Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Paw to Burled Arch: Louisa Mae and a Snowhook Tradition

Photo Credit: Kim Knudsen
It was the first in a Snowhook tradition that started the first time the team crossed under the burled arch.  For the second time in as many races, AJ unclipped Louisa Mae from the gangline, lifted her above his head and touched paw to burled arch.  

What did she do to deserve the honor?  Louisa Mae ran in single lead through the worst of the storm the team encountered on the coast.  She did not falter.  She did not flinch.  

Well done, sweet girl.  Well done

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finish Line Prayer

Below is the prayer offered up by Leonard FourHawks on the evening 
Team Snowhook crossed the finish line.  

Creator – we thank you for hearing our prayers.

The journey is done, and our friend is home. He ran the trails of this beautiful North. He ran with the ice and snow and cold. He met himself on this adventure. He stayed strong, and his courage has won.

He Is Not Cold For He Has Good Dogs. He has honored the spirits, and lived up to his name.

Tonight his family is complete again. Tonight we rejoice that he has won.

The stories will come, and the race relived. We will honor his journey for years to come.

Tonight his family is complete again. Tonight we rejoice that our friend has won.

Creator – we thank you for hearing our prayers.

11 Days, 0 Hours, 35 Minutes, 10 Seconds

Photo Credit: Kim Knudsen
"You're the best looking thing I've seen in eleven days," I whispered as he stood on the brake to stop to the team under the burled arch in Nome.  It was no lie.  Wind blown and trail hardened as his face might be, it was one I longed to see.  Crossing the finish line after -60 temperatures, high winds and fierce storms, was a long time coming---eleven days, zero hours, thirty-five minutes and ten seconds to be exact.  

Following our reunion under the arch we spent a long time tending to the dogs: feeding, straw for bedding, getting the thumbs up from the vets, and feeding again, walking the dogs, massaging and feeding once more. And, then we slept.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

White Mountain Wait

After the obligatory White Mountain Wait, AJ will depart from the checkpoint and make the seventy-seven mile march to Nome where I will be waiting for him under the burled arch on Front Street.

Over the course of this training and race season, I have thought a lot about commitment to the dogs. Despite race records and standings, I am very proud of He is Not Cold For He Has Good Dogs for putting the dogs, their care and training ahead of personal interests, fatigue and other distractions.

I am proud of the dogs, too. They want to run. They need to run. They love to run.

Thank you to all our sponsors for making this possible for Snowhook. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Need to be Home: Part 2 of Snowhook's 2014 Iditarod

Canines, Couches & Care: Dropped Dogs

Charlie and Charlie's ears
(photo credit: Matt Keortge)
If I was not a witness to it, I would not have believed it.  Upon her return from the trail, Twig stole retired dog, Doc’s loveseat which he rightfully commandeered when their mother, Annabelle passed away.   Twig appears to consider it payment for her services as one of Snowhook’s lead dogs.  And, she makes no apologies. 

Dropped dogs are sent home from the trail for a variety of reasons---injury, illness, fatigue or poor appetite.  Our approach is a conservative one when it comes to dog care.  It is not about pushing, but preventing.   It is much easier to keep a dog healthy than it is to get a dog healthy.  This is AJ’s way.  And, I have complete trust in how AJ cares for our family on the trail.  

At the time of this report, AJ has dropped four dogs.  Only two---Twig and Charlie---have returned home.    I have not received the call from race volunteers to inform me who else has been dropped.  

A dropped dog is not a lesser dog.  In fact, the canines sent home from the trail receive quality care at the women’s correctional facility until they can be collected by handlers and taken home.  Released for time served and good behavior, the dogs’ stay at the prison is brief.  

While the reasons for dropping a dog may vary, what does not vary is the welcome each receives upon their return.   The dogs returning to our kennel are greeted with extra food and water, belly rubs, a motherly once over, and then more belly rubs.  This is my way.   


Welcome home, welcome home.   

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Long Trot to Unalakleet

Ten to twenty degrees below zero is an ideal temperature for mushing.  The dogs run well in the cold and the musher can still function at that temperature.  However, the team has gone from balmy forty degree weather before the race to forty below not including the wind chill.  You stop smiling at negative forty.  You want to stop doing a lot of things at forty below.  But, cold or not, dogs still need to booted, watered, fed, and massaged.   

