Husky House

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Birthday Boy

Clem turned 12 on July 4th.  Since he is an adoptee, we don’t know his real birthday or age, but he was estimated to be 1 1/2 when we adopted him, so we assigned him Independence Day as his day!  Clem is a great boy, and it is still a mystery why someone didn’t want him.  Or maybe he didn’t want them?  Happy Birthday Clem, and here’s to continued good health my dear boy!!

A man and his dog: celebrating Clem's 12th birthday

Bath Day!

Today, ET got a much needed bath!  His usual groomer, where he has gone all his life (7 years) is on maternity leave, so we had to go somewhere new and it wound up being PETCO.  I have brushed the other three boys multiple times this season, and they look decent, but ET (aka PigPen from the Snoopy comic) would not cooperate with me, so he got special treatment.  We dropped him off at 12:30 and the groomer said it should take 2 hours, 2 1/2 if he didn’t cooperate.  Of course, I knew this was optimistic.  We decided it was a good time to run, so we went home, changed into running clothes, harnessed Clem, Pelly and Dawson and drove to the University to run, hopefully beating the next downpour.  The groomer said she would call if there was an issue, so I ran with my phone, just in case.  By 4 pm (3 1/2 hours into the 2 hour job) I had heard nothing, so we drove to PETCO, where I got an earful about my precious boy.  The basics:  not a good boy, stressed out, needed to be muzzled, couldn’t clip toenails, couldn’t be brushed out fully, currently in the dryer and would be ready by 4:30 pm.  The good news:  a discount for not being able to complete the job to their satisfaction, although he looks great.  The bad news:  a naughty dog surcharge!  I have to confess, he is a Momma’s boy.  I think next time (yes, they made a follow-on appointment for him!), I will give him some valium beforehand.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty....

If you notice his two lower incisors,  he broke them on a kennel gate, and has two root canals.

I'm de-stressing in Mom's sanctuary

I had such a stressful day I can hardly keep my eyes open

Triple Lakes Hike, Denali Park

This is the 2011 version of this great hike.  The trail goes from the Visitor Center on the north end to the north side of the Nenana River bridge about mile 231 Parks Highway at the south trailhead, you can hike it in either direction. The Park Service has made major improvements to this trail, most notably the new bridge across Riley Creek at the Northern Trailhead and tying the trail into it. Last year we hiked from south to north and couldn’t find the trail off the ridge, so we did a bit of bushwhacking to get down to Riley Creek and then had to cross the creek via the Alaska Railroad bridge, which is trespassing.  However, this little act of defying the establishment was a hoot, and I will miss doing it now that the trail bridge is complete.  Also there are now mileage signs at both trailheads indicating the trail is 7.7 miles long, and there are signs marking the trails descending to lakes two and three.  The Park Service is still working on the trail and there are sections of the trail at the top that are being rerouted.  While the rerouting will create a nice trail, it appears that it will take you away from the magnificent 360 view along the ridge and take you along the Riley Creek side of the hill. This is still a great view, just not as sweeping.

In previous years, this was the only way across Riley Creek

The fantastic new bridge across Riley Creek

Since I was staying at a lodge near the south trailhead, I took a shuttle bus to the Visitor Center (north trailhead) and started from there, so I didn’t need to worry about catching the last shuttle back to the lodge.  At the end of the hike, all I had to do was cross the Parks Highway and walk across the Nenana River bridge and I was “home.”  I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, and it was comforting knowing that I was no longer going to get lost, since I started on the north end, crossed the new bridge and was immediately on the trail which followed along Riley Creek for a while before starting to climb.  In previous years we hardly saw anyone on the trail, but this year I met about 30 other hikers along the way.  Apparently word is out that the trail is useable from end to end.  On the way up the hill, about two miles into the hike, I passed a group of park employees who were working on the trail.  Several were using shovels to repair the trail while others were manually debarking fallen trees to use in shoring up the trail edge.  There is only one way to work for these employees and that is to hike.

Park Service trail workers debarking trees by hand for use as trail supports

More trail workers, it is because of crews like this that the trail is so great!

These photos describe the trail better than any words.  It was a pleasantly warm but brightly overcast day and photography was not too successful for this amateur.

The north end of the trail runs along Riley Creek before beginning to climb

A nice trail improvement

Along the way; I love all the shades of leaf green

Up on the ridge, I passed some bear scat on the trail not far from here

Amazing....I ran into a friend on the trail!

The first view of lakes 2 & 3 from the north

A tired hiker near the end of the trail

A bear of a ride….

