A people trap, operated by a mouse.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIf I am to be honest, I would tell you that I was not looking forward to Disney World.  In fact, I was kind of dreading it.  But, if anyone looked my way, I pretended to be excited – I mean, I’m not a jerk – I didn’t want to spoil the excited anticipation or the experience for Jenn or Hunter, but, really, who wants to go into an over-priced, over-hyped and overrun amusement park?

Besides, I never was a big fan of Disney.  I remember as a kid preferring the Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies cartoons over the vanilla pap that Disney seemed to ladle out.  Of course I watched them – any port in a storm, right? – but what sensible kid would choose preachy, dialogue-laden cartoons and movies over the slapstick hijinks of falling anvils, Acme electromagnets and shotguns that can be plugged with a finger?  Disney’s outlook on life, the one where all the animals get along and everything can be fixed with a song, was not one I believed in, nor wanted any part of.  False and overly sweet, it turned me off as a kid.  Imagine all that Utopian treacle smacking you in the face.  Under the hot Florida sun.  Amid a mob of Mickey-eared tots all sticky from candy.  After you have just forked over the equivalent of a third-world goatherd’s yearly income – each – to get in (which isn’t enough expenditure: the rumours are true – every ride, every show, every exhibit exits you into a gift shop.) Oh, I was just shaking with excitement.

Walt Disney began to set up shop on his chunk of Florida real estate by using a host of dummy companies to purchase land,  disguising some of them as ranching firms.  That nobody caught on to what was happening is somewhat amazing considering much of the land was deemed swamp.  What would a ranching company want with swamp?  It seems like a good way to lose your herd.  And the mineral rights.  The ‘ranching companies’ also bought up the mineral rights.  For $15,000.  Swamp ranching or not, something sneaky was going down.  Nobody noticed or, if they did, nobody said anything and now that chunk of Florida swampland makes 36 billion dollars a year. Far more than ranching and mineral rights combined could have.

Paved over and built up, Walt Disney turned swamp into a dream and now, here we were only one more shuttle bus stop from walking into probably the best-known, most recognized theme park the world has ever known.  Once out of the bus, I looked around the parking lot.  Bus after bus was disgorging tourists already glitzed and glammed as their favourite character.  And these were the adults!  There were all sorts of Princesses, a few Mickeys, a Minnie or two.  I even thought I spotted a Geppetto, but he just turned out to be an old man.  For the most part, the kids were still too tired or under threat of not seeing Mickey to misbehave this early on but, as we made our way to the ticket booth, there was that one family with the three kids running five different directions.  The fact that they were being yelled at was certainly furthermost from the minds of the kids, but that didn’t stop the dad.  He yelled louder which, it seeemed, suggested to the kids that if he was going to yell like that, they’d be able to hear him all the way over…THERE!  They took off into the growing crowd.  I expected the headlines in the next day’s paper to read: “Near Tragedy at Disney: Three Kids Just About Strangled.”  All of this and the sun was barely up.

Standing amid a steadily growing crowd is not one of my preferred activities, so imagine my delight, when out of a prop Victorian-style house pile the dancers.  I know they are dancers because nobody else runs like that. The men are wearing straw boater hats and gingham vests, the women are in gingham dresses and bonnets.  They are here to open the park by singing and dancing to Good Morning, Good Morning.  I try to get a look under the façade of makeup – are they really happy under there?  Is their smile a pasted-on, vaseline-on-the-teeth one or is it genuine?  Which ones are otherwise failed dancers/actors and which ones have aspired to this position.  Does anyone aspire to this?  How many are just trying to put themselves through post secondary school to get a real job?  And then I wonder if they sit around at night, perhaps in a bar, complaining about the day, the job or their peers.

-“Pfft!  Did you see Brandy out there today?  Who does she think she is with leg kicks like that?  She needs a pole if she‘s going to dance like that!”
-“I know, right!  And did you see that guy in the crowd this morning?  He wasn’t even smiling!” And then, to the server: “Oh, Miss! Another round of Shirley Temples, please.”

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Hunter sure loved spinning the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. And Jenn nearly threw up. Once on the first ride and once on the second.

But this made me wonder – Disney must have some pretty strict rules by which staff have to abide.  Like the perpetual reference to park goers as “guests” and themselves as “cast members”.  Or the irritating two finger or whole-hand point when giving directions.  Or the swooping motion they make when they pick up stray litter: no stooping, just one fluid motion.  Probably in the official rulebook is a dresscode, too.  A code that dictates how long your hair can be (shoulder length for women) or your sideburns (no lower than the earlobe.  I‘m assuming this is for the men).  Even standing at your booth/concession stand is likely regulated.  No hands in pockets: only at your sides or behind your back.  (All are, in fact, Disney rules.)

