Northern Blast Sled Dogs

Carol & Alan Pepsick

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Past, Present, and Future

Posted on October 26, 2014 at 9:50 PM

Another 6 months has gone by and this blog has been very quiet. It does not mean the past 6 months have been quiet however. So, in trying to catch up, I will just stick to the highlights.

First a quick recap: Last season proved to be another poor training season with many interruptions. My last posting showed our last training run of the season, in February, after a short lay-off. I never got my sled out for a single sled run and we had no training in the spring so we only got about 200 miles out of the season. So I was looking towards the future with hopes of a better season in the fall which is where we are at now. Here is what happened in between:

In April we lost one of our two oldest dogs, Comet. Comet, our white Siberian with pale blue eyes, was one of our original rescue dogs back from when we started this whole mushing game. Most likely he was a bit older than originally estimated as he appeared to be much older than the 12 years he was supposed to be, and it was time to let him go. He was a strong sturdy boy that I loved wrapping my arms around. He ran on our recreation team generally in wheel position which he liked the most but he also knew how to lead if needed. Kind of an odd duck, he usually separated himself from the other dogs while in the yard, lounging in the sun, and secretly watching the antic's of the others and laughing at them under his breath. After all, they were funny dogs, and he was well...Comet.



Just a few weeks later, in May, we lost our other oldest dog, Holly. This was tough loss as she was our foundation dog for the Northern Blast lines. Mother, grandmother, and great grandmother to our 3 litters, her presence would surely be missed. Holly was never a racing dog but she sure gave birth to them, a trait that grew stronger with each new litter. She was, however, great with puppies, even with pups we brought home that weren't hers. I was most concerned with her own kids at her passing, especially her daughters whom they shared a kennel wall with and her granddaughter Kwyta who looked out for her, but all is well. The kennel carries on as she is strongly remembered. Her health situation was unfortunate. We were still in the process of getting her meds under control but the disease was working faster than we were and she passed at the age of 13.5yrs, and I believe Lee was waiting for her on the other side.


Holly and her pups.

Holly and Comet

Alan went back to work after his 2nd toe surgery only to find he had no improvement and that it was still difficult to perform his job. So he went back in for a third surgery in May and has been off of work since. This time not pushing it too soon, his doctor has added two extensions to his recovery time so far. He needs to return as pain free as possible to perform his job. Currently he is off work until November.

The heat of summer finally hit around late June, and once it arrived it stayed hot. The dogs got their normal summer time break of digging holes and wading in the cool pool water. I was hoping to get out and do some hiking this year taking a different dog each time but by mid morning it was just too warm and I was only able to squeeze in a couple of short hikes. Usually I use the summer to go over gear and get everything ready for fall training, but the hot sticky summer made this more difficult to accomplish. Also, I always try to start training in August but there was never a cool enough day to do so this year. We were able to make it up to our local trails once, on the coolest day available, to do some trail maintenance.


Funny pic of Lizzy, Rosie, and Joy. They are posed identically to the smallest detail. "Simon says..."

Ana made it a point to dig as many holes as possible this summer. She connected this one to another one under the board which allowed her to go in and turn around. She is having a good time while Kwyta and Nezi seem a little concerned.

Our first litter still hanging out together: Tundra, Spirit, and Rosie.


Cheyenne and I on a short hike at nearby Eagle Fern Park.

Ana and I hiking along an old favorite, the Salmon River trail.

Relaxing on the hill: Lizzy, Rosie, Kwyta, Spirit, and Joy.

We had a couple of kennel visitors this summer, including this guy, Bandit. This is Rachel's baby who we watched for a few days. All the other dogs accepted him easily and he fell in love with Cheyenne while he was here.

"Let's circle around Aunt Rose!" You never know what you are going to find when you walk into the yard like this: Rosie, center, circled by 4 of her nieces. She is like a second mother to them. Starting at 12:00 and going clockwise: Looker, Lizzy, Kwyta, and Joy.

I tried to get some pictures of the Native American litter as they turned three years old on August 1st. Love this one of the girls: Cheyenne, Nezi, and Ana.

Cute pic of Ana. Cree (L), Nezi (R)

Unfortunately it is a little blurry but it was the best one I could get of all 5. Apache, Ana, Cheyenne, Nezi, and Cree.

The girls always just want to have fun! Nezi, Ana, and Cheyenne.

Filthy from head to toe from one of her hole digging jobs, but still a great picture of Ana.

Girls in the sun: (lying) Drew, Lizzy, Joy, Rosie, Spirit, Looker, Kwyta, (standing) Ana, Cheyenne, and Nezi.

Faith: "Help, it's got me, and it's pulling me in!"

A little fuzzy. Orbit (center) with his sons Apache (L) and Cree (R).

Not a great picture, but will have to do. Cousins Eagle and Orbit.

Uncle and nephew. Tundra and Bounder hanging out together.

This is funny. Scroll back up to the first picture in this section of summer time pictures and you will find the one of these three girls: Lizzy, Rosie, and Joy. Taken on a different day I guess these 3 really enjoy each others company. They are laying in the exact order as well.

