Monday, May 8, 2017

Doing the Dog Drop Function

The closest most volunteers can come to the mushers and dogs is working in the Dog Drop area. Next year I will hope to do this a lot more but I did two shifts there and loved it.

For a little background, as you probably know,each musher starts out with sixteen dogs. There are  very few exceptions. That is the maximum team size allowed by the rules. In the Yukon Quest it is fourteen and some of the shorter races have varying team sizes, but for the Iditarod it is sixteen. A thousand miles is a long way to go, especially when you realize how fast they have to move to make that journey in less than nine days--including at least forty hours of mandatory rests and more as the musher may choose to take. It is no surprise that some dogs get tired, some get injured and some get sick. At each checkpoint, sometimes as early as the very first one, mushers decide or the vets advise that a dog be taken off the team or 'dropped.'

The Dog Drop Office-a Conex
Each checkpoint has a waiting crew of dog handlers who take charge of these dogs and care for them until they can be picked up by one of the aircraft of the "Iditarod Air Force", volunteer brush pilots who ferry people, supplies and dogs to and fro along the route. Sometimes this can be a matter of hours and sometimes a day or two, even more if the weather gets too stormy for flying. Generally the dogs are put into crates or shipping kennels although occasionally they are just leashed and controlled by one or two handlers on the smaller planes. They are brought back to Anchorage and there the Dropped Dog crew takes over.

Dog drop area with dogs,
big trailer in background.
Sometimes the aircraft can land on the frozen lake that sits just south and west of the  hotel headquarters. This year most of them came instead in larger aircraft to the general aviation airport at the south end of that small lake. Some of the Dropped Dog crew drives over in a dog truck to pick them up. Below is a photo of a typical dog truck such as almost every musher has to haul his or her team. This year there was also a trailer with even more boxes for the dogs--a total of forty! Back at the hotel, an area has been laid out in a staff parking lot--a long line to which the dogs can be fastened and most of the snow cleared. The dogs are unloaded from the truck one by one and clipped in place, just far enough apart they cannot fight, attempt to mate or get tangled up.

A typical dog truck 
Almost at once, a team of two or more volunteer veterinarians and their assistants careful check over each dog, checking any wounds, taking vital signs and noting their general condition. Meanwhile other volunteers spread straw so each dog has a little nest  just as they use out at the checkpoints to give them some insulation from the cold wet ground. The old time Malamutes and Siberians could sleep comfortably on a snow bank but the modern racing dogs have much thinner coats and can get chilled, especially if they are weary or not well.

A dropped dog--they come in all colors!
Once the vets have checked them and taken any dog needing urgent care into a small Conex that is the temporary clinic, each dog gets a bowl of kibble and water. Most of them gobble and lap this right up but a few are finicky, maybe preferring another flavor of dog food or feeling anxious. This style of feeding is common in the mushing community and used at most kennels. Putting the dry food into water--warmed if it is cold enough to freeze very fast--helps insure the dogs stay hydrated.

Meanwhile another volunteer is contacting as many of the designated handlers for each musher as possible for them to come and pick up their charges. If the dogs cannot be picked up within a few hours, they are reloaded and taken to the women's prison at Eagle, just north of the city on the Parks Highway, where they will be cared for by inmates, who love the privilege, until the race is over and their folks can come for them.

Selfie at the Dog Drop Office
The afternoon I worked, I helped to spread straw, feed, scoop up any messes quickly and then just talked to the dogs that seemed anxious, maybe get down close to rub and massage them. Not only have they been separated from their musher and teammates but they have been hauled around from pillar to post and some of them are feeling a bit of trauma. A calm voice and a gentle touch can make a big difference. These dogs are mostly very people-oriented since they are socialized extensively from early puppyhood.  A few are aloof but most of them are friendly. I fell in love with several and would have spirited one or two away if I could have. It was another great experience!

