Update for December.

I’ve not been very good with the whole picture taking thing. I will try to have some for the next post. Really.

I don’t really know where the winter is going. In just one week, we have our first race: Markstay-Warren’s Challenge the Champ. We will definitely be out of our element at that race, mostly because we will be competing in the “open” category against faster teams with sprintier dogs.

Our training season has been good, although I think we would prefer to have been out more with the dogs to this point. Problems with our four wheeler and a prolonged period of too-much-snow-for-the-four-wheeler-not-enough-for-the-sled have managed to keep us sidelined. So, too, have the renovations to our living room. But, now that the busy holiday season is drawing to a close, the more serious season of sled dog running continues. Eager to get out the other day, Jenn and I loaded the dogs and headed to our usual trail head. The conditions were less than optimal: it was difficult to set a snowhook due to lack of traffic on the trail and since we were the only ones who had been down the trail since our snow came, we only had a single track to follow, having broken out the trail a few days prior. In many places, the dogs would fight each other for position on the trail – they’d push each other side to side, trying to get the better footing, they didn’t actually fight. I thought I should clarify.

Nearing the trail head it became evident that we were not alone. Several trucks and trailers were there, scattered about the parking area – really, the end of a narrow bush road large enough for the snowplow to turn around – as were three large four wheelers. The adults eyed us warily while their kids, two boys, sauntered sheepishly over to our truck and peeked curiously inside the dogbox. Jenn and I, our routine pretty rehearsed by now, started getting the sled and dogs ready, trying to answer the questions that came one after the other.

Yes, this is the lead dog. No, he’s not the boss. Of course they’re friendly. Yes, they all have names. Well, it’s easy to remember all their names… surely you have more than twelve friends? You remember all of their names, don’t you?

I spoke briefly with one of the group. They were heading up the same trail as me to a cabin that I would love to own. They were planning on spending the night and they were bringing in all their gear on the four wheelers. Hearing this, I tried as much as possible to hurry and leave ahead of them: they would destroy the trail with their tires, making my run a real chore. At least up to the point which they turned off the trail. It became clear that I was to leave behind them in spite of the effort they were putting into trying to start a four wheeler that would not, no matter how hard they tried, start. They ended up leaving it behind; their philosophy being that if anyone was to try and steal it over night, they’d have to start it first.

My way now cleared of four wheelers and trucks, I brought each dog to the line while Jenn made sure the leaders held the line out. Lead dogs, swing dogs, team dogs and wheel dogs: I was ready to go. I pulled the snowhook out of the ground, undid the quick release and pulled the slipknot I had tied around the dropbars on the truck. The team surged forward. And then jerked to a halt. Somehow, my slipknot had twisted around the bar and the part that was supposed to slide freely was now pinched and unable to move. A quick look at my quick release set up showed that it was too far away to use – I was going to have to deal with the rope on its own. Against my better judgement, I took both hands off the sled and set about untwisting the rope. I succeeded in freeing it and immediately thought “Dammit! I didn’t think this all the way through!”

The short end of the rope – and the end I was hanging on to – was getting shorter fast and my sled was getting farther away and out of reach. My bare hands tried to hold onto the rope as it slid around the dropbar. I called to Jenn who was luckily still at the head of the team. “Grab the dogs!” I shouted as the rope pinched my hand to the bars of the truck. It continued to slide, burning and cutting as it did. Jenn was now being dragged by the team and I found myself out of rope and running behind the sled, my good hand holding the very last two inches of rope.

Jenn and I finally got the sled slowed enough that I could catch up, grab on and regain control. “Got it!” I shouted. Jenn looked back, and I’m not sure how she managed this as she was still being dragged, made sure I actually did have it, let go, stood up, brushed the snow off of her pants and walked to the car to drive to town to do laundry.

It took a half mile to sort out the mess: the rope was neatly wound around the sled’s handle, the snow hooks were repositioned and secured, I put on my gloves, secured the flap of the sled bag and closed its two clips. Even though the four wheelers were ahead of me, and even though they had left ruts in the trail, the trail was not as bad as I had thought. I even remember thinking as much as I rounded the corner and saw, some two hundred feet ahead, a dark black stain on the snow. “Aww, crap!” I thought.