On May 18, Bill and I departed Fairbanks on a road trip to Denali, Anchorage, Seward, Alyeska, Anchorage, and Denali.  The original destination was the Exit Glacier 5K in Seward, we had done the same round robin trip last year and enjoyed it so much that we thought we would do it again.  We had not planned to stay in Denali on the way south, as our favorite lodge was not yet open for the season, but a wild hair to bike another leg of the Park Road changed that. Last year we had biked from Teklanika (30) mile to the Park entrance, and I still had the crazy idea to eventually bike the entire Park Road, although in segments.  The tourist season had not officially started, so the buses were not yet running into the Park, allowing us to drive into Teklanika at mile 30 and bike roundtrip from there to Polychrome at mile 46.  The elevation ranges from 2655′ at Tek to 3900′ at Sable Pass to 3055 at East Fork River to 3695 at Poly, so it is a bit of up and down on gravel roads.

It was a beautiful day for a bike ride, with Mt McKinley fully visible

As luck would have it, it was a beautiful day, although a little windy, and since only a few Park Rangers and trainee buses were on the Park Road, it was peaceful and solitary.  After the last Ranger stopped and talked to us on Poly on her way out, about 7 pm, we were alone on the road that runs through 6 million wilderness acres, an expanse that people come from all over the world to see, and it is in our backyard.  We are so blessed.Bill wrote an email that accounts the ride, and I am inserting it here.  I just wanted to set the stage a bit.  Since I always have to say something, I will insert my comments in a different color.  Here is Bill’s account:

A perfect spring outing on the bikes. The day was sunny, windy and bright for the two of us, my wife Susan, the jock and I, to bike into Denali Park.  A friend of ours had done this trail a week earlier and the challenge was set for us to do the same.  The 35 mile ride was on a gravel hard packed surface, which sometimes was more loose than hard packed making peddling even harder.  It was onward and up and down steep hills as may be evidenced in the  photo as the old fart is pictured riding….or more likely struggling up to Sable Pass from the bottom of the valley.  Susan is, as always, up ahead and taking photos waiting for me to catch up.  It is very early spring in mid May and things have not begun to bloom or green up but the animals are stirring into the approaching summer.  We have already seen caribou, a wolf and numerous little marmots.  It is a hard ride though.  The picture shows me in my front tire fixation mode as the hills were increasingly tough for this senior citizen to negotiate along with keeping balance on some very loose gravel areas.  In the mid afternoon there where a few park vehicles to give us a fine dust coating as well.  Later we would have gladly welcomed their presence.

A look at the road surface

Bill peddling up Sable Pass

A couple little guys who emerged from their hole alongside the road and just loved having their picture taken

As the afternoon stretched into early evening, we reached Sable pass which is well known for being in the middle of bear country….and bear scat was already plenty evident. I guess for those who have never seen it they are like huge dog turd piles.  We stop at the Sable pass sign and I mimic a scratch and a much needed rest.  Bears really do use the sign to scratch and thus the park service decided to add some ticklers to help scratch their thick coats and hide.  You can not see it but there are little tufts of fur on some of the metal pieces.  And note that at 3900′ at Sable Pass we have to go down (to 3055′) and up to another pass a little over four thousand feet (3695′).  NOT EASY FOR OLD FARTS……but onward and upward we go.

The sign on Sable Pass has tines for the bears to scratch themselves

Finally we made it to the top of Polychrome Pass and you can sure see that we have gained some considerable altitude in this photo.  However, as we started down the road to go back in the early evening we found that while the park vehicle traffic had ceased, we were seeing bear scat and are obviously not alone.  We are now grasping what is more obvious  which is that we are NOT at the top of the food chain.  I was well behind Susan and was on the way back up to Sable struggling to get each pedal up when I look up and there comes Susan who tells me that she is not riding back to me for my health.  She tells me that there is a bear following her from the other side of the pass.  We dismount and stand together assessing what to do.  We have a long way to go back down and if it sees us try that as it comes around the bend upwind from us, it will likely make chase.  (We were a mile from the top of a four mile climb eastbound up Sable Pass and bear or not, there was no way I was going back down that hill) These bears can run at 33 miles per hour which makes even a down hill bike chase a loser for us.  I am assessing options and figure I will get the pepper spray out.  The wind was pretty constant and about ten to twenty miles per hour and in our face so pepper spray was really out of the question as it would just blow back into us.  So I told Susan to stand behind me and about that time the bear comes into view about forty yards up around a bend walking its pigeon toed gait toward us.  He is about a two to three year old three to four hundred pound male and likely hungry as it has come out of hibernation.

At last, Polychrome Pass, our turn around point. This is where we saw the last Park Ranger .

