I’ll say this: We didn’t start out with the intention to own 14 dogs.
Of course I was warned… it’s called “kennel creep” in some circles. “Just one more…” is a common theme until one day you find yourself with a full sled dog yard!
In our case, I truly believe each dog arrived serendipitously, and each dog has played a role in making us the dog mushing family we are today.
But why? — is one of the most common question I’m asked by friends, family and strangers alike. And while you might assume it’s because I love dogs and I find puppies irresistible… that’s not even the short of it. In truth: The answer is multi-faceted and worthy of a few newsletters!
Growing up in Central Wisconsin, I always loved visiting my Aunt Susan’s farm. She had horses, Bernese Mountain dogs, cats, a wild fox she’d rehabilitated, rabbits, chinchillas, and aviary… there were animals everywhere, and given that I never grew up with pets (other than a cat who died when I was young), Aunt Susan’s house felt magical.
For one of my birthday parties in early elementary school, I brought my two best friends to Aunt Susan’s house to see the animals and ride horses. Not much of that day sticks in my mind, because the experience was eclipsed by the moment I fell off a horse. The wind was knocked out of me, and I remember feeling mortified that I was the one who fell off.
That is the moment in my life I’ve pinpointed as the day my stubborn self decided “I didn’t like animals.” From my vantage point today, it seemed like I made an overnight decision but I’m sure it was gradual, over time. I remember avoiding dogs at my friends’ houses because “I’m just not an animal person.”
I had a few experiences after college in the late 2000s that started to open my heart. All my closest friends had dogs, and most memorably, I would house-sit for a family with two Dachshunds named Stella and Lulu. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the pair were accustomed to sleeping underneath the covers, plastered to either side of me at night!
In February of 2010, I met Sean through a series of serendipitous events, and I made my first visit west in April of that year — and until I arrived, I had nearly forgotten Sean came as a package deal. I would need to share his affection with two rescues: Foxy (a feisty fox-red lab) and Daisy (a mischievous Weimerainer) and — just as quickly as I remember hating animals, all my walls melted away as soon as I met those girls.
I never turned back.
That same year Sean and I met, Foxy died suddenly from liver failure - and we knew Daisy needed a companion. We came across a Weimerariner rescue in California who had a sweet male Weim up for adoption named Dexter. From the moment he hopped in our car for the first time, Daisy and Dexter were inseparable… until my dad convinced me to leave Dexter in Wisconsin with him in 2012. Let’s be honest: It wasn’t really “convincing” me, so much as telling me Dexter was his dog after a three-month stay!
It made my heart swell to see how enriched my parents’ lives were with the presence of a dog. As the years went on, Dexter brought a light to their lives during Dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and I know things would have been much more difficult without Dexter’s goofy presence.
After six months of flying solo with Daisy, we were inspired to bring another dog into our lives.
So begins the story of Glacier…
(Photo credit below: DJ Pierce)
Which (as you’ve likely guessed) will be the story for the next newsletter! Have a great holiday weekend!
Flash forward to today in Wiseman...
A question we’re often asked is how everyone in Wiseman makes a living. I’ll preface this by saying the people here are some of the smartest people we’ve ever met. Not surprising when you consider everything it takes to subsist in this part of the world. What we all share in common is self-sufficiency, a deep love for the wilderness, and for preserving this incredible place.
Although I’m not privy to the inner workings of every household, I can confidently say one’s living is usually made by a mix of government/national parks jobs, tourism-related contracts, and entrepreneurial endeavors such as running lodges/B&Bs, artistry, trapping and dog mushing.
Internet-based work hasn’t been reliable up until just this year, with the construction of an AT&T cell tower 17 miles to our south, cell phone boosting devices that amplify the signal, and companies like Starlink that are rushing to launch enough satellites to service regions of the arctic. While we're grateful for the increased bandwidth for connection, I'm also grateful I can walk outside my door for a few paces and find myself immersed in an infinite "no reception zone."
(Below: A gathering at mail day...)
Every week, on Monday at 11am, the village gathers at one couple’s home for Mail Day. Our mail gets delivered to their home in the village once a week, and the time is much more than just “grab and go.” If our schedules allow (which they usually do!) we typically stay an hour or two for tea and coffee, chatting about the latest news — of which the aforementioned Haul Road drama, subsistence rights and wildlife preservation, and tales of everyone's current projects makes for a lively conversation!
For the longest time this fall, there was a sled of 8 tiny puppies that would also attend mail day! Their mother, Iris, belongs to one of the villagers, and it came out after six weeks that they were looking for homes for the pups — ideally in the village.
You know us: If you show us puppies every week for six weeks, how can we NOT get one? Or two? (This is how we acquired our little fluffy puppies, Poss and Ulu.)
People also ask us if there are any trails here in the winter. Our answer is always an emphatic: YES! There are tons of bush trails which we all put in via primarily snowshoe and dog team, and (rarely) snowmachine. All the trails are unmarked, ungroomed, and go at your own risk — just like everything up here :-)
Winter trails are always dependent on snowpack and weather conditions year to year, but many of the same trails are made annually with names like “The Gravel Bar,” “Minnie Creek Trees,” and — new this year, “Mario Land.” There’s also somewhat of an unspoken code for re-breaking trails after big snowstorms and wind events. We all pitch in, so we can enjoy the trails all winter long.
