Every evening just around sunset as the world is settling down something amazing happens.  The dogs sing.  Every single dog in the yard tips his head back and a beautiful, peaceful chorus rises above the bluff.  It only lasts a few minutes then they will curl up for the night.  Some in their houses only their noses poking out.  I love this time of the evening.

I love hearing the dogs sing.

Wendy

Come climb, explore and mush with me!

Woof

Hard to believe I have been here in The Gulch for over two weeks, the time has once again flown past. And as was the case last month, every day is an adventure. Guess Alaska is known for that.

Today we took 22 dogs to Falls Creek, you know, just off Wise Owl Road. In order to get there three ATVs had to be loaded on trucks, a dog carrier truck borrowed from Scott Jenssen covered with Scott’s logo “The Mushin’ Mortician.” Ah, nothing says Iditarod better than mushing mortician. At least it is a real truck and not Scott’s other vehicle, a hearse.

The dogs get loaded into straw lined boxes and all the paraphernalia required to run a team. This includes 22 dog bowls and a snack for after the 14 mile run. 14 miles is still very low mileage but considering we began our training running under four we are all making headway. All too soon we will be running in excess of 40. Jeff Booker, who has been here on the Gulch with me for a week, rode ahead with Aaron, ax, chain saws and a gun. They did recon making sure the trail was clear. Finally a beautiful sunrise and clear morning. It was also great to be somewhere new. I understand that was the sole purpose of all this preparation. The dogs are getting bored. Nothing worse than bored sled dogs.

Now I find myself torn between my two worlds. After all these weeks here I have grown accustom to my life on the Gulch. I love working with the dogs and getting absolutely filthy and not having to worry about it. I love the parade of eclectic folk who come in and out all day and I love my daily adventures. Like today! Jeff and I spent the afternoon at the beach…shooting my Magnum 357.

So my diverse life is how I came to name the pup. She is after all the daughter of Dolce Gabbana. And despite adapting quite seamlessly to life on The Gulch, I am still the girl from Boston.

My first qualifying race for the 2014 Iditarod is the Sheep Mountain 150 on Dec. 15. It is reputed to be one difficult course. They don’t put “mountain” in the title for nothing. The race list was just released. #4 Wendy Booker from……..Clam Gulch!!! I immediately notified the race director. I love Clam Gulch please don’t get me wrong but would you mind changing my hometown?

#4 Wendy Booker from Rye, New York!

Yea, that’s better. And someday when they announce, “Now at the starting line is Wendy Booker from Rye, New York with her lead dog Prada!”

With a name like that how can she miss?

Wendy
Come climb, explore and mush with me! Woof!

Spring 2012

I guess I am at that stage of training where things are supposed to start going wrong.  I began driving my own team this past Monday.  Just me, 10 to 12 dogs and the wilderness of Alaska all around.  Okay, Anna is never too far ahead but I’m all alone on that ATV reacting to those canines, guiding them responsibly through the perils of the terrain, aware of every obstacle and hazard.

Day 1: Just as I am settled into having my own team, the sun is pouring down on me. I’m warm, dry, comfortable.  Everyone is hooked up to the gang line tails wagging. But what’s this?  The ATV is sputtering, max speed 7.  The dogs are laboriously working trying to run.  We are limping along and after only half a mile on my first solo run I’m grounded.  The ATV has ice in the gas line and won’t be going anywhere today.

Day 2: Since we run a dog every other day (just like us human runners, day on, day off) today I have a whole new team.  It’s cool and rainy.  These guys don’t know about yesterday’s mess unless one of their buddies squealed, so I have a fresh start.  The mileage is slowly increasing daily.  About 6 miles into our run we stop along the beach road and Anna suggests I switch out my leader dog.  This gives another dog the chance to try leading and for me to see the potential in another dog’s skill.  We don’t want to run a race and only have two lead dogs, we always need a “Plan B” just how I like it.

So I do as directed and unclip A.D. from the front and hook her up in second.  I grab the dog in second and pull her up to lead.  So far so good.  Not until Anna yells, “You just lost A.D.!” am I aware there is a problem?  I’ve just lost one of Dean’s best leads and I never saw her escape.  Gone!  She pops out of the brush along the side of the gravel road but every time I lunge for her she scoots off.  There is no way I am going to catch a sled dog.  Anna remains ever calm, tells me what happened (I put A.D. on a neck line that someone had chewed through….no, not me!) before I connected the rear tug line.

