Monday, October 31, 2005

Building a dogbox - Part 1

Ah, it's about time I broke down and built one of these for the dogs. After a few years of trucking them around in a Jeep Cherokee (not a very sled dog friendly vehicle), then the Ford Ranger (pretty sled dog friendly, but lacks room), I decided to finally build a real dogbox so we could travel with ease and in comfort!

There's a few different types of dogboxes, with the most common being the type on the back of a truck where each dog has it's own little cubby hole with a door to the outside. This way requires lifting those suckers in and out up high - not so good for the back - and our backs take a beating as it is. Another option is the open type - which you can see in this picture with Ray's green truck in the background. In this type, the dogs are not in their own little box, rather it is all open and has a couple layers. Each dog is tethered to a certain spot (to prevent fighting, or better yet, mating...), and it is actually quite cozy. It's also a great place for a weary musher to grab some sleep!

I like this open method, but don't have the truck for it. So I'm going with this open concept on the trailer. So with my trusty sidekick (and better carpenter than I), Ray, we are aiming for this *innovative* design. The dogs aren't going to have individual doors, rather 2 doors/side that swing up and latch open. There won't be any interior walls, which will really cut down on weight. They'll be tethered inside of course, so all I have to do is open the doors and out they come on their own! My back will be so happy not having to haul 70lb furry beasts around. Another bonus of it, is that dogs don't have to stand out on the icy ground or snow if it's really cold. They have the option to hop back into their "house" if they want. And I'll be able to get at least 12 dogs in it comfortably. And I can fit, like 8 sleds on top if I wanted to!

We are going to have to do some *tweaking* with this design though. It turns out that opening is a bit too small for the dogs to hop up - the bigger guys anyways. So with a bit of experimenting, we'll come up with something that's functional, yet... stylish!

Gracie checks out the result of our afternoon of hard work. She's pleased with it. Sure, it's something new to jump up on and then sneakily launch herself off of onto the backs of the other dogs...

On another note: My chainsaw is back!! Welcome back you piece of crap.

I'm off to clear trails and run dogs!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hey, guess what? More pictures of.... dogs!

We headed out on a quick run the other day, due to the previous run being, well, basically a disaster!! I don't know if my dogs aren't used to these mega-teams I'm running them in (12-13) or what. First Ripper and Jack squared off, because as much as I want them to be friends, they just refuse. Damn them.

So then moments later, sweet little Ivy gets in a scrap with Loki. Loki is so timid, he just flops to the ground screeching, so it was a rather one-sided fight, and no one was hurt (in either case). She went after him again just after we got going and I stopped the quad, hopped off and yanked her out of the team. I put her in the backyard and left without her. I was just so frustrated and annoyed by her behaviour, I didn't even want her to come. Like the mother who tells the kids to "just get out of my sight!" and that was just how I felt. And dealing with this behaviour right beside a human-shy Loki is challenging. Raising your voice is out of the question. And a smack on the butt to Ivy would really freak Loki out, so I just booted her out of the team. I think Loki agreed with that decision!

By this time, it was pretty much mayhem. I had 13 dogs all ready to go, screaming, lunging in their harnesses while the quad is kind of bouncing forward and making weird noises like they just might rip the whole front end off. I was breaking up fights while watching my known neckline chewers and the big dog, Kuna near the 4-wheeler who will chew anything he gets his mouth on - harness, snub line (the safety line attaching the quad to the tree so they don't go screaming down the trail without me... fairly important piece of equipment), etc. This whole experience is always a good lesson in multi-tasking. But it's also something mushers deal with frequently. I think we're all addicted to this adrenaline rush we get just hooking up the flippin' teams!! Need another hit?? Get out the harnesses!!!!!

I mean, I know it's because they're just so excited. But they're also extremely impatient... and we have to work on that. I can handle the excitement, even the chewing, but not the chewing of each others heads.

So, in light of these circumstances, I've pared the teams down a bit hoping for calmer hookups. Maybe that was just a bad day and the fighting affected the running later, who knows? But next time, we had a great, fun run. It turned out to be the first snowy run of the season.

Here's Rupert-lead-dog-when-he-wants-to-be (which is most of the time, lucky for me).

Here's Sage and Loki in action:

Now, someone commented on them looking "psycho" and "fierce" - which I guess I can understand looking at it now. But it couldn't be farther from the truth! See for yourself -their true personalities are more like this;

I guess those not familiar with sled dogs don't realize they can sort of have these "alter egos" when in harness. You basically unleash the deep biological frenzy inside of them when you put that harness on. They can be calm, sweet and quiet in the yard, but out on the trail, they can become screeching, screaming, barking, loud, (sometimes annoying!) maniacs. Loki, shy in the yard and skittish, becomes quite confident and so excitable, he almost shakes out of his own skin when put in the team!

Here's Rupert and his mom, Kate. They really work well together. That fresh bit of snow really hyped these guys up.

