Search This Blog

Friday, February 4, 2011

Montana December 2010 - Part 3

The trip back to Lincoln was eventful, as I crossed through some areas in northwestern Colorado and Wyoming where the deer and the elk migrate. Signs and fences were everywhere, but you still had to keep your eyes open for herds across the highway. By running with my hand on the light switch on the column I was able to keep all the lights on (the high beam, low beam and fog lights). This let me see far ahead as well as off to the side. I have done this at home for short distances with no problem, but out here driving for endless miles like this the light got so hot it burned out the element and the bulb shattered. I got my first chip in the windshield and stopped to get it repaired. By the time I found a place it had already started to form a crack across the windshield. It seems like all the vehicles out here get chips or cracks in the windshield unless they are only driven around town.

The remainder of my time was spent running dogs. At first there was not enough snow for a sled, so we ran them in front of the ATV. One run took us up the mountain into a foot of snow. It was hard pulling for the dogs and a few times we had to get off and push the four-wheeler. Finally it got stuck and we had to turn the team around. We got back OK and retired the ATV for the season, which had officially begun. We would be on sleds for the rest of the year. I left for home a few days before Christmas and would not be back until the middle of January. I needed to be home to work as much as possible during this time. I had some expenses for the race and I would not be working much in February or March. I HAD to make as much money as I could now and hope we had enough to make it through March and April, when my paychecks would be skinny

Montana December 2010 - Part 2

I couldn’t sleep, so I watched two movies. The first one was an action packed thriller with Angelina Jolie called Salt. If you like action, I highly recommend it. The second movie with Leonardo DeCaprio was called Inception and was equally as good. But I almost turned it off because it was more cerebral and seemed slow to get started after the first movie. It explored the possibility that we can control our actions in real life by controlling our dreams. I highly recommend it also. If you are going to watch them both, like I did, I would suggest that you watch it first.

I got into Lincoln too late to do anything except feed and scoop. The next day I drove to 12 hours to Colorado Springs to pick up the sled Tom Thurston was making for me. Doug had made a deal with Tom, that he would build the sled in exchange for a free breeding of his female to one of Doug’s males. Unfortunately, I did not realize the breeding had not occurred yet and did not take the male with me. Tom was disappointed to say the least, but did give me the sled to take back to Montana. I had screwed up, again. I owed him big time.

Montana December 2010 - Part 1

I left the meeting with Scott, another local rookie and went back to the Millenium Hotel. I got to see the Steelers play the Ravens and it was quite a defensive shootout. After the game I left for the airport and waited for my plane to leave. I would be flying to Salt Lake City with Kris, another rookie who raced with me in the spring. He was going home to Colorado. I was going to Doug’s to resume my training.

There would be no food service on this flight so I bought a breakfast burrito and a Sprite for the trip. When I checked in, I had been given a request for an automatic upgrade. I did not think anything about it until my name was called before we left. I would be flying in First Class, for the first time. Kris made a comment about that and I told him if I got food he could have my burrito.

I did not belong in First Class. I was going to stuff my coat in the overhead bin, like I always do, when the flight attendant took it from me and hung it up. I took my backpack off and the water bottle I keep attached to it swung around and hit some gentleman in the face. What was I doing here. I apologized and he graciously accepted, but I could tell he was not used to this kind of treatment in First Class. We did get food in First Class, shortly after take off and we were supplied with snacks constantly while we were in the air. I saved the burrito and gave it to Kris when we landed. I remembered Doug telling me that the previous Governor of Montana had impressed him once by recognizing him when they got on the same plane and came back to sit with him, while giving up his seat in First Class to the stranger who was seated beside Doug. They talked the whole way back to Montana.

Alaska December 2010 - Part 3

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
We got up early. Kelly and his handler went out to take care of the dogs while I caught up on some reading. We left about 9:30 AM to get to Martin Buser’s place by 10 AM. Martin is a four time Iditarod Champion and he hosts the rookies every year at his kennel for a tour then a talk about dog care, how to set up an efficient kennel and how to prepare for and run the race. He showed us his techniques for training dogs from the time they are born.

As new born puppies he takes them with him wherever he goes, stuffing them inside his shirt. He handles them constantly, especially their feet. From the time they are weaned, he teaches them to eat quickly by removing the food dish after a few minutes. A few weeks later he teaches them their first commands. He puts the food down but will not let them eat immediately by pushing them away from the bowl and saying, “No.” Then he will say, “Eat.” and let them get to the bowl. By doing this, he is conditioning them to obey the alpha dog on two feet. It is impressive to watch his 4 month old puppies quivering with anticipation, staying away from the bowl until told to eat and them devouring all their food in a matter of minutes. He uses certain corrective maneuvers that mimic what their mother does, to train them. He does not believe in punishment and says the dogs do not read the paper or hit each other with sticks so we shouldn’t do that either.

