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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Magic, Honor, and Respect at the Top of the World

Mike and the core of the race team are just back from an incredible experience at the Top of the World 350's inaugural run from Tok to Eagle Village on the Yukon River and back. A true distance of over 360 miles through endless hills and some of the most remote country anywhere a road passes. From the moment I heard about this race, I knew we'd be making the trip for several reasons. It's fairly close to home, only 231 miles from our doorstep to race headquarters at the Tok Dog Mushers Hall. It goes through incredible country, some which I had not seen, but some I have on Quest and wanted to see again. Despite being a little early in the season for such a long distance and especially since this season I am trying to slow our peak performance for another month, I had my concerns as the race approached that we were not really ready, but the excellent format of the event gave me the freedom to feel if I just ran my team to what they were ready for, we'd do fine...

The race was put together in no small part to honor the life of Chief Issac Juneby of Eagle Village who was killed last summer in Anchorage after being struck by a car while he was in the city visiting his sister in hospital, on her death bed. It's a very sad story in so many ways, now compounded by the killer getting a plea deal and looking at only a few years in jail for the murder of the Chief's sister. Justice is still far off it seems for so many... Mr. Juneby's family were major contributors to the race and spoke at all of the race functions. A very big thanks to them for their efforts putting on the race, but also making it much more than just a race. The end result of all of this for us mushers was that there was some higher meaning and purpose to this trip. Before the race, each musher was given a bandana that we were told to tie on to our sleds and carry with us to Eagle Vilage and that would act as a kind of dream catcher for the spirits. I looked at that bandana tied on my stantion often during the trip, held it several times for strength, and proudly gave it back in Eagle Village, full of good feeling and spirits. The divide between Natives and whites in Alaska is sometimes too big to imagine and some seem to like it that way. There are large cultural differences and attitudes but also many bridges, ties, common ground. Mushing is a bridge.

For myself, this was a special race becasue I decided to run all of the 12 Jim kids together, along with two of his grandkids. This meant my team consisted entirely of three consecutive litters our kennel produced, all of two of them and half of the third. Jim has been gone for just over a year, but he remains the spirit of our team and this kennel will never breed a litter that does not have Tsuga's Runaway Jim in the pedigree. He was that special, and always will be. This also meant I had a very veteran team that I know extremely well since I caught each and every one of them when they were born and have run with them for tens of thousands of miles. I know them better than I know myself and was ready to enjoy a good long trip with my best friends. I do have a few friends that don't have four legs, and some of them were also along for the trip. The field of mushers in this race had dwindled before the start due to all sorts of circumstances, but several folks made this a really special ride and I'd like to thank especially Paige and Cody, Abbie, Emily, and Jay for making some our camps extremely memorable. We didn't ever travel together, but we would talk about where we might stop next, and for how long, and then set off on our own saying, 'if all works out, we'll see ya there...'

Magic comes in many forms, and simply standing on the runners watching a team Sue and I have have created flow down the trail is pure magic for me. 12 brothers and sisters along with two of the next generation all working together as a team is nearly as good as life can be for this simple musher. Add the full moon, incredible scenery, great trail, good friends, campfires, and a higher purpose, and magic seemed to be everywhere you wanted to find it. My confidence in my training and myself was at a nearly all-time low going in to the race. Having just moved this summer, our training has been a bit off while we learn new trails. Weather had not been on our side either this season, and the team was considerably far behind our usual miles for the season. We are coming out of the darkest period of the year, and light had been hard to find for me for a while. I needed a bit of magic to help carry me along and it wasn't hard to find as leaders Wilson and Merlin ate up the early miles in the low, but bright sunlight as we climbed out of the -30 temperatures in the valley around Tok.

The format of the race was ideal for excellent dog care. Mandatory rest is often paraded out as the way to better dog care. I believe it leads to cutting corners, pushing dogs too hard between checkpoints, and not having time to make up for it. At this race, the only mandatory rest was 4 hours at Chicken on the return leg. Other than that, you could run the course as you wanted as long as you made the restart in Eagle Village at 2pm on the third day. Giving dog care along the trail is the best way to maintain a healthy, happy team. Streaking between checkpoints without stopping and pushing dogs to hurry up all the time causes stress and all the problems that come with it. Taking your time, stopping to deal with things in a timely fashion, and just being a relaxed musher makes a huge difference in a dog team's attitude and overall health. This race allowed that, and it showed. We rested more than we ran getting to Eagle Village, sharing campfires along the trail and moving again when we thought the dogs were ready. Good dogs.

