You will read about skijoring. I love to cross-country ski and especially to skijor. This means hooking up one to four sled dogs in harness to a person on skis and traveling together. The person skis, the dogs pull and everyone has a good time enjoying the speed, the camaraderie and the interesting tangles of skis, lines, people and dogs!
We live in Faro on the banks of the Pelly River, a major tributary to the mighty Yukon River. In summer we travel the rivers in canoes; in winter they become 'highways' for dogteams, although always with some surprises...
Overflow is when the water seeps through cracks in the ice and forms pools on the ice, sometimes hidden by fresh snow.
Rough ice occurs as the weather gets cold in the fall. blocks of ice form along the shore then break off and drift with the current. Eventually the river becomes so thick with the floating ice that it jams and freezes. Sometimes the blocks are big and jumbled, creating a rough surface. Over the winter this smoothes out as more and more snow falls.
During freeze-up there are too many chunks of ice flowing down the river to paddle a canoe, but the ice has not yet jammed and solidified to be able to walk on it. After the ice has jammed, you have to be very careful when you start skiing or dogmushing on the newly frozen river.
Open water is a term used to describe areas on the river with no ice. Open water can often be found near bends in the river where the current is exposed and ice does not form as quickly. This is obviously quite dangerous.
We began training the dogs in August in Faro, Since August we have been training the dogs with a motor-less four-wheeler, all terrain vehicle. Usually we hook up 10 or 12 dogs at a time and go out training on the dirt roads near the cabin. There are sometimes people on these roads just out for a drive or collecting firewood. They are always quite surprised to meet a 10-dogpowered vehicle!
Welcome to the Sunday evening report from the banks of the Pelly River, near Blink Creek. To the sound of wood-a-crackling in the airtight and stew-a-bubbling on the stove, we begin....
Trevor has been a busy beaver building the winter lodge. I came home to a wall of insulated siding, cupboards, a completed floor, a root cellar off the kitchen's addition and a covered porch. Together they continue fortifying the lodge - two log walls and one frame wall are quickly spiked up and now awaiting ....A ROOF....The biggest challenge of all for the industrious beaver builder is the lodge roof. So we are meditating on that one for a while.
The dogs are doing wonderfully, thoroughly spoiled with sumptuous meals, lots of love and exercise, and getting excited as the runs with the four-wheeler are getting longer and colder. Gabe is recovering from his ailment, but he is a slippery character that one,- very hard to catch and very annoying to have running loose around a team in harness - instigating rebellion from the other dogs. Trevor went for his first sled ride this week and hooked up six dogs, two snowhooks and a sandbag. No problems but the main training is still with the four-wheeler. The big sponsoring coup this week was from Energizer, who would like to light our way down the trail.
First sled ride together - in the groovy, awesome, aluminum runner, flexible new sled, which dumped twice in the first corner - Yahoo! Jump in, jumped out, be quick, hang on - Yahoo! We are in a sled...and it has aluminum runners. Trevor has spent ages tracking down a sled with the elusive, but highly effective, aluminum runner!
The late afternoon colours on the way down to Swim Lakes were gorgeous - pinks and blues that only happen when it's thirty below. A crescent moon winked at us as we put in the trail on the sloughs, (obliterating my ski track), to avoid the hairy, scary corner. (A stump stopper and some willow-bashing when Grizzly wanted to go in a straight line to his house made it interesting....)
Askher and I set off skijoring on the newly frozen river to put a trail to Faro. An exciting project, choosing the route - taking the back channels and inside bends where the ice is smoothest and where there is the least chance of open water. After seven miles on the river we came out of a slough and saw the houses of Faro, up on a bank. The windows were glistening in the late afternoon sunlight. I love approaching communities from rivers; such a different experience than driving to them in a car. Time to go home - we drink half the Thermos, munch the snack, and feeling grand, skijor home toward the moon.
Trevor and I each take a six-dog team and follow the trail of my ski tracks into Faro, tie the dogs up in the school yard and do our 'town list' before mushing home over the roads - a fifteen mile loop.
