Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It’s a Lot Better than a Dog’s Life

I am accompanying one of the UAF hydrology technicians into the field here to service about six meteorological stations, install the instruments which they only use in summer, and repair any damage done by bears or harsh weather. My companion here, Bob, is my age, with a mechanical engineering degree from UAF and a life of experience living and working all over Alaska. Bob has a particularly upbeat attitude which makes him well-suited for this harsh job. His attitude ships with a hilarious giggle and some of the loudest snoring I’ve ever heard in my life, for which he thoughtfully provided me several pairs of ear plugs.

The first day in the area we checked into the local hotel, rented a truck, picked up the cargo we’d shipped ahead, stopped by our storage unit for more parts, bought gas and did our grocery shopping. Then we headed out to the Snake River, just outside of town, pull on our waders and gauge the river. We found the meteorological station sitting in several feet of swampy half-frozen water, but it seemed to be working fine. A couple pressure transducers had been abandoned over the winter as they’d frozen in before Bob and one of the grad students had gotten here on the last trip of the past summer.

Driving back into town we passed a dozen or so kennels of sled dogs. Nome is the end point of the Iditarod race and many locals compete. A sled dog kennel isn’t exactly what most people on the Outside picture when they hear the word “kennel”. It’s 10 or 20 or more individual dog houses with a dog chained tightly, so it can’t touch (or destroy) the other dogs. Sometimes these kennels are on a concrete pad so they can easily be cleaned with a hose. More often they are on bare ground and therefore everything—the dogs, their houses, and the surrounding area are dusty. These Nome kennels were particularly dirty and dusty and in many cases just out in a tundra field with no human presence nearby. Come winter, it must be a sight to see these dogs doing what they do best: running like hell. In the meantime, their lives seem pretty-much like hell and I’m skeptical that there’s a humane way to do this sport. flickr

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