Adeline Juneby Potts, sister to Chief Issac, spoke to us numerous times during the event. In Eagle Village, just before the restart, she had some words for us that will stay with me forever. She told us to "Respect the land, and the land will take care of you." Not in a 'you do this, I do that' sort of way, but in the true spirit of karma and good follows good. I believe in this, despite having been on a bit of a string of bad luck with my racing in our last few attempts. Hearing it from a respected and respectful elder of a completely different race and background from mine drove home a tie I felt to these people and their heritage on their land I am grateful to pass through. Respecting the land to me means, saying thank you for safe passage over the high mountains and their wind and past the icy overflows trying to push you off the trail. It means cleaning your campsite, picking up booties and trash, and leaving nothing behind but a bit of straw, dogpoop, and some ash in a firepit. I was extra careful on the trip out to not loose a candy wrapper and to pick up booties not even thrown by my dogs...

Respect was also shown throughout this race for various styles of mushing and mushers. Being that I was the only Siberian Husky team in the race, it was nice to feel respected by the majority of the mushers and race staff. When we first arrived in the north 6 years ago, we were not always greeted with such respect and I'm sure there is still talk behind my back from time to time. I've known several people to say very negative things towards my team simply because they are different and people have some pre-concieved notions. Heck, on my first Quest I was told flat out by a race judge during the race that she had a "prejudice against my team," despite not knowing me or my dogs. Mikhal Telpin was also at this race, A Native Siberian running his true Chukotka dogs, wearing their homemade harnesses, no booties, and thick coats and wide chests that make my dogs seem puny. Mikhal speaks nearly no English, but when he came to our campfires, he was welcomed and we tried some communication, which mostly led to shrugging shoulders and smiles, but little real understanding. One time when he came up behind us, I had finished my dog chores and had some extra hard-earned hot water, made from snow. I was done with what I needed for myself and my team. Mikhal had just pulled up and was starting his cooker. I walked back to his sled, showed him the water, and offered to pour it in his cooker. He smiled broadly and gratefully accepted the time-saving gift. He always had a nice smile for me the rest of the way and I was glad to pass on Respect. At the finishers banquet, Mikhal came to me, took my arm, looked me in the eyes, and simply said "Siberians!" with a big thumbs-up and smile. Thanks Mikhal, right back at ya, I guess we weren't the only Siberian team!

I could write for days about the dogs, the country, the people, and the journey, but I'll just add that we finished the race in tenth place. I had set midnight as the time I wanted to get to Eagle Village, at halfway, we got there at 11:50. I had set midnight also as when I thought we could get back to Tok with a good run, we got there at 11:45, after holding off most of the headlamps I'd been watching behind us for 50 miles. All 14 of my team finished the race strong and ready for more. My confidence was restored in my training, even with some pretty big changes this year. Most of all I found magic, honor, and respect wherever I looked and am grateful for an incredible journey through space and time with some of the best friends I'll ever know.

Respect your doG!!!

Mashi Cho.

(check out our facebook page at 'Team Tsuga Siberians' for more pictures and many more at the Top of the World 350's facebook page. full results are also on the TOTW website.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Moving forward-

Seems we're once again well overdue for a blog entry. "Team Tsuga Siberians" on facebook is still the easiest way to keep up with regular pictures and kennel updates but here goes another attempt at stringing some words together, sometimes forming sentences...

First, my shoulder is doing better. Not great, but better. Better enough to decide that we should plan on a full racing season in 2013. This led us to apply for the Seppala Heritage Grant this spring. It's an award given in the name of the legendary Siberian Husky musher, Leonhard Seppala, by the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance to an Iditarod rookie. It's a significant process that we had completed twice previously, but the third time's a charm, and in early June we were notified that we had been awarded the grant. Thanks to the Alliance and the folks who wrote us the letters of recomendation. It's a great start but covers less than half of direct Iditarod race expenses. It is enough to get us started on the Iditarod trail to Nome and we were happy to sign-up on the first day we could!! We are really looking forward to the big show and almost 1000 miles of historic trail with our breathing time machine team.

