Tag Archives: mushing

Take A Seat for the Aurora Borealis

Last night I did it again, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Yup, when I bring someone out for their first aurora and they are so excited that they can barely stand, I share in that excitement. Their grin is my grin and their joy is my passion.  Their exuberance was warranted, as the aurora put on a beautiful show for us over the dogyards of Black Spruce Dog Sledding and for Alaskans across the state.  It was hard not pull up one of the empty sleds that beckoned to the watcher to layback, relax, smile, and enjoy the show. It truly is a beautiful world.

If you are interested in purchasing “Take A Seat for the Aurora”. Please top by my Fine Art America Site 🙂

Heart to Heart with Black Spruce Dog Sledding

Over the last year and a half I have developed an awesome relationship with Jeff and KattiJo Deeter at Black Spruce Dog Sledding. When they approached me about shooting a video about their kennel to dive into their operation and put on their website (www.blacksprucedogsledding.com), it did not take any convincing to get me on board! After a lot of discussion on what the final product would look and feel like, we decided to feature daytime and nighttime activities at the kennel, and that it should remain conversational. Of course, in the winter in Fairbanks night is a predominant period of time anyway! With those ideas in mind, we spent several sessions through the winter filming. The night scenes that you will see in the final product below were targeted under the full moon, but happened to be on a night of sub 40 below temperatures. Needless to say, by the time we ended the shoot early in the morning we were ready to warm up! I found out the next day when my thumb lost a lot of feeling that I had nipped it with frost. Such is life! I was more than happy with the footage shot by the Sony A7S under the moonlight.

The final product really displays the amount of time that Jeff and KattiJo put into their dogs, their training, and their business. They are very dedicated to their sport, which shows not only in their daily lives, but in their connections to the rest of the mushing community as well. I hope this video can help you appreciate the lifestyle and dedication of these two mushers, and realize that the same dedication emanates from many other mushers throughout Alaska. Enjoy!

Happy Dogs, Happy Days, Happy Trails!

Well folks, this post is officially #100 on this blog. A huge thank-you to all who have supported me and followed in my growth as a writer and photographer! It’s amazing to go back to old posts and reflect on how this site has changed. Some things have not changed much; it is still my mission and joy to bring you photography of wildlife, landscapes, and adventure, and couple some science along with it! Have a favorite moment on this blog from the last 100 posts? I would love if you left it in the comments below! Don’t worry – this site won’t be going away anytime soon 🙂

Early this afternoon I was being pulled by six eager sled dogs. Trails had been degraded and made icy by the recent 50 degree temperatures, and the sled which normally has some drag in snow, slid like it was on Teflon behind the twenty-four turning legs. The excited dogs would have fun as fast as I allowed. Of course my preservation of self made sure to reign in their energy; dumping a sled on these crystallized trails hurts more than on the snow! My sleeves were rolled back and my ungloved hands gripped onto the handle of the sled. The passing breeze did not even feel cold in the 55 degree temps. Leaning around turns and dodging spruce trees, I made my way along the fire break of Old Murphy Dome. Not a cloud was in the sky as we passed impressive vistas stretching to the north.  In the distance, the snow of the White Mountains was starkly white against the tree covered hills of the lower foothills.

I passed by Jeff, who had stopped his team in front of me. He wanted me to practice passing another team, and commands of “Gee”, “Alright”, and “On-by” ensured that the leaders knew to keep moving past the other team of stopped dogs. We practiced the procedure a couple more times. Over the winter Jeff has done a great job getting me comfortable with the sled, and teams. It was important to practice passing for our upcoming trip to the White Mountains. More dog-sledding adventures will be reported I return from Crowberry Cabin!

We made several stops along the way to help cool the dogs down. The warm spring temperatures are a dramatic change to the -30 degree temperatures only three weeks ago! Each time the dogs would dive into the snow banks, and push their faces into it. Their panting faces were obviously smiling. It was a beautiful and great day to be a dog or a driver. I did my best to capture their doggy-grins and the excitement of the day. I hope you enjoy!