On one side of this particular trail is a beaver pond. On the other, its drainage. In the middle is a floodplain of fifty feet or so in width and at least knee deep. The four wheelers ahead of me had broken through the ice, leaving a water crossing for me and the team. A few years ago, one of our now-passed-on leaders got weirded out by a two-inch deep, twelve inch wide creek crossing, causing the team to ball up into a knot on the banks of this liquid chasm. “Straight ahead!” I said, not knowing how this was going to play out. The leaders charged into the water, their feet catching the ground now and then until the whole team was in the water and half swimming, half running through the ice-chunk-filled water. My sled hit the water and I leaned back in an effort to keep the nose up. Its belly pan kept it from sinking but I found myself into water a few inches below my knees and for all intents and purposes, water skiing. The dogs reached the other side and emerged two by two from the water, never really missing a stride. My sled bumped as it hit the solid ice of the trail and we were clear of the water. As they ran, the dogs shook themselves to shed water and I waited for the inevitable seeping feeling of water, creeping into my boots and chilling my feet. It never came. Thank god for good equipment! We ran on for a bit until I could find a suitable place to stop where I checked feet for snowballs and booties for frozen velcro or collected snow. There was none and the dogs were losing their minds with eagerness to run, so I un-wedged the snowhook from its anchor point and off we went. My hand throbbed under my glove but the way the run had started, I wasn’t going to take off the glove to look at it. All of this in less than five miles.

As the dogs strained against my dragmat, I hoped the mishaps were over for this run.

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Oh, Woodstove! How you challenge me.

In my last post, I mentioned how our woodstove has been working. How well it was heating the house, how just a small vent in the floor was necessary and how smooth the whole operation was in general. Well, I spoke too soon.

We’ve now been heating the house with our furnace. The woodstove has not been fired for just under two weeks and it’s really starting to get on my nerves. When the laws of the Universe were made, they covered the basic running of things; when changes were made, extensions to these laws were created. An example – just for interest’s sake: Bergmann’s Rule (simplified) states that “populations of animals from warm-blooded species living in cooler climates tend to be larger than animals of the same species occurring in warmer climates. This is a result of the surface area to volume ratio being higher in the larger animals so heat loss is reduced.” And the extension of this rule: Allen’s Rule: “In warm-blooded animals, there tends to be a reduction in size of protuberant parts (legs, arms, bills, tails) in cooler climates to minimize heat loss.” I bring this up because Murphy’s Law has a new extension called the Lowe Paradox which goes on to state that: “despite all precautions taken and assurances made to the contrary, it will still go wrong if Evan has had a hand in it.” Here is what happened:

Winter was closing in. The temperatures were consistently falling lower and lower and our first winter storm loomed on the horizon. Inside our house, however, it was warm and dry thanks to a properly installed, twice-inspected and insured woodstove. As the winter storm approached, it brought with it high winds and blowing snow. And high winds. Did I mention the winds? They were strong.

One day, the stove was blazing away, happily heating our home and all of a sudden, it started to puff smoke into the house. Just little puffs at first, but they slowly grew to larger puffs and billows until it seemed as though more smoke was coming in than going out. The temperature fell to -18, or -38 with the windchill. Our stove was all of a sudden not working and we had to rely on the furnace. I finally got a chance to look a the stove on the weekend and discovered that the wind had gusted hard enough to somehow dislodge the clean-out cap at the bottom of the outside chimney. “Well,” I think to myself, “no wonder it wasn’t drafting properly – the cap was off. I’ll just put it on and light a fire.”

Before anyone gets ahead of me, I know enough to light a small fire in a cold stove to get the draft going again, which I did. I lit a small newspaper fire and let it burn as the smoke continued to flow into the house. “It’s cold. I’ll need more heat to get this drafting right.” I think. I toss in more paper, which burns and whose smoke pours into the basement. “I need more heat, and this paper isn’t cutting it.” thinks I. I go out to the shed and get a propane torch – the ones used for soldering – to heat up the fire box and chimney. I spark a flame and heat and heat and heat the stove. For twenty minutes I held the propane torch to the firebox and when I lit the next batch of newspaper, the smoke still crept into the house. “It’s just going to need more heat – it’ll reverse soon.” I try and convince myself. I throw in some kindling and a small, dry piece of cord wood. Well, I’m here to tell you that that didn’t work.

Smoke poured out – think water rushing out of a garden hose – and it was thick and acrid. I closed the damper, but still it came. I opened the damper and it came more. I was left with only one solution: let it burn. I couldn’t take out the burning log because, really, how safe is it to run through the the house with a burning log? Instead, I grabbed my ShopVac and reversed the hose on it so that it would blow air out of the hose and suck in at the vacuum. I jammed the intake as close to the woodstove as I could and ran the hose out of the window, which was fortunately close enough. For five hours the vacuum ran, pulling out some, but not all, of the smoke. The smoke it couldn’t get floated upstairs making the rooms hazy and unpleasant to be in We went outside to get away from it. I checked in on how things were doing periodically and, remarkably, heard the smoke detectors finally sound the alarm when the rooms were so full of smoke one practically had to feel their way across them. (Yet try and bake a potato in the oven. The alarm seems to have a hair trigger then.)