Summertime is puppy time and we've now had two litters under the midnight sun. Eliza and Stump repeated their litter from last summer. Those 7 yearlings are so promising that we wanted to have a few more before Eliza got any older and be able to share a few with some friends. Two of the six are headed back to the east coast with racing and perhaps breeding futures, one will go to a 'sled-pet' home in California, and three will stay here to join our team. This will be Eliza's last litter and she is in town with Sue today for her spay, as I type this. She's had 17 pups in three litters, 14 of them will comprise the majority of our dog team for the decade to come. Both Stump's and Jim's genetics seem to be strong and we are line-breeding fairly heavily to produce predictable, consistent dogs.
Our newest litter is a new combination, although very similar in pedigree to last summer's Stinson and Wilson litter. This year we used Logan, instead of Wilson, with Stinson. Logan's never been dropped from any race, ever. He's been in all five of my Quests and always gone as far as I did. Both he and Wilson have Tsuga's Runaway Jim for a father, but Logan is from Mugs, not Gila, although those two are also from the same stud (Samhot's Jack) and have sisters for mothers. Hearing banjos plucking down by the river?? Well, we've got another litter of really great looking pups we expect all to be stars, as Stinson gave us 2 females and 6 males just yesterday. Pluck away, I love banjo! Some of these pups will be available for sale this fall to outstanding running homes, but if price or eye-color are among your first questions, you'll want to look elsewhere. We have a fairly long list of interested folks, but we will consider any chance to give our kids the absolute best home we can find for them, so contact us if you're looking to add a Tsuper doG to your kennel.

We are in the process of moving our home and kennel this summer. As Sue likes to remind me, this will be the 6th or 7th move of our kennel's life, not even including the winter moves we did for several years. Two Rivers has been a great home. We've trained here the last four winters and lived in our current house for three years. Our home here is well set-up and comfortable. Our kennel is flat and easy to maintain. Trails go in every direction and are mostly well-traveled. But in our hearts, Sue and I both love the hills and we think our dogs do, too. So in our continuing effort to simplify and focus, we're moving to an area with less population that is off the electric grid and a bit more out of the way. It's in a small neighborhood with several mushers who have been known to train a decent team from that location. Our new house is at the dead-end of a road, abutting nearly endless state-owned land with trails that stretch to the White Mountains, Minto Flats, and beyond. We're not looking forward to the work and timing of the move, but are grateful to be able to do it, and looking forward to the end result. Ohh, and our Two Rivers house is for sale...

For the first time ever, we are looking to 'hire' a handler for the fall and winter. Our new house has an outbuilding we plan to insulate and make livable for the right person. We are not looking for someone to race our dogs, although for the right person, that opportunity might present itself. We are looking for someone who thinks living in a 10x12 cabin with no running water in the sub-arctic sounds like a good idea. Hours will be long, we can't pay you, and there isn't much, if any, time for you to work in town. You will have a place to live, food to eat, an endless to-do list, puppies to play with, dogs to help feed, poop to scoop, dropbags to pack, nails to trim, dogs to run, fires to stoke, and little personal time to think about how much fun you are having. We want someone we can trust to stay at home and hold down the fort when we are away with the race team either training or racing. You will share our house often, both when we're there and when we're not. You will need to be a responsible, hard-worker who is able to get dirty, cold, and tired with a smile on your face and a kind word for your teammates. You will need to self-motivate and get things done, and done right, on time. We work on dog time and 8 hour days are a joke in this world. What you will get is 5 or 6 months of experience you will never forget, living and working in a professional, team setting at the edge of civilization, in an extreme environment and a world revolving around doG. Any body out there ready for the winter of thier lives??