Unique Observations of an Iditarod Observer

As I stood at the start-line of the Iditarod in Fairbanks it occurred to me that we, the crowd, were all having the same experience. Each of us attended the start-line to see 78 mushers set out to tackle the “Great Last Race”, which was beginning in Fairbanks for only the 2nd time in the race’s 43 year history. Our fingers, toes and nose were all going numb from -3 degree temps, the same orange fence separated us from the teams in “the chute”, and many of the same looking,gloved hands were getting into our shots attempting to capture the moment. Not only were we having the same physical experience, but we recorded it in similar ways. Hundreds of cameras, phones, and TV crews captured the racers from every possible angle and moment. Each image owner would go home or on air to syndicate their message to friends and family. They would all be reporting on the dogs as athletes (a very true statement), the goals of the mushers, the logistics of a changed trail, and snow conditions. So what could I do that would be unique?

I stopped staring through my camera’s viewfinder and focused on the moment I was in. I watched the cheering people, barking dogs, loaded sleds, and lined up cars. My observations of them are unique, much more so than any photo I could capture that day. There were many stories to tell as I looked around; these are my unique observations of the Iditarod start.

On Mushers

Mushers are a diverse group of people, and the Iditarod attracts mushers from across the world and cultures. During the morning, the only time the expectant audience got to meet the musher was as they approached the starting line. All of the mushers had their team brought through the “chute” by a group of handlers. The chute is the equivalent of a sports team dashing through a tunnel behind their mascot. As they passed through, some of the mushers wanted to incite the crowds. One of these goofballs was the “Mortician” (when not running the Iditarod he runs a funeral home) who raised his hands asking for cheers. He was certainly enjoying the moment! Others were stoic and seemed to be thinking of the race ahead as they stared at the lead dogs. However, regardless of personality, if you were lucky enough to make eye contact with the driver and grin, every musher would surly give you a smile a nod back. If they heard your cheers of “Good Luck!”, they would reply with a grateful, “thank-you”. Mushers, it seems to me, are the salt of the land and are just generally good people.

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“The Mortician” makes his way with a cart-full of family down the chute and to the starting line.

On Dogs

The dogs are excited to run. Very, very excited! Their bays reverberated off the surround areas in gruff, whining, or rapid tone. This year’s Iditarod had 78 mushing teams. A team is composed of 16 dogs, meaning there are 1248 dogs minimum at the race! If all of the teams made it to Nome, the dogs would have accumulated 1,216,800 miles total over the 975 mile course. The Arctic Circle is 10,975 miles in circumference meaning in “dog miles” they would run around the whole Arctic Circle 110 times – such an incredible feat! One of the greatest focuses of the race is the celebration of the dogs as athletes. Although the endurance and mental fortitude of the racers is paramount, the ability for the dogs to get through the race is what determines if a musher makes it to Nome!

Observers get a great opportunity to see the excitement of the dogs as they are brought out by 10 – 12 handlers with leads clipped to the gang-line. There were several times that the dogs were able to topple the teams of handlers with their eager bursts forward, it was in those moment I realized just how POWERFUL a full team of dogs is!! If the dogs felt they had to chance to run they took it, and a 16 dog team is like a wrecking ball that has just been released. It is pretty hard to stop, and gains momentum fast! I can only imagine the thrill of taking off from the starting gate like a drag racer under the strain of a fresh team!

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An excited sled dog leaps into the air and gives his partner a friendly poke in the eye.
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An intense look ahead – this dog is ready to run!
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I love the blue eyes of some sled dogs!
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Some dogs need more protection than others from the elements. a front jacket and booties for this excited dog!

On the Atmosphere

The attendees of the Iditarod do it because they want to be there. They want to see the mushers, hear the excited dogs, and watch the amazing fur hats of people. Wait, “fur hats”, you’re thinking? Yes! The large and ornate fox, raccoon, seal, and wolverine hats and garments are a staple of any mushing event. Bobbing tails and swinging claws are held above the hairline and temples of many warm heads. The designs of these lavish head warmers will make you smile! Fur has a long history in the sport, any musher knows that a wolverine “ruff” is indispensable for keeping the frost from building up around your face during a long run.

Young, old, rookie, veteran, construction worker, nurse, well dressed, sweatpants : the start of the Iditarod is a conglomerations of diverse observers. There are many who made the trek to Fairbanks because they had never been there before. And I have no doubt that some of the attendees had seen nearly every start in 43 years. Everyone was enthusiastic, and after the countdown of “5!…4… 3!!…2…1!” rang out from hundreds of voices for every musher the crowd cheered as they rocketed away. With  mushers coming down the shoot at exactly two minutes apart the enthusiasm of the crowd was evident when they were still cheering to the last one!

