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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ice Out

Klaus in lead with sister, Sweet Pea and father, Zulu.
Setting the trail on Oak Lake Winter 2007.

Spring on Oak Lake

Fall on Oak Lake

Early winter on Oak Lake

Winter on Oak Lake.

It took quite some time this year, for the lake to be safe enough for me to head out on it with a dog team. I went out with a three dog team the minute we had three inches of snow on a 6"+ depth of ice. Any more of my powerful freight dogs and I wouldn't have been able to hook down. I couldn't stop as it was, thankfully the dogs are relatively well behaved. It was the perfect scenario to put Klaus to the test and see how my open country leader training had been absorbed. I was quite proud when he set the entire five mile trail on the lake with minimal commands.

Now here it is March, 28th. The ice went out over night on the lake. Winter is over. The Canadian Geese have been back for over a week waiting for this day. Soon they will nest and we will once again, have upwards of sixty geese and goslings taking over our shore. A myriad of other waterfowl begin their migration through and provide us with much entertainment. We have flocks of pelicans, kites, terns, a cormorant or two, trumpeter swans and then the illusive loon, to name a few.

The dogs get plenty of entertainment from the geese, as well. The geese get within ten feet of the dog kennels as the dogs watch intensely, ready to pounce. The birds seem to know they are safe. Thankfully, we have no fence climbing dogs in the bunch.

All year 'round, we have been fortunate enough to enjoy glorious sun rises. My heart sinks to think of the development coming our way, scarring our precious view.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Highlights 2006-2007 Season; PUWWA2007 March

Me(left) and Sandy(right) at the end of another successful dog mushing season.

Erik shares his wilderness survival skills.

Kate teaches the finer points of building a winter fire.

Resolving a tangle at the turn-a-round.

Katie heading out with her three dog team.

Due to the truck break down, we arrived the day before our guests were to arrive for our PUWWA2007 March Adventure. A concern when arriving at the cabin is not knowing how much new snow has come down since our previous visit. Our dogs are freight dogs and enjoy the challenge of breaking trail but we don't like to have them break trail into the cabin when new snow depths are over two feet. We had heard rumors in town that there had been about 20 inches of new snow since our previous visit and we were glad to see that was the case. The dogs pulled us and our very heavily loaded sleds, into the cabin with ease.

We had an evening of relaxation before the arrival of instructor, Kate Stenso-Miller of the Three Rivers Park District, and our Chef Extraordinaire, J.D. Fratzke of Muffeletta on the Park, in St. Paul, MN.

We had women flying in from New Jersey and we were hoping the weather would cooperate for them. It turns out they arrived in Duluth a day early and were enjoying massages while we were encountering our delay. It was also fun to learn that they had cited a moose along the road on their drive up. A participant driving in from Golden Valley, MN was able to catch a glance at a wolf along the road. How fun for them! With the rising temps, the wildlife may have been anticipating spring and were moving about more than usual. Sandy and I too, had wildlife citings on our drive. We were lucky enough to see two wolves. One was near Schroeder, MN and was seen crossing the road. This one looked as though it was having a pretty rough life. The other one we spotted was a large, very healthy looking wolf, crossing the road just north of Grand Marais, MN.

This PUWWA2007 adventure included dog mushing instruction, a navigation workshop and a wilderness survival workshop. Erik Simula drove up on this dog sled one morning to teach his wilderness survival course. Kate took the next day to teach everyone how to navigate in the woods with a map and compass. The women learned the details of dog mushing in three half day sessions.

On the first day of mushing instruction, a fun challenge occurred while taking an informational run with the participants in our sleds. After a few "musher error" moments, two teams got caught up in some brush at the turn around and while resolving the tangles, the women spent this time tipped over on their sides, in the sleds. "This isn't the way they show it on t.v!" was a happily made comment from one of the tipped over participants. Just proof that when you attend one of our adventures, you get to see it how it really is!

Unlike the previous PUWWA2007, the temperatures were more amenable for the humans. The dogs, however ,were too hot, clad in their full winter coats, with temps reaching up to 50 degrees by the end of the adventure. They got the afternoons to relax and bask in the sun.

All participants did a great job of taking in all of this new information. They were quick learners and put their new found dog mushing skills to use as they ran their own three dog teams around the cabin loop.

Highlights 2006-2007 Season; Truck Break Down

Bruce and Bill of Jim's Auto Care Center in Grand Rapids, MN

We left the BOW event, heading to the Points Unknown cabin where we had been looking forward to a few days of down time before our next PUWWA2007 adventure. In Hill City, MN the truck decided it couldn't continue. Thankfully, we had stopped in the parking lot of an Auto Care Center. Several hours (and dollars) later, we were told to drive it to Grand Rapids because the problem needed more attention. During the 18 mile drive to Grand Rapids, the truck just stopped. We were able to move to the side of the road and there we sat as we waited for our tow truck to arrive.

