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tim white & grandpa

Here is an excerpt from Tim White's blog regarding my grandfather:

You could call it snot eye. A mucous discharge, yellow or greenish color, in the eye. It may be a result of dust or dirt in the eye, pollen and allergens; the worst variety is probably “pink eye” a contagious infection that spreads from one individual to another. Dogs, humans and other animals can have the discharge for many reasons. Earl Norris, the famous Siberian Husky musher, was often seen with this in the socket of his glass eye. Perhaps he took it out at night, put it in his pocket, then licked it before replacing it in the morning. That’s what Will Steger did with his contact lenses…
The first time I met Earl Norris was in 1974 at the Iditarod start. He told me “that sled will never make it to Nome.” The next time was January 1978 when I went to the Settlers Bay race near Knik. Earl offered again, “that sled will never make it to Nome.” I sold one of my sleds then to Rick Swenson and he used it all the way to Nome, though he was beaten by Dick Mackey in a photo finish.
He then extrapolates on eye discharge in his dogs and his favorite treatment for the ailment, which was apparently the actual point of the article.  So why did Tim White include a description of my grandfather in the introduction?  I'm not sure, but I had the "pleasure" of listening to Tim White give a lecture on the "history" of sled dogs at a sled dog symposium in Kiruna, Sweden last year. In that aimless and wandering overview of sled dogs, he also made sure to impress upon the audience what a nasty-looking doubter my grandfather was, with pictures of grandpa at Alpirod included in his slideshow. I introduced myself to him after the lecture as Lisbet Norris, Earl Norris' granddaughter, and he at least had the decency to look a bit ashamed of himself. I would like to think so, at least.

Tim White fancies himself a historian, and seems to insist on painting my grandfather in his histories as a hygiene-defient doubter of Tim White's methods and products. That may have been so, but I think I can say most people, even if they did not agree with him, recall my grandfather as a respectable figure who dedicated his life to the sport of dog mushing. I remember very well what my grandpa's glass eye looked like. But it certainly is not the part of him I focus on when I am thinking about my grandpa as a person and accomplished musher. Thankfully, most people who knew or met my grandfather seem to follow this line of thought as well.


fancy new mushing boots

My fancy new mushing boots Mom & Dad gave me for my birthday !

These boots are designed with mushers using overboots in mind, and are produced in Norway in conjunction with the Femundløpet Race. They are made by the same company that produces Lobbens. 

NL300: Finger Lake & Back Again

We pulled into the Finger Lake checkpoint about 10:30am Saturday morning. A checkpoint volunteer helped the team park in a sunny spot on the lake, right below the magnificent log building that is Winterlake Lodge. The top ten had already left for Yentna, but the rest of the field was still camped, feeding dogs and making preparations for the next leg. My dogs looked good, but they were certainly tired and were quick to snuggle up in their straw and nap in the sun while I cooked their meal. Everyone ate, some more voracious than others. I was tired and emotional. After I took care of the dogs, I gathered my thermos and a change of clothes and headed up to the lodge to find something to eat. The lodge is owned and operated by the Dixon family. Carl Dixon and one of his daughters (I'm afraid I can't remember her name) were holding court in the kitchen. They had hot water and a basin for washing hands, coffee, tea and cocoa available for the mushers, and fresh cooked burritos to offer for eats. I sat down with a cup of cocoa and Daughter Dixon offered to cook me a burrito. Yes please! I nursed my cocoa and tried NOT to think of how proud I was of my team --otherwise I was going to start crying right there in the kitchen--  A fresh hot plate of beans, rice and burrito fixings was set in front of me and I ate, listening to Carl Dixon and a friend of his visiting from Anchorage trade stories.

I sent out so much food on this race. A full bag of snacks to every checkpoint. And do you know how much of that I ate? A mini-bag of cheetos, a bag of honey bears, a poptart and some salami. That's it. Fresh hot food was available at both Yentna and Finger Lake and was so much more appealing than whatever I packed along. The food at Finger Lake was provided to us for free, and I was happy to pay the Gabryszaks for the meals I ate at Yentna Station. It was the least I could do for the wonderful hospitality they provided for the race.

