Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Big Ones are getting close!

It's not even two weeks now until the Yukon Quest starts, this year in White Horse, Yukon Territory, Canada. I was just reading on the SP Kennel blog about the preparation of their drop bags which were just delivered to the Fairbanks HQ of the quest. I know Allen Moore will be running the Black Team this year. I am not sure if Aliy will have her dogs in the YQ 300 or not, the shorter version of the race. Then in just four weeks more, the Iditarod will begin. They start this year on Feb 7 for the YQ and March 7 for the Iditarod.

There are no flowers around the YQ Headquarters today. On their web site and Facebook pages you get a snowy current view but this was how I saw in in August. It was about -30 in Fairbanks today but I still wish I was there to be getting ready and helping in some way. I am praying and hoping and working to make that happen next year! Meanwhile you can bet I will be keeping very close tabs on each race as it progresses and sending lots of good vibes and energies out to my favorite teams and their drivers!

I recently read the to-date life story (he's too young for a biography!) of Dallas Seavey, the young man who has beaten Aliy in the Iditarod twice in the last three years. I figured it was important to know as much about him as I can for my future book, a bit of how and why he is a champion. Of course it does run in the family. His grandpa Dan was in the first Iditarod and his father Mitch has competed a number of times and beat Aliy in between Dallas' two wins.

But what really piqued my interest was how Dallas met his main sponsor, a couple from Michigan vacationing in Alaska. J.J. Keller is mainly in the transportation business but was impressed with Dallas who was a champion wrestler before he got back to driving dogs competitively after some injuries in his other event.  Keller saw something in the young man that won his respect and he has supported him for the years it took to make that first win.

Well, on a long shot I thought hey, maybe they would be willing to invest a bit of support in an old dog with a new trick and help my project so I have written them a letter. No reply so far but eventually I have to hit the right spot and find someone for whom my story will resonate. I keep trying but meanwhile keep slogging along on my own as best I can. You do not mush a thousand miles in a day or two.

I'll be posting more as the races take place, I am sure, probably duplicating what others are saying but sharing it all from my own perhaps peculiar perspective! Ready, hike!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 Sled Dog Racing Season is in progress!

Although there are some other odds and ends of races, the Copper Basin 300 is pretty much the official kick off of the annual racing season in Alaska. This year's race took place this past weekend starting and ending at the community of Glennallen in southeastern Alaska. (SE although not down on the long southern arm. It is north and east of Wasilla/Palmer in a rather mountainous historical mining area.) The race has been in existence for several years and is one of the qualifiers for the Iditarod. Yes, it is 300 miles long and takes about three days to run, not quite a third the length of the big ones. It is reputed to be a challenging race although not quite on a par with the big two.

About fifty teams entered this year. A few scratched out but about forty-four finished. The first team across the finish line was the SP Kennel Black Team driven by Allen Moore. He was defending his championship as last year's winner and will be competing in the Yukon Quest next month as well. Aliy Zirkle (Mrs Moore) was driving the SPK Red Team and came in sixth. Their protegee Spencer also ran the 2015 Copper Basin and I do not have his placement at the moment.

I may be out of order here but my observation has been that Aliy and Allen may both enter a race but they do not directly compete. One of them will have the special light and strong sled designed and built by Allen (pictured at right) and the most likely dogs in harness while the other will be giving experience to some younger dogs and training, testing and assessing dogs in various places in the lashup. Aliy won the Yukon Quest once several years ago but does not now compete in it--except for the shorter division--while Allen has won it several times to include 2014 and will be back to defend his title again this year. He also runs the Iditarod but usually well back in the pack with young and developing dogs.

The past few years Aliy has been very focused on the Iditarod and, as we all know, has come in a closer second place finish each of the last three runs. I am sure she'll be giving it her best again when the race heads out of Willow the first Saturday in March and I will be with her in spirit! I'm hoping this will be her year but there is a huge element of luck as well as many other factors at play. Sometimes the best team does not actually get there first...

