The fishing season has arrived

Summer is here and the garden is lush and green. The king salmon are swimming by us and we are busy creating fish strips and canning fish. The smoker is puffing out the sweet flavor of the alder wood.

Things have been very dry with lots of fires in the state but luck has stayed with us and none have been a threat to us. Thoughts are with those who are close as we have been there and it is a very stressful situation, one that does not end quickly.

The dogs are having a wonderful summer. The free runs along the river are very looked forward to. The yard is divided into 5 groups and with 3 of us doing a run each day the get to run and swim in the river every other day. It is such a pleasure watching them have fun. Once we return to the yard they trot to their houses and relax, often before we call them over.

The 4 pups are growing and now taking walks out of the yard with mom and Scarlett. Their little legs work hard to try and keep up with mom while Scarlett hurries behind them.

The Names of The Four

June 3 at 6:09 PM · 

We have the theme for this litter of 4 puppies and their names after some great rodeo animals of the 70s....RENO..named after one of the showiest saddle broncs of the time..but only for a couple yrs...I drew major Reno after he began to slow down some..but still good enough to win on. MAC..full name Mac the spinning bull to the left...drove my head in the ground and stepped all over the top of me and broke I don't remember how many the hospital for awhile..might not be my favorite puppy, but I like the name. Then their is ISHMO..(full name General ISHMO) and SHORTY..(full name SHORTY T) These two bulls treated me much better than Mac winning 1st on both of them. The 70s...what memories that I will remember with this new litter of SLED DOG greats..we'll see if they live up to their counterparts names. Any of my old rodeo buddies of the past seeing this..remember these bulls and horse?

First Trip by Boat 2019

May 6 · 

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Made the first trip, after the Yukon River ice breakup, to Eagle today. Looking at the river, this morning, it was running small bits of ice so we felt pretty confident to take off. Did not get but about half way before we hit much heavier ice but the guys wanted to keep going (could have something to do with them running out of Copenhagen). As we got closer to Eagle, one of the many chunks of ice we hit broke the shear pin on the prop and it took a bit of time before we could find some gravel to land on to change it out. Once changed we continued on to Eagle. Landed in 1 of the only 2 places we could find for a landing site and a large chunk of ice came in behind us and stuck so in panic mode we made a mad dash for the post office and the store and quickly relaunched into heavier ice for the return down river.

Springtime in Alaska

April 28 · 

Springtime in Alaska, what a lot of us call mud season. And this is actually pretty clean for some of the days. Each evening I wait until all the dogs are up and then sweep the floor but dang if Wayne does not let a few more in for a visit.

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Early Heatwave

April 22 · 

An early heat wave took out our snow pack and caused the Yukon River ice to weaken, but winter has not totally released us yet as a new winter storm threatens 8 to 12 inches of the white stuff. The first picture is from a couple of weeks ago as Wayne and I walked the dogs along the river. The follow pics are of a male grosbeak waiting for me to throw his early morning seeds to him and of the beauty of the dog yard with white coating the world in beauty.

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Final Tour of the Season

March 23 · 

Wayne and Deb guiding the final dog tour of the season together. We are taking one last look at the incredible beauty/design in the background. Note: The low hanging smoke you see in the background is coming from an underground seam of coal, that is on fire and has been burning for...15 years plus...


Photo taken by our wonderful client...Eric Krieger!

People Seem Most Curious About the Dogs by Michelle Keil

March 7

PEOPLE SEEM MOST CURIOUS ABOUT THE let's talk more about them! 🤓

SLED DOGS ARE A LOT LIKE OTHER DOGS...some are outgoing, some are shy. Some are silly, some are serious. Some are stubborn, some are compliant. Some are sweet, some are sassy. Some are big, some are little. Most of them like praise and affection, and tummy rubs, and ear (or butt) scratches. 👍 They ALL like treats 😋 and some of them like to sleep in bed with you at night. (Some don't, preferring to be outside.) And like all dogs, they need to be told when they are doing a good job. They key off of their humans. They learn and thrive with positive reinforcement. Relationship is key. 🐾❤️

BUT SLED DOGS HAVE SUPER-POWERS UNKNOWN TO MOST CANINES 💪They have been bred for many, many generations to love - to LIVE FOR - running and pulling in harness, and to have good attitudes and terrific appetites, tough feet, warm coats and a temperament that allows them to work well in a team. Most of them seem to average 45-65 pounds. They are not huge...they just have huge endurance, and attitudes and metabolisms to match.

AND THEY LOVE THE COLD...sled dogs in this region of Alaska are very well acclimated to COLD temps. In fact, mushing when it is above about 10 degrees F is a little TOO HOT for them. Ideal temps for them are about -10F to -15F 😮

THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE TAUGHT HOW TO RUN AND PULL...they do that automatically. They DO have to be taught things like Gee (go right) and Haw (go left), oh, and WHOA!!! 😂 They also have to learn good manners like how to be nice running next to their teammates, or how to behave in the house.

