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

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-