For this year's racing plans, Iditarod is the focus. As a rookie, there is a lot of unknown which causes stress to a certain degree for both dogs, musher, and handler, but while we're rookies to Iditarod, the core of our team are all Quest veterans and most have finished numerous Quests and many other shorter races. Eliza's first litter of pups are 3 years old now and we expect Stinson, Bebee, Pemi, and Baker to join the 12 Jim kids (just about to turn 7 years old) in the core of the team. Ivy and Sparkle also will be ready to race this year, giving us 18 solid race dogs. After that in the depth chart, we have 11 dogs about to turn one year old. Their longest runs were this spring at only 8-10 miles. Making our 1000-mile race team is a very long shot for any of this group, but the likes of Frankie, Mule, Monkey, Fluffhead, Bug, Glide, Billy, Timber, Mango, Granite and Growler all seem like they're going to try. Perhaps one or two or three of them will mature quickly enough to convince me they can do it at this age. I can't wait to find out what they can pick up from our retired from racing dogs, Stump, Mugs, Gila, Hawkeye, Gecko, and Ambler, who they'll be learning from. We'll do as many of the early season races as we can afford time and money to attend, to get the young dogs out and about and keep the veterans interested and fresh for new trail. We won't put all our eggs in one basket, like last year.
While we love to see new trail, we also love 'our' dear Yukon Quest trail. A few kennels of Siberian Huskies have done both of the 1000-mile races over the years. No Siberian kennel has ever run both in the same year. I've always said that our team is usually just getting warmed-up by the finish line. Running Quest, then Iditarod a couple weeks later is the closest thing to a 2000-mile race in the world. I'd like to see how our team would handle this. We have the dogs, we have the desire, we've built this thing to a point where it's possible. Now we need your help to get it done. The one thing standing in our way is money, plain and simple. We need help to pull this off!! Please consider sponsoring our team for this upcoming season and join us in making history. Also look for us to offer some TeamTsuga gear in the coming months. For now, we'd love be signing up for Quest on opening day, August 4, but that would take a significant push in sponsorship between now and then... Entry fee is $1,500. Cost to run Quest is at least $12,000. Want to help us make some history??

Respect your doG.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Seasons change and so must mushing

A disappointing 2011-2012 race season has come to an end for Team Tsuga Racing Siberians. Thankfully Sue had a couple very good, if very short for how we’ve trained, races right here in our back yard at the Solstice 100 and the Two Rivers 200, finishing in 4th and 3rd place, respectively. But, our main event, the Yukon Quest, was a complete bust this year. We still feel a sting from that moment of Mike falling and injuring himself, knocking our team out of the race we’d spent the whole year, in fact years, preparing for. We had a truly peaked team this year that was well trained, well conditioned, and with years of experience, right on the cusp of starting to slow down with the march of age. We were only getting started with the race when it ended. We never got to see if the changes we’d made in training would have paid off. We never got the reward of coming together as a team to offset all the struggle and strife of another year of trying to stay afloat in the sinking boat of distance mushing. It’s going to be a long summer trying to avoid the ‘what-if’s??’ and focus on the ‘what now’s??’

Mike should have been on his way to Kotzebue for the start of the Kobuk 440 this week, but after having signed up following some great post-Two Rivers 200 training runs and deciding the shoulder was doing better, the dogs were ready, and we should go ahead and do a race we’ve dreamed of for many years, the wheels fell off that plan as well and we withdrew our entry. Costs continued to add up, Mike’s shoulder had been pushed a bit too much, several key dogs had various reasons for not going, and then the morning before we were going to be loading the truck, we found Hood and Merlin would join key leaders Eliza and Stinson in having to sit out the race. Not lasting problems, we hope, but things that were going to keep them from leaving for a big trip. With minimal money spent already but thousands to go in the next week, we decided to cut our losses and save the trip for another year. ‘Kobuk’ was our dear boy from our first litter born in 1998, named for a place we’d been dreaming of for a long time, even back then. ‘Ambler’ was later named because he was similar to Kobuk, but very different, too. Writing those names on checkpoint bags meant something to us, and we’re saving them for future use…

