Posts Tagged ‘AJ’

Iditarod (8) Cool Place Name Edition


March 15th, 2016 Posted 9:23 am

Overnight report from Snowhook’s Rebecca. (We have AJ running 40 out of 73 remaining. And a big congrats to Dallas Seavey, into Nome! And thus the winner, for any newbies out there.)

There are many tricks of the trail that mushers know like there is pie in Takotna, fail to leave an offering at old Old Woman cabin at your own risk, and look for the lights of Koyuk. This last trick has served AJ well in the past.

In 2012, the trail markers between Shaktoolik and Koyuk were blown out by a storm. For hours AJ tried to find his way to the checkpoint through a maze of jumble ice. When some race fans called for his rescue, he did not give up on the dogs, nor they on him. Instead, they waited for darkness to fall. With the lights of Koyuk as a beacon, the team made it to the checkpoint, and with some rest, continued to the finish line. This is not the only time the lights of Koyuk have been a welcome sight for the team.

In 2015, under a bluebird sky, the team reached Shaktoolik. While tending to the dogs, AJ was told by an Elder that a storm was coming. He was counseled to leave the checkpoint earlier than he planned. I have a couple of my own tricks of the trail for AJ—please and thank you go a long way, and listen to the Elders. With the latter echoing in his head he prepared to leave. Before pulling the snowhook, he tried to rally other teams to hit the trail early. He left the checkpoint alone.

Sitting at home, I watched his GPS tracker as well as the trackers of the pack of teams that left a couple hours ahead of him. I also watched as one of the pack fell behind and then stopped for far too long. AJ, now traveling in high winds and low visibility, had no way of knowing another team was camped in the trail ahead. I watched as AJs GPS came upon the tracker of the other team. In the matter of just a few refreshes, with AJ serving as pace car, both teams were moving toward the lights of Koyuk. In the hours to come, other teams in distress would be reported in that same stretch—could they see the lights of Koyuk?

Yesterday evening, the team reached Shaktoolik. After resting, they will head for Koyuk when our slice of the world is asleep. Running to the lights of Koyuk—not a bad way to start the day.


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Posted in Chet The Dog

Iditarod (6)


March 13th, 2016 Posted 9:19 am

First, this strange and unhappy story from last night on the trail.

Then, our report from the hard-working Rebecca, CEO of Snowhook, our team (and unhurt in last night’s event). She has also sent in a story she wrote, supplementing the report and linked to below. Chetspeak on Sunday returns next Sunday.

Watching and waiting for the GPS tracker flag to move becomes a professional sport at Snowhook. As past races has taught, the flag—or the damn flag, as I affectionately call it—does not move on command. It is easy to will the flag to move or plead for it to move faster, but what we watch on the screen is different that the reality of the trail. This is where trust in AJ’s judgement comes into play. A lot of factors impact AJs decision to run or rest, to check-in at a checkpoint or blow through it and camp on the trail.

Checkpoints usually offer amenities like water, a designated space for mushers to sleep, and sometimes access to indoor plumbing. The water may or may not be hot, and that space to slumber is not the Hilton. Yet, when a musher is tired, he or she can sleep just about anywhere. The space that welcomes the weary musher can be a gym floor in the village school, or a room in the Elder center. What the checkpoint might lack in Egyptian cotton and high thread count, they usually more than make up for in mushers dozing in their fur covered mushing gear. How could a musher trade the hospitality of a checkpoint for camping on the trail?

The musher may seek out peace and quiet so the dogs can rest without the distraction of teams parked next to them in a dog lot. Or, it could be part of the planned or unplanned run/rest schedule. Typically, but not always a team will match their rest with the time spent running. However, the team’s performance, trail conditions, weather, and the distance between checkpoints impacts when and where AJ chooses to camp the team. Whether camping or at the checkpoint, the care given to the dogs does not change.