We went inside and the remainder of the day was spent telling us about the race and what to expect. There were slides of the more challenging place along the trail, like the Happy River Steps, the Dalzel Gorge, the Fairwell Burn, and the Coast. We were given his list of mandatory gear as well as packing lists for our food drop bags. After the meeting we had time to look around at the sleds his handlers were making and the large indoor treadmill he is using to conduct research on his dogs at different altitudes and weather conditions he can simulate in a chamber.

Alaska December 2010 - Part 2

Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010

The meeting began at 9AM, but we had to be there at 8 AM to get our official picture taken by Jeff Schultz. The meeting lasted all day and had a lot of information about the race. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had built some new safety cabins along the trail and we were given the GPS coordinates for them. We were going to be allowed to use GPS during the race this year. This was the first time that mushers would be able to do this, since they had been banned years before. There had been a large burn (forest fire) over the summer along a stretch of the trail and they were waiting for enough snow to send a team out to clear the trail from all the debris and fallen trees. Several veterans talked to us about the race and Stu Nelson, the chief veterinarian talked to us about the health and care of the dogs, the metabolic changes they go through and the types of injuries and illnesses they can get during the race.

After the meeting, I went home with, Kelly, one of the local rookies. As we were rounding a curve a moose stepped out just in front of us. If we had been going any faster we would have hit it. That could have been lethal for us. These animals are so big that they can peel the roof off a car when their legs are knocked out from under them and they fall through the windshield. I have seen some of these accidents. Sometimes the moose survives and wonders off, but the occupants of the car are killed from massive head injuries or decapitation. Kelly said the moose did not cause him problems around Big Lake, where he lives, because they are hunted in that area. The moose on the Kenai Peninsula and on the Iditarod trail are more aggressive. Susan Butcher lost several dogs in her team one year when a moose attacked them. When the snow is deep, the moose prefer to stay on the hard packed trail and can be very temperamental.

Alaska December 2010 - Part 1

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010

I worked until noon, then drove to the shuttle for a ride to Atlanta. I would be flying to Anchorage for the mandatory Rookie meeting. I arrived in Anchorage about 2AM and slept on a bench at the airport. I would need to be up at 7 AM and did not want to get a room for a few hours rest. The bench was comfortable enough. I had slept on one last year when I came up with Doug to help John Stewart get ready for his race. We had gotten in too late to get a car and ended up sleeping at the airport. In a few months I would be sleeping on the floor or wooden benches as I drove across Alaska. I had better get used to it. I got up at 4 AM and got ready to go into town for the meeting. People started arriving at the airport at 5 AM for the early flights out of Anchorage and I was glad I had gotten up earlier. I had finished getting ready in the restroom before they arrived.

Montana October 2010 Part 3

When I got to the ranch about noon the following day, Doug told me that Dodge pickups are reliable but all have the same kind of problems. My lights had come on because either my rear brakes were getting worn or the sensor on the rear axle was bad and needed to be replaced.

We did not run dogs at all the few days I was there. They had gotten a new batch of dog food and all the dogs were sick. I spent the time learning how to care for dogs with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This was a valuable lesson for me, because dogs will get diarrhea during the Iditarod. Diarrhea often means they are stressed, either from the driver pushing them too hard or running them in the heat of the day; or they have been overfed. The other reasons are not related to driver error and involve bad food or infections they get from other dogs. Doug said that as long as the dogs are pulling they can stay in the team for a day or so to see if things settle down. They need to maintain hydration and food is offered but water is encouraged. They will drink without difficulty unless they are too sick. If that happens, they will need to be dropped from the team. Doug’s rules were eating and pulling stay. Eating and not pulling, watch to see why. Pulling and not eating, watch to see why. Not eating  nor pulling drop the dog. Minor injuries can also be watched and treated. If they get better with shoulder jackets or wrist wraps and Algyval, they can stay. If they do not improve they need to be dropped.

I helped out with chores around the ranch and kept up with my workouts by unloading and stacking large bales of hay one day and bags of dog food the next. I also tried, unsuccessfully, to find my wedding ring and watch, using a metal detector that I brought with me. I had wanted to visit with Jason and Harmony Barron, but we kept missing each other. I went home with the anticipation that the dogs would be better and I could begin training when I returned in November.