Mike had a very interesting last couple of months watching both the second half of the Quest as well as the start and finish of Iditarod from an inside perspective of handling for another team and seeing the front ends of the biggest distance sled dog races in the world. After his injury, Mike went on to Dawson in the truck and joined the Wild and Free team of Brent Sass at the 36-hour, handler assisted half-way break in Quest. Our friend Christine, who had come up to handle with Sue, came along. With great help surrounding us doing the chores of winter campground life, and Brent’s dogs that accepted us quickly, Christine and I were able to focus on dogcare in a way that made a serious difference, even more than we expected. Mushers, the more you do for your dogs, the more they can do for you. Don’t ever doubt it. Coming off the heels of the feel-good vibe of Dawson was Pelly Crossing. We watched the front runners come through after having pushed hard on the 200 long, hilly miles from Dawson. Some of the dogs looked like they had been pushed past ‘should’ and into ‘could.’ Yes, they were still going and left after short rests with generally very minimal dog care given, but we need to do better as a sport. Vets swarmed the teams, but pulled none of the limpers or asked mushers to stay longer to get a better feeding in to dogs on the edge of ‘too’ skinny. More needs to be done. Pelly also revealed an extreme range of treatment given to teams by different race judges. By example, some mushers were allowed to have handlers chatting away in the dogyard, strategizing with those less sleep deprived than themselves, getting information, and having handlers verbally interacting with dogs that were obviously responding to them. In the same place, just a couple hours later, a handler from another team was prevented from approaching the sled or even talking to their musher to give public information that would have been time saving, at the least. Some teams were brought their drop bags. Others were told to go get their own bags, taking valuable minutes and effort in a race that was decided by seconds. Fairness isn’t too much to ask for. Not asking back some race judges is a pretty simple fix. Fixing the front end of distance mushing racing isn’t as easy, but there are some simple steps for improvement. More mandatory rest, although the obvious answer to some, is my least favorite idea. It takes choices out of the mushers’ hands and makes teams race hard from rest to rest, defining a race and making it more like stage racing. This is not a good idea when trying to improve dogcare over long distance. Time for care needs to be given out on the trail and poor work on the trail can not be made up for in checkpoints. Less mandatory rest might be better than more. We feel the 36-hour rest in the Quest is too long and those hours would be better spread out so teams wouldn’t push so hard coming in to, and leaving, the big rest. Mid-distance races would be better with little or no mandatory rest. This is easily done if races go back more to the old-school concept of not allowing so many dropped dogs. Perhaps a four drop-dog maximum should become standard for the1000 milers. If you start with 16, you must finish with at least 12. If you start with 14, you must finish with no less than 10. Perhaps for mid-distance racing, the standard should become two dropped dogs as a maximum. This, accompanied by plain, experienced Veterinarian enforced guidelines for which dogs can leave checkpoints based on body weight and condition would improve dog care throughout the field. Mushers need to bring dogs that can finish the race and then give them the care and rest they need to finish or go home and try again another time. Accidents happen and mushers make mistakes but the mushers need to accept all of the responsibility, every time. It is never the dogs’ fault. Fairness and responsibility seem simple enough, don’t they?

Hopefully, change will come to distance racing in some good ways, but we know change will come. Change is coming around here with melting snow and impending breakup. Eliza is pregnant with a repeat of last summer’s litter with Stump. It will be her 3rd and last litter. We found such great homes for the few pups we sold last summer that we felt the litter was simply too good not to repeat. We won’t count puppies before they’re born, but we may have a couple of excellent pups available to the right homes later this year.

Not sure where we’re going, but we’re certainly going to try to get there... Onward-

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's beginning to feel a lot like winter-

Wow, what happened to summer?? (geez, that'd be a whole 'nother post) As I type, it's 13 degrees, the moonlight is just giving way to the dawn, and there's a few inches of new snow on the ground. Dog chores are done for the morning, the yard is cleaned, dogs are fed and loved-up. Chores take about 90 minutes in the morning these days, including taking care of the three puppy kennels and their inhabitants. This August, Eliza, her mother Gila, and her daughter Stinson all had litters. Eliza had a litter by way of Stump, with 6 males and one female. They are named, just like Eliza's litter, for Phish songs. We have Frankie, Mule, Monkey, Glide, Fluff, Bug, and the girl who's one of the boys, Billy. We are keeping all of this litter. They are just awesome and we have needed some more boys on the team as the kennel had become pretty girl-heavy. Stinson, never to be out done, also had seven pups. Since she is younger, we decided some of her pups would be for sale. We found three new owners for 5 of Stinson's 7. We will keep a male and a female, who really need to get permanent names!!! (suggestions for a son and daughter of King Wilson and Stinson Brook??) Letting these pups go and deciding who goes where has been painfully difficult for us and although we are extremely happy with the folks who are taking them, we wish they all could stay here. Old lady Gila had just two pups and although she gave it her best effort, she could not deliver them naturally. A midnight c-section at After Hours Emergency Vets gave us two huge males. They were big at the start, and they still are as big as Eliza's litter that is over two weeks older!! In honor of the very special dog we decided to line breed on, Gila, her two boys are named for moutains that stand side by side, overlooking the Gila River valley, Granite and Growler. We will certainly be keeping both of these mountainous boys!! So, we have 11 new posts set out in the dogyard and 11 sheets of plywood, waiting to become doghouses once these guys outgrow the puppy pens just off our porch. The 'shed' is full of straw and kibble. The firewood is stacked. The snow tires are on. We still need to get meat, but are pretty ready for winter. Bring it on!!!
Why'd I have to go bring up kibble?? After just one year, Momentum was no longer able to help us. Although we were mostly happy with the food, we could not afford to pay double what we had been paying. Step in Horizon Legacy, a family owned dogfood company from Canada that uses human grade ingedients and has their own mill! (www.horizonpetfood.com) We are in a trial period with their food after they got us a full pallet at an extremely good price, except for damn shipping that runs way more than the food!! Their food is designed to replicate a raw diet in a kibble. It is grain and potato free. We're really excited about the food and the potential of working with them. The dogs chow it! Just when we thought we were going backward, we're going forward-
Speaking of going forward, training is well underway for this season. We are once again training for the Yukon Quest. It has been, and remains our ulitmate race. We'd love to experience the Iditarod and still hope to some day, but the extra $15,000+ it would take just isn't here. We won't give up a Quest to do an Iditarod and could do two or three Quests for the cost of one I-rod. The goal for the year is to be as competitive in the Quest as we can be. 2010 was a very competitve Quest for us, but it only finished us in 13th place. Last year, in a race where I was living by the motto "have more fun", I wasn't nearly as competitve and finished in 8th. Funny how things work out sometimes. This year I will have a few changes in the team and changes in my racing, and therefore, training strategies. I know we can still do much better than we have at getting down the trail for 1000 miles. I'm looking forward to continuing to see just what our team is capable of. It starts with changes even now as we build the team up in early training. We are adopting a bit more of a 'loose' schedule this year. No chance of us giving up on our overall structure, but we are getting there a different way. The five two year olds, Stinson, Bebee, Pemi, Baker, and Sparkle give the team a youthful infusion this year as they step up to Quest training after running over 2000 training miles last winter, but never racing. We need to get them out for some early season socialization and racing, but haven't made decisions on what races we'll run before, or after, Quest. Copper Basin and GinGin are always good choices for their timing and cold, tough trail for the dogs that get to go, but it's not so good for the ones left home that have to take a whole week off. We may try some other, cheaper training options this winter and just travel with the team. Then again you may see us out there racing in December and January. Just not sure yet. Thanks for checking in -

