This blog is new, to read older Team Tsuga tales, please check out our Dog Log.

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.
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.
Our camp site was great and the dogs rested well.
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.
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.

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.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

And the race begins

Team Tsuga is on the trail. The team was very excited to hit the trail today. Just a quick video of the start. We will be heading to Braeburn in just a bit. Enjoy the ride.
Tsue and Handler Tphil
Zirkle and Esther

Friday, February 4, 2011

Getting ready to go

Here we go!
The video is of the start banquet and todays training run. I will post as much as possible. Thanks for watching

Friday, January 14, 2011

the good, the bad, and the beautiful-

Hi all-
We're just back from the Copper Basin 300. It was a crazy weekend with lots of challenges, time with some great friends-both two and four-legged, a great many positives overall, but not the ending we wanted... Congrats to my many friends who had their own highs and lows on this race. Kyla and Cody get a special shout-out!! NICE!!!!

With the Yukon Quest dropbags needing about 24 hours of effort a day to get done right now, I don't have time to tell the whole story just now, but I'll try to cover a few bases quickly-

Our team was the subject of Donna Quante's film camera this weekend as she was telling the story of the Copper Basin 300, in part by following one team - TeamTsuga! Once it's done, we'll post links of how you can get the movie...

Our team that started had all finished the Quest at least once, with a very noteable exception of Isis. This was her first race since she finished the Can-Am 250 in 2007 on Sue's team. This was her test for Quest and I'll cut to the chase; she passed with flying carpets!!

I dropped Ambler at Sourdough after his left triceps had stiffened up. I'm positive I could have massaged it to the point he could have continued, but with Quest less than 3 weeks away, I opted to be safe rather than sorry. He is moving without any limp in the kennel now and will be in harness again this weekend.
The rest of the team acted and ran like the veterans they are. I was VERY proud of our dogs this weekend.

The Copper Basin trail always has it's challenges and this year was no different. We saw numerous spots with overflow water that was deep, not just a little wet on top. Wet feet at -20 has it's charm, and the dogs need more care with icing on their boots, too. This is just part of crossing this beautiful country, although it's not the best part... The weather was pretty darn nice and I think we only had a range from -25 to around zero. Very comfortable for mushing for dogs and ME. I had more trouble being too warm than cold.

At Sourdough checkpoint, our last, I left with 11 dogs, that I had given a bit of extra rest beyond our mandatory to make the stop a bit over 4 hours. They had all eaten a full meal when we first got in, just before 9am. We left in the afternoon sun and I knew the first miles would be slow with the temps as warm as it had been all race. We were leaving in 18th place in a field of 51 mushers. We were the only Siberian team in the race. With friend, and driver of very speedy dogs, Jodi Bailey, right behind us, I expected her, and maybe another team, to pass us on the last leg to Paxson. At worst, I figured we had 20th place. I had said, and had heard said by several others, that a top 20 finish in this field would be a huge accomplishment for about any team.
The first miles out of the checkpoint are on the road that runs along the pipeline. It was plowed and fast, but wide open to the sun. I enjoyed the view and knew we'd pick up the pace once the sun got down a bit. I stopped a couple times within the first hour to let the dogs roll in the snow to cool down. They all looked happy. In a narrow section of bush trail that had very soft snow, Mugs squatted to pee and stumbled a bit. I thought it was the soft snow. She ran another half-mile and her back end gave out and she fell to the snow. She looked at me when I got to her, but she was weak and pretty limp. I knew she was in trouble and needed more help than I could give her. I was pretty sure she was going through sled-dog myopathy, and it's as serious as it gets. A million thoughts ran through my head as I loaded her in to the sleeping bag in the sled and got moving to find a place to turn around because I knew it was too far to go forward. Just then, I heard a car in the distance, and remembered that this was the only spot on this leg where the trail gets near the highway. Once up along-side the road, I waited for traffic. As I waived my arms frantically from the ditch, I realized the first truck coming by was Sue and TJ!!! It was a bad spot (a whole other story) to do it, but we decided loading the whole team and sled right there to get us all out of there and to the vet staff at the checkpoint was the best thing we could do. Once up at Meiers Lake, we had fast action from the vets who gave her really the only thing can help, which is a flush of the system by pumping a lot of fluids in to Mugs. I can't say enough about the help of Sam, Karsten, Tabitha, and Nina- by phone. Mugs has recovered, and is really enjoying her time in the house.

When something like this happens, it's impossible for me not to feel responsible and wonder what I could have done differently or better. It is hard on confidence. I've thought my way all around this and have tried to move on in head, but if timing hadn't worked out so well, I fear the outcome could have been much worse. This is extemely difficult for me. I would risk my life for these dogs, I somehow need to accept that they would do the same for me, but I'm not sure I can......
We're glad to have the support of the vet staff, race organizers, other mushers and handlers, and especially our friends on all of this. We've been told time and again there was nothing else we could have done, but is there??????

We will move forward.
We are deep in to Yukon Quest dropbag prep.
TJ is here and helping for a few more days. He had quite a weekend handling his first race in Alaska. I hope the experience helps his dogs, down the trail. He followed me around 30 miles of Two Rivers trails yesterday, with Stump and Moon in lead. Now for that 800 pounds of meat that still needs to be cut and bagged!
Gotta get busy-