Thursday, December 22, 2011

What THREE BLUE EYES taught me today

These days, it feels lately like I'm meeting myself coming and going. 

I'm definitely coming to understand my limitations. Especially around time. Training in the middle of the week is intense. I'm up, driving, hooking up 6 fast sled dogs, running the 4-wheeler in sub-freezing temps, unhooking them, giving them water, hauling buckets of their "stew" around and feeding them, scooping up their living spaces, making tomorrow's stew, and driving 75 minutes back to Minneapolis -- all before I start my regular work day.

It's humbling how tired this routine makes a person. By early evening, I'm pretty well spent. But do I get myself to bed? Er, um, well, there's this GREAT book series I'm reading (The Hunger Games), so, well, I guess the answer is clear enough. I've been under the weather more this fall than is typical for me. And I know I need to take better care of myself and get more rest.

And hence, the less-frequent blog posts.

But, my pups taught me a thing or two today, and I wanted to make sure I recorded it. 

The trail we run has several hills, not big huge ones, but hills nonetheless. One has been particularly challenging for the team. And I though I try to be a tough gal and make them work up that hill, usually I cave and give the 4-wheeler a little gas to help them out.

But not today.

I gave myself a stern talking-to this morning on the drive north and committed to helping the pups get in shape to do at least one serious hill (during CopperDog 35 in March) without help from me. So up up up we went on our training hill, and they gradually slowed down to a complete stop some 30 yards from the top of the hill.

I told them to "get up" but they merely peered over their shoulders at me with a look like, "What, you're gonna be lazy and not help us out."

Yep, that's exactly what I'm going to do.

And as it turns out, I had completely underestimated their abilities. Within two seconds, myshygirl Greyling was doing her levitating act, and next to her, sweetness Elias, was screaming at the top of her canine lungs to get moving. Yep, honest to goodness cheerleaders.

And guess what happened? Bigboy Colt seemed to remember his strength and pulled hard, along with gotogirl Penya, and before you know, we crested that hill! All on pure canine power (and thanks to some genuine restraint on my part). I just felt so proud I could have popped!

It was a little tool chilly to take off my gloves so my bare fingers could make contact with the iPhone screen. But yesterday I managed to catch a few priceless moments.

Hope you enjoy them here in this short video:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shoes-ie-Q, I love you . . .

So, we hosted the lovely eurohound sprinter, Shoes, last weekend. Claire tells me that there's something about the mix of the pointer breed into the Alaskan Husky mix that makes for incredibly sweet (and FAST) dogs. I've definitely found that to be the case. We spent time with Chinook (from Maggie Heilmann's kennel) who was also part pointer. And she was a complete love-bug.

Funny thing about Shoes is that she's had many many names in her short life. She's been a Prancer, Charlie, Socks, and now Shoes. We found ourselves calling her Boots (she has cute little white "boots" on her legs. And she was training with the very fast sprint musher Jan Bootz-Dittmar's team. We thought we'd better ease her into that name so we called her ShoosBoots for a while.

But once I started to make this little video, it was clear that she was Shoes-ie-Q. She'll undoubedly have a new name in her new life with Claire. But she'll always be Shoes-ie-Q to me now.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Happy Birthday to my friend and mentor!

I have so much more to say, but in the meantime . . .

Happy birthday, Claire~

A couple other sizes of the video, in case the one above is too big:

And one more:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

'Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . .

THREE BLUE EYES is closing in on 100 miles of training!

We logged another 8 miles this morning on run #16 of this season, and team is looking mighty fine.

A couple memorable moments of late:

Image by PMarkman
Now, Chris and Claire and, well, just about everyone I've told, think I must have been hallucinating. But if the pups could talk, I bet they'd back me up. So a couple weeks back, I decided we should have an adventure. We took a route we'd never taken before and the sun had not yet come up and it was overcast. We were passing by a farm house and a wooded area just beyond it. Suddenly the pups got very interested in something happening to our left. So interested, they started to veer off in that direction. I was still trying to get my "quad legs" but managed to look up and, I swear it, I saw a donkey with a big donkey head charging toward us. Fortunately, it swerved before it got to the road. (Images of Midsummer Night's Dream flashed through my head.) I'm thinking there must have been a fence, because I can't imagine what else would have stopped the beast. But the dogs thought that it was pretty exciting, and it took every bit of "know how" (which wasn't much at that time) to bark out "on by" commands and adjust our speed enough to discourage any kind of encounter. A few minutes later, I realized we were headed toward an intersection with a blacktop road with traffic. I had to do an "about face," which in mushing terms is a "come haw" on a narrow little country road, but I'll be darned if we didn't succeed. And that was that adventure!

