Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The 2016 Racing Season is starting

I really cringe at the thought but it is looking more and more like my prediction last year during the Iditarod about Fairbanks starts becoming the rule rather than the exception may be coming to pass.  I was shivering in New Mexico today and looked at weather.com where Anchorage and Fairbanks are among the ten places I check on every day. OMG!

Here in Alamogordo we was sitting at about 35 degrees and it was snizzling--a mix of snow and drizzle. In Anchorage, it was 50 degrees with rain. Fairbanks was down in the 20s as I recall. Unless January and February are about the snowiest on record, there is not going to be much if any white stuff down in the southern Prince Albert Sound area. So it is likely they will have the ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 5 and then everyone treks some 300+ miles north to start for real in Fairbanks on the 7th. If so, I hope the Yukon isn't quite as cold as last year. Temps of -50 to -60 are brutal for all concerned.

However Fairbanks has been getting snow and is mostly fairly cold--maybe not up to the ideal or typical but enough snow to train on and enough for the Two Rivers Mushers' to run their annual solstice fifty miler on December 19. Now according to their blog, Aliy and Allen are out running a longer practice trail with their dogs, an over-nighter.  The key 300 mile races will be happening soon, most in January. They are the qualifiers for the big ones and important if not as famous or quite as taxing as the 1000 milers. I will get some URLs for their various websites and Facebook pages for anyone who wants to follow them as I do.

FYI, a few of the shorter races are scheduled as follows:

     The Knik 200--in Knik, AK  (worry about snow since it is not that far north)
       begins on January 2
     The Copper Basin 300 starts on January 9 in Glenellen, AK
     The Kuskowim 300 starts on January 15 in Bethel, AK
     The Seney 300 starts on January 16 in McMillan, MI
     The Two Rivers 200 starts on January 22 in Chatanika, AK
     The Southern Lights 300 also starts on January 22 in Big Lake, AK
     The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon starts January 31 in Duluth, MN

     The Yukon Quest and Yukon Qiest 300 both start on February 6 in
           Fairbanks, AK
      The Junior Iditarod starts on February 27 at Willow, AK (will move to                       Denali if inadequate snow
      Several other lower 48 races also take place in February

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ginger--my special Husky Girl

Most of you know how I "met" the only girl pup in the one 2014 SPK litter when I visited with Aliy and Allen in August of 2014. I will never forget when Aliy picked up one of the five puppies in the pen with their mama, Chica, and said, "This is Ginger." Of  course Aliy with her wonderful trademark smile!

Ginger, Aug 10, 2014
From that instant on, this little Husky has been special to me. We have told the SPK folks how their Ginger has a fairy dogmother in New Mexico. Of course these five pups are all special as they survived the tragic loss of several of their siblings to a peculiar sickness very early in life. I call them The Surfivers. Ginger even had a health crisis of her own last spring with a looped intestine issue but has pulled through and is going great guns!

Ginger now
The other day when I watched the video that gave me the first look at Ginger in harness and running down the snowy trail being a real sled dog, although of course still in training,  I was teary-eyed with delight and pride. l'd be her sponsor if I could but that was not possible so I am a "fan" and signed up as early last fall and again this season as I could. I have several favorites in the SP crew but this girl will be the top of my list as long as she is alive and part of the pack.

New Mexico Ginger in the
"desert snow" at White Sands

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Cold Weather in Fairbanks and Pups at SPK

It's been real cold recently in Fairbanks and chilly in Anchorage but I am not sure about the snow. I hope they are getting some. This being an El Nino year worries me as that often spells dry up north. I wonder if there is some kind of a snow dance?? If I can find one I will sure try it!!

Both the 2015 litters at Sp Kennel are doing great. There are official portraits of all of them now--a baker's dozen of beautiful little future champs and winners. You can find the pictures at http://spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/  The cyber puppy breath is sure special and those little faces are just heart warmers. I have my faves of each litter and will be getting on their fan lists as soon as they come up. Quito and Olivia really did the kennel proud this time around.

Not a lot of news on the Surfivers lately but I am sure they are all training and we may see some of them on at least the shorter races this spring if not on Allen's Black training team during the Iditarod. It is going to be a challenge but I am still planning to be there if at all possible. I have almost three months to get ready, raise more funds and stock up on cold weather gear.  Please at least say a prayer or two for me! Nothing of value is ever easy so this must be pretty special as it is challenging me at every checkpoint.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Winter sets in up north!

It has been snowing at least some around Fairbanks and you can see snow on the mountains near Anchorage, I am told. That is good news for the mushers and I am praying for lots and lots of snow this winter. El Nino years are often wet in the southwest and drier up north but maybe this will be an exception.

The "Coffee Litter" at SPK is weaned now and a senior dog, Tig, a black beauty is acting as a foster mother for them so that Olivia can get back to her training. They have posted a few adorable videos of the six pups, growing fast and already very active, curious and even romping in the snow which will be thier favorite environment from now on.

Meanwhile Quito's seven pups, termed the "Golden Harness" litter, are doing well but not yet ready to leave mama. The Golden Harness is a special award originally created by the late Lolly Medley, the second woman to complete the Iditarod, doing so a few minutes behind Mary Shields back in 1974. It is given to the canine MVP each year. Although it often goes to the winner's lead dog, sometimes another dog will be voted to receive it.

Quito has done so although she has never crossed under the Burled Arch first--at least yet. She has won in the Yukon Quest though with Allen's Black Team, I believe. Whether or not she will have that chance since she is now nine and may not be fit to race this year, she's got the award and absolutely earned it. She is a very special, almost once in a lifetime dog and beloved by Aliy and Allen. I know they will not run her unless they are completely sure she is up to it and will not be unduly taxed to race so we will have to wait and see. ANyway she has produced seven more puppies with a chance to do her and SPK proud in the coming years and I am eager to learn their names and see more of them.

Meanwhile the Surfivers are running and learning and some will very likely be appearing in Aliy's team for the YQ 300, other mid-range races and in Allen's 'training' team in the Iditarod in 2016.

There are now over seventy mushers signed up for the 2016 Iditarod per the official site today. I see several key names I will be following closely--and I still have hopes I can do so at a much closer range than from New Mexico!! Go Aliy, Jessie and Deedee for sure!! We need a female winner this year so we can bring back those t-shirts. (Alaska: where men are men and women win the Iditarod!) I want one!! Maybe even several... By the way, Aliy and Jessie, seen below finished 5th and 4th in the 2015 race. That was Jessie's best ever and I wish her a great race in 2016. She's a tough girl and an outdoor/horsewoman/hunter after my own heart.
Aliy (l) and Jessie (r) at an inland checkpoint
heading for the coast in 2015 Iditarod

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Second Litter at SPK!!

This was a huge surprise as they kept it under wraps until just now but there has been a second litter born at SPK, just a week ago!! Wonderful Quito had seven pups, three boys and four girls! The sire is not an SPK dog but a very exceptional dog, Kosak, belonging to the young Norwegian Musher Joar Ulsom. Kosak's sire was a full brother of the SPK dog, Cha-Cha, also a very exceptional dog and almost a foundation mama for many of the current active dogs there. Actually Quito and Kosak have a very similar "look"  which is not that common among Alaskan Huskies due to the mixture of breeds and bloodlines among them.

While this late delivery will slow down Quito's fall training and cut into her racing this year, it was worth it to get these pups to carry on her fine traits. She is nine now and crowding the end of her racing career but she may be able to do the Iditarod one more time. I was just blown away with this great news and can't wait to learn more about this litter which is bound to contain some exceptional sled dogs. Quito has been one of my faves since I first heard about her and I'm a fan for the second year since of course she already has a sponsor. Maybe I can get a toe in that door for one of these puppies! Below is me with Quito August 2014. I am thrilled that I have touched her and we communed for a moment. She has beautiful eyes!
Sharing a moment with Quito, Aug 2014

Go SPK!!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Small share

I just wanted to share that I sent the small quilt to Deedee Jonrowe several weeks ago. Yesterday I got a very sweet thank you note from her. She had been down in the lower 48 for an extended visit and just got back to Alaska. She and her husband are still camping in a motor home and having trouble with temporary water lines freezing now. They are rushing to get the new house finished but winter may hit faster. Anyway I am so glad it got there safely and she was touched and thrilled with it.

She is my heroine and such a brave, strong and amazing lady. I am a little worried about her racing this year but she is still determined to do it and I have to admire her gumption soooo much! This lady is a real champion in every sense of the word. What a role model for our young women--a big reason why I am still determined to do my book!! A couple of pix from official Iditarod files:
Deedee's team at a checkpoint 2015 Iditarod.
Note the pink!!