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Solstice, Summer, Salmon, Social media, Sad realities

The solstice was just a couple of days ago. 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight here in the Fairbanks area. Of course the other 2 hours and 11 minutes are far from dark. It'll be another 4-5 weeks before it even gets dark enough to see a star in the night sky. Although at first, we are only loosing a few seconds of light a day, soon it'll be close to seven minutes a day. Winter's on it's way!

Around here, summer is a time to prepare. Next winter's firewood is already cut and piled. Fencing projects to create an old-timers pen, bitch pen, and puppy pen, are all underway. I've been to the Kenai to catch enough fish to fill our freezer with fresh sockeye and king salmon fillets. Only the guts are thrown to the gulls, the heads and racks of all the fish become a supplemental food for dogs. In the week I was away, Sue's greenhouse exploded with growth and we are both really looking forward to reaping what we've sown. Speaking of sowing the seed, Yes!, I did say puppy pen! While we don't have anything to announce just yet, we have our fingers crossed!

I am sorry it has been so long since I've written here. Facebook (Team Tsuga Siberians) has taken over as such an easy way to communicate for us with our far-flung friends, that I forget that some of you don't go there. When I first started writing on our website 'doglog', it went out to a small audience and I wore my heart on my sleeve, as I usaully do. I'm not an actor, like some mushers. Mushing is an emotional thing and I'm an emotional person. As more folks were reading my posts once we became slightly more known from Quest, my more personal side began to win out and my writing trailed off. Pictures and videos seemed the easier way to focus on the dogs, and less on my thoughts, and the timing of the rise of social media fit this transition. I have been reminded recently that many folks still don't facebook or even have the ability to check videos online. I will try to get some more plain text writing back in to the mix... We'll also be making an effort to get our website updated in the coming weeks. We promise to continue to improve on keeping you ALL up to date.