Mr Bear when I first saw him ambling down the road on his evening stroll

There are a lot of thoughts going through my mind like why didn’t I bring my gun etc.  I am also determined not to show fear of any kind and am surprised that I am actually pretty cool about this whole thing….or maybe in shock.  I am wishing we had something coming to our defense but know that as late as it is no vehicle traffic is left…most of those folks are already eating pizza.  I am thinking of a big rock but no time, hell, even a spear would be nice too.  We are on the up slope of a steep road cut from the side of the mountain and it has walls of some twenty feet high on our left and falls sharply off down another forty feet on our right.  THERE IS SIMPLY NO PLACE TO GO!!  Noting the bear is about thirty yards away and NOT showing any signs of avoiding us, I then tell Susan we will advance slowly with our bikes between us and the bear with raised arms and shout LOUDLY.  I am using as much command voice as possible, repeatedly yelling, “Get off my damned road!” with as much authority as I can muster.  I don’t remember what Susan was yelling but she was giving it her all too. (I was yelling “Hello Mr. Bear ” and waving my arms over my head) The bear meanwhile just keeps right on coming, in a rambling sort of stroll toward us and as it gets to about twenty feet from us I am thinking if he charges I will use the bike to try to shield us.  The rest will have to be as it must be.  I am mentally bracing myself for one hell of a thumping as it comes to about twelve feet from us.  Watching closely I notice it does not have its mouth open and its hackles are not up which are not signs of aggression.  It is not snorting or snapping its jaws either.  Suddenly it looks me right in the eye and in one spontaneous motion bolts ass over teakettle down the hill.  I see it tumbling and rolling head over heels down the forty feet and momentarily wonder if it is hurt.  Not so as it rapidly gains its feet and moves smartly on the valley floor continuing in its same direction of travel and AWAY from us. Susan actually manages to get a photo of it.  The photo preceding it is of the same bear as Susan first sees it coming up the hill and assumes it will not keep advancing….only it does and seems to her to have an increased interest in her.  In fact it moves into a trot and it is at that point that Susan decides it is good to come back to me so I can serve appropriately as bear bait. (No comment, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”)

Mr Bear after he tumbled over the side, a lot less concerned over his adventure than we were

END OF BILL’S ACCOUNT

And as if that weren’t enough adventure for one day, about two miles further down the road, as we were coasting down the east side of Sable Pass, still mulling over the bear encounter, we see another bear walking on the road.  My comment was, “Not another one.”  This bear knew that we were veterans and smartly took his cue to yield the road, but not before rising to sniff the air and check us out.  In both cases, we followed the NPS bear safety procedures, and are happy to report that they worked!  The following day, we made the requisite  bear encounter report to the Park Rangers.

Just another day in paradise

Back in Denali, where yesterday I biked the Park Road from the visitors center to Savage River and back.  I remember the first time I biked this section of the road, I thought the first hill would never end!  I am now much better prepared physically and mentally for this seven mile uphill peddle.  I don’t need to keep asking myself, “Will this hill ever end?” as I know exactly where the top is.  The first 15 miles of the Park Road are paved, so compared to the gravel road beyond (west) of Savage River this is a smooth ride.  Of course, since the first seven miles are uphill, the last seven are a nice long, relaxing downhill!  Considering the bear encounters on our RT ride from Teklanika to Polychrome several weeks ago, I felt much safer on this stretch of road.  Oh, I still need to write up that adventure.

Savage River

Along the Park Road

Lupine along the Park Road

Road Trip

A couple peach smoothies, junk food, four Siberian huskies, and a drive to Denali Park, what a great day!  Yesterday we drove to Denali just to run in the Park with the boys.  In another week the shuttle buses will begin running for the summer, traffic and people will increase exponentially and the Park Road will be closed to private vehicles west of the Savage River bridge.  On the bright side, the ice cream place will be open!

Despite the incessant wind, it was a beautiful day; blue sky, snow covered mountains, Mt  McKinley visible behind a haze, and the boys and us sharing our favorite place.  Even though they ride everywhere with us around Fairbanks, the boys don’t go on very many road trips.  Being older, Clem and ET have been on enough trips that they settle down quickly, unless there is food around, however, the redheads are relative novices.  This was their third trip to Denali in as many weeks, and each week has shown improvement in their willingness to settle down for the ride.  I can actually say that yesterday I came home less stressed than when I left, which was not the case the previous two trips with them.  Pelly still prefers to ride with his head in my shoulder or in my lap (not  good idea when I am driving!), but he no longer insists on sitting on the center console all the way.  His constant vigilance has earned him the nickname “Curious George.”

We had a great run, and now the truth comes out.  After running we headed to Prospector Pizza (opened for the season last Friday) for a pizza and an Alaskan Summer Ale!

