Our New Home
Well, Alaska, “Here
we are!” Alaska doesn’t even shrug her big shoulders
to notice us, but we’re here just the same. Maybe
not all settled down, but certainly having fun.
TeamTsuga has relocated to the town, and I use that
word loosely, of Two Rivers, Alaska. It’s really
more of a place than a town, but the big city of
Fairbanks is only about 25 miles west of here and it
has everything you could need, and more. Two Rivers
has a bunch of little cabins and smallish houses
that sit down on the silty, spindly black spruce
covered Chena River valley or on the low hills with
paper birch and more stately white spruce. On clear
days, you can see the Alaska Range to the south,
over 100 miles away. You’re just as likely to see an
atv roll by on any side road as you are a car or
truck. We see Iditarod and Quest champions and/or
their handlers out on the trail nearly every day
with our dog team. The “town” is the one stop gas
station/post office/liquor store/convenience
store/coffee shop/gossip hub. Our new home is about
a mile off the Chena Hot Springs Road that runs from
Fairbanks almost sixty miles to its end, at the
resort that encompasses the springs. We are also
about a mile from the Yukon Quest trail that runs
1000 miles into my soul. The Quest embodies all the
reasons we uprooted our lives and moved nearly 5000
miles from home. Wild open spaces and the freedom to
explore them with the dogs that have become our best
friends. The day-to-day lifestyle of mushing is what
keeps us so immersed with the dogs, but the Quest is
our proving grounds, and so much more. We’ve come
here determined to continue to refine our skills,
improve our training, and thereby maximize our
performance. So here we are and here we go…
We pulled in to a
very wet Two Rivers on August 31st with two weary
drivers, 30 dogs, and every thing we own that made
the cut and made the trip. It’s been almost two
months since then and we’ve settled the dogs in,
filled an empty house up, made it our home, and got
started on our best season of training ever. Now the
ground is frozen and we have a thin layer of snow
with more falling. So, on to the dogs…
A few dogs have
retired from racing and I’ll start there.
the only dog that isn’t running at all. He has not
aged as well as his brother Jim and sister Squiggle.
The big guy got to ride shotgun with me the whole
way up from NH and even ran in harness a few times
since we’ve been here, but sadly, he’s telling us
recently that his time with us is short.
Jim is still pulling
like a wild man and Squiggle still does the remedial
leader training for us, but their bodies aren’t what
they used to be and we won’t push them to race. Sue
is very glad to have them both on “her” team.
Curly in wheel with Gecko
Curly and Maple are
much the same way. She is smart as a whip and he
pulls too hard, but they can’t make the race team
Zirkle in lead with Squiggle
Zirkle, is of
course, way above racing, although she loves to get
off the recliner for short runs, as long as she is
promptly let back in the house when it’s done.
Mugs is also
probably done racing, although she’s leaving some
room for doubt with recent efforts. She was spayed
this summer and still seems to be adjusting to her
Gecko had a
disagreement with Ambler and came out on the loosing
end during a rest stop on the trip north.
Unfortunately, this has meant he’s taken most of the
fall off as an injury to his toe healed-up.
Dogfights are strictly not allowed in our team, but
we made the mistake of leaving rowdy, grumpy dogs
alone near the end of a very long trip, staked too
close together, and poor Geck’s toe took the brunt
of it. He is just now working back in to training
and Sue is bringing him along with her team to try
to catch up to the other Quest-pool dogs.
Togo & Boom, the new boys.
Boom and Togo, the
two new boys, are coming along. It’s very hard to
expect peak performance of dogs thrown in to
completely different surroundings. All of our other
dogs have been with us most, if not all of their
lives. Often people expect a dog bought from another
kennel to be perfect immediately and maybe some dogs
can do that. I’ve found that any dog taken on beyond
a puppy takes a whole season, at least, to really
fit in to the new place. The best tool in the
training toolbox we can use with them is patience.
Hawkeye is back in
the training pool this year. After a year off,
running tours in Vermont last winter, he is showing
his old form, at least in the early going.
Ambler is the new
strongest dog on the team with his Uncle Jim
retiring. He is still the biggest cheerleader to go,
all the time!
Gila leading with Squiggle
Gila hasn’t been
doing much leading, but she is pulling hard and has
the experience to make the team.
Hood in lead with Stump
Stump is the only
other dog outside of the twelve 4-year-olds. He’s
our dog wizard. He can do anything he feels like
doing. All the other dogs show complete respect to
him, even King Jim. Stump often reads my mind. I
strive to read his. I have relied on him too much
the last two years, yet he has not let me down. I’m
trying to not push my luck. This season I’m forcing
myself to only run him in lead once a week and when
I do, he’s got a rookie leader running beside him.
He can make any dog look good and I need to count on
the other leaders the way I know I can rely on
Now for the 12
“pups.” These dogs are all of the litters that Mugs
and Gila had about a week apart just over four years
ago when we decided the Quest was a real goal, not
just a dream. Some of them have been making the team
consistently and some of them have been slower to
mature, but already this season we have seen them
shift a gear. It’s possible that all 12 of these
dogs will make the Quest team. The four boys are the
core of the team now. Hood, Wilson, Logan, and
Merlin all can lead and all have their father’s
exceptional drive. Wilson and Merlin are both solid
command leaders. Hood and Logan are trail leaders,
but they can run anywhere in the team, making them
tough, strong, and versatile!
Reba and Eliza are
both excellent command leaders and can run upfront
with any other dog paired with them. Reba has in
power what Eliza has in effortless movement. It’s
really fun to watch them run together.
Lotus and Trip have
both made the Quest team before because they can
lead well in most situations and are usually
“invisible” when back in the team.
Cassin is our shy
girl but so far this year she’s been just awesome as
long as we keep her towards the back of the team.
Moon has also made
great strides this year and her enthusiasm and
leading ability begin to make me overlook her small
Esther and Isis are
both having their best year yet, although like
Cassin, they’re a little shy and sometimes skittish
of new things. We’ll see how they do as training
distances start getting longer, their weakness in
So, once Gecko gets
up to speed with the others, I’ll have 19 dogs in
training for Quest. With the experience this team
has, and the earliest and most consistent start to
our training ever, we really expect to see a solid
jump in what this team is capable of accomplishing.
Sparkle (our new pup from
puppies, Stinson, Pemi, Bebee, and Baker, were
recently joined by another pup. Rhonda came to visit
and brought us Sparkle, from their recent litter. We
started with them in separate pens, but Sparkle
quickly integrated with the others and they all will
be headed for stake-outs before too long. They are
already learning much about what it takes to be a
sleddog, months before they’ll ever run in harness.
Sometimes we do wonder if we made a mistake breeding
our two loudest and rowdiest dogs together…
We’ll have more on
training and our plans for the racing season ahead
Thanks for checking
in with us – Mike and Sue.