Deedee at Nome, March 2015-- smiling through
frostbite and she still had all her dogs!!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

SPK Dog Fan Club

Because  SPK has a rule that each dog can have only one sponsor who is deeply invested in that dog and his or her career, they came up with a great way to allow more people to make their little contribution to the grand endeavor. The Dog Fan Club is open to anyone and for the small fee of $25 which will go to support and care of that dog, you can become a 'fan'. The new puppies won't be included for a bit but the Surfivers are right in there  So far I am a fan of three: Ginger, of course, Quito--who is my all time favorite for many reasons, and now Olivia the mom of the latest litter. I will go back and include Chica and some of the male dogs later when I can afford it.

The weather is becoming more wintery now in Alaska, especially up around Fairbanks. And even Anchorage has had a bit of snow. I wish I could be up there now as I had planned but that was just not to be this year. I still plan and hope to make it up for the Iditarod next March and will try some new pushes through my go fund me page to build a better base for teh expenses that will entail.  I'll try to keep everyone posted her on my progress as well as all our favorite mushers as the race season gets underway right after the holiday season.

It is still just past summer in southern New Mexico and that is okay by this desert rat. As I said today to my Yahoo group friends, I don't do cold unless there are sled dogs involved. But for them I would bundle up until I looked like the Michelin lady and feel blessed regardless of the weather! Meanwhile I am a fan and an avid follower of all the news I can find on line and I share what seems to be most pertinent....

Monday, September 28, 2015

More on new litter at SPK

Aliy posted a video showing all six of the new babies today. Here's the link:  http://spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/

They will be "the Coffee Litter" and we are all laughing about that since they said Aliy paced in the room all day the 23rd when they were born--from the instant Olivia went into labor so natch, coffee names! Right now I am trying to pick a favorite but they are all precious and Olivia is such a great mom but totally laid back about it, which is good for the puppies. They know everything is right in their world 'cause Mom says so. It's hard to visualize these pudgy little handfuls as powerful sled dogs but they will be showing that developing before spring just as the Surfivers did and are more now as they begin their training. If you want some puppy breath fix, click out and take a look! It's so wonderful to see the dynasty going on. I'm delighted!!

Just for a reminder, here is Aliy with the Red Team at the ceremonial 2015 Iditarod start. Note the Iditarider in the sled. If I am not mistaken that is Olivia in the lead on the right side of the hitch. Her white face and forehead and blue eyes are very distinctive. In a couple of years we may be seeing some of these new puppies in just that place! And some of the Surfivers even sooner!! It is very exciting.

If that is not Olivia in the right lead it is one of her earlier pup, many of whom resemble her greatly but I think it is her. Four of the Surfivers resemble the dog on the left; the SPK pack has quite a few tan or yellow dogs in the kennel. I think that one may be Scout but will need to double check. The Surfivers sire, Clyde is a big yellow-tan guy, usually a team or wheel dog.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Surfivers

Are now in training as 'long yearlings' and some will probably get to do at least some of the shorter--like 300 mile--races this year. Aliy posted a cute clip of the five of them in harness--very excited but already beginning to get the hang of it. Great dogs-to-be, I am sure. The boys were in pairs and Ginger on her own back at the 'wheel' position though when it's an ATV instead of a sled, that doesn't make a lot of difference or special demands on the dog(s) in that place. When it is a sled, they are very important in helping the musher control the turns and trials of terrain. Mostly strong and agile dogs are needed there. Ginger will probably be a regular team dog --between the leaders and wheelers--for a while until she shows what her special traits may be. The team dogs do not get the 'glory' of the leaders but no dog in the hitch is ever insignificant. Two of the boys are big stout dogs and could well be wheelers in the future. But only time and training will tell their true potential. You can bet I will be following their progress very closely! I feel a real bond for these puppies since I met them and of course Ginger is my special favorite.

The new litter is doing fine so far. Lots of prayers for no issues with them. It is likely Olivia's last since she is about nine or ten and has whelped several large litters in the past. She's a very special favorite at SPK and I met her, too. Here is a shot of me with her in August 2014. As you can see, she is a multicolored dog and at least the three pups pictured their first day looked like they will be too. She has blue eyes, BTW, which is not a rare trait in huskies and shows some of the mixed breed look that so many of the modern Alaskan Huskies now have. At a quick glance many almost look like hounds or other hunting dogs. She's a diva and was enjoying the attention that day, her birthday!

Friday, September 25, 2015


The Olivia-Nacho litter has arrived as of yesterday. There were six, four girls and two boys. They are small but all seem healthy, a few days early. The three shown on the SPK DogLog blog are mixed color--dark with lots of white. I could not be much more delighted and excited if they were my own. I will share links or pix soon and keep you all updated on the progress. At any rate, this is super news I am happy to share. Congrats to Aliy and Allen and all the SPK family and to the proud doggie parents. They say Olivia is a fine mama and that is encouraging. She came through it in good shape although she is an older dog now. They are sheltered in a warm and comfy place and will stay there for some time since it is already getting chilly in the Fairbanks area. Weather.com said 28 degrees this morning. That is good for training but not good for a mama dog wit new puppies!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

SP Kennel and Jonrowe homestead News

After a puppyless summer, there will be a litter near the end of this month at the SP Kennel! The proud parents are Olivia and Nacho, a couple of awesome huskies who have produced two great litters in the past, some of which are currently key members of the Red and Black teams. Olivia may miss some training and even a few races this season while she does a mommy gig but keeping the good bloodlines going is very important too. I'll get pix of the two parents and share pix or links when the puppies arrive. I'm really happy for Aliy and Allen and this assurance of future winners by their careful breeding program.
I saw both dogs and petted Olivia on my 2015 visit; it was her birthday! She is prettier than she looks in this shot and her blue eyes are gorgeous. Nacho is a litter-mate full brother to Quito, and equally special in his way.I'm curious what the name theme will be for these puppies...

Also stopped by Deedee Jonrowe's Facebook page and web site today. The new Jonrowe house is going up where the old one was destroyed--surely lightening won't strike twice as most of the fuel is now gone there. Also, she has a beautiful brand new pink sled and other gear that's been created for her so she will be all set for the 2015-16 racing season. These mushers are so dedicated and so loved that many folks have pitched in to help them keep on running. If you just put her name in a search engine, links to those sites will be right up front and center. Go take a look! This lady is just so amazing and I am so glad that things are shaping up well for her after the tragedy.  BTW her quilt will go out in tomorrow's mail.

Monday, September 14, 2015


I have to tell my readers here that I am sorry for being silent for much too long. It turned out to be a rather hard summer for me and a lot of plans had to go on the back burner.

A bit before my short trip in June I had some eye issues. Once I was back they hit with a vengeance and for the greater part of two months I was seriously impaired in the vision department. My eye doctor insists it is just my dry eyes but I felt there was a strong allergy component and perhaps other things as well. At this point I really do not know but finally I am back to near normal and can function again. I'm trying to catch up for two months of lost time. That is hard. I used some homeopathic treatments--bathed the eye area twice a day with colloidal silver, for example and used some OTC drops of various kinds and a petrolatum salve at night. I got back on the Restasis after the extreme irritation and inflammation eased and it seems to be working. XX fingers crossed tight.

There were days I did not dare try to drive and could only spend a few minutes on the computer, glasses off and nose about six inches from the screen. I managed to complete a couple of writing deadlines and proof some galleys--barely.It was not fun. But enough whining.

Suffice to say my planned fall trip is not going to happen. I am now shooting for being in Alaska for the Iditarod and perhaps the Yukon Quest. This will depend on a number of things but that is my earnest hope. I still follow Aliy Zirkle's SP Dog Log blog, check in on the Iditarod and YQ sites and FB pages and keep up with the news as best I can. I renewed my memberships for both boards through 2016. Even being a card carrying member is worth something. I also do sit down now and again and draft more short sections of Women Who Run With the Dogs. 

Ready to send off any day is a two-sided lap robe sized quilt for Deedee Jonrowe--at least one small new keepsake for her after she lost everything except her dogs and her and her husband's lives in the tragic June fire. They are rebuilding and she will be racing in the 2015-16 season. Bless her heart; she is such a tremendous inspiration! I cannot even begin to whine about my small problems when I know about hers.

Here are the two faces of the quilt: I especially like the Alaska Sled Dog one although the pink face is important too and I support the cause of curing breast cancer in our lifetime as well as many other types of the dread disease.