One of the few photos I took, if I could download my memory there would be a beautiful kaleidoscope to share

Some caribou grazing by Savage River

Happy Place

After getting caught in rain showers and hail while running at UAF yesterday, I went to Creamer’s Field to watch the migratory waterfowl.  In the spring, this is my happy place, as I am elated to see the spring migration unfold.  I love listening to the cacophonous sounds overhead as the geese, sandhill cranes, swans, etc fly over our house.  A couple Trumpeter swans landed while I was there, but they were too far away to photograph.  Although the fall migration is by far the more aesthetically pleasing of the migrations, I am not happy to see the fowl depart as it signals the coming of winter.

Canada geese in the front viewing field at Creamer's

This Sandhill crane was really strutting his stuff; I only say four of them, and they flew off shortly after I took these photos

This silly guy was really trying to impress his mate, when he jumped, he went so high he jumped right out of the frame

These two white fronted geese were the only two I saw at Creamer's Field

They’re Baaack!

Although the official sighting of the first five geese at Creamer’s Field was on April 7, I just made it over today to take some photos.  It is so good to see them again!

Coming in for a landing at Creamer's Field, looking forward to some great Fairbanks hospitality

Geese on a stopover at Creamer's Field before heading north to their breeding grounds

A happy couple resting before flying off to marital bliss

Springtime in Denali

With taxes finally paid, we decided to treat ourselves to a day in Denali.  The spring road opening crews have been doing a great job, and on Saturday, the road was opened to private vehicles to the Teklanika rest area.  We loaded the boys, and the circus hit the road.  No matter what time of the year, Denali is magnificent.

Savage River, looking toward the park entrance

No matter what time of the year, Denali Park is magnificent!

Spring road opening equipment parked just west of Primrose

The remainder of a 14' drift just west of Primrose

Clem enjoying a pit stop at the Visitors Center parking lot

Is it Spring Yet?

Apart from the calendar denoting it is spring, Fairbanks has definite harbingers that tell us our long winter may soon be over.  Despite a massive snow storm that moved across the state yesterday, I have been methodically checking off the signs of spring on my list, and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter every day!

Spring Check List

√  The dogs start shedding uncontrollably

√  DOT begins removing snow berms from alongside roads (early March)

√  Denali spring road opening begins (16 Mar)

√   First groundhog appears at Creamer’s Field (23 Mar)

√   Breakup starts:  snow to ice to mud to dust

√   Creamer’s Field is plowed and seeded in preparation for arrival of geese and other migratory avians (last weekend)

√   Snow buntings arrive on their way north (2 Apr)

√   Tour busses start driver training around town (5 Apr)

√   First reindeer calf born at UAF (5 Apr)

√   First geese arrive at Creamer’s Field (7 Apr)

Ice goes out on the Tanana River (Nenana Ice Classic) (????)


1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team Deployment Ceremony

Yesterday we attended the deployment ceremony for the Fort Wainwright stryker brigade as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan for a year.  We wish them well and look forward to their redeployment ceremony next spring.

1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, assembled for the deployment ceremony

The brigade command element prepares to encase the coors for deployment

The brigade and unit colors were encased for travel and will be unfurled when the brigade stands up in Afghanistan

The SINC (Schmoozer-in-Chief) schmoozes with the governor at the deployment ceremony

Running in Denali

On Sunday I had an irresistible urge to run with the boys in Denali.  This is always one of those things where, after about 15 minutes on the road with the redheads going crazy fighting for a front row seat, we look at each other and ask “whose idea was this?”  I drove down, figuring Bill could handle dog control duties, and knowing (or at least hoping) that they would be calmer by the return trip.  “They” refers to the redheads, Clem and ET always settle quickly.  When we left Fairbanks it was sunny, but as we approached Denali clouds were rolling in, and by the time we started running it was snowing and blowing.  But any day in the park is a good day.  Road crews had started spring road opening on March 16, and by March 21 the Park Road was open to the public to the Mountain Vista trailhead at mile 13.  We parked by the trailhead and ran to the Savage River checkpoint at mile 15.  Although there were a couple cars parked by the trailhead, once we started running behind the barricade, we didn’t see another person, the park was ours.  It was so good to be back in the park after a long winter away, and I could feel myself beginning to revitalize.  We saw and heard a lot of ptarmigan and there was wolf scat on the road around mile 13.5, all of which had the boys in overdrive.

We started running from where the road was closed at the Savage River campground

Looking toward the park entrance from west of the Savage River checkpoint at mile 15. The truck brought in some of the heavy equipment used to clear the road.

The McKinley Chalet boarded up for the winter, there is nothing open in the park during winter.

Pelly (aka Curious George) on duty, he takes this responsibility very seriously.

More photos coming to the gallery soon!





Open North American Sprint Races

On Sunday I went to the third and final day of the sprint races, first at the starting line downtown and then at Creamer’s Field to watch the teams as they exit the trails and head back to town.  The weather was perfect for viewing, and I basked in the sun as I waited for the first team to emerge from the woods.  This is a great race for spectators as there are many good viewing points and it is over in one to two hours.   You can read  more about the race here.

