Day Two kicked off with a buffet breakfast. Turns out, I didn’t have to look too hard for reindeer sausage. It’s apparently the protein of choice in breakfast buffets in Alaska. I tried it…and it was yummy! [Full disclosure: I never really met a sausage I didn’t like.] I guess if you’re not into sausage, it might not be that big a deal for you. But, if you are: it’s tasty and no, it doesn’t taste like chicken. So now, I have to figure out how to bring some back to Oregon.
After breakfast, Nicole, Judi and I piled into a tour bus for the 1.5 hour drive to Big Lake, Alaska, home of Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel. We drove through Wasilla to get to Big Lake. Got to see Sarah Palin’s backyard. I’m a little disappointed the former governor wasn’t on our itinerary; I would have wanted her to point out Russia to me.
But, priorities first, we were here for doggies. Nicole’s first impression, “I thought they’d be bigger…and fluffier.”
Martin – a four-time Iditarod winner, owner and “chief poop scooper” explained it this way, “Sumo wrestlers don’t run marathons.” Made sense: these dogs have to handle long-distance races. Bulk wouldn’t give them the speed or the endurance.
The kennel houses about 100 dogs. When we visited, only about 30 were in-house, including 5 or 6 5-month-old puppies and a handful of females in heat who were segregated in “sorority row.” The rest were off-site on tourist duty: they give dog sled rides to tourists on glaciers.
The dogs are precious. Friendly, curious and oh-so-very-strong. They are not discouraged from jumping up on people. An unexpected “hug” can knock you back a couple of steps.
Their names are thematic by litter. We met Jefferson, for example, who was part of the presidential litter. Corporal had litter mates named Colonel and Major. (Toward the end of the trip, I discovered an empty kennel with the name “Sally” written on it. I wonder what theme litter she’s part of. I’m half-hoping she has litter mates named Linus, Lucy, Charlie and Peppermint Patty.)
Nicole, Judi and I had got our cooing fill with a mellow dog named Otter. Otter sat on his house the entire time we were there. Three ladies cooing over him didn’t phase him one bit. Otter was cool, but my new BFF is Quick. Quick really took to me and would allow me to hug him and scratch his ears. He kept wanting to shake hands too. Every time I tried to walk away, he’d reach out his paw to keep me close.
Martin and his son Rohn (himself a two-time Iditarod finisher) were so generous with their time and knowledge. They showed us the human and the dog gear. They posed for pictures, let the 5-month-old puppies out of the kennel for a romp around the tourists (i.e. us) and then hooked up a sled team to an ATV to give us a demo. (The kennel tours do not give sled rides.)
All the while we were there, except for when the young ‘uns were let out loose from their pen for awhile, the dogs were docile and calm. But once they saw the harnesses coming out for the sled team demo, the entire kennel went beserk! “Pick me!” “Pick me!”, they were saying. These dogs are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Once the 5-minute demo was over and the chosen team had their post-sprint drink, everyone was back on docile mode. It was the darnest thing.
We were on-site for about two hours and the time flew. Before you knew it, we were back on the bus headed back to downtown Anchorage. (Didn’t see Gov. Palin on the way back either.) It was a mellower mood on the bus headed back. The warm sun (60 degrees!) and the excitement of meeting the dogs and the amazing Buser men had worn us all out. And all of us smelled like dog. By the time I arrived back at the hotel room, I was ready for a nap…and a shower.
The pre-planning meeting is bright and early tomorrow. Nicole, Judi and I are excited to meet the rest of “Team Anchorage.” I’ve been promised more reindeer sausage on the menu. Good night from Alaska. More to tell tomorrow.
~ Sally Garner, Communications Coordinator