She’s studying the Northern Lights and preparing to race the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska.
He’s building dog sleds.
And both are living in a remote hut with their 22 canine family members.
Kenneth and Yvonne Dåbakk – who made friends in Lakewood in May on their way to Alaska from Norway — say their move north has been every bit the adventure they wanted.
Getting there wasn’t easy. They knew they wanted to fly to Sea-Tac Airport and drive the rest of the way with their 21 Siberian huskies and one shiba inu. But that required a truck. And a trailer for the dogs. And paperwork.
All of which the Dåbakks needed to arrange remotely from Norway.
Several dealerships turned down the couple when they tried to buy a Seattle-area truck.
Then they found their ticket to Alaska and a friend in Lakewood Ford salesman Rick Bauer. He spent months organizing everything and picked up the whole Dåbakk crew at the airport in their new rig May 14, to a chorus of howls.
The pups stretched their legs in the Lakewood dealership’s parking lot, and the next day took off to Alaska, where they’ve been since.
Bauer keeps in touch with the couple, who invited him to visit. He hopes to make it north either for this year’s March Iditarod start or next year’s.
The Dåbakks plan to race both.
The race is roughly 1,000 miles, and ends in Nome, Alaska.
The farthest the Dåbakk team has gone before is 300 miles, which means they’ve been doing serious training leading up to the big race.
And Alaska, they say, is the perfect place for that.
“This is a dog’s heaven,” Kenneth Dåbakk said. “Just out from the cabin, you could do a 300-mile run out here.”
That’s the one-room log cabin they’re living in without running water or electricity, about a 30-minute drive into the mountains from Fairbanks, where Yvonne has been doing postdoctoral research on the physics of the Northern Lights.
Kenneth keeps up with the wood supply for the stove and has been ptarmigan hunting. A carpenter, he’s been learning how to build dog sleds, including the one Yvonne will use when she races in March.
It’s exactly what they wanted.
“It’s really nice,” Yvonne said. “It’s just us. We really enjoy it.”
The team mascot, the shiba inu named Oki, has some reservations about the cold.
“He’s burning his fur,” Yvonne said. “He loves to go behind the wood stove.”
But as long as the cabin is warm, he’s happy.
Oki doesn’t get to ride in the sled for the big race, as he sometimes does at home. Instead, he “has a plane ticket to Nome, actually,” Yvonne said laughing.
But while their Alaskan adventure has been everything the couple hoped, it hasn’t been without challenges. They had to briefly evacuate the area last summer because of wildfire, which is easier said than done with a dog team. But the trailer Bauer found them made it possible.
And recently, there’s been a mama moose and her calf on the trails they run.
“It’s hard to control 12 or 14 dogs that want to go moose hunting,” Yvonne said.
She’ll have 16 dogs with her for the big race, which means not everyone will make the cut this year.
But some she’s certain she’ll take.
Snuppa is Old Faithful in a team of youngsters. She’s 4½, and has been with Yvonne for every race.
“She’s always playful and making noises, talking to you,” Yvonne said. “Always excited.”
Ittoq, 2½, is another solid team member.
“Never quits,” Yvonne said. “Always working hard. Always wants your attention and wants to be cuddled.”
But when it comes to left and right, he’s not so particular.
“He just goes,” she laughed.
She hopes the team’s next training race will be the Copper Basin 300 on Jan. 11, but that depends how everyone is feeling. They’ve been on medicine to beat intestinal bugs and worms that are different from what they’re used to back home, she said.
The start of the Iditarod in Willow, Alaska, will be March 2. The ceremonial start is the day before in Anchorage.
Once Yvonne’s off, Kenneth hopes to meet her at one of the checkpoints along the way, and he and Oki will definitely be at the finish line in Nome, he said.
Yvonne’s especially looking forward to the stop in Nikolai. She and Kenneth volunteered there to help with the Iditarod in 2011 and made friends with the man who does the preparations at the checkpoint. Come to think of it, she said, that’s when they decided they needed to run the race themselves.
She’s also hoping their friend from Lakewood will be there for some part of the race, which they’ll use his truck and trailer to get to.
“That will be so awesome,” she said.
But most of all, she just wants her team of young dogs to take it slow and steady on the trail, and make it to the finish line healthy and happy.
“It’s a big adventure and trip for them to go on,” she said. “We’re just going to have a lot of fun and make it a good experience for everyone. Our goal is to get to Nome with a happy bunch of dogs that want to go on.”
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268