The rest of the story...

Here's where I tell you all the stuff that wouldn't fit in a 2-minute TV story.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sled Dogs in Virginia

One of the Huskies that pulled us on the New River Trail.
The first time you see it, you're torn between thinking it's beautiful and thinking it's funny.  Sled dogs pulling a person -- on a scooter.

The dogs are beautiful and athletic.  They lean into the harness as if it was the only thing that mattered.  Their blue eyes and contrasting white and silver fur shimmering in the sun.

Jenny, Tina, Sam and Wayne show me the "real" sleds.
And then there's the person in the back, looking like, well, not what you'd expect those gorgeous huskies to be pulling -- a two wheeled contraption without pedals that looks like it could come from Toys R Us.

On the other hand the people are having a blast, and so are their dogs.  

As a dog lover, I appreciate the people in this story.  Jenny and Sam Akers, Tina Gibson and Wayne Grim.  To a certain extent they backed into their new pastime.  Forgive the pun, but when you look at the back story it's kinda like the tail is wagging the dog.

I've got to believe most sled dog enthusiasts get into the sport saying something like, "Hey that looks like a fun winter sport, I think I'll get some dogs and give it a try."

Fair enough?

These people kinda went, "Hmmm now that I have these huskies, what am I supposed to do to keep them from chewing up the couch?"

Wayne let me try his rig.
You'll understand if hitching them to a sled wasn't the first thing that came to mind.  After all Virginia is not exactly the land of the mushers. 

Their interest originates with Siberian Husky Assist, which helps Huskies find "forever homes" in the area between Roanoke and Knoxville, TN.    Even Jenny Akers, who may be the biggest Husky lover in the group, told me during our interview, "Huskies aren't for everyone.  Open the door and they'll take off -- might never come back.  If a thief breaks into the house the Husky will help them pack."  In other words, the breed is not for everyone.

The Siberian Husky Assist website asks that you watch this video: 

Google the word Husky and you'll get ample warning that you may be biting off more than you can chew.  (Pun #2 -- sorry.)  They shed.  They have wolf-like tendencies.  They are big dogs, which often don't do well in small houses.  You get the point(s).

But these folks have figured it out.  They've adopted one dog and then another and another.  They meet at the nearly perfect New River Trail and they let their happy dogs burn off all that energy.  And the people thrive too.

They slow it down in the summer when the dogs can over heat.  In the winter they let the dogs pull the scooters and the sleds on wheels.  When it actually snows, it's like heaven for the dogs and their mushers.
Tina and one of her dogs.

Group shot.  Thanks for an interesting story.

I encourage you to take a look at the Siberian Husky Assist website.
Jenny Akers can be reached via e-mail at  Marcia Horne, president of the rescue is at

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Black Pot Chicken

Black Pot Chicken

Like many people I had waited in line at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival for a taste of Black Pot Chicken.  And like many, I finally tired of waiting and walked away.  This year I decided to get to the bottom of it.  Or at least try.

As I interviewed people for this story as they stood in line, it was a common refrain.  Like a marathon, a mountain climb or Black Friday at the electronics store,  people were determined to get there.

Success in this line means literally tasting victory.

In the television story you can see the sizzle of the chicken cooked in peanut oil, and almost smell the aroma coming from the golden brown legs, thighs and breasts, as the Patrick County Ruritans go through their familiar paces.

To re-cap:  The Patrick County crew was at a national conference in Philadelphia in 1976, when some kindly and elderly fellow Ruritans gave them a copy of their own secret recipe.  Only one man, Phil Plaster, was given the secret, and to this day, only Phil has it.  It’s in his head and his safe deposit box.  His wife and his will have instructions about who gets it next.

The local guys came home and tried it at a July 4th celebration and knew they had a winner.  They signed up for a spot at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival and they’ve been there ever since.  And so have the lines of people.

The guys I interviewed -- cook Will Walker, chicken batterer Ronnie Mabe, and secret holder Phil Plaster seem to love all this.  They grin when they talk about everyone leaving the room while Phil adds the secret ingredients.  They cut-up about Ronnie Mabe outliving Phil just so he can be next to know.  Will Walker, who is physically closer to the line of people by virtue of being the cook, has had ample opportunity to practice his answer to the inevitable question, “What makes this so good?” 

“I just do the cooking,” he dead pans.

Once again the great part about this job, and this segment, is that the people are so real.  These guys just enjoy what they do.  Go to a festival and sell secret chicken to appreciative festival goers.