The hot summer and east winds led to a vary dry forest and then tragedy struck mid September. A large plume of smoke rose from the forest nearby and we watched it spread across the sky from our yard. We were to learn that our local training trails were on fire and it spread quickly over the next several days. More than 5500 acres burned (and are actually still burning as I write this). More than 1000 firefighters from 17 states were on hand to help. A field on the outskirts of town turned into tent city for the firefighters to bed down in between their shifts, reminding me much of a basecamp of mountain climbers. Driving through town you could see groups of firefighters hanging out together in front of the grocery store or one of the pizza places. The community changed as the fear of the fire approached our homes, and any sound of gunfire was actually traumatizing as this is what caused the fire. Everyone stayed in communication with each other and so many were willing to help each other as needed. We also received offers of help from friends, family, and co-workers, when it looked like we were going to get caught up in the evacuation process.

Part of the fire made a jump putting it even closer to our area. Evacuations were taking place just 2 miles down our road and when an incorrect map appeared showing a road just in front of as evacuating, my neighborhood sprang into action. We were all packed and had plans in place in just  a couple of hours. Then the map was corrected and the immediate threat was gone, but evacuations were still taking place just 2 miles away, and that jumped fire was still close. I had purchased a bike in April and did as much riding as I could on our local roads, roads that were then roadblocked due to the fire. That's how close it was.

Our truck remained packed for nearly 2 weeks before we finally converted it back to the normal training equipment. I took a couple of days off of work because of how close the danger was. Our yard was filled with strong smelling smoke for weeks as ash fell onto everything the first many days. 22 water buckets in the kennel had to be changed daily. Kwyta was treated earlier for her normal August cough she tends to get every year. But the smoke from the fire reactivated it and she has been having difficulty kicking it and is still being treated with medications now.

The following pictures were taken from our yard:

The day after the fire started.

The sun seen through the smoke.

This is a back fire set by the fire fighters to keep the forest fire from spreading.

The same back fire several minutes later reflecting the setting sun.

A day after the fire started helicopters with hanging water baskets finally appeared making trips back and forth all day, right over our house, to help put out the fire.

The next day planes also showed up to put fire retardant down onto the fire. I had never seen so much air traffic over our house, and travelling so close to the ground that I ducked when the first plane passed by. This bright yellow plane is etched in the minds of many.

One week later we were still seeing this:

When I felt safe enough I returned to a busy day at work. Strangely when I would hear a plane fly over I could feel my heart start to race and a need to run outside to see it. Then I would realize I am at work and that it is just a regular passenger jet. The next day, Friday, the 7th day of the fire, I woke up with a stiff back and by lunchtime I had to come home. From an old injury, I truly felt it would smoothen out over the weekend; after all I had done nothing to aggravate it. I was to learn what the power of stress can do as my back only worsened to a point that I could not move without severe pain. I could not get out of bed, I could not walk, and with any attempt of moving I would have to grab onto things to get me there. Going to the bathroom was an adventure I will not even write about. Changing clothes and attempting to put on shoes were out of the question and laying down was the enemy as I could not get back up afterwards so I slept in a mostly seated position in a recliner with a heating pad. I had never experienced anything like this before and I had to take a whole week off of work. I was able to make it to a doctor during that time who ruled out anything dangerous and put me on a handful of medications I had never had before to help with the symptoms.

When I finally returned to work I was doing better but was not 100% yet and that first week was a tough week back as I was making up rescheduled appointments. The dog yard chores was difficult and I was limited to what I could do. I could not change water buckets and even walking the yard scooping poop was difficult. So Alan had to do more than his share but he was still recovering from his surgery. What a mess!! Meanwhile we weren't training the dogs and even if we could, our training grounds were still on fire. Did I happen to mention what a mess this was!!!

It also remained hot the rest of September and the first part of October. When it finally cooled enough to train, my back was still bothering me so we waited. But two weeks ago we finally got started. Saturday was still a little warm so we went to the new Cabela's store that just opened up here. All I can say is WOW! But on Sunday we got our first training day in. Because of the fire however we had to go to Still Creek Rd to train. This area is the original place we used when we first started training so many years ago. Unfortunately it makes for a longer drive for us and there aren't nearly as many good options for us and my larger team but it will have to do. The team did really well. We were able to go back on Tuesday and Thursday as well. I was concerned about the temps because it was just barely cool enough but none of the dogs had any issues. The Tuesday run was difficult regarding the area however. We ran into workers on the narrow road cutting the brush back on either side of the road. They said it was too dangerous for us to park anywhere between their signs which is right where we needed to be. So we continued driving until we came to the last of their work crew parked all over the road. After finally getting past them we drove until we found a suitable place to pull over and park. Unfortunately this would mean I would not have a turn around place for my large team at the halfway point. So we decided that Alan would drive 3 miles ahead after we left and find another place to park to pick us up there. This was a very easy downhill run for us and Alan did not catch up to us until we just hit 3 miles. I told him he could go another mile ahead and we would meet him there. A different way to run for us but it worked. When we packed everything up and was ready to leave, we decided to just continue on from that point and exit the road at the other end. Along the way we saw for the first time all the parking spots we used to use that the forest service has now blocked off. We took the first option back to the main highway until we ran into a barricade. The forest service closed that way off with no warning ahead of time. The only way we could get out of that narrow area was to unload the quad, detach the trailer, turn everything around and put it all back together. How very disappointing and aggravating. We returned to the training road and continued on further to the only exit left out of there which we were able to do but continued to see more closed off parking areas along the way. Now my limited training grounds have even less options than I thought so I am not happy with the forest service.