Up north the weather is cooling off--Fairbanks has had some light frosts and mushers in that area are now training, mostly running teams with ATVs but that gets them in shape. The five "Surfivers" at SP Kennel will be training and running some this year. Several older dogs have been retired. I'm excited about the new ones but of course a little sad that some familiar names and faces will not be out there anymore. Life goes on and we have to go with the flow. Change is inevitable, I guess. Both good and bad -- she said with a wry grin!

I will hope to keep up better now and let everyone know how things are shaping up for the next racing season and as plans develop, how my trips will go.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

2016 sign ups!

Yesterday was the first day for mushers to sign up for the 2016 race and there are already  sixty two  names on the list! Wow. No rumor, Deedee Jonrowe is signed up and was one of two who won refund of her $3000 entry fee, I am happy for her there It was a lucky gift! Aliy and Allen are already there as are a number of 'old timers' like Martin Buser and Jeff King. Current champ Dallas Seavey of course and many others. I will post the list when I get home Just wanted you all to be the first to know besides the hardcore fans (like me!) This and much more is on the ITC web site--iditarod.com--if I am making fans of any of my readers here. That is one goal of mine, actually. Go mushers!!!!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The ITC Meeting

The meeting went well. It was above my low expectations but a bit below high hopes. It was real which perhaps neither of those quite were. I do have the verbal support of the current Committee and a stronger verbal support from two members with whom I spoke at a little more length. Aaron Burmeister is a musher and also this current board's treasurer. I admire him and told him so. He was mentioned a time or two in my blog posts while the race was going on this year. He was very enthused about the book and said it was a worthwhile and beneficial project. Dan Sievert, current VP and chair of today's meeting, may not be a musher, at least recently but is a canny business man and a strong supporter and something of a guiding light for the committee and the race. He too was supportive.
Last year shot; Teal shirt this time!

There were not a lot of mushers hanging around. I was told that Deedee was there but did not manage to catch up with her and apparently she did not stay long. It was the first day for mushers to sign up for the 2016 race and it appears she did so--what a gutsy, amazing lady!! I guess I should have called her but I hated to bother her under the circumstances. I may try once before I leave. I met a couple of ladies I had not met before; one who will still be a rookie next year since her dogs were not able to handle the extreme cold as she lives near Wasilla and had trained mostly with wheels instead of sled.She scratched fairly early. Of course everyone is hoping for good snow and a return to the traditional trail the next race but only time and nature will determine that.

There seems to  have been  eleven mushers or kennels impacted by the Sockeye fire but other fires threaten many areas to include check point villages and mushers on the Kenai and now a fire up not far from the Two River area outside Fairbanks. For now the committee recommends the Willow Musher's site for donations from "outside" (not Alaska) which I posted here and on my Facebook page with an update there today. They have raised about 29 thousand so far.

I'm still decompressing so will add more later, No pix--sorry. My bad. It was just too hectic and I was focused on more critical --at least to me!--things at the time. But again, I will be back and another time will happen.

Aliy and Allen were not there; Lance Mackey was not there and many others. Dallas Seavey was but I am not really too concerned with him at this point, winner or not. I did not particularly want his autograph. No further comment! Rick Swenson, the only five time winner ever, was elected to the board. I missed him sad to say but would have enjoyed his autograph or a selfie with! Someday maybe.
Most of the lawn was full of people,
canopies and confusion yesterday!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


The epicenter was west of the burned over Willow and it was 5.5 there, maybe 4.5 or a bit more here. I shook my head at that news--fire, earthquake... What next? Pestilence or flood perhaps. Yikes. Poor Willow-ans.

The small irony is that before I left home I was reading Degrees of Separation by Alaska based author Sue Henry. Earthquakes were a feature in that tale. She also wrote Murder on the Iditarod (I think her first book) and Murder on the Yukon Quest. Both were very good in portrayal of the races and a competitor's pov since one of her protagonists is a professional racer(female) named Jessie Arnold --almost a clairvoyant preview of today's Jessie Royer, 4th this year--and the other an Alaskan trooper with whom the racer is in a relationship by the end of book 1. Ms Henry is a good author and portrayer of Alaska or perhaps was since she seems to have vanished on the Internet and may be incapacitated or have passed away.

I spent some time in the main Anchorage public library today. They have a good collection of "Alaskana" to include a fair bit on the Iditarod but none of the newer race yearbooks I was hoping to scan and extract data from but all is not lost. I took some notes from several other books and have a list of titles to buy or seek through interlibrary loan facilites when I get home. I also took two shots of an amazing and gorgeous bit of fabric art hanging over the main foyer. It is almost a sculpture since it is somewhat dimensional. I want to clean up the pix before posting but will share soon. Still looking ahead to Saturday with high hopes--the real pinnacle of this trip. It has been warm so far but a bit cooler today with a high in the lower 70s. Mostly overcast also.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Welcome to Alaska!?

I got in late last night, after the plane sat for about 30 minutes halfway down the taxiway; still no clue as to why! I was taking a little nap about 2:30 still missing a couple of hours of sleep when my bed began to rock a bit. Yep, it was one of those notorious Alaska shakers. Not a big or bad one but as much as some I felt in the upper Sacramento Valley back 1970-83. My host said it
was my welcome to Alaska greeting.

It was mostly cloudy all the way from El Paso to Phoenix to Anchorage. I saw very little but was inspired with some phrases that will become a poem in time.  Chasing the sunset as it becomes the sunrise. Anchored by the crescent moon in the west. Mountains never free if snow gash through wooly clouds so close below, too close beneath this fierce fragile silver bird carrying me to advenutres yet unknown.
I forgot to set up the easy access to the dashboard here on this system and wrested with it all morning and finally got in. Stupid, bad me. Taking too much for granted! I will do better next time! More tomorrow; no pix yet!!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

In 24 hours I will be in the air between Phoenix and Anchorage. I have no idea what kind of internet my host has but I'll find a way to make at last a post or two to the blog here and hope to have some photos to share also. I'm all packed and ready to head off tomorrow. And I am very  much looking forward to the first of what I intend to be many returns to the wonderful north 49th!!

If luck holds I will be able to see Deedee Jonrowe sometime on this trip and give her a pink t-shirt from the Four Corners monument just to say my love and sympathy on her troubles and losses. She is exactly the kind of person I want to feature in this book because she is a real true hero!! Her dogs are still at Buser's kennel last I heard.

Lisbet Norris and Becca Moore, two other young ladies who compete, did not get burned out and I am so thankful for that. However about twelve others were and the Willow Mushers Assn had raised over $25,000 to help them as of last night but that is such a drop in the bucket when you realize what they have lost. And of course the treasured memories and irreplaceable things are gone and cannot be bought for any amount. My heart aches for them all. Maybe I can find some other ways to help. I will try.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sockeye (Willow) fire update

The fire is being contained but an estimated 50-100 structures, many homes, have burned. The horrible thing is it is probably a human caused fire! This makes me sick and mad.

It is true that Deedee Jonrowe lost her home and almost everything. She was at Martin Buser's doing a "show and tell" for a big batch of tourists when word came of the fire. She and Mrs. Buser made a frantic run with dog trucks 45 miles north to Deedee's home and barely were able to load the dogs and run for their lives, literally. I do not know the situation of several other mushers yet but I am weeping for Deedee. She is such a wonderful, courageous and inspiring woman and a true heroine of mine She ran her 30th race this past spring with frostbitten hands and brought fifteen of sixteen entered dogs across the finish line at Nome. Now all her gear, sleds and mementos are ash and she barely has the clothes on her back. Thank God though that she did save all but one old dog. This is so darn wrong it tears me up. I know she is religious so I am praying very hard that she will have help and did have insurance on her home. She's a survivor but this is a cruel blow.

There are sites already up and running for donations. I posted one and a link to a post about this from the Iditarod Trail Committee's page on my Facebook page.  You can click over to them to learn more. Here's my site:  https://www.facebook.com/gwynn.morgan

And here is a picture of Deedee, in her trademark pink at Nome finishing her 30th race. This petite cancer survivor is a true HERO if there ever was one. God be with her now.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Terrible Wildfire near Willow, AK

I just learned of this today and am praying hard for all in the area, those who reside there, the firefighters and especially a number of mushers who live in that area and have been displaced, several losing everything except their own lives and their dogs and a vehicle or two they drove out.