Image by fuzzysaurus
Sheesh! What is up with the crazy loose dogs that seem to materialize out of nowhere. I remember as a kid, that was one of those things that worried me when I road my bike. Fortunately, I do not recollect any serious encounters then. But THREE BLUE EYES seems to be a magnet for them on our training runs. I am SO proud of these pups and grateful to Rita Wehseler for the extraordinary training she's done with them, because they are incredibly friendly, non-aggressive, and responsive dogs. They have yet to engage with these loose mongrels, even when one was nipping at Lydia's behind, as it was today. They stayed focused and kept on running. The three Rottweilers or Chocolate Labs (or whatever big burly brown dog breeds they were) that were barking and running in a field towards us, also today, had me a little worried, but once again, the team showed its ability to "take the high road" and not engage in the shenanigans.

Miss Penya (foreground)
So, Rita warned me that at some point, Penya would test me, that such a phenomenon is typical when a rookie driver enters the scene. It was hard to imagine happening, because Penya is such an awesome lead dog. And I'm still not sure she actually tested me so much as I may have confused her. But for about 10 days, Penya seemed to get strong-willed about directions. On one run, we hadn't even gone half a mile when we came to a stop sign and she tried to "come haw." I wanted her to go straight, but she kept trying to turn the team around. Soon after, when I wanted her to go straight ahead, she kept trying to take the team "haw." But it feels like we reached a "meeting of the minds" during the past few runs. I've been chattering less while we're running and am using more boisterous, clearer sounding commands, and while it may take a second for her to process, she's getting it right now. I think I'm figuring out my timing a little better, too.

We had our first wonderful run with snow falling on Saturday. Unfortunately, it wasn't just falling. It was aiming. At my eyes. I felt like mini-frozen projectiles had honed in on my corneas! No matter what I tried, I could not fend them off, and at times I had one eye or the other closed. And then there were the times I had to close both eyes at the same time, at which point I stopped the team. It was SO cold I could barely feel my fingers, which is OK as long as they're frozen in a position that allows us to use a little bit of gas. But I really can't run with my eyes shut. Just seems foolish (though I suspect my strong-willed Penya could find the way home!). So, it's time to break out the ski goggles and face the facts (such as they are through amber-tinted lenses).

Lydia ("Lids") and Ginsberg
I now have two screamers on the team. That would be Elias (whose screams I can handle) and Ginsberg (whose screams are nothing short of horrific). When they're in harness, the screaming is all about "Let's get going!!!!" Unfortunately, Ginsberg (big Mama's boy) also screams in the dog yard when I'm out of his sight. It's been funny, though, to watch him imitate his teammates. He's attempting some mild jumping, encouraged no doubt by Greyling's amazing feats of levitation. For as shy as that girl is when she's not in harness, she's a wild one when she's ready to get going. I love watching her lithe beautiful form extend vertically, as if the higher she jumps the sooner we'll take off. The pups find all this excitement contagious, and after we stop for a water break, they're slamming into their harnesses, screaming, and jumping to get going way faster than I can hop back on the 4-wheeler.

I can't wait till there's enough snow to hop on the sled. So please, everyone, do a little snow dance for us. (Or I'll post a video of all the screaming-Ha!)
Greyling's full extension

Now, to get a feel for what it's like to blast off from the dog yard with 6 fast sled dogs attached to a 1-ton 4-wheeler, here's a little video footage that Randy was kind enough to shoot on Saturday:

Happy Trails and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


So last week, THREE BLUE EYES and I were minding our own beeswax, cruising along a gravel road at sunrise, surrounded on all sides by corn fields recently mowed flat, when all of a sudden, what should appear, but a big ole truck with big ole guys decked out in BLAZE ORANGE.