Mushers prepare for the start of the Open North American on Second Street in downtown Fairbanks

Is it race time yet?

The fur auction on Second Street is part of the weekend festivities for the ONA

A musher leaves the starting line of the ONA in downtown Fairbanks

A musher leaves the woods at Creamer's Field headed for the downtown finish of the ONA

Supermoon

Took this photo of the moon last night

Supermoon

Skiing in Denali Park

I have been dreaming about Denali Park ever since our end of season visit there for the Road Lottery drive-in September 19th.  On Friday everything fell into place (nice weather, daylight, time) and we left the boys at Muttessori, threw the backcountry skis and a bunch of junk food in the Jeep and made our merry way to the Park.  The roads in the hills by our house still wear an inch of ice from the Thanksgiving week icepocalypse, and we were a bit concerned about the highway, but it was clear and dry once we were several miles out of Fairbanks.  It was a picture perfect day:  sunny, clear, cloudless, blue sky and 30 degrees in the Park!  Mt McKinley was basking in the sunshine.

The easy access to the Riley Creek was blocked off by a construction storage yard, so we had to work our way through the woods down a narrow, winding, snowshoe trail.  A snowshoe can meander through the woods on a lot tighter trail than can 6 foot long skis, so after a while, I took off my skis and walked.  The snow was punchy and I kept sinking up to my knees or higher.  For that reason, Bill kept his skis on, carefully and slowly negotiating the trail.  He is more patient than I.  The snow on Riley Creek was deep, and the only trail was at least a foot deep and also originally made by snowshoes, and used by skiers. The warmest kick wax I have is VR55, just short of sticky klister, and it was somewhat effective in the shade (in the beginning), but slippery in the sun.  I didn’t take the time to put a binder on the skis, and that would have helped preserve the wax, but nothing was going to cut into my time in the sun in the Park.  Despite being a lot more challenging than we had anticipated, we enjoyed the skiing and savored being in the Park in mid March.  I had skied Riley Creek by myself last March, and it was perfect in every way.  There was only one ski track going up the creek and it was easy to follow, allowing me to easily ski farther up Riley Creek than we did Friday, but any day in the Park is a good day!  Rather than retrace the snowshoe trail back to the Jeep, we skied back to the train station and walked about a mile down the Park Road to the Jeep.

The Denali Park Spring Road Opening is underway, and  the countdown to opening the road to private vehicles has begun!  Oh how I would love to ride along in one of the dozers!  In about a month we will be able to drive as far as Teklanika, until the tourist season begins around Memorial Day weekend and the Park Road is restricted beyond savage River.

Snow blowing across the Parks Highway as we passed through Healy on the way to Denali

Bill skiing up Riley Creek

Bill climbing out of a snow hole on Riley Creek

Me taking a photo on Riley Creek

This was a long slippery climb, next time I'll use the binder before waxing!

There are more photos in my gallery.

March Madness Alaska Style

There is more than one kind of March Madness, and the one I am talking about is not at all associated with college hoops, rather the wonderful March weather and our  mad attempt to cram in all sorts of outdoor activities in the snow.  Sure you can do these activities all winter, but not under the brilliant sunshine and relative warmth and comfort of March.  Snowmachining: perfect.  Skiing: perfect.  Skijoring: perfect. Running: perfect.  As I grow somewhat wiser with age, or perhaps just lackadaisical, I am becoming a fair weather person.  For a long time I would run despite the winter weather; 40, 50, 60 below, bring it on, it was a challenge I relished, and there was plenty of it during our days at Eielson AFB.  Twenty years later, 20 below is my cut-off for daily running, but I will run every other day, no matter what, for the welfare of the boys (as well as our sanity), they must get out.  I am not so foolhardy as to believe that winter is over, but I am enjoying every day while this wonderful weather lasts. So when March arrives, and the severest weather is behind us for another season, we rejoice with jubilant madness and play!

Some major March events around Fairbanks include the Limited and Open North American Sleddog Races, the World Ice Art Championships and Nenana Days, when the ice classic tripod is planted in the ice on the Tanana River.

On Sunday we rode our snowmachines down the Tanana River and into the Rosie Creek area.  It was lots of fun and we found a powder meadow to play in with Bill’s Crossfire 800.  The Crossfire is so powerful it virtually floats on powder with very little effort, easily conquering terrain where I wouldn’t venture with my Arctic Cat 500.

Bill enjoying a powder meadow on his Arctic Cat Crossfire 800

Monday Bill and I skied at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, and the trails were groomed to perfection.  Speaking of Creamer’s Field, in another month the first migratory Canada goose will touch down, signifying (hopefully) the end of another long winter.

