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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Adventure

Our destination

Copper and Blueberry the morning after the trek in

Our trek begins!

And the snowmobile starts!

A very tired Copper, lounging in his bed

Neil and Copper


While the sled dogs were being well cared for back at the Gunflint Lodge dog yard, Neil and I took the little dogs for a Christmas adventure to the Points Unknown cabin to begin the trail breaking process in preparation for the Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure in February. With already nearly 2 feet of snow on the ground it was imperative that the trail breaking took place when it did, otherwise it would have been far more difficult.

We arrived at the end of the mile long, unplowed driveway at 9PM. Neil, never having worn snowshoes before, got a crash course as we loaded up two utility sleds with the items we would need for our first night in, which included the little dogs, together in a small crate, and began our long journey, 20 paces at a time. After the first 40 paces and numerous stops to adjust the constantly tipping dog crate with little dogs inside, we decided that it would be best to let the little guys trudge along with us in our tracks rather then be force fed snow inside their kennel every time the thing toppled over.

There we were, head lamps on, full sleds behind us, walking 20 paces at a time in the dark, trying to make certain not to step on the little dogs with our mammoth snowshoes. Each time they jumped off the newly made trail to investigate something they would disappear in the white fluffy sea only to burst out again a little further along the trail with wide eyes and happy smiles. Copper and Blueberry provided the comic relief necessary with their antics along the trail to keep our spirits up for the 2 1/2 hour snowshoe hike into the cabin.

The cabin was a balmy 20 degrees when we arrived so we quickly started a fire in the woodstove and lit many of the propane lights to help heat up the place. Having decided about 400 paces earlier that we would not even attempt to get the snowmobile going to retrieve the remainder of the items at the truck for fear of getting the snowmobile stuck in the fresh fluffy snow leading to total exhaustion, we waited patiently for the heat to rise in the cabin while we sat thankful we were no longer trudging down the driveway. Copper was happy to be wrapped in a fleece blanket and placed in a chair right next to the woodstove while Blue curled up in a small dog bed on the floor next to the woodstove

At 2AM the temperature reached 40 degrees which made it easier for us to doze off a bit. We took turns getting up throughout the night to stoke the fire. By morning, it was nearly 55 degrees in the cabin. We had hoped to get up early and do some exploring on snowshoes around the area, maybe even do some trail packing with the snowmobile but after our strenuous 2 1/2 hour snowshoe adventure the night before, we opted to make one run out to the road with the snomo for our food supply and stay in the cabin the remainder of the day to rest our weary bones and then cook a nice Christmas Eve dinner. The little dogs didn't leave the couch most of the day as well, having covered more ground than we did the previous day with their running back and forth in our tracks and diving in and out of the snow.

Christmas day was glorious with blue skies and temps in the low teens. Needing to get back to the lodge to do some trail grooming, we packed up in the late morning, made a couple runs out to the truck with the snomo to bring out our gear and then we snowshoed out on a now very compacted trail with the little dogs now sailing ahead in front of us rather than trudging along behind us. It wasn't quite the mini vacation we had anticipated , however it was very rejuvenating and gave us a break from the work we had been doing to prepare the trails and dog yard back at the lodge the previous week.

Trail Grooming

The "enchanted forest" trail

Beautiful section of the trail

Grooming the trail. Gunflint Lake in the background.

A foggy day on the lake

After hearing from the local search and rescue authority that the lake ice was safe, Liz and I shot out on Gunflint Lake on the snowmobile a few days ago to check the conditions. We were warned of the possibility of deep slush so it was necessary to keep the speed up to avoid becoming stuck, creating a very difficult situation as the slush quickly freezes the snowmobile in place.

We did find slush but conditions were not quite as bad as we had anticipated. The slushy spots in the middle of the lake appeared to have frozen over, making a nice crusty top.

Lake ice conditions were again tested the afternoon after our slush check and we were all astonished to find out that in some places the thickness of the ice had actually decreased, leaving us all wondering what mother nature has in play. The lake will not be approved for our client adventures until we can be certain this new condition has reversed and more solid inches of good ice are built up. Having had a few inches of snow the other day, coupled with high winds, we now have mounds of snow on the lake creating insulation. This condition doesn't lend itself to ice build-up without extended periods of temps well below zero. Thankfully, below zero temps have been abundant.

