Tuesday, November 18, 2008
A GOOD FOUNDATION
I was logging my last “mileage entry” for October and realized that the team had put in over 118 miles throughout the month. Looking at the little notes that I had left myself at various places on the calendar suggested that we were on our way to a good foundation to a proper training schedule but not without its “moments”.
Let’s rewind the tape and review what happened. If you recall I had a “close encounter with a Quebec hunter”. Well, it turns out that my “friend” Beatrix, went whining to the “ZEC” authorities and they bared me from using the territory during hunting season and this from mid-September till mid-November. I was going to approach this, both guns blazing but decided that I would think the whole thing out before sticking my other foot in my mouth. It is true that the way it was presented to the “Board of Administrators” was if not a bit biased, was at least only one side of the story. I was contacted by some “dog friendly” staff to plead my side of the story and maybe also formulate an official complaint but I declined. Let’s face it, at the end of the day much saliva would have been spent, blood pressures would have gone sky high and we would have probably ended up with the same results. What I know now that I didn’t realize then is the fact that these “Quebeckers” living in this neck of the woods are fanatics about their sport and they will not let anything or anyone interfere with their hunting. Apparently, they’ve been having “turf wars” amongst themselves for years and have even resorted to burning each others cabins. I can only imagine that if a stranger is going to run dogs through their precious hunting grounds, then for sure he’s asking for trouble. Don’t kid yourselves, it’s not that I can’t “rock and roll” with the best of them but the way I see things, I’ve got too much to lose. This is pristine country in the winter and still remains available then for mushing and this to my heart’s content. Also, a few weeks ago I received a phone call from a Quebec friend of mine who has got nothing to do with this “saga”. By pure coincidence, he had been sitting at a social event where the topic of my sleddogs got pretty heated. Apparently, some of these individuals were threatening to shoot these dogs if they saw them. I’m pretty sure it was more than likely the booze talking but why take a chance. At this stage of the game, we’re the “New Kids on the Block” and we better sit back and observe what’s going on out there before we make a move. It is obvious that we’re not going to win a “head butting” contest as there are too many of them and we don’t know “who’s who in the zoo”. I’d rather do my homeworks and approach the situation with some tack and diplomacy. I should point out though that it’s not fair to put all these hunters in the same category as I’ve met some real nice folks out there in the woods. I know that I’m dealing with just a few bad apples so trust me, we’ve got a plan and we will prevail. Besides and as I had told the warden during the second week of September, we knew of the upcoming hunting season and had planned to stay out of the area so that they could practice their passion.
As for the training, we did a few amendments to the way we do things but these were planned. Even though they had received regular exercise like swimming and running wild in the mountain during the summer, it wasn’t close to being enough to keep them in top shape. To look at the “Kid” and “Mr Tibbs” bathing in the sun with the “beer guts” they had accumulated somehow reminded me of those old farts that spend their winters lying on beaches in Florida. So technically, the “Mob” had been inactive for the better part of four months but this was a well deserved rest. Their bodies had absorbed over 1100 hard trail miles throughout the last mushing season and the down time would only help heal all those little aches and pains. So we eased into the training and dedicated the month of September to getting rid of the cob webs. Surprisingly enough, they remembered their previous training and contrary to what I had experienced in the past with the “yearlings”, they were a breeze to dress and hitch up. None of this jumping and turning around in harness or chewing neck lines. It was reassuring to see that I was dealing with controlled chaos as other than their excited “let’s get this show on the road” attitude, they hadn’t forgotten much. Running with all of them tied to the front of the “Dog Buggy” gave them a chance to stretch those sleepy muscles and get a good basic cardiovascular workout.
When October came along, this was to be a totally different story. The “Mob” was to soon realize that summer vacations were over and it was “Hi How, Hi How and it’s off to work we go” time. Since this season’s goal was to run a “six dog” configuration in a 30 mile race, the dogs were split into two teams of six. The “A” team consisted of all the males while the “B” team would be all the girls and old but lucky “Mr Tibbs”. Hold on here ladies, before some of you get your “knickers in a knot”, it’s not that I’m discriminating against the females. It’s just that the “Boyz” are stronger and much faster. Dogs like “Alaska” “Maggie” and “Mr Tibbs” all love to go out and run but this at a more reserved pace. So, since they can’t keep up, it’s not fair to put them through the same tempo. Besides, it’s quite early in the training schedule and things are certainly bound to change for the final “line-up”. Out of the girls, “Vixen”, “Snooky” and “Gidget” are all hard workers and definitely contenders but for now and as you will read later, this is the way things needed to be done.