(For the uninitiated, blaze orange is the craziest neon color that folks wear during deer-hunting season so they'll be recognized as human beings who should not be shot. But wait, why do people wear camouflage to hunt. I'm totally confused now.)

The two big ole guys slowed down and yelled at me: "YOU SHOULD BE WEARING BLAZE ORANGE!!!"

My sweet jacket*
Now, back in the day, I probably would have crumpled and cried if I'd encountered these gents, because I really don't like big ole angry guys yelling at me in a mean or mad way. But mushing, I guess, has toughened me up a bit, because I pointed to my SAFETY YELLOW jacket with REFLECTIVE STRIPES and shouted back, "Dude, I thought this was loud enough."

Fortunately, I lived to tell the tale, and a number of friends firmly suggested that I, in fact, don BLAZE ORANGE if I was planning to run my pups during deer hunting season. And so I took myself to my favorite thrift store and found a rather large BLAZE ORANGE jacket, then went to a fabric store and picked up some BLAZE ORANGE webbing and fleece to craft something for the pups. I cannot tell you how many silly questions I fielded by clerks at both stores. "So, what are you hunting, little lady, Moose?" Ha ha.

Mostly they were stunned when I told them I'm a musher, and with a big ole grin on my face, explained that I was trying to keep my dogs and me from being shot. Seeing as how I live smack-dab in the middle of Minneapolis, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the next questions that followed: "So, where exactly do you do this? And don't you need snow?"

It was closing in on 9 pm (and 9:30 is my bed time on nights before I run dogs, since I need to rise at 4:30 am to get Ginsberg and me an hour north to hook up with the rest of the team) so I had to pass on the opportunity to be a goodwill ambassador for mushing.

But I digress.

Honestly, I've found it's kinda fun to wear BLAZE ORANGE and to decorate the THREE BLUE EYES team and the quad I use to train with splashes of the neon color as well.

I am happy to report that as of today, we've built up our runs to 9 miles, and the team is looking mighty fine.

Here, have a look! This little video (with apologies to Junior Walker, whose body of work I've just rediscovered!) is a paean to BLAZE ORANGE (sort of):

* I wonder how many times I can get away with pointing out my supercool safety yellow jacket with reflective stripes? If a person doesn't work construction, how often do we get to wear such awesome garb?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Please pass the 'jumping beans'

Last Saturday, THREE BLUE EYES practiced the fine art of passing another team (and being passed by a team).

Wooooo doggggies! That is one challenging maneuver to learn. The goal is for the dogs not to interact at all. We had more than few rough starts. (Mainly rookie driver errors -- I kept giving the command "on by" WAY too soon) Thank goodness Randy came along and shot video. I've been studying it a lot (and cringing at my shrill, overly loud and obnoxious commands, which you will NOT hear in the video below-ha!). I keep practicing different ways of giving commands while I'm in the car all alone, but nothing is sounding right yet. Any and all tips welcome!)

So, here's a little video of some of our better moments of late. There's one sequence of the pups jumping that's so silly, I had to run it in slow motion so I could label the jumpers.

The team we're "chasing" and the team we're passing is Chris Johnson's awesome 10-dog team. Chris is such a trooper to work with me.

Things are going to get REAL interesting once we get some snow and I switch to a sled. Seems the more I learn, the more I find I still need to learn.

Will I be ready for my first race in January?

Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Oh, poo

Call me neurotic, but when it comes time to do a little housekeeping with my pups (otherwise known as scooping poop), I just can't stop myself. Scooping involves walking around with a contraption that looks like a big metal dustpan on a long handle and using a rake or hoe to direct the Number Twos into the dust pan.

Maybe it's because as the sun rises and casts new shadows in the dog yard, I see "deposits" I didn't spot the first time I came around. After all, those little oblong rolls of brown do have a way of blending in with the dusty gravel around the dog houses. So let's just say it takes me 20 minutes to scoop the living area of 7 to 8 dogs. By the time I come around again, the sun has lifted several degrees higher in the sky, and voila, new "tootsie rolls" are illuminated, lifted out of the shadows, egging me on to scoop some more.

Today I made the rounds 3 times! That's a full hour of scooping poo, my friends! I know I never changed baby diapers for a full hour. Why on earth am I such a dork about this?

