The Saga of Water in the Frozen North

Growing up in Southwest Colorado, I was always aware that water was something precious. I regularly read of battles over water rights and catching rainwater from your gutters was a “no-no.” Even still, I could always flip the lever on the faucet and a beautiful stream of clean water would come pouring out. You could say that I took water for granted.

Upon moving to our new homestead, I can now say that I will NEVER take water for granted. The battle for winter water has been an eye-opening and enlightening experience. I say winter water, because summer water is actually relatively easy to acquire. We don’t live in a desert, and you can hit water just 15 feet below the surface of our land. To get the best water, we went a bit deeper to 40 feet, but still, water is accessible. Now, throw consistent freezing temperatures into the mix and that water is no longer quite as easy.

Many people in our community live without running water in dry cabins. It’s a completely normal way of life, and there are many laundromats with showers throughout Fairbanks for your water needs. And truthfully, without 45 sled dogs, I wouldn’t mind living in a dry cabin. You never feel more alive than when using an outhouse at -40F. But when you have 45 sled dogs to feed and keep watered, hauling water is no longer so simple. And so began our quest for off-grid winter water.

Almost exactly two years ago, we pounded our own well. First we had a neighbor dig a starter hole with their backhoe. Then we put one section of casing into the starter hole and proceeded to fill the hole back in with the help of more friends. It was a beautiful fall day for shoveling gravel.

Then we began the process of pounding the well deeper. (Middle October with snow on the ground is a perfect time for pounding a well…insert sarcasm). I included a short video from the archive that showed our well-pounding process. With the help of an old well-pounder contraption from our neighbor’s backyard, pipe casing from another neighbor’s yard, the assistance of a couple friends, and a rented welder and air compressor- we had a well!

Ok great, so we have a well producing delicious, fresh water onto the frozen earth of an October Alaska. The following year, we built the cabin, dug a trench, and ran a pipe up into our cabin. Everything worked wonderfully as long as the temperatures didn’t drop below freezing. With winter quickly approaching, we had a few different options:

1- Bury the pipe deep into the ground in the hopes it won’t freeze. This sounds great, except that odds are it will freeze. If it does freeze, we won’t be able to access it until the following spring since it’s buried.

2- Leave the trench open and drain the pipe after every use. Hope that the water pump and pipe don’t freeze, but if they do, we have access to them.

3- Bury the pipe with heat tape (which many private-well users have installed), so that the heat tape keeps the pipe warm and prevents freezing. Many private-well users have the heat tape on a timer. Unfortunately, heat tape requires electricity, which we didn’t have until recently.

Last year, we went with Option #2. We left the trench open and drained the pipe after each use. This worked swimmingly until one day we had a slight mix-up and the trench flooded, sending water and debri down the well casing, freezing the water pump, and preventing any work on the well until the spring when everything thawed out. (Ironically this happened the day after I made a social media post about how thankful I was to have water…) And so from February until April of 2019, we hauled water from the Chena River. We’d strap water buckets to a sigglin sled pulled by the snowmachine, then fill the buckets from a hole in the river. We’d heat two buckets at a time on our wood stove for hot water for the dogs. This method worked but was time consuming and definitely not how we wanted to acquire water every winter for the rest of our lives.

This year, since we now have reliable power from our battery bank, solar panels, and generator, we’re going with option #3! Our neighbor, Ed, dug a trench approximately nine feet deep for the pipe that runs between the well and the house. We’d hoped to go slightly deeper, but the ground is comprised of gravel, and the trench continually sloughed in on itself. Derek placed the pipe, attached heat tape, and welded it into the casing. With any luck, we’ll have reliable water all winter long!!

Business Expansion

As I sit in a coffee shop in Juneau, Alaska, waiting to fly back to Fairbanks after a four day Alaska Travel Industry Association Convention promoting the Last Frontier Mushing Co-op and our new sister company, Chena Outdoor Collective, I think to myself- how on Earth did I get HERE?!

I don’t remember what my five-year-old self wanted to be when she grew up, but I’m pretty sure dog musher wasn’t on her radar. I know for certain reindeer farmer didn’t cross her mind. Alaska? It was a far away place with bears and big fish that I wanted to visit on a cruise ship some day. Yet here I am, walking around Juneau, saying “Hi, my name is Ryne. I’m a dog musher and reindeer herder” as if that’s a completely normal occupation that I’ve planned on my entire life.

And since I’m sitting here, waiting for my flight, I get to let my mind wander and think about how exactly I’ve ended up here. Like everyone’s life paths, there have been lots of twists and turns, but I’m going to simplify it to a Cliffs Note version:

  1. My parents bought me a dog sled ride in Durango for my birthday present when I was in middle school. In stereotypical millennial fashion, I’m blaming my current life position on my parents. It’s your fault. You bought me that dog sled ride.

