Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Taking Care Of "Business"

Ok, so now that I have introduced myself and you (my blog readers) and I are no longer strangers, let’s skip the courtesies and get into the nitty-gritty, the not so glamorous side of mushing. Hollywood epitomises sled dog mushing as a somewhat glamorous sport, but we all know there is a lot more to it than just standing on the runners and looking pretty while our brave and loyal companions bound through the snow, frolicking. When I was introduced to distance mushing last winter and we were beginning to up the miles and start spending much of the day on a sled, there was a rather insistent concern I had regarding logistics: how does one go to the bathroom? With a handler, the problem is much simpler – one person holds the brake and keeps an eye on the dogs, while the other goes and takes care of business. Sounds simple, right? Well, the other day I realised that despite the number of measures we take, the dogs always manage to catch us with our pants down… quite literally.
Take my run from a few days ago. Conditions were a little hairy – we had 4 inches of snow on the ground from the previous night which was just beginning to melt, and the road was SLICK. I had just amped up my team from 16 dogs to 18, and they were raring to go. I know the trail well and the turnaround at the end of the loop is not too technical, but preferring to take the safe route, I brought my handler, Dean, along with me for the ride, just in case I got myself into any awkward situations. Oh boy, did I ever. 

Cali and Sumo in lead
Cali is our new leader and at 3 years old she is just beginning to tap her potential. She shows a lot of promise, but generally we run our young leaders with a more experienced leader to show them the ropes. I had her running with Sumo, one of our Alaskan huskies, who tends to be a little… innovative... when it comes to taking directions on the trail. We approach our turn-around at the end of the loop and prepare to run up to the front of the string in case I need to deal with any ‘funny business’.  Sumo takes the corner nice and wide and the whole team completes the manoeuvre with a 10.0 score. Perfect - couldn’t be more proud of them...  I’m happy (and relieved!) with the result and of course I make a big deal out of this and the team is inundated with praise and affection before continuing our merry way down the trail. By this point we have been on the trail almost 2 hours and of course… well... nature calls. I call a “WHOA!” and stop the team – it’s a good chance for them to take a break for a few minutes and allow me to do what I need to do, and I have Dean there to keep an eye on them for me. No dramas. I choose my tree and make my way down the bank to assume the position. Just at that point, I hear Dean call out, and he’s saying something along the lines of, “Uh oh… uh oh!” I look up, and I see my team completing a perfect 180-degree turn in double file, led by Sumo with Cali trotting alongside because she simply doesn’t know any better. Not one disagreement, not one tangle – just my team lined out on the trail silently waiting for me to get up there and drive them forward… EXCEPT THEY’RE FACING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. Honestly, I could not replicate a more perfect about-face even if I tried, and I would never even DREAM of turning my 18 dog team around on such a narrow section of the trail unless I absolutely had to. I am still replaying this scene in my mind and shaking my head in disbelief. 
Heading out with 18

Now that my team has turned around perfectly, of course there’s no way I’m going to be able to replicate this again without any issues. Driving the ATV around is the easy part, and fortunately there is a clearing not too far down the road where I can improvise my own trail and get them back on the road, facing in the correct direction. With some creative driving and just a little ‘encouragement’ from myself and Dean, I get the team back on the road, facing in the correct direction, without any terrible snafus. 
Now, on top of all this… I still need to pee. So I march right to the front of the team, drop my pants and assume the position while staring my leaders right in the eyes. “You guys aren’t going ANYWHERE!”
Of course right at that moment a truck full of hunters comes around the bend…

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

G’day, everybody!
First-allow me to introduce myself… my name is Ashlin and I am a true-blue Aussie musher! Yep, all the way from Down Under. This is my second season of mushing/handling and I am absolutely thrilled to be involved in Quinault’s Run for the Red Lantern. Even though I spent all of last season training at a racing Siberian husky kennel in Minnesota, malamutes have always had a special place in my heart (and my home!) and I simply cannot wait to show the world how amazing these dogs really are. 

