Training Season Comes. And Not a Moment Too Soon.

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Boy, is it nice to get out again.

Sorting through the giant knot of harnesses that I had just pulled out of the equipment box, along with everything else that had become tangled – extra ganglines, tug lines, a spare drop line, snowhook – those sorts of things, I thought to myself that training season is less about training the dogs and more about re-training the musher. To better explain, let’s examine the first run of the season.

The drop line was stretched from the front of the truck to the back, each space filled with an excited, barking and lunging dog. For some reason, though it stretched taut between the front and back last season, the drop line didn’t even reach between the two anchor points now, seemingly having shrunk over the summer despite being made of aircraft cable; a material not normally associated with shrinkage. I had to fasten the line to the truck with a spare neckline. My routine is to drop the dogs (which, to the uninitiated, means to let the dogs out of their box and hook them to the line, the ‘drop line’ I just mentioned,) so they can have a pee and/or a poop before I harness them. While they are doing this, I hook up the gangline to the sled, or in this case, the four-wheeler, tie off the sled or four-wheeler so it doesn’t take off on me when I hook the dogs up, and I sort out the harnesses. All the while, I continually glance back at the dogs to see if there is a poop to pick up or a loose dog running around because amid all the excitement it’s hard to tell when a dog is loose – the dogs are already barking at a fever pitch as it is, especially in the early part of the season.

Looking over my shoulder to see if there is a poop or a loose dog, I see there is. A poop, not a loose dog. I walk over to the trailer for the shovel and find that I have left it leaning up against the wall of the shed at home. Now I have to rummage through what equipment and junk may lie in my truck to find something suitable to scoop up the crap because I hate the dogs stepping in it, especially when they jump all over you when it comes time to harness. The poop suitably dealt with, I return to rigging the four-wheeler. Where did I put that carabiner? Did I even bring it? What am I going to use to attach the gangline to the four-wheeler now? I improvise. I mean, I have to: what else am I going to do?

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Ruby (far) and Fable (near)

And now, here I am, holding a big knot of harnesses with one hand and scratching my head with the other. Did the ones with the blue pulls go on the big dogs or the small dogs? Two different harnesses have brown pulls – which ones were the large and which were the mediums again? This one has Eddy’s name on it, but he’s not running today so will it fit another dog? Jinx chewed through this one last year; how’d it end up in the usable harness pile? I’m running nine dogs today and even in a pile of thirty harnesses, I can’t find enough to fit the dogs. They’re there, of course, but I have to re-fit some of the dogs once or twice to find the proper ones.

So: gangline more or less attached, dogs harnessed – just barely – cardboard poop-scooper suitably dealt with, I lead the dogs to the line, one-by-one. Of course they are excited and they jump around but they manage to hold their place and, for the most part, not interfere with their neighbour. My last dog is led to the line and hooked up, I call out to the team: “READY?” and they all snap to attention, eyes forward and straining against the tied off four-wheeler. I reach behind me to pull on the quick release that has, to this point, held us in place only to find that I have tied it too far for me to reach from the seat of the four-wheeler. Getting off to pull it would be stupid because I’d be left at the truck while my team disappeared down the road. Have I mentioned that our four-wheeler doesn’t have any brakes? I remember my knife. I can see it in my mind, sitting on the table back at the house, so cutting the line is out. I’m left with one option: hook my one foot on the front rack of the four-wheeler and lean wa-a-a-y back to pull the quick release. The dogs will lurch forward, of this I am sure, and I will have to maintain my precarious grip as best I can until I can slide forward and better grab the handlebars of the four-wheeler.

I stretch as far as I can, my toes just barely grabbing the bar, and my fingers not quite reaching enough to pull the release. I skootch a bit further. It’s one or the other: my toes grabbing or my fingers grabbing but it’s obvious both won’t grab at the same time. If I don’t pull that release, we are not going anywhere and all of the fuss up to this point would be for nothing. I make a mini-lunge for the release and grab it as quickly as I can. It pops, the four-wheeler lurches forward and feels like it’s approaching escape velocity before I can even turn around. We bounce over rocks and ruts but I am eventually able to right myself and gain control.

The rest of the run was perfection. Well, almost. A few minor corrections for running too close to the middle of the trail and a missed turn but all in all, a definitely respectable run. When we are back at the truck and the dogs have had their water, I look at them; they are already breathing normally and all seem to want to go again. I think then about myself: unorganised and unprepared. Who then, really, is this training season for?

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Dora (near) and Leedia (far)

Catching up.