In fact, this was a big reason we’ve been expanding our dog team the past few years… Sean and I both like to mush our own teams, and it takes 5-6 dogs per team to go the distances we want to go. Do the math, and you’ll realize quickly how we ended up at 12 dogs… and might just have a few more coming soon!
To live (and thrive) here year-round, you have to fully experience winter… and survive completely on your own. Getting outside and enjoying the season and — ideally — enjoying the chores that go with it is what keeps us from cabin fever and seasonal depression. A hefty supplement of vitamin D helps, too!
For Sean and I, dogsledding isn’t just a hobby. It has become our lifestyle — and our family. The dogs are also part of the experience for guests who visit Arctic Hive, too. We've even realized our dream of dogsled assisted backcountry skiing and snowboarding! There will be much more of that in the future as our team grows to necessary capacity.
Funny enough, there are far more dogs in Wiseman than people. As of today, there are 38 four-legged friends that call this village home. And yes, we know every single one by name!
I was moved to write all this after a few days ago, nearly the entire village got together to help a fellow neighbor raise his massive 14-18 foot walls on his new home he’s building this summer. Although it’s somewhat rare to all come together for a common cause like this, it felt good to work together. There were smiles all around after a job well-done.
As independent as we all are, I guess it truly can “take a village” :-)
“So what’s the population in Wiseman?” a friend asked.
“Right now? About thirteen.”
“Oh, that’s a decent size,” she mused.
“No, not thirteen-hundred,” I laughed. “THIRTEEN PEOPLE.”
Living in a village of roughly 13 year-round residents is definitely a conversation starter — especially considering there isn’t another village with permanent residents on the road system between here and 270 miles south to Fairbanks.
(Below: A photo I took on a drive south around the winter solstice with the moon and my favorite cotton-candy sky.)
When we say we’re “going to town” for supplies, we mean the 6-hour drive to Fairbanks. As Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks has many resources we utilize such as hospitals, an international airport, a university, Costco, grocery stores, construction suppliers, and tons of small businesses.
(Below: What my carts usually look like on a Costco trip. Sometimes I need more than one! Because we don't go to town often — sometimes every 3 months — it's imperative to shop smart, preserve what we can, and subsist off the land however possible.)
Throughout the last century, Wiseman — which sits on traditional Koyukon lands — has been home for indigenous peoples, gold miners and homesteaders alike. In the 1920s when the village was in its hey-day (around 80 residents), Robert "Bob" Marshall spent a year here taking copious notes on all the happenings in and around town, and wrote a book on his experience called “Arctic Village”. He called Wiseman the “happiest civilization of which I have knowledge.”
However, rumor has it the villagers weren’t too pleased a book had been written about them without their knowing! Alas, the book was a best-seller of its time, and it’s one of the books we recommend our guests read before visiting.
Despite our ability to “drive to town” today, Wiseman was a roadless community for most of its history. Like many villages, it was fly-in/fly-out, access on foot, dogsled or via rivers/waterways. In the 1970s, the federal government decided to make a road from north of Fairbanks to the Arctic Ocean to complete what became the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, to transport crude oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. The resulting “Haul Road” is the road we drive today. Some other villages in northern Alaska have seasonal ice roads, but none have year-round driving access like Wiseman.
You might think, “Oh, that’s sad. We should pave roads to all those places!” Think again. Although there are upsides to the ability to “drive to town” as I’ve mentioned, and it has made tourism much more common here, villagers who lived in Wiseman back in the 70s were devastated when the road was built. It wasn’t even open to the public until the 90s. We’re fortunate to hear the tales of that time from our neighbors who grew up here, and still live here today.
Still today, it’s one of the most dangerous roads in America. What makes it so is heavy industrial traffic carrying hundreds of thousands of pounds of pipeline supplies, the potential for treacherous weather, lack of resources (or cell service) for help in an emergency, and wild driving conditions on a (mostly) gravel road. To get your car towed, you're looking at a couple thousand dollars. Don't expect a tow membership service to cover this area. Traditional rental car companies don't allow their vehicles to travel the Haul Road either. Just this past week, a propane truck rolled over on a corner known as "Oh Shit" corner. In short: You need to be an extremely competent driver.
When it comes to modern infrastructure, the arctic tundra is unforgivable. “Paving roads” is so much more complicated and destructive on permafrost, mud, and ice. For the other villages, bush planes, hiking, snowmachine, dogsled and traveling on waterways are the preferred modes of transport from a purely practical standpoint — especially when you consider that the State of Alaska Department of Transportation spends copious resources year-round for the maintenance of the Haul Road.
Despite their efforts, even rebuilding and maintenance does no good sometimes… just this week, the breakup from the raging Sagavanirktok River washed out a section of the Haul Road south of Deadhorse. The subsequent delay in transport of critical goods and services while the road is rebuilt will likely cost the state greatly… while potentially trickling down to affect the price of gas at the pumps, truckers’ livelihoods, and extra burden on those businesses that serve primarily pipeline traffic.
Here's a screenshot from a local news article/video released on Thursday this week:
There’s quite a bit of controversy in our area as foreign mining operations, oil/natural gas companies, and those fighting for the preservation of indigenous lands, native peoples, and wildlife all come to a head. As our friends at the Brooks Range Council recently summarized current events: It's a clash of "subsistence issues, environmental issues, economic issues and basic human rights issues" up here.
All this certainly gives us villagers something to talk about at Mail Day! I'll tell you more about that in "part 2"…
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