BECAUSE OF THE WORK THEY DO...they don't eat like average pet dogs. They get a special diet consisting of "performance" kibble, supplemented significantly with salmon caught (and then frozen) from the Yukon each fall, along with various other sources of fats, carbs and proteins. They often get snacks of raw meat and/or "fat balls" on the trail. They also get warm water "baited" with various flavorings (think stinky, yucky things that dogs would like  :) ) to help keep them hydrated. Every musher seems to have a "formula" that works best for their dogs. The one thing they all have in common is they put a LOT of thought and effort into their dogs' diets!

MUSHERS ALSO TEND TO BE MORE IN TUNE WITH THEIR DOGS' OVERALL HEALTH THAN PROBABLY MOST PET OWNERS. Sled dogs' feet, appetite, weight and body condition are all monitored very closely. And of course any sign of soreness or lameness - just like with any athlete - is addressed right away. They even get their nails trimmed to prevent snagging anything on the trail, and the hair between their toes and pads is trimmed to prevent ice balls from forming.

MOST SLED DOGS SLEEP OUTSIDE IN THEIR DOG HOUSES MOST OF THE TIME. Retired dogs at Bush Alaska Expeditions have their choice of whether to spend nights indoors or outdoors...they each have their preference. Working dogs each have a dog house of their own with straw in it for bedding, but sometimes they get to sleep indoors too. I'll talk more about retired dogs in tomorrow's posts.

How Long Do Sled Dogs Work and How do They Retire? by Michelle Keil

March 8


EVERY INDIVIDUAL DOG'S "CAREER" AT BUSH ALASKA SLED DOG EXPEDITIONS IS DIFFERENT. Just like people, the amount of time that each dog might spend in their "career" - i.e. as a working member of the dog teams - depends on the individual. The "average" career of a sled dog at Bush Alaska is probably 8-10 years - sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less - and most of them live to ripe old ages after they retire. They often live 14-16 years...quite old for big dogs!

NO DOG IS EVER FORCED TO WORK...beyond their desire or capabilities, and the dogs themselves basically decide when they are ready to retire from being a working sled dog. REMEMBER BACK WHEN I SAID RELATIONSHIP IS KEY??? The dogs "tell" you when it's time  :) If you remember Sir Jake from my tent camping post, he is semi-retired, meaning he only goes on shorter day trips or easy over-nighters like the tent camping trip. And he decides when/if he wants to go at all. On the morning we were preparing to leave, Jake let us know he wanted to go. So we made a space for him and he got to go!

BUSH ALASKA BASICALLY RAISES THEIR DOGS FROM PUPPYHOOD TO BE "WORKING PETS". Of course each has a name, a distinct personality and their own individual strengths, talents, likes and dislikes. Each one is trained to come when their name is called, they enjoy off-leash freedom around the homestead, they go on off-leash fun runs in the summer, and they take turns getting to spend time in the house. So their transition to the life of a retired "pet" is a pretty easy one. Many of their dogs already know ALL ABOUT THE COUCH 😁 and the retirees get to choose whether they sleep inside or out. If they choose outside, they have a nice comfy bed (a futon?) under the shelter of the arctic entry where they stay warm and dry and out of the wind.

MANY OF BUSH ALASKA'S RETIRED HUSKIES ARE former clients (like me!), or by other friends across the country and around the world. One of their retirees (Black Bear) even has a book written about her - Black Bear Goes To Washington! It is about her and her adventures in her new home, and a portion of the proceeds of the book are used to support the adoption and rehoming of retired Alaskan sled dogs!

OTHER RETIRED Sir Jake, will spend his golden years at the homestead, perhaps helping to teach the younger generations the basics and going for short runs with light sleds as part of that education. So being a retired sled dog is a pretty good gig 👍

THIS WAY OF REARING AND CARING FOR SLED DOGS DURING THEIR WORKING YEARS AND INTO common among mushers. Many mushers who keep quite a number of dogs in their kennels either retire them to their own couches or to the couches of other responsible pet owners who love to have the chance to care for a true Alaskan Husky of their own 💕

Thank You to so Many by Michelle Keil

March 18

BEFORE I TRAVEL TOO MUCH FURTHER DOWN THE TRAIL OF LIFE...after this year's trip to Alaska, I want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to several individuals, and to share some of my favorite pics from this year's trip. (Spoiler alert: lotsa dog photos here 🐾😄)

FIRST, THANK YOU TO WAYNE AND Scarlett Hall...owners/operators of Bush Alaska Sled Dog Expeditions. Thank you for opening your home and your hearts to me (and every client), giving me/us a chance to share the amazing life you live...true wilderness, authentic subsistence life-style, sense of community among neighbors in bush Alaska, and - of course - amazing, incredible, fascinating, funny, furry, hard-working, loveable, laughable dogs!!! 🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾💕

SECOND, THANK YOU TO Deb...for being my awesome, courageous, capable, companionable, fun and funny guide and teacher again this year. I didn't think we could top last year's trip, but somehow we did! I'd adventure with you anywhere, and that's sayin' somethin'!  ;) And THANK YOU ALSO TO GREG...for all of the wilderness know-how you bring to guiding, and for sharing that with me/us on this trip...helping set up camp, building fires, gathering wood, and a whole lotta other fun stuff...and for being funny and fun all the while.

