The Tok Race of Champions is this weekend, and we're on our way down to participate. Tok is the last race of the season for us, and because it's not in town, it's an entire weekend completely devoted to dogs and racing. The dogs stay in their boxes on the truck while on the road, and as a result, all of our focus is on their care. It's an exhausting weekend, but the community of Tok really puts on a good race, and it's fun to go on one last hurrah with everyone else in the sprint mushing community before the season ends.
The hotel we're staying at advertises wireless Internet, so I'll try to keep this updated when there's a free moment.
The first day of the 2007 Limited North American was a cold one, with temperatures in the single digits, and a howling wind blowing across the fields. Andrea and the dogs drew the ninth position, and passed the team starting seventh just before the final hill, which took away most of their momentum coming home. Still, the time was the best they've done on the 4.5 mile trail this year, and she was in sixth place, 1.4 seconds behind the fifth place musher and one second ahead of the team behind her. A good start, despite the pass.
It was about the same temperature on the second day, but the winds had mostly died down and it was bright and sunny at the track. We had high hopes Andrea and the dogs would be able to make up at least a second and advance into fifth place. Unfortunately, as the dogs were going out, Kiva got her right leg over the neck line and wasn't able to get it off. Andrea had to stop the team, run up to fix her, and then start the team off again. The neck line is a thin rope that connects one dog's collar to the dog next to her, and because Buddy sometimes hesitates when the race starts and Kiva is always rearing to go, the line between Buddy and Kiva wasn't taught, allowing Kiva to get ahead of the neck line and accidentally put her foot over it. Andrea's time on day two was 55.8 seconds slower than her run over the same course on day one and she dropped to eighth place.
The third day is longer, 5.9 miles, so there's an opportunity for teams to move up if they didn't have perfect runs on the first two days. Andrea was 1.6 seconds ahead of the team behind her, and 9.9 and 24.8 seconds behind the seventh and sixth place teams. The dogs had a clean run, took all the turns exactly as instructed, and they wound up with a total time of 51 minutes 15.9 seconds over the total 14.9 mile, three day course. That was good enough for eighth place in the race.
- Sam Harris. 2004. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. (gift)
- Peter Hessler. 2001. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. (gift)
- J. Anthony Lukas. 1997. Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America.
- Zadie Smith. 2000. White Teeth: A Novel.
- Thomas Pynchon. 2006. Against the Day.
- Audrey Niffenegger. 2003. The Time Traveler's Wife. (gift)
- Peter Hessler. 2001. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. (gift)
I finally finished Against the Day after three months of deliberately working my way through it. I took copious notes (filling two and a half sections of a journal book) and both contributed to, and benefited from the wiki devoted to the book. I'm not exactly sure what to make of the book now that I'm finished with it. It was a great book, but it's always hard to read a book when you feel like you have to study while you're reading. There were days when I came home from work, and just didn't feel like investing the energy it would take to read, write, and cross-reference so that I could get as much from it as it deserved.
I'm often called on to describe (often, defend) why I think Unix, and Unix tools, are better than the more popular alternatives. The point I always try to make is that Unix is an expert system, meaning it takes expertise to use it, and because of the richness and complexity of the system, there's always something more to learn. For a beginner, they're a pain to use because there's such a steep learning curve. But once you've learned enough to go forward, it is much easier to apply what you've learned to new, unique, and difficult tasks that are impossible in the simpler, restrictive box that a non-expert system places you in. Pynchon is the literature version of an expert system. It's a lot of work just to read it, but it's obvious once you do that not only have you gotten something unique out of it, you will get much, much more when you read it again.
The next book I read was The Time Traveller's Wife, and I enjoyed it so much, I was tempted to start reading it all over again right after I finished it. Not because a second read would be all that much more revealing, but because I wanted to be back in the world of Henry and Clare. It was the perfect antidote to Against the Day, yielding rich rewards with the simple effort of reading.
I finished the month out with Peter Hessler's memoir of his time teaching with the Peace Corps in China. I'd read some of his writing in The New Yorker and was a little worried that the book might seem too much like a series of columns in book form, but that wasn't the case at all. The Hessler who starts the book upon arriving in China is very different from the guy at the end, and the journey from one to the other was very entertaining. I also feel like I learned something about what makes China so different from the United States. The way the Chinese government deals with their own troubled history and the conflict between "Communisim with Chinese Character" and capitalism is pretty interesting when viewed from a rural backwater like the small town Hessler taught in.
We've had Koidern almost a year now, but as much as she loves being in the house, she's never felt comfortable enough to sleep on the dog beds we made. When she first came, she'd pace around and finally lie on the rug in front of the couch. A few months later, she started sleeping on a small commercial dog bed away from the other dogs. Within the last few weeks, her favorite spot has been the stair landing.
But today, when I came home from work to let Piper and Nika out (it's been too cold outside for them to ride with me to work), Koidern came in and went right for the middle dog bed, traditionally Kiva's bed. Kiva stood above her and gave her the stink eye, trying to get her to move but finally gave up and curled up right next to her.
Getting a new dog integrated into the family is a challenging and stressful process, and I think this marks Koidern's full membership in pack Swingley.
The second championship race of the 2007 season was held in North Pole this weekend at the Chena Lakes Recreation Area. It's been about 25 degrees below normal this week in Fairbanks, and Chena Lakes is one of the colder spots in the Interior. It was -45°F on Saturday and -41°F on Sunday in North Pole when I left the house for the track. The races were delayed until 12:30 so that things could warm up a bit, but it was still a chilly -15°F when the four-dog class went out.
It's a short 3.8 mile course for the four-dog class and Andrea and our dogs had the best time of 11:43.1 on Saturday. The second place team was 11.3 seconds behind. On Sunday Andrea lost some ground, but she held on to win the overall race by 1.5 seconds, finishing with a total time of 22:59.2. She got a trophy, three bags of dog food and a check for $50, but I'm pretty sure that getting first place in a championship race is the real reward.