Sunday, January 31, 2016

Heading toward the Yukon Quest

SPK has a great post about the Yukon Quest in their SPKDogLog blog. I really recommend anyone interested in the endurance sled dog races check it out. Here is the link:  There is also a totally cool picture of a much younger Aliy back in 2000 when she became the first and so far only woman to win the Quest. Many mushers consider it tougher and more challenging than the Iditarod.

It is certainly more like 'the old days' when men and women braved the frozen wilderness for various reasons, all alone out there with their faithful teams. There are many fewer checkpoints than the Iditarod and the elevation changes are extremely challenging. This year the route has been changed some. I am not sure if this is because of the weather conditions or not. At any rate there is even more climbing but more distance traveled along a highway, which is closed this time of year since it is impossible to keep it clear and passable for vehicular travel except for the snow machines.

The start alternates between Fairbanks, Alaska and White Horse, Yukon Territory, Canada. This year it starts in Fairbanks where there will be a lot of events this coming week leading up to the start on Saturday, February 6.
Here is the link to the YQ's website.  They also have a Facebook Page.  There is a good tracker, similar to that of the Iditarod so fans can follow their musher faves' progress.

Here is how the Alaskan Headquarters looked when I was there in August 2014. Of course it is all white and snowy now as shown on the FB page. The race starts on the Chena River, which is frozen over solid at this season, right behind the YQ Headquarters. It's a beautiful place watched over by the First Family Statue.
YQ Headquarters Front

YQ HQs Rear

Chena River behind YQ

Friday, January 29, 2016

Still hard times and more

Thus far, Nikolai Buser has had six surgeries and it looking at many more. It was nearly a Humpty Dumpty type situation and he is very lucky to still be alive, even if in very serious shape. I'm still praying he will make it and not be totally disabled.

Meanwhile I just found out that Deedee Jonrowe is struggling to get the funds together to make her 33rd run of the Iditarod. As you know she lost everything but her truck and her dogs in the June fire. Then she lost her primary sponsor. Shell Oil has completely pulled out of Alaska due to environmental issues and the collapse of the oil price structure. I expect they could afford to contribute to a long term musher but they would not choose to do so when the company is no longer in Alaska and is taking some losses now..

So imagine trying to assemble all the expensive gear required for the race, get the dog food and other supplies and have them shipped out to the check points, arrange for transportation of the dogs to Anchorage and home from Nome and a thousand other odds and ends at the same time you are trying to rebuild a home and replace all of the household goods and personal possessions in a total new start effort. Deedee is one of the bravest and strongest ladies I ever knew but no body can do everything all by themselves. She has a go fund me site--I think someone else set it up for her--called Deedeetonome and I have pitched in all I could afford and am trying to publicize it as widely as I can. I just hope and pray she can make it.

So that's the latest from Alaska and the mushing community that I have come across. Counting down now until the Yukon Quest start next Saturday--OMG, just a week to go! So far, fingers crossed and knocking on wood, the folks at SPK are well, dogs also, and their sponsors are in good shape. I wish them both a fantastic race!!

Monday, January 25, 2016

2015-16 have been hard years for Mushers

The two weekend races are over and done, prizes dispersed and mushers gone home. Ryan Redington won the Northern Lights 300 with Rick Castillo second and Jodi Bailey, the highest placed lady musher, coming in 4th. She completed both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod as a rookie in 2011 and is definitely a lady to watch. I expect Aliy and Jessie Royer will have to be looking over their shoulders soon! I'll go back to my records and see where Jodi placed last year in the Iditarod.

Aliy made second place in the Two Rivers 200 and SPK handler Chris, getting
Five and Ginger ready to run the TR100.
his start in racing, was ninth place in that race. That's an excellent showing for a rookie. Meanwhile, another SPK handler, Wes, brought a team of old experienced dogs starting to near the end of their racing days and the five Surfiver pups in at fourth place in the Two Rivers 100.  He did a detailed report on the SPKennel Doglog blog
which I complimented in a comment. "My" Ginger was described as steady and a good reliable hard worker for just a bit over 18 months of age! I was really proud of her. Her bothers did well too but Rodney was a little too excitable!