After having had a warm up a few days ago, into the upper 30s, then a dip below zero and a few inches of snow, our established wooded trails are in very good condition. An immediate grooming with the snowmobile with groomer in tow after the snowfall made this trail ready for smooth and fast runs on our fully booked New Year's Eve day schedule.

Training Runs

Training run at the bottom of the "chute".

The "enchanted forest" portion of the trail

Up one of the many hills, with Gunflint Lake and Canada in the back drop

Neil and his very first mushing experience with the trusty Phoenix in lead. McKenzie and Zodiak provided support in wheel position.

Four teams went out on Sunday, December 21st. Our objective was to test the trails before our first client adventure and to get our trainees' feet wet, so to speak. In the morning, both Helen and Neil got their first introduction to the sled behind the snowmobile so they could get an idea of how to handle the sled before dogs were introduced. That afternoon, dogs were added to each sled and off we all went. I was amazed at how both Neil and Helen took so naturally to the sled.

Catching Up!

First clients of the season

As luck would have it, the day after Christmas the wifi system miraculously began working and we are now fully "connected" with the outside world again.

After a week of trail establishment, enhancement and maintenance, we hosted our first guests on Monday, December 22nd. Last year's calendar indicates we were not able to begin our full trail adventures until January so we are a couple weeks ahead due to the snow storm that delayed our arrival. If only it would have been the "right" kind of snow, then all of our trails may be open for use, including the new trail we and lodge guests cut during a November fall clean-up weekend. The snow storm provided a nice layer of light and fluffy snow that doesn't lend itself to sculpting and packing.

Winter trail cutting is an interesting activity with unexpected surprises that only show themselves when the snow falls. As it turns out, there is a portion of this trail that we deemed impassable with clients due to the safety issues that arose after our first test dog sled run last week. When things slow down a bit we will be digging deeper into finding a solution for this section of the trail so it can be added to our adventure offerings. Until then, safety remains one of our goals and it will remain closed until we have the time, man power and snow available to make some upgrades.

Introductions; Sandy Schwartz

Sandy Schwartz and the Good Dog Outfitters team live and train in the La Plata Mountains near Mancos, Colorado. Sandy was introduced to dog sledding in 2003 by Linda Newman, who also helped Sandy acquire her first sled dogs. In 2005, Sandy, husband Mark, and the team moved to Colorado where Good Dog Outfitters was created to introduce friends and families to the joys of dog-powered sports. Sandy most enjoys driving the sled down snowy trails in the Colorado back country.

In her spare time, she skis, teaches Pilates, and maintains websites.

Sandy will be traveling to northern Minnesota a couple times over the winter season to assist Points Unknown with dog mushing adventures at Gunflint Lodge.

Introductions; Hailey Quanbeck

Hailey Quanbeck, 15, has always had a passion for animals and the outdoors. Her household consists of a dog, cat, parrot, guinea pigs, and numerous fish. She loves being out in “the middle of nowhere” with not a building for miles. However, this is very difficult to accomplish when living in the City of Minneapolis and being unable to drive. She had some occasional escapes, such as annual adventure trips into the Boundary Waters, and Isle Royale through YMCA Camp Menogyn (summer 2008, she will be participating in a 21-day backpacking in Yellowstone). But these occasional escapes were not enough, and she wanted something more. Something more came, when August 2005, she met Linda, owner of Points Unknown Kennel, at a Becoming and Outdoors Woman family event. While exploring various other stations at this event, she could not help but return over and over again to the sled dogs. Linda invited her to come out and visit her sometime, the visit occurred, and the visits have continued. Now whenever she has a free weekend, she will visit Linda and the dogs. During the winter, it is more difficult to visit Linda since she is then 6 hours away at Gunflint Lodge, instead of 40 minutes. However she will be helping with the dogs for December 26- January 2, and hopefully will find other times to come and help as the winter continues.

Hailey is a natural when it comes to working with the sled dogs and spending time safely in the remote northwoods. She is calm and assertive with the dogs and always uses common sense and good judgment.

Introductions; Helen Thorgalsen

Helen joins us, she says, during her "mid life crisis/adventure!" She spent the fall at North Wapiti Kennel in Canada where she got her first dog handling and kennel experience. To further enhance her sled dog experience, she has come to work for Points Unknown as a dog handler/musher.