I was well assured that each dog is cared for with much TLC. Any sickness or injury is dealt with promptly and those with no serious issues get food, water, attention and their needs are met as well as possible. That was heartening indeed and I wish those naysayers who feel these dogs are abused or unloved could witness the love and attention lavished n them. It truly is "all about the dogs."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More Tudor Crossing Photots

If you have seen one team go by you've seen them all?? Maybe to the jaded Anchorage residents but not to me. Every bunch of dogs looked a bit different and how they watched the spectators, took the sharp turn just past my vantage point and of course the mushers--their stance on the sled, their response to the crowds, and overall demeanor--there were no two alike. I just wish I could identify each and every team, but I can't. I'm not a pro photographer and my eyes were not the best that day so I felt lucky to get the level of shots I managed. I got the greater part of the women, pure luck! There was no way to quickly identify most of the mushers and teams. I could not always read the bib numbers, much less record them! So in some cases, my best guess--the numbers get fuzzy the longer you squint!

Bib 32 Hans Gatt

Bib 34 Jeff King

Bib 36, Allen Moore
(Mr. Aliy) SPK

Bib 37 Jessie Royer (5th w/ all16 dogs!)
Bib 52 Katherine Keith

Bib 56 Melissa Stewart (?)

Bib 58 Monica Zappa

Bib 73 Kristy Berington

Monday, April 10, 2017

At Tudor Crossing-Ceremonial Start

I want to get to some of the best parts! As I mentioned, I went along with some trail guards out to an area called Tudor Crossing. I took as many pictures as I could, trying to get every single musher. I did miss a few, some along in the 20s when I changed my vantage point and then three or four when the batteries suddenly failed in my camera--and of course one I missed was Aliy! Darn Murphy's Law!

I've gone through all of them and tried to enlarge to the point where I could read the bib number and identify the musher. For some it is impossible but I have positively identified quite a few. Those are some that I will share here.  The first shot is the area before the racers reached there and later I show the map that marks the route in Anchorage The rest are identified with bib number and/or name.

In most cases the mushers ran less than the full sixteen dogs. It is hard to control a very large team with the crowds, traffic etc so it is safer so most are running about a dozen. Also many use a second sled hitched behind the main one. Called a "tag sled" this also adds some drag, lets a handler or friend ride along and just allows a bit more fun.  All that is not done in the official race and there, most mushers start with the full sixteen dogs. You can drop one or more but not add any dogs once the race is underway. Cindy was one of the first I caught at the better vantage point, which is about where the trail appears in the  middle right of the other photographs. I will post some more on a separate entry shortly so I don't overload one section.

The diagonal line R toL is the trail.
Bib 31 Cindy Abbott (Red Ltrn)
Bib 20 Karin Hendrickson

Bib 15 Martin Buser(4 time champ)
Bib 16, Mitch Seavey ('17 winner) 
Deedee Jonrowe with her pink
Bib #22

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Iditarod Volunteer Corps--Part 2


When I covered the volunteer subject in the previous post, I semi-intentionally left out one function. It will lead right into some of my experiences that were more closely linked to that area than the others. That final function is security. Volunteers working in this area do a wide range of things. They assist in guiding the musher parking in downtown Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start. Imagine lining up about seventy five dog trucks, some with trailers, so that each musher can proceed with his or her team to the starting line in an organized and orderly way. Yep, that is one big job.  Then the same work is repeated at the official start, be it at Willow, as usual, or in Fairbanks.

And, while the ceremonial start takes place and the ensuing run for eleven miles through the city and out to the BLM Compound on the northwest side, others serve for crowd control and make sure the snowy path stays clear and no one gets into a hazardous spot or distracts the dogs.  Once again they control the crowds as the official start gets underway.  Everyone wants to see it ‘up close’ and they jockey for the best photo op spots but spectators must not be allowed to interfere so volunteers man the barriers and keep people in a safe place. Volunteers  also assist at the Mushers’ Banquet—more on this shortly—and they keep watch on the dog yards, both that for dropped dogs returned to Anchorage and at the finish in Nome where dogs are housed for several days until all the mushers have arrived and the final awards ceremony is completed.  