None of that mattered now, though.  The park was open and people were funneling though the gates like cattle being loaded into trucks.  I hung back a bit, just in case.  Once inside though, the park opened up and it was, dare I say, not the least bit crowded.  We made our way to the Tomorrowland section of the park because Jenn wanted to get on Space Mountain early.  No long lines for her.  Space Mountain is the only ride I can recall from my trip to Disneyworld way back in grade six, so it must’ve been a good ride.  The sign at the entrance said it was out of commission for part of the morning – probably something about a missing section of track or something – so we decided to duck into a fairly calm and sedate-seeming animatronic show featuring Stitch from Lilo and Stitch fame.  Briefly, for those not entirely familiar with Stitch: he’s an alien.  A mean and strange one but with a fondness for a little girl (Lilo) who herself doesn’t exactly colour in the lines.  Together, they make an odd pair.  The animatronic show was about escapee aliens and how the audience was supposed to be new recruits going through an indoctrination for their first shift at the galactic police station.  It was very realistic if you were a kid and wanted to believe.  Even before we entered the actual theater, a little boy was crying at the seriousness of it all.  I looked at Jenn as if to say “Who brought little Bradley the Bawler?” and she just gave me a smug look back “I know, eh?  Some people’s kids.”  Finally inside the theater, we all sit around the teleportation tube in the center of the room.  Beside me is Bawlin’ Brad.  The theater goes dark and Stitch, a high-security risk has escaped and is on the loose.  LOOKOUT! a big puff of smoke and there he is, glaring at the audience.  Screams from every corner of the theater.  Some even very close to me.

In the movie, laser cannons are trained on Stitch’s DNA so that if he tries to escape, they would just shoot him.  Smart alien that he his, though, Stitch spits and the cannon blasts his saliva while he makes his escape.  In the theater now, there are red ‘lasers’ shooting and ‘pew, pew-ing” all over the place and some of them are pointing at people in the audience.  Bradley beside me is terrified but when the water jet, meant to mimic the spit of Stitch, hits Bradley – and I couldn’t make this up – right between the eyes, he can’t take anymore.  He is escorted out of the show.  Now with his terrified screams gone, I can hear others.  Closer.  Like, beside me closer.  Hunter, the Vampire Diaries, Walking Dead watcher, is cowering in her seat pleading to be taken out.  Jenn and I can’t help her because we are too busy laughing at the absurdity of the situation.  Which, for Hunter, only makes it worse.  When the show finally ended, we tried to avoid the smug, judgemental glances that were our due as we exited the theater.

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The Queen of Hearts. Quite an imposing lady.

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Mickey and Minnie – in case you were wondering who these characters might be.

It wasn’t until after lunch that we tried Space Mountain again.  We had eaten close to the ride and, given the time of day, figured we’d have enough time to digest our lunch before the ride so we strode over to stand in line.  “From here, your wait is an hour and a half” the sign said.  People were standing just past the sign, so we stood behind them.  Great.  An hour and half of standing in line.  This was the Disneyworld I was expecting.

A bright flash of light went off just ahead of the people in front of us and then we started to move.  We had been waiting for someone to take a picture.  The line didn’t start til way up ahead.  We passed the 45 minute sign, the 30 minute sign and the 15 minute sign.  We were going to be the third car out, starting…NOW! The passengers screams disappeared down the passageway as the coaster car shot around the corner.

Settled in our seats, Jenn and Hunter beside one another and me alone behind, I reach around to give Hunter a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.  I can’t find her.  My hand takes in the situation: the shoulder restraint designed to keep passengers in is on either side of Hunter’s body.  Her head barely makes it above the restraint.  Outwardly, I say, as I squeeze “This is going to be so much fun!” and inwardly, “What have we done?  This can only end badly!”  I want to ask the cast member if there aren’t some pillows we can stuff around her wee body but we are suddenly propelled out of the space dock and into the terrifying darkness of space.  My hand won’t leave Hunter’s shoulder.  I try to pull it off, but I can’t.  It’s locked in place by some paternal protective mechanism.  I don’t know if Jenn is holding her or not, but I’m not about to let go.  We zoom up hills and plummet down their other side.  I swear I can feel Hunter sliding between the shoulder restraints.  Another upward swoop and then the bottom falls out of the coaster and we dive down again.  Please, god, end this ride now!  It feels like we’ve been to Mars and back by the time the coaster glides into the dock at the end of the ride.  We are all intact and accounted for, although judging by the looks on our faces in the pictures they took during the ride, we all had our doubts.  The walk out of Space Mountain was long enough that we emerged into the sunny and hot Florida afternoon jitter-free.  It was a beautiful day, we were on vacation – our first ever – and dammit, as much as I hated to admit it, I was having fun.