The “Boyz” soon found out that things were just about to get serious when instead of casually pulling the green Suzuki jeep, they were now hitched to a smaller motorized ATV. On the roadway facing “my mountain” in front of the lodges and standing at point, “Sox” and “Jacko” were looking at each other with this puzzled look on their faces. Were they discussing “Sox’s” recent injury and his ten day “sick leave” or were they questioning as to why the girls had been left behind. One could not really tell but one thing was for sure. They had realized that things were definitely different on this frosty Saturday morning. Tails between their shaky legs, they really didn’t understand what was going on. They just couldn’t figure out as to why half the team was missing or why this rowdy and undisciplined “nut job” was in front of the team, howling and jumping around like there was no tomorrow. As a matter of fact, I suspected that most of my dogs were wondering the same thing so I walked down the gang line, reassuring them. When I got to “JR” standing there in lead besides “Oumak”, trying wholeheartedly to hold the line out, we both looked at each other questioning if we had done right with our investment.
Yes, it was the 04 October 06 and today was to be the first day that the “Grey Wolf” would run with the team since his “Great Escape”. I wasn’t sure if twelve days of recuperation were long enough but from the way he was acting up, he looked like a dog that had fully recovered. He was still skinny according to “Baisley Standards” but this was a work in progress and gradually we would put more meat on his bones. Anyway, it was “Go time” so I called to “JR” if he was ready. Seeing the rope go taunt and the locked wheels of the ATV move forward strongly suggested that I climb aboard it immediately. They were ready to move out and this with or without me. I called the “uptrail”, released the brakes and away we took off. We had just engaged in this month’s portion of training and its objective was to build strength and endurance.
My dogs were in shape to tackle this “mountain training” but I didn’t know what to expect from “Oumak”. It was his first run and I didn’t really have a clue as to how he would react or what kind of exercise he had had during the summer. This question was soon to be answered as within the first mile of climbing, he started to “neckline” and was not able to keep up.
I felt kind of bad to see him struggle but I needed to see what he was made of. I slowed down the team a bit and he managed to follow to the top of the first hill. On the flats up there, he seemed to be more in his elements as he soon picked up the pace and started to do his job as a leader. Seeing him run in front, matching “JR” stride for stride, made me smile. It was simply a beautiful sight to see them “work together”. They so much complimented themselves, it was amazing. Then he did something that showed me why I had gone to so many lengths to acquire him. Like usual, “JR” was pulling the team to the left. “Oumak” wouldn’t have anything to do with this and pulled hard till he brought them back to the right side of the trail. There was a tussle as to see who would win and eventually “JR” conceded and behold, all of a sudden we had a sense of direction and traveling on the proper side of the road. To see what I had “under the hood”, we moved across the mountain in zig-zag up and down patterns, practicing turning on command.
We eventually got back to the dog trailer and I didn’t have to tell them to stay. They simply stopped on their own and from the steam emitting from their bodies, I knew they had just gone through a different but good work-out. As for “Oumak”, well he didn’t exactly look like the “Silver Bullet” that they had made him out to be. Here he was, simply flopped on his side, panting or rather gasping for air. Seeing him lie there at the end of that first “four mile torture run” didn’t inspire much confidence but I could see the potential and knew that with a bit of tender love and care and given half a chance, he would fit well with the team. It was a matter of taking the time to bring him up to par. After giving them a treat that they just relish, a bowl of water with a few drops of cod liver oil, I undressed them and let them get back to their dog boxes. They all jumped in their small tight quarters without hesitation as they knew their rewards were waiting for them in there. It was almost beyond comprehension that they would put themselves through all this agony just for a “dog biscuit” and a pat on the head. One by one, they went to “Oumak” still lying there slowly wagging his tail and sniffed at him. Were they wondering if he was all right or were they checking out who this wimp was? I couldn’t really tell but I knew that from the growl that the “Kid” gave him, a message had been sent. “Pick up your socks as we don’t plan on doing all the pulling around here!”
