Monday, July 28, 2008

Trip to the North Slope

On Saturday the 26th I was one of 110 people fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to the North Slope to visit ConocoPhillips' Kuparuk River Unit. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, because the tickets for this trip are drawn lottery-style. Matt didn't actually win the tickets, but his friend Maria did. Both Matt and Maria were going to be on the Slope over the weekend, so Maria gave one of her tickets to her husband and the other one to me. I wasn't really sure what to expect out of this trip, but I'll say that I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

I had an early check-in at the Shared Services desk (the airline that services BP and ConocoPhillips). To be parked at the airport and checking in at 7:30 was brutal for me, but I managed to do it. I snagged a Starbucks before boarding the plane, but little did I know that unlike today's commercial flights, I'd be treated like royalty on this plane. Shortly after takeoff, the super-friendly stewardesses came by and gave us all cinnamon rolls that were the size of my HAND. I kid you not. Yes, I scarfed it down in record time. We also had coffee. Yum.

About 45 minutes into the flight, the captain came on and informed us that we were about to pass Denali. Sure enough, I looked out the plane and saw THE mountain to my left. The pilot did a fly-by for each side of the plane so we could all see it. It was an absolutely incredible sight. Only the top 2000 ft. or so were visible, but it was stunning nonetheless.

Denali from my seat in the plane

I was content to doze off after our mountain sighting. Another half-hour later, the pilot let us know that the pipeline and the Dalton Highway were visible below us, and we descended to about 3000 ft. to fly over them and sight-see. Incredible! We were near Galbraith at the time.

Pretty soon we were on the ground and were deplaning and loading a bus to ride to the camp. When we entered the camp, I saw Matt's friend Maria greeting passengers. I poked my head to the right of the line and saw Matt waiting for me. Score! I had a tour guide. After a short safety meeting, the rest of the passengers went with an official ConocoPhillips tour guide but Maria's husband (Matt) and I went with Maria and my Matt for our own personal tours.

The first order of business was to grab a hard hat, some goggles, ear protection, and to be fitted with a Nomex suit. Dead sexy, I tell you. Then we headed out to one of the drilling rig camps to grab some lunch. All free, of course. After we stuffed ourselves, we drove to the drilling rig and watched as some of the workers pulled pipe. The rig foreman gave us a tour of the drilling rig from top to bottom. I saw where the drilling mud is made, mixed, and distributed. We ventured onto the platform where work was going on. Scary!! Huge equipment and very heavy, loud, and quick-moving. A dangerous job, for sure, if you're not light on your feet.

Standing on the rig looking upward at the pipe

Coming down off the rig. Look at the tundra behind me - how pristine! They are SUPER careful and there are so many regulations......the area looks virtually untouched.

Under the rig. The thing is moveable!! HUGE tires. Supporting 11.75 MILLION pounds!

After we finished visiting the rig, we headed over to the Seawater Treatment Plant (known as STP.) As we pulled up, Maria warned us that polar bears were frequently seen in the vicinity. In fact, the STP has a CAGE in front of the door to the building. The cage stays shut and when you walk out of the building, you're supposed to check for bears before opening the cage. I kid you not. There was actually a polar bear at STP shortly after we left!!

We toured the annals of the STP and learned how the water is treated and is used in oil recovery. It's as cold as 28 degrees when it enters the plant in the winter time! Of course, there is always driftwood and debris present, so the water has to be filtered. Some funny little prehistoric-looking critters called amphipods also get screened out. I picked one up to snack on. Yes, it was alive. No, I didn't really eat it. It was just my own "Man vs. Wild" moment.

Mmm, tasty snack. Lots of valuable protein.

Matt and Me in front of the Arctic Ocean

After the STP tour, we headed back to camp for a snack and a tour of the camp. Working there would be a pretty sweet deal if you could stand the hours!!

We boarded the plane at 4:30 and headed back to Anchorage. I didn't take any photos on the way back. In fact, I slept most of the way. But ConocoPhillips was generous enough to provide an evening snack and free adult beverages on the flight. I did wake up enough to fix myself (and drink) a Crown and Coke. Yum.

All in all, it was a delightful day! I was so very impressed with Conoco. The wildlife is alive and well. Caribou are abundant. Geese are everywhere. Wildlife has the right-of-way and cannot be harrassed (or hazed, as they call it). Yes, we did have to sit in the truck to wait for a gaggle of geese to cross the road. Annoying but necessary.

I say THUMBS UP for the Gas line!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Depressing Weather and a blurb about Balu

Ok folks, get ready for some depressing news. This is the coldest summer that Alaska has had in a good, long time. I'm talking, cloudy, overcast days with highs in the 50's. This morning it was 48 when I woke up. Hello? July, anyone??

I knew things were getting bad (and I wasn't imagining it) when the Anchorage Daily News posted this:

Yep, they confirmed what I suspected. 2008 may be the year that summer never arrived. The dogs love it, but I gotta say, it makes for an awfully nasty, messy dog yard. The amount of mud that we have out there is insane. We will be putting gravel down in the yard this fall, and the sooner the better!