After I ate, I retired to the musher cabin and changed into fresh long underwear and socks. I set my alarm for three hours, but woke up after about two. I lay in bed, going over my game plan, and got up after about 2 and a half hours of rest. I put all my musher clothes back on, nice and dry after hanging up by the woodstove in the cabin for a few hours, and went down to the dogs. I took pictures of the dogs snoozing, cleaned up my campsite and prepared myself for the next leg. Before my nap, I talked to Vern Halter, and with his input, decided to stay for just the mandatory amount of rest: 6hrs. I can see now that resting in Finger Lake for 8hrs would have been overkill, but it was a long way home,  and for a tired and inexperienced musher concerned about their team, a distinct option. But, given that we had rested in Skwentna on the way up, and planned to stop there again, 6hrs was plenty long enough for the dogs to rest in Finger Lake. I'm glad Vern was there to talk to; I trust his judgement whole-heartedly.

We pulled out of Finger Lake in the late afternoon, shortly after the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Let's see here.. the leader board says I left at 16.40 but I know for a fact I left at 16.36, exactly six hours after my arrival time:) At this point, there was only a few teams left at the checkpoint, and the checking was pretty casual. The checker was across the lake loading dropped dogs on the plane, so I shouted "Am I good to go?!" and he said "Yep! Have a good run!" I checked my watch and that was that. They had a nice, dedicated group of volunteers out there. The same can be said for both checkpoints, really. I wish I had retained their names. I know Patrick Mackey, Jason Mackey's son, was out there doing a good job, so I can at least thank him publicly.

The dogs left the checkpoint moving nicely, and we had a steady run to Skwentna that mentally, seemed to go so much quicker than the run to Finger Lake. I think the actual run times were about the same. We trotted along in the pink and blue twilight that characterizes this time of year and enjoyed the blue hour, a special wintertime occurrence, when the world is blue, snow and sky. This bluetime lingers for hours in the winter above the Arctic Circle, when the sun stays below the horizon for months at a time. I watched another full moon rise, and switched my headlight on when it was time. I could feel the temperature dropping as we mushed along. I stopped to snack and check feet. I should have realized it was cold when I saw some of the dogs were getting little ice balls along their toes. I cleaned off their feet and booted them, wishing I had gone ahead and taken the time to do so in the checkpoint, but I had a few sore wrists and wanted to give their joints as much circulation they could get. Phillip passed me at this point, and Alex shortly after.

We dropped into the hills just above Shell Lake, a rough, twisty section. This is where Marilyn had lost her team earlier in the day, but I didn't know that, and I was more concerned about the wood shed lying just ahead. I guess the wood shed didn't hold the same attraction it did earlier, as we passed by without incident. As we passed the main cabin and dropped off the bank onto the lake, the checker ran out and shouted.. "Who's that ahead of you?" I looked and saw a headlight waaaay across the lake. "Phillip or Alex," I said. "Probably Phillip"    "OK, We'll go get him, go right, go right" I had no idea what was going on, but ok, I went right, where most of the trail markers pointed. There was also a trail that went straight ahead... to the wrong side of the lake, apparently. I mushed along the lake, and watched the headlight of the other musher going.... where?   Parallel to me, it seemed, and then they stopped. I saw a snowmachine from the cabin roar out towards the team and I realized that whoever it was was clearly on the wrong trail. Poor Phillip. I guess there was quite a bit of overflow on that side of the lake and so it turned into a bit of an ordeal. I attached a picture from his Spot tracker. In his defense, there was clearly a trail going straight ahead, with a marker alongside it. If I had been without direction, I think I probably still would have gone right, where the majority of the markers were clustered, but of course I can't say that 100%. So that's where I passed Philip, and he didn't manage to pass me again for the rest of the race.