Table decorations
One of the first jobs I had was working at the Mushers’ Banquet. This is a big event held in a huge hall in downtown Anchorage. At the event, fans and supporters can purchase tickets to dine and socialize with the mushers and watch the action as the mushers are called up in the order they registered for the race to draw their bib number which also determines their starting position. There is a big silent auction to raise added funds for the event and some volunteers help with this, using tablets to collect and record bids. Kids all around the country have made table decorations and long before the doors open volunteers put them, race guides and other documents out at each place—roughly 2,000 chairs in this enormous room, ten places at each of about 200 round tables. Every table had at least one item made by a school child somewhere in the US. Some were very creative and handsome, too!


Da'anina Center, Banquet site
Finally the doors opened and more volunteers stood in the portals and asked to see tickets of everyone who enters.. Most are orderly and polite but a few get pushy and have to be asked to stay out—or someone goes to find a supervisor and be sure the person is allowed to come in. I helped with both tasks and then got to observe the rest of the event. Unfortunately I was having a bad eye day and instead of wandering around to chat and get some photos as I had hoped, I watched the blurred action and mostly listened from the back of the room. Still, it was a thrill to be there. I heard Aliy speak after she drew her number—42—and thank the supporters for the love and good wishes they had poured out to her after the tragic snow machine issue last year. And I cheered for several other favorites.

This was Thursday evening, March 2. Two days later, I considered going to downtown Anchorage to watch the start –busses ran from the hotel and later brought people back--but instead opted to go out a bit farther with a group of the “Trail Guards” that included a new friend who had also volunteered at the banquet. 

At about 7:00 a.m. (still before daylight savings) it was c-o-l-d. The mercury hovered around the zero mark. Bare hands went red and then blue in mere minutes and you wanted a scarf or neck gaiter to cover your lower face! We took a cab out to the area known as Tudor crossing where the trail, normally a hiking and bike trail through some parks went in a tunnel under a busy road. We soon found the rest of the group who were mostly local residents. Everyone pitched in to help set up a big tent to give a warm-up place and to serve later for the tailgate party after the last team had passed. By then the sun came up and before long it was up in the twenties and did not feel bad at all.
Tudor Crossing trail guard gang


I found a couple of likely view points not far from the trail and set up with the goal of getting a photo of every team as it passed. I missed a few but got about sixty five of the seventy four or so that ran by. Besides the seventy three entered racers, the Honorary Musher—someone selected by the ITC Board each year for their support and contributions to the race-- led the way with a non-racing musher as their ‘taxi’.  I’ll be posting several of these photos in a later post.

After the final team had gone by—it took about three hours—we gathered for a great feed the local people provided. I had some ‘moose bratworst’ that was delicious and other more ordinary tailgate party treats. Finally my friend and I rode back with another volunteer who was in the same hotel we were—the Lakeside. It was a beautiful, sunny and mostly still day—what the Alaskans call a “Bluebird Day,” a real blessing and treat.  What a fabulous day that had been!!

My fave of the table decor!
Aliy via big screen video--know by red beanie
that it is her!!



Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Iditarod Voluteer Crops-Part 1

 It takes a virtual army of people with a variety of skills to support the massive endeavor that is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in the twenty-first century. When I arrived at the Lakefront Millennium Hotel on the south side of the city early in the morning on March 1, many people were there already. During the next two weeks, a conservative 2,000 people came and went, some heading home early, some out to the checkpoints, and some remaining long after I returned to New Mexico. They come from almost every state and a number of foreign countries. It seems very popular with Aussies and New Zealanders, Germans, some Japanese etc.
Lakefront Millennium Hotel

Here are a few of the special functions that must be performed:

  1. Veterinarians and Vet Techs. These folks have to examine and drug test every dog that goes out on the trail before the official start. Teams of them also go out to the checkpoints, sixteen in this year’s race route which ran from Fairbanks to Nome for the third time in the race’s forty-five year history. The normal official start is in Willow, just north of Wasilla and about sixty miles from Anchorage.  Then, as dogs are “dropped” which means taken off the musher’s teams, normally due to injury, sickness or just being overly tired, they are checked before they are transported by air back to Anchorage and after they arrive there.  The wellbeing of the dogs is very important to everyone involved and each year more advances are made in how they are managed and cared for.  More vets are at the finish at Nome to reexamine all dogs and ensure they are not in need of medical aid.