Let’s see, where did I leave off? I mean, before I started talking about rogue chickens on the prairies and the whole gettin’ gussied up thing.

Our second batch of chickens has just been taken in to slaughter. As it happened, they had to go in a week early because of an unspecified problem at the processor’s which means that we will have lost close to three hundred dollars due to an earlier than expected kill date. Added to that is the price we charge for chicken – less than it costs us to raise them – and it quickly becomes a money-losing venture. So much so, in fact, that we are pretty certain that we will not do this again next year.

I know that saying this amounts to the same thing as a hockey player who, at the end of the season, announces his retirement. Wait until the season starts next year, after some time away from it all and then see if you still want to retire, Mr. Hockey. We are not much different. Of course it seems like a good idea to not do the chickens next year; but our freezer is already full, so it’s an easy decision. I think if we do end up raising chickens again next year, we will not sell them to friends and family and we will raise the price per pound as well. Both of these are decisions that go hand in hand, because it costs us over $3.00 per pound to raise them and we sold them for $2.75 per pound this year and it is difficult to ask for $15 for a five-pound bird from a friend or family member, despite the birds being better raised, better cared for and healthier than what is available at the grocery store for 1.99 per pound.

In keeping with the poultry theme, let me just say that I am counting the days until the turkeys go in. Not so much because I can’t wait for a delicious feed of tryptophan – the amino acid in turkeys that makes one drowsy – but more because the friggin’ birds have utterly and completely decimated our garden. About the only thing they haven’t trampled or eaten is the corn, which did so poorly this year I’m sure they can’t be bothered with it. Our tomato plants – all twenty some of them – are destroyed: trampled and pecked until they fell over and died, leaving their fruit for the turkeys to partially eat. The damned birds are so lazy they will only eat the upper half of the tomato, leaving the other half on the ground to rot. Truly, they are like a swarm of big, dumb locusts.

“Why don’t you put a fence around the garden?” I hear you ask. Well, friend, have one. But the turkeys don’t pay much heed to it, preferring instead to perch on it to choose their landing spot on the forbidden side. We do have an enclosure for the turkeys, but it was originally intended for chickens not twenty five, 20-pound turkeys that – take my word for it – poop a lot. So much, in fact, it’s like a beach or a golf course around here. If we kept the turkeys in the chicken area instead of giving them the run of the yard, we’d have a pretty greasy mess on our hands. And let’s be honest: no homemade jar of salsa is worth that. So, I am counting the days.

New readers of this blog – and by this I mean those who have landed here by some tragic mistake – might not know that we have dogs. Returning readers can be forgiven if they have forgotten this because it has been entirely too long that I have made even a slight mention of them. The summer has been fairly hot and humid and the dogs have stayed pretty low-key. However, despite the lack of activity, we still have some news.

Cowgirl and Lemon are two dogs that I mentioned briefly last year, just as the season was coming to a close. They are both incredible dogs and will be a great asset to our team this year, although Cowgirl will be contributing in a different way than Lemon. Lemon is a hard working, fast leader who has made friends with everyone who has seen her. She has a great temperament and is very excited to run. Cowgirl is another sweet dog, whose quiet personality hides her enthusiasm for interaction and her drive. She, too, is a leader and while leaders are an essential part of any team, so are new, young dogs to join the ranks. Cowgirl has a pedigree as fine and enviable as any sled dog out there and it just so happens that we know a male with just as impressive a pedigree, so when Cowgirl became available for sale, Jenn snapped her up quickly. We have, it would appear, successfully bred Cowgirl and the aforementioned male and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of puppies at the end of September. Cowgirl will not make our racing team this year, but she will still come to the races, I expect, with her pups.

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Lemon and her typically happy attitude.

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Cowgirl.  One of the only shots we have of her that isn’t a blur of excitement.

Oly is a dog we picked up from the same kennel as Lemon. We bought him at the same time but due to a minor health issue his previous owners wanted to keep him on with them while he healed. Their honesty, care and compassion assured us that Oly was not only well looked after but completely fit for duty when we finally got him. He’s a big guy, sort of goofy in a way, but so charming at the same time that it’s impossible to not like him. He has a habit of carrying his food dish around with him, stuck out of the side of his mouth while he clenches it in his back teeth; I mean, how is that not endearing?

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Oly.  Oly, minus the bowl in the side of his mouth.  He exudes character just standing there.