I met Twila last February at Race to the Sky held right here in Montana. I was handling for my musher for the 350 mile race and had heard rumours that there would be a working malamute team also competing. Of course I had to check this out for myself and went investigating; sure enough I found them. I mean, they’re malamutes – they’re a bit hard to miss! I really had to struggle to talk to Twila though – I had to fight my way through the masses of people who had come to pet and play with the dogs. I can’t exactly blame them though; puppy Gracie, Ozzy and Alanis were absolutely irresistible. In the end I think Twila found me, contentedly playing with the dogs amongst all the chaos. We didn’t get a lot of time to talk – preparing for a race is a stressful time for both mushers and handlers, and I didn’t want to neglect my duties for too long. Fortunately I ran into Twila again at the local bar and grill (where else!) and we hit it off almost instantly. Races are a lot of fun in that way; they give you a chance to meet new dog people and talk about dog people things. At a dog sled race almost everybody there is “the crazy person with all the dogs”, so we’re all on an even footing!

Anyway, at that point Twila invited me out to her kennel in Garrison, MT at the end of the season to attend Malapalooza. I had no idea what a ‘Malapalooza’ was (“Is that some weird American thing?”) but when she put it to me as a whole bunch of malamute people getting together to camp, run trails and train together, why WOULDN’T I go! So I made plans to road-trip out to Montana at the end of the season for Malapalooza, and of course had an absolute blast, met some amazing people and gathered an invaluable array of information. I had intended on spending two weeks out there… a month passed and I was totally disinclined to leave. Twila and I had become very good friends by that point and when she offered me a position at Quinault for the following season, I did not hesitate to snatch it up.
Me with Cass and Slayer at Malapalooza
Thus began my frenzy of returning home, finding a job so I could earn enough money to get me back to the USA, and fast-tracking my visa application to allow myself to get back to Montana ASAP. 3 months and 42 hours of planes and airports later, I made it back and nothing was going to stop me from hitting the trail – not even jet lag! 
I have been here 2 weeks now, and it’s been on the go since then. We have had our first ‘Learn to Mush’ camp for the season and I believe it was a huge success. It really is satisfying being able to help people understand and grasp the fundamentals of running their dogs – we were all in that position at some point and I know I would have LOVED to take advantage of the wisdom and invaluable experience of someone like Twila if I had the opportunity to do so. We have steadily been putting miles on our teams (weather cooperating) and focusing on our individual ‘one-on-one’ training sessions (weather not cooperating). The next few weeks are going to be very exciting with the arrival of the Eve x Boss litter due in the last week of October, our second Learn to Mush camp in early November followed by our Fall edition of Malapalooza, which I know will be equally as fun (if not more) than our previous one. We also have a few other exciting plans in the works to be revealed once the details have been ironed out.
Working with a leader prospect at my first Learn To Mush Camp
In the meantime, we have a lot of preparation to do before winter hits us. Twila insists that we are not ready for snow, but personally I can’t wait to get back on the runners of a sled! We are gearing up to do some tours in the Kalispell area, something I haven’t yet had a lot of experience with, but will be an invaluable (and essential!) opportunity to nurture our Run 4 the Red savings fund. Not only that, but it’s always fun to meet and talk with new people and have the chance to show off our beautiful Alaskan malamutes.
Running the main string!

I would love to hear some feedback from you, our loyal supporters! If you have any questions, please forward them on to me and I shall endeavour to address them in my next blog… I’ll be stuck for a topic otherwise!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Crazy Summer!!

So-what a crazy summer it has been! First of all, we moved. Yep, all dogs, goats, sheep, cows, horse, chickens, turkeys, ducks, goose, cats and humans. Our new place is not quite as far off the grid as the last place, but pretty close. Incredible trails here, and since the terrain is a little more level we have more options for running dogs.

One of our new trails runs along this waterway
Summer has been spent trying to get set up here; we put in a new dog yard, remodeled a cabin for the handlers, installed our own energy system with new solar inverter and batteries, and fenced off about 35 acres of pasture for our livestock. We put in a new chicken yard and coop, and we still need to build a barn.

Our New House

Interestingly enough, even though we are much closer to civilization at the new place, we have been having our first ever predator problems. A grizzly has been terrorizing the area chicken coops and finally made it over to our place. He carried off my favorite rooster before the guardian dogs got on him, but he has been taken care of now. We have a very active wolf pack nearby. Fish & Wildlife have been trying to trap one or two of the pack so they can collar them to track their movements. We've been told that the pack has pups this year, denned up about a mile from our house. We have seen a couple lone wolves but no pack sightings, winter will be better for wolf viewing.

