Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Puppy Update

I'm beginning to think the Ohio tourism slogan "so much to discover!" was written with puppies and not Ohio in mind. The puppies - a.k.a. the "little monsters" - were seven weeks old this week and have settled into their home outside in their own private kennel run with mama, Cinder. Every day they spend hours outside of the dog kennel ...discovering. And it seems, like some fish and reptiles do, the puppies have also grown tremendously to adapt to their bigger space.

Halo, also sleeping in the dirt under the propane tank...

And they are increasingly adventurous. On our daily puppy outings at the ranch, they venture around the property, wagging at the other dogs...

Buddha brazenly barks at kennel patriarch, Yeti

...running along the puppy paths ... 

Elise: official puppy trainer/herder

and making other discoveries like garden hoses...

Halo and the garden hose

...giant holes dug by the other dogs out of summer boredom ...

Buddha and Halo rest inside one of Tosh's giant excavation projects


"Come here, chicken!"

...and even coffee! 

Blaze slurping from my coffee mug

They have discovered that pulling on your sister's tail is great fun....

...and how to annoy your very big brothers...

Three-year-old, Tosh, rolls his eyes at me as if to say, "mom, can you make the toddlers go away?"

...and the joys of running...


There are more puppy portraits on the Diamond Dogs Facebook Page

Sweet dreams ....

and, as always...

"I am so over this damsel in distress nonsense." Daphne, TheScooby-DooMovie, 2002

A few months ago, some friends were teasing me about a reputation I have developed. My friends, Sandy and Karyn, "rescued" me, my two kids and my dog crew last fall when I had not one, but two flat tires on the dog trailer on separate occasions during a trip to Michigan. After that, we had a good laugh. I said, "I'm going to develop a reputation for these kinds of things!" Sandy replied without missing a beat, "I think you already have!"

I have a vehicle that is four years old for a reason. I wanted something reliable for the amount of driving I do, but also fuel efficient. I abandoned my V8 truck last summer for a fuel-efficient SUV, but hauling a 13 foot dog trailer through blizzards proved too difficult for it last season. I drove 10 hours in a snow storm to Newberry, Michigan for the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race in January, only to have 18 inches of snow fall over night. I woke up stranded the morning of the race. Were it not for a friend and fellow musher, Ron and his big diesel Dodge, I wouldn't have made it to our first race of the season.

This pattern continued throughout last season. It seemed every time I went to a race, some small disaster was sure to follow. Freezing rain and snowfall trapped my little SUV at the hotel in Marquette, MI before the Midnight Run last year. And once again, I got by with a little help from very good friends who, by now had to be growing weary of my damsel in distress nonsense. This time it was Sharon Curtice, and her brother Paul.

Amazingly, I went to my final race of the season last year, The Copper Dog, without mishap.

This weekend, I had planned a trip to the Pocono Mountains to meet friends Susi and Eric, who were adopting two of my dogs. The girls and I had really been looking forward to the five-hour drive through the mountains and forests of Pennsylvania and a mini-vacation with like-minded folks.

But Friday night, my car had different plans.

I work nights, and as I fired her up to head to work at 5:15 p.m., I heard a noise. It's never good to hear strange noises coming from under the hood. I stopped at the end of my driveway, and popped the hood. There, I found a half way shredded serpentine belt flipping wildly. I quickly shut the engine off.

After some fretting, I decided to tackle this project myself. After all, I was raised knowing how to do routine car work - oil changes, tune ups, etc - how hard could it be, right?  A quick trip via a friend up to Autozone for a new belt, I dove headlong into the project, determined not to be a damsel in distress. Armed with Google, YouTube and diagrams, what could go wrong?

a handy diagram of the serpentine belt of my car ... sort of

Only, when I started removing the remaining pieces of the old belt, I found copious amounts of oil all over the engine.

Yessir, that is oil...Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea. 
Putting the belt on proved far more difficult than I could have imagined. I texted my friend Julie to see if her husband could come help. Within minutes, Denis and Nick, their daughter, Hannah's boyfriend, were in my driveway; within an hour, they had the belt on. I was so relieved.

But this still didn't explain the oil, which was also concerning to Denis.

I took it out for a test drive, and it seemed fine. No noises. I thought that possibly the oil happened when the belt broke, but it seemed to run fine. So, the next morning, we loaded up the car bright and early and headed to the Poconos.

The girls and Sirius the puppy pose with a Totem just over the Pennsylvania border

Elise and Sophie

It rained the entire drive into the mountains
It rained the entire drive. We were relieved to finally make it to Saylorsburg and the beautiful home and kennel of friends Eric Walker and Susi Marsh of Arctic Paws Dog Sled Tours. The trip was bittersweet because Susi and Eric had purchased Sirius, one of Cinder's beautiful puppies and my long-time fearless leader, Yeti, who had been the backbone of my kennel for the last six years. At nearly seven years old, Yeti was dropped from training last season because he just couldn't keep up with the speed the rest of my dogs run. It just about killed him to watch me hooking up teams and leaving him behind. So I made the very tough decision to rehome him. And I cried a lot this past weekend.

Eric and Susi took us to a great little winery for some brick oven pizza and Sangria, and we laughed and laughed over dinner telling stories. 

The wait staff was overwhelmed with a wedding party at the winery, so Susi jumped in as a server! 
During dinner, I mentioned to Eric, who is an automotive engineer with 30 years' experience in the trade, that my oil light came on during the short drive to the winery. Given the issues I'd had the previous night, he became alarmed. We checked my oil before heading back to their house, and Eric went to get more oil, strongly warning me against driving my car one more inch.

Back at their house, we degreased the engine and everything under the hood to try to pinpoint a leak, if any. After degreasing and hosing off the engine, we started my car and there appeared to be no leaks. I breathed a sigh of relief, and we had wine. 

Elise and Susi cuddling puppy, Sirius
The next morning, I promised the girls a small hike behind Susi's house. There was an awesome Easter Island-type statue in the woods that the kids thought was pretty cool. 

Easter Island in the Poconos

The girls found a salamander and skipped rocks at the pond. 

Little salamander 

Skipping rocks

We packed up to head for home. But 20 minutes into the drive, I heard a loud squealing when I changed gears. We were only about 20 minutes from Eric and Susi's home when I stopped at an Exxon station. There, under the hood, was my engine caked in oil again. I feared the worst.

We limped back to Susi and Eric's home, and Eric took a look again. Then he said, "well, you're going to have to take my truck home." Surprised, I said, "what? I can't take your truck." His truck is my dream truck! It's a 2013 Chevy Silverado 4x4. It's a beautiful vehicle. I was humbled and awe-struck by his generosity.

So, in the end, we drove home happily and I woke up to find a beautiful truck in my driveway! I am awaiting the final diagnosis of what is wrong with my SUV from Eric. But the moral of the story is this:

If you MUST break down, do it at the home of a 30 year mechanic who is mind-bogglingly generous! 

It's true that I have had my share of issues with vehicles on my adventures traveling to places mushing has taken me. But I am continually amazed and grateful for the generosity of mushers! Several years ago, I started writing a book about the culture of mushing - the people, the dogs - the places. Mushers are such an awesome group, and this experience has rekindled my desire to finish that book!

Thanks so much to Susi and Eric! 
Eric's truck
To add to my list of vehicle troubles, my four wheeler is still in need of repair and we haven't even begin fall training yet! Prayers that my luck will change soon!! 

As always, thanks for reading and ...