When AJ stops to rest the team, the dogs are fed, booties removed, beds made for the dogs, paws checked and muscles massaged. It is then, that AJ will eat. It is then that he might sleep. Each of these tasks is done efficiently as possible. The quicker the tasks are completed, the more uninterrupted rest the dogs receive. But, what about the short breaks we see the team take on the GPS tracker? We have to trust the unknown reason. It could be stopping to untangle a line, switch a dogs position, to snack the dogs. These breaks can also be a time to play, to encourage, to love. In the spirit of Chetspeak Sunday, below is a link to such a tale of the trail.



Iditarod (5)


March 12th, 2016 Posted 8:03 am

Inside baseball, Iditarod-wise from Snowhook’s CEO, Rebecca:

When deciding which dogs to run in the race, many factors are considered. Who holds weight well, the age and health of the dog, who has the mental maturity, the training miles, who has performed well throughout the season, and who might surprise you. All these factors come into play when finalizing your race roster. Another factor considered is who can and does run lead.

The deeper your bench is with lead dogs the better. A football team does not suit up just one quarterback and hope for the best. The more lead dogs a team has when they leave the starting line, the greater the opportunity the team has to recover if a lead dog is dropped. Many races have been cut short because they had no front end after dropping the small number of lead dogs on their team. The greater number of lead dogs on the team also allows the musher the luxury of rotating dogs in the lead position to give them a break or to draw on his or her leading strengths or preferences.

When it comes to lead dogs, it takes all kinds of kinds. Take Snowhook’s old alpha, Fargo. He perked at the prospect of running hills and navigating twists and turns, yet river miles bored him. However, Bridger, Snowhook’s second in command of long ago loved the river. He had two settings—-forward and off. His drive to run and run forward served the team well on long ribbons of river.

On Friday afternoon, the team reached Ruby, the first checkpoint on the Yukon River. As the team runs the many river miles, checking in at Galena, Nulato and Kaltag before heading for the coast, it is likely that AJ will swap who is running in lead. He will do this to nod to the dogs’ strengths, to give respite, and to develop a team member who shows promise as a lead dog.

Onward Snowhook!

Here are Abe and Garrett (from yesterday’s post) now resting at HQ (thanks, BooBear). As of right now, we have Snowhook at 31 – out of 80 still running. Not too shabby!



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Posted in Chet The Dog

Iditarod (4): The Chicken Skins Edition


March 11th, 2016 Posted 9:10 am

On the Iditarod trail with Rebecca, CEO of Snowhook Kennel – our team!

Since completing their 24 in McGrath, the team picked off the Takotna, Ophir and Cripple checkpoints. While the team trots on the trail bound for Nome, life at the kennel continues. Thursday’s agenda included a trip into town to load a half pallet of kibble and 200 pounds of beef as well as collecting Snowhook’s two dropped dogs, Abe and Garrett from the women’s correctional center.

The two brothers, wheel dogs, were curled in the straw at the dog lot established at the prison. Both are shy by nature and perked when they saw me. Papers were signed, dogs loaded in the truck, and inmates thanked for their care before officers opened the razor-wire adorned gate. The reason for Abe and Garrett’s early return home?—Tired. That is all the paperwork completed by volunteer vets indicated. It happens. Dogs do not necessarily have to be injured or ill to be dropped. In fact, it does not surprise me that AJ would drop dogs for being tired. It is Snowhook’s practice to be conservative with our dog care which includes sending a tired dog—or in this case, dogs—home.

Vets from all over the world volunteer for the race each year. They are sent in teams to each checkpoint on the trail. When a team reaches a checkpoint, the vets give the dogs the once over. However, if a musher has a concern, he or she can request immediate care from a vet targeted on a specific dog upon arrival or during their stay. The race is not a sight-seeing trip or a Sunday drive. No, mushers not only pay attention to the trail for trail markers and potential hazards, but also to the dogs. Knowing when to drop a dog or when to push a dog is largely due to knowing your dog. AJ will look for an uncharacteristic gait, a change in appetite, or behavior not normal for a particular dog. Knowing Abe and knowing his brother, Garrett also means that AJ knows that they are a pair, They do better together than they do apart.

Abe and Garrett were welcomed home from the trail with a treat ranking up there with a Slim Jim—chicken skins! Welcome home, boys, welcome home.


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