And then there’s Pokey. Pokey came to us from a good friend and excellent racer who had a litter of dogs larger than expected. He knew that our team was aging and that we’d be in need of younger dogs so he offered us a puppy. We picked her up and brought her home; she was too little to go in with the other sled dogs, so we brought her in the house so that she could spend time with Ginger and Gilligan. At first, we thought her lagging behind on walks was just her respecting her place as newcomer and lowest in the ranks, but it soon became apparent that she was just not an overly speedy dog. We felt there was nothing to do but change her name from “Pixie” to “Pokey”. I knew a Pixie once and she was nothing like our pup. So our pup became Pokey. There is an announcer at the races who is fond of asking drivers the names of their lead dogs. Jenn and I thought it would be funny, in a hopefully ironic way, to say “Pokey. Our leader’s name is Pokey.” Since renaming her, however, Pokey has indeed become a regular sled dog puppy: full of energy and runs everywhere. She has made friends with quite a few of our sled dogs, Epic being her favourite. She is growing well and is developing a pretty intelligent personality. Who knows? Maybe we should have stuck with Pixie.

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Pokey.  Awww, Pokey.

Fashion advice. No kidding.

We have again been dealing with spotty internet service, and by spotty, I mean non-existent.  I would pack up and take my business elsewhere, but the provider is a local business that we like to support and he is the only high-speed service we have available when last I checked.  I don’t want to mention the business name, but if you are having problems with your internet, too, you can always email me at my true802.ca account.  Here is a post I have been wanting to put up for two weeks.

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Recently, the need for me to buy a suit arose. This, for me, was a bigger deal than one might expect; reason one being that this would be my third suit. Ever. My first suit was a stylish brown number, complete with shoulder-width lapels (as the ’70s dictated) and a white background, brown-and-orange floral print foreground polyester shirt. “That’s a lot of brown,” I hear you say, “what would you use to break it up a bit?” Well, light-brown piping that outlines the lapels is a start. My second suit was bought for a funeral and since it was short notice, I rushed in to the store, looked at the sale rack and bought the first thing I saw marked “large.” That it didn’t fit shouldn’t come a surprise, but since the material was a reptilian green with a certain sheen to it, the fit was moot at the end of the funeral. And now here I am, in need of another suit. And this time, I ought to make sure it fits properly and is somewhat fashionable since I want to convey the image that I’m not a complete gong-show of Carhartt’s and workboots – there will be plenty of time to ease my prospective new employer into Evan’s fashion sensibilities later.

I am not a socks-with-sandals guy and I avoid wearing red with green most days, but don’t let that fool you: I’m not a trendsetter (nor a trend follower, either). I try to make sure my pants are not too short but white after Labour day is fine with me. My fashion sense more or less centers around my shirt and pants being right side out – but I’ve broken that rule lots of times, too – and stains and matching socks are of little concern to me. So, with that image in mind, picture me walking into the suit store: “Hiya! What’ch’all got fer a feller like me?”

I am lucky that there was someone working at the store with enough patience to not only fit me, but to also let me in on some of the arcane secrets held by those who know how to properly wear a suit. Things like: jacket cuffs are supposed to be shorter than shirt cuffs and how short depends not so much on preference but on whether or not you intend to wear cuff links. Jacket bottoms should be long enough that they fall into the trough created by one’s hand when their fingers curl loosely towards the palm as the arms are held naturally at one’s sides. And, for the love of god, don’t ever do up the bottom button on the suit jacket. A world of ridicule and ostracism await, should anyone see this fashion faux pas.

All of these rules, subtle though they are, aroused my curiosity. What other things govern the proper wearing of a suit? And why is a suit so important, anyway? Here is what I have found:

  • Backpacks and suits are not cool together. Sandals and suits are not cool together, either.
  • Despite the pockets available, nothing should be put in either the jacket pockets or the pants’ pockets that would serve to break the ‘line’ of the suit. Hands in a suit jacket’s pockets is a definite no-no.
  • Wool and cotton are the only acceptable materials to make a suit with. Any other material is just tacky.
  • When Don Johnson rolled up his jacket sleeves in Miami Vice, he was wrong. Simply and utterly wrong.
  • Novelty ties – the ones with cartoons on them or things that light up – are out.
  • Ties should touch the belt buckle if they are worn properly. Hiking up your pants over your waist does not solve this problem.

According to the various websites I visited, suits are a sign of success.  They say “Hey.  Look at me.  I am succeeding.” in ways other clothing can’t.  Suits are, as an outfit, a strange thing to wear: they are hot, uncomfortable and pretty much not appropriate in  most types of weather.  However, tradition dictates that a suit means something, so we all follow tradition.

And there you have it. That is what I know about suits.