First fall training run of 2014 on Still Creek Rd. Going through Summit Meadow with a washed out MT. Hood in the background.

First fall training run of 2014 on Still Creek Rd. A small taste of fall colors.

First fall training run of 2014 on Still Creek Rd. Drew and Kwtya (lead), Looker and Cheyenne, Nezi and Ana, Faith and Lizzy, Cree and Eagle, Apache and Orbit, Tundra and Bounder (wheel)

VIDEO. First fall training run of 2014 on Still Creek Rd.

The Thursday training day went much smoother. Work crews were still out but they didn't interfere with where we were trying to go. We were also able to map out a place for us to do our first campout which I had scheduled for this past week. Getting 3 training days in one week was a great way to start and probably the first time I was able to do that since last October! The dogs had adequate rest in between so they did well with this schedule. Last weekend we were supposed to train Saturday and Sunday but it was a bit too warm for us although I do know other locals did make it out. But even so, this time Alan woke up with back pain and stiffness most likely acting up from the work related back injury he had 4 years ago. Probably not quite as severe as what I had but still bad enough to make doing most things difficult.

Then, also last Sunday, I further sabotaged us by making a dreadful error. Somehow, without realizing it, I let two dogs into the yard together who should never be. I didn't understand why it sounded like a fight was breaking out and when I went to split them up I still didn't realize who I was dealing with until I had my hands on both of them. Faith and Looker! How are these two together?! Their fights are the worst I have ever seen and getting them apart is nearly impossible. The other dogs that were also out were circled around us watching. Suddenly Alan appeared out of nowhere and tackled them to the ground. I was able to peel Faith away and put her in her kennel. Alan was yelling for me to hurry up and I wasn't sure why since we had split them up. I hurried back for Looker and realized Alan had blood running down his arms. As I rushed Looker off to her kennel I saw that she too had a stream of blood running out of the back of her rear leg. Within a few moments I had 3 patients and at least two of them were in critical condition. Alan went up to the kennel gate and I raced back and forth between him and Looker trying to get their bleeding under control and kicking myself in the process. I grabbed a chair for Alan to sit in. He had taken Ibuprofen prior to this for his back pain so it was more difficult to get his thinner blood to stop running and I was concerned about him passing out. I often have to deal with patients passing out or nearly passing out at my job, but never under these circumstances. I was equally concerned about the amount of blood pouring out of Looker and I hadn't even checked on Faith yet.

When I finally got the bleeding slowed down on the two of them I check on Faith to find she only had a small abrasion on her lower lip. I cleaned and bandaged Alan's wounds of which he had several on both hands. Clearly this was painful and he was unable to use his right hand for nearly 2 days. Looker suffered a tear in the loose skin at the Achilles tendon. I have been irrigating with an iodine solution several times a day, and later added antibiotic ointment to her treatment. Now a week later and the wound looks clean and she puts normal weight on her leg. After using ice and an antibiotic ointment from his surgery Alan's hands looked incredibly better 2 days later and he regained use of his right hand. He is still suffering from back pain however. Unfortunately this whole episode created a very gloomy mood over the kennel for many days that I think has now finally lifted. Of course what doesn't help and I have not mentioned yet is that 6 of our girls are in season, including the two who had fought. So the kennel was already in a highly emotional state and I am smearing Vicks on our 7 intact males every evening to try to keep some peace at night. 

Our campout was supposed to be last Tuesday and Wednesday. We should have gotten two more runs in plus the overnight experience which half of my team has not done yet. The temps hovered in the low to mid 50's for both days, just a little too warm for me, and Alan is still having back pain so we did not go. The only bright side to this was the storm that moved in with strong winds and driving rains which would have made for a miserable campout, we were spared.

Because of the weather we missed out on 2 more runs this weekend as well. Hopefully we will be able to run on Tuesday as this will be our last opportunity to train before the big LaPine weekend. Similar to what we did last year, organized by Henning Bartel on his property, this time with three mushers as the guests of honor. It is something I have been looking forward to since he made the announcement in the spring, but now I am bit a hesitant. Will Alan's back be well enough by then? We will be sleeping in a tent on the ground. How will the dogs do after recent events? How big of a disruption will our group be with all those girls in season? I might need to run the dogs in 2 teams. I enjoyed myself so much last year but I am a little worried this year. We are taking the rec team as well this year and we also invited Rachel to join us. I am hoping all will go well.

Once again I had large plans for us this year but I already feel we won't be able to do what I have put on paper. I will probably need to modify our goals soon but I just haven't made any decisions yet. At this point we can only continue to take it a day at a time and see where that leads us. Oh, and keep the blog more current would be good.  :)

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