“Kid,” I told him strongly, “get to the trailer and mind your own business. I’ll deal with this.” He stared me down, walked away and jumped in. I shook my head and concluded that he would never change. This guy was an excellent dog and had been part of my team for the last three years. He was most faithful to me and great as a wheel dog. He looked like a big huggable “Teddy Bear” and at 74 lbs was the largest member of my team but he was far from being soft and cuddly. Instead, he was tough as nails and was always there, giving his heart out on any runs and it didn’t matter the length of it. However, he did have a few serious flaws. This strong black and tan half husky / half german shepherd was the “Alpha dominant” male and always made sure that the rest of the pack knew it. Most of the other males walked around supporting some sort of battle scar, indications that they had met up with the “bruiser” and up to now the status quo was that he was the master of their “dog world”. The second worry was that he would not allow any other dog approach the team. I guess that stemmed from when he started off a few years back and we used to travel on a trail where this “rottweiler” would constantly wait there in the bush and attack the team at every occasion that he could. The “Kid” had been at receiving end of these encounters too many times and the poor thing had had to learn the hard way to defend himself. Oh sure, I had gone to see the owner on several occasions to see if he might want to tie his dog up but this request had fallen into deaf ears. He thought it was funny and basically relished the fact that his “macho” dog terrorized and made himself the king of the neighborhood. This routine had gone for a while till one day the “Kid” managed to get a good hold of the king by the throat and dragged him down the trail for a few hundred feet. By the time I managed to stop the team, it was a bit too late. The “Kid” had done some serious damage. He had drawn blood, partially ripping the animal’s throat out. The “King” wasn’t dead but he sure as hell had been dethroned. When I got to the two dogs, the rottweiler was totally submitted if not completely choked and the “Kid” had this look that said, “this prick will never bully us again, I can guarantee you that”. I didn’t feel comfortable putting my hands around his mouth to have him release his prey and it took a lot of convincing from my part to have him let go. I moved the bleeding dog to the side of the trail and checked him out. He was still breathing but prognostics were not good. He would need serious medical attention and this right now. I was going to put him in the basket of my sled so to bring him to the veterinarian clinic but he came to, got up and ran away towards where he lived.
The owner came to my place a few days later, totally pissed off. He had the “balls” to present me with a bill for having his dog euthanized. You think I paid it? NOT. Not only did I not pay the hospital fees, I showed him where the road was and strongly suggested that he leave my property and this within the next thirty seconds. This message was loud and clear as it was one of those one way conversations. Strangely enough, there was to be no further argument and I never heard from this guy ever again. Anyway a few of the people eventually came to thank me for taking care of the “dog problem” and there was to be “Peace in the Valley” again. This was not something I was proud of but I guess it was one of those things that just happened. As for the ‘Kid” well, his attitude towards other dog teams left much to be desired and he wasn’t the most popular amongst my musher friends. For what we usually did, going out there exploring alone and on our own, his attitude was tolerated and accepted. Unfortunately, this was not a quality that was very popular on any racing circuits and this was a real concern to me. Would I be able to curb his behavior before the race in February or would I have to leave my strongest member of my team behind? Time would tell. But and as I kept reminding those advocating that I put a bullet in his head, he had pulled his fair share of the load over the years and we had gone through many trail adventures not all of them positive. At the end of the day when push came to shove, he had always been there to back the team up and this type of loyalty was not to be taken for granted. It was a rare quality and this made him really special in my books. In his case, he just had to be reminded as to who was the “boss” on a regular basis.
