Weekend in The Whites- part 1
It has been much too long since I have put my kennels adventures in to words so I will start with the present and work backwards. It is late January, the pups are up to 40 mile runs and racing was off the table so instead, we spent the weekend in the White Mountains. About a 2 hour drive from where we sleep is a gigantic national park that is maintained to an incredible degree by the parks department and boasts an even more spectacular array of public use cabins than I have ever known. They are very well insulated, stocked with a wood stove, bunks, usually a coleman stove and propane lantern as well as little things that campers have left through the winter. So off we went for our longest camp out to date. In summation, I want to do it again... this weekend if I could. It was everything I dreamed it could be with a dash of addiction that I know I will happily feed through the winter and many more to come. The overall skeleton of the weekend was driving up there, mushing to each cabin by day then loose play with all the pups through the evening into a night of cuddling all inside by the wood stove. I am still surprised at how smooth it went. I have cold camped with Matt and his yeeears of expertise many times but am always second in command in getting things done as we take care of dogs and ourselves. I can only attribute it to now 2 winters of having my own kennel and making my own decisions on dog care coupled with seeing how the pros do it to have made a weekend of efficient fun of the "work" that needed to be done each day. I put quotes around the word work because its certainly not the conventional kind, just simply the fundamental kind of things to be done to feed and water all of the living things. The first day turned into an adventure I was certainly not planning on but am glad happened. Possibly more of the secondary kind of fun that is spectacular to look back on but during it is more of an "oh shit" feeling.
This trip was done with my good friend Victoria. She is a sprint musher from Texas like myself, and is thinking of getting some distance sled dogs for longer adventures so we thought we could make this trip into one big weekend of enjoying dogs together. We set out that first day from a trailhead that was empty except for ourselves providing a very relaxed hook up to a trail that has been beautifully maintained onto a route that was new to us both. As snow started to fall, we headed straight into a burn. It was quite eerie to say the least... all black spruce burnt to crisps surrounded us coupled with an active trapline off the trail. Victoria joked it was like the shadow lands in "The Lion King" and I think that was a very apt description. The trail was fast though and we were having a blast. Wind is obviously no stranger to the area and as it started to bite my face and hands I stopped to put peter heaters on all the boys to protect their exposed bits . We continued on with hoods low and ruffs up making that beautiful warm environment around my face when the trail started turning for the frustrating. Wind had started drifting in the trail turning it punchy for the dogs and hard work for canines and humans both. Night fell and headlamps were turned on illuminating the snow fall and keeping focus on the trail ahead. Harder and harder it was becoming to keep the sleds moving at a faster pace. No problem for the dogs, they were still screaming and jumping every time we stopped. A slower pace just means more of a march then a trot for the dogs and lots of peddling off the sled for the humans. Then we started hitting drifts of snow that were waist deep and one hell of a group project to get over. Further and further we went. I was now sweating and wondering where this freaking cabin was. Finally the sleds started moving faster as the trail once again hit hard pack. This hard pack I quickly came to realize wasn't snowed in due to the extremely harsh winds of the area. They howled. I've never felt wind so strong. Coupled with the snow fall and headlamps, my breath caught in the awe of what mother nature can do when she sets her mind to it. And of course that small, small part of your stomach that realizes, "yes, yes we are out in the wilds of Alaska in one of the most tremendous storms i've experienced by dog team.." because it was. Wind tore at my parka and pushed the snow past my headlamp at such force it was just horizontal blurs. Those horizontal blurs had also completely blown the trail into nothingness. There was no way of knowing which way the trail snaked in front of us. We were traveling over what must have been a pond and marsh area when the temperature was kinder, but that meant nothing to guide the trail by. My leads kept falling off the edge of the trail to swim in deep snow. Fits, who holds my confidence in lead through his pure comfort up there and casual nature of running through anything is also very hard headed. He started to swim in the snow and almost visually shrugged and just started swimming as if "huh, I guess this is the trail now". Ghost on the other hand, my pound puppy and angel turned into one of the greatest leads in the kennel, thought there must be a better way. She started reaching right and left, looking for the trail but it was my time now to start lending my own human brain to the equation. Where would trail breakers put the trail in? I asked myself. So as I deduced what made the most sense I started calling "Gee!" and "Haw!" to my leads in guidance back to the trail. As if I pushed a button they moved with my commands. Continuing in their right and left progressions until I shouted "right there!" over the howling wind when we found the tail again. We continued this way, the dogs never losing their excitement at this new insanity and me, half functioning on survival instinct and half in awe at that same beautiful insanity. Markers flashed bright in my headlamp and there we were. To our first cabin.