I will probably have more news in a day or two but I do know other mushers such as Martin Buser who is about forty miles to the south have opened kennels and property for evacuees to camp, temporarily care for their dogs and wait out this devastating fire. I am not sure but heard a rumor that Deedee Jonrowe and her husband just got out with her dogs and have lost almost everything. Also Lisbet Norris and her grandmother are in like situation. Lisbet's parents are sheltering and offering camp space around their feed store just north of Wasilla which I visited last year. Here's a shot from the Norris store and Buser Kennel  during my August 2014 visit

The musher community is close knit despite the intense competition and will rally around those who are hurt by this destructive wildfire. But should I hear of any efforts to raise funds to assist these people, some of which I suspect may not have insurance on their homes and kennel buildings and other property, I will post it here and on my other blogs as well. I feel as close friends are at hazard here! if On the 27th when I attend the Iditarod Committee Meeting I may also learn more on what is happening in that area. I'll try to keep yuo informed. Please join in my prayers!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Going Back!

Three weeks from today I will be back in Alaska. I can hardly wait. By wonderful serendipity I planned this short trip to set some things up for a longer visit in the fall at exactly the right time. The Iditarod Trail Committee has their annual meeting on Saturday, June 27 which will be smack in the middle of my visit! I have already asked for a very short spot on the agenda to tell them about my project and hope that I will be allowed to do so although the annual election for board members is the main order of business. I am also hoping some of my key mushers will be in attendance and I can talk with them at least briefly. Other than that some odds and ends which I will talk more about later.

Again I am flying mostly at night from El Paso to Phoenix to Anchorage and back the same route. The powers that be smiled on me and I do not have to go through either LAX or DFW which are two of my least favorite airports--just too humongous and confusing and smoggy. I do have layovers in Phoenix but I can deal with that. It also means I won't have the horrid mad dash to catch the Phoenix to Anchorage flight that I just squeaked aboard last time by the skin of my teeth so to speak, It is hard to run with your stuff--thank goodness I had checked my large bag--and pray like crazy to the deities of travel that you make it. Is it St Christopher? I do believe it is--the one who is the patron and protector of travelers. Anyway I did make it but that was tooooo close!

Here's a shot from the Anchorage Airport last August, I will be there on June
24th at o-dark-thirty but it won't be very dark since that is only three days after the longest day of the year. Anchorage is not quite in the 'midnight sun' longitude but it will be almost light enough to read at 12:30 a.m. I am sure. My host for this trip says it is already close to that. Anyway I promise as many reports and also photos as I can share for the week I am there and then building up to a much longer visit in the fall before real winter sets in but after the training is underway for the 2015-16 racing season. And my goal is still to be there for at least part of the 2016 races. Say a prayer or two for me please and if you can add a few dollars over on my go fund me page to help me get there! That's at https://funds.gofundme.com

Friday, May 15, 2015

Plowing along toward the next checkpoint

I have not posted lately but I have been working behind the scenes. I will be heading out for a brief stay in Alaska the last part of June. I've been corresponding with a very nice gentleman in Anchorage who has gotten enthused about my project and offered me a place to stay as my base camp and to help me a little with other aspects of my research. We'll meet and be sure we can tolerate each other the last week of June and I'll set things up for the fall trip.

I'm waiting on pins and needles to see which pair of SP Kennel dogs are going to be producing the litter or litters this summer. Aliy Z has promised to let us know on her blog in June and I can hardly wait. They are very careful to spread the demands of motherhood out and not overtax any of their good female dogs who are still actively racing. Chica, who whelped the Surfivers last summer, ran in most of the races this past season; the year before, Olivia did the same. It may be Quito's turn again this year or perhaps another daughter or grand daughter of Cha Cha or one of the other founding mothers who helped build the great line of SP dogs. I will hope to see those pups in the fall! Meanwhile Ginger is now healthy and recovered from her digestive issues for which I am very thankful. Her four brothers are all big husky guys, pun intended, as they approach a year old in July.

Now a bit about another project that has been perking in the back of my mind ever since I was there last August. The little village of Knik, just west of Wasilla, is really where the modern Iditarod Trail and the Race began. It was a busy port before either Anchorage or Wasilla became significant and was also the home and base camp for Joe Redington as he honcho'd them into being.

A small museum exists there and half of it, the upstairs area, is taken up with Iditarod history and memorabilia. However the building is old and they are barely keeping it held together--almost to the baling wire, bubble gum and duct tape stage although the lady who runs it is doing her best. Priceless trophies and other memorabilia are stored in cabins and sheds due to lack of space. I find this very sad.

I suppose the ITC could go in and take over and probably move stuff to a location in Wasilla or even Anchorage but I think that would be so wrong! It needs to stay right where it is, over the roots of the Iditarod Historical Trail and the first race. So, after my book gets to a less demanding stage, this will be my next project. If women like Dorothy Page and  Joe Redington's wife Violet could get in there and kick butt and help get things going for the race itself,  I can do the same for the preservation of that history! I suspect there are politics involved and maybe some kind of power struggle in the background but I just see a bad situation that needs to be made better!

Any funds I collect for my research travel and producing the book that I do not have to use, will go directly to this project. I will be beating the bushes some more for sponsorship and support of that effort just as I have done for the creation of Women Who Run With The Dogs.

Hear are a few photos I took to give you an idea of the existing situation. The site is a short loop off a state or county route that runs west from central Wasilla; it is called the Knik-Goose Bay Highway. Locals call it the KGB which I found amusing! (The Russian secret police/intel force) And remember, the K is not silent--the name is pronounced ku-nik

Some of the memorabilia stored in
an adjacent cabin/shed building.
Semi-secure but dusty and rarely viewed! 

Part of the displays in the
Iditarod section of the museum.

Knik Museum; Iditarod
portion is upstairs.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Meanwhile back at the Kennels

The snow is melting fast in Alaska, even quite a ways north. It was in the 50s in Fairbanks today. That means even the tail end of the mushing season is over for another year. Dogs still will run a little bit, usually hitched to an ATV or cart but many get to loaf more. New litters arrive and some kennels send part of their team off to take visitors on rides, perhaps sleding on the glaciers or demonstrating for travelers on the cruise ships and train and bus tours. In short, lots is still going on.

SP Kennel had an update recently on the Survivor Five which includes my beloved Ginger. Poor baby, in March she had a serious digestive problem and had to have intestinal surgery to fix it. However she is healing well and seems on the road to total recovery, now well enough to share space with an older dog for some milder play than her four rowdy brothers would allow. With Aliy and the others, I am hoping and praying fervently that she will be able to be in harness come the fall and catch up for the time she has missed due to this problem. She shows great promise and is a brave, tough and determined girl!

I lifted this photo off the SPK blog. That is Ginger with her uncle Biscuit, and it's hard to believe she was the little fuzzy scrap Aliy was holding to show me last August! They grow so fast. I think Ginger weighs about 42 pounds now. This shot is just about where she was that day, too, the enclosure called The Play Pen!

The four "boys" are going great guns, three of them getting to be big dogs near the fifty pound range which is large for the SPK lines.  Of course their daddy Clyde is one of the larger males where their mommy Chica is about the average in the lower 40s range. Ernie and Ginger are smaller but Scooby, Rodney and Five are all big stout guys. I know we will hear more of them in the future. I'm also looking forward to whatever litters arrive this summer and hope to be there to see some of them.

I'm working on a kind of table with some canine genealogy of the SPK kennels stars. If I can find data on some of the other kennels' lines, I will attempt to do the same for them but SPK is so generous with their info and sharing about the dogs we all love so much that they make it easy.

I am still pursuing a goal of a brief visit to Alaska in early summer to meet a new pen pal who may be helping me with a place to stay and some other assistance and to set up some projects for later. Then I intend to go again probably about mid September when the tourist season is nearly over and the mushers are in from summer jobs to begin the serious training season. I've added more names to the list of women I want to meet and talk to and would love to contact every one who ran in the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest this year or signs up for the 2016 races! Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Look toward the Next Generation

Two fun and fabulous bits of news appeared in recent days on the SP Kennel website/blog that made me smile. First, the five pups that I call "the survivors" were recently in harness and running for short distances with some of the older dogs before the snow disappears! This was very exciting to me. I watched a video clips of first Rodney and Scooby and then Ernie and Five in the positions closest to the sled as Aliy began their training. She said that Ginger was not as rowdy as her four brothers but that she too was being 'broken in' and there would be pictures soon. I can hardly wait! The boys are rangy and very active furkids, promising to be power house dogs.