  2. I dropped out of college. Another classic millennial move. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I left the University of Puget Sound. My parents said “we’ll be emotionally supportive.” AKA, hope you can find a way to financially support yourself. So I’m blaming my parents again, because this led to the next life step- searching for a job that would feed, lodge, and clothe me.

  3. I “googled” dog sledding jobs. Yep millennial move #3. I relied on Google. I found a job that provided only room and board because millennials care more about experiences and less about money/retirement/etc. Next thing you know, I’m living in a cabin at SP Kennel.

  4. Allen lets me run his team in the Iditarod. I actually vividly remember Bridgett (Allen’s daughter) asking me if I wanted a big kennel one day, to which I replied, absolutely not. Then I ran the Iditarod, and next thing I know, the first Ryno Kennel puppies are being born that summer.

  5. Derek says- Yes Ryne. You can move in with me and have a few dogs. Hahaha…few dogs… if only he knew.

  6. I returned to college to get an accounting degree. Everyone needs an accounting degree. I think it should be a mandatory part of life. Whether you dream of being a CPA or starting your own business or being a dog musher, you need to have an understanding of how money works. I’m not saying the accounting degree has made me a financial advisor, but it allowed me to become friends with lots of amazing people who are far more intelligent than I am to help advise me on business decisions- cough cough Feniks & Company, cough cough Mariah and Melody.

  7. My life was overflowing with supportive people. Like so many. Like so, so, so many. Derek (now husband), amazing handlers (Riley, Maliko, Gunhild, Liz, Tyler, Kalyn, Tom, Saeward) and all the kennel supporters. As a musher, we portray a life of self-sufficiency and isolation. Just you and your dogs. All alone. Braving the odds and charging through blizzards. When in reality, I rely SO MUCH on others, their generosity, and their knowledge. That includes you, reader.

  8. We started Last Frontier Mushing Co-op and Reindeer Outpost. We joined forces and started doing tours. I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been a magic carpet ride, but what start up is? Bottom line, I get to spend more time with my dogs, meet incredible guests, and embark on exciting adventures.

  9. Ok. Here’s the latest. We’ve expanded! The Two Rivers Outpost wants to become a tourism destination, and Amanda Brooks and I were hired to transform it into just that. (THANK YOU TWO RIVERS OUTPOST!)

Reindeer Pavillion


This summer with the help of Brian Earle Building (neighbor) and Warren Howard, we designed and built an amazing tourism hub. Chena Outdoor Collective will offer dog demos, reindeer viewing, gold panning, and a visitor center. We’re highlighting our amazing community and trying to put Two Rivers and the Chena Valley on the map! This will allow us to start doing summer tours with the long term goal that I can free up time to really focus on racing. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we love. The dogs. The competition. The adventure. Exploring Alaska. So while I do put a lot of time and energy into tourism and I love expeditions or other opportunities to share this amazing sport with others, I’m not forgetting that this sport is why we started Ryno Kennel in the first place!

Construction of Mushing Pavillion

Construction of Mushing Pavillion

Yurt (future Visitor Center) under construction

Yurt (future Visitor Center) under construction

Derek walking with a couple of his faves- Pilot Bread and Jezzy

Derek walking with a couple of his faves- Pilot Bread and Jezzy

Kalyn and I walking with the Reindeer

Kalyn and I walking with the Reindeer

Wombat and I sporting Louise’s beautiful handmade sweater and Lynne’s warm neck gaitor!

Wombat and I sporting Louise’s beautiful handmade sweater and Lynne’s warm neck gaitor!

September

Rose

Rose

WOW. I can’t believe September has flown by so quickly! It’s been a mild month with a handful of hard frosts and mostly sunny, pleasant days. I keep putting off computer work for a rainy day, but there really haven’t been too many! (Hence the fewer blog posts).

So what is it that we do every day? Currently there are 37 dogs in harness ranging from yearlings on up to Fire, who is now ten years old. Since we’re not running particularly far, everyone has been on the same training schedule of two days on, one day off. Perm, Fish, and Boone are the only three adults not currently in training. If you recall from last season, all three of them developed back leg tendon issues. Because tendons take longer to heal, their training has been mostly free running and building up muscle. We’ll start gradually working them back into the rotation in a month or so.

Every morning, we take out two 12-dog teams, rotating between all the athletes. While two of us are running the teams, another Ryno Kennel trainer waters the yard and feeds and walks the reindeer. The morning chores last from about 7:30 until 10:00 in the morning. After running the teams, we typically sit down for coffee and breakfast, then head outside again for project work. Recently, we’ve been installing new pens, setting posts, building a yurt, hooking up our battery bank, and a long, long list of other fall projects. While we dream of cold weather and snow, we also need just a couple more weeks of warmer weather to try and crank out all the projects! Most of this work is for our new expansion of the Last Frontier Mushing Co-op. Over the summer, we were hired to design a new tourism destination just a couple miles from the kennel, so we’ve been busy planning our future summer tours! The company is called Chena Outdoor Collective- check it out! (https://www.chenaoutdoorco.com/)

Our house just two years ago on September 9th.