Here we were, two people with a truck filled with gear and seventeen dogs, stranded by the side of the road. Long story short, we then proceeded to spend our "few days of down time" living out of a hotel a block from the new Auto Care Center and the dog truck. The dogs took all of this well and didn't seem to be at all shaken by this detour as they came in and out of the truck over and over again, in the Auto Care parking lot. The people, were less excited, as you might imagine.

Many thanks to Jim's Auto Care in Grand Rapids, MN for being so professional and timely. Despite this unwelcome detour, we did feel as though we were in good hands and are very thankful. The phone call we received from Bill from the Auto Care Center, once we had left the shop and had been on the road for several hours, to make sure the truck was working properly, was just icing on the cake!

Highlights 2006-2007 Season; DNR BOW Event

Teaching the participants to harness the dogs.

Introducing the women to the small basket sled.

Off they go!

Two freight dogs is all it takes to pull one person and a small sled.


For the past two years, Points Unknown has provided dog mushing instruction for the Department of Natural Resource's Becoming an Outdoors Woman's(BOW) Winter Event. This year, there were 76 women in attendance. The weather didn't cooperate this year and Sandy and I found ourselves snowbound on the day we were supposed to arrive at Deep Portage Learning Center, where the event was to be held. Thankfully we were able to arrive in time the next day, to teach one of the three scheduled classes of the weekend. The remaining two were then slotted for Sunday. Thanks to everyone who shifted their schedules in order for this to happen!

The Deep Portage staff are just wonderful. On the evening I was to give a dog mushing talk, Tukisi and Isis had a split second scuffle over a food bowl and Isis wound up needing emergency vet attention. (Those darn dogs!) Molly Malacek, the Assistant Director of Deep Portage, was nice enough to lend us her truck so that Sandy could take Isis the 30 miles to the vet while I gave the talk. Thanks Molly! Isis spent the rest of the weekend resting in the comfort of a straw filled crate, on the ice, with the other dogs. We're happy to report that it was a minor issue and she is back to her old self.

Our three classes consisted of from six to ten women. Each class got an introduction to the sled dogs, the equipment and dog harnessing then got to take a two dog team around a little lake, supported by us and the other participants. Everyone did a great job. The dogs just love this event because all seventeen of them each get a turn to be in lead!

Highlights 2006-2007 Season; BWCA Trip

Loading the sleds.

Zulu showing his delight in being chosen to be the leader on this adventure.

Resting dogs on the tie-out line.

Our camp at U.S. Point.

The big wet flakes coming down during our departure.

At the end of February, Sandy(good friend and assistant PUWWA instructor), her husband Mark and I found ourselves preparing for a dog sledding trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Days were spent preparing for the trip with much emphasis put on cooking lots of wonderful food that could be warmed up while on the trail. Sandy and Mark attended to this task while I ran last minute errands.

The information we gathered prior to our trip indicated that the conditions were marginal for hooking down a dog sled team. We were also told that there was very little snow which meant we could go further in a shorter period of time.

We arrived at the Fall Lake Campground parking lot early on a Monday. As we loaded up our sleds we watched as numerous people pulling pulks came in off the lake. This was a good chance to check in again about conditions. We also took some time to look over the maps, shoot some compass bearings and plan our route to U.S. Point.

I had hoped to run Klaus in lead for the first time in the BWCA. Turns out he was way too excited to stay focused and we went zig-zagging down the lake. After attempting to hook down several times to go up and correct his direction of travel, I decided that if I could have a successful hook down, I would swap him out and put the trusty Zulu up in front instead. The hook down conditions were just too iffy and I wanted to choose my battles for this trek. I was getting too stressed which would then make Klaus stressed, which is what I wanted to avoid. Klaus would get his glory on another day.

Navigation to our chosen camping spot went without a hitch. Zulu just continues to amaze me. At almost 11 years old, he still loves his job and does it better than most! After spending two nights at camp, we decided to move on and camp closer to the truck. There was a shift in the weather coming later in the week that we wanted to be sure and avoid. As we were packing up the gear, it began to snow. Big wet flakes came down upon us, soaking us to the bone. I made the call to continue on home when I began to feel fatigued and chilled due to a cold that I had apparently not been able to shake prior to the trip. Being sick in a tent for the night was something I didn't find appealing at the moment. So we headed on back to the truck.

