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December 4, 2015. Happy Birthday, by Debbie Clarke Moderow

04 Dec 2015, by Debbie Moderow in Uncategorized

Today is no ordinary day. It’s the Puckies ten year old birthday.

 

No, that’s not a typo. We fondly refer to our mighty litter of eight as the Puckies because, for the most part, they were named after the 2005 Cornell hockey team. Andy and Hannah were both Cornell undergraduates when the Puckies were born. And the hockey team was one of the best ever.

 

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Kanga and her pups, a day or two old

 

Mushers have long named their litters after themes. So, for the most part, that’s what we did. Topher, Pokey, Mugs, and Abbott were each named after players. (Topher Scott, Sasha Pokulok, Tyler Mugford, and brothers Cam and Chris Abbott.) Lynah was named in honor of the hockey rink.

 

Then, because I am easily distracted, I decided to call a white rowdy girl with a brown cow spot Roo (the Mom of the litter was Kanga, and we needed a Roo). And well, then we got into a discussion about how Princeton (my alma mater) required some representation. So two identical brown girls, Tiger and Lily, were named after Princeton’s female acapella singing group.

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Andy, Hannah, and Mark with the litter

 

Let there be no confusion: it’s not exactly ideal to bring a litter of sled dogs into this world in early December. That winter was cold, and I have a soft spot for Moms and their babies. So all eight were born in our Anchorage living room. We had every intention of relocating them to a proper outdoor pen within a few weeks. Afterall, Alaskan huskies are meant to be outside. But it was a frigid season. One thing led to another, and all eight Puckies lived indoors until March.

 

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Andy and the Puckies

 

The running career of this litter began in earnest when they were yearlings—in February 2007, all eight went on the Norman Vaughan Serum Run, from Nenana to Nome. Hannah, Mark, and I took part in the expedition. The Puckies stole the show.

 

During those 800 miles they learned everything about the long distance trail. On the way to Nome, Tiger and Mugs became dedicated leaders. Roo learned to lie down and sleep while camping on the trail. Even shy Pokey decided to let the children in the villages pat her. Mugs and Abbott have never had much hair, and the temperatures dropped way below zero. Those brothers did just fine, dressed in many layers. At the end of the expedition I was given an award for the best-dressed dogs.

 

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Mugs, in his coat, leading my Serum Run team with Sydney

For the last ten years the Puckies and I have gone to events from Wyoming to the Caribou Hills south of Anchorage, to the Kobuk Valley in the Arctic. Tiger has led so many races I’ve lost count. Once, on the Tustumena 200, she got loose in a tangle and ran alongside Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey’s leaders for a while. Then, he told me, she looked at the dog alongside her and realized she was with the wrong team. She stopped in a flash and backtracked on the trail where she soon found us. At the finish, Lance asked me how much money I wanted for her. I told him there was no such number.

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Andy me and Mugs

 

To this day, the Puckies take center stage in the Salty Dog Kennel. On races they like nothing more than to pass other teams. As soon as we run up on a competitor they start barking; it’s a little obnoxious, but they don’t stop announcing their presense until we’ve passed. At home they always entertain. Abbott carries his dish before every meal. Roo hoards soup bones; Mugs buries his beneath the straw in his house. Lynah and Topher are the best of friends—but we can’t let either one of them get near their unfavorite brother Abbott. Lily, the class clown, loves to come inside to visit. She collects socks and gloves from all over the house and buries them in the couch.

 

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Abbott and his dish                           Hannah and Tiger

So today is a very important birthday. Happy Birthday my dear Puckies! To celebrate your decade on the line in front of my sled, tomorrow we’re heading out on the Alpine Creek Race. We’ll pass through at starting line between 9 and 10 AM, and run 53 miles to the finish line at Alpine Creek Lodge. We’ll camp there overnight and then find our way home.

 

The Puckies and I won’t break any speed records this weekend, but as always we’ll have a wonderful time. They are all trained up for the occasion. Last weekend we enjoyed a spectacular five hour run.

 

Tomorrow morning will feature one more Puckie starting line.  Abbott will wear his coat trimmed with wolverine fur. Roo will run at his side. Tiger will lead us onto the trail as always. I only hope there will be at least one slower team in the field, so my elder Puckies can bark and carry on as we pass—in rowdy celebration of thousands of magnificent miles.

 

"To see far is one thing, going there is another." —Constantin Brancusi

Me and Tiger, 2014