The little water hole in the slough behind the cabin gets lower and siltier until it finally freezes solid. Where Skookum's slough meets Blink Creek there is some open water. Using a three dog team and three screw-top buckets, we shuttle fifteen gallons of the purest, crystal-clear water ever, about a quarter of a mile, during which time the lids freeze on and have to be banged open with a hammer. (We use about fifteen gallons of water a day for the dogs and ourselves.)
The thirty mile run on Christmas Eve under the full moon was magical. Trevor had twelve dogs and went ahead 'breaking trail' in several inches of fresh snow. We traveled separately, five to ten minute apart, to give each team a chance to settle into a comfortable rhythm. It was so bright - sparkly fresh snow heaped on the spruce and fir boughs across the valley. In some spots it is spectacularly narrow, with impressive rocky mountain faces rising up from the valley floor.
The temperature of -25C was perfect. Sometimes I got hot and took off my parka. For the most part it was a totally comfortable temperature. The handwarmers in my over-mitts work beautifully. Mushing under the full moon, singing Christmas carols to all the unseen animals of the valley, thinking of people all over the world, celebrating Christmas in various and special ways.
January New Year's Eve
Trevor has gone to Faro for a few days - I am at home with the dogs and cold, cold temperatures. It was -42C today. We are feeding the dogs lots of ground chicken these days. A typical menu looks like this:
1 block of chicken
1 block horse meat
3 scoops of First Mate
2 scoops of Tecnical
1 scoop of B-vile
1 feed scoop chicken fat
1 feed scoop canola oil
Warm water. Soak half hour or so. Try to have mixture thick.
Evening meal same as morning except a hunk of heart and liver. If you need to chop chicken or liver, bring entire block in for a while so it can chop evenly.
When it is forty below, I get obsessed with wood! I lie awake at night thinking about which dead trees to take out next and where to put trails to haul the logs out with the dogsled. Today Todd and Allison came over and we bundled up and skied about 1 km out to a spot where I have been cutting wood. There is a sweeping inside bind of the river where there are lots of dead standing trees just waiting to be made into firewood.
One dog in harness pulls the chainsaw on a plastic toboggan - engines don't like to operate at -42C, but my trusting Stihl 028 consents to cut a few trees before freezing up. We ski home and rush inside to look at the thermometer and feel ever so pleased with ourselves for staying warm outside at -42. But that was just the warm-up - now we're ready to harness up the dogs and go for a training run. At this temperature, all the dogs need fleece booties. Ten dogs equal 40 booties and they have to be put on with bare hands in order to fasten the velcro.
When the dogs are all harnessed and in the ganglines, we dash inside for fresh, warm gloves and the long parka that goes on top of all the work clothes. We're off - Todd in the sled and Allison skijoring.
At -42C you cannot take anything for granted. You constantly check fingers, nose, eyes, toes for the first signs of getting cold. We run the dogs for about twelve miles and by the end of the run the thin-haired dogs, thin-skinned humans are getting chilled - time to curl up in or respective cabins!
It was a wonderful, active day, shared with friends in forty below sunshine. What a great way to start the New Year!
-46C today - Feeling very tired. Dogs are not eating. It is very stressful when the dogs won't eat their food, particularly when it is cold because they need that energy to stay warm.
I ladle out the chicken/kibble deluxe mush and they don't show any interest in eating it. And it is cold - I want to bring them all inside. (Last night I had five dogs inside) They stay amazingly warm in their little houses stuffed with straw. If only they would eat...
They're still not eating. Are we giving them too much food? They don't like the kibble, or is it the chicken? It is very stressful when they don't eat and it is so cold. Trevor came back from Faro tonight to the latest crisis of dogs on a hunger strike at forty below!
Well, dogs are happily eating again. Apparently they went off chicken so we've eliminated that from their food and they're starting to put on weight again. What a relief!!
Click on the link below to read about the details of Trevor qualifying for the 1997 Yukon Quest!