As you may know, these puppies were just a couple of weeks old--eyes open and getting around but still very much babies when I visited last summer. Shortly after that I learned that the original litter had consisted of nine pups but a strange virulent infection hit and four of them did not make it. That is why I call these five The Survivors and feel they are both especially hardy and very blessed to have made it and be growing up into promising future champs. The parents, Clyde and Chica, both ran in this years' big races and are exceptional dogs. Chica is a full sister to Quito, the outstanding lead dog who brought Aliy's team into three superb second place finishes. I'll snag portraits of them off the SPK site to share before long as I do plan more posts on the SP dogs and bloodlines.

Anong the now two year olds, there are eleven pups from a 2013 litter produced by Nacho, full litter brother to Chica and Quito, with Olivia, another exceptional female dog in the SPK group. They are called the "fire" litter and most have related names.  Now also entering the regular pack are another eleven pups from a 2013 match of Quito and Biscuit, mostly with golf-related names. The SP folk --and other Husky breeders it seems--tend to get a theme for naming a litter to help keep them straight as to year and parents. More on these twenty two dogs shortly but as you can see, large litters are not rare.

The other item was news from a weekend mushers' event held at Two Rivers, AK where SPK is located and a number of other lesser known mushers live to including Sebastian Schnuelle who blogged from the trail on this year's Iditarod but has run the race in the past. this time Aliy and Allen did not compete but served as race marshals, dog handlers and Jack/Jackie of all relevant trades. There were fun races for small kids, juniors and adults. The kid's race was won by the grandson of Allen and Aliy, a five year old, driving two seasoned SPK dogs on his small sled! He sure beamed when he got the medal and grandpa and grandma looked pretty happy too.

Now Aliy, like me, got her kids "second hand and house broke" with her marriage but grandkids are 'yours' no matter what.  I could see the pride and joy in her expression. It's great to see a new generation coming along and taking up this fine sport. That was a feature of the Jr. Iditarod which made it special to me. I hope we'll see this young man with such deep mushing roots racing for real in a decade or so.  The circles of life go on which is very heartening.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Honor Roll--2015 Iditarod Woman Finishers

As far as I am concerned the first nineteen here are all absolutely winners! Jessie had her personal best year and turned in a very impressive performance. Aliy gave it a good try and then spared her dogs rather than do battle and risk them in what was likely to be a losing effort, regardless due to Dallas Seavey's unusual race plan and very fast dogs. Several of the others also had personal best finishes while Cindy Abbott deserves very special kudos for completing the race on her third try despite her personal health handicap and some tough weather.

Of course Deedee was awesome as always, finishing her thirtieth run in spite of frostbite on her hands with which she coped to bring in the most dogs to finish the race, all in absolutely outstanding condition. Experience and will power brought her through with her proud pink flying! If this is her final race as I suspect it may be, what a way to end an amazing career!

I was pleased for Paige, Lizbet and several others to include some rookies who turned in creditable efforts and will probably be running again in the future. I do not have photos of all but will post some later with a few more special details about each woman's race, dogs or finish. I am very proud of them all and humbled by the effort they made and the success they achieved!

There were some good performances and stories among the male racers, too, but my focus is on the ladies, as you all know! They account for 19 of the 66 finishers and 25 of the 76 to start the race. Without further ado I give you:

1. Jessie Royer: 4th place with 12 dogs.

2. Aliy Zirkle: 5th place with 13 dogs

3. Michelle Phillips:  20th place with 12 dogs

4. Paige Drobney: 27th place with 13 dogs

5 Anna Berrington: 28th place with 12 dogs

6. Kristy Berrington: 29th place with 11 dogs.

7. Jodi Bailey: 30th place with 11 dogs

8. Deedee Jonrowe: 31st place with 15 dogs

9, Laura Allaway: 46th place with 14 dogs

10. Monica Zappa: 47th place with 12 dogs

11. Heidi Sutter: 48th place with 10 dogs

12. Lisbet Norris: 49th place with 14 dogs

13. Yvonne Dabaak: 53rd place with 8 dogs

14. Yuka Honda: 55th place with 10 dogs

15. Becca Moore: 57th place with 10 dogs

16. Isabelle Travadon: 61st place with 13 dogs

17. Marcelle Fressineau: 62nd place with 9 dogs 2014 Red Lantern

18. Gindy Gallea: 64th place with 10 dogs

19. Cindy Abbott: 66th place with 13 dogs; 2015 Red Lantern Winner

1. Katherine Keith at Unalakeeet with 9 dogs
2. Jan Steves at Huslia with 14 dogs
3. Eileen Halverson at Galena with 9 dogs
4.Christine Rhodes at Ruby with 13 dogs
5. Gwenn Bogart at Tenana with 14 dogs
6. Zoya DeNure at Tenana with 16 dogs

1. Sarah Stokey prior to race

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Red Lantern Award --2015 Iditarod

I promised you the story of Cindy Abbott. Here it is, told as factually as I can with greatest respect for this lady and her noble effort.

2015 was Cindy Abbott's third try to complete the Iditarod. She has also climbed Mount Everest and engaged in a number of other extreme sports efforts. This is even more significant in view of the fact she has Wegener's Granulomatosis. This is a very rare and potentially debilitating and even fatal autoimmune disease.
It attacks blood vessels and if not treated can lead to organ failure and eventually death. I am sure she is on medication and has the disease controlled as much as it can be, but it still creates some huge challenges to leading a  normal life, much less one of strenuous and extreme activities! Her courage and determination exemplify the traits I honor in the women who "run with the dogs."

She raised the banner for the National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD) atop Mount Everest and had she crossed beneath the Burled Arch in daylight, would have held it aloft there as well. As it was, her arrival happened at about 9:30 pm Alaska time. If she did raise the banner, it was not shown on the live cam of her arrival but she may have since she planned to do so. Cindy got to Nome nearly twelve hours after the next to last racer but that was okay. She made it!! So many were cheering for her and waiting breathlessly for her to succeed, me among them.

That Sunday evening, March 22, the awards banquet for the mushers and their families and friends was just winding down when the announcement came that Cindy approached. Almost to a person, the group poured out of the hall where the event was held and hiked a mile or so to the finish line. The cheers that sounded as Cindy and her team came up the street and into the chute would have done a first place winner justice. I have always said that every single man or woman who makes the entire race with his or her team is A Winner!! In this case that has never been more true. Although the live cam had been shut down after Trent Herbst, the 65th finisher, arrived that morning, they restarted it to document her arrival.

Cindy Abbott, 2015 Red Lantern Winner
(photo from ICT website. )
In both 2013 and 2014, Cindy suffered injuries that made her scratch for her own health as well as the welfare of her team. Thankfully, the third time was the charm.

Here from the ITC website is a photo of her as she extinguished the actual lantern that hangs at the Burled Arch until the last racer crosses the finish line.

Although the main banquet was over, I'm sure she got a good meal and deserved recognition before the event was truly closed. Cindy exemplifies the traits I plan to honor and spotlight in my upcoming book. She has thus won a place in the honor roll of those I will feature in this book! By the way, her dogs looked lively and well-cared for. I'm sure the vets would agree they had been taken good care of for the entire trek.  Hip hip hurrah for Cindy Abbott!

The various Sled Dogs-- a bit more about them

The Malamute, as I said in the last post, are the largest. They too are a recognized breed and one whose traits have changed little over an extended period of time. The average one is about 24 inches at the shoulder and weighs between 75 and 100 pounds. Their markings and colors are similar to the Siberians with the gray-black and tan or dark ivory being the most common. They probably go back to dogs that lived with some of the Alaskan Native peoples before any European settlers or explorers arrived. Here are a couple of pictures. Yes, they superficially look like the Siberians but a close look shows they are heavier and more massive, even heavier coated and the tail curl is normally very pronounced. Those are a few differences. They also probably most resemble the wolf and show some common genetic background there with their wild cousins. That includes the three-layered coat with thick outer guard hairs that tend to shed moisture and a very downy soft insulating inner layer.

The average Siberian is under 24 inches, generally about 20 inches high and weighs between 35 and 60 pounds. Blue eyes are common among Siberians although there are many brown eyed ones also. The biggest difference is the size, really and no doubt there are common ancestors if one goes back a century or two. The Siberians came from northern Eurasia and were raised and used in Siberia as well as Scandinavia.  I think that is where the Norse racers acquired them.

