Monthly Archives: January 2012

Trials of the trail — Mushers will tackle new T200 route

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A lone dog team trains in the Caribou Hills recently, but dozens of dog teams will take to the trail this weekend for the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.

Redoubt Reporter

As the 28th running of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race prepares to get under way this weekend, it is shaping up to be a race of champions, with five past T200 champs signed up to run. But with the race taking an entirely new trail this year, not even past winners have an experience advantage.

“I think we’re on track for a great race,” said Tami Murray, T200 executive director.

Signed up so far are numerous past victors of the T200, including the defending champion Dee Dee Jonrowe, of Willow, 2005 and 2006 champion Jessica Hendricks, of Two Rivers, 2000, 2001 and 2010 champion Jeff King, of Denali Park, 2004 and 2009 winner Cim Smyth, of Big Lake, and hometown favorite Paul Gebhardt, of Kasilof, who won in 1996 and 1997.

“I’m really happy with the field so far,” Murray said “It’s a really strong field with so many having already won it, but there’s some other really talented mushers signed up, too.”

In addition to all the past T200 champions, there are also several winners of other mid-distance races around the state, including Colleen Robertia, of Kasilof, the 2010 winner of the Gin Gin 200, Dan Kaduce, of Chatanika, who won the Solstice 100 near Fairbanks earlier this season, and Jodi Bailey, of Chatanika, who won the Gin Gin 200 in 2007 and 2008.

“It’s a race we have not done, but have always heard good things about, so we wanted to come down and check it out,” Bailey said.

Living north of Fairbanks, Bailey has been training in temperatures that hovered at minus 40 for months, so she said she is looking forward to the milder weather of the Kenai Peninsula.

“We made the decision to go down long before the cold snap in the Interior, so weather was not really a factor then. Now, it is appealing to be running somewhere that should be a little warmer than our current temps,” Bailey said.

The T200 has the moniker of being “the toughest 200 miles in the state.” Bailey said her team is no stranger to hills but, that being said, she plans on using the T200 as training for a bigger race in March. Continue reading

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T200 volunteers take to the trail

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Tustumena 200 race organizers and volunteers meet at Tustumena Elementary School on Monday to go over the roles everyone will play in putting on the event.

Redoubt Reporter

For Kasilof resident James Banks, being a volunteer for the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race seems more like fate than a choice. Growing up in Michigan, dogs were a part of his daily life for as long as he can remember, but these were family pets or bird dogs used for hunting, not the powerful pulling huskies of the north.

“I’ve always had dogs since I was born. When I was four, my parents used to find me outside, sleeping in the doghouse with our St. Bernard,” he said. “But when I got here I knew nothing about mushing or sled dogs.”

Moving to Kasilof, it is tough not to bump into someone who has or had sled dogs, or who doesn’t take part in the T200 in some capacity, as the race annually relies on dozens of volunteers.

“The T200 starts right in Kasilof, not far from where I live, so right away I started hearing about it from locals,” Banks said. “They started telling me about it, and how they volunteer for it. They told me to come to a volunteer meeting to check it out, so I did, but none of them were there.”

Rather than being stood up, Banks figured out on race day when he saw the folks who had told him about the meeting, that some volunteers have been doing it so long they just show up for the event to do the volunteer jobs they always have done.

“They were all there doing something,” he said.

Banks talked with race organizers and found out what he could do to help. His love of dogs drew him to trying to help with the canine athletes, assisting teams as they moved up to the starting chute, and lending a hand however else he could. After seeing that first team blast from the starting line, he knew he was hooked.

“Seeing all those dogs working together and working so hard pulling their musher down the trail. I had never seen anything like it. I had never seen anything so amazing. I knew I wanted to do more,” he said.

That was back in 2006, and Banks has helped every year since, and was recently voted onto the T200 board of directors. He also has started acquiring his own sled dogs and is up to 11. He hopes to run them himself in the T100 next season.

“Now you can’t tear me away from all of this,” he said. Continue reading

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Pike take a hike — Fish and Game applies to treat Stormy Lake with Rotenone

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Alaska Department of Fish and Game provided examples of pike specimens at public meetings last spring regarding plans to eradicate pike from Stormy Lake in Nikiski.