Meanwhile back at the barn, the girls had not quit yapping since we had left for training. While helping poor tired “Oumak” out of his harness, I could still hear the females bark excitedly in the background as if they were staging some sort of protest march. “Boy, oh Boy” I thought to myself, “I don’t think I’m the most popular guy in town right now”. Normally, they were all better behaved but things were not necessarily normal at the kennel. I guess with all the turmoil surrounding “Oumak’s” misadventure, I had never noticed that “Alaska” had been in heat for the better part of that week. This made it that it brought some additional excitement amongst the dogs, excitement that I had a term for. We had just entered another dreaded “Hell Week”. It was almost unbelievable as to how the chemistry would change in the barn when a bitch came into “season”. It was unreal as to how the total focus of the entire pack was so suddenly concentrated on one thing and one thing only. All the other bitches would bark and yelp so to get the attention they would normally receive from the males but none of them would have anything to do with these females. Rather, the “Boyz” only had one thing on their minds and that was, “Which one of them would get lucky?” In their world, there was no negotiation or discussion about the subject. Instead, it was who would dominate the other and this was a brutal, no pity endeavor. The males would completely lose their heads and if given half a chance they would fight and this to the bitter end. Dogs like “Irving” who normally would be the “Omega” male would take his chance and challenge a guy like the “Kid”. A couple of fights had happened during the week because I hadn’t been smart enough to see the “Big Picture”. Consequently and because of my own stupidity, on the previous Wednesday I had to rush to the dog yard to see what all the commotion was all about. To my total surprise if not my disappointment, here was “Jacko” in the tied position with “Alaska”. Looking at them, one could tell that the deed had been done and most likely had been successful. “Alaska” had this smile and cross-eyed look on her face that said “God that felt good” while “Jacko” didn’t know if he had done right by his master but had risked it nonetheless. Not impressed, I shook my head and told him “So Jacko, I guess the next thing you know, you’re going to ask me for a cigarette? Anyway, when you manage to “pull out”, come and see me and I’ll tie you back up.” This being said, I walked to his post and checked the damage. He had tugged at it so hard that he had managed to break a link in his “1250 lbs test chain”. Like I said, these guys go crazy during “Hell Week”. A few minutes later, walking back from the “workshop” with replacement parts, I saw “Vince’s” son, tail straight up prancing and parading along, coming to meet me. I couldn’t but snicker when I saw him. When he reached petting distance, he stopped, still not too sure if he was in my good books. I put my hand out, called him over where I patted him on the head, reassuring him. “It’s OK “Jacko”. Today my boy became a man.” To look at this gorgeous tall and muscular white dog walk towards me had made me realize that if I had had to choose a mate for “Alaska”, he would have been my first pick. Although Fran had officially baptized him “Jacko the Psycho” because he had chased and killed more than a few cats on the property, the genetics carried by this stud were more than excellent. His ancestry could be traced all the way back to the Yukon and here I was today, faced with the real prospect of raising descendants of the original “spirit dogs” (a totally different subject matter all together).
As far as I knew, “Jacko” was the last tame dog from that lineage and offered the true possibility of owning canines that we could truly call “Canadian Snow Hounds”. The idea had merit but there was only one problem. Would Fran and I be the overly protective parents to these pups? Would we end up with more dogs than we bargained for? These dilemmas were things that I had to seriously consider. One thing was for sure, though. Whether we kept them or they were to be put up for adoption, we would make sure that they would have good homes. But, we were getting way ahead of ourselves as I didn’t even know if “Alaska” was pregnant. If it wasn’t for bad luck, the poor girl would have had no luck at all. She was just getting back in shape to fit in a size “2” and here she was again possibly looking at some 60 days of more “swelling up like a balloon”. It was an unfortunate situation but it was too late cry over spilt milk. I would face that situation and I would deal with it when the time came. For now, I would have to concentrate on the extension on the barn. Now with this recent development, I would have to extend on the extension so to accommodate up to ten more dogs instead of two.
Oh the “saga” at Baisley Lodges. Will it ever end? The answer to that question is for now, still unknown. All I could say is that while starting to put the structure up at sub-zero temperatures on the 15 Oct 08, I came to the conclusion that I enjoyed giving myself additional unnecessary headaches but then again it was the nature of the beast within me. Besides, I had been hammering nails for the last nineteen years and it seems that all those projects involved a first snowfall, so why break tradition.
Later folks got to go and feed the dogs.