THIRD, THANK YOU TO NICKY...for being so much fun to travel and volunteer with! I had such a blast, largely thanks to your wit and wisdom, talent and humor. We will have to plan a "reunion trip" and do it again! And a BIG SHOUT-OUT TO SUE...for being so kind and helpful to everyone at the checkpoint, me included. We three made a great Communicatons Team! Maybe Scarlett will "hire" us again next year! And...Bob's your uncle  ;)

FOURTH, THANK YOU TO THE GOOD FOLKS OF EAGLE...for sharing your community with this Lower 48er for a short while. I had a great time volunteering those few days for the Quest, getting to know some of you a little (Naomi, Twister, SonjaStevenSaraJan and so many others). You are all so friendly, helpful and kind, and I can't wait to come do it again!

FINALLY, THANK YOU TO THE AMAZING DOGS OF BUSH ALASKA EXPEDITIONS...the more I am with you the harder it is to leave you. I love your friendly and playful spirits, your tough and tenacious attitudes and your never-ending enthusiasm. I love your smiles, your barks, your leaps, your wags, and the funny looks you give me 🙄 when I mess up on the sled (Pintail!). Being on the runners with you is my happy place 💕 Good dogs!!!

I Never Quite Expected That by Michelle Keil

February 26


(Quick note: I am NOT a veterinarian, just a volunteer at one of the Yukon Quest checkpoints  ;) This is a little longer post, but it is about dog care - a sometimes controversial subject - during the most grueling sled dog race in the world. If you're at all curious - or skeptical - about that sort of thing, you might find it interesting. If not, you can just enjoy the pics 😉)

THE FIRST TIME I EVER WITNESSED FIRSTHAND A RACING SLED DOG TEAM COME IN OFF THE TRAIL...was around 11PM on the night I got to Eagle. It wasn't one of my volunteer shifts yet, but I stayed up at the checkpoint to see the leading teams come in. First was three-time Quest champion, Allen Moore, and his canine teammates from SPKennel. I was so very excited to finally get to see these dog teams - some of the best in the world at what they do - actually come in off the trail in person!

I'VE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS SPORT FOR YEARS...and by this time I had seen literally hundreds of short video clips of dog teams arriving at checkpoints in the Iditarod, Quest and other races. But I still was not really prepared for what I experienced at the Eagle checkpoint, and I am still in awe. Before I go into that, however, here's a little background.

BEFORE THE RACE EVEN STARTS...race rules require that every dog (around 500 of them!) be thoroughly examined from nose to tail by Quest-approved veterinarians to ensure they are fit for the challenges ahead. Once out on the trail, there were 14 veterinarians and 4 vet techs, broken up into teams of their own, that met the dog teams at every checkpoint (plus five additional vet stations) along the trail.

RACE RULES REQUIRE MANDATORY VET CHECKS...for every dog at certain checkpoints, so that by the end of the race every dog was thoroughly examined (including taking urine samples!) at least six times. And just like in human sports, performance-enhancing and pain-masking substances are banned. I don't believe there are any human doctors that follow along the trail from checkpoint to checkpoint, but there are a LOT of veterinarians!

AS SOON AS DOG TEAMS ARRIVE AT THE CHECKPOINT...the mushers get to work tending their dogs and the veterinary teams get to work as well, listening to hearts and lungs, checking wrists and shoulders for soreness, checking pads for abrasions or splits, checking body condition and hydration, and checking with the mushers to learn of any concerns. (Vets also take urine samples later in the dogs' stay.) And it happened this way from the first dog team to arrive at the checkpoint to the last one to leave. Estimates are that each veterinarian will spend over 200 hours during the course of the race examining and caring for the dogs. The vet teams end up almost as sleep-deprived as the mushers!

THE VET TEAMS TRAVEL EQUIPPED TO HANDLE EVEN EXTREME EMERGENCIES...and are fully prepared to run IV's, administer drugs, and even do surgeries if needed. Each musher has a "vet book" for their team that has veterinarians' notes for each dog. The vet team makes notes in the book for each dog after every examination, and the vet book must be signed by the veterinarians and presented by the musher at each successive checkpoint. This ensures that all pertinent medical information passes "down the trail" for consistent oversight of the entire dog team's health and performance. Veterinarians also talk by phone to their peers at other checkpoints up and down the trail to discuss any concerns they might have.