The more I tackle the chore, the better I become at recognizing shapes. This may have something to do with my years as a beader. Here's what I've identified so far:

  • The acorn imitator -- it's probably the tip of a full deposit that's been decapitated somehow
  • Crepes -- likely started off in a rather liquid form and has hardened with somewhat smooth edges
  • The smushed "playdoh ball" -- like the "crepe" but with fluted or cracked edges (someone flattened this baby while it was still pliable)
  • Links -- these look like a miniature version of a couple sausages
  • Shiners and cigars-- beware, these are relatively new on the scene
  • Crumbles -- could easily be mistaken for gravel, but if you kick one, it travels a lot further, owing to its loft
I'm sure I'll be able to identify more shapes as the weeks go along. 

I might also add that my pups have definite housekeeping preferences.

One leggy male is by far the most fastidious. He must aim his bum out as far out as possible along the circumference of his 12 foot circle and as far from his house as possible. I never find crumbles in his space.

But several of the females, well, clearly they would flunk home ec class. Or maybe they don't care because theirs "just don't stink" like the guys' do?

And then I have a "hider." I really have to search for her deposits. She manages to camouflage acorn imitators, a few crepes, and some crumbles under bits of twigs or grass or hay from her house. She also likes to dig, so sometimes I find a link or two at the bottom of her excavations.

I tend to sing to the pups when I'm scooping, kind of like "whistling while you work," which does seem to make the job a little more pleasant. And it's always amusing to watch the pups watch me. They're mostly curious and sometimes come closer enough to inspect my work. But I have no idea if they appreciate the effort or think I'm one very weird and demented dog that stands on two legs.

I realize that I'm behaving much like a new parent, pretty obsessed with what comes out of my pups at the moment. But I swear I don't talk about it the way I did when I had infants and haven't written about it (till now, of course). I'm sure the novelty will fade at some point.

Still, I can't help but think it will be interesting to see how the winter tundra alters the physics of poo.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My favorite time of the day

Silly iPhone ran out of battery power to catch last week's training run in the daylight.

But clever Claire was able to capture a little bit of action before the sun rose!

I am so fond of my supercool reflective jacket, very handy for running dogs in the dark.

I could do this every morning! If only the weather would cooperate, as in temperatures staying below 50 degrees.

Friday, October 14, 2011

'Did you check the gas?' Uh, whoops!

Learned a big lesson today: It's mighty hard for 6 dogs to pull a big honkin' 4-wheeler up hill with no help from the musher. Yep, we ran out of gas about midway through our run today. DOH!

Not only that, Claire even asked me early into the run whether I'd checked the gas. Er, no. But we took our chances.

Everything began swimmingly. I arrived at 6 am, with Ginsberg in tow, and in the dark with my nifty headlamp on and aided by a nearly full moon, I promptly pulled the 4-wheeler into position. I harnessed and hooked up my six fast sled dogs, and the leaders -- Penya and Colt -- held the team tight. No tangles, no fussing, even rookie Ginsberg seemed to be in his groove. All looked good. Claire boarded the passenger seat, and I managed to leave the driveway without bouncing Claire off the back or running over the dogs. (Still got to work on smooth gear shifts, though).

I got onto the road just fine and kept the speed reasonably even. Greyling only had to give me the evil eye about 7 times today when I let the gangline get too close to her. And she was a dream team member running with Ginsberg. After looking pleadingly back over his shoulder at me for maybe 10 seconds, Ginsberg got the message that I meant business and he dropped his tail a bit, pulled his ears back, and focused. (Whew!)

NOTE TO SELF: Wear gloves that fully cover your fingers next time you train. I wasn't sure I'd ever get feeling back into my thumb (which operates the gas). I opted to do the 5-mile run, which requires a somewhat tight haw back, and just as were approaching the turnaround   . . . SPPPUTTER . . . GASP . . .  COUGH, COUGH . . . SPUTTTTER . . . silence.

That's right folks: I ran out of gas. Thank heavens for amazing dogs. Five members of THREE BLUE EYES chilled and kept the line tight as Claire and I (though mostly Claire) problem-solved. How to get 6 sled dogs, a 4-wheeler that weighs a ton, and two grown women back to kennel? Claire managed to wrestle the vehicle around, with a little help from me, and we got into position to return home.

