Canine confrontation

March 4, 2013
By

Foul weather foils even seasoned dog’s desire to run

As I loaded the dogs for a run at the Beach Lake Sled Dog Trails in early February, I resolutely refused to acknowledge the light rain that dampened my wool sweater. My aging dog team, still eager to run despite their geriatric condition, whooped and hollered in the dog yard while I let them off, one by one, to run as a pack before piling them into the truck.

As I checked the snaps and lines on my sled and scooped some kibble into a snack bucket, I watched Inca, my oldest and most experienced dog, and leader of my dwindling team of five huskies. Inca is sweet, silent, solid and dependable. He once helped musher Jon Little up and over Eagle Summit during the Yukon Quest, and he has mentored many a sled dog on the art of leading a team. As my team has dwindled from 14 to five, he’s been the mainstay, keeping the others on task and focused.

Otter (front left) tries out the lead-dog position after stubborn Inca refused the foul weather and opted out of his weekly sled dog run.

Otter (front left) tries out the lead-dog position after stubborn Inca refused the foul weather and opted out of his weekly sled dog run. By Melissa DeVaughn

The rain picked up and my boots crunched through a fine crust of snow. I started the truck and called the dogs to “kennel up” and they responded, jumping into the back and hopping into their straw beds. With four packed up, I turned to see Inca, sitting on his haunches and giving me the stink eye. I called him and he looked at me stonily, his eyes delivering a clear message: “You want me to run in this crap? No, thank you.”

With uncharacteristic sass, he turned around, trotted into his run, crawled into his doghouse and peeked his head out to bid me good-bye. This tough, seasoned canine told me in no uncertain terms he was done with this bipolar winter, which can’t seem to decide whether to drip into spring or dip into Barrow-like frozenness.

You’ll see a lot of mention of weather in this month’s issue of Coast, for we who love the outdoors are dependent upon agreeable conditions to get out and enjoy winter. When snow turns to rain, we aren’t happy — ask Craig Medred. He gets the final say this month in his newly situated location at the very back of Coast. From his home on the Hillside, he and dog companion Lars are trapped in the winter that wasn’t.

Skiers, too, are in a quandary, carrying entire arsenals of waxes to accommodate the ever-changing conditions that have plagued them this year. This month’s Ski Kincaid All Night (SKAN) planners are hoping winter will hang around long enough for this fun event to proceed (See page 9 for more on this).

But, as we know, winter is never truly over in Alaska, and in the high country there are places where it’s still white, wintry and wonderful. One such place is the historic Manitoba Cabin, which recently has come under the management of the Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Huts Association. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of this sweet refuge in the woods in mid-February, and this month, the Huts folks are celebrating their fledgling Huts operation with a grand opening March 9 and 10 for all to come and enjoy. Read all about it on Page 14, and come out to support this terrific backcountry cause. Our winter may have gone to the dogs in some places, but search far and high enough, and there is still plenty to celebrate.

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