Redoubt Reporter

Invasive northern pike have been served with an eviction notice at Stormy Lake north of Nikiski, to be enforced this fall if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s application for a pesticide use permit is approved by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Once pike are gone, native fish species will be invited back home.

The permit is up for public comment through 4 p.m. Feb. 23. Comments may be submitted by mail to Rebecca Colvin, 555 Cordova St., Anchorage, AK 99501. To view the application, visit www.dec.state.ak.us/eh/pest/publicnotice.htm. For more information, call 269-7802 or email Rebecca.Colvin@alaska.gov.

Fish and Game has prepared an environmental assessment on the Stormy Lake project, as well. To view that document, visit http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/species/nonnative/invasive/rotenone/pdfs/stormy_lake_ea.pdf. Comments on the environmental assessment may be submitted be email to robert.massengill@alaska.gov, by mail at 43961 K-Beach Road, Suite B Soldotna, AK 99669, or by calling Robert Massengill, fishery biologist, at 262‐9368.

If approved, Fish and Game plans to treat Stormy Lake with the pesticide Rotenone sometime in August or September. The lake would be closed to public access during the treatment and the following cleanup period, with signage warning people away from the water.

“Once treatment is completed, we would discourage drinking the water or swimming until the Rotenone fully deactivates, we’re anticipating two to six weeks after the treatment,” said Robert Massengill, fishery biologist with Fish and Game.

Pike are native to much of Alaska and many areas of the Lower 48, and as big, active, tough fish, they’re a lot of fun to catch. Anglers’ affinity for pike is thought to be the way they spread from their native range into Southcentral Alaska. Pike penetrated into Alaska from Russia when the state was still glaciated. They settled into regions north and west of the Alaska Range, where they don’t cause many problems. They evolved along with other fish species. The other species developed predator-avoidance abilities.

Pike are notoriously voracious eaters, preferring soft-finned salmonids, like salmon, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout, but also eat sticklebacks, leeches, insects or most anything else they can get their sharp, tooth-laden jaws around. They live in shallow, still, weedy water. In Bristol Bay, and other regions with native pike populations, the lakes tend to be large and deep. Pike stick close to shore while other fish, especially pike’s preferred meal of juvenile salmonids, can rear in deeper water. Continue reading

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Dealing with freeze-up — of the brain

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

I graduated from high school. I swear. And college. With those fancy tasseled ropes and everything. I bought a house. I’ve read Ayn Rand. I can hold my own in pinochle.

Really.

I put that out there to get whatever mileage from it I can while I still can, because by the end of this, no one is going to believe I can tie my own shoes, much less achieve anything requiring an IQ higher than Shoe Goo.

During the recent stretch of minus 20 degrees, apparently both my house and I suffered a temporary freeze — the house in the plumbing, me in my brain.

I was taking a shower and noticed it was turning into a bath as the water deepened, rather than drained, around my feet.

Uh, oh.

It doesn’t take much impetus for me to launch into homeowner hypochondria, especially since I have an overactive imagination and tend toward a glass-half-empty-and-what’s-left-is-probably-vinegar-anyway mentality. For instance, shortly after moving into my house I woke one night to an unidentifiable sound above me.

“Oh great,” I thought, “a colony of mutant squirrels have evolved the capability to conduct chemistry and have set up an illicit meth lab in my roof.” Continue reading

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Straw’s hats, fuzzy feelings — Teacher creates warm connection with students

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Weekly Wild Wolf students in Shaya Straw’s class at Soldotna Elementary School show off the hats Straw made. By the end of the school year she will make a hat for each of her students. Clockwise from bottom are Austin Adlam, Marissa Griffin, Tyler Johnson, Nate Downs, Josh Pieh and Crystle Tapia.

Redoubt Reporter

Shaya Straw, a third-grade teacher at Soldotna Elementary School, spends her workdays trying to fill her students’ heads with math skills, vocabulary, science concepts, proper spelling, good behavior and the like.

“It’s great. They’re a fun age. They’re still excited about learning and seeing new things and not too cool for school,” Straw said.

When she embarked on her teaching career, Straw decided she would not only strive to fill those heads, but keep them insulated, too, and began a project hand-making a winter hat for each and every one of her students. Now in her fourth year teaching, she’s got 21 hats to make this year, and is nearing her 100th hat overall.