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Throughout the day I did shot some video capturing the excitement of the dogs. This short 90 second montage brings you to the front-line of the Iditarod, and highlights cheering crowds and baying dogs.

The chance to see the start of the Iditarod was truly a lifetime experience! If you ever have the opportunity to see the first hand the out pouring of community support, love the sport, excitement of the dogs, and dedication of the mushers I suggest you jump at the opportunity.

1 Down 1000 to Go : The Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race 2014

This weekend marked the beginning of the Yukon Quest race which started in Fairbanks this year, and ends in Whitehorse, YT. Mushers navigate the Yukon River as it winds its way into Canada. One of the racers has been doing this race for nearly 20 years. At 1000 miles per year that’s 20,000 miles just in this race; incredibly that equates to almost a trip around the earth! These mushers are incredibly dedicated to the sport and their dogs. On top of that they have to be tough as nails. In 2010 Hans Gatt ran the course in 9 days 00 hours and 26 minutes. That’s averaging well over 100 miles per day! There is a great guide for the race which can be found here : YUKON QUEST MEDIA GUIDE. However, I thought I would pull some information out of there that I though was cool!

For instance:

  • “Mushing” is a general term for any transport method powered by dogs and includes carting, pulka, scootering, sled dog racing, skijoring, freighting, and weight pulling. More specifically, it implies the use of one or more dogs to pull a sled on snow. The term is thought to come from the French word marche, or go. It is the command to the team to commence pulling—Mush! Although this term is seldom used in the modern day, it still gives name to the sport.
  • The Yukon Quest Trail links together a series of shorter travel routes that were the only means of winter travel over a century ago. When Yukon Quest founders began looking for a route to follow between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, they resurrected many historic routes and combined them to cover 1,000 miles.
  • The Yukon Quest Trail dates back to 1870s to the Forty Mile Gold Rush Era. The Iditarod dates back to the 1925 Serum Run from Nenana to Nome

There is a great resource of tracking the status of the mushers here : LIVE TRACKING!

The day was a tremendous community event. Crowds of people lined up to watch the mushers take off. Each time the announcer would begin the countdown and the crowd would yell “10…9…8…7..6!…5!!…4!!…3!!!….2!!!!!…..1!!!….GOOOOO!!!!!” and the dogs would take off down 2nd ave. All in all 18 teams were launched in this fashion. It is amazing how excited the dogs are. If you have been around sled dogs about to run you know they yip and howl until they are finally released. They jump in the air and are constantly pulling at their harnesses. I learned at the race that these smaller dogs are made for distance, and larger dogs are used for shorter sprints.I compiled this video of the starting day. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the community of the event, but also how excited the dogs are!

Here’s the route and profile from the race! 1000 miles and some elevation to boot.There is a race within this race as well. At Dawson city there is a required 36 hour layover to rest the mushers and inspect the health of the dogs. The first musher to Dawson City get 4 ounces of Yukon gold!

Source : Yukon Quest Media Guide 2013
Source : Yukon Quest Media Guide 2013
Source : http://adventurelearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/BeringiaYukonRoute.jpg
Source : http://adventurelearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/BeringiaYukonRoute.jpg

DOGGY FACES

After going through my pictures I was pretty entertained by the dog faces that I had captured. Some of them are humorous, and one (you’ll know which!) looks just down-right ferocious. All of the dogs were very, very excited to head out provided a cacophony of barking. If you have a caption for any of these, I would love to hear them!

Laughing dogs.
Laughing dogs.
WOW! Now that's scary! Even if he is just yipping in excitement
WOW! Now that’s scary! Even if he is just yipping in excitement
Same dog, much more innocent looking!
Same dog, much more innocent looking!
I want to go nowwwwww!!
I want to go nowwwwww!!
It looks like someone just told these two a story. They have that "you did what?!" face on them.
It looks like someone just told these two a story. They have that “you did what?!” face on them.
Look at those blue eyes!
Look at those blue eyes!
Who's Holding up the line?!?!
Who’s Holding up the line?!?!

HATS! HATS! HATS!

One of the things on display were a variety of fur garments. I only took a couple pictures when the opportunity came and I wasn’t point my camera at the dogs. Very cool to see some creative furry headresses though.

Tail still attached on this red fox hat.
Tail still attached on this red fox hat.
Now that's a hat!
Now that’s a hat!