Bill enjoying a March ski at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

I'm pretty sure I did that move (on the lower sign) when I was skijoring with Pelly and ET at North Star Golf Course yesterday

The next couple days were reserved for quality time with the boys, and on Tuesday we took them running at the University.  On Wednesday we skijored with them at North Star Golf Course and today we ran with them at home.  The skijoring was phenomenal, the boys amazing.  I never know what to expect when I hook up the boys and get behind them on my skis.  I had Pelly and ET; Pelly (like Clem) is a workhorse and ET is a slacker, often affectionately called lazybones.  Bill had Clem and Dawson.  To say the boys were ready to roll is an understatement.  It was all we could do to hold them back while we got into our skis, which took much longer than it should have because of this multitasking.  Since the golf course is primarily used by the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association , the overabundance of scents drove the boys crazy, hyping them more than they already were.  Clem and Dawson claimed the first victory, dragging Bill full speed across the parking lot and launching him into the first bush at the trailhead.  At this point, I could no longer hold back my duo and off we went full speed down the trail.  While they respond well to Gee and Haw (right and left), “Whoa” is often not an option.  I can honestly say I have never skied this fast, and I have never seen ET run with such gusto.  It was a “kill mommy”  moment, but an absolutely beautiful site.  About three quarters of a mile down the trail, still going warp speed, Pelly stopped on a dime to “answer the call” and there was no way I could stop, so over the top I went, landing with a thud (see the sign above).  Eventually, after we each collected ourselves, Bill and I joined up on the trail.  We had a great time, and I can’t wait to do it again, hopefully minus the thud.

There are more photos in my Winter 2010-2011 album in my gallery.

Both Creamer’s Field and North Star Golf Course are meticulously groomed by volunteers from the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association.

Running at UAF

It was a beautiful day today, so we ran at the University for the first time in a long while.  During most of the winter we run at home because it is usually warmer at the higher elevations.  It was good to be  back at UAF and good to feel like winter may be on the way out.  However, I long ago gave up allowing myself to be mislead by nice weather in March, especially early March, and I still have skijoring and snowmachining to do before winter is over.

Bill, Clem and Dawson running at UAF on a beautiful March day

ET and Pelly surveying trail damage at UAF from last week's high winds

Ice sculpture of Nanook, UAF mascot, at UAF

Nanook reflecting the sun

Nanook up close

It's impossible, but we always have to try to get all the boys looking in the same direction

Aialik Bay and Humpy Cove

With the increasing daylight and the more hospitable temperatures, my urge to ski or skijor in Denali Park is gaining momentum.  Anything to visit my favorite place.  Around mid-March the spring road opening will begin, and “shortly” thereafter so will vehicle access to Teklanika, until the season begins around Memorial Day.  I’m so excited!

I’m continuing my project to recreate some of the  posts that disappeared when the old site went offline.  Fortunately for the viewer, the new posts will not be as verbose and will serve primarily to introduce the photo galleries.  With my thoughts racing toward summer, I’ve chosen sea kayaking for today’s undertaking.

If you want to go anywhere other than around a lake, sea kayaking (as opposed to white water kayaking) is limited in the Fairbanks area to either the Chena or Tanana Rivers.  Therefore, we prefer to travel to someplace where we can really sea kayak, such as Seward.  Since such adventure can be time consuming and expensive, we don’t do it nearly as often as we would like.

In August 2009, we loaded the kayaks on the Jeep and ventured to Seward to explore Aialik Bay.  We did  other things along the way, but kayaking was the ultimate destination.  This was a spur of the moment trip (I think we were escaping smoke from wildfires around Fairbanks), so we were limited by availability to one night on Orca Island and two days kayaking.  These two days were the most perfect kayaking I have experienced; the weather was great, the guide a perfect match, the seas accommodating, and the yurt Utopian.

We had to take about a 30 minute sea taxi ride to reach our yurt on privately owned Orca Island.  There are only three yurts on the island, and the night we were there, we shared the island with only two other people, the ultimate in solitude.   No phone/cell phone service, no power for your computer, no TV, read a book by the light from propane lamps, grill a tenderloin on the deck, enjoy a couple beers from the cooler, fall asleep to the rhythm of the changing tide and awaken to the sounds of the Kittiwakes.

Unloading the taxi at Orca Island. That's our guide in the red life jacket.

Our little yurt in paradise

View from the deck

On arrival day, we kayaked around Humpy Cove with our guide, eventually paddling up a stream to a waterfall where Bill decided to check out the icy water.  After a relaxing evening in the yurt, the water taxi picked us up and we rode a couple hours to Aialik Bay where we set out on our day-long journey around Aialik and Pedersen Glaciers.  I had dreamed of kayaking around a glacier and I can only describe this as awesome, breathtaking, stunning, imposing, incredible.