“It’s fun. It’s a hobby I enjoy, and I like to bring it into the classroom as my way of giving them something from me,” Straw said. “I’ve made hats for my whole family, and friends, and I sell them at the Birch Tree Gallery, but this takes over priority of my hat-making during the school year.”

Straw and her husband moved to Soldotna from an area not requiring much in the way of warm winter gear — Flagstaff, Ariz.

“I could use a little bit of Arizona weather right about now,” she joked last week, as the central Kenai Peninsula was in the grips of a prolonged minus subzero cold snap. Continue reading

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Old Duck Hunter: Derby a chance to reel in a good time

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

“I think maybe this year I’ll focus on just one species.” This is a quote from my fishing partner/Trustworthy Ice Fishing Derby contestant, who, for the previous four years has entered the “Flush” category that entails catching one each of rainbow trout, northern pike, Arctic char, kokanee and lake trout.

Thus far she is the only woman to do it, much less four years in row. Being the supporting cast for her fame and, well, not much fortune, I have broken the trails to remote lakes, pulled the sled loaded with ice fishing equipment and drilled an astonishing number of holes. One would suspect there might be a sigh of relief with that announcement. Sort of.

Truth is, her passion for the derby has taken me places I may not have ever gone in the winter. I can attest that pulling a sled loaded with equipment to Crescent Lake and drilling 16 holes before she found the near trophy-size grayling that would win her first place in that year’s derby was one of those really great experiences even though, at the onset, it showed little promise.

Being in the high country with no one around, wolverine tracks crossing our paths as we made our way, ptarmigan huddled amongst the barely visible willow patches and bright sun that belied the cold temperatures, is normal for ptarmigan hunting with my English setter, but it also made for a pretty darn unique day of ice fishing.

This year, being the first real winter we have had in many years, the going is going to be a bit tougher. The snow cover will make breaking trail into remote areas considerably more difficult than in the recent past. The extended period of cold temperatures is likely to put the fish bite at less than good, and one will have to work a little harder for a trophy fish.

On the other hand, country previously visited is going to look a little different and probably even look more beautiful than it usually does. In spite of the cold temperatures, the snow cover has limited the ice thickness. Of course the deep snow around the hole will require a bit more attention, but nothing one of those small aluminum or plastic snow shovels can’t deal with.

If it remains really cold and one is fishing without benefit of an ice shanty, icing of the line will be a real problem. The various ice lines, our favorite being the Berkley Fireline Fused Micro Ice Crystal, do help with keeping line from icing up. But, make no mistake, they do not eliminate the problem. When it is minus 25 the line ices up, but that does not affect the line’s strength, so just break ice off as it accumulates. Continue reading

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Comedy takes flight — Movie spoof travels highway to the fishing zone

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Randy Daly and Paulene Rizzo rehearse a scene from “Top Chum,” to be performed Friday and Saturday at Mykel’s in Soldotna.

Redoubt Reporter

When writing a movie parody script, it’s helpful to choose a flick that’s already ridiculous, so the jokes don’t have as far to go to be funny. But as with wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors and nostalgic ’80s music flashbacks, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Like when an actor delivers a painfully cheesy line in a spoof of “Top Gun,” and the entire cast grinds rehearsal to a halt to consider whether the cringe-worthy line, as delivered, was part of the spoof script, or from the actual movie.

“Wait. No, that’s actually what she says in the movie. Wow,” said Carla Jenness, playing the widow of fighter pilot “Goose” in “Top Chum,” Triumvirate Theatre’s annual dinner theater fundraiser.

Of course, in this version of “Top Gun,” Goose doesn’t end up in a watery grave during a fighter jet battle. The hotshots in “Top Chum” are elite fishing guides training to combat tourists illegally snagging salmon on the Kenai River, rather than jet pilots in the Navy sent to protect against enemy aircraft. Goose does succumb to an unfortunate incident of choking on a fish bone. But, not to worry — as is pointed out in a running joke throughout the play, “Nobody dies in a Triumvirate show.”

Although there is usually eye-rolling and groaning and other pained expressions from the audience as the sillier jokes are delivered. Such as the lyrics to a reworking of the “Top Gun” theme song, “Highway to the danger zone”:

“Revvin’ up your outboard, listen to her howlin’ roar. Metal under tension, beggin’ you to snag and go. Highway to the fishing zone! Gonna take a ride into the fishing zone.” Continue reading

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