I climbed off the lake and wound my way through the Shell Hills. We dropped into the big Skwentna swamp and glided our way through the swamp spruce and open bog all the way to Skwentna. I really liked that part of the trail. That big open swamp under a big white moon was by far my favorite stretch. The trail going through Skwentna was a little confusing. I guess it must be hard to get lost in a place with a population of 37, but I managed. And I wasn't the only one. The trail wasn't marked very well for the return, but there were dog tracks to follow at intersections. Some dog tracks led me straight to the Skwentna Roadhouse. I turned around and found the markers X-ing off their driveway had been run over, so I set them up for Phillip and continued on to my camp spot. Phillip went to Skwentna roadhouse anyway, not once, but twice. They had two driveways. Ha!  Phillip, if you're reading this, I hope you are able to get a good laugh in at this now:)  Alex was parked and melting water when I arrived. I passed him and went a little ways down the road to my first camp spot, or Phillip's first camp spot. Where one of us had camped, anyway. There was leftover straw for the dogs I could add to. Good thing, because the temperature had dropped and it was cold. My toes started to get a little cold as I walked around doing my chores. I thought to myself, it must be at least -20... So as my water for the dogs heated, I changed my two layers of socks and added toe warmers and a third pair of socks to boot. I thawed out two drinks in my cooker and made up a meal for the dogs with the warm water. They ate well and I curled up on my sleeping pad beside my sled and fell asleep. My toes were toasty and I was comfy curled up inside my big parka Mom made me. I woke up at the time I had planned to leave, and something was wrong. I got up and my heels were NUMB. My toes were warm, but toe warmers only go so far... my heels had frozen. I knew I had to get moving, so I packed up the sled, roused the dogs, and we took off. It took a bit of kicking and poling before my feet warmed up, but they did and I was comfortably warm. But I knew it was cold. If I exposed my face, I could feel my nose ring become instantly cold, something that's never happened before. I lived in Fairbanks for five years and never had a problem with cold and my nose ring. So I kept my face covered and tried to stay awake. It was impossible. I have never, ever, been so sleepy. The team was trotting steadily along the Yentna River, and my eyes would not focus, would not stay open. It was like torture. I stopped once, to walk around, inspect the dogs and give them pats. That helped wake me up for a bit, but soon my eyes were closing again. So I leaned my upper body over the handlebar, head practically in the sled bag, and closed my eyes. I could feel the team through the handlebar, and could close my eyes without worrying about falling asleep upright and falling off the sled. There was no way I could have done this in the woods (too many hazards, I would have had to stop and nap), but the river was flat and the trail was clear. Being able to close my eyes for just a few minutes helped so much. I didn't actually fall asleep, not longer than a few minutes anyway, but after an hour or so of trying to catch a catnap, I felt a little less sleepy, a little better able to focus on the trail ahead. I pulled into Yentna at 6 in the morning, still dark. I asked the checker what the temperature was. He said "Forty." I said, "What?" He repeated, "Forty." And I, in my tired stupor, said "Forty what?" And he said, "Forty degrees below zero!" I didn't believe him. Could it really be so cold?!  My tired brain thought about it, and it started to make sense. It was cold out! And once I accepted it, I started to be really pleased...because I had survived... and I wasn't cold!! Not even a little bit. So my gear system worked. I hadn't even thought about the possibility of -40F temperatures. I found out later it was -50F in Skwentna. No wonder my heels froze up.

