Part 3: Dogsledding

It was our final day of dogsledding. We rose early to feed the dogs before breakfast. At breakfast, we were joined by two deer at the birdfeeder, which was delightful. Breakfast with deer! Then it was time for more mushing.

Deer

This time my run was a little bit more exciting… As we left the yard, it was clear that one of the lead dogs wasn’t pulling so we switched up a wheel and lead dog. Nothing like stopping 20 yards from the start and having to hold on to the sled with dear life as the dogs were being switched. However, after a few minutes, the decision was made to switch them back! As we got closer to the end of the course, the dogs failed to heed a command of mine to go straight rather than go right. (The old course would go right so the dogs were used to that). We had to stop the sled, I had to hold on for dear might, as we pulled the team back on the right course! So it was definitely no run of the mill run. But it was still fun to be at the helm, watching the dogs gallop through the forest. I can see why people do this for 1000s of miles in the Iditarod and Yukon.

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After our run, we helped set up the teams for the other guests before getting an early start on our drive home. We had a 7-8 hour drive back to Chicago since my friend and I both had work the next day.

We briefly stopped at Gronks, a fast food joint we passed on our way to Duluth. It is delightful ridiculous.

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We decided to take a detour in Duluth since we were passing by. We first stopped at the Duluth Trading Company, a retail store that sells outdoors gear. When we parked in the nearby parking lot, I decided that my boot was bothering me. I felt like I was stepping on uneven surface. So in the lobby, I had to take off the boot and see what was up. That’s when 8-10 sunflower seeds fell out! We think a squirrel or some other rodent had stashed them there during the day. We could hear small rustling above us at night!

The Duluth Trading Company was fun especially after spending the weekend outside. It made me wonder what gear I could have used to keep myself warmer.   We then decided to get a spot of lunch at a pizza place nearby; it was okay but it did the trick. As we walked down the main street back to the car, we passed the most amazing curious shop. It was an unending maze of treasures – I found a tiny t-rex fetish made of stone and a green glass top hat pencil holder. At the checkout desk, there were vending machines for shark teeth, gemstones, and antique coins!

As we drove down to Chicago, we decided to stop at various places on the way to break up the drive. We briefly got our photos taken at Gronk’s, a seemingly prehistoric themed eatery that had this giant arrow outside. Most of the drive was in Wisconsin itself. We stopped for pie at the Norske Nook that had 30+ pies, which was delightful.

At one gas station, I found the most ridiculous thing ever: a tiny knife shaped like an old timey gun. At this point we decided to have some fun with my husband at home. I texted him a succession of messages. The first was: “I bought a knife.” The second one was: “A squirrel used my boot to store sunflower seeds.” And the final one was “We’re looking for a liquor store.” His comment was “This thread is amazing.” We had stopped to find a gas station that sold cheese curds and New Glarus beer, a must on any trip to Wisconsin.

We got home close to 11pm after a delightful weekend.
That’s all for now! Posts are going to be a little sporadic for a few weeks as I work on some other projects. Just a reminder, I just launched my first Kickstarter for a new literary journal that I co-founded called the Antelope. So consider supporting it today:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1943130585/the-antelope

Part 2: Dogsledding

It was our full day of dogsledding! I woke up early 6 or so to the sounds of all 50+ dogs howling. There’s nothing quite like listening to that amazing sound while lying cocooned in bed.

Soon it was time to rise and begin the day. We had a lovely breakfast where I was transfixed again by the beautiful birds at the feeder. There was a chunk of meat that had been put out the day before in the hopes of attracting the bobcats…it was now gone! I also got this amazing photo of a blue jay. I’m still really proud of it!

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Once breakfast was over, it was time to ride. I was very fortunate that I got to go in a sled pulled by 6 dogs. Most the rides we were on were only 4. It was a little faster. I could only imagine what it would have been like if there had been 16 dogs pulling that sleigh! Again, there’s the beautiful silence during the run, where you just heard the dogs running through the snow.

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Not from my run. This had 8 dogs on the lead!

Again, I realized how much I loved working with the dogs themselves. I loved getting to know all the dogs as we harnessed them for runs or fluffed their hay in their tiny houses.

After lunch, it was time to take our learning to the next level. We were going to learn how to drive the dogs ourselves. This was an exciting and terrifying prospect. We had a tutorial before we went out. We learned the words to tell the dogs to turn left or right (ha or gee), or straight on. We were reminded to hold on to the sleigh for dear life. Don’t let go for any reason. We would have one of the experienced mushers in our sled so it wasn’t like we were going by ourselves.

It was brilliant. It was better than being a passenger. The thrill of being at the helm of a sleigh, seeing the dogs before you. Amazing. It was a good run, the dogs were responsive to my commands. We ran through the snowy environment. Not many photos since I was holding on for dear life. We stop on the trail to get photos but all of them showing me holding the sleigh and trying to distribute my weight on the brake and ice claw.