But meanwhile I will follow some other three hundred milers and the YQ, which kicks off early in February. How I would love to be in Fairbanks when the first racers come in--maybe Allen Moore again or any one of some very notable mushers who are among the twenty six competitors running this year to include such well known names as Jeff King and Lance Mackey. I saw about six or eight women in the list of entrants posted on the YQ site. If you want to go take a look for yourself, the YQ site is at http://www.yukonquest.com/ and the mushers' portraits scroll in the upper left hand corner. You can click on them to read a bio and information.

Another Copper Basin racer whose placing I do not yet have is Paige Drobney who I met this past summer. That's her on the left with one of her dogs. Her kennel outside of Fairbanks is named Squid Acres as she's a marine biologist by trade and schooling, working summers to support her dogs and racing. I do not think her partner races although he supports her efforts with a lot of hard work! And I can vouch that keeping a kennel and training and racing dogs is one big job--if you are not supported by big sponsors and able to afford an extensive staff of many assistants, you are going to be one busy person--or two or three.

That is what makes the feats of rather independent and initially little known racers of earlier times so amazing. Libby Riddles did not have a big team of backers and got most of her training from Joe Redington and a one-time partner, Joe Garnie, who was also a racer in the early Iditarod days. Susan Butcher did not start big either. Of course things have changed a lot in the past twenty years or so. Still, there is a lot of brutal work and tedious hours involved. You have to really love this to put in the effort and dedication required even to complete races, much less win them. That is yet another reason for my deep admiration of these folks, especially the women.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Slogging along...with miles to go

Winter is iffy in Alaska this year too. It's been very cold around Fairbanks but not lots of snow and even warmer/dryer farther south. The Solstice 100 Race went off a little late up at Two Rivers. SP Kennels did good; their new handler and trainee dog-driver did the full 100 miles with a team of mostly green young dogs and they did great. Aliy did the fifty mile only, just getting some of the Red Team into the race mode for this year. In less than a month the Yukon Quest will be ready to happen. I'd love to be there but it does not look like it is in my cards for this time. I'll be there in spirit at least. Down around Willow they are still training with ATVs--no dad-gum snow!

Although the Go Fund Me page does not reflect it, I did get a couple of very generous and special off-line direct donations during the holiday season and the savings account took a pretty nice jump. It's not enough to get me there yet but its growing! Now that there is a new calendar year, I will work extra hard on some grants and similar sources for further help. Most of them go on a yearly cycle and the earlier your request gets there the better your chances. I know this is still a long shot but I am going to give it all I can.

Here is 'sunny' New Mexico it is mostly dry but the weather is bouncing all over-and driving us nuts. One day it is 60+ and we can sit out soaking up sun and then all at once it is gray and a high in the lower 40s with hard freezes at night and no sun to speak of. It seems like everyone in town is sick with one or a combination of 'bugs' that are going around. I'm no exception--cough, stuffed sinuses, aches and mild fever--just totally yucko and it wants to hang around. If iron, zinc, L-lysine, echinacea and vitamin C won't kick this thing, I guess I'll just have to wait for summer. Curses! It is slowing but not stopping me.

Whenever I get a little bit down about this project, I read some more in the books I am collecting. Right now I'm in the middle of Joe Redington's story--what a guy! He was born three years before my Mom (1917). He grew up in the lower 48 in a very rough life, maybe good background for the future. Without him the Iditarod would never have happened and would never have continued to become the incredible event it is today.

The often zany and astounding things he did and the tireless way he worked to get it started and keep it going forward when there were a zillion obstacles in the way are really an inspiration. You just never say never and absolutely refuse to take no for an answer. That was the way he operated and bless him for that! So I've got to take a cue from him and from Libby Riddles who mushed on through a fierce blizzard to win and many others whose stories may not get fully told if I don't hang in there and make it happen!

Hike, hike, hike! Team, we've got a long way to go but we can do it!! Hang in there with me.