  1. Dog Handlers: This bunch has several jobs at different points in the race. For the ceremonial
    Hotel grounds, SW end
    start in Anchorage, which is the “show” part of the event, they assist the vets/techs and then help the mushers get the excited dogs lined out and kept under control until each team receives it’s “go” from the Race Marshall. They start at two minute intervals here just as they do in the second or official start.  Next, groups go out to the checkpoints where they assist the mushers by directing them to rest or parking places, locating drop bags (bags of food and supplies sent out ahead of time, each marked with the musher’s name) , watch and check on all dogs to include the dropped dogs before they are transported, help the vet with the examination of each dog and clean up the bedding straw and debris after each team departs.  They also monitor the dog yard at Nome while the mushers are busy with the festivities and public activities there, keep unauthorized people out and sometimes dispense food and water. Another group stays in Anchorage to pick up returned dogs at the airports and care for them until either the musher’s authorized representative can come to take them or for those not picked up with a few hours,  groups are taken to the Women’s Prison in Eagle River where inmates are privileged to care for them.

  1. Communications: This covers two broad functions, data collection and recording and answering incoming calls from the public.  Groups of comms folks go out to all checkpoints on the trail and with laptops and other electronic devices send back information on the arrival and departure times of each musher, number of dogs in and out for each team, monitor the mandatory rest times, and any other critical information. This data is received and compiled in Anchorage and entered into the data bases which generate the status reports given to the public and maintained for the entire period of the race.  Meanwhile, after the official start, people want to know who is ahead, where their favorite musher is and often seek to find out about rumors and ‘wild tales’ which do circulate. Information on such things is only given out after a press release is prepared but current standings can always be shared. This crew also sends out “Mushergrams” which are notes of support and encouragement sent to mushers by family, friends and fans. This function is not as busy as it was before the extensive use of the internet with videos and live streaming of portions of the action, but not everyone is on line, even today!
    Volunteer Registration  Room

Miscellaneous:  Other assorted tasks include packing materials to go to various checkpoints and in this instance to Fairbanks for the official start and Nome for the finish. All volunteers must register, receive a badge and the year’s cap, sign releases if they are not ITC members (that is not an official of the actual board but a ‘card carrying’ supporter, such as I am and most of the volunteers are.) In short the race headquarters is a busy place, even after the preliminary mushers’ meeting, the banquet where they draw start or bib numbers and get their dog ID tags and bibs etc. and the ceremonial start events.  A few also go out to some checkpoints to cook to feed the volunteers and mushers. Not until the last musher arrives in Nome, the last dropped dog is safely returned and the ‘loose ends’ of the rce are neatly tied up do the last volunteers depart.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Miracles of Modern Travel


In a lot of ways I am awestruck by something we almost take for granted these days. It is almost too easy—you get on an airplane; it leaves the ground and soars hundreds of miles in a few hours to return to the earth and deposit its passengers to take another form of transportation to their destination or get on another plane to continue their journey.

For many years, the north forty-ninth state, which was not even a state when I was born, seemed incredibly distant to me and beyond reach. Then a dream and an idea began to take shape in my mind. In 2014, I discovered that by air, it is not so far at all—mere hours had me there.  Now I have been to Alaska and back five times and spent a total of close to three months there.  

Any long trip is an adventure. My latest was no exception. Although I am certainly not Catholic and really not even religious, I nearly feel I need to light a candle for St. Christopher, the patron of travelers. Either he or my guardian angel had to have been working overtime to ensure I made the trip as I had planned it and even my checked luggage did the same. It was by the narrowest of margins not once but twice!