I bedded down the dogs and cooked them up a warm, watery meal. I headed up to the roadhouse for something to drink and a nap. I had to sit down on the porch outside and chop my way out of my overboots. I had stepped off the trail on the river into some overflow, and the buckles on my boots had frozen solid. Luckily, I didn't break the snaps hacking at them with my knife in the cold, but I got them off and got inside. I got almost three hours of sleep in Yentna, along with a plate of scrambled eggs and hash browns after I got up. While I slept, the sun rose and the day started to warm up. After six hours of rest, we set off  from Yentna at noon in the "heat of the day," a nice -10F. The dogs were not super eager to leave, but they were all willing to go, with the exception of Papas, the big cheerleader of the bunch, who was screaming to go. We set off down the trail slowly, a somewhat ragged start. The dogs were a bit stiff after their rest, lead dog Ruby especially, who had two sore wrists I had been nursing. It took about an hour for everyone, including Ruby, to warm up out of it and then we were having a fine time of it, cruising down the river in the sun. The dogs looked pretty good! 200 miles into our first big adventure and we were chugging along. Kozy, my old man, was the only dog without a super taut tug line, but he was still trotting along and working on the uphills. We traveled down the river, enjoying the sun in our faces, then swung right onto the Big Su, into the wind and back towards the mountains. After a few miles on the Big Sue, the trail turned south, up the riverbank, through a cottonwood forest, and spilled out onto a giant bog in the shadow of Sleeping Lady. The bog fed onto Flathorn Lake. From Flathorn, the trail turned onto some narrow hilly section lines that eventually fed into the Big Lake Swamp. Miles and miles of swamp trail, traveled in alpenglow. The trail rose out of the swamp, back into the woods, and a few miles from Martin's we hit the big section lines that form the main arteries of the Big Lake snowmachine trails and head straight toward Happy Trail Kennel. 7 hrs after we left Yentna Station, we loped up the ramp to the finish at Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake.

I came in strong with all 10 dogs I started with. I am so proud of the dogs & myself and want to thank all my friends and family who cheered me on during my first big race adventure with the dogs. A special thanks to my mom, Kari, who acted as my chauffeur and handler on race day and Kristin Bacon of Bacon's Acres Kennel, who loaned me her SPOT tracker during the race. I really liked having a connection with home while I was out on the trail--it was a comfort to know friends & family-- especially Dad-- knew where I was and that I was OK.


junior iditarod

on this year's rondy

Unfortunately, Dad had a disappointing Rondy. The dogs, who have run top-ten times in training, were way off the pace. We can only assume they are still suffering from a bug they caught in town last week at the Raven Electric race. 

Today was the end of the Fur Rondy race for us this year. I know everyone expects Siberians to be last, but we know they can do better. The hard part is proving it.

Thanks so much to those who cheered the team on! The Rondy is THE premier sled dog sprint race in the world....we will be back! 


following along

split times also available on asdra.org


fur rondy preview

first 40 sec are an add for the alaska app, so skip that.

Fur Rondezvous !!

Fritz & Jim Brown

My dad is competing in the Fur Rondezvous Open Class World Championship tomorrow!

Please wish him luck & cheer him on! We have been talking about fielding an Iditarod team next year, so it is possible that many of these same dogs will be flying down 4th Ave next year under a different format !! :)

The race starts tomorrow at noon on 4th Avenue, downtown Anchorage. You can also follow along on KHAR 590AM or their website: www.khar590.com

Thanks to Hotwire Electric, Tudor Road Bingo, Greater Anchorage Inc & the Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association for putting on this world-class event!


I updated the first set of post-race thoughts with a few pictures and am working on Part II. I really didn't mean to make such a drawn-out production out of it all. I'd better hurry up and write a few more paragraphs before I completely forget what happened :)

Updated post:  http://lisbetnorris.blogspot.com/2013/02/nl300-yentna-to-finger-lake.html


camping up the willow ck sled trail

The Willow Creek Sled Trail, also known as the Herning Trail, was established in the early 1900s as a supply route from Knik to the mining claims along Willow Creek. The "Herning Trail Committee," whoever that is, has put together an interesting website with a bit of trail history and some excerpts from the index of Orville Herning's diary (housed at the UAF Archives). Link HERE. There is a nice big wooden sign along the trail with some history of the trail on it. The Herning Trail is used today by mushers and snowmachiners to access the Talkeetna mountains. This was my first time up the trail in the daylight (!) This was Jackie's first camping trip, so we traveled only a couple hours up the trail, not quite out of the treeline. We took a break for snacks, rest and coffee before we turned around. Lovely to be able to mush into the mountains from home! 

a long string

Ran a 13 dog team yesterday; the most dogs I've ever taken out on my own. 120lbs in the sled & a lot of power out front !!!