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Making our way to the Parade of Lights, we stopped on a bridge to watch the castle change colours.

We ran all over that park.  Whirling on Mad Hatter tea cups and riding more sedate coasters.  We spied princesses from afar and toured the treasure-strewn wrecks of Caribbean pirates.  We drifted though a Small World and down jungle rivers fraught with peril at every turn.  Our day finally ended seated in front of Cinderella’s castle.  We had just watched the parade of lights go by, the stars were out and the fireworks were just about to start.  All evening long, from the various vantage points throughout the park, we watched the castle undergo its colour change.  It really was a striking landmark, made even moreso by the constantly changing lights that shone on it.  We sat in front of it as the fireworks exploded behind it, Hunter on my lap and Jenn leaning into me, and I thought that really, the day couldn’t have been better, even though we had spent it on some cheap swampland in Florida.

Catching up after a long absence

It has been a long time since I have been able to update the blog: we have no Internet service due to, I am told, tree leaves blocking our signal. The only solution is to get a fifty-foot tower to raise our receiver above the tree line. The problem is, you don’t just trip over those sorts of things in your daily travel. So I am going to have to update from my phone for the foreseeable future, which I’d rather not do for several reasons, not the least of which is the amount of data I’d use uploading photos. A lot of this sounds like First World problems, I know, so I’ll just have to suck it up, I guess.

Just briefly, by way of quick update, we returned from a ten-day vacation to Florida (Disney included) on the tenth of May. We had a fantastic time driving down and back, visiting Disneyworld and the beaches Florida has to offer. It was the first vacation Jenn and I have had since we were married almost ten(!) years ago.

We we’re only home for a week and a half and our chickens arrived. After taking the summer off from raising any animals last year, it’s nice to see them back again. We presently have fifty two meat birds, fifty un-sexed chickens that will be our layers (the roosters will be sold at a fall auction, I think). To be honest, I forget the type of chickens that they are, but all of them are Easter-eggers, which, if you remember from several years ago, are the ones that lay the coloured eggs.

We also have six turkeys. We had a dozen but Jenn sold half when when she couldn’t get a slaughter date for them closer to Thanksgiving.

And pigs; we are apparently getting pigs. I have resisted pigs for years because I don’t really enjoy thee smell or the mess they can turn your fields into. But Jenn assures me that these guys, a Tamworth/Berkshire cross don’t need a wallow and that they will be kept in a movable pen to help keep our fields trimmed. In the Fall, after our garden has been harvested, we will move them there to hopefully eat the leftover plants and weed roots. We let our garden grow in last year and it was a deplorable mess that took a long weekend to get ready for planting.

Boris, our newly acquired, retired sled dog had his eye removed shortly after our return from Florida. Don’t come to our place if you want to keep your eyes. He had been suffering from uveitis and a luxated lens. There was no repairing it and to keep it intact would have caused him discomfort. Happily, his surgery went well – we have recently found some amazing local vets – and he is now fully recovered and back to normal. Both Oly and Olive are also back to normal.

Here is a video I made a while back. Hopefully, it works being uploaded from the phone:

Bikejoring – like skijoring but with wheels.

If I’m not careful, this site will just become a video-blog. I am having a lot of fun with the new camera. I made another video of a bikejoring run we had with some friends. Incidentally, one of the dogs in the video is blind. See if you can find him.

The Journey

The winter (what winter?) has ended but that doesn’t necessarily mean running the dogs has. With our new GoPro camera, I managed to film a bikejoring run we had recently. There isn’t much to tell about it, other than the camera is amazing. Below is the video…

The First Annual(?) “Happy Hounds” Race

(this was originally to be published three weeks ago – I had trouble with the slideshow though, and had to wait. But, now, here it is…)

Last Saturday night as it neared midnight, I pulled the snowmachine into the shed and shut off the engine. I unhooked the piece of expanded metal that served as a trail groomer – satisfied, not impressed, with the job it did – and stood it up against the wall. As I turned to go in the house, my headlamp caught the beginning of the freshly groomed trail. It was smooth and flat. Temperatures were to drop to minus 17 overnight so I expected it would be good and firm by morning. It had to be: we were hosting a race. The idea of a race at our house was an absurd one. Firstly, because we only have .7 of a mile to race on and, secondly, because the racers were going to be almost all non-traditional breeds: Tibetan Mastiffs, Malinois, a Weimeraner and so on. But the number of people that had responded to the Facebook Event said otherwise. Jenn and I wondered if we would have enough room for all the cars that were going to show up.

