We are on the road! After a couple of warm summer months in Minneapolis saving funds and completing job obligations, Shawn and I are on the road to be re-unitied with The Girls (Hooch and Ophelia!). Well, on a circuitous road! First we are stopping off in Wisconsin to visit with family and take care of some logistical business. On July 12th, we’ll meet Mother Tro back in Minneapolis and get going on our journey in a more North-Westerly direction.
There’s a lot of juggling going on while we’re traveling. Shawn and I both are now back to the vagabond state I was in a year ago, albeit with a car. We are working to coordinate friend and family visits, how much stuff we can fit into a vehicle, last minute visits to doctors and mechanics, and all the important things.
Meanwhile, though, my brain is very much in Alaska. To me, this is the end of my period of rest and as soon as we cross the border into the 49th state, I intend to hit the ground running. Growing a team for Iditarod is no small feat: I have a lot of work ahead of me. For the next 4-5 years my mantra will be, 24-7, “I’m in training.” That includes sleeping: my sleeping will be practicing for sleeping fast and thoroughly on race trails, and getting up at the first alarm.
But other than that, what are the steps I’ll be taking first when we get to Alaska? (Aside from moving!!! We will be moving some of my stuff from Wasilla to Fairbanks too, but that’s beside the point!)
Here are some of the kennel-building things I’ll need to accomplish in the next few weeks and months as soon as we arrive in Fairbanks.
- Put up puppy pens
- I’ll be getting a group of puppies in the fall, after tour season is over. More on that later– I don’t want to spill the beans on details until I have things set in stone! But let’s just say I’m very excited about our incoming athletes. These little nuggets are gonna need a happy space to live. Sled dog puppies live together in spacious pens or dog runs, where they can play and sleep together. In each pen is a big comfy dog house that will be filled with straw for the winter. Alaskan Huskies love living outside– I’ve known more than a few who will reject offered house time. But the pups will have lots of inside time, too, because it’s super important to socialize them young, and because it’s fun!
- I need bowls and waterdishes for the pups to share!
- Setting up the dog yard
- Each dog gets their own space in the dog yard. My friend Chase, who is currently renting the cabin I’ll be at, already has a good little yard set up, and I’ll be inheriting (purchasing!) some of his work– the posts for each dog. I want to set my yard up a bit differently than Chase did, so I will be cutting the tall posts in half to place a spinner at the top of each to give each dog 360 degree freedom in their circle.
- I also need to purchase or build dog houses! Though sled dog houses are simple, they can cost a penny. ATAO isn’t fancy, so we’ll be looking for some used houses if we can get them. This will be most of all for the pups when they are ready to live individually, which won’t be for a couple of months.
- For the winter for the houses, I will need straw.
- Each doghouse needs a bowl and water dish!
- Other yard materials
- The first thing I plan to do when we get to Fairbanks is buy some buckets! My mom calls my mentor Martin Buser “Mr. Bucket”. Martin likes to say, “I measure my wealth in buckets.” Buckets are essential for a kennel for everything from food to poop… And usually the life of a bucket follows that path! I’ll start with a couple of clean ones and go from there!
- I’ll also need shovels for poop scooping! For many years as a handler I have had to bond and then say goodbye to a good shovel. Now I’ll get to operate with my very own scooper!
- Food setup– I will need a way to hold and distribute dog food that won’t create a mess in the house and won’t be tempting to visiting bruins outside of the house. I am working on a scheme! Pictures to follow.
- Dog food
- This is really the most important thing, as the dogs need to eat! I need to select and purchase a bulk of dog food before pups arrive in September. There are more than a few brands out there to choose from, and I have to decide what will be best for the team. I’m doing lots of reading about nutrition and feeding plans.
- Meat Freezer
- I’ll need to invest in some kind of freezer for meat, eventually. This may not be something I look into until later, but on the other hand, in Alaska there’s always a good chance of getting some delicious salmon for the dogs. If that happens in winter, no problem! If I get a big collection of fish in the summer, though, I need to keep it frozen. I have seen the results of not doing so, and it’s gross. I’ll definitely want a freezer by next summer.
- Four wheeler
- The first stage in training dogs next fall will be having a “quad.” The year’s training starts in September (or earlier!!!), but with no snow you won’t be on a sled. A four wheeler is an essential part of training. It’s also pretty important for helping clear trails (a really important community activity), doing work around the kennel, and potentially doing some snow plowing.
- Having a four wheeler is also great for puppy training– It’s a blast to take the little nuggets on a fast free run. They will follow the four wheeler up and down the trails faster than I can run with them on my own two feet!
This is just the beginning of what I’m going to need to purchase and build up once I get to Fairbanks! I’m already scouring Craigslist for good deals and free stuff, as any good musher is wont to do. I have a lot of work ahead of me, and a lot of expenses. The expense part of it all is why I avoided starting my own kennel for so long– But if you build it, they will come! Or, as I like to say, I’m making my commitment to poverty. I will probably be picking up as many extra hours of work as I can, and maybe even seeing if there are some extra jobs around the mushing community I can work in! That’s all part of how it goes. Again… I’m in training! I’ll sleep in five years.