Bill enjoying the frigid water in the waterfall pond

Returning to Orca Island

On the taxi heading out to Aialik Glacier

John and Bill enjoying an Alaskan Amber in front of Aialik Glacier

A black bear strolling along the shore by Pedersen Glacier

Bill and John paddling among the berger bits at Pedersen Glacier

Our water taxi pickup in Aialik Bay at the mouth of Pedersen Glacier, three others shared the taxi with us

There are more photos of Aialik Bay and Humpy Cove in my gallery.

Statistics

Here are some snow statistics from our local newspaper:

As of 3 p.m., Monday, 18.5 inches of snow had fallen at the airport since 11:30 a.m. Sunday.  I measured 21 inches at our house.

This is the 6th greatest 2-day snowfall since record keeping began in 1904.

It is the 2nd greatest 24-hour snowfall.

It is the 8th greatest daily snowfall.

It is the most snow from one storm in 25 years.

We usually get about 2 inches of snow at a time.

The storm pushed February’s snow total to 22 inches, more than 3 times the normal average (7.1 inches) for the month.

Before Sunday, only 33 inches of snow had fallen at the airport, which is about 24 inches below normal for that date.  The season total is now 51.5 inches, only 7.3 inches below average.

Our neighbor clearing snow at the top of his driveway

COWABUNGA!

We finally had a respectable snowfall, and by that I mean about 21 inches at our house; the lower 48 has been stealing our snowfall this year.  This amount (at one time) is unusual for Fairbanks, we normally get our snowfall several inches at a time.  Well, with snow comes shoveling, and in this case, lots of it, we even called the snowblower into action.  Fortunately our snow is light and fluffy, not that heavy, wet, concrete-like east coast stuff.  It started snowing on Sunday, and I shoveled the driveway twice, removing about 3 inches each time, and by Monday morning we had another 15 inches on the driveway.  The boys were ecstatic, when I opened the garage door Monday morning to take them for their walk, they stared at the drift in front of the door looking for a way around it, then jumped right in.  Despite their joy over romping in the new snow, the boys were terrified to discover that it had desecrated their sacred pooping grounds.

Bill operating the snow blower

It took us about 3 hours to shovel the driveway and deck, and then shovel a path to the satellite antennas and shovel the snow from in front of them.  The antennas are just below the deck, and when we push snow off the deck, it falls in front of them; there must have been at least 5 feet of snow blocking the antennas.  After that, we were ready for a break, but it was not to be.  As soon as we got in the house, our neighbor called.  Her husband, Paul, had decided to drive his snowmachine to the shop and got stuck in a drift on the Tanana River, and asked if we would take our snowmachines and help him out (Paul has a heart condition).  The wind was gusting and the river was a virtual whiteout, it was no surprise that he was stuck.   There is never hesitation to help a friend in need, especially under these conditions, so we set about digging out our machines.  My machine would not start, so I stayed behind.  Just as Bill was getting ready to go, I looked up from trying to start my machine, and I saw four Siberian Huskies running full speed up the driveway, going for a romp.  The garage door was up and the wind blew open the door from the garage to the house.  So, while Bill went to help Paul, I went to round up the huskies.

After I returned with the boys, I went back to work on trying to start my Arctic Cat, and after about half an hour I was tired and quit.  I was  walking back to the house when Bill called my cell:  he, too, was stuck!  He had turned toward a small island to avoid overflow and got stuck on some dead trees that washed up during previous breakups.  He walked off the river to a nearby house and called me to pick him up.  He never made it to Paul.  Luckily a couple snowmachiners had stopped to help Paul.  They got him out, he went about  50 feet and got stuck again.  The guys had already taken off, so Paul started walking through the deep snow towards the Chena River, and another rider came along and offered to help, giving Paul a ride up the river to his son’s house.  Both machines remained on the river overnight.  We dug out Bill’s machine on Tuesday, and Paul had a friend help him extricate his.  Bill got stuck one more time on his way home, as he was coming up over a snow berm from the trail to our road.  I have never been happier that my machine would not start!

Digging out Bill's machine on the Tanana River; it is stuck between two washed up trees.

Bill's machine stuck in the snow berm coming onto our road.

There are more photos in my Mobile Me gallery

Skiing the Tanana River

Super Bowl Sunday,what better day for a girl to grab her skis and head off down the Tanana River.  It was sunny, peaceful, beautiful and quiet.  On a normal Sunday, the parking area at the river launch is crowded with vehicles and snowmachine trailers, but this was Super Bowl Sunday, and all the testosterone was lounging in front of a TV somewhere.  Beautiful!  It was an interesting outing, and although most of what little traffic I encountered on the river was female, it was varied.  There were a couple other skiers, several skijorers, two bikers with a dog running along, two snowmachines and a dog team.