The dogs always go faster when they know they're going back to the truck. I know they enjoy being out on the ice but I don't think anything feels better to them than their nice warm boxes after a few days on the trail. Their owner certainly looks forward to a nice warm bed too!

Highlights 2006-2007 Season; PUWWA2007 February

PUWWA2007 February Adventure

Shirley going over "the ice" with her five dog team.

In February, Points Unknown had our Women's Winter Adventure that included all dog mushing instruction and food prepared by our wonderful chef, Patrick Weber. There were four women who attending this adventure that came from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and what a time we had! There was just enough snow to make it all run smoothly. The temps were a little more challenging with a 20 degree below zero morning and temps never going above 8 degrees during the day. The dogs, of course, loved this weather.

A fun challenge for the women on this trip was the portion of the trail we called plainly, "the ice". A couple of miles into the trail there is a creek crossing before a hill that leads down to a boggy moose area. In the week prior, overflow from the creek had taken over this dip in the trail and there was now an approximate 40' area of overflow ice, with a downhill approach at both points of entry. This was a little mini Yukon Quest challenge for these beginning dog mushers but I am proud to say that all four made it safely and in the upright position, across the ice every time!

All participants were quick to learn the basics of mushing and most went from running a two dog team the first day, to running a five dog team with a passenger by the end of the adventure AND going over "the ice"! An "honorable mention" on this trip was Shirley Lindgren, a charming and zippy young lady of 71 years, who has been known to go on a few bear hunting trips in her time. She was ready to try anything new without hesitation.

Highlights 2006-2007 Season; Preparation

Preparing for the PUWWA2007 Adventures

Here I am sporting the new chainsaw. Since the summer and fall had been so busy we weren't able to get up to the cabin to cut all of the wood necessary for this winter's PUWWA2007 Adventures. I spent time getting acquainted with my new toy while cutting wood for burning and removing deadfall from the dog sled trails.

Friday, March 23, 2007


With Zulu in lead, we head down the middle of Basswood Lake enroute to U.S. Point
in the BWCA.

To Points Unknown....? This isn't necessarily a place that might appear on a map. Its all about letting yourself go somewhere new for learning and self -discovery. This could include taking an adventure trip with a dog team on a frozen lake, in the great wilderness, using a map and compass to guide you. It could also mean opening up your mind to a new way of doing something or changing something in your life to make yourself a better person. This too, takes you into Points Unknown where navigation is done by your own internal map and compass.

I am on a quest for a more simple life, guided by my passion for the wilderness and my dogs. Currently, life remains complicated. The Real Estate Appraisal business I have had for nearly 16 years is a bit smaller due to the collapsing real estate market. This is a welcome change for my soul but not for my pocketbook. I truly enjoy my appraisal work and pride myself on doing quality work in an ethical fashion. I am happy to say that my clients are people I can call friends. This makes the "corporate" aspect of it so much more bearable.

I have been hand-crafting 100% pure beeswax candles since May of 2006. I am selling them to the food coops and gift shops geared towards natural and local goods. This is a step in the right direction for me. The natural aspect of this product appeals to my need to be involved with nature. Burning 100% beeswax candles is thought to create a clean and calm environment which is welcome after dealing with the unsavory side of the Real Estate field.

My dogs. My dogs have, for many years, been the highlight and focus in my life. Having a dog as a child, I never felt that connection to these furry beasts until much later in life. I never could have imagined that today I would have a kennel of eleven sled dogs with three house dog mascots. I got my first dog in 1994. Shadow was the most amazing Australian Shepherd. He taught me so many wonderful things that I have been able to tranfer into the rest of my life; loyalty, a deeper way to love, living in the moment, having balance in life and the list goes on. Shadow had to be put down a few years ago due to nasal cancer when his condition was no longer bearable. He will be missed.

I married into sled dogs in 2000. (Marriage, by the way, is one of those ventures into Points Unknown where you need to use your internal map and compass to navigate your way through and make your way to being a better person. Sometimes this means ending the marriage to do so.) Prior to my introduction to sled dogs, I had no affection for northern breed dogs. I found them to be stubborn, aloof and just plain hard to handle. So here I am, eleven sled dogs later and loving every minute of it!

Points Unknown; Dog-Based Adventures was created out of my love for dogs and the wilderness. This is my most important and exciting endeavor as it keeps me close to nature and more in touch with who I am. I am honored to have such loyal adventure companions and I am honored to be able to share them with others. This blog is for those who love dogs. Its for those of you who attended a Points Unknown Adventure or for those of you who would like to attend one in the future. Its for family and friends who want to catch up on a day in the life of the dogs. And its for anyone who loves photos of dogs and/or nature as this is another passion of mine. If you like a particular post or a certain photo, please let me know!