Rookie-boy Gins (not from today)
Meanwhile, Ginsberg got flustered, and as he usually does when he's excited, instigated a bit of roughhousing with the nearest dog. BAD BAD BAD IDEA, Gins. Greyling was not about to put up with his antics and I was able to interrupt the disagreement quickly (thanks to lots of practice at home!) with a few outbursts of "GINS!!! Stop!!!"

Ready to go, I gave the command to take off, but "HIKE!" didn't help at all. So it was time for me to do a little cheerleading. I ran up to the leaders, grabbed their harnesses, and we all tried with all our might to pull ahead and get the whole rig moving again. Fortunately, the Goddess shined her grace upon us (more than once), and Claire was able to get the 4-wheeler to start! I jumped on and drove until the next sputtergaspcoughcoughsputter>silence occurred. We repeated this scene several times, with me running ahead to encourage the pups to get it their all.

An upside was that I was able to see the team from a different vantage point (as in, not looking at their behinds for a change of pace) and was just blown away by how beautiful they are when they're working so hard. Even Ginsberg was putting 100% into the effort. I felt like Rocky and couldn't help but do a little jig. I LOVED it when they pulled ahead of me, totally focused and working hard. If only I could have kept up with them.

Sigh. Apparently, I need to boost the intensity of my aerobic workouts, because after running up two hills, I FELT like the 4-wheeler WAS: out of gas. Claire made it back to the kennel before me, and when I pulled up, the team looked fantastic! Still lined out and ready to be unharnessed.

THREE BLUE EYES (but not from today's run)
I REALLY am proud of these pups and humbled by how fortunate I am to be able to work with such beautifully trained dogs (thanks to Rita Wehseler, from whom I've leased the dogs for the season). They were unflappable and able to deal respectfully with their rookie driver. I'm also quite proud of Ginsberg, whose genes (which hail from some fine bloodlines) seem to be awakening. I loved it when Claire praised him for pulling hard and I could see the intensity and drive in his beautiful blue eyes. Claire even thinks he has leader potential. I hope she's right. He certainly has the very best teachers. And so do I.

Thank you, Claire, for working with me, sharing your astonishing wealth of knowledge, and believing in me.

And in other news . . .
I registered yesterday for the CopperDog 35, a competitive race for mushers like me (although I just happened to see that Claire's mentor -- Lloyd Gilberston -- has also registered for this race, and how fair is that, I ask you?) So when the organizers use the phrase "competitive" they really mean it!

This is a fantastic race that occurs in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (fondly called the "U.P.") I've heard or seen on Facebook many positive comments about the CopperDog race from very experienced mushers. The "35" is the baby of several CopperDog events. The Papa Bear event is the "150," a mid-distance race that takes 2+ days to run. Several friends will be tackling these events, so it'll be awesome to be among all the excitement.

I'm told the trail is fast in the beginning and towards the end, involves a long long long climb up a big big big hill. Hello, treadmill on full incline, you and I will be coming very familiar in the next few months.

And one final note . . .

It's been some time since I posted an "exciting episode" because it's been way too hot to run sled dogs in my neck of the woods. That's
right. It's autumn in Minnesota and we've been having temperatures in the 80s. Gorgeous, gorgeous days with the backdrop of some of the best autumnal colors we've had in years. Even the roses are still blooming.

Such weather has put many Minnesotans in a grateful and happy frame of mind. Except for us mushers. We always seem to be outliers when it comes to weather. Honestly, I've tried very hard to be happy for the unseasonably warm days.

But my heart belongs to snow.

And cold.

And Arctic environments of indescribable beauty. 

And, of course, to six fast sled dogs.


Photographs (c) Copyright Kathleen Kimball-Baker 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


"Batman's husky found in Cambridge, Minnesota."
Ginsberg (the spoiled house husky) and I are making our way up the learning curve. Saturday marked the first time I drove the big honkin' 4-wheeler (with Claire as a passenger) and the THREE BLUE EYES team. Almost lost Claire off the back at one point with my fits and starts, but I managed to get the rig back to the kennel with everyone in one piece. 