Things are not going well.  Anna told me to get moving, A.D. might make it home on her own. I’m trying to figure out what exactly I’m going to tell Dean.

Day 3: Cold and very wet. Pretty miserable. I hooked up my team of ten.  Put Aardvark on the line, was supposed to be Anvik. Okay ticked off Aardvark since she wasn’t running today.  Anvik is a yearling.A Translation…a bratty teenager full of unbridled energy and doesn’t listen to a living soul.

All is well as we run along the wooded trails.  Sometimes my attention wanes, very A.D. like.  My mind wanders, I daydream.  My brain a thousand miles off trying to manage mental toughness over this miserable weather.  Not necessary.  I look at my team of ten running along.  I do a mental check, everyone’s neck line is attached, tug lines taught, I look at their gates covering that mental checklist that Anna has instructed me all these weeks.  All looks good in the world.

Except why the big dog teeth?  Who is that and why is he snarling at sweet Athena?  Perhaps I just caught a moment of sled dog dialogue and its nothing but dog communication.  Two seconds later it happens again and this time it continues.  “Anvik!!” knock it off!?  All’s well.  “Anvik!” The gnarling and nasty mouth continue.  Anvika’s teeth look enormous to me imagine what Athena is seeing?  What could she have possibly done to make him so mad?  Men!  You just never know what they’re thinking.

The gnarling is worsening and now I am involved.  So here is my dilemma: Do I move Anvik to another place on the line?  If I do that how do I know who gets along with who?  Athena was totally ignoring him despite his obnoxious behavior.  What if the next partner dishes it back?  Fighting is not tolerated by any account.  Any dog injured in a fight is a danger to the musher and himself.

I abruptly stop the ATV jump off and suddenly had flashbacks to Chris, Jeff and Alex riding in the backseat of the car as kids.  There was always someone ticking someone off back there.  With finger wagging and a voice from hell I march up to Anvik and told him what for and his behavior was unacceptable.  Too bad the “you better knock it off otherwise you are going to get out and walk” line wouldn’t work.

Anvik cowers under my stern voice.  He moves back to his place and we continue with our run.  Peace at last.  Must have been that “If you don’t knock it off I am going to leave you here” talk.

But I tried that the day before when I lost A.D. and you know what?  Shortly after we started running again she ran after us and Anna caught her.  So the line I used on my kids when they were brats works on dogs too!

Wendy

Come climb, explore and mush with me!

Woof!

Oct 042012

The newest member of the Cook Inlet Kennels!  Here she is my very own Iditarod rookie sled dog!  Name to be determined.  Lineage…impeccable.  Her DNA goes back to some pretty impressive bloodlines and past Iditarod champions.

But the very best?  Her father and “Fancy” are siblings!  Having a mother named Dolce Gabbana didn’t hurt either.

We ran quite literally down the road together and as a marathoner myself I’d say she was pretty darn impressive.  She tugged on my pant leg, whimpered a bit but when I started to run her genetics kicked in and she was all business.

What I am exactly supposed to do next is a question both of us will have to figure out.

Wendy

Come climb, explore and mush with me!

Woof!

Here are photos from Wendy’s 9/22/2012 keynote address. It was held at the Omni in Broomfield, Colorado and was the annual Awards Program at Transamerica’s Fall Conference. The Awards included ORBA Financial and Carillon Financial Network.  Wendy’s Q&A was cut short by a fire alarm and temporary evacuation of the building!  The audience members were wonderful, congratulations to the award winners!

Nehru’ one of the largest dogs in the yard gives the best hugs.  I mean a real wrap his arms around you and squeeze.  I melt.  I now start my morning and end my day with one of those Nehru hugs.  Course the big baby will also grab my leg and hold on for dear life when I want to put him on the tow line and go for a run.

