Saturday, March 15, 2008

The North Coast

I think I've talked about this before--the increasing attention on Alaska's northern coasts. I keep seeing more and more in the news and from military friends about build-up that will be happening over the next couple decades, in the Arctic as new sea lanes open. It's anticipated that within ten years, and perhaps sooner, there will be commercial shipping over the top of Canada, signficantly shortening the trip from Asia to the U.S.'s Eastern Seaboard and Europe.

Just last week, I saw a fleece jacket with a logo that said The North Coast on it. The fellow wearing it probably worked on the Slope, but I didn't get a chance to ask him. It occurred to me right then--this will be the first time the U.S. has had a North Coast to complement the East and West Coast. In years past, the sea ice does go out from the west and north coast of Alaska, but not enough for ships to get through for a very long stretch of time. For most of the year, the distinction between land and ocean is blurred because it is all covered in ice.

With all the changes going on in the Arctic, a good place for information and resources is --This is an International Polar Year, and more research, learning and discussions are going on during this year of study on the Arctic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dogsled mushing

I went dog mushing for the first time yesterday and it was really fun. Our Palmer Rotary club has an exchange student from France here this year, a teen named Lorraine. Our club encourages us to get to know our exchange folks and do activities with them. I invited Lorraine to go mushing. Her grandparents live 15 miles from the town where I spent a year going to the University in Nancy, and she is bright, inquisitive, fun 17 year old.

We went up to Willow, just about a half hour north of my B&B, to visit the Dream a Dream Dog Farm ( ), run by Vern Halter and his wife Susan, who between them have completed 26 Iditarods and Yukon Quest sled dog races. Vern first gives about an hour presentation about the race, his experiences in it, facts and figures about caring for the dogs, the food (human and canine), what to wear at -50, what has to go on the sleds, and more. He has a video told from the perspective of one of his lead dogs, Taz. There was a mom and college son joining us today, too.

After the presentation, we went out to the dog yard and met Vern’s 72 dogs. Vern’s assistants were getting them all hooked up. The picture here shows how they keep track of which dog goes where on each gangline, of the 2 sleds we took out today—voila! Magnets and a cake pan! What a great idea! You’ll notice that some of the names seem similar. This is because with each litter many mushers like Vern choose a theme for that bunch of puppies. You’ll see siblings which are all named after towns along the Iditarod Trail, or planet names, or types of cookies, or brands of cars or such. You can see in the photo that Vern has had an electrical littler (Amp, Volt, Ohm, Shock, Watt and Fuse), a Seven Dwarves litter (Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy, and Happy), and my favorite, the fastener litter (Toggle, Velcro, Snap, Tie) who are mature running dogs now.

We mushed about 13 miles on trails back through the woods and over a lake. It was exhilarating and not really has hard as I anticipated. I got the hang of steering and shifting my weight more easily than I thought I would, since I don’t ski or snowboard. Lorraine did really great and had a big smile on her face when I saw her sled go by.