On Tuesday, Feb 28, I boarded a ‘regional’ jet at El Paso, bound for Phoenix. Although the wind was blowing close to hurricane force gusts and moving clouds of dust, the plane took off without issues and landed safely in Phoenix at the appointed time. My gates were some distance apart as usual—switching from the short hop small planes to the larger long distance ones usually has the result.  I had more time than I expected because some issue –I think they said “a minor maintenance matter” kept us on the ground for quite while after the expected take off. Finally we were airborne, headed for SeaTac, the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

I was fretting about making a fairly close connection and expecting to have to take the tram from the “D” to the “N” concourse since I was switching from American to Alaskan. One of my seat companions was a younger business man who clearly traveled a lot. He had an app on his phone to look up gates and assured me we were to come in at D-11 and I would go out at D-3. What a bit of luck. Coming into the crowded airport, I checked the first board I saw and found that was true. I scurried and found the plane already in the boarding process but I was far from the last passenger. I did worry a bit whether my suitcase had made that flight, though. However I knew Alaskan is very good with luggage and would ensure I did get it.

Off we went to land about three and a half hours later in Anchorage. Lo and behold, my suitcase had indeed made it on the same plane and popped up quickly on the carousel. I grabbed it and went out in the chill to catch the shuttle to my hotel.

Two weeks later on March 14, I rode the same shuttle, emblazoned with a picture of sled dogs running in harness, since the hotel is the long-time headquarters for the Iditarod. At sundown the local temperature was about 10-15 (above zero!) but wind chill made it feel colder. I was early—I’d had to check out of my room at 12:00 noon and got tired of schlepping around the hotel. Now I just wanted to be home! The old hurry up and wait routine, too familiar!

I checked in, made it through security and found my gate. Still had time to burn so I visited a McDonald’s for a snack, wandered through some shops and finally it was time to board. We were about on time and landed in Seattle at 2:00 a.m. Again both gates were in “D” but the outbound was in a new area where the concessions had not even been opened yet and at that hour might not have been anyway. Oh well, I was then too tired and dull to want to eat. We were to leave at 5:00 and I would have an hour in Phoenix to get back to the puddle jumper gate.

The hour came and we were not boarding. The growing crowd was restive. Finally the representative told us they were missing two crew members, an officer and a flight attendant for whom substitutes had been summoned. We waited some more. It was right at 6:00 a.m., an hour late, when we took off. The pilot told us there was a headwind so he could not make up much time but he’d do his best to help all of us make any connections.
Just before take off I texted my brother and the friend who was picking me up that there might be a delay. An hour of my expected seventy-two minutes in Phoenix was gone…

When we touched down I had about forty minutes before the next plane was to leave. My set was back in row 21 and it took forever to get everyone on their feet, gear collected and moving. I tried not to get frantic. They had promised me an electric cart when I expressed concern at Seattle but someone lese must have nabbed it. With about twenty minutes left, I went to a customer service desk and got the gate number—the usual long run from the outer wing of “A” to the inner wing of “B”. I ran; even on the moving sidewalks, I ran, almost certain it was a lot cause but I had to try. Gate B-15 was obscure—I asked for it at B-16 and dashed back to find it hidden behind Starbucks. By then I was  shaking as I both cursed and blessed the fact more construction had these smaller planes out on the tarmac in the old fashioned way, though with a long ramp rather than stairs to climb aboard. I was the last passenger to get there.

I barely had time to text that I had made it and would be in El Paso at the appointed time. My hand shook so much I could hardly hit the letters.  I was and amazingly, my bag was too! Outside it was pushing 90 degrees. Even my flannel shirt was too hot and the mid-weight parka I had worn to the Ted Stevens Airport in Anchorage was a useless albatross. I shed both when we reached my friend’s SUV. He cranked up the air and two hours later I was home to be greeted by my eager red dogs. A journey of about fifteen hours total, from winter to summer, from Alaska to the Mexican Border, on which El Paso sits. From sled dogs to pet dogs and my own bed at last.


