Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Another Rainy Day Ride Salvaged by Sled Dogs: Tok, AK and Laughing Eyes Kennel


The Africa Twin chillin' on Rt 1 Between Anchorage and Glennallen, Alaska

By the time we left Anchorage to begin our ride to Haines, it was late afternoon . We were hoping to get a few kilometers out of the way, so that we would be able to do the ride to Valdez and back in one day.

Massive Glacier off of Rt 1 Between Anchorage and Glennallen, Alaska



We set up camp just off the road, in a spot with a spectacular view. However, behind the stunning mountain range that was turning pink with the setting sun, there was a collection of very familiar looking clouds moving in.



Sure enough, we woke to pouring rain the next morning. In our haste to set up camp the night before, neither of us had realized we were on top of a small indent in the ground, so we awoke in a puddle, everything on the verge of being soaked. We donned our KLiM gear before getting out of the tent so we could at least stay dry while packing up and rode on to a rest stop in Glennallen. This was the junction of the road to Valdez. But the weather report given by the sunny information center staffer confirmed our dismal expectations: we abandoned our plan to ride to Valdez, as the rain was set to continue for the next 24+ hours and hence we wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway.

The woman at the visitor center instead urged us to get on the road so we could make it to Tok by 6pm and catch Hugh Neff’s presentation on his 12 Iditarod races.

We stopped at the Tok Motorcycle Campground which we found to be extremely well-done. There are no hot showers, but there is a sauna…




The Tok Motorcycle Campground has something to suit everyone's needs.

It was a slow night in Tok, so it turned out that Roel and I were the only attendees at Neff’s presentation.


Hugh Neff giving Roel a "tour" of his sled

We got to talking and in lieu of a presentation, Hugh invited us to come back to his home where Laughing Eyes Kennels is headquartered, to meet his champion sled dogs and their puppies and hear more about the work he does to promote literacy around Alaska and in the lower 48.



It was dinner time for the dogs and there was quite a frenzy as Hugh began to ladle a horrendous smelling soup of bison guts into pails. Although it was making my stomach roll, the dogs apparently were quite looking forward to their supper.

As we were walking to the kennels, bison guts spilling over the sides of his pail, Hugh turned and asked “You guys don’t mind getting dirty, right? You’ll probably get dirty if you’re playing with the puppies.”

Both Roel and I paused, and I later found out we were thinking the exact same thing: we don’t mind getting dirty, but we do have concerns about being covered in bison guts in Grizzly country… hmmm.



Nonetheless, I caught sight of a tiny puppy tumbling out of a little dog-house, and my olfactory senses simply stopped working. Hugh led us into a pen and immediately put two tiny precious champion-sled-dogs-to-be into our arms. I was in love in an instant and pondering whether or not Hugh would notice yipping coming from Roel’s tank bag on our way down his driveway. (Hugh does actually breed some of his puppies to sell to good homes, but obviously, Roel's tank-bag is not what he has in mind :/ )



Hugh led us around the kennels, introducing us to his family and amusing us with their antics: he’s taught one of his dogs to jump into your arms upon
command so he and Roel took turns “catching” this bundle of energy.




A different way of playing "catch" with a dog
 
I couldn’t get enough of Walter, his star sled dog, who has run all 12 Iditarods and has learned that humans simply cannot resist petting him when he leans against their legs.



We left Hugh’s and headed down the road to a pull-off where we could pitch our tent. Yet again, ominous looking clouds were on the horizon, but we counted our blessings and set up our tent under a clear sky. And yes, all of the bison-gut-covered gear stayed on the bikes, far from the tent, and we took extra anti-bear-attack precautions, knowing that we were likely attracting all bears within a 20-mi radius. For the first time, I was actually hoping for rain to fall overnight to wash the smell off of our gear.

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