The fire finally burned itself out, the smoke cleared and things returned more or less to normal. Upon further investigation, it turns out that basement woodstoves with an external chimney pipe are just about the most difficult ones to use. They suffer from pressure differentials between the upstairs and downstairs, making drafting difficult and the stove pipe, being outside, cools down faster than normal, also making drafting difficult. Equally difficult is the re-warming of the pipes and the possibility of downdrafting when temperatures fall quickly is also present. But that’s okay – I’ll fix it. Leaving a window cracked a bit will help with the drafting. Adding a direct cold-air vent to the stove will help greatly. I’m not sure if such a thing exists for our stove or if I will have to make one, but installing one is the plan. Adding another section of pipe to the chimney’s top will add to the drafting and using a tiger torch, that wand of propane and flame, will help get the heat back in the pipe so that we can finally have a fire again.

Making sure the bottom doesn’t fall off of the chimney again, however, will be of the greatest help.

Hi! I’m back!

I’m supposed to be sanding and mudding drywall right now. Last week, Jenn and I finally started doing something about our half-finished living room. In anticipation of the upcoming work we packed up books, took down pictures and moved furniture. Our couches – all three of them – are now in a heap outside our front door; they resemble the jams of ice that occur in rivers in the spring. To make the moving of them easier, I cut the largest of them in half with a circular saw: I went up one side and down the other, the teeth of the saw clipping staples and chewing through the leather. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with cutting up your old, dog-chewed furniture. There is also a certain satisfaction that comes with the prospect of a newly redecorated room and the promise of new, respectable furnishings so why can’t I find it in me to walk the dozen or so feet into the other room and get to work?

I would like to say that my lack of posting recently is because nothing of note has happened. This is untrue, of course. In fact, it is precisely because of all that has been going on that has led to my forced hiatus.

It is now the beginning of December and our furnace has yet to come on. Although this sounds like what might be the beginnings of another post related to the shortcomings of our house I am pleased to say it is not. Our furnace hasn’t come on because we’ve had the woodstove going full bore. I am so happy to have that thing working again that I think I have already burned two cords of wood. Smoke billows out of our chimney like a ship leaving port. The stove has even been inspected, approved and insured.

The difference that the stove has made in the house is incredible. Not only are the floors warm because it is in the basement, but for the first time since we have lived here, we do not have water in the basement. The stove has made sure of that. My one complaint is that the living room, being so cut off from the rest of the house by a poor design – narrow hallway and two opposing ninety degree corners, one left then right – is colder than normal because of poor air circulation. However, it is nothing a hole in the floor can’t fix.

Much of the wood for the stove will come from our property. We have been hit unusually hard by spruce budworm for the past several years and with the high winds we seem to get every spring and fall, there are a great many trees down in the bush. One area looks like a logging operation, mid-cut. If I had to guess, there are over fifty trees down in an area that can’t be more than two acres.

In getting the woodstove working again though, I have made more work for us. Now we need wood. Wood that needs to be felled (or at least) cut, split and stacked and where am I going to stack all of this wood? Well, I guess I need a woodshed. One that I haven’t built yet. I would like to have one put together before the real snow comes, but if I were honest with myself, I would just accept the fact that it’s not likely going to get done until the spring. I will just have to put up with snow-covered wood for this winter, a major pet peeve of mine.

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Dogs in the truck.  Stay, dogs, stay.

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Dogs on the trail.  Go, dogs, go.

The dogs have been doing amazingly well. We have been training for almost two months now and have split our dogs into two teams: the A team and the B team. Naturally. The A team is one hard-driving, fast moving, never-say-quit bunch of dogs that are a pleasure to run. The B team consists of some of our older dogs, four dogs belonging to a friend and a two year old that needed a bit of extra work. They, too, are a pleasure to run but for different reasons. Both teams are reliable and good natured and they have given me a lot of confidence in them already.

We are all anxious for snow around here. We thought we’d received our first snowfall a week ago, but the recent warming that brought rain with it pretty much killed that idea. Now with temperatures falling again, we are expecting a lot of ice to form on the ground where the water has collected. This will make training difficult until a suitable base of snow forms. We rely on the dogs to start the fourwheeler: we leave it in neutral and then pop it into gear when they start pulling, very much like starting a standard car with a dead battery. The last training run, however, had just enough snow to make the tires of the fourwheeler skid instead of catch on the gravel so I had to run the team with no engine. The problem with this is that the team is strong enough to pull our fourwheeler faster than what we aim for as our top speed but more importantly, I had no brakes. Our actual brakes are broken. They don’t work at all. Never have. What we do when the engine runs is to use the gears of the fourwheeler to control our speed: the higher the gear, the easier it is to pull and the faster we go. When we need to slow down, we just gear down, making sure we’ve counted properly and don’t accidentally shift into neutral. Not so this past run. I was at the mercy of the dogs and trying not to let them know it. We flew down the trail in neutral, swerving around corners with the fourwheeler going sideways at times. My only lucky break was that I could shift into first gear on the downhills and the tires would lock up, so the dogs would have to actually pull the fourwheeler downhill, rather than just running full out and gaining momentum in the process.

And that’s how things have been around here. I really ought to get sanding…

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Being chased by puppies

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Hunter and Action