Rob's Blog Archive

March 18, 2012











We’re getting graupel now, small pellets of snow covered with rime ice.  It’s lighter than hail or sleet but heavier than even wet snow.  It’s also indicative of a transition, either rain to snow or snow to rain.  Today, it’s not clear which.

Even though it is just mid-March, we have already seen a bunch of days in the fifties.  Until this month, we had avoided the unusually warm winter the rest of the country experienced.  It was a little warmer than normal and our snowfall was a little low, but it was still basically a normal year.  That seems to have changed.  Though the calendar says otherwise, it’s spring.  The transition from winter and a two to four foot snowpack to mud often takes place very quickly.  I’m hoping to get two more runs in before the snow becomes iffy, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen. 

With the season’s end drawing near, I’m beginning to think about all that happened since we started fall training.  There are a few things I’m disappointed with and a whole bunch I’m happy about. 

Of course, the low point of the season was losing Gonja.  Fortunately, that went quickly.  I miss him, but owning a kennel with more than twenty dogs whose median age is between eight and nine means losing dogs is a statistical reality.  Happily, and I’m really knocking on wood, my two twelve year olds did well this winter. 

The biggest ‘disappointment’ this year was I didn’t do the backcountry sledding I had planned on.  The first failure was not finding partners with whom I could head into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  But even after I concluded I had failed at this, I wanted to venture off trail to work on backcountry technique.  I never did this either.  Not doing those practice runs, however, was more of a real change than a disappointment.  What happened was I discovered the Serum Run (  For this, my best course of action was doing moderately long runs on groomed trails.  There’s a lot between here and there, but as of now, the Serum Run is my goal for next year.   For more reasons than fit in a short essay, that really excites me.  And unlike Iditarod which was always going to be a one shot thing for me, I could see at least an association with the Serum Run for the rest of my life. 

Among the things with which I am pleased, I am delighted with the number of times I’ve stood on the runners this season. If I do get those two runs in, each dog will end up with twenty hook-ups and 300 miles of sledding.   That’s well below what the main team got during the years I was racing, but high for everybody else.  And because I am doing two full runs for every one the dogs do, I’m doing great---40 sled runs covering 600 miles---not an Iditarod year, but plenty by any other standard.   

And like every year, I have learned a few new tricks.  Last year we had a lot of snow and rain, more than any of my previous years at Silly Lake.  Just before the thaw, I found most of the doghouses had a conglomerate of ice and straw frozen to their floors.  I had regularly pulled out the lose straw then added fresh straw to what remained, so the ice was underneath a dry top layer.  Still the thaw would have melted the ice and soaked everything.  I spent a couple of backbreaking weeks chiseling out the ice before this happened. 

This year, I pulled the straw early.  I also diligently kept the sections of the platforms immediately in front of the doghouse doors clear of snow.  Finally, I shoved the mounds of snow and ice off of the roofs of the doghouses before this began to melt and produce more water with a chance to get into the dogs’ houses.  I minimized the amount of water that got into each of the doghouses and made sure there was nothing there to absorb it. 

There’s no straw, but the houses are totally free of ice.  In general, the dogs seem to be happy with this trade off---I do think they are spending more time inside their houses this year than they had last.  And with the roofs immaculate and dry, everybody took advantage of the warm days by sunbathing on top of their houses.  I’ve gazed out of my living room window at the kennel any number of times and seen my gang enjoying this. 

The transition between winter and spring in snow country is a pretty unsightly time of year.  I’m delighted with how much better the transition this year has gone compared to last, but there’s still plenty that is ugly.  But, then again, it is a transition----and like graupel that is its nature. 

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