Tomorrow I head north to Kuparuk for a tour of the North Slope drilling grounds. I won a ticket and I'm pretty excited! I will be sure to take photos while I am there (and on the way, if it's clear and I can see anything out of the plane. Supposedly we fly right past Denali.)

In the meanwhile, I'll entertain you with a little bit of history on Balu.


Curled up for a nap on anything he can find

Balu doesn't really have red eyes. He has blue eyes, but it's dang near impossible to get a good photograph of him because the flash always gives him red-eye. Oh well, use your imagination :)

Balu came to me from Eric Rogers of R Northbound Dogs. He is the most senior dog in our sled dog menagerie, at the ripe old age of nine. Balu ran the 2006 Iditarod with Eric but was dropped in Ruby due to a lack of drive. Thanks to the quick thinking and superb care of my friend Bonnie (who housed Balu as a dropped dog), Balu made a trip to the vet and was saved. He actually had an undiagnosed stomach ulcer that developed while he was on the trail. Without Bonnie's help, Balu surely would not be with us today. Balu also started the 2007 Iditarod with Eric, but Eric scratched due to several broken bones. After coming home from the race, Balu retired to live with us at Lagniappe Kennel.

Balu has bloodlines that trace back to Gareth Wright's Pluto, to whom he bears much resemblance. He obviously has some sprinty hound in his background, with a lighter build and flop ears, but make no mistake -- Balu is still quite a large dog weighing in at about 65 lb. He can run anywhere in our team but spends most of his time running in lead. He is a trained command leader but is not stubborn enough to impose his will on an unruly leader-in-training. Truthfully, Balu is easily distracted from going the way you tell him to, and if the other dog wants to go a different direction, all bets are off! I am encouraging Balu to think more on his own this year, as I plan to run him without a leader neckline, forcing him to listen and follow the other leader's example (usually Zed's) less.

Balu has one of the nicest personalities of all of our sled dogs. He was an excellent puppy-sitter for File' and had a ton of patience with her. He even allowed her to sleep with him in his dog house. He can be a bit of a tyrant, though, to younger males, as he is the only loose sled dog in our yard, and is not hesitant to give any other dogs a piece of his mind. Albeit, quietly. :) Just a lot of "barking" -- in quotes because Balu is debarked. It's more like a clacking of teeth.

So, farewell until I return from Kuparuk!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting Ready for Fall and a blurb on Skiff

I can't believe that July is a little more than halfway over. Know what that means? It means that August is just around the corner -- and with that comes the advent of cart training with the ATV. Yikes! Didn't the snow just melt??

Obviously it's time to start thinking about chores that need to be wrapped up before ATV training starts. With our little kennel now having nine sled dogs, the option of transporting everyone in the Land Cruiser is obviously going to be nixed now. 5 dogs was manageable (if not a bit hairy at times, literally) but nine is just absolutely out of the question. Matt and I had been mulling over our options for months when, as is prone to happen, a solution seemingly presented itself. His friend happened to be selling a 1998 Dodge Dakota with 170K miles on it. At the same time, I noticed an ad for a killer deal on a 10-hole dog box and trailer with harnesses and two sleds on Craigslist. Needless to say, in short order we had a "new" dog truck and trailer and all of the extra goodies that came with them. The 10-hole dog box was actually not something that we needed to keep, because it was designed to be mounted either on a trailer (which is how it arrived) or on the bed of a full sized truck. The Dakota is a compact, so the measurements didn't work out. It just so happened that Bonnie and Jim were looking for a new dog box at the same time -- so, to make a long story short, they now are the proud owners of the 10-hole box and we kept the trailer, which is the perfect size for toting my ATV! Our other friends were selling a 6-hole dog box designed for a compact pickup. You can probably guess what happened -- we now own it. So, score one dog truck, one dog box, one trailer, a passel of harnesses, and a child's sprint sled that I gave to Eric for his grand kids. The 6-hole dog box needs to be stripped and repainted (help this weekend, anyone?) and needs to have a level of 3 boxes added on one side. I'm exhausted already and the work hasn't even begun! I will post photos of the "new" truck and trailer and box as soon as I can.

In other news, I've decided to put up some blurbs here and there regarding the dogs in our kennel. I selected Skiff (the newbie) for my first post. Let me know if you like the idea of finding out more about the fur-kids (feedback is always welcome!)


Silly Skiff Barking at the Camera

Skiff is a 2 y.o. spayed female from Jon and Bree Little of Kasilof, AK. She was the result of a cross between Jon's "Kit" and Mitch Seavey's "Ice Man". She has some pretty old and well-known bloodlines. Check out her pedigree below:

Skiff's mom, Kit, still lives with Jon and Bree. Here's what they have to say about Kit:

A very fast, very durable team dog. She is large and leggy for a female. Her dad, Lobo, did well for Charlie Boulding. Her mom led Dave Scheer to a 12th place finish in 1996. A busybody, she's got a lot of energy. She was an awesome part of the team in the 2004 Kusko, but that was her last race. She's loose 24/7, patrolling the yard.