When they are running, dog teams are quiet, and they can sneak up on you.  I was merrily skiing along when all of a sudden I heard a dog panting behind me, and by the time I turned to look, the lead dogs of a dog team where at my side.  This is the closest I have been to a dog team running full speed, and the closest I have been to being run over by a team.  I yelled “sorry!” to the guy, thinking I had somehow been in his way, but as I watched him zip off down the river, I thought, “what was he thinking?”  As you can see in the photos, the river is wide and there was ample room for him to pass me at a safe distance.  I didn’t even have the opportunity to take a photo!

Skiing on the Tanana River on a beautiful day

Just another beautiful day in paradise

At the end of my shadow is a skijorer

This looks like fun!

Running with Clem

It is snowing!  At last some fresh snow!  But despite warnings of up to six inches of snow, we will probably be lucky to get a couple inches.  Why is all the snow going to the Lower 48?

I always enjoy running in the snow, but the only boy that wanted to run with me today was Clem, so off we went.  Clem is the best runner of the pack, and he is always up for it; he may be 11, but don’t tell him that.  When I get the harnesses out before we run, Clem is the only one that comes up to me and is ready to get dressed, I have to chase the others or bribe them with salmon jerky.

Our Clemmie, he is so precious

Clemmie checking out a scent

He is so handsome

Clem is a real prancer when he runs

Looking down the road

Yukon Quest

Continuing with my recreation of lost posts….

Since the Yukon Quest starts February 5 in Whitehorse, Yukon, it is a good choice for today’s recreation.  This 1000-mile sled dog race is Alaska’s “other” race, the Iditarod being the more well known sled dog race.  In odd years the Quest starts in Whitehorse and finishes in Fairbanks and in even years it starts in Fairbanks and finishes in Whitehorse.  On Saturday, 25 hard core mushers will harness their 14 huskies in Whitehorse and begin the arduous and often dangerous 9-16 day trek to Fairbanks.  Overflow ice, jumble ice, moose, and severe cold are just a few of the natural dangers along the trail.  Then there are the self imposed dangers such as sleep deprivation and inadequate planning.  There are mechanical dangers associated with the sled or other equipment.  There are the unknowns of running in the darkness, losing the trail.  And most important, there’s dog care.  The dogs come first, the mushers feed and care for the dogs before themselves, no matter how cold or tired they are.  There are no hotels along the way, although there are shelter and food at the checkpoints.  The trail crosses four mountain ranges and passes through isolated and beautiful country, often with the northern lights dancing overhead.

Pelly and Dawson, two of our Siberian huskies, are named after Quest checkpoints, Pelly Crossing and Dawson City.  We are proud sponsors of the Yukon Quest.

2010 Yukon Quest start in Fairbanks

Rookie Abbie West on her way to Whitehorse, she placed 9th.

Four-time Yukon Quest and Iditarod champion Lance Mackey greets fans as he begins his trek to Whithorse (2010)

Eventual third place finisher Hugh Neff wearing the Husky House bib (Fairbanks 2010)

Husky House banner in Fairbanks (2009)

Skiing a New Trail

With freshly waxed skis in tow, we headed out yesterday to ski a new trail.  We didn’t know anything about the trail, except where it was, so we left the boys home so we could scout it to see if it was fitting for them and us together (skijoring).  I am not good at picking the best kick wax for conditions, and yesterday was no exception. That is why I liked my skate skis without wax, I could manage to push my way through all conditions.  We choose the Madshus backcountry touring skis, which considering the wrong kick wax, worked as good as anything.  The trail was a mushing trail and despite the November ice storm and relative lack of snow, was hard packed but in great condition.  In retrospect, I think we should have taken the trail to the immediate right, but we stayed on the main trail, which paralleled the Parks Highway and went up and down, but mostly up on the outbound, and for the most part, stayed out of sight of the highway.  I believe where we turned around was opposite the Parks Monument.  I can now say that I have both biked and skied up that long hill.  The terrain was not bad, but without the proper wax, it was a slip and slide (not glide) experience.  It reminded me of kayaking upstream; paddle for all you are worth for what seems like forever, then turn around and ride the current downstream in what seems like only minutes.  Despite that, I enjoyed the afternoon and the trail and I would do it again, hopefully with better grip.  I am undecided  about skijoring the dogs on the trail, there’s a lot of downhill and dogs love to run downhill, and there are no brakes on skis!  It was a beautiful day, and after skiing, we drove out to the Parks Monument to view Mt McKinley at sunset.

Bill skiing on the new trail

One of the few relatively flat sections of the trail as it follows along the Parks Highway

Mt McKinley at sunset from the Parks Monument