Then it was back to the yard to help others with the next runs. We also walked the younger dogs, which was surprisingly difficult. To walk them, we had to put on a harness…for ourselves instead of a handheld leash. I understood quickly that this was necessary. I walked one of the young males and boy, was he strong! He also got kinda annoyed with me that I wouldn’t go faster!

After we finished the runs and walking the dogs for the day, we took a stroll down the driveway back to the main road for about forty-minutes. We got to see a little of the surrounding area in this seemingly remote part of Minnesota. There were other houses nearby but 15-20 minute walk. We walked up the main road and noticed giant paw prints in the snow. There was no corresponding human prints. We think that they were wolf prints!

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I don’t have photos of the wolves but here is the dog “Foxy.”

Before dinner, we enjoyed the sauna. I’m not much of a sauna person but I’ve gone by myself. It’s clearly a collective experience. Also, this was the way you bathed where we were staying. It was so much more enjoyable with people. To sit and sweat in the heat and then wash with cold water was really refreshing. We did try something very Finnish: a bunch of us ran from the sauna to roll in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was kinda melty and the area we were rolling was cover in pine needles…but it was fun nonetheless!

We ended the night listening to the tales of the Iditarod runner talking about her experiences. The best kind of bed times stories!

That’s all for now!

 

The Antelope Magazine!

Mid-week blog post!
Over the past year, Meghan McGrath and I have been working on launching  a new literary magazine called the Antelope Magazine: A Journal of Oral Histories and Mayhem. It’s based on  Suzanne Briet’s “What is Documentation?” (1951) where she expands the notion of what a document can be. She uses an antelope as an example: it can be photographed, drawn, recorded and taxidermied when it dies. The antelope is a document.
The Antelope Magazine is attempting to provide a diversity of mediums in honor of this idea. The magazine’s inaugural theme is Flight. We have oral histories with beekeepers, pilots, drone enthusiasts, interviews with ecologists, photographs of aerialists and hot air balloons, cartoons about evil birds, and much more.
This is a labor of love of Meghan and me. We are doing this to spread great new work out there. We are committed to paying our contributors for their incredible work. We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for the printing costs and compensation. If you are interested and able, I am asking if you would be willing to support this new endeavor. Or if you can spread the word with your networks. Or both!
Thanks for everything! We can’t wait to share the Antelope Magazine with you all.

Part 1: Dogsledding

 

This past January, my friend and I went up to Minnesota to go dogsledding. Yes, dogsledding. We were going to a place about an hour fifteen away from Duluth. The weekend we had chosen turned out to be the inauguration/Women’s March. We didn’t want to cancel our plans (and lose our deposit) and felt that it might be a good respite from all the politics, if only for a little while.

We decided to drive up there through Wisconsin, which was the longest route through the state (diagonally). We actually were in Minnesota only for the last hour and half of the drive. I lived in Wisconsin for two years but had only really seen the Madison area so this was a new experience. It was about a 9-10 hour drive up and a longer one down as we decided to enjoy some of the offerings by the road. On the way up, we stopped at a few gas stations for obvious reasons. But the added bonus was that we found an amazing gas station on the way up – it had hats including a fake skunk hat, salsas in the shapes of cowboys and pirates, curious signs, and much more. It’s always a joy to wander around such places. (The skunk hat and pirate salsa came home with me; the latter was a gift for my husband.)

During our trip up, it was incredible to see how little snow there was. This isn’t surprising now given how Chicago got no snow in January and February. I recall the year in Madison when we had a blizzard three consecutive weekends in March. We did see some awesome wildlife on the way. At one point, we saw these stocky four legged creatures, all with collars, eating nearish to the road. We weren’t sure if they were female elk or moose but we think they may be moose given how bulky they were. I also saw two bald eagles enjoying road kill on the side of the road.

We arrived to our destination around noon. The area we were staying at was a forested area outside of Duluth. As we pulled up the driveway, we first encountered the dogs. They were on both sides of the road, each had their own little house. We pulled up to find another vehicle that was also filled with dogs. We soon learned that the owner had a friend visiting who brought 16 dogs with her; this lady had run the Iditarod 14 times. Absolutely amazing!

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We put our things in the wooded cabin and helped out giving the dogs water before we headed to lunch. We learned that the owner had built our cabin! We put a mix of water and meat into each dog’s bowl, which was a nice way to say hello to all the dogs. Some were more approachable than others.  The dining table was seated in front of big windows facing the bird feeder. What an astonishing place. So many birds including black capped chickadees, blue jays (!), and even grouse would eat there. It was a constant source of joy for me during our time there.

After lunch, we were going to learn how to harness the dogs and go out for our first ride. We learned the best way to put the dogs in the harness before every run. We learned there are lead dogs and wheel dogs; the former are at the front, and the others are at the back. If there were more than four dogs, the dogs behind the leads were point dogs. If there are more than 6, the additional dogs were the team dogs. We never went out with more than 6 dogs. It was important that you didn’t bring the dogs up to the sled until it was time. Also, you couldn’t walk or hop the dog through rival dog territory. And you had to watch to make sure the dogs don’t chew through their harnesses.