Weather forecasts report a warm up beginning tomorrow as Team Snowhook runs toward Unalakleet, the first checkpoint on the coast.  With river travel behind them, the team will trot nearly ninety miles to Unalakleet.  We can expect AJ to break up the long run by camping on the trail at new Old Woman cabin.  The inviting cabin offers travelers safety and warmth and is a short distance after old Old Woman cabin.  Why not rest at old Old Woman cabin?  If the new cabin is inviting, the old shanty is less than welcoming.  Legend holds that passersby should leave an offering at old Old Woman---most leave candy---or her spirit will follow you on the rest of your journey and bring you bad luck.  It is best not to risk it.  Thanks to Leonard and Amalia, AJ has an offering of crushed tobacco.

Next stop: Unalakleet.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Frozen Familiarity

At the time of drafting this report, Team Snowhook is on their way from Huslia to Koyukuk.  From there they will meet the traditional Iditarod trail.  

When it was announced that the restart was to move from Willow to Fairbanks, it was no surprise.  However, I was asked several times about the inconvenience of starting in Fairbanks rather than across the street from our property.  Inconvenience?  Maybe, but I find harm coming our dogs or AJ much more of an inconvenience.  With that in mind, we approached the new trail as an adventure.  As we made our way to Fairbanks it felt a lot like being a rookie team again.  There were a lot of unknowns.  

What is not unknown is the welcome that mushers receive on the trail.  The villages that serve as a checkpoint often rally around the race.  Huslia was a new checkpoint in the new race route this year, as was Nenana, Manley Hot Springs and Tanana.  As the team has traveled through Athabascan country, they left the river to run overland to Huslia and from Huslia to Koyukuk.  Upon arriving in Koyukuk, they will run many mores of river travel and trail known to the team and familiar to race fans.  

While river travel may seem boring, there is also a comfort that comes with familiarity.  It is easier to plan a run and rest schedule, and the layout of known checkpoints offers an ease of navigation.  

With Team Snowhook’s mandatory twenty-four and eight hour layovers behind them, we will watch the team travel along familiar trail.   

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Remembering Melanie

I could report about Team Snowhook having finished their mandatory 24 hour layover in Galena.  I could write about the opportunity to take leave of the Yukon River and run overland to Huslia, the next checkpoint.  However, my thoughts have turned to something unrelated to run and rest schedules, GPS trackers and race standings.  

A year ago, Melanie passed away.  And, rational as AJ is, he will tell you that he does not believe it is a coincidence that Melanie waited until the team crossed the finish line of a race dedicated to her to cross the Bridge.  While this year’s race is not dedicated to our Heartfriend, she is with him on the trail.  

After the Ceremonial Start, as AJ prepped his gear for our trek to Fairbanks for the restart, I witnessed something special.  Unbeknownst to him, I watched as AJ removed the purple ribbon---a remnant from the 2014 Ceremonial Start and a way to honor Melanie--- from our Ceremonial sled and tied it to his race sled.  I spoke when I saw this, surprising him from behind, “You’re taking her with you?”  His response was simple, “Yes.”  And, why would he not?  

Melanie was not only a good friend to each of us and welcoming, she was one of the loudest voices in Snowhook’s cheering section.  Heaven help me, I think about her every day.  I think of her when I am stressed or making big decisions, or playing with the dogs.  I do not think I am alone when I say I feel blessed to call her my friend.  

Melanie is on the trail, Melanie is on the trail, and for this AJ and the dogs are supported and lifted by her spirit.    

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Musher by Any Other Name

His given name is Justin.  His nickname is AJ, short for Angry Jesus.   And, some fans of the kennel call him the Giant.  Yet, during his twenty-four in Galena, a familiar checkpoint on the new race route, AJ not only received an opportunity for extended rest, he was also given a new name.    

Leonard, the Native American Holy Man who offers nightly prayers on AJ and the dogs’ behalf, and his wife Amalia attended a prayer session in the lower forty-eight.  The purpose of the gathering was to offer prayers for their friend who is in the late stages of Parkinson’s.  Following his prayers, others brought forth concerns for prayer.  Amalia and Leonard prayed for health, safety, happiness and speed for AJ and the dogs as they make their way to Nome.  

It was in this prayer session that an Elder gave AJ a new name.  Translated, his name is He is Not Cold for He Has Good Dogs.  


Thank you, Leonard and Amalia for your continued support, friendship and care.  You honor us, you humble us.