Running the trails near our new home

We have a new guardian pup, an Akbash male named Simon. He is a cutie, and is living & sleeping with the chickens and piggies. Also joining our pack is a malamute puppy from Nancy Russell of Storm Kloud Kennels. He is out of our boy Havok so he is family too. He is supposed to have a name that begins with an “X” (thats how Nancy keeps track of litters), but I am not having a lot of luck finding an X name that I like. I discarded Xavier, Xan, Xander, and Xanadu-they just don’t fit him. If anyone has suggestions, please forward them along.

Simon and X Puppy resting in a kennel after a play session

The next big news is that we are going to run tours this winter! It has been many years since I have run tours, but we have to feed the doggies and put money into the Iditarod fund.  What better way to make a living than to run dogs?? 

More to come....I will try to keep up better this fall!!

Friday, April 27, 2012

End of April

Well another big chunk of time with no update. I’m afraid that this one will be relatively devoid of mushing material, as the last couple of weeks have been packed with plenty of other action.
Towards the beginning of the month, I spent a week at home in Chicago for family reasons, and as soon as I got back, Morgan and I took off for a few days of camping and hot springing, which was a pleasant surprise. Our friend Scott came up for a week to learn the lay of the land from Morgan, and then took on the ranch by himself so that we could get away. Even though it rained throughout our trip, we were both excited about the relaxing (and free!) vacation.
Once we got back, we managed to get in a few days of running the dogs. We ran teams of 16 on quads and got some good, slow miles on almost everyone in our yard. I’m starting to see how the increased level of control on quads plays into some pretty strenuous training for the dogs. Hopefully the high expectations we’ll be asking of them this off season will make a big difference once the snow starts sticking again.  
This past weekend, a friend and former employee of Twila’s came up to show Morgan and me the finer points of grooming the dogs. With Shandi’s help, we managed to groom nearly 30 dogs, which was quite a feat. I never knew how involved the process of grooming Malamutes was, much less an entire yard.
Since then, we’ve taken several days to prepare for two upcoming events here on the ranch. The first is a mushing boot camp with our friend Gery Allen, which is going to be put on by musher extraordinaire Jamie Nelson. I’ve gotten to hear quite a bit about Jamie and her expertise, so I’ll be looking forward to lots of learning while she’s here.
Immediately after boot camp will be Malapalooza: a chance for people from around the country (world, possibly?) to come together to run their Malamutes, share secrets and enjoy each other’s dogs and company. I’m not sure how many people will be on the ranch all at once -- latest number I got from Twila was around 20 --  but I’m sure the cabins will all be past capacity. It will be a different scene from the usual four person party up here.
On top of everything I’ve just covered, we’ve been adjusting to the barn morphing into a nursery. Almost all of our ewes have had their lambs, and three of our four goats have had their kids. In addition to the 20 or so adult stock in the barn, we now have over 20 young’ns running around, as well as the rescued Great Pyrenees that still remain. That’s a lot of energy happening under one roof right now.   
Hopefully that should catch you up to speed. I hope I’m caught up too; Jamie is arriving tomorrow evening, which is when the real work will begin. I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the babies (including more of the puppies, which I forgot to mention amidst all the other babble – they’re doing great, getting cuter and squirmier by the day). Until next time!
-          Peter 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Puppies and mud!!

Well, Kinky had her babies and they are finally ready for their blog debut. Presenting the Eagle Cap Extreme Litter: (da da dada daaaa)
Quinault's Bite Me "Tasty"

Quinault's Squeeze Me "Juicy"

Quinault's Lil Bit O' Feel Good "Floozy"

Quinault's Playing The Field "Hef"

Quinault's If Looks Could Kill "Slayer"

Quinault's Come To Papa "Cass"
And it is officially muddy season here at Quinault!! Check out our latest training run video:

Still getting some miles in, I love spring training. It is where you get to correct all the bad habits you let your team develop over the winter:-)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April Slide Show

 Hi all. Here are some pictures I've taken over the last couple days, just so you have some context with all the information that's being thrown at you.