What was astonishing to me was the cacophony when we brought the harnesses out. Every dog went crazy. All 50 of them! All of them were basically saying, “Choose me. Choose me!”Then you would go to the assigned dog (there were also assignments for all runs), harness the dog up, always squirming, and then take the dog to the sled when you got the signal. It was honestly my favorite part of the weekend. I loved being with the dogs.

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Once you hook the dog up, and all the other dogs were hooked up too, the sign would be made, and the sleds would be off. Suddenly, all the dogs were quiet. Night and day. Until about 20 seconds before the sleds came back to the yard. Astonishing.

I got to go first on a run. I was seated in the sled itself, crossed legged since sitting on my knees is hard. The job of the person on the sled is to help steer, so you have to lean in on curves. It was so quiet as we ran through the forest. Just the panting of the dogs and the sound of their feet in the snow. At one point, we stopped on the trail and I had to run to the driver’s side to keep the sled tethered. It’s important that you hold on the sled with both hands, with your foot on the brake and the other one on the ice clamp. Those dogs want to run. I could feel the power of them while holding for dear life on the sled. The big thing is to never let go, even if you lose your footing!

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Then we returned to the yard to unharness the dogs and get ready for the next sled ride. We harnessed the dogs each time (so the maximum number of dogs could run). I made friends with Tillie, a sweet pup who liked her belly to be rubbed, and Tahti, who loved attention.

Afterwards, we had some spare time to go snowshoeing. I was excited since this is something I had never done. Sadly, this was not a task I really enjoyed. It may have been that the snowshoes weren’t as well fitting so it made the process  more difficult. But I’m glad I have done it and am glad it was over.

Before dinner, we had to feed the dogs.  Now, the place we were staying at was very off the grid. There was no plumbing, we had to use an outhouse, another first for me. There was a hand pump for water. Also, there was solar power but we had to use our headlamps when it became dark. We had light in the cabin we were staying at but we needed to conserve it as much as possible. There was wood fires in both our cabin and the main house. We had dinner amidst candlelight, another first for me.  At the time of the dinner for the dogs, we had to use our headlamps since night had come. It was a little thrilling to be feeding them and navigating the icy snow to bring them their food. Also, due to the dark,  our flashlights reflected in the tapetum lucidum in the dogs’ eyes. The tapetum lucidum helps with night vision. Deer also have it. So you could see the green glowing eyes of 50 dogs including those in the dog truck reflect back at you.

After dinner, we talked about dogsledding. I really relished hearing from the experience Iditarod musher’s experiences! Then it was off to bed. As we were heading off, we could hear all 50 dogs begin to howl. We were told that this is how they thanked us for feeding. The experience of 50 dogs howling was simply marvelous.

That’s all for now!

Prague and London: Part 9

It was our last day of the trip and last day of 2016!

We started the day with a trip to Portobello road to check out the Saturday market! What a blast we had. It’s fun to wander through and find all sorts of amazing artifacts of the past, from old maps of English counties, beautifully designed metal stamps to Alice in Wonderland illustrated cigarette cards. One stall sold old school boxing gloves and china, while others sold beautiful purses. We even saw some original Banksys that had been covered in plexi-glass, presumably to prevent people from chiseling them off the wall and selling it for millions at auction houses. Around the market, we saw at least two “Unofficial Banksy shops,” which were selling t-shirts and photos of his work. For all we know they could be the real deal or not.  We wandered the full length of the market, watching the goods range from antiques to clothing.We stopped for lunch and had a tasty platter of cheese and tea, a nice break from our wanderings.

Then it was off for a Spy and Spycatchers walking tour with London Walks. I’ve talked about them previously. They are a walking tour company that has 40+ walks covering lots of topics in London, from Jack the Ripper, Harry Potter, to Ghost stories, etc. Each tour is immensely satisfying and reasonably priced. But prepare to walk! We try to do one tour with them each time we are in London. This time, we were interested in spy history and literature. The walk centered around the West End where real life spy history and spy fiction intertwined at times. We learned that one of the pivotal scenes were filmed for John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with Alec Guinness, was also the place of a pipe shop that Russian agents went to to buy one of the English traitors his pipes and tobaccos after he defected.

We learned the locations of various MI5 and MI6 buildings in the area. Every time they moved, the building was razed completely, presumably, to check for any bugs or any files that may have been mislaid. These buildings would be forgotten on maps but everyone knew where they were any way. We did learn about how an actor named M.E. Clifton James was asked to impersonate Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery as part of British intelligence deception plan. That’s simply marvelous. David Niven left Hollywood to enlist and worked in British intelligence as well!

A delightful tour as always.

That evening we spent at our usual New Year’s Haunt of Sarastro, a Turkish restaurant that is an aesthetic combination of harem and opera house. We wore masks, played with poppers, and drank champagne as we rang out the old year and our trip!

That’s all for now! Next week, I’ll talk about our short trip to Brinsom, Minnesota to go dogsledding!