Yes, miracles on all sides. Heartfelt thank yous to whichever of the Powers-that-Be interceded for me.  Thanks also to the chap with the app between Phoenix nd Seattle and the two young men who shared my set from Seattle back to Phoenix and helped me slip on my backpack and blocked those behind so I could head down the aisle as soon as it was possible. Maybe looking like an old lady, especially a kind of eccentric ‘cowboy girl’ sort of one has its perks!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

IDITAROD 2017

I am here, crazy busy and having a blast. Not a. lot of spare time so I am doing mostly Facebook for now. I have taken lots of pix but not uploaded them yet. Really need to get home to crop and clean them. . But I did get about 65 of the 73 mushers yesterday. Volunteers are from all over and have made many new friends. Check my FB page (Gwynn Morgan) for short updates and I will be back here if and when I can!!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Blazing through the Race Season

I tried but did not fully follow the many mid-distance races that have taken place the last several weeks. Some of them do not have nearly as much internet presence and cannot afford the GPS trackers for every entered musher. It's even a small challenge to find out who won some of them. I know Cim Smyth won the Tustumena 200. He is the son of Lolly Medley, the second woman to complete the Iditarod back in 1974 when she drove "under the arch"--which was not there then!--in Nome a few minutes behind Mary Shields, who was the first female to run that race, in its second year!  Nic Petit was second, running a very tight race with Smyth.

A third generation Redington, Robert, won the Northern Lights 300 and  Pete Keiser won the Kuskokwim 300--for the third time straight! Jodi Bailey got third place in the Northern Lights, running a great, fast race. Only a few women competed in the Kuskokwim and finished but did not place high.  It is a hard, cold race though! out on the coast around Bethel

Now that the Yukon Quest 2017 is history, I'll share a fw comments. Several of my favorite mushers were involved in either the YQ300 or the YQ1000. The 300 kind of came down to a race between Michelle Phillips who is a Yukon Terr resident and running on mostly familiar ground and Aliy Zirkle who has run one or the other YQ races many times since she won the YQ1000 in 2000, so far the only woman to do so. Michelle took this one and I applaud her for it even though I am a very loyal Aliy-ista! They both did great and finished with most of their dogs. That is one of my personal measures for what musher is really doing it right!!

In the 'big one" lots of kudos to Paige Drobney who finished in 4th place!! Then to round out the top ten, we had Katherine Keith (partner to John Baker who in 2011 was the first Alaskan Native American to win the Iditarod) come in as 7th, then Jessie Royer, a 'cowboy girl' from  the lower 48 who is an Iditarod vet but making her rookie YQ run was 8th and Ryne Olson, the CB300 winner, was 9th! There were some very recognizable names among the  male competitors so these ladies beat some tough competition to place this high. And their larger teams looked awesome coming in to the finish, very few dropped dogs among them.

The thing I find most impressive is they all made some fairly long and very fast runs on this rough trail but they also rested longer between them than most of their male counterparts. Thus, their actual travel times and their average speed while running were both very good. Even their total elapsed times were nothing to sneeze at as evidenced by their places. This comes back to my contention that the mushers whose teams finish the closest to complete and in the best shape are the real winners, the real mushers.

There has been a lot of chatter on some of the Facebook pages about the musher who had two dogs just suddenly keel over and ended up pushing the 'panic button' to call for help and then scratched out of the race with about 75% of it completed. I am not going to throw any stones but when this situation is added to the fact his team essentially 'quit' on him in the 2016 Iditarod at the next to the last checkpoint and he'd dropped from 3rd place to 20th when he finally got them going some 20 hours later and finished the race does raise some questions. Generally he is a well thought of musher and was just written up with two others in Mushing Magazine as one of the three best hill climbers among the current mushers. He defended his own case in an emotional post and I was touched but did not totally cease to question. Looking at the teams of Paige, Katherine, Jessie and Ryne when they came into the chute at Fairbanks proved their care and pace was effective. Those dogs all looked ready to run 1000 miles more as did Allen Moore's (Mr Aliy) when he came in 3rd.  I know and trust the SPK (Allen and Aliy) folks explicitly in their dog care. They've both won recognition for this several times including Aliy in last year's Iditarod. I am lobbying to make the dog care award a much more prestigious and valuable one because n many ways it means more than just getting there first!

