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How We Got To This Point
People are always asking me, “How did you get into this?” Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. It’s wasn’t like a switch was thrown and suddenly one day I was a musher although a point finally came where everything started to fall into place very quickly. But I feel many small things from as far back as our childhood; kept nudging us in this now adventurous life we share with a bunch of Siberian Husky’s. So much has contributed to this that when I was done writing this, I ended up with a very long story and I still needed to add the pictures. In fact, the pictures is what has been holding me up from finally posting this as many are pre digital and need to be scanned. So, while still working on that project I have tried very hard to edit down a shorter version with no pictures for those who want a quicker read and to finally have some information about us on this page. This is that shorter version but still very informative and still a bit longer than I was trying for. Interesting to see that once we finally jumped with two feet into the mushing arena how quickly and intensely it took over our lives, catapulting us each year to a new level. New mushers, read the following as a forewarning!
Alan and I were both born and raised in Michigan growing up with quite chilly winters, lots of snow, and an abundance of outdoor winter activity. Summers were spent camping, hiking and plenty of water sports and we were both competitive gymnasts. My love for northern breed dogs started the day my brother brought a malamute home.
As adults Alan and I maintained an outdoor adventurous lifestyle including rock climbing, hiking, white water rafting, backpacking, sky diving, mountaineering, and even some bungee jumps. We also worked in outdoor education, living in primitive cabins and teaching outdoor classes such as shelter building, fire building, knot tying, map and compass, wild animals, adventure programming, rock climbing, night hikes, and overnight backpacking trips. Can you see where all this is leading?
Our first attempt at mushing was in the early 1990’s with an Alaskan named Blue. Alan built a sled out of an old pair of downhill skis and 2x4’s. He used 1 inch tubular webbing from our climbing gear and weaved a seat. There was no way to steer it, it had no brake and we didn’t even know what a snow hook was but Blue sure loved to pull us on it.
That winter we attended our first sled dog race as spectators at the Mackinaw Mush in Mackinaw City, MI. We enjoyed watching those teams take off from the starting line, gliding under the Mackinaw Bridge and onto the wooded trail system and I had no clue that someday I would actually race my own team.
During the summer of that year we moved to Oregon and I decided I wanted a Siberian Husky. We ended up getting a half Siberian whom we named Denali. She was very smart, loved to lead on hikes and would be a good friend for the next 13 years. We found another local race to attend on Mt. Hood. We watched with the same enthusiasm as before still not realizing that someday we would be running down these very trails with our own teams.
Our plan was to move to Alaska but that didn’t happen. Instead we started a different chapter in our lives. After 10 years in outdoor education we purchased our own karate studio and ran this for the next 11 years. We took on odd jobs to help during the lean times. One part time job of Alan’s was at a kennel for carrion terriers. This kennel took on boarders, had a groomer, and a dog trainer. One day an elderly woman showed up for the dog training class with a beautiful red Siberian that Alan asked to meet. This dog was Holly and little did he know at the time that someday we would own and breed her.
In 2001, I went back to school to become a medical assistant. I landed a job at a urology office and have been there ever since, now almost 9 years, and I slowly started to back out of teaching at the karate studio while Alan picked up those classes and I just maintained the books. For Alan, the dog trainer at the kennel informed him that the elderly woman he had met with Holly, Lee Hills, needed help at her kennel since her husband Bob passed away a few years earlier and she still had plenty of dogs to take care of, all Siberian Husky’s. Alan made the call and Lee hired him. This is the true beginning of our present time.
Now we were able to see how an outdoor working dog kennel operated and how to work with Siberians. It wasn’t long before we started collecting our own Siberian Husky’s and with Lee’s permission they stayed at her kennel which we were both going to twice a day, every day, to take care of all the dogs. From November of 2003 to August 2004 we acquired Mackenzie, Polaris, Comet, and Stuart, all Siberian rescue dogs from various places.
That winter we returned to the Mt. Hood races and found the sport of skijoring interesting. Kim Tinker agreed to meet us to teach us to skijor. We brought Mack (the only rescue we had collected at that point) and one of Lee’s dogs Skadi, a 5 year old with no experience. None of us had a very good time that day, decided it was time to try dog sledding, and we never looked back.
We traded our jeep in for a pick-up truck so we could hold more dogs and built a 6-dog dog box on it and we got our hands on our first cart. With old gear from Lee’s barn, we had just enough to get us started so we began training in the fall that year with our 4 new dogs which Alan ran, and Lee’s dogs Holly (whom we owned with her), Skadi, and their father Sunny – this was my team. In November another Siberian was dropped off at Lee’s, Keeper, but this dog had a rough life and would need rehabilitating so we took on that project too. Also, a mushing friend of Lee’s, Nola Randell from Australia, showed up for 6 weeks. We spent every day with her. This really gave us a great start and a wealth of information on this sport. We purchased our first sled and were so excited on our first ride.