There is a bit more about Nikolai Buser's accident on Martin's Happy Trails Kennel Facebook page. The young man is hanging in there and slated for several surgeries but holding his own so far. There are a couple of crowd funding pages set up to help the family. Kathy Buser was the one who went with Deedee Jonrowe last June to rescue Deedee's dogs when the fire was sweeping down on the Jonrowe homestead and kennel. But that is the Alaska way, at least when you get out of the larger towns, to help neighbors and whole communities pitch in when emergencies and tragedies happen. I really admire that. There may be a rotten apple or two in the barrel but most mushers are just top notch folks. Besides the extreme nature of the sport and the fierce competitive and determined spirit shown by both the dogs and the sled drivers, that is a big factor drawing me to the sport.

Then, of course, on Sunday night there was a major earthquake in the ocean south of Anchorage. Not a lot of damage and no injuries or deaths that I have heard but it broke some ice for the late racers in the Northern Lights and may have shaken some who live down on the Kenai. Peninsula. It was said to be 7.1 on the Richter scale. The one I felt in June was 4.x so I am thinking, wow, that was a jolt!

Now we have a pause for two weeks until the Yukon Quest 1000 and 300 start on February 6 in Fairbanks. BTW, Aliy is the only woman to have won the YQ 1000 some years back. Allen has won it at least twice. There is a very elite group of mushers who have won both the YQ and the Iditarod and at least one did both in the same year, Lance Mackey. Now that is an amazing feat! I think he used most of the same dogs in both, too. Well, many dogs who run in Allen Moore's "Black Team" in the YQ 1000 will show up in Aliy's "Red Team" in the Iditarod. There is a month between the starts and both races last around eight days for the first finishers so they get about 20-24 days to rest and recover. Still that is a real challenge.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Northern Lilghts and Two Rivers

First I ask for prayers for Martin and Kathy Buser and Rohn. Their other son, Nikolai, was badly hurt in a multi-vehicle pile up in Seattle. I do not know details but they have flown down and had to leave the race and caretakers for their kennel. All the mushing community is hoping for the best possible outcome. Nikolai is not a musher but is still part of a mushing family and the racing community around Wasilla and Willow. Everyone is shocked and praying.

Meanwhile the race goes on and at least three mushers are in to the next-to-last checkpoint, well past the halfway mark on the race, probably close to 200 of the 300 miles covers. The drop rate for dogs on this one seems to be a lot lower than for the Kuskokwim race. I have no idea of the reason and of course the race is not over but the three leaders have 12, 13 and 14 of their original teams so far. And one is a Redington, the third generation of that family to be in the sled dog racing community. What a dynasty as are the Seaveys and a few other families.

Now on to Two Rivers. The 100 is over and done and the "pupster" team came in 4th, despite the racer's plan to take it easy and give them plenty of rests and snack times so the youngsters have a great impression of their first race and the oldsters and mamas that were filling out the team were not stressed too much. Nacho was dropped for a sore shoulder but it is not deemed serious and one other senior dog was dropped but all five of the new pups made the race in good style. Nacho is a littermate of Quito and Chica who were also in this team and the sire of Olivia's 2015 litter. He's a super dog. The list of names of the older dogs in the team is almost a who's who of SPKs most noted dogs, all aging out in the 8-10 year old range but still running and doing their bits to support the kennel.

In the 200 miler, Aliy and two guys from the Two Rivers area are running a tight race down to the wire. I will check back soon to the site and see if one of them or more is in to the finish.  They all know the trails well and have a kind of 'home court advantage' so it's a close one! Of course I wish Aliy well. Chris, with a mixed team raining along is in the middle of the pack but doing very well for a semi-novice with a mix of experienced and new dogs. Go SPK!

Late Breaking News: Will Rhodes won and Aliy was second. Hot off the Two Rivers Mushers' website.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hike, hike hike!

Most eyes are probably on the Northern Lights 300 which is well underway now with the leaders closing on the first 50 miles. However there are two other races in progress too, the Two Rivers 100 and 200. SPK has teams in both. Aliy is doing more of a training run as she starts to see who will be on her Red Team for the YQ 300 and then the Iditarod.
Apprentice/Handlers Wes and Chris will be running other teams. The Surfiver pups are running their first real race, the 100 miler, with this year's mamas Quito and Olivia to help show them how it is done. They won't be trying to win anything but it is still super thrilling to know they are out there in their first real race!!  Allen is staying home as he concentrates on his Black Team for the big YQ race, which is really just around the corner. Short almost-sprint races are not in the training plan for his chosen bunch. They need to be building endurance and stretching out to toughen and strengthen for a grueling course in just a couple of weeks now.