With all the projects on our plate, I oftentimes feel like we’re not working fast enough. The house is still a work in process. I’d like to build some big puppy pens. The driveway is an adventure all in itself. And the list goes on, and on, and on. And then, as I was scrolling through photos of the past week to include in the blog post, the adjacent photo popped up. It’s a photo of our house logs being delivered on a truck. Just two years ago, the cabin in which I currently sit (that now has off-grid electricity, running water, wood stove, kitchen, bathroom) was literally a pile of logs on a truck. There was no dog yard yet. Stormy cabin wasn’t built. Lakefront cabin was at our old house. So maybe, we are moving along at a fast enough pace.

There’s just something about reindeer…

There’s just something about reindeer…

Petzl and Ham

Pilot Bread

I introduced these two cuties on social media but have failed to introduce them on the website! Meet the two newest members of Ryno Kennel- Sherlock and Watson! These two are from our friend Jen Lebar in Healy. Jen has Jana’s sister, Tucker. Tucker had a big litter of 7 this summer, and Jen generously allowed two to join RK. Watson is probably the cuddliest puppy I’ve ever met, whereas Sherlock is a hellion, but in a good way.

Watson and Sherlock

Watson and Sherlock

The below photo series is the progression of Kindi’s reaction to Sailor encroaching on her space.

Where are they now?

One of the most common questions we get on tours is- What do the dogs do if they don’t want to run…if they’re too old… if they’re too slow…if it’s time to retire? As dog lovers, we all want to make sure that our athlete’s every need is being met at every phase in their life. When they’re playful, exuberant puppies, we want to provide daily exercise, interaction, and socialization. When they’re high strung yearlings, we want to provide structured training, educational campouts, and fun, relaxed racing opportunities. When they’re muscled-up and motivated ultra-athletes in their prime, we want to provide exploration and adventure. When they’re older and calm with a higher appreciation for indoor comforts, we want to provide them with a slower pace and a couch. So for that reason, we live by the mantra- be the right home for each dog at the right time.

Some dogs follow the above timeline and have the natural ability as well as desire to become high-caliber ultra-athletes. Others may enjoy their yearling year then opt out of the intense, yet rewarding 1000-mile racing. Others may want to be a 1000-mile race dog, but they’re just not built for it. Some want a couch. Some want to run short distances. Some want to camp. Some thrive in a large group. Some prefer a more low-key atmosphere. Basically- they’re individuals. We simply try to be the right home for each dog at the right time. With that in mind, a few athletes from Ryno Kennel did join other teams or retire to a life of leisure!

Belle

Belle

Belle- Belle moved to Anchorage with our handler from the past two years, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Kelsey. She’s now living the high-life by going for walks and canicross runs in the mountains around Anchorage!

 

CJ- CJ joined our friend Lisa and her small team outside of Fairbanks. She now gets the best of both worlds with short runs plus lots of leisure time!

CJ

CJ

 

Dusky- Dusky joined our friend Joe and his team outside of Fairbanks! She’s turning into a leader, and you might notice from the photo- Drakey boy in swing behind her! Joe is focusing on mid-distance races and going on camping trips, which is perfect for both Drake and Dusky.

Dusky (and Drake in swing!)

Dusky (and Drake in swing!)

 

Mako- Mako, the powerhouse, joined Mary at Wild Root Kennel (www.wildrootkennel.com). He’s apparently become quite the excavator, so if anyone needs large holes dug in their property, Mako is the guy.

Mako

Mako

 

Niagra- Niagra was ready for the couch life, so she moved in with Julia. She’s now Julia’s couch potato and adventure buddy! And apparently has learned how to kayak!

Niagra

Niagra

 

Toad- Toad also joined Mary and her pack at Wild Root Kennel. With Mako and Toad, as well as the other pups Mary has added to her team, she’ll have a nice squad this winter! Check out her website (www.wildrootkennel.com). You might recognize some breedings. She has a Bailey x Zig pup (like Flash), a couple Supai x Izzy pups (siblings to Bert and Ernie), and some retired SP athletes!

Toad

Toad

 

Fenton- Fenton is here at Ryno Kennel, but he will be retiring to live with Tracy and Brian in Fairbanks. Tracy and Brian have a small team comprised of a few Ryno Kennel retirees- Brant, Chagga, and Teflon! Fenton still LOVES to run, but a 1000-mile race wouldn’t be the best option for his massive 65 lb frame. He’ll get to go on camping trips and adventures with Tracy and Brian’s little pack.

 

Cartel- Cartel is a little too smart for her own good and can be a bit of a brat for other people, so Cartel is retiring to my couch. She’s kind of a “one-person-dog,” which makes me feel special. That being said, she’ll completely ignore me if I’m asking her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.