Here's another one of my fierce dogs, Ripper.

Ripper mid-run and mega-slobbery, no this dog DEFINES the word SLOBBER. I don't know why it only ends up on his face?

Sweet Octane. One dog who does not go psycho in harness. He's older (9) and has finished a few Iditarods. So he's been around the block. Our measly 10-mile runs really don't even phase him.

George - finally, she looks HAPPY! This was her first time out since her nail problem, so she was pretty excited. Her foot is fine, the nail is growing in splendidly now!

Here I'm training the dogs to do some new things. Hopefully soon, they'll be able to get my mail for me (although, they are having trouble getting that key to work without opposable thumbs...). Next, we'll work on getting water...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lessons learned (and apparently not forgotten) from Childhood: Whine and 'Ye Shall Recieve!!

Ahhh... that feels better.

I knew if I whined enough, the snow gods would take pity.

Lucy seems to have not moved since the last photo of her and the first snow. So here she is once again. In the same spot. So am I. Hm. We need to get out more.

I knew that I was the reason it snowed today. Yep, it was all my doing. See, I bought a load of lumber oh, last week and only unloaded it from the truck LAST NIGHT. I knew as I unloaded it that if I purposely didn't put it under the tarp (not 'cause I was too lazy or anything...), and left it to get snowed on, it would!! Sure enough, it did. Nope, I'm not superstitious...

Gracie in the snow:

George in the snow:

Does she look ticked off to you? Well, she probably is for some reason only known to her. Not enough snow for her perhaps? Maybe she's just not close enough to the wood stove right now (her favourite spot). Either way, this is one dog who takes life very seriously. Unlike the rest of us around here...

My new pile o' wood. Useless to me, because I STILL don't have my chainsaw back!!! (#^$*%@ repair shop...)

But who cares about anything other than the fact that WINTER is on it's way...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Uh, yeah, so still no snow...

Ok, winter. I'm ready and waiting....

You're all going to hear me whining about the lack of snow till we get a decent snowfall here y'know. Just a warning...

That said, first recorded snowfall here at my place Wed @ 1:33 am!!

Lucy is the first outta the cabin that morning to check out the lovely white stuff. Doesn't she look excited??!! (ok, so nothing really excites this mellow, laid-back dog)

I know, I know, it's not a lot of snow. In fact, it barely counts. But it WAS nice to see these big fat flakes coming down. I had visions of waking up to piles of snow, but this was about the extent of it. And with temps well over zero, it didn't last long...

Oh well, it gives me time to work on the old sled I guess. I've taken off the aluminum bases and plastic on the runners to sand it down and put a coating of varnish on. It was getting pretty ratty, since I guess I've never really done anything to it in the 4 years I've had it.

Here's that beauty right side up. It's an ok sled, but is a bit of a *tank* - meaning it's super heavy and has very little steering ability. On the other hand, you can smack that sucker dead centre into a good sized tree (yep, I've done it a few times!), and it will sustain the high impact. I've even seen the plastic on the brush bow (at the front there) totally bend inwards and pop back out. Nice!!

Another plus(I guess) - no need to add too much weight if you want to "strength train" the dogs. It's heavy enough! When we tried out a lighter sled last year, the dogs acted if nothing was behind them as they blazed down the trail!

Hopefully I'll have a new, lighter all wood, hand-tied sled soon. One of my new readers (and perhaps the most distant - from Israel!) asked what I do for a living. I work in the summers at a museum, then have a lot of free time in the winters. However, right now in an effort to get a bit more $$ for the new sled, I'm working p/t at a fish farm, vaccinating fish. If it sounds exciting, you're right, it is! It's pretty physical work, outside all day (which I love, even if you are often wet and cold - good practice for mushing!). It gets me out of the cabin once in a while and near other human beings, who I'm told are sometimes good to associate with...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Keeponsledding: FREE info for all your gate-building needs!

The driveway gate is finally built!!! Woohoo - beat the snow!! That'll keep the neighbors... uh, stray/wild animals out...

This magnificent beauty measures in at approx. 10ft across and approx 5ft high. I say *approx* because I rarely actually measure stuff. That said, I rarely get these things right on the first try. For instance - the original gate was 14.5ft wide(when I do something, I go big!). It was HUGE!!! Much too heavy. So I had to re-dig the post holes, cut down the one side of the gate I'd already finished... yeah, it was like a week long project. That's a lot of screwing and unscrewing (get 'yer mind outta the gutter). No wonder I was so tired in the evenings.

But once I got it right, I was on a roll. If anyone wants measurements to re-create this lovely work of art in their own backyard... don't ask me! Just roll the dice and get out your saw!