‘Stormy’ is a teenager.  Obnoxious, knows everything and nips my arm, my leg and my backside should I not pay attention to him.  Not to bite just to receive my acknowledgement.  Stormy is a pain in the……

‘Raven’ turns her doghouse totally upside down and prefers it that way.  No sense in putting it back upright, she’ll just turn it over again. ‘A. D.’ is a seasoned veteran…isn’t the name A.D. appropriate? ‘Muddy’ is growing on me.  He is strong and smart.  ‘Xena’… I’ve said it before, Xena is my favorite.  I give her really long ear rubs and she moans and collapses into my leg or lap.  Fortunately she lives right next door to Nehru.

But! Raven, A.D., Muddy and Xena all have something very important in common. They have just been entered into the Sheep Mountain 150 and the Northern Lights 300.  These four dogs are to be my ‘leads.’  I am honored to be escorted to the start line with these guys heading up the team.  I will rely on their experience, dedication and diligence.  The remainder of the team has yet to be determined.  But these four will be training with me for the next two months.  Sheep Mountain is Dec. 15, Northern Lights later in January.  The applications were submitted today.

I sure hope Nehru will be my wheel.  I know I am going to need one of his great hugs when I head to the starting line.

Wendy

Come climb, explore and mush with me!

Woof!

Well, well….I’m back in ‘The Gulch.’  You probably figured out something was different when I went ‘dark’ and the blogs abruptly stopped.  Sorry, life in the lower 48 is a whirlwind of cities and appearances and fine dining establishments.  I felt like Dorothy yet again, red shoes and all tumbling to earth.  One moment I was wearing my dog yard attire complete with muck boots and nose juice.  The next I am spending a leisure afternoon strolling down Chicago’s Michigan Ave. shopping for girlie girl clothes.  Exactly where I think I am going to wear such things is beyond the point.  Its just touching them with clean hands and talking to someone who doesn’t shed.  Ahhhhhhh.

I was down under for two weeks spending time back home visiting Mom and one of three sons, then headed to Denver to speak, spend time with number two son and enjoy great friends, great food and lots of wonderful wine.

I flew back to Anchorage on Wednesday and fell in love with Alaska all over again.  The feeling of familiarity and the wonderful people who live here, this is an amazing state.  Instead of driving from Anchorage down to Kenai I purchased a book of tickets for the local commuter airline, Grant Air.

My wonderful old friend from Denali days, Antonia and I ran around Anchorage then had a great lunch at a bagel place run by a wonderful Mexican guy.  He insists I come to his other restaurant, ‘Margaritas’ for great Mexican food next time I am in town.  He tells me he is Jewish during the day and Mexican at night.  Is that not the best?  I just love diversity.

So I arrive an hour and a half early at the airport as prescribed by TSA prepared to drag my stuff including some dietary supplements for 68 dogs I picked up for Dean. Only to learn that I don’t have to go through any of that I just walk downstairs and wait by the door and they will come and get me for my flight.  Oh yes and, “exactly how much weight including yourself will you be taking on today’s flight?”  If that doesn’t leave one wondering nothing will, and this is not the time to lie about one’s weight. In fact! I upped it!

I was one of two passengers on the nine passenger craft.  Pilot Joel invited me to join him in the cockpit.  I promised passenger Ralph I wouldn’t touch anything unless it was an absolute emergency.  After a brief safety demonstration and directions to the nearest emergency exit we took off.  The next 16 minutes down to Kenai were incredible.  We flew low to avoid the cloud cover and I felt like I had all Alaska at my feet.  Joel showed me his house and where his kids go to school.  So cool.  We landed and I grabbed the dog diet stuff along with my checked luggage ready to haul it inside the tiny terminal.  Nope! It had to be wheeled over to the conveyor belt and I was directed into the terminal and told to go to baggage claim.  Two minutes later the buzzer sounded and the belt started and my bag popped out.  Isn’t life wonderful?

So here I am in my little round house on a Saturday evening. I have a fire in the stove, the wind is whipping and the electricity is out (a common occurrence.) ‘Fancy’ is curled up on the chair next to me and in an hour we are headed down to the beach for hotdogs and target practice.

Yeah, life is pretty darn wonderful.

Wendy

Come climb, explore and mush with me!

Woof!

Sep 242012

I found this cool chart on Wikipedia detailing the elements of a sled dog team.

Here’s a peek inside my little “round house.”