Monday, March 04, 2019

Ruby Sue - A Chip Off The Old Block

Some of my posts on this blog contain stories of the best lead dog I've ever had, here at the Sun Dog Express Dog yard, Dudley.  Dudley was an absolutely amazing sled dog.  Very loyal.  He always tried to do exactly as I asked him to do.  He was what dog mushers refer to as a Gee/Haw leader.  The kind of leader that every musher dreams of, but not every musher is lucky enough to get in their mushing career.  Dudley passed away about two years ago, here at Rainbow Ridge Ranch.  He died at the ripe old age of 13 of sudden heart failure.  It was an extremely sad time, given the thousands of miles he pulled me, many visitors and my team down the trail.  We'd done many races together and taken many thousands of tourists on the cold and snowy trail and shared our love of adventure with them.

Dudley fathered one litter of puppies in his life with another lead dog name Jiminy Cricket.  Cricket had five puppies.  Mushers, traditionally, keep a theme when naming sled dog litters.  In this way it helps to keep each puppies lineage straight in a dog mushers mind.  We named them the "Rock Litter".  There were three males and two females.  The males were Lava, Granite and Garnet  .Females were Jade and Ruby (Sue).

Ruby Sue is the only surviving puppy of this litter.  She is now 12 years old herself.  Not only is she the image of her father and looks very much like him, she has the talent of a gee/haw lead dog.  Her ability to guide the team exactly where I need them to go is nothing short of amazing.  Currently she is my main lead dog for training all the other dogs in the yard.  She is hard working and dedicated.  Always willing to try her hardest to please.  She likes raw fish and lots of snuggles.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Pause for Grief

Monday February 4, 2019 - We are starting to post here again.  July 2, 2015 was an awful day for the Sun Dog Express crew.  We lost our main handler and dog lover, Alex.  When you loose someone so special, it stops you in your tracks for a time.  We all but shut down the dog sledding business (for 3 1/2 years) , trying to cope with the devastating pain of his loss.  We are slowly getting going again.  We still train the sled dogs daily, but we just don't have the heart to share it with visitors.  So we will do our best to share it here.  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Close Encounter Of The Moosy Kind

***Haven't been on this blog in a few years.  Just found this in the drafts. So I thought I'd publish it.  Enjoy*****

November 14, 2009 - Training the dogs always presents a challenge but on some days it can be down right hazardous. Today has been a rough day out on the trail. Not a typical day but a tough day. I had the worst encounter with a mad moose that I've ever had in my mushing career. I didn't see this one coming AT ALL until it was (and I kid you not) two feet in front of my face.

I had just gotten done with a tour. It was the first one of the season. I'd sent the two ladies from, Denver on their way and I hooked up a 3 dog team to go out and work on the very rough trails in hopes of getting some of the longer trails open. We were moving out at a pretty good clip with an empty sled when a moose popped out of the brush just as the dog team was passing her location.

We had been down this trail no more than 15 minutes prior with no sign of a moose anywhere. So I was being a little less vigilant than usual. When I have guests in the sled there is constant chatter and I am watching the surroundings carefully but when I'm alone and have just been on the trail (with no danger detected) I'm usually deep in thought.

The dogs were already by her when she made it to the trail and that left just me and the sled to take her wrath. I'd estimate she was about 1700 pounds and a very tall girl. She stepped on my little taboggan sled. The bed of the sled is plastic and VERY slippery when it's cold. Her dinner plate sized front feet slipped out from underneath her and she fell flat on her slid crushing the sled underneath her and throwing me off. I'm pretty sure my ice hook stabbed her side.

She staggered to her feet, ears penned and hackles up ready to resume her attack. My 3 sled dogs, sensing they could pull the sled free, jerked into forward into action making a run for it down the trail.....without me.

It was just me and a really BIG ANGRY moose. I had been knocked flat on my ass. I had full mushing gear on including bunny boots. I scrambled to "crab walk" backwards to distance myself from this angry creature. My mind was racing......could I get to my feet fast enough to make a run for it? Where was a big tree to put myself behind? Could I run away from this angry animal fast enough to make her realize I didn't want to fight her? (One always runs from a moose.....not from a bear). The closest protection I could think of was about 200 yards behind me at an office building that had a big dumpster at the back I could hop in. I knew I wouldn't make it.

Fortunatly for me when the moose fell on my sled and the hook stabbed her and the dogs ran away (the object of most of her anger) she decided I wasn't worth the effort and spun around making a run for the woods.

The moose gone I realized my prized sled dogs where running off without me. I yelled the name of my faithful (I know that sounds very corny but it's so true) lead dog, Dudley. He turned his head to look at me as the dogs ran away from me at a full gallop. I could tell from his look that he was surprised to see I wasn't on the sled. I watched as they ran to the fork in the trail. Going "gee" or right would take the dogs to the 30 mile network of trails we use and I would have a heck of a time finding them because chances were they would tangle somewhere far out on the trail and have to wait for me to find them. While going "Ha" or left would bring the team back to me.

I've lost the team before and I know if Dudley is in lead he will do all that is in his power to bring the team back to me (this isn't typical behavior of any sled dog). They were at the fork and Dudley pushed the other leader hard to go left- she was pushing to go right. He was bringing the team back to me. I began to run (with my heavy boots) back toward the dog yard. I heard the dogs in the yard bark as Dudley brought the team back through the yard. But since I wasn't there to anchor them in Dudley had to keep on running and find me walking the opposite way on the trail. He found me.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring Is Here!