Before Nola left she convinced us to do an artificial insemination (AI) with Holly with frozen semen that Lee had from Terry Hinesley’s Iditarod lead dog Indy. In January of 2005 we performed the AI and in March three wonderful pups were born: Spirit, Tundra, and Rosie. Those pups became our new life. What a difference they were to work with in so many ways. They were born to mush.
We closed down the karate studio shortly after the pups were born and Alan went to work for Safeway. We picked up another dog that summer, Ahhsoo, as well as more gear, sleds, and another cart from a young musher who decided to get out of dogs. We had a second great year in the sport as Alan and I ran recreationally; he with a 6-dog team and me with a 4-dog – the 3 new pups and their mother who had no problem keeping up with the larger team and in fact were faster. We became submerged in the sled dog world giving up, without realizing it, all our other outdoor activities. We upgraded to a bigger truck and built a 10-dog dog box on this one. So it was time to start thinking about getting our own place.
It wasn’t easy but by November of 2006 we moved onto a piece of property we found in Estacada. With some help it took another 10 weeks to build kennels for the dogs who moved onto the property Feb 1, 2007. We brought home: Mack, Po, Comet, Stuart, Ahhsoo, Keeper (who was doing better and we decided to keep), Holly, Spirit, Tundra, and Rosie.
By the end of our first summer on our new property the litter was 2.5 years old and we pursued the idea of breeding Spirit sometime soon. We contacted Karen Yeargain and picked out one of her racing Siberian males. Spirit was bred in January of 2008 and had a litter of 6 in March: Faith, Kwyta, Joy, Looker, Lizzy, and Bounder who would turn out to be an even better group of running dogs and I started to get the racing bug.
We gave ourselves the kennel name of Northern Blast. Our training equipment improved as we flat bedded the truck and added onto the existing dog box to hold a total of 16 dogs. We purchased a quad and put the carts away and the gangline became longer. We then picked up another dog from Karen, Drew, a cousin to our pups. After fall and winter training of 2008-2009 I entered our first race, the local one right here on Mt. Hood, the 8-dog, 8 mile sprint just for the experience. Then it was time to switch gears to mid distance training which is what I was really interested in.
So we spent the next two years, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, training in mid-distance. Long slow miles and as many days and campouts as we could put in. We raced both years in the same two races with the 100 mile Eagle Cap Extreme being our best effort. Prior to starting this last year we picked up two more pups from Karen Yeargain, cousins Eagle and Orbit, who both put in a year of junior training, now ready for a more extensive training next year with the big guys. So I have worked my way from a 3-dog recreational team to a 12-dog racing team in 7 years while Alan now acts as my handler. Unfortunately Joy has recently developed a seizure disorder which she is on medication for. She still trains with the team but most mid-distance races will not allow her to race so the plan changed on us and we are not quite sure of our future during this writing.
October, 2011 Update: When I compiled this information back in April I wasn't sure exactly what our next step would be, and was considering all our options at that time. In May we made decisions that have greatly affected our present time. We bred Kwyta to Orbit. A lot of thought was given to this breeding. Other options for the sire was both Orbit's father and grandfather but with Orbit, although young, we get all three plus the genes from several other awesome dogs including his mother and grandmother. We also considered putting the breeding off one year but that would have only delayed our future plans and we aren't getting any younger over here! Lastly, the breeding took place over Memorial weekend, way later than I would have liked, but you can only work with the female's season if she's the one that you want to breed.
So on August 1st, 5 pups were born and they have occupied every spare moment of our lives. New kennels needed to be built and at this writing are still in progress although the pups all occupy one completed kennel. We have not begun fall training yet which is very unusual for us. Part of me is anxious to get going, the other part is satisfied with raising the pups and getting their quarters finished. When we finally start training we are unsure where this will take us this year. Eagle Cap may be out although they pushed their race back a month which is helpful but with 12 dogs now I was going to consider the 200 mile race, but I don't see that as feasible at this time. Possibly still the 8-dog with a different line-up. Time will tell. I had not planned on racing the Cascade Quest again and looks like they aren't holding a race this year anyhow. I am still interested in the 12-dog Bachelor Butte race! This is the first weekend in March which might give us enough time to get the training in. This will be an entirely different type of race for us however. Again, time will tell. We decided not to stress over any of this and to play it by ear.
Another decision we may get to make comes in December. If Joy makes it to then without a seizure, she will be seizure free for one year (to the best of our knowledge). We will then have the option of taking her off of her meds and see how she does. If we can keep her off the meds, she will be back in the racing game.
Keep checking the blog for current updates.
Since getting into dog mushing I will say that no two years have been alike, the learning process is constant, and the sport is very addictive.