Tomorrow I will try to catch up on my schedule and plans for the volunteer stint in Anchorage next month.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Woman's Place is...


behind that racing sled dog team!! I am thrilled to see several of my favorite lady mushers leading the pack in the Copper Basin 300, which is nearing its end as I write this. We will have a winner in another hour or two.  Right now it is looking like Ryne Olsen but Paige Drobney is giving Ryne a run for it. Behind them is Allen Moore, the sole male in the leading five. Michelle Phillips and Aliy Zirkle round out the leading pack.  Cody Straith, who is Paige’s other half, is moving up on Aliy but has not passed her at last report. 

Paige and Cody are a fine young couple who came to racing by the back door, starting out just wanting to take dogs out into the winter woods! I met them briefly in 2014. They also have Dog Paddle Designs making competition sleds and other gear.  And I am pretty sure I shared a seat with them on the flight from Fairbanks down to Seattle last October! I was just slow on the uptake to realize, oh yeah, that’s who they are!

Sad news that Nic Petit seems to have a problem with a dog about 40 miles out and has scratched. He was in the leading group most of the day. I wish Nic well and hope he can get his failing team member the help it seems to need.

Sebastian Schnuelle scratched earlier. He'd been sharing some great videos taken as he drove down the trail. He was the one who lost two dogs and had some more hurt when a vehicle plowed into his team while on a training run not far from his Two Rivers home just days ago.  It was a tragic accident and no charges were filed; I think the driver covered the vet care for the injured dogs. An incident like that has to take a huge toll on the rest of the team and the musher. I understand Sab or Seb as he is known to friends may also have withdrawn from the Iditarod. I really feel empathy for both these guys and their problems. Sled Dog racing is not a sport for the weak or timid!

This has been Aliy’s first race since the traumatic encounter in last year’s Iditarod. Although she does not seem to have pushed super-hard, she’d done very well and between her and Allen I am sure they are picking out the “A Teams” that both will be running in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. Aliy, having won the YQ once years ago now runs only the YQ 300 but Allen will be seeking to add one more win to his record on the main race.  They seem to have an unofficial agreement not to directly compete—perhaps another reason why Aliy is not closer to the lead. I expect to see Allen drive the B Team in the Iditarod this year as usual.

The weather has been rough up in east central Alaska with some heavy snowfall and wind, blizzard conditions and biting cold. The snow is the dry powdery "sugar" snow that is tough for the dogs to navigate as it will not pack. That may have contributed to the eight or so racers who scratched earlier.  Several were rookies but some seasoned mushers also ended their runs early.

SPK’s current handler and apprentice Chris Parker is running some of the Surfivers and a mix of old and younger dogs. I think he is back in the pack but I am anxious to hear how Ginger and her brother Ernie have done on their first real race. As an aside, it is kind of an irony that Ryne Olsen was also a handler and apprentice for SPK a few years back. It appears she learned very well!

The YQ begins on February 4 but there are several more mid-distance races for the rest of this month which I will be following. The registered racers for the YQ is now posted and probably will not change. They do limit how many. The field for the YQ 300 is also limited. They will both start In White Horse, Yukon Terr. this time and the big one finish in Fairbanks. Several women are competing in the main race this time to include Jessie Royer—a rookie there although a multi Iditarod finisher. And several past winners will be racing again to include Allen and Hans Gatt, who won last year.

Last I heard there are 79 signed up for the Iditarod but if Seb did withdraw it may be 78 now. More changes possible before the ceremonial start restart on March 4 & 5.  And a last bit of news, I will be there! I made my plane reservations and reserved a room in the Lakeside Hotel which is the race headquarters. I will arrive very early on March 1 and sing in to do my volunteer stints in several areas. I am really looking forward to this!


More soon as the 2017 racing season unfolds.

Here are two pictures of Aliy and Ginger. Yes they are both still great favorites of mine!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Delayed Update--Lots of News!

Hello folks. With the election drama  and fighting my usual winter seasonal blahs, I have kind of let things slip. While I was off track, there have been some real items of news –definitely not fake news here—which have major impact on the sled dog racing world, especially the Iditarod. I’ll share them here briefly. If further developments surface, I will try to keep up to date on reporting them.