I am always extremely happy to see spring arrive and am always very thankful for another safe season of running sled dogs.  Things can get pretty dangerous out on the trail, at times, and I'm always glad we arrive on this side of winter safe and sound.

The longer days and warmer temperatures are so welcome after the cold and darkness of an Alaskan winter.  Record warm temperatures should be "stalled" north of the Alaska Range for the next few days, bringing with it massive melt off of what little snow we did get this winter. 

Spots on the trail prone to the phenomenon of overflow will be filling up with the slushy, cold mess.  Thus the trail is no good for sled dogs and dog sleds.  We begin to pack away our equipment for next season and make long lists of things we will change and do differently next season.

Summer projects begin to come to mind: building new dog houses, terracing more area on our hillside ranch to make a more level dog yard, puppies (the start of our racing bloodline), mending and repairing all the gear and organizing the many trips to summer fish camp to catch the best sled dog food that God ever created - salmon.  This list will become long.

Caring for sled dogs takes year round planning and doesn't stop with the storing of the dog sledding equipment for the warm months.  The work continues 365/24/7.  Every dog musher will tell you they continue on with the work of caring for these great athletes because they love the dogs.  When you recognize how great it is to train, travel and work with sled dogs, how can one help themselves?!?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Iditarod Fairbanks 2015

Wow!  Once again Iditarod restarts in Fairbanks.  After 12 years the Last Great Race returns to the Interior of Alaska.  It was wonderful to see all the super stars of the dog mushing world; Mitch Seavey, Martin Buser, Jeff King, Aliy Zirkle, Lance Mackey and, of course my favorite, Dee Dee Jonrowe.  Great dogs on their way to Nome!

Friday, March 06, 2015

A Push For Change

You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream - C.S. Lewis

It's been a while since I've posted on the blog.  Many changes have taken place at Sun Dog Express Dog Sled Tours in the last year.

At the end of the 2014 season, my family and I began to reevaluate Sun Dog Express Business plan.  What was its reason for existance?  What are our goals?  After 30 plus years of dog mushing and 16 years in the tour business it was time to take a good hard look and think.

We came to the conclusion that our current direction wasn't suiting us.  We didn't start Sun Dog Express with the idea that we were an exclusive "sit your butt  down in the dog sled while the dogs drag you in a circle" tour company.  The dog sled comes to a stop long enough for one person to hop out and another to take their place....and the cycle begins again.  Not only does this bore the dogs but it bored me to tears too. 

I must confess that the trail had become so mundane that I would hear a voice telling dog sled passengers about the trail or dogs and realize that it was my voice.  I could make up my grocery list, think about my favorite t.v. show or daydream while giving a tour and not even remember what my guests had talked about the entire ride.  I had done so many tours.....I was on auto pilot.  Sad thing is guests had no idea.

Our location at 1540 Hayes Street has a quite place when we first opened in the fall of 1998.  The road wasn't maintained in the winter and there weren't any neighbors.  The dogs were in residence all winter (with summers back at our ranch) behind the Beaver Sports Outdoor Center without anyone giving them any mind or bothering them.  In the last 16 years that atmosphere changed greatly.  It became a much less safe place for sled dogs to be in residence at any time.

Thus we made the agonizing decision last spring to close the 1540 Hayes Street dog yard.  For the first time since 1991 there would be no sled dogs in residence behind The Beaver Sports Outdoor Center.

We are still doing tours and schools but on a very limited basis.  We have become a mobile dog sled tour company - meaning we have to hook up a trailer, load up sled dogs, drive to the trail head (18 mile round trip) at our 1540 Hayes Street dog yard, unload sled dogs and sleds, hook up sled dogs, go for a tour or school, load sled dogs and sleds back onto the trailer, drive home, unload sled dogs, equipment and dog trailer.  It's pretty labor intensive and takes a minimum of three hours to complete for even our shortest tours.

Since I've always worked a year round regular job in addition to the dog sled tour company, adding a 3-9 hour dog sled tour/school/clinic isn't possible very often.  Not when I have all the other ranch animals and chores to complete after my return to the ranch.

While the trails at our 1540 Hayes Street location go for miles and miles and are flat as a pancake (which are great for tours), we have been running the same trails since 1991. Angry moose became an issue on many of our training and tour runs.  The area was flat and full of underbrush that moose found irresistable and tasty.  These behemoths found the packed dog trail "plush" and they were remiss to give it up when a dog team approached (especially after a cold spell).  They would prefer to charge/stomp/fight for the trail rather than walk in deep snow.  A fight that sled dogs, unfortunately, always lost.

It is my objective to explain to you what this push for change in the last year has brought to the sled dogs and staff of Sun Dog Express Dog Sled Tours.  While many of you have found it frustrating that we are no longer available, at a moments notice, to take your loved ones and friends on dog sled tours and schools, we appreciate your patience while we change for the better.

Stay Tuned!!

You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream - C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Morning sun rise is so beautiful this time of year (at the ranch - the sled dogs summer home).  Snow is being illusive this winter.  The ground is covered in white but still not enough to run a sled over, much less put weight in the sled. Long range forecasts say it's coming.  Cross your fingers......and your toes!  Back to the Sun Dog Express Dog Sled Tours Home Page.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fall training has started once again.  It has been somewhat of a challenge due to the rookie leadership the team has this year.  We had many very good leaders "age out" last season and will be unable to keep ahead of the young fast talent in the team.  We are working hard doing runs with the four wheeler.  Our directional commands are rough and need a lot of work but I think we'll get there.