I Never Quite Expected That

 

The final 2 paragraphs of Michelle Keil’s post sums up the love that mushers have for their dogs. This article is something that anti’s don’t want the average person to know about and recognize. Visit our facebook video page to see how these dogs are raised and loved. https://www.facebook.com/pg/bushalaska.expeditions/videos/?ref=page_internal

February 26

I NEVER QUITE EXPECTED THAT

(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 DOGS...in 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.

The season is over and the sled dogs are on play time

Our winter season has come to a close and the dogs are enjoying the free play time and laying around in the sunshine. We have now entered our getting ready for winter phase. Spring is usually a muddy but fast transition to our short summer and an even shorter fall. We are fully into the mud season as our floors here at the homestead can attest. They stay covered with wet, muddy paw prints.

Be sure to check out our facebook videos to see our dogs at play https://www.facebook.com/pg/bushalaska.expeditions/videos/?ref=page_internal and references at https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g30981-d2639682-Reviews-Bush_Alaska_Expeditions_Dog_Sled_Tours-Eagle_Alaska.html

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Eagle Ice Jam and Flood

May 2009

Winter 2008/2009 began a series of circumstances that have created the worst flood in history for the small community of Eagle. A long cold winter combined with heavy amounts of snow had river ice 140% of normal in the Eagle area and spring was slow in coming so the ice was holding tight. Then a week of unseasonble warm weather created massive amounts of runoff that began pouring into the Yukon River. The river ice under a normal year would have had 10 to 14 days more of slowly rotting ice before the shore ice let go and lifted which allows the river to break free. This year with the high water imput the river struggled to hold on but the water was too much and it finally blasted free in spots to start the river ice moving. Breakup crashed thru Eagle, giving residents the most spectacular views but as it continued downriver to 6-Mile Bend, here at our place, the ice prevailed and held tight, starting a very devastating event.

Much of Eagle is gone forever...the older section of Eagle Village along with the clinic and VPSO buildings were wiped out. Front street in Eagle destroyed. Many, many more homes destroyed and or severe flood damage that is not repairable. Homes sit asunder, one in the middle of the road.

The worst flood on record had the mighty Yukon cresting at 34 feet. This flood reached 54 feet, a full 20 feet over flood stage.

Eagle has begun the massive chore of cleaning up as the ice melts so that they can begin to rebuild. To learn more of Eagle and what is going on there you can go to eaglefloodinfo.wikispaces.com. More pictures will be added to this page!!

Here at our homestead the landscape is changed forever. Much of our large timbered forest is flattened under 212 acres of ice that pushed ashore. Our main boats destroyed, the motors probably as they are still buried under ice. Our fishwheel is in splinters somewhere in the middle of the massive ice push.

We were lucky in that our home cabin sits very high. The Yukon River was running thru the woods a mile inland and the lower forest was under 20 to 25 feet of flood water. The ice pushed inland from 100 to 200 yards totally wiping out our trail system. We will be spending the summer recutting and rebuilding our trails and hopefully getting a new fishwheel built.

It took us many days of recon to rule out most potential early routes to the river. With the help of a friend and an aerial map we found a route 1 1/4 mile downriver to a section of ice that we could safely cross. It took 3 days of leg work and cutting before we were able to start pulling the canoe to the river.

Lil Girl, Jake, Lobo, Puma, Jimbay and Titan were so wonderful. It took them a little while to get the hang of pulling a 19 ft canoe thru the thick boreal forest and woods. But once they did they charged ahead with Wayne and myself lending support and muscle along the way.

Our blog on the home page will give more updated information. This is just a pictorial of what has happened to Eagle and the area in May of 2009.

Our winter tours have not been affected by this disaster. None of our trail systems were destroyed.

Many of the ice jam pictures of Eagle were published in the Fairbanks News Miner and photographed by Photo Editor Sam Harrel.

The Fairbanks Newsminer: http://newsminer.com//