THROUGHOUT THEIR CHECKPOINT STAY, MUSHERS COULD ALSO OFTEN BE FOUND KNEELING IN THE STRAW...beside their napping dogs, applying foot ointment, massaging shoulders, wrists, feet, and ankles, and rubbing massage oils into tired muscles to keep their dogs limber and comfortable as they run. The dogs may also rest with neoprene wraps around their wrists and/or shoulders to prevent swelling. And when they prepare to leave, mushers again re-booty their dogs and also put on any extra "clothing" according to each dog's individual needs. This might be a jacket for dogs with thinner coats, or a fur ruff for the boys (see the pics) or leggings to prevent what mushers call "chicken legs." (See the pics.)

SO AFTER WATCHING THIS PROCESS OF CARE PLAY OUT AS TEAM AFTER TEAM CAME AND WENT...what struck me most was the bond. The deep, mutual and obvious bond of trust, not just between each musher and their team as a whole, but between each musher and each of their individual dogs. Bonds like that only develop through long hours of companionship and care, long hours spent traveling the trails and weathering the storms together. Long hours - and miles - of taking care of each other.

THESE MUSHERS KNOW AND CARE FOR THEIR ways (to be frank) that far exceed what the vast majority of pet owners ever experience. And the veterinarians came right alongside the mushers as partners in support of that bond of mutual care and trust, as partners in the endeavor to provide the best care possible for these amazing athletes. They didn't just take care of these dogs, they loved - and loved on - these dogs. I never quite expected that. And I am still in awe of it.

Dog Team on the Hill by Michelle Keil

February 24


EXCITEMENT IS HIGH WHENEVER THE CALL GOES UP, "DOG TEAM!!!" signal the arrival of the next Yukon Quest team coming down the hill into the checkpoint in Eagle. Watching teams come off the trail - the previous checkpoint now 150 miles behind them - with faces smiling and tails wagging never gets old.

IMMEDIATELY UPON EACH TEAM'S ARRIVAL A "CHECKER" DOCUMENTS REQUIRED INFORMATION... musher's name, bib number, exact time of arrival and how many dogs the musher has with them. (They must check in with the same number of dogs that they left with at the last checkpoint.) Checkers also confirm that the musher has all of their mandatory gear, such as cold weather sleeping bag, hand ax, snowshoes, veterinary record book, dog booties, cooker to melt snow and heat dog meals, their SPOT GPS tracker, etc.

CHECKERS ARE VERY EFFICIENT...the whole check-in process usually taking less than three minutes. Teams are then immediately "parked" in a spot in the "dog yard" where other volunteers/checkers bring the musher's Drop Bags and bales of straw to them. As soon as the sled comes to a stop in the dog yard - and before doing anything else - the musher begins to care for the dogs, laying out straw for bedding, removing dog booties, checking paws for any signs of damage and joints for any soreness, and getting water to make the dogs' meals.

WORKING IN TEAMS, VETERINARIANS BEGIN AT check each and every dog, listening to their heart and lungs, checking their pulse, checking paws and joints, and assessing their overall condition. Mushers can also request specific veterinary assistance at any time during their 4-hour mandatory stay at this checkpoint if they have any dog(s) they want the veterinarians to check for any specific problem. (More on dog/veterinary care in another post.) Once the dogs are bedded down, have eaten and are resting comfortably, then and only then will mushers come inside to eat, warm up and maybe catch a short nap.

I TIMED SOME OF THE MUSHERS FROM THEIR MOMENT OF see how long it took them to get straw on the ground for their dogs and to begin taking off booties. With all the ones I clocked, it took them only 5 to 6 minutes from arrival to having bedding on the ground for the dogs, and that includes their check-in! But it was generally 60-90 minutes after their arrival before the musher came inside to eat, warm up and take care of their own needs. Dogs always came first. And dogs who are veterans of this race are soon as straw arrives they get right down to the business of making themselves comfortable and resting while the musher tends to their other needs. They know how to bank rest so they'll be ready to roll when the musher again pulls the hook to head on down the trail.

LEAVING THE CHECKPOINT, THINGS HAPPEN PRETTY MUCH IN REVERSE. Mushers wake from their short naps (usually only an hour or two), maybe eat a little something, then go outside to care for their dogs again and pack supplies needed for the trail ahead. Some made another meal for their dogs or gave meat snacks. Many would get their dogs up and walking around a bit to limber up, and some gave massages. All dogs would get paw ointments and fresh booties put on, along with any cold weather gear (jackets, ruffs, etc.) they might need for the cold, windy run down the Yukon River. Checkers make sure the mushers have had their vet books signed off by a veterinarian and log their departure time. Then it's off they go down the trail!