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!

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 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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Women who run with the dogs!.

The race is now about seventy two hours in and a bit over a third of the distance has been covered by the fifteen or twenty leading teams. The rest proceed farther back. It is cold and there is snow, plenty of it from what I am seeing and hearing. That's good. Other than a few stretches of deep but loose snow, the trail has been hard and fast, well beaten in by snow machines etc.

The shots here are of Aliy approaching the Ruby checkpoint (above) and Jessie along the same route. (below). Not mine of course but I am seeking permission to use these and similar in my book since I know I will not be out there to get these kinds of pictures. Jeff Schultz, Sebastian Schnuelle and others have that covered!

There were seventy eight starters this year and of that number twenty six or exactly one third are women! I find this awesome and amazing and I am pretty sure the number is getting higher every year by a percentage or two. Three of them are shaping up as serious contenders in this year's race. Aliy Zirkle, of course, and her Yukon nemesis but also friend, Michelle Phillips--they kind of trade firsts in the Yukon Quest 300 lately. Then there is Jessie Royer, a Montana cowboy girl*(see note below)  who started out her dog sledding mentored by fellow Montanan Doug Swingley, the first non-Alaskan to win the Iditarod who somewhat dominated things for awhile back in the 1980s. Jessie has now run the Iditarod several times and usually finishes in the top ten. I am pretty sure she will do it again barring an unforeseen accident or issue. She could win; that is not out of the question at all. There is a lot of luck as well as savvy, daring and toughness involved.

So far Aliy is still running all sixteen dogs. I expect she will be dropping one or more along the way, perhaps before long, but that's a good tribute to the health and strength of her team, many of which ran the Yukon Quest thousand miler just a month ago. I believe Michelle has her full team so far as well. A number of mushers are now down to fourteen or fewer. You have to have six to legally finish but most say eight is the minimum to seriously race.

All of this evidence really reinforces my desire to tell the story of these fantastic women and set them up as the incredible heroes they really are. They are stellar examples for our 'ordinary' young women to emulate, whatever endeavor they choose to make their mark in. Dream it, dare it, do it!!! Living proof on those sled runners that anything is possible with the will and unflagging determination to make it happen. It started with Mary Shields and Lolly Medley back in 1974 and then Libby and Susan busted through the ice ceiling in a big way in the mid and late 1980s. It's time we had some more ladies first under the burled arch in Nome! But as I have said, anyone who completes the race is a winner; I don't care if they are first or get the tail-ender's red lantern award. They did it and they won, regardless!

* To explain my use of the term "cowboy girl" without interrupting the thought line of the essay here. I use it very aware that "cowgirl" may be more familiar but to me cowgirls wear split skirts and cute hats like Dale Evans did and are more of an adjunct to the cowboys than on an equal footing. Cowboy girls, on the other hand, are like Annie Oakley or the Greenough sisters who rode broncs and bulls in the early 1900s. They can ride, rope, shoot, cuss or whatever is needed just as well as the cowboys do and maybe better than some. I say I was not a cowgirl but a cowboy girl and Jessie Royer certainly is the same. She competes in mounted shooting events (firing a hand gun accurately from the back of a running horse!) and guides hunters and trail rides etc. She is a tough lady for sure and one of my heroes. She will have a chapter in that book, I guarantee!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

They're off and running!

The restart of the race happened in Fairbanks yesterday starting at about 10:00 ADT. It has been snowing and was down around zero--absolutely great conditions as far as sled dogs are concerned. In under twenty four hours the leading group of a half dozen or so are out of the second checkpoint, some 150 miles down the trail. I have not checked recently but so far I think there have been no scratches. Deedee Jonrowe is moving along really well--she was about fifth into both Nenana and Manley Hot Springs, the first two check points. Although I am rooting for Aliy to win, Deedee is a special fave of mine as well and a real heroine to me since she is sixty and a breast cancer survivor  and still just one tough little customer! She is very petite but large in spirit and courage.

It is not my photo but I had to nab it and have to share it; Aliy with Libby Riddles at the award ceremony held by Verizon in Anchorage last Friday. Libby was the first woman to win the Iditarod back in 1983 but due to an injury--I am not sure how the accident happened or exactly what it was, she sustained a bad hip injury and had to quit racing--she never had a chance to win again. But she is still an awesome woman and a huge friend to all the women who compete. She busted that ice ceiling in a big way!! Anyway, love those radiant smiles!!

Aliy is running three litter siblings in her starting team--the rule is dogs can be dropped but none added--the "Spanish" ones, Quito, Chica and Nacho. They are all great dogs. Chica is the Ginger pup group's mom and of course Quito is that super leader who can make an ordinary team fantastic just by her spirit and will. She is in swing right now, the second pair back, but when the going gets tough like out on the sea ice I bet she is in lead.  Allen in the Black team is driving about half Iditarod rookies; his job is to give them a good learning experience and I am sure he does. Several  of the dogs from his 2nd place Yukon Quest team last month are now in Aliy's Red team.

It is going to be a wild and different race this time so anything can happen but that's what makes it exciting. Hike, hike, hike!! On by!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Iditarod in progress

Well, sorta! The ceremonial start is underway now. I saw on it is 42 in Anchorage. OMG!!  I am having some of my recurring eye issues but will post as I can. Can't even look at the screen too long right now.

