Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Annual Seduction

This is the time for another annual ritual. Happens every year.

Winter has been long and cold. Plenty of sub-zero days and excessive snowfall. But now the frigid half of the year seems to be drawing to a close. The days are getting longer. The sun climbs higher every time it makes its daily foray around the sky (I say "around the sky" because in the far north it rarely goes "across" the sky. In winter it simply takes a furtive peek above the southern horizon; in summer the glowing ball of fire goes on a carousing joyride, visiting all points of the compass.)

So now it is "spring". Daylight is currently 12-13 hours; adding six minutes every day so it changes fast.

The view out the window is stunning, tantalizing, enticing. There she is, and she's gorgeous! A lovelier sight is hard to find. This is "eye candy" at its best. (Personally, I think her sister who was here six months ago is prettier, but she's still fine.)

Alaska in the spring. The bright sun illuminating a cloudless panorama of northern beauty. What more could you want? (Well, actually, I'd like to be able to see out my window; the snow is piled so high all I see is white, but don't let me spoil it for you.)

The spring view is always seductive. "Come out and play with me" she says, from behind a triple pane window. "Look at my warm sunshine" (what a liar she is; it's only ten above) "and my beautiful covering of snow. The entire country is yours. Go anywhere you want; you're free to travel" (another lie; gas costs 5 bucks a gallon).

There are a few other things this lovely seductress doesn't tell you as she sings her siren song to all who would listen. She forgot to mention things like: "the gentle swaying of the trees" means the north wind is howling on the river and the ride across will be brutal, and "the inviting carpet of pristine snow" probably hides a treacherous layer of over-flow, waiting to snare the unwary traveller and strand him miles from help or home.

Oh yeah, she's fine to look at. She can even be a great playmate when conditions are right, but don't fall for her tricks. Beneath all that beauty lies a heart as cold as the polar ice-cap. She's mercilous and unfeeling, and fickle too. She's happy to use you and lose you. Just take a look out my front window and you'll see how she turned her back on me.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring is here!

So according to the calendar, spring has arrived. YIPPPEEE!!!

No more winter (I'm a guy who normally loves winter, but this one has been a real pain; broken equipment, annoying extremes in weather fluctuations, etc. I suppose it all started back in the fall, when the moose hunting season was difficult. Anyway, spring is here.

Time to start thinking about tilling the garden and firing up the greenhouse. Put away the winter gear and breakout the bermuda shorts. Oh Boy!

p.s. It was below zero last night; today will likely be cold and windy. Any groundhog showing his face in these parts will be quickly eaten by a hungry wolf.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 18, 2008

So the race is history. Lance won again; I swear that guy is an animal. The Quest and then the Iditarod, back-to-back, two years in a row. He's amazing! Seems like he never rests, never sleeps, never lets up and never loses. Incredible.

I must have got less sleep than many of the mushers during the race. If you know me, you know that's not good. With no sleep, "me" becomes a real pain in the neck; not a nice person to be around. At one point I had to apologize to my co-workers/volunteers (even though it was their fault and both of them had more sleep than I did)

One dog team was struck by a snowmachine (an intoxicated or just plain incompetent driver). One lead dog was killed and the other suffered a broken leg, yet the musher continued on and made it to Nome. It reminded me of a time two years ago when a motorist inexcusably drove into my team with a truck. Thankfully no dogs were hurt.

It's a shame people in this area aren't more supportive of the race. And snowmachiners and motorists should use greater caution, but if everything was the way it should be, what a different world it would be.

I have a "recreational" dog team. That means it's a team used entirely for fun rather than competition. My team is my hobby. It's what I do to get away from the local troubles and stress.

Virtually everything else I do is ministry connected and I involve others. I take them hunting. I take them out in the boat to check the fish net. I let them use my shop shop. On and on it goes.

This is a small community where every one knows every thing about every body. People walking past my house can hear my conversation inside (even in winter). They always know if I'm home (if the truck and snowmachine are here), and when I'm not they can usually find me. I've had people go to my woodyard to find me, or follow my snowmachine tracks for miles, literally tracking me down. And every time somebody wants something.

So the dogteam is my way of "getting away". It's the one thing I do just because I enjoy it. When a lot of your life is spent doing things for others, it's a good idea to have something you do just for you. When I'm on the sled, all is peaceful and serene. I'm alone in the wilderness. Life is good; no worries (for about three minutes, until a leader makes a wrong turn or some other dog throws a wrench in the works, which happens a lot).

Another reason I run a team is because mine is the last team in town. It's been several years since any one else ran a dogteam. I suspect if I was to quit that might be the end of mushing in our town, as has happened in others. So I mush on!

I was going out for a run today, but the brushbow on the front of the sled broke while I was towing the sled from the shop to the dogyard. The sled was in the shop because I broke the handlebar on the last run. Those two events pretty much sum up my season this year; broken sled, fifty below, trail buried from heavy snowfall, sick musher, no time, etc., etc. This has been a bum winter. Oh well. Hopefully the next one will be better.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

It Starts!

The Iditarod starts today. Yesterday was the highly publicized "Ceremonial Start" in Anchorage, which is more of a parade than the true beginning of 1,000+ mile endurance race across the most remote area in the U.S. But today the ball really gets rolling.

That means there are a bunch of dogs heading my way. How many dogs? Well, I last heard there were about a hundred racers entered. Each musher starts the race with a team of 16 dogs...16 x 1oo = 1,600...dogs...all running toward my house (well, sort of).

That's a lot of pooches. So that's a lot of dog food. We are a checkpoint on the northern route, so for the past two weeks we've been getting tons (literally) of food delivered. It will all be here by the time the mushers start to arrive; probably Friday.

That's a lot of...tootsie rolls that will have to be scooped up. As a helper at the checkpoint, and one who is supremely qualified, it falls upon me (not literally) to clean up. Do the math. Each dog that makes it to our checkpoint will relieve itself a couple of times. "Scoop, scoop", per dog. If 75 mushers get this far, and, say they have an average of 12 in their team at this stage in the race...75 x 12 x 2 = a lot of dog poop.

It's a fun time though. I enjoy seeing the teams, visiting with the mushers and vets, checking out the sleds, etc. A lot of late nights, early mornings, and crazy schedule. But it's fun. When you live in such a remote setting it's not every day that a world-class sporting event comes your way. It's kinda like the Super Bowl. The only difference is about 1,600 dogs. And at the Super Bowl you probably don't have to watch where you step.

p.s. I found this photo when I checked out the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race