The painted version. Because I must paint EVERYTHING. And if a "real" carpenter (or anyone who can see this monstrosity) is looking at this, please avert your eyes - it might look like a disaster. The fact that the one side is a bit lower is driving me mad everytime I look at it. It ain't easy to lift a gate and screw at the same time y'know (*ahem*). Anyways, I may have to raise it a wee bit, just for esthetics. Works smashingly though!

Don't ya like how I incorporated the *natural* look by using poplars for the posts? That along with the DARK BROWN crappy paint job really adds to the mystique of it all I think.

Onto the FUN stuff - yesterday was "Gather Water and Jog" day for me, Kuna, Gracie and George:

Kuna waiting for me. How nice. Yes, I actually have ONE dog who gives a crap where I am on the trail. Then again, he has such a one-track mind, he probably thinks I have a big juicy steak in my pocket waiting just for him.

Good news! Someone else cleared the other trail we were stuck on a while back. Thanks, mysterious trail-clearer!! I'll do the same on the other trail, IF I ever get my chainsaw back from the shop.

Ah, beautiful! Gratuitous wood shot for anyone who loves a pile o' bucked up wood! Who doesn't really?

(I gotta snag those suckers next time!!!)

Any one-armed Alaskan out there lose a t-shirt?

It's a cute shirt, the left arm has either been lightly shredded by a bear or mutilated by mice.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

No snow yet... so we can still BIKEJOR!!!!!

Did a nice bikejor with friend Jon and his pooches last night. Great fun!! I took Loki and Ripper since I thought they both needed the extra run and with Loki being my shy guy, I figured it would be a good experience for him to get out, meet new people, new dogs, etc. He did really well. I had to put them in the cab of the truck since my bike was in the back. Not ever having had those two inside the truck before, I wasn't sure what to expect. But Loki scooted in there and curled up in the corner, and Ripper was unlike his usual self - he was actually calm and mellow! They were great travelling companions.

And just when I thought I had a bike that WASN'T destroyed by dogs... well, guess I needed a new bike for commuting next summer anyways... At some point, the screeching, jumping duo ripped off one of my gear-shifter thingys as we were getting ready to go. They also almost ripped my arm out of the socket as I was holding the gangline with one arm waiting for Jon to hookup ahead of us (sure you may be asking, why not tie the bike off and use a quick release??? Ah, these things require forward thinking. I was lucky enough to remember my bike!). And today I feel like I did some killer upper body workout with the weights. Who needs the smelly indoor gym when you have dogs?!?! Dogsledding: The smelly outdoor gym.

So we did a short run of 5km or so and the new dogs Jon has for the season were great with mine as we passed and stopped near each other. In fact, I think one had a crush on Loki as she came over and licked his face like, 5 times. He IS damned cute though. Those blue eyes are pretty mesmerizing. (didja hear that Tamra? - your female (blonde one) was a bit of a tart!). It was a short run because it was much colder than we anticipated, about -5C (23F) and add in that wind chill zooming along on the bike and brrrr!!!! Mental note: Dress warmer next time!

Since I didn't have the camera with me, here's a look at the run the other day with the whole crew (minus George-the-Gimp). 12 dogs makes for a very wild, screechy hookup. Although check out Ivy there, staring intently right at the camera. Ah, she's SO freakin' adorable!!!!!

Check out the white guys there - as Rupert attempts (unsuccessfully) at launching himself over Gabe. He kind of gets stuck mid-launch. It looks like I've got a 2-headed dog there.

The blue-eyed boys: Octane and Loki.

"Mmmmm.... gee your breath smells TERRIFIC Gabe!!"

Ripper and Kate. They did an awesome job at hookup keeping the other 10 in line. Ripper's definitely been needing some work in this department, right at hookup, even though he's a great leader once we get going. He loves Kate though and the old girl still will boss those youngsters around. They just clicked today right from the start. Good job guys!

What I get to see all the time!

The boys: Jack & Harris in wheel.

The team, head-on. And Ripper-the-backwards-leader, facing... backwards again! Maybe he's just keeping everyone in check.

I swear those clouds were going to bring snow that night... but... nope!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

My Proposal for North American Water Conservation: Make Everyone Collect THEIR OWN Damned Water!

Wow! I've never seen the river look as peaceful and beautiful as it was today

Jack ponders the serenity of it all.

My lookouts - always on guard! To protect me from the river monsters perhaps?

Jack was hilarious!! He started getting all giddy and goofy and at one point started jumping on and "play" attacking Harris, who was a bit annoyed at his goofy twit of a brother flinging himself around.

But lookit that face! Pure joy!!!!

Climb Harris Climb!!!

Ah, and then the work begins - the reason we came... water! With no running water and 14 dogs, I go through about 2 of these blue five gallon jugs/day. Which means a getting water every 4-5 days (as I have different jugs for my drinking water). There's a bit of a hill to climb back up with full water jugs.

But... it IS an excuse to get out with a couple dogs for an hour or so. Here's the water rig:

This will only start to get fun when that river is frozen!!