 But Aliy drew Bib 32 and Allen got 57. So they are not in the early starters. That means less time 'tacked' on' at the twenty four hour layover, wherever they elect to take it. She also received a very prestigious award which I need to read more about as I can. On that note I will hike out of here for a bit but you can bet I will be following things starting Monday as much as possible! It pains me they do not have a lot of TV coverage of this event but I guess the big sponsors are not there like for football, baseball and basketball. Anyway, GO SP KENNEL!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Jr Iditarod Wrap-Up

It was an exciting race on the return route yesterday. In the end Kevin Harper crossed the finish line first. He's a veteran of the race, placing third last year behind Conway Seavey and Kevin's older brother Ben. The Harper brothers are not Alaska natives but have taken to the mushing life very well. Residing in Wasilla, they have worked with Ray Redington Jr. (grandson on Joe Redington and entrant in Yukon Quest this year and slated also to run the Iditarod.). He's a serious contended and a good coach for budding mushers. Photo credit of Kevin, shown with his brother, to the Jr Iditarod website.

Just two minutes behind Kevin was Jimmy Lanier who I mentioned in my last post. That's the same distance behind that Aliy Zirkle was when Dallas Seavey beat her into Nome last year. But in races, even seconds can count. This 132 mile race is much faster that the big one, but still a challenge. Kevin and Jimmy's average speed was over 11 mph--that is moving right along, about the pace of a horse at a brisk trot or slow lope or canter! So new champions come and go and perhaps future endurance racers have had their first serious taste or a refresher of the excitement of high-speed mushing. I wish all the kids well and hope some will be competing in the future. We need more new names and faces coming along to pick up behind today's contenders, many of whom are no longer young!

Now it's on to the main event, just a few days away. On the SP Kennel site, the hectic schedule for this week has been posted. It's a small advantage for the Red and Black teams and their drivers to be pretty close to home for the start this time so they can sleep in their own houses and beds the night before the race which will start around 10:00 a.m. in Fairbanks with teams heading out about two minutes apart. Bib numbers--and corresponding start order--won't be known until the musher's banquet the night before the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday. I'll share as soon as I find out! And also a few of the dogs that will be running in each team. I got my annual race book yesterday and a few extra copies that I ordered which I intend to give to the major donors on my Go Fund Me page as a very small thank you.

I did notice that Martin Buser and Deedee Jonrowe are both slated to run; I think they hold the respective gender records for the most completions of the race, both in the area of 30 times or more! That is incredible!! I met Martin and spoke with Deedee a couple of times by phone and admire them both hugely. I certainly wish them a good race--although I still am rooting for Aliy to win this time! However she will have some very tough competition from some win-hungry racers--several men with four wins each who want to equal the five-win record held only by Rick Swenson to date.  Time will tell!!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Junior Iditarod

Yes, there is a scaled down race for teenagers and it is going on right now. This year eleven young people are competing, six girls and five boys. This race is only a few years junior to the main race, having begun in 1978. It's way older than the youthful mushers who are now running it! Lots of tradition there.

Although it usually starts in Knik near the homestead of the late Joe Reddington, the lack of snow hit it as well as the big race. Last year it started and ended at the kennel of multi-Iditarod winner Martin Buser, just a bit north of Wasilla at Big Lake. I visited there last summer and it's a picturesque place with traces of Martin's Swiss heritage in evidence. I think one or both of his sons have competed in the Jr Iditarod and one now races and works with his father. Rohn was a rookie last year and is developing his own team. However there is not enough snow there either this time so they have moved the race north to the Denali Park. Here is the "Happy Trails" gate at Buser's place.

The race started today and tonight the young racers will take a mandatory ten hour rest at the Alpine Creek Lodge, sixty five miles into the park from the start at the town of Cantwell. Tomorrow they'll run back the same route over the highway, not open to vehicular traffic at this time. Several of the young mushers have reached the lodge already. I just checked!

In past years some well-known names have competed. This includes some of the Seavey clan and daughters of Jeff King and his wife, Donna for whom this year's race area is home but I think the King girls are now too old for this competition. Seventeen is the maximum. At eighteen one can enter the Iditarod. The only name I recognized in this year's group was Jim Lanier, whose father, of the same name, is a well know competitor in the main Iditarod and some of the shorter races.

While it lacks the fanfare, the Junior Iditarod is a great event and gives some teenagers a chance to compete as their family and some of their heroes do. Yes, it is only about 1/8 the distance and less than 25% of the time but it's still a challenge and some of them may get the bug bad enough that we'll see them in future Iditarods or Yukon Quests! You can check on this event at There is a link there to make a contribution to help support the event. I've done so!

Meanwhile, Aliy Zirkle's dogs --and those Allen will run also--had their pre-race vet checks a few days ago as she outlined on the SP Kennel website. Thirty seven dogs were tested and checked. They can each hitch a maximum of sixteen to start so there is one 'spare'. Just in case, I expect. Anyway, a week from tomorrow the official start will be taking place at Fairbanks! You can bet I will be there in spirit since it isn't possible to make it in person--this time.

One more pic, I can't resist. This is Aliy's Ginger and her litter mate Rodney, running in the snow, in perfect step with each other. Aren't they adorable? This is back in the early winter so they are already bigger and more mature now. They've probably been in harness a time or two by now but of course are not working seriously yet. Ginger is the lighter and slightly smaller pup on the left. He looks a lot like the dam, Chica, who ran the YQ with Allen this year and will probably be in Aliy's Iditarod team. She is a full sister to Quito.