Dog Page is up

I've put up headshots of most of the dogs in the race team with links to their pedigrees. See "The Dogs" page, top right.


a blue day in willow

NL300: Yentna to Finger Lake

I started the race Friday morning with the nine dogs I thought were most solid: Ruby, Kozy, Major, Victor, Doc, Linnea, Daphne & Frigg, plus Papas, who is usually lazy and came just to fill out the team. Due to poor weather in January, we came into the race fairly undertrained, but I ran a very conservative schedule and the dogs paced themselves well. They were slow, but steady, with the same run times coming and going. It was a fantastic weekend to be out with the dogs. Clear, sunny skies during the day, with a full moon lighting our night runs. Friday night we got a treat: the northern lights flared up green and strong, shimmering over the Skwentna River. We traveled alone for most of the course, no headlights in sight ahead or behind; very peaceful.

I broke the race down into six legs with plans to feed and rest at each stop: (1) Deshka to Yentna (2) Yentna to Skwentna (3) Skwentna to Finger Lake (4) Finger Lake to Skwentna (5) Skwentna to Yentna (6) Yentna to Big Lake.

The first run to Yentna was way faster than expected-- hours faster.  Other mushers using GPS estimated the trail to be just under 40 miles rather than the 50 we had been expecting. No matter..  I was sticking to my schedule so this just meant more rest for my dogs. We stayed at the first checkpoint about five hours. It was fun to be parked amid so many other mushers. The sun was shining, mushers were buzzing around cooking meals & chatting. High spirits everywhere. This was the one time during the race all the mushers were camped at the same time. The dogs wolfed down their meals and settled into their straw and I set about changing my runner plastic. This proved to be more time-consuming than I anticipated. My runners were iced up from overflow and I was struggling to get my new plastic on. Vern Halter walked by on his way to the roadhouse and stopped to give me the most helpful tip... pour Heet on the runners. Heet's main purpose is to absorb water, so it ate up all the ice, giving me a clean runner that was ridiculously easy to slide the plastic on. Mission accomplished. Vern told me later this was something Rick Swenson had once shown him at a checkpoint. I headed inside the roadhouse hungry for a mushroom swiss cheeseburger and some coffee. I was very appreciative of Vern, Martin Buser, and Timmy Osmar, all of whom gave me sound advice at Yentna concerning my feeding and run/rest schedule. It was nice to sit and talk to Lev and Angie too.. as that was basically the last I saw of them outside of passing hellos leaving checkpoints. Lev ran a great race that placed him several hours ahead of me, so the next time I saw him was when I met him on his way out of Finger Lake, 75 miles up the trail.

Yentna was the furthest upriver I'd ever been with the dogs, so the next two legs to Skwentna and Finger Lake were new to me. The thirty something miles to Skwentna were river miles. I was surprised at how many lodges and cabins lined the river; we were definitely not in the middle of "nowhere." Travel by dog team provides a unique perspective of landscape. This really came into focus for me after the race, when I asked my uncle to pick up my drop bags at Yentna. For me, Yentna is a small journey... a few hours of river travel away. So when he said, "ok, we'll be back in about an hour," my head spun. For him and his snowmachine, it's just a half hour zip away...!