I only occasionally borrow a photo from the SPK blog but I have to share this shot of the Surfivers in harness and rearing to go!  In this shot from left to right, Ernie, Scooby, Ginger and Rodney (behind Ginger). Five was just out of the picture in the third pair.They are lookin' good!! If you've been reading this blog for awhile you know how special these pups are to me, particularly Ginger! I could hardly be prouder if I had raised them myself!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brief Update-Northern Lights 300

Final musher list has been posted on their website and of the 33 who will be running, there are 17 rookies who will use this race as their qualifier for the Iditarod. They posted some nice pix of preparations at Buser's place where dogs are getting vet checks and supplies being flown out to checkpoints. A race takes a huge amount of logistics and preparation. Without the many volunteers who love and support the sport, none of the races would be possible! Dozens of folks are out there in the cold, working their backsides off to do everything they can to ensure the races run smoothly and dogs and mushers have their needs taken care of. Hip, hip, hurrah for the volunteers!!

SPK also posted today about preparing the drop bags for the Yukon Quest, both the 300 that Aliy will run with the Red Team and the 1000 that Allen will tackle with the Black Team, Then soon they have to do it all over again for the Iditarod! It is incredible the amount of supplies and 'stuff' that have to be packed and dropped off at the checkpoints along the routes. It would be impossible to carry all the dog food and other necessary items in your sled. You'd need a team of massive Malamutes (the 'draft horses' of the sled dog family) to pull that huge sled and speed would be way, way slower!

So much behind the scenes work and so many unsung heroes here. I salute all involved!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

300 milers and evening gowns

Bet that title got you, huh?  Read on.

The next 300 mile sled dog race is the Northern Lights 300. You can read about it on their Facebook page or website: It will start this coming Friday. The musher list is not firmed up yet but it is limited to forty entrants and if someone has to drop before the race, they can sell their space to another musher with the committee's permission. Each race has its own quirks, rules and customs so this is one for this race.

I saw somewhere--data on past is kind of scarce!--that last year's winner was Kristy Berrington, one of the blonde twins who are becoming famous for their racing and Iditarod involvement. I'll try to check this out. I saw a few other recognized names in the tentative list which will be finalized shortly before the race begins, at around noon on Friday.(I will watch the day this time LOL. I jumped the gun on the Kuskokwim!) Right now the start/finish is supposed to be at Buser's Happy Trails Kennel at Big Lake but they say the snow is very minimal there so it may be moved. I'll update the info once I have it.

On another but related topic, on the past weekend there was an elegant charity event in Anchorage to support Covenant House Alaska which cares for and supports abandoned and homeless children. It was hosted by Matson Logistics (formerly Horizon Van Lines) which is a major sponsor of SP Kennel and some other mushers as well. Although this is a very busy time for racers with the qualifier mid distance races and preparation for the big ones, Aliy Zirkle was there to represent SPK with a New Zealand friend who spends the racing season at SPK while Allen stayed home with the dogs. The two ladies got a make-over of sorts and were decked out in the highest style! Aliy complained that folks did not recognize her without her near-trademark red beanie but I have to say, who could possibly miss that wonderful radiant smile of hers? That is the real trademark.

Compare here. Wouldn't you recognize her? But she really is a knockout and this will have to be mentioned in my upcoming book. Yes, girls and young ladies, you can be a champion athlete and still go glam when the situation calls for it. Being fit, healthy and confident is always beautiful!

Aliy and Libby Riddles
at 2015 event

Aliy the racer

Still wearing that special smile!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Kuskokwim winners

Nearly half of the racers are in now. They really scorched through that last half of the race. Just my opinion, but it seems like the fastest times were at least somewhat at the expense of the dogs. Again, JMHO but the winner PeteKaiser  who also won last year, finished with seven of the team of twelve. Second was Brent Sass with nine of the dozen he began with. Third place went to Joar Ulsom with six of the twelve. Now they may all have good legitimate reasons for dropping that many dogs and may even have chosen to finish with only the fastest members of their team. I am sure the strategy on the 300 milers is somewhat different from the 1000 mile races where drops are seldom that high, grueling though the races are. Of the fourteen mushers who have finished, nine is the highest number of dogs to cross the finish line. Several did that.

