a frozen white landscape and the discipline and determination it takes to get to that point. Many, many people do not realize what it takes to get to that beautiful image of a team of huskies.

It takes countless hours of conditioning the dogs, a lot of not-so-beautiful training runs, potential balls of huskies tangled, bleary eyed mushers desperate for sleep, and hours of training beginning as early as late summer.

And it ain't always easy.

To have the discipline to go out in the cold, often in the dark, for hours on end takes a huge amount of motivation. Most people I know spend easily three hours or more straddling a four-wheeler at this time of year to gain the kind of mileage needed to compete in races - races that aren't even happening until January.

It's not just the dogs who must have endurance.

Tak after a 12 mile run, still ready for more

From the outside, it's probably not immediately clear the amount of time, sacrifice and determination that goes into this sport. You have to remember what you want, and remember it often.

Some of my dogs on a training run. Because of my schedule and temps, we train in the pitch black more times than not

It's hours and hours behind dog butts, watching each tug line to make sure it's tight, watching to ensure each dog is on its side of the centerline, watching to make sure no one is being grumpy or goofing off. Someone said to me once, it's like hooking a bunch of second graders to a line and taking them out to the zoo, hoping for the best. Some days, that sums it up!

And, add to that, the preparation that goes into this sport. I spent four hours yesterday with my good friend and fellow musher, Amanda, hacking up and grinding hundreds of pounds of deer, beef and beef tripe for the dogs. I spent an hour tonight before my run making new tug lines. The feeding, harnessing, hooking up, running, unhooking, unharnessing, feeding ...

This sport has a way of taking over your life. Because at the end of the day, it's not just a sport; it really is a way of life. A lifestyle.

Here is a snippet (just a snippet!) of a 12 mile run I did tonight with the dogs. Enjoy, and mush love!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010