Here's all of our expectant mothers, with one of our guardians, Zaire, in the middle.

This is the first stall of Pyrenees, the friendlier group. Originally there were five, but two were sent to homes and the puppy, Ivy, is out with our ewes. These two have a home lined up. 

Here's the second stall of Pyrenees. You can see that they're not as comfortable with me being in the stall with them yet (there's one hiding in the manger). Two of these dogs have a home, and three will probably be staying with us.  

Our three guardian dogs in the barn: Ivy, Dolly, and Zaire in front. Oh, and there's Wrinkles, who's always nosing his way into things. 

 Yesterday, Morgan and I went up the mountain to do some repair work on our snow cat, which broke down on the trail. Because of where the Bombie ended up, the only viable way we could get to it was by dog sled. We thought it was pretty fitting, and exciting, to have a true working team for the day, so I took some pictures.

Havok got to sit in the back seat of Morgan's truck for the drive up. 

Here's our setup for the excursion. 

Enrique and Rayon in lead - we hooked the team up to the Bombie while we worked. 

Finally, puppy picture. Morgan had trouble holding on to them because they were squirming so much. You can see a concerned Kinky in the background. 

      Hope you enjoyed the slide show!

           - Peter

Monday, April 2, 2012

Back to Blogging

Hi all! First, allow me to explain my hiatus.
            After working hard this winter, Morgan and I were able to take a week off and head to Salt Lake City to be with our friends. It was a fun week filled with concerts and movies and electrical heating and a lot of civilization.
Once we got back, it was time to say goodbye to Craig. Craig came here in October to work through our busiest time, and now that spring is upon us, he’s left to explore other things. Specifically, he’ll be exploring the entire west coast of the United States, as he’ll be hiking 2000+ miles from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. This is yet another leg on Craig’s Great Adventure, having spent two years teaching for the Peace Corps in Ghana before coming to work here on the ranch (you should know that Craig had never seen snow before mastering the art of mushing).  
Craig taught me more than I’ve been able to retain since I’ve gotten here, not least of which was our first meeting in which he showed me the intricacies of running a snow blower. We’ll miss his uncanny knack for solving our everyday ranch puzzles, his tendency to giggle at cat videos, his undeniable charisma whilst performing karaoke, and of course his constant sense of humor. Happy trails Craig.
Once we’d tearfully sent Craig on his way, it was time to host our first ever Learn to Mush Experience. Stacie, Drew, and Caryn came out for five days along with Stacie’s malamute, Jasmine, who was a working dog here once upon a time. We couldn’t have asked for a better trio to be our guinea pigs. Over the course of the week, they were involved with feeding and taking care of the dogs, one on one training, driving the team on quads and on sleds, and even helped out around the barn for a spell.  Through it all, they were good natured and enthusiastic, and I’d imagine all of us would be more than happy to host them for a repeat visit.
At the same time that Stacie, Drew, and Caryn were staying, we also had a different group of guests. Twila and her friend Luana Reed teamed up to rescue 30 Great Pyrenees from a farm that were at risk of being put down. Altogether we had 11 staying in our barn for a few nights, and now that 3 have been given to homes, we have eight left. One, a puppy, has already graduated to guardian dog status, and she’s been learning quickly from veterans Zaire and Dolly. I picked the name Ivy for her, since she stuck to the wall her first few days here. Now she runs up to us every morning, tail wagging. We’re hoping for similar results from the other Pyrs: they all came to us deathly afraid of strangers and certainly confused with their sudden change in environment.  
As an extra bonus, Kinky had her litter of puppies while our guests were here! Ever gifted with her timing, Kinky went into labor on Friday evening, and by late Saturday night we had three big boys and three big girls. They’re now two days old, and as soon as I’m done writing I’ll be helping Twila assign their names (pictures are sure to follow). Mom is doing great, and her pups are all strong and wiggly.
So, with all that explained, I hope you’ll forgive me for my break from blogging. Until next time! (Which should be much sooner.)
-          Peter 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Malapaloosa 2012!!