BTW, Jeff King came in 6th and Rohn Buser 8th. They both finished with eight dogs. Martin Buser was in 14th place and had seven.  It must have been a very interesting race!  The three ladies still seem to be trailing and the Mackey brothers are getting near the finish. I think that is enough about the Kuskokwin. I'll turn my attention to the next race later in the week. Check back soon.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kuskokwim 300

I got a day ahead of myself. The race started last evening and not Thursday! Oh well, so sue me LOL. There are twenty five mushers racing and only three women--unless a gal or two I do not know is using a kind of neuter-gender name. Several who had signed up pulled out for various reasons. That is not unusual or unexpected. As in the case of Michelle Phillips, it is a long way from western Canada to Bethel, Alaska! She may have been unable to get there or decided to wait for the YQ 300 where she will be defending her 2015 title against Aliy and several other good mushers.

Buser Kennel sign and dog yard

Rohn Buser runs team with ATV
Right now, just past the halfway point,  the Kuskokwim leader board shows Brett Sass (last years YQ winner), Pete Kaiser and Martin Buser in the first three places. However there are still nearly 150 miles to race so things can change. The next three are Joar Ulsom (who owns the sire of Quito's 2015 fall litter and is probably racing him),  Rohn Buser, Martin's son, and Jeff King, a winner of both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in the past. Any of them could pass a few teams and cross the finish line first. Someone will do so late tomorrow or early Monday. I'm interested in how this plays out even if none of my special faves are running. I did meet Martin and Rohn in August of 2014 and feel they are very serious competitors, good dog men--at least Martin and I am sure he is teaching his son well--and I thoroughly respect Brett, Jeff and Joar, a young Norwegian who is doing well and building a reputation. A note on Martin Buser, he and Deedee Jonrowe are about neck to neck on Iditarod completions but he is a four time winner. They are both institutions in the sled dog racing world.

The Two Rivers 200 and the Northern Lights 300 will be running next weekend. The latter starts at Big Lake, Busers' home base, so I expect they will be involved in some way in it and Two Rivers is a musher community near Fairbanks where SPK and several other significant kennels are located. After that a break until the YQ races begin on February 6.

Mush on and smooth trail to one and all! Hike, hike, hike!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The second 300 miler

The second of the major 300 mile races which are qualifiers for the Iditarod started this evening out of Bethel, AK far out on the west coast. A lot of mushers who were not in the Copper Basin 300 are showing up at this one. They do have a web site and a facebook page but I am still navigating them and not sure what kind of tracking and data they offer.

I did see some familiar names among the 30+ mushers who are racing, though. The Busers, father and son Martin and Rohn, are there as is Jeff King and a bunch of the Mackey clan. I was surprised but pleased to see Lance Mackey among them. I hope that means he recovered enough from the severe frostbite he got in last year's brutal frozen Iditarod to at least race some. Sons or nephews are there too carrying on the name. I also saw Michelle Phillips who is a serious challenger to some of the better known lady mushers.

Michelle comes from Canada and narrowly beat Aliy Zirkle in the YQ 300 last year as both their husbands raced in the main YQ. Michelle is now deeply involved in the campaign for childhood diabetes since her teenage son has acquired type 1. I need to hook her up with Brenda Novak, a well known romance author big in the same cause!  I'm sure that is a serious challenge and I root for  both Michelle and for her son.

Also Aaron Burmeister (very strong contender in 2015 Iditarod) is represented by his younger brother while he gets surgery and therapy/recovery to fix the bad knee he really bunged up in the very rough 2014 Iditarod. He finished that race with a homemade splint and brace of sticks, duct tape and goodness knows what else but still well in the upper half!! That is the kind of grit these folks have. I met him at the ITC meeting in June and he is a really nice guy! I was very impressed. I hope to see him back on the trails in the future.