Seems our kennel is at a tipping point. Last year's Quest was the first of our four Quest's that we didn't sell or mortgage our home to finance, and we are still in recovery mode. While we keep a very small kennel for a 1000-mile racing kennel, costs to prepare for and run the toughest races in the world are still very high and getting higher. We are looking for help to be able to continue racing. After finishing 8th in Quest and winning the Vet's choice award along with sharing the Sportsmanship award, you'd think maybe sponsors would show up at our doorstep. Not so. Our three finishes in the Quest are the top three fastest times in the history of the race for a team of registered dogs. We have an unprecedented record of winning at least one Vet's choice award at a major race in EACH of our last 5 years racing! Still, we don't win races and we don't do a very good job promoting ourselves, so we don't get many sponsors. (We are very grateful for the ones we have, but we are FAR from getting free dog food, booties, or sleds!) Another way many kennels make money, that we have not, is to breed dogs and sell pups and/or trained-up dogs for big money. Since our first litter in 1998, we have had just three more litters. All of the dogs produced from those three litters still live with us. We don't get more dogs, we get more from our dogs. I guess we have hoped that with time, our philosophy, record, and reputation would lead to sponsorship that would allow us to continue in this sport. It has not. I am not a fan of begging or expecting something for nothing. I also have been told again and again recently that if you don't ask, you won't recieve. Our kennel operation is a full-time job for one and a part-time job for the other. We don't use handlers and couldn't afford to. Besides the constant work of running the kennel, Sue has been working around 60 hours a week in town while I get part-time carpentry work where and when I can find it. We are not lazy and we have never accepted any government welfare of any kind. We also can't keep up with costs to race. This year is the first we have claimed our kennel as a business for tax reasons. They won't let us do that for many years!! We would desperately love to be signing up for Iditarod and Quest this year to there-by join a very small group of Siberian kennels that have done both thousand-mile races and the first to do them both in the same year. That is simply a dream, as of now. At one point, going to run our first Quest was just a dream, too. Now we have run 1000 miles over a day faster than any other team of Siberians, EVER! Dreams do come true and we are not yet done trying to make it happen, but we are asking for, and needing, your help. Do you know of a company, group, individual, or entity that would like to sponsor a team that may never win, but will always represent our ideals of respect, trust, taking pride in how we do it but always trying to do it better?? If you have ideas or can help yourself, please let us know- Thanks.

Mike and Sue Ellis
PO Box 16149
Two Rivers, AK 99716


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Team in Mile One-O-One

The team did a great job getting over Eagle Summit! WOW says it all. So proud of these dogs and Mike. video
Have more fun!
Tsue, Tphil and Zirkle

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The journey continues

A lot has happened since the last post. Too busy to update. I'll do my best to fill you in. After leaving Pelly Crossing Mike had to bag Isis for 80 miles. She got hurt in the jumble ice, but is doing well now. Then 10 miles out of Scroggie Stump went down and rode the rest of the way in to the checkpoint in the bag. Just as Mike got into Scroggie the plane landed and he was able to get them onto the plane and out of Scroggie immediately. Tphil and I drove up to Dawson and dropped the gear off at the camp site. The ice road was different this year and we spent some time driving around the ice race track. In the morning we went to set up camp. A huge thanks to Sarah McHugh and her friend Jason who showed up with shovels. The camp site was great. We were able to set camp up further up into the woods. Nice and quiet for the dogs! Later that night we picked up Isis and Stump from the vet shack and gave them some good loving time in the hotel room.
Camp was ready for the team to arrive. I waited in town and Tphil was at camp getting the meal ready. The plan was to rest the team from Scroggie before getting to Dawson. The team was doing great so Mike ran the 100 miles straight. He did catch us off guard by about 1/2 hour. All was good though. video
Our camp site was great and the dogs rested well. video
As the vets were checking the team for any issues or injuries they let out with their classic group howl. Almost brought tears to my eyes. Overall the team was in excellent shape. A few sore wrist and shoulders, feet looked great, and good weight on most of them. Moon was the one dog that was in the roughest shape. She got a lot of attention, but by 36 hours her wrists were still sore and she joined us on the truck. She slept well in the backseat.
The team was ready to hit the trail after 9 hours of rest and looked even better at 36 hours. video
Well sorry this is a bit incomplete, but time to hit the road. Hope to have internet access in Circle.
Tsue, Tphil and Zirkle

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pelly Crossing

Getting ready for bed in Pelly Crossing. Good long rest here before heading out to Dawson. The trail from Pelly to Dawson is 200 miles with one hospitality stop and one dog drop. While the team is traveling to Dawson, we will be setting up Hotel Tsuga. Hope you all are having more fun than usual.
Tsue, Handler Tphil, Zirkle and Esther. video

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Braeburn Checkpoint 2011

The team looked very good coming into Braeburn. Moon and Gila were in lead. Mike stayed a bit longer in Braeburn, but this year is about having more fun and it seemed to be more fun to stay longer. video