And Ginsberg finally seemed to get in the groove, thanks to Claire holding him in the correct position as I finished hooking up the team. He's still loping, but as we pick up miles, maybe he'll finally get the picture that trotting might be better.

But he was SO proud of himself when we returned, and he even kept his tug tight! Yay Gins!
Ginsberg (left) all puffed up and proud on his second run. Greyling (left) and Lids (right) -- awesome in swing.
Ginsberg (right) flirting with Elias (left) who just wants a swig of water
After I got my team back to their houses, Claire and I took out 6 of Chris' team. They flew down the driveway like jet-fighters, but finally settled down to a nice pace. 

The sun was definitely coming out, and it was almost too hot to be running. But everyone got back safe and sound. 

Here's a look at the Wolfmoon team!

The other wonderful breakthrough happened Tuesday, when I came up to feed, water, scoop, and socialize with my team. My shy girl Greyling crossed some kind of comfort threshold. With my back to her and my hand resting on the ground in her circle, I played with her neighbor, Colt, and gave him a rawhide stick. As I was doing so, I felt the lightest tap of a paw on my hand. That was the first time sweet Greyling initiated contact on her own. 
Greyling (who is so doe-like, beautiful, and incredible in harness
Several times thereafter, she came close enough of her own volition for me to scratch behind her ears and give her a shoulder rub. Any time I looked away, she'd pick up her rawhide and move around with it as if to point out she knew that rawhide and I were connected and wanted to make sure I knew she knew. At one point I lowered the brim of my cap to the point she couldn't see my eyes. Within seconds she lowered her own head so she could make eye contact with me. Several times, she planted little kisses on my hand, and once even on my face.

Such moments are astonishing and make my heart swell.

I head up tomorrow before 5 am, with Ginsberg in tow, to run the whole team before the sun rises and temps gets too warm.

Life is good.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ginsberg's first run with the team

We did 3 miles with the 4-wheeler today, and Ginsberg joined in for his first time in a 6-dog team. Lids and Greyling also got their first run since being spayed. And the whole team finally ran together. All and all, a good day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tight tugs on the first run!

Miss Penya showed me how amazing it is to have an extraordinary lead dog

Claire and I hooked up 3 members of THREE BLUE EYES (Penya, Colt, and Elias) and 2 WOLFMOON dogs (Little T and Dutchess) for our first training run of the season early Thursday morning. Before the snow falls, in order to get the team trained and in tip-top shape, mushers often use a 4-wheeler/ATV to simulate the sled. That's what we did. It was our first chance to see how my new team performed. Lids and Greyling, who were spayed 3 weeks ago, didn't go on this run but will get a chance to run this weekend. (Lids loudly declared her displeasure at being left behind!)

It took me longer to harness everyone than I'd like, but Claire encouraged me not to rush so I can communicate calmness and confidence to the dogs. Excellent idea. And she guided me through the process of unhooking and unharnessing the team in a manner that keeps the line tight, keeps the leaders on their toes, and prevents the harnesses from getting chewed up. Claire is SO patient with me--such a fantastic mentor.

I am very proud of my pups. These are no-nonsense sled dogs who give 100%. One way to see if they're "honest dogs" (team members who don't slack off by letting others do the work) is to look at the tug lines, which attach the dog's harness to the gang line/dog line, which is the line that runs down the middle of the team. (Neck lines also attach the dog's collar to the gang line and help the dogs stay even with each other.)

Here's a nice illustration from Jersey Sands Sled Dog Association that shows the positions that dogs  and includes labels of the different kinds of lines.

I am happy to report that the pups kept their tugs tight and the run was delightful. All honest dogs.

Penya, my main lead dog, just blew me away with her dedication to doing her job right, ability to focus, and calm demeanor. Whenever we stopped to take a break, she just laid right down wherever she was. That's certainly one way to lower your center of gravity and keep your team lined out nice and tight. What a smart girl! Catch a break and do your job at the same time. Claire said Penya would teach me a lot -- and that is so true.