The Alaskan Huskies can and often do show strong similarities to their cousins, both the Mals and the Sibes. But as I said, starting with some of the serious racers back in the 1960s, 70s and on, there has been a lot of experimentation in mixing many breeds into the sled dog they wanted. I am especially familiar with the SP Kennel dogs because they have so much about theirs on their website and talk about them a great deal. They generally prefer smaller dogs, Sibe size or even less. Other racers have very decided ideas about their dogs--Martin Buser for example. He does not care for the Sibes at all and has little of that in his bloodlines. This also holds true for Jeff King and many others.  I have heard Susan Butcher even added a smidgen of Queensland Heeler to her dogs. Looking at our dog, Kaycee who is pure Heeler, I can see why. They are stout and some are pretty quick although they bulk up too much as they age. And a few years ago one man attempted the Iditarod with a team of purebred black standard poodles. I think he finished the race but the idea did not catch on!

A post just about the SPK dogs coming soon and I promise the story about Cindy Abbott also. Too much neat stuff and not enough time!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It's All About the Dogs--Part 1

Most of us, until we learn more about the sport of sled dog racing, have a picture in our mind of what a sled dog looks like. And for most that is either the Malamute or the Siberian Husky. But there are also Alaskan Huskies. Let me walk you through the similarities and differences here and what makes each type of dog unique.

The Malamutes are the draft animals of the sled dogs. Think of canine Percherons and Clydesdales. They are big--often weighing a hundred pounds or more with heavy bones and very thick, dense coats. They are handsome animals and very strong pullers but they are not fast. They were the draft animals of Alaska in the old days.

When racing began to become more popular, many folks recognized they needed lighter and speedier dogs. This was very true in the short or "sprint" races which may be just a few miles long. There pure speed with small teams was the key to winning. A lot of other breeds and types of dogs were gradually introduced to the Malamutes and the Native dogs--descendants of those that came across from Asia as much as 10,000 years ago according to recent research.

From this constant tinkering the Alaskan Husky slowly emerged. They are still not a breed recognized by the AKC or any other formal canine group that I am aware of. They do not all look alike, although gradual refinement is starting to create some characteristic traits. Still they come in almost any color, various shapes of ears, sizes from thirty five pounds up to seventy five or so, and some show anything from Labrador to German Shorthair in their ancestry. These are the dogs most of the serious contenders race now. In time they will become more uniform, I expect, and maybe become a recognized breed but that's many generations into the future.

Then there are the Siberian Huskies. Most of the Norwegian and other European racers and those with Norwegian roots do run the "Sibes" as they are fondly called. They are a recognized breed and as such are registered and purebred, AKC acknowledged dogs. They are also what many of us see in our minds when "sled dogs" are mentioned. They are gorgeous animals!

In this year's Iditarod, no Sibe teams placed in the top five and I am not sure if the Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Norwegian now based in Alaska who finished in sixth place, or "rookie" (first Iditarod but a number of European races) Thomas Waerner who placed seventeenth were driving Siberian teams. The photos I saw were not clear enough to be sure, but I do not thing Joar was. However, there were quite a few Sibe teams that finished well in the middle or at least the upper two-thirds. These are good dogs despite the fact most of the major Alaskan and US racers are not "into" them.  They are lighter built than the Malamutes but still not as lean as many of the Alaskan Huskies and have shaggier coats for the most part. They are beautiful dogs and pretty uniform in appearance and size. They have been the trotter or pacer equivalent for the sled dog world.

Here are a couple of photos of Siberians. The first one is a young female owned by Lizbet Norris who finished her second Iditarod this year and whose family has raised them for about seventy years. I "met" Mika along with Lizbet last summer. The second shot is just one I snagged off Pinterest. Most Sibes are playful and clearly love being in the snow!

While many of the Alaskan Huskies have some of the Siberian colors and markings, traces of many other types of dogs are also visible. Many teams have dogs ranging from coal black to sandy dun colored, spotted and even mostly white.  Here are a couple of Aliy Zirkle's dogs who are definitely Alaskan Huskies but carrying some Sibe looks. The first is the incomparable Quito and the other is another fine SP Kennel dog named Olivia last August.  Among the up and coming young SP dogs are eleven puppies whelped by each of these two great girls. More on them next time.

I will also try to track down a good picture of a Malamute--they are not featured so much these days!

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Over--take one

The Iditarod wrapped up last night with the big Awards Banquet, a lot of which was posted in their Facebook page since they do not have capacity to live stream it yet. Maybe in a few years. Most of that will be accessible for awhile so I will post the URL later.

Cindy Abbott made it, too late for the festivities but they said she would get her attention and recognition. I did see her come in on the live cam at about 11:15 my time or 9:15 Alaska time. Everyone is happy for her to have finally made it. She earned that Red Lantern and the Perseverance Award.

Aaron Burmeister got a lot of awards; the Mackey brothers were recognized for great sportsmanship and personifying the musher ethic and well, Dallas got his first place trophy and the "Golden Harness" for his lead dog Reef. That is almost always awarded to the winner's leader so no surprise there. I'll share more and add my commentary later. My eyes are a bit trashed right now from many hours staring at the screen the past few days but it was Awesome, Fantastic, Incredible and about any superlative adjective you want to use! Photos too and my promised Honor Roll for the great women and their teams who did the distance. An interesting note, Lev Shevits' team, the chap who placed 54th, was all female dogs. More on him too as another touching tale to some degree. This race brings out a lot of those!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I did, I did, I did, I did the Iditarod Trail...

That's a song composed by one Hobo Jim who has sung it at the awards banquet for many years. A number of folks are singing that at least in their hearts this evening. Ten are still on the trail but about four are now past the Safety checkpoint with less than 22 miles to go.

The Mackey brothers got in this afternoon--together. I know, Lance told Jason to go on and he did -- but waited at the next checkpoint and then the storms hit and they've stuck together the rest of the way. Not sure how Lance's hands fared but he's there with his team and another finish to his credit. And I say big kudos to both of them, Lance for perseverance and sheer guts and his brother for real brotherly love and "he ain't heavy" attitude. Two awesome guys.

Four ladies came in almost en mass this afternoon and I watched that. My little friend Lisbet Norris and her purebred Siberian Huskies was the fourth of the group. She improved on her last year's rookie schedule where she was next-to-last by several places. The other three were vet Monica Zappa and rookies Heidi Sutter and Laura Allaway. I predict we will be seeing more of all of them in the future. Lots of promise and youth among them to urge them on.

Now a couple of ladies from France, not spring chicks by any means, are coming in from White Mountain and Cindy Abbott, of whom I will speak more later, is on the way from Elim to White Mountain bringing up the rear. I pray for her safe journey as she is pretty much by herself but I am sure the race watchers are keeping tabs on her. This is her third try and everyone is pulling for her to make it. I think she will. I'll be posting an Honor Roll in the next day or two of all the women who finished this year with their stats and any tidbits I can gather about them. It will be about twenty, if my count is still straight. Sixty six finishers total if the rest still out all get there and they should. Wow, it has been a wild trip and I am tired, not as tired as the racers are but I've been there in spirit a number of trips on that trail! Maybe next year I can see at  least a bit of it for real.

More tomorrow!

Friday, March 20, 2015

More Tails and Trails

I watched Aliy come in on St Patrick's Day with mixed feelings--there was joy and pride but also some sadness. Some of the self-proclaimed pundits wondered why she "let" Jessie Royer get ahead of her. I don't think she did but in the interview she admitted she realized before Koyuk in that nasty snow that Dallas Seavey was the team to beat and then that she was not going to be able to do it unless she drove her dogs much too hard. At that point she determined to finish the race as best she could but it became more about the dogs, especially several teammates that are aging out and very likely will not be running next year. That was a real sad part because they are well known and deeply loved by many. Of course it is the most sad to Aliy because she has an incredible bond with all her dogs and a particularly strong one with Quito, Chico and Nacho and a couple of other older dogs.

The last stretch from White Mountain she did not push them and savored the final trip with them to the last minute. She was clearly emotional at the end. The first time also that her face has revealed a bit of age and I think I spied a strand or two of gray in the hair that blew out from under her cap and hood. Hey she just ran, poled and pedaled 1000 miles with temps as low as -60 or so some have said! However, this is not really an event for young people and she has a number of good years yet barring unforseen accidents. The descendants of some of these great dogs will run future races and bring honor to SP Kennels. I'd stake my life on that. She called her mom on a phone someone handed her--they cannot be carried on the trail--and I am sure Allen watched at the checkpoint where he was holed up due to the weather. How proud her parents must be of this great human being they raised; I met them in August and it is easy to see they are great folks and part of the foundation behind Aliy.

Here from the ITC files is Aliy with Scout in Nome; he ran co-lead with Quito or at times another dog for most of the way and promises to be a very good leader too.