First,  the ITC announced in late October that they have made a rule change. Mushers will not be permitted to carry dogs in a  trailer/caboose or other sled-appendage conveyance. Such devices can be used to carry gear and required items, straw or dog food etc. but NO DOGS.  There has been some outcry and a few whines but it has generally been accepted.

I am certainly not going to say this was in response to my letters to the board members last spring but my words may have added a bit of weight to complaints from others and some of the traditional-minded members and mushers who did not think this was a good practice. Safety of the dogs was the main reason cited. (i.e.) Since the dragged item is behind the musher who will be at the rear of the actual sled, s/he cannot keep an eye on the dogs being carried or will be distracted from the trail and the running dogs in trying to do so. I think this is a very good change.

Dogs can still be carried in the actual sled—but that means one or at the most two at a time and most mushers will use this only in the traditional and normal manner—a way to get a sick or injured dog safely to the next checkpoint where it can be dropped and given into the care of volunteers and vets, if needed. This is totally legitimate and not a ploy to rest some dogs while others work!

The new rule allowing mushers to carry cell or satellite phones was upheld. There may be some restrictions but I have not been able to read the entire rule. I have mixed feelings on this but will defer to the board’s wisdom here and the fact quite a few mushers were in favor. A safety net of any kind is probably valid given last year’s events.

On that subject, the trial of the young Mr Denosky who ran into Aliy and Jeff King with his snow machine was finally completed very recenty. He was given a six months’ sentence—most of which has already been served--and a moderate fine. The exact reparations paid to the two injured mushers for their losses and trauma is not clear from the articles I read but there are supposed to be some. I am not sure where those funds are coming from.

In a recent post on her SPK blog, Aliy admitted she is still struggling with the after-effects of this traumatic encounter and that she will never be quite the person she was before it occurred. My heart goes out to her. I still think there are facts that may never be revealed or made public. She did address him directly at the sentencing and found some closure there. He wept and said he was sorry but still insisted he had almost no recollection of the events. I just shake my head. It was a terrible thing but it’s over and done and everyone has to move on and do the best they can. Many felt a harsher punishment was called for but like many states, Alaska has legislated more lenient measures for many situations. Somehow the wrong doers end up with more ‘rights’ than the victims… No, I will stay away from anything even slightly smacking of politics!!

On another topic, there has been a lot of discussion on various sledding/mushing FB pages and blogs etc. about a recent video (film) made in Canada, with considerable financial backing from a government agency. The video is a vicious “expose” alleging the abuse and horrors for the dogs in all sports involving sled dogs from the long distance races to tours and expeditions etc. The film maker obtained a lot of footage on the basis of false assurances and purpose given to a few younger/novice mushers. They feel violated and betrayed, understandably, and the whole community is enraged.

One prominent Canadian official, equivalent of one of our national Senators, is investigating but the agency has allegedly done their own investigation and feels all is cricket. How this will eventually play out is still unknown. My hope is that it will not actually result in any curtailment or lasting damage to the sport and its adherents. The tourism involvement in both Alaska and Canada is huge and a source of income that would be impacted if such occurred.

Last but not least, I have been accepted to serve as a volunteer for the Iditarod and will probably serve my first race in the headquarters offices at the official hotel location in Anchorage. I expect to learn a lot and at least observe the ceremonial start and hopefully also the restart at Willow the next day. I’ll miss following the race on my computer at home  for the viewpoint will be very different. I will of course take one or more devices along to do that when I am not working even while I feel the excitement as the race progresses by following it with the formal organization.

This year’s one litter at SPK is growing and already at the leggy, lanky stage more dog than puppy. Last year’s two litters are definitely dogs now and starting to learn the trails a bit while the Surfivers are going to be running for real this season. Watching them grow and develop is exciting and I’ll be keeping a close watch on all these pups in which I feel I almost have a real interest and investment. Well, I do have a favorite for which I am a “fan” in each litter and contribute a small bit to their care.  Here is a photo from the summer of Aliy with Ginger.  More soon!