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Just a heads-up note that I’ve finally updated the profiles of the dogs in my kennel, after almost two years. The link is here. I deleted the profile of one of our chickens, which was sort of a joke anyway. But we still have five egg-laying hens and one rooster in addition to the 30-something sled dogs. (We only lose about one hen a year to canine predation, which is tolerable. Our hens brood, so we raise chicks in the summer to help offset that problem.)

Our kennel will grow, by the way. There’s been one litter already: Adidas had six pups. And two more dogs are pregnant. I’m splitting all three litters, so I don’t have any of the pups here. We won’t see them until mid-summer sometime.

…but what a day to go out on!

Sunny but cool, and I got almost all my adult dogs out for one final fling on six inches of fresh, wind-blown snow. My handler from 2006-07, Mike Barnett, stopped by and we took a couple of teams with every able-bodied dog. Lots of trail breaking but not a lot of stress. Bright sunshine and snow so deep I probably could keep coming back through early May. But with diesel at $4.11 a gallon and rising, I’m not going to make the long drive too often. Plus, the snow will be getting punchy and bottomless soon, with daytime temperatures hitting 50.

But what a blast. The dogs plainly enjoyed it, too.


A: Probably not.

The weather cooled down a little recently after an unseasonably warm thaw that started back at the start of the Iditarod on March 1. Winter came back in April, kinda’. It dipped below freezing and got down to 0 degrees on a couple of mornings, then we got a little more snow. So, what the heck. I have dogs, right? I took 12, most of them veterans of this year’s Iditarod, on a 20 miler on April 13. They had fun, and so did I.

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Retired sled dogs like to lounge around if there’s nothing to do, but they are all about going hiking if that’s on the agenda. They crave affection, but typically aren’t pushy about it. And most of the time, they aren’t hyper like a puppy or one-year-old. At age eight or so, those wild and crazy days are long behind them.

They’re mellow and, in a doggy way, mature — unlike most pet dogs who’ve never been in a pack, or who’ve never ran thousands of miles each winter. You don’t have to worry about much in the way of training, or dealing with an amped up juvenile that needs five hours of constant exercise each day. They’ve been there and done that.

The undeniably self-serving point of this post is this: Aging sled dogs make incredible pets.

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I ran my first and only, so far, Yukon Quest in 2005, making quite a few mistakes but still having a pretty good run. Even my team’s melt-down on Eagle Summit is a pretty fond memory, mainly because I dealt with my own failings and got the dogs moving again. It was raw and real and I learned a lot. The other day, a friend e-mailed with a few questions as they consider running as a rookie in 2009. Here’s a look at what they asked and what I said back…

Q: When you made the 200 mile push to Dawson, how many times did you camp in that section of trail?

I took off from Pelly Crossing with the heaviest sled I’ve ever had. It creaked and groaned like an old wooden ship. But I needed every ounce of that dog food. Don’t skimp. We had a good year that year with easy trails and temps about 0 F. I went past Stepping Stone for another hour or two, and just pulled over on a hilly trail. It made for about a six or seven hour run because we weren’t running fast. If I’d gone just a little farther, there was a nice little pullout down in a valley on the right side of the trail, which even had some firewood. Then I made a mistake. I meant to run straight to Scroggie, which would have taken me seven hours. That would have been fine. But Scroggie is just a cabin at the side of Stewart River and I was used to seeing Iditarod checkpoints. I didn’t think that cabin could be the dog drop, and went another two hours looking for it, winding up with a nine hour run. (That seemed long to me at the time, but these days, it’s almost expected, even on a first leg of a long-distance race.)

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This year was a little different for me. I had to give up my usual self-serving pleasure from racing my own dogs. Instead, I leased out the bulk of my team waaay back in July, then leased virtually the rest of them after completing the Tustumena 200 at the end of January. The reason was simple, small and wound up weighing six pounds and 10 ounces.

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