I'll do some more on the Red Team soon and also on the "yahoo" team as they are fondly calling the pups that Allen is running on the Black Team for their first Iditarod.  I have the roster of both teams from the SPKennel "Dog Log" blog, also on Blogspot. Here is the link if you want to check it out! http://spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/

And here from SPK blog are two Black Team dogs resting. Isn't that a precious picture? They are running mates and partners and that's very clear.  The one on the left is Beemer, an older dog helping break in the pups and not sure the other one.

Tails and trails

In the past twenty four hours I have watched four more great lady mushers come in to Nome. It is humbling and awe-inspiring and every one brings tears to my eyes. The bonds these women have with their incredible dogs is so very moving.

First in the afternoon yesterday was Paige Drobney of Fairbanks who I met last summer along with some of her canine kiddos. I think this was her best finish and her third Iditarod although she and her partner have also done the Yukon Quest back in 2012. She was number 27 under the Burled Arch. Paige came in behind her friend Scott Smith but both teams were in the chute at the same time. They behaved very well! Here is a shot I took of her last August; I forgot the dog's name; shame on me but I think it was in this team.

Later in the evening the Berington twins, who are very popular on the trail, came in close together. Kristy got the 28th spot and Anna the 29th since she waited a few minutes so there would not be too much confusion in the chute. Still both teams were there together for awhile but I am sure the dogs are all acquainted. This was Kristy's sixth and Anna's fourth Iditarod and Kristy has also done the Yukon Quest. They are young and seem to be doing a little better each year so I am sure we will see them again. Paige also. I hope to meet the twins this summer.

Last but not least was Deedee Jonrowe, a living legend and one of the most awesome women I know. I have not yet met her face to face but we have spoken on the phone. She has started the race thirty three times and this was her thirtieth finish. Even after just recovering from cancer treatments in 2002 she ran!! Her frostbite seems to be under control but she had bandages on several fingers and others unpacked her sled for the gear check and get the booties off her dogs. It was very early, just past 5:00 am in Alaska, but there were fans out to greet and cheer her. She had fifteen dogs which I think is the greatest number to cross the finish line so far. I'll check that shortly. That is amazing considering the weather and hazards of the trail! A huge tribute to her skill and care for them even fighting her own trouble with the cold. What a great lady!!!!

I borrowed a shot of her on the trail a couple of days ago near Unalakleet, wrestling her sled around a turn. She always wears pink and her dogs are harnessed and coated in pink--her way to honor the efforts to beat breast cancer and other survivors. I cannot praise this fantastic lady enough. She has mentored many young mushers and usually addresses each race's rookie class. Even if she is unable to race again, she will be involved until the day she leaves us, just like Libby Riddles who is there at Nome to greet almost all the incoming teams and makes a wonderful fur hat for the highest placing woman each year. How can you not admire such people? What examples and role models they are! They are why I want so badly to write and publish this book!!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Winners and winding down

I meant to write some of this yesterday but just did not have my thoughts in order or some emotions totally under control. Yes, young Seavey won. I have to say he has very fast dogs and he drove them well. Any small less-than-noble things he did I attribute mostly to youth and an overzealous urge to make his mark. His dad finished second, Burmeister third, Jessie Royer fourth--her personal best so far with which she was very happy and Aliy fifth, smiling as always and greeting fans but tired and a bit emotional at the finish.

Now the twentieth racer and third woman competitor is in, Michelle Phillips. She was not totally pleased with her run but praised her dogs and at least was in the money, if barely. Others of the feminine contingent are still en route. Paige Drobney has left White Mountain and the Berington sisters are there now. Deedee Jonrowe is coming from Elim toward White Mountain. At least some of them will be in Nome this evening. I'm trying to catch them all on the live cam which runs until the last person is in.

Martin Buser is just about to drive up Nome's front street, about in twenty second or third rank. The first time he has been out of the top twenty in almost forever! So he spoke the truth earlier in the race.

From my admittedly experience-challenged armchair, I think the 43rd Iditarod will go down as a watershed time. The different trail provided some new challenges and the weather has thrown some doozies at the racers but this is nothing new. What is new is first, the old guard is starting to fall back. Well, the second wave of the old guard. The first of course are now long gone or moved to the senior statesman levels watching sons and grandsons carry on, And some granddaughters too.

But to hear what Buser said earlier and to see Jeff King come in yesterday in seventh place, happy and jovial though way out of the real winner's circle made a huge statement. Both are four time winners; I think it came to them that if either of them took a fifth race, they would be tied with Rick Swenson, now far out of the picture and the only five time winner. Then they'd have to try for six... When would it end? Maybe one more trophy on the mantle was not worth forcing the team and their aging bodies that hard. King has only daughters, none of whom seem to be going into mushing, at least for now. One of Buser's two sons is; he is racing this year though well back in the pack. However when I visited Happy Trails Kennel last August young Rohn (named for an Ididtarod checkpoint!) is developing his own team and said to start watching him in 2016. Time will tell.

Dallas Seavey is of course carrying the Seavey clan banner. He may break through and win five, six or more times although I would not count on it. I see a number of promising young mushers, both men and women, who are moving up through the ranks and so far showing a strong will and dedication. Again, time will tell.

Others who will be stepping aside, almost certainly, include Deedee Jonrowe. She's the woman with the most finishes ever (over 30) and several Iditarod 2nds although she never won the top place. And Lance Mackey, who has four Idiatarod wins and two Yukon Quest firsts as well, winning both races in one year two times! That's an amazing record but health has taken its toll and his comeback is about over. Whether his kid brother, who has never been a big musher but is starting now can carry on or not is unknown. I'm not sure if either of them have kids coming  into the field; they are both in their forties so kids would be too young to race as adults yet.  I do not expect to see Mitch Seavey compete really hard many more times. He is in his mid fifties and he looked tired yesterday although happy, sharing the winner's circle with his son. So we watch a changing of the guard here. Also old timer Jim Lanier scratched at Unalakleet; he is seventy one and the threat of some bad weather up the coast probably tipped the balance for  him.

In another aspect, there was new excitement with new places being visited this time as check points including Huslia, home of the late, great sprint racer and dog man, George Atla who passed away late last year. Folks are already talking of other variations in a weather-shifted trail should the snowless conditions persist. Looking at the long term meteorological  predictions, these variations tending to be cyclic anyway, that is probably likely. I predict we'll see more Fairbanks starts and a gradual shift northward of the mushing communities centered around Anchorage to Wasilla and Willow. I've been wrong before but that's my oracle for now!

More on SP Kennels and other women racing in a later post to follow shortly. Also some borrowed photos!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Racing and a Raspberry

Most of the time what I talk about here is positive and supportive of the amazing folks and their fantastic dogs who are running the races. Just this once I will make an exception to blow off a little steam.

I noted some things yesterday that tended to leave a sour taste behind. At this point, getting down to the last section of the race along the Bering Sea coast with its unpredictable weather and everyone getting tired, sleep-deprived and such, things can get dicey. Between the checkpoints of Shaktoolik and Koyuk, the trail crosses about forty miles of a sea inlet, frozen at this time of year. Normally that stretch is very windy with a lot of slick, raw bare ice. Yesterday it snowed and the temps were mild so the snow did not "set" to get hard and crusted. Several racers likened it to wading through beach sand. Yes, hard going for those dogs. It took nearly twice as long to cross that stretch as many times.

At that point, Burmeister was in the lead so that meant his team was breaking the first trail here. Visibility was not good and there was just enough wind to drift the snow some. Most of it was belly deep to the dogs with occasional two to three foot high drifts to cut through. Behind him was Dallas Seavey. Now their two styles are quite different. Burmeister does long runs and long rests; he went from Unalakleet to Koyuk with only a couple of very short stops, some 120 miles give or take and a fifteen hour run. Seavey pretty much runs four and rests four and his team goes fast when it goes. He began to catch up with Burmeister on this crossing and then --at least it appeared so to me--held back and let the other racer break the trail. It might not have been a huge help but it had to be some.

I've read in many past Iditarods where two or more mushers traveled close together in conditions like this, they took turns breaking trail. I call that sportsmanship. Seavey did not pass until they were nearly across and then drove into Koyuk two minutes ahead of his competitor! That did not sit well with me, especially when he had all but told the Iditarod Insider reporters that he had this race in the bag and Burmeister should be watching his back trail and hope to keep a good second or third place!!

The thing is, Seavey had to know Burmeister had run straight through and would have to take at least six hours rest at Koyuk. Seavey would stay at least two hours less and thus have a head start. To break trail for maybe fifteen miles would not have cost him much, maybe a little more wear and tear on his dogs is all. So why not do it? I guess you'd have to ask him.