Read more about Jon Little's kennel at or on his blog

I see a lot of these attributes in Skiff already, and I haven't even had her in harness yet. She is long and lean and is constantly in motion in the dog yard. She's not shy about vocalizing to me, but she's not annoyingly talkative. One of her favorite things to do is to nibble on my nose when I lean over to pet her. I gotta say, I don't mind. There are worse things she could be doing :)

I really look forward to seeing what this gal has to offer this year. I expect her to be a cheerleader and eager to get to work!

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Discovery Channel Show on Iditarod

I saw this today in my iGoogle list for "Iditarod" --

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Iditarod Picnic and File's First Run

On June 28th, Bonnie and I decided to head to Wasilla's Iditarod Headquarters to be present at the 2009 Iditarod signup. It was a nice day, if not a little bit on the cool side. There was to be an ITC Board of Directors meeting earlier in the day and a picnic beginning at 12. I think we showed up around 10:00. I didn't get to take any photos because my camera battery decided to die...but Bonnie snapped one of me holding a stuffed husky and the 2008 Iditarod book in front of the Iditarod sign.

We did get to visit with several familiar mushers while at the meeting -- Ed Stielstra was up from Michigan to sign up yet again. His new handler Tim Riley also accompanied him and will be running his puppy team. Keep an eye out for both of these guys. I became a huge Stielstra fan after meeting Ed last year at Bonnie's open house. You couldn't encounter a more down-to-earth, laid back guy with a great sense of humor!

I also had a while to chat with Becca Moore, Ramey Smyth's significant other. I had never met Becca before but I have been an admirer since she signed up for the Yukon Quest last year. Talk about nice -- Becca is also super-friendly! And a real knockout, too. We need more pretty girl mushers :)

Well enough about that. Last weekend (July 5th) we decided to finally take the puppies out for their first fun free-run of the season. This meant that we'd be on the ATV and the pups would be running with us loose. The first run consisted of "my" group -- Clover, Balu and File', doing the 2 mile loop. I was going to be riding ahead of my dogs on the ATV and Bonnie and Jim would be bringing up the rear to catch any stragglers. Needless to say, Miss Clover knew exactly what was going on and as soon as I cranked up the ATV and headed for the trail, she was off like a shot, running flat out. It was all I could do to keep up with her! She was running 20 mph for about a mile and a half...and so was Balu and so was File! This just blew me away. File' has never run in her life, and here she is running 20 mph for nearly 2 miles. She did slow down toward the end and take a few breaks, but she'd get mad that she was getting left behind and would shift back into a gallop after a few strides trotting. I could be wrong, but I think this gal has the makings of a leader...she seriously wanted to be in the front.

Bonnie and Jim ran their puppies, Tasso and Boudreaux, as well as their mother DeeDee and their gay uncle, Nero :) This was a bit funny. The puppies were all over the trail, harrassing each-other to no end. DeeDee wasn't interested in running that fast, and Nero got separated from them and ended up being the only dog running behind their ATV. I followed Nero, who jogged down the trail at his own speed. We coined a new name for him -- The Cuban Caboose -- because Nero has a huge butt and it was the funniest thing watching him sashay!

We should be heading out for another run soon. This time I might venture to try Zed and Calvin......and that may or may not be a recipe for disaster. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is Summer Here?

Finally yesterday we had a really nice afternoon. It was sunny, if not a little on the cool side, and it was the perfect time to take a walk with a frisky dog. Naturally (ha!) I chose Indi to accompany me. No, really, I picked Indi because I thought it would be a good idea to work with him on recalls. He's not likely to be a serious sled dog for too much longer, so he needs to have at least some basic manners. Hiking with him off-lead would be a nice activity to work on, so I decided to start by schooling him on a flexi-leash.

We drove to the Beach Lake trails parking lot and parked. Matt took off for his evening run, but Indi and I started a jaunt down the road toward Beach Lake. It took us about a half an hour to get down there and Indi was a little on the warm side when we finally arrived. Without even batting an eyelash, he strutted down to the shore of the lake, waded out into the water and flopped down. You could almost hear him say "aaaaaaahhhhhhh......." What a silly dog! He's certainly not your typical sled dog who won't go anywhere near the water. He even dog-paddled out into the lake a little bit before returning to me. Honestly, this dog would be a perfect boat dog! Too bad we don't have a boat.

Half an hour later, we were back at the car. Indi had gained some much-needed recall work (he did quite well, might I add) and I got some exercise. On the way home, we dropped by Bonnie's house to give back some things that she left in my truck by accident on Saturday when we went to the Iditarod signup in Wasilla. Needless to say we ended up staying for a glass of wine and good conversation.

I love my life! :)

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