Here are the positions everyone had on this run:

PENYA + LITTLE T     [lead position, the dogs out front]
COLT + DUTCHESS   [swing position, the dogs right behind the leaders]
ELIAS                               [wheel position, right in front of the 4-wheeler]

CLAIRE                          [driver]
ME                                     [behind driver]

I hope that provides a frame of reference for seeing this awesome team in the video:

On Saturday, I'll be removing stitches from Greyling and Lids and administering shots and worm medications.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Love the life I lead'

I started humming the tune, "A pocketful of miracles" today -- for good reasons!

Drum roll please . . . Ginsberg met his team-mates today. And promptly freaked out. One stern look by a resident Aussie (Reilly), and Ginsberg retreated to the safety of the car. I didn't have all day, so I carried the poor guy to his own little house in the kennel and sat with him for a while. Dear sweet Elias, Miss Congeniality of THREE BLUE EYES, came over and gave him a little kiss on the chin. Later, Penya, ever the well-mannered girl, showed her behind to him. Thank heavens for female social graces!

Claire and I got all the pups fitted for harnesses, and the plan is that on Thursday we'll hop on the 4-wheeler for our first run of the season. Yee-haaaa! We'll put Little T (one of Chris' dogs) and Penya in lead so Penya can learn the trail, Colt and Dutchess (another of Chris' dogs) in swing, and Ginsberg and Elias in wheel. At least that's what I think we decided. There was so much commotion when we brought out the harnesses that I may not have caught that exactly right. But we'll see.

Claire and Chris had a long week because they had to travel up north to soak their cabin and take some trees down as the big wildfire in the Boundary Waters started to come way too close to "Dog Camp" for comfort. I took care of the dogs in Cambridge while they were away.

Just for grins on Friday I brought the THREE BLUE EYES team some bones to build the association between me showing and good things happening. Here's a little video of the results.

It's true! I really do "love the life I lead."


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm pinching myself

I still cannot believe it!

Five beautiful dogs have entered my life. And I have entered theirs. Yesterday, as I drove to Cambridge to see them and get better acquainted, I was quite surprised by my emotions.

I thought I would be giddy. But it was a deep sense of responsibility that I felt. A kind of heaviness, the likes of which I haven't experienced since the early days of my first pregnancy, when I realized a new life would depend on me for everything.

Except this is different. I am not alone in caring for these beautiful creatures. There's Chris and Claire. And yet, I brought them into this new landscape. I am responsible for them moving away from the home they know best, from the man and woman who've cared for their every need season after season. And I am the one who must lead them in our adventure together these next few months. I owe them so much.

Do I deserve their trust?

All I can say is I already adore them. Each with his or her own personality. They are each so different and so compelling. I wish I could do a mind-meld with each one, like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. I know I will learn so much from their body language, the way they hold their tails, their ears, their heads. I know I will be seeing a good deal of them from behind.

But this week, I just want to see them. Touch them. Feed them. Give them water. Keep their new homes clean. Walk with them.

And love them.

These are some photos I took as I visited with each one in the quiet of the dog yard, as temperatures began to cool off and a breeze picked up among the trees. Those few hours were contemplative, beautiful, and lovely . . .

Expressive Lydia "Lids"

Darling Elias, who has one brown eye and one blue eye

Big, sweet boy Colt

Gorgeous Greyling, my quiet girl

The divinely confident Penya, who is a born leader

And these are some photos Claire took of me when I first met these amazing creatures . . .  she truly captured the great joy that accompanied my great feeling of responsibility. Thank you, Claire!

Such a sweet boy, Colt.  He is "blowing coat" -- a phrase that describes the two times a year when huskies shed their coats in preparation to grow a new coat for the next season. The fur that is coming out is quite downy and soft. Colt was neutered a week ago, and he seems completely unbothered by his new "condition."

Lydia (Lids) is the "talker" in the crew. She will definitely communicate her wishes, as in "pet me NOW." I love a girl who speaks her mind! She was spayed a week ago and is a bit more interested in what is going on "down there" that I'd like. If she keeps showing too much interest, we've got at "bucket" ready for her to wear for a while. 

Greyling allowed me to scratch under her chin without shrinking away from me. I was surprised that we'd make that much progress the first day. Knowing she is shyer that the rest of the team, I wanted to approach her on her own terms. At first, I kind of ignored her but sat around in her space so she could get used to me. For a while, I simply sat near her and closed my eyes and pet her under her chin. At one point, I could feel her body relax into my hand. I suspect we'll repeat this interaction several times as we get acquainted. She is the hardest to read for me right now, but I think with time we'll grow to understand each other.  She is a beautiful, majestic dog.