Helen hails from Kennebunk, Maine and has also been living in Northern Vermont most recently. She has two daughters in college and a little Bichon/Poodle house doge who is waiting patiently for her to come home from her adventure in northern Minnesota.

Taking to dog mushing quickly, Helen began running her own small teams within a week of her arrival. She has helped organize various aspects of the kennel routine, making the daily routine run more smoothly. The excellent care she gives the dogs and the hard work she is putting into learning to be a musher for client adventures is appreciated beyond words.

Introductions; Melanie Rodriguez

Melanie is an 18-year-old high school senior from Chanhassen, MN.
She has been an animal lover her whole life and is especially fond of dogs,
and horses. She enjoys working with animals and is a kennel
attendant at
a veterinary clinic. She aspires to be a companion animal
and plans to major in animal science in college. There
is a special
place in her heart for shelter dogs and cats and she loves
at a local animal shelter. She also enjoys canicross
hiking with her Siberian
Husky,Annie, cross country running,
and spending time outdoors.

Melanie has been assisting with kennel duties at Points Unknown
kennel for over three
years and ran her first team of sled dogs
last season. She loves photography and many
of her photos have
appeared on the Points Unknown website, blog and recently, one was

printed as a postcard.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Northwoods Arrival!

So much to write about, so little Wifi bandwidth. I am typing this from a nearby resort as Gunflint Lodge has been without internet access since December 7th. Prior to this issue, there was no phone service for 10 days! Such is life in the remote northwoods of Minnesota.

Neil, Chris, the sled dogs and I arrived on Monday, December 15th, a day late due to poor road conditions. The roads were still quite treacherous on our departure day so a 6 1/2 hour drive turned into an almost 10 hour adventure. We did make it to the lodge safely and just a day before our other staff were to arrive, as they, too, were running late due to weather delays.

Liz, driving from Oregon and Helen, traveling from Vermont, arrived on Tuesday. Since then we have all been trying to work out new routines with the dogs, pack trails, cut dead fall on the trails, adjust to our new winter surroundings, get the phone to work and go from place to place to try and access our ever so necessary email accounts. What did we ever do without email?

The Points Unknown dogs settled right in, most remembering their spots from last season and leading us right to them. With a new large pen added to the dog yard this season, Tuki and Isis are in heaven and seem to be so much happier than they did last season. This retired couple continues their "old married couple" antics. All dogs were given bones to keep them occupied until we could get out on the trail. And today was the first sled run of the season for Points Unknown dogs and Briar's Patch Sled Dogs.

The first sled run of the season is always, well....... interesting and today was no exception. It usually takes a lot more set up than anticipated so you can locate all of the necessary gear that has been packed away for so long. We would be running the new trail that we and lodge guests cut in November so in addition to the first sled run anticipation, there was an added feeling of the "unknown"

Written on December 20th and not published until today. The purchased one hour time limit on the wifi system of a neighboring resort ended as the Publish Post button was pushed.......

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Polka; New Line Introduction

Sweet 4 1/2 year old Polka

Phoenix being very attentive to his guest.

Polka in wheel

Leaning into the harness as a good freight dog will

Quiet and calm while at rest

Funny that the last post should be about Phoenix as he is currently hosting a visitor for the next couple of weeks. Polka is from Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, Minnesota. She is the beginning of a new breeding program for the school and contributes an excellent work ethic, dense coat, good structure and size(65lbs for a female is quite a good size), mild and eager-to-please temperament and leader skills. Phoenix will be the sire to a litter of pups with Polka that, if all works as planned, will whelp in early February. We at Points Unknown are also very excited about this breeding because it means an introduction of some compatible new blood to the Hedlund Husky line. We will be bringing one of the pups home on our return from our winter adventures the beginning of April.

Polka arrived last week and has been enjoying her stay. Wanting to make certain she got exercise during her visit, we have taken her out on a couple runs with the team. She has been so adaptable and once harnessed, acted as though she had been running in our team all training season. I was impressed with how she put her head down and pulled with all of her strength when getting started then settled into a nice even pace, never slacking. When stopping the team to rest, she quietly stood, leaning into her harness, waiting for the command to go. When not out running with the team, she enjoys romping free in the backyard with others in the kennel or lounging in her kennel snacking on bones.