For many of the racers, this would be their first race. Some had never even seen a dogsled race before. So, what’s the deal? Why are all these newbies coming out and why are we putting on a race? Well, it started like this: a friend of Jenn’s runs a dog training business and is involved in Ringsport, Agility, Dock Diving competitions and other sorts of high-energy dog sports. At first, her idea was to run her two Malinois dogs with us in our team as a way of exercising them and because she was interested in the sport. Then, a few of her students found out, or were encouraged to try, and so we set aside a few days last winter to introduce the people and their dogs to the sport. Jenn and I have noticed that there seems to be dwindling numbers in the mushing community; we have three friends who have ‘got out of dogs’ in the past year alone. In helping put on these pet-mushing days, Jenn and I were hoping to attract more people to the sport or hobby or lifestyle. More interest means more chances of races, more trail access, better public perception and a bigger community to connect with. Plus, we started out with pet dogs too, and we know the amount of knowledge needed at the outset is great. If we could help someone get their dog to pull properly and safely and avoid the inevitable frustrations, then it would be a success for all involved. We all gravitated to this sport for the same reason: we love to have fun with our dogs.

Once a month this year, there was a dogsledding day where these people could attend. The format had us provide the team and run the dogs, and the pet owner was able to put their dog in our team and ride along to watch how their dog did. We would only go short distances of about a kilometer or so and then there would be a switch: new dog, new owner. As the season progressed, so did the pets. It wasn’t long before some of the owners were asking questions about racing. Jenn told them of the Novice races available at some of the races we go to and encouraged them to attend. Many of them seemed pretty excited. But, the winter being what it was this year, seventy percent of our races were cancelled, which included the Novice ones too. What were the excited pet owners to do? Race at our house I guess.

The schedule said the race – a two dog affair – started at 14:00 and that there would be a mandatory meeting for all mushers at 13:30 to explain the rules and the trail as well as to answer any last minute questions. Since this was a replacement for a Novice race, Jenn wanted to try and keep the format as close as possible to what really happens at a race so that if the people wanted to go and try a real race next year, there would be some familiarity with the procession of events. It is now Sunday morning. Eleven o’clock, to be exact and our first musher pulls in the driveway. Then our second and third right behind. By one, the driveway was full. People were kind enough to have brought pop, Tim Horton’s coffee (in a huge, can-you-help-me-lift-this? carafe) cookies, donuts and water. Although we had planned to have a large surface for the registration table, it soon got covered with food and drink. It had been decided that we would collect an entry fee which would be used as a donation to Bullies in Need, a charity/shelter/rescue that Jenn’s dog trainer friend works closely with.

Everything went pretty much according to schedule. The bib draw, the musher’s meeting, the race start. Jenn was the official starter and I was the official timer, so I was able to watch all the teams come across the finish line. It was great to see these two-dog teams, comprised of all sorts of breeds, come around the corner and cross the finish line. The looks on the faces of the mushers were a mix of having just run a marathon and summited Everest simultaneously. It seemed as though everyone was proud of their pets and of themselves, too. There were thirteen teams in the two-dog category and three in the in the one-dog. Everybody got a prize which were generously donated by a pet food store owner, friend and racer. The winner in both categories got a nice, new dog bed. In total, the race raised $320 for Bullies in Need and it gave a lot of new mushers the experience and encouragement to continue harnessing their pets. It was such a success and all involved had so much fun that Jenn and I have decided to organize – or help organize – a race as frequently as once a month, year ’round and as the seasons dictate: sledding, canicross/bikejoring, scootering so that we can all enjoy the sport with our dogs without having to rely on the weather.

Below is a slide show I put together of the people and their pets that attended the race. I am not happy with it because I couldn’t get the photos to show like I wanted, so there is a lot of movement in each shot. Also, I wanted some action shots of the racers but I didn’t have any. It’s not a great sludeshow but it ought to give some idea of the people and dogs that attended.

Another video of dog butts.

I’m still working on getting some photos uploaded to accompany a post I have waiting…

Until I do, here is a video I made of a recent run.  It’s not as exciting as I’d like because I have my camera in one hand and the sled in the other, so all I have is footage of a flat run – all the excitement happens off-camera when I need both hands for driving the sled.  I am hoping to save up enough spare money (does that exist?) to buy a GoPro camera that I can mount to my sled or my head.  Or somewhere else that allows me to film AND control the sled.

 

Apologies to those who have been checking this site for an update. It feels like months ago since my last post. It has been months since my last post – sheesh!

I am sitting in the parking lot of my work site, writing on my phone, so this won’t be long. I wanted to just let everyone know that I haven’t forgotten about this site and that I hope to update it this weekend with a proper post. In the meantime, here are some pictures from this winter to hopefully tide you over.

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