Elias is a lovebug. She she seems to be incredibly comfortable "in her skin" and relaxed easily into her new environment. She accepted next door neighbor Lids' invitations to interact, almost as if she knew Lids needed a little extra attention to settle down. I have a sense she is a very intuitive, centered dog and will help me stay that way when it comes time to race together.

Penya, a confident, relaxed lead dog, looks like she can make herself comfortable anywhere any time. She definitely kept an eye on the rest of the crew and on what was happening among the other dogs that call Claire and Chris's place home. I set my water bottle and cap on a log next to her circle, and as I was getting acquainted with the other dogs, she checked out my belongings. I love how she gets her bearings and takes it all in stride. Frankly, I'd like to be a lot like her!
On my next visit I will introduce Ginsberg (who lives with me in Minneapolis) to the team. He's got his own little house and circle there, right next to Elias. I wouldn't be surprised if he falls head over heels in love with her. I'll have him in the kennel as I feed, water, and scoop the other dogs so he can see what it's like to be part of the team. I stopped by the butcher's today and picked up a nice big bag of beef bones with marrow inside. I plan to give each one a bone and watch how they react.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The pups are coming!

Five members of the team will be arriving Monday, September 12. (And I'm supposed to sleep tonight?)
SO excited!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First race!

The deed is done!

I just registered for my first race!

Here's the info:

Voyaguers Classic Sled Dog Race
(Previously called White Oak Classic Sled Dog Race)
January 6-8, 2012
Recreation Class
22 miles | Northhome (MN) to Squaw Lake (MN)
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And even better news:
My pups are arriving Monday (September 12)!!!!
Many more pictures and stories to come.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The making of a kennel


Team THREE BLUE EYES prepped a dog yard this weekend!

My 5 pups from Rita Wehseler's kennel will be boarding at the amazing homestead of Claire Seekins and Chris Johnson. Together with Claire, Chris, and my hubbie Randy, we readied a beautiful spot where the 5 canine athletes who'll form THREE BLUE EYES will live this season.

Here's how we did it:

Truth be told, much of kennel was really already there. It was just needed a little "pruning" to tame the hardy Minnesota wildscape that had taken it over ever since a big storm knocked down trees a while back.

So our job was to rescue the dog houses, find the hardware, clear out the greenery, level the ground, repair a few broken legs on the houses, reposition the house, and voila! -- a new dog yard is born!

So, I forgot to get some real "before" pictures, but this is an example of the wildscape we needed to take to build the dog yard.

Claire works her magic with the amazing Positrak, which turns a mortal human into a superhero with super powers! 

Oh yeah, Claire rather likes her Positrak!

While Claire clears out the wildscape, Chris taught me how to use a buzz saw-like thing so I could cut legs for the dog houses (which are cozy 55-gallon barrels). She also showed me how to use a power drill so I could attach the legs to the houses. I LOVE power tools! Randy was an ace builder, too.

Jake kept a close eye on Claire -- and did some nice supervising of our work. She also made sure no single drop of sweat trickled down to my eyes. She give great doggie facials!

Chris worked her tail off, in spite of having had shoulder surgery recently. She's amazing! But I don't condone that kind of behavior!

Randy helps spread gravel that Chris has brought in. We don't want water pooling in low areas either during fall storms or spring melts.

Axels and bowls we recovered from the overgrowth, then replaced after we cleared out the yard and repositioned the houses. 

We attached chains to axels, which we pounded into the ground. Each dog will have a 12 foot circle next to neighboring dogs. They'll be able to meet and greet each other without getting tangled. And they'll each have a big bucket of water nearby and a cozy house with fresh straw. They're personal yards are "scooped" each day to remove any of their "deposits."

The yard gets some nice afternoon shade. Claire plans to add sand so the area is easier to scoop. And houses will get plywood lean-to's for a little extra shade. The houses are configured in a circle, so the dogs will be able to see each other. An Claire has room to drive the 4-wheeler into the middle.

And now we just need . . . the pups!
Stay tuned!