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.