When we reached Skwentna, I was uncertain where I should camp. We had been advised not to camp along the stretch between Skwentna and Shell Lake, but I had no idea where that stretch actually started. The trail clearly took a turn off the river and into the woods, and I wavered a minute or two about whether I or not I should go on or camp right there on the edge of the river. I didn't want to head into the "no camping zone" and have to turn around but I didn't want to camp in the open on the river  either. I decided to go ahead and followed the trail off the river, around a sharp left turn and onto... a big wide road with recently groomed shoulders. This was clearly where the race organizers intended those of us who planned to stop in Skwentna to camp. I stopped, lined out the dogs, snacked, got the cooker going and strawed the dogs down. The dogs again ate like monsters. After I packed my sled, I stretched out next to Linnea and we all settled down for a short nap. An hour or two later I woke up to my alarm. I lay still in my sleeping bag, looking up at the stars burning in the night sky and listening to the quiet of the night. After a moment, I unzipped my bag and started getting ready for the next leg. Shoes on, jacket zipped, hat adjusted, booties located. After about four hours of rest, I pulled the hook in the early hours of Saturday morning and we headed off towards Finger Lake.

The trail navigates Skwentna's small road system and spills onto a gigantic swamp nestled at the base of the Shell Hills, with the Alaska Range just beyond. This part of the trail was a highlight of the race for me. The trail was super nice, the moon fat and white above, and the dogs were cruising... This was also the part of the trail we were required to have our headlights on 24/7--to make ourselves visible for snowmachines-- but it was so bright out, so still, I couldn't resist the moonlight running and--Don't tell Sue!-- I switched my light off.  I did keep the red LED bike blinker on my sled going... It was on the stanchion, just out of sight of my peripheral vision, so it didn't spoil my moonlight time:) I felt safe enough. There was no way a snowmachine could roar through that wide, wide, open swamp, even going 100 mph, without notice and time to switch Wilma back on. And it was lovely. Sailing along smooth trail in the dark... feels like flying.

The headlight came back on once we reached the base of the Shell Hills. Into the shadows we climbed. The trail narrowed as we wound our way up into the foothills of the Alaska Range. Lots of twists and short, steep hills. It was still dark when we dropped down onto Shell Lake. The trail cut straight across the lake toward the light of a large cabin. As we headed up the steep bank to the cabin, a race volunteer popped out of the cabin, asked for my bib number and informed me it was 20 miles to Finger Lake. The trail literally went right though the front yard, past a wood shed, and up into the hills behind the cabin. Victor, up in lead with Ruby, took a small detour... into the wood shed. It happened so fast, most of the team was in the wood shed before I knew it. I don't know what he was thinking, but it didn't take much time to haul him out of the wood shed and back onto the trail. We climbed further into the hills and soon the trail took on a familiar pattern: woods, meadow, woods, meadow, woods, meadow, etc. As daylight brightened the horizon, I spotted a headlight ahead of me. It was Frank Habermann, running Tim Osmar's dogs. He said he was having trouble getting his dogs to focus; girls in heat, apparently. I passed him and he followed me the last couple hours to Finger Lake.

Coming into Finger Lake, I was tired and emotional. The last miles felt like they took forever and the trail kept repeating itself: woods, meadow, woods, meadow. It seemed like the dogs were so slow... just walking, which got me down a bit. But as day broke and we got closer and closer to the mountains, I realized that I had gotten there, 100 miles into the Alaskan wilderness, entirely by my dog's and my own power. I felt so thankful and grateful for my honest working dogs. I had ten tight tugs and we were moving...

When we hit the lake to the checkpoint, the dogs picked it up and we flew into the checkpoint. I was so proud & happy to be there I thought I would burst. Timmy Osmar was there to ask how my run had gone.. Good, uneventful, I said. What more could you ask for? he said. A little speed, I joked. And he said something that stayed with me the rest of the race: "Well, you know.. forward is fast." Or maybe he said "fast is forward," I don't know, but it turned into a mantra I reflected on for the rest of the race.

Coming soon: Part II-- Finger Lake and Back Again.
Willow swamp with Sleeping Lady in the distance.
Resting at Yentna.
Frigg & Doc with Major conked out right behind them.
Sweet Papas who worked so hard, completely surprising me.
Camp at Skwentna. That's Doc sitting up watching the cooker steam.
A poor representation of full moon running.
Dawn on the horizon.
Alpine meadow at daybreak.
Sunrise lighting up the mountains; almost to Finger Lake
I think I wanted to see if I looked as tired as I felt. ha!