Montana Malapaloosa Information and Registration 

Malapaloosa is a 7 day recreational dry land mushing event focused on Alaskan Malamutes and other large breed purebred teams such as Canadian Inuit Dogs.  This is a camping trip so you need to bring everything you would need to have to camp with your dogs. It is very important to note that this event is for fun and is NOT a competitive event.   This is a “dry land” training event so you will need a cart or quad.  Some loaners may be available.  
We have fantastic well water available, as well as tent sites and a dry cabin for sharing.  There is an outhouse and we will rent a porta-potty, but shower facilities are not provided. Showers are available nearby.
Malamute Teams Working Side By Side

Team size is not important.  Anything from a 2–dog team to an 18-dog team has enjoyed Malapaloosa.    This year we will begin on Monday 5/7 through Sunday 5/13. You can come for any part of this week, but I expect the majority will show up mid-week through the weekend. 
Some teams from Malapaloosa 2011

We will provide one big celebratory barbecue on Saturday, May 12th, featuring our home raised lamb stew & slow roasted pork, as well as assorted side dishes. The rest of the meals will be either pot-luck or on your own. 

This is also a fund raising event for the Run For The Red Lantern 2014 Iditarod Team. As such we are asking for a donation towards the team fund, on top of the mandatory registration fee of $100 to cover the costs associated with hosting this event. Donating (beyond the registration fee) is TOTALLY optional and will not be mentioned again!!

Payment must be submitted with registration:

  • Registration cost $100 per team .   You are 1 team if you are a pair of people/family attending together & you share a group of dogs that usually run together and sometimes run on separate teams.  You are 2 or more teams if you are 2 or more people attending together and each person drives their own dog team.  
  • Bring a little cash to pitch in for food and supplies. This should be minimal as we are doing meals “pot luck”.  Food costs will be decided between camp participants.
  • Depending on the size of the teams and the size of vehicles, participation may need to be limited.
  • Please make sure your dogs are current on vaccinations, and do not bring any sick dogs (or humans:-)
  • Please use paypal under account You do not need a paypal account-you can use your credit or debit card without signing up for paypal.
  • You will receive a confirmation email, directions and list of supplies upon registration. I will also hook everyone up via an email chat group so you can talk amongst yourselves regarding the pot luck and food prep, carpooling, loaner carts, etc.

Don’t delay!  The deadline for registration and payment is 4/15/12. Registration is subject to approval by camp host.

Please register via email to and include the following information:

Name(s) of participants, Email, Phone (home & cell), Number of adults & children over age 12 , Number of children under age 12, Number of teams, Breed of dogs, Total number of dogs you are bringing, Any dog aggression issues that you may have with your team (please, this camp is not appropriate for dogs that are aggressive to humans), Type & size of vehicle, What are your camping arrangements?   Tent   camper   share dry cabin    other

Friday, March 16, 2012

Where We Live-a Photoblog

Powell Mountain
We live in a beautiful place. This view is what made us build on the side of a mountain-probably not the easiest place to live but.....
Our Mountain Home
Here is a picture of the cabin we live in. We have an odd style; part shed, part industrial, part modern, part rustic. There are so many log homes in Montana that we wanted something a little different.
1 bedroom/1 bath, all of 600 square feet. Tiny but it fits us for now. Eventually it will be our guest house, when we are able to build our main home just to the east of this site. To see drawings of our upcoming home, click the link below:
Standing on the deck of the cabin above-below are the views that you see each season. I could look at it forever, in fact, I plan to:-)



Below are some pictures of our dogyard-always a work in progress. Last year we added some shade shelters-even though our weather in summer averages 70 degrees, the sun is so intense that we have to put sunscreen on the dogs!! Our plan for this summer is to put in even more shade.

Our dogyard in summer-from the top of Baldy Mountain

Top tier of our 3 tiered dogyard

The poultry have it made too, a secure winter pen of about 1/2 acre, free-range on unlimited acreage in the spring through fall, 2 full time guardian dogs to protect them from our many predators.

Our poultry coop-from the back of our cabin

Sights you may see on the way up to our house. Our road is not for the faint of heart-especially in the winter:-)

It sometimes takes us over an hour to get the 9 miles down our road to the highway.  The up-side? We know our "true" friends, they are the ones that have actually made it out here to visit us....and then chose to come back even after driving our road. :-)