Anyway, I wish him and his team no serious harm but should a minor mishap occur to slow him down or make him take an unplanned break so that the rest of the front runners all got by and beat him to Nome, I would not feel bad at all! I expect he will win but that crown will be a bit tarnished for me if he does. Yes, it is a competition but arrogance and attitude do not win a lot of points. Most of the mushers are probably not aware of this situation but word will slowly spread and eventually karma does its thing. Maybe its just youth and cockiness but I was turned off big-time here.

Meanwhile the five I have watched all along, with the one swap of Jessie Royer for Jeff King, are forging on to Nome. They'll get to White Mountain probably late this afternoon and take their mandatory eight hours and then the last seventy plus miles will wrap up the race. As last year proved, many things can happen in that final stretch. It may snow, it may blow, or it may be clear and still... We'll see. This time tomorrow I expect the first five or ten racers will be in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Up the Coast with some side trips

Last evening the first racer reached the Bering Sea coast at the village of Unalakleet. Aaron Burmeister was the first one in and received the Wells Fargo Gold Coast award; Aliy was a bit behind him. At this point the dynamics of the race are shifting a bit. Dallas Seavey who had rested several hours on the portage trail across from Kaltag to Unalakleet hit the checkpoint and breezed on. Arron, Aliy, and Mitch Seavey all took several hours rest before they pressed on.

It looks like things are not going well for Jeff King. He also rested for some time along the portage trail and told the Race Watchers when they passed that, at least for then, his dogs had "lost the magic". That is not good. They had noted he looked tired at an earlier Yukon River checkpoint and the musher's attitude is very much linked with their dogs. That's where Aliy does well by staying at leat outwardly upbeat regardless.

Jeff got into Unalakleet just as Arron was heading out and left some hours later. Meanwhile Jessie Royer was into the checkpoint and out, moving into fifth place. Now both Seaveys, Burmeister and Aliy have passed through Shaktoolik and Aliy has passed Mitch Seavey. Aaron leads and Dallas is between them. Jessie should be into Shaktoolik fairly soon with other racers strung out back as far as Kaltag or even Nulato.  Aliy dropped one more dog at Unalakleet; we do not know which one yet. So she, Brumeister and I think also young Seavey are running thirteen now.

Dropping dogs becomes a strategy as well as a necessity as the leaders make their way up the coast. It is still over 200 mniles to Nome so a lot can happen but right now the same leaders with the exception of--maybe--Jessie Royer replacing Jeff King are probably the real contenders. It's going to be not quite dog eat dog here, but competitive!! Very competitive.

Further back, Lance Mackey and Deedee Jonrowe, our cancer survivors, are both dealing with frostbite on their hands but refuse to scratch--at least so far. They both went through the chemo/radiation regime which seems to damage circulation to the extremities. That really makes them vulnerable. I expect if they do finish, this will be the last run for both of them. I am sad but that is the way life goes, not always fair or fun. Lance finally kicked his brother in the backside and told him to get on up the trail at normal speed. I think a rookie/puppy team handler is going along with Lance now. I pray for both Lance and Deedee to make it okay and not to lose fingers from their determination. Such courage and toughness! I am in awe.

So the race goes on and will probably be near the end late Tuesday, All teams must take an eight hour rest at White Mountain  (Yep, the same one as in Johnny Horton's song!) which is the next to last checkpoint some 77 miles out of Nome. So we have to figure that in to the run time for a long 200 miles before one team mushes under the burl arch in Nome.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Awesome Aliy

I do not want to jinx my gal but damn, she is running one fine race so far!!! She and Jeff King have been playing hopscotch but right now she is ahead. He is resting his dogs at the last checkpoint--Koyukuk, with two more to go before the trail leaves the Yukon to cut across to the coast. Aliy rested on the trail, as she often does, between Huslia and Koyukuk and went thru the checkpoint in four minutes flat! Not yet in are Burmeister, and the two Seaveys--that group again making up the top five. I stand by my earlier thought that this year's winner is in that group. Other serious contenders are leaving Huslia today and heading down river as well--quite a bunch of them. And the rest trail back to the run from Ruby to Galena. No telling who will get the Red Lantern this year.

The Race Watcher team got some good shots of Aliy ski-poling along the river this morning. They call her "spiderman" for those two busy arms helping the dogs. She is the only one I have heard of who uses two poles. Some use one but most pedal like riding a scooter. The method  must be working because she is still running all sixteen dogs!! I have to add that Jeff is too but I have a faint hunch he may drop some soon. They are going good but were described as glad to bed down in the straw when he stopped this time. Apparently he more or less ran straight thru from Huslia without a real stop after his 24 rest at Galena and a shorter pause at Huslia. The total distance from Huslia to Koyukuk is about 170 miles. In twenty four hours with some short rests...is that moving and grooving or what?

So the real race is on now. The two Seaveys are still challenging each other as if no one else was running but some say Dallas, the son, is going to bust loose once he gets to the coast and run like crazy. We'll see.

One kind of tear jerking tale involves the two Mackey brothers whose dad Dick was one of the first Iditaroders along with the legendary Joe Redington. If memory serves he won in the by-a-nose decision, the closest race ever back in the early 1970s. Anyway, his son Lance is a cancer survivor seeking a comeback (past winner) and cut a hand badly a couple of years ago busting up frozen meat for his team so he had to scratch. This time he has gotten severe frostbite and it is likely his racing days are near the end but brother Jason is running with him and doing all the hard hand work like booting and unbooting both teams of dogs. It is legal for mushers to help one another but no outside help is allowed. Jason said he would get Lance to Nome this one last time. Now that is brotherly love and the best of the musher creed in action. Godspeed to them and a safe run now.

Friday, March 13, 2015

About the half way point

The actual mileage half way point of this year's Iditarod trail is a few miles out of Huslia, the checkpoint where the leader pack--at present --is mostly tied up for their twenty-four hour layover. Nobody is quite there yet. Quite a few mushers are also doing the layover rest at Galena, the checkpoint just before Huslia also.

Aliy has just hit the trail after her long stop at Galena and is leading Mitch Seavey, who took his 24 at Ruby, still farther back, by a few miles. I expect she will zip right along with her sixteen rested dogs, maybe snack them and rest a time or two before reaching Huslia, and then breeze right on through toward Kaltag. That's where this trail will meet and permanently rejoin the traditional one. Several others will be leaving Galena this morning as well including Jessie Royer and Michelle Phillips. At bib number 3, Jessie has a lot of time added to her rest as part of the 'even out the playing field' adjustments. Aliy had just under two hours since she is carrying number 32 of the 78 starters.

There was a very interesting interview from yesterday with Martin Buser that I just watched. Some of the crew following the race caught up with him resting along the Yukon between Galena and Huslia. What he said was amazing! This is his thirty-second Iditarod and he indicated he was not going to rush madly to try to get to Nome first. It's time to enjoy the race and not worry about speed whether he finishes first or twenty seventh. Take time to smell the pee-mail (for the dogs) and check out the cabins and ghost towns and such (for him.)

From the driven competitor that he has always been, that's quite a switch! It is possible he is just messing with the heads of the other mushers but I am inclined to think he meant it. If he won for a fifth time, then he'd have to try for the sixth since he'd just be one of two people with five wins and so on. He's not 'old' as mushers go but far from a kid now and he's certainly got laurels to rest on. Maybe let his son Rhon start forging ahead to get the glory. I wonder if Jeff King will come to that too? He scratched from the Yukon Quest this past run and for now is in the lead pack, having left Galena a bit before Aliy and some others.

Top on the leader board for now, Aaron Burmeister has done well but admitted to some delays and issues recently. He has two females in season and has put them in the lead since it is too distracting to  his mostly-male team to have them in the middle. I think I would perhaps put them at wheel--right before the sled--but it's his call. That slowed his run from Galena to Huslia quite a bit. Whether the problem will be over by the time his twenty four is up remains to be seen. It's coming on spring even in Alaska--but 40 below like the old song said! Bitter cold in the area with -27 at Fairbanks and -7 at Nome for now, the two ends of the trail.

Anyway, this issue is not an uncommon problem since most sled dogs are not neutered. You want to get litters from the really good ones and they have to run some races before you can fully assess their quality. Keeping down unwelcome breeding and managing the natural upset among a group of dogs can be a challenge. Sometimes fights or accidental matings do occur. At checkpoints and stops, dogs can get loose and visit other teams and so on. Now and then it even works out well! In an interview musher Matt Failor praised his lead dog Rebel who was the result of an accidental King/Buser lines cross that happened in such a way.