The SPK folks are sitting this one out and so are quite a few of the middle-Alaska racers but there are a couple more 300s to go yet. I need to research the rules and see if non-rookie entrants into the Iditarod really have to run one of the 300s. I do not think they do but am not sure. Speaking of the Iditarod, a friend in Alaska sent me an article indicating that the snow is pretty good on most of the regular route despite a warm dry season around Anchorage so it looks like the regular trail will be used this season. That is basically good news, I think, since there is a lot less trail on the Yukon River which is notorious for bitter cold--like they all contended with last year. Fifty below or more--that is enough to make my blood run ice cold!!

Monday, January 11, 2016

CB300 winding down

Although the trailing mushers will straggle in for some time the winners are long in and the middle of the pack has mostly crossed the finish line. Allen and Aliy came in 3rd and 4th. Considering that they are integrating a lot of younger and less experienced dogs into the teams as they develop their plans for the big races, that is pretty amazing. Allen dropped two of the twelve dogs he started with and Aliy finished with all twelve she had chosen. As always, they put the welfare of their dogs first and will not push on with a dog that might not be quite up to par.

The first place winner was a relatively new young musher whose name was previously unknown to me. It appears that he will be one to watch--Matt Hall is his name. He placed 7th in the CB300 last year they say.

From the fact that mere minutes, almost seconds, separated the top four places, you can get a feel for how tight this race was. The second place winner was Ryne Olson, a newer young woman musher who served her apprenticeship as a dog handler at Allen and Aliy's SP kennel and has some dogs they raised. I know she has not yet run the Iditarod and I think finished the YQ last year as a rookie. I will research her since all the female mushers are on my radar She sounds like one to follow. There were a couple of other names that I will watch for too!

The top four came in as follows: Matt at 1:22.42, Ryne 1:22.59, Allen 1:23.24 and Aliy 1:23.49. The remaining of the forty eight racers are making their way down the trail, a number now across the line and resting. For the season's first major race, it was a good one and the weather mostly cooperated. It was a little warm but not too bad.

In passing, I note that Cowboys and Indians magazine had a short feature this month on Women of the Iditarod. At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, I was not impressed. The author featured Deedee Jonrowe which I cannot argue with but his other choices are arguable. His main mention of Aliy, for example, was how she broke a female spectator's arm last year in an arm wrestling bout after the race in Nome! That has hardly a dang thing to do with sled dog racing!! And he did not even mention Cindy Abbott who is the only female and perhaps only person to both climb Mount Everest and complete the Iditarod. Oh well, any publicity for these ladies and their sport is positive unless it is really slamming them.

More 300 milers coming soon and maybe other news from SPK, Deedee's camp and other female mushers so watch this page!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Season's First major Race in progress

The Copper Basin 300 is underway. The last racer was off by mid-afternoon and the current leader, who started first, has covered about fifty miles so far. As with all the major races there are mandatory rest breaks and vet checks. Most of the serious mushers do not take a minute off the trail that they are not required to unless their team really falters. Few of the top racers experience that because they carefully select their teams from considerably larger numbers of dogs than they require to field teams of twelve to sixteen.

This one is a little different to follow than the Iditarod but they also have have a GPS tracker and a leader board. Estimates are the first racer will cross the finish line in the middle of the day on Monday. Since it is a bit under a third as far as the thousand milers, the speed is pretty brisk! They had to go twenty miles up the hill for a start due to soft snow and open streams that were unsafe for the dogs to run on to say nothing of hazards to the mushers. This distance will not be made up since it is not really significant being less than 10%.

CB300 is the first major race of the season and a qualifier for the Iditarod for rookies to test their mettle and prove their capabilities to tackle the big one. There are quite a few rookies running this one, some with a lot of other mushing background and some real newbies, relatively speaking. If you want to take a look at the inner workings of this race, they have a "Race Central" page on their website ( and also a place on FaceBook. Here is where you can follow the action:

Besides my special favorites Aliy and Allen, I saw some other recognized names, such as Lisbet Norris, who is running her Siberians and getting ready for her third go at the Iditarod come March. From the site, it looks like just under fifty mushers are running--the highest bib number I saw was 49. I'll be following the race until the bulk of the mushers are in home safe and will report a time or two, for sure.  I am so excited that the racing season is finally started and in at least some places there is snow although it has been too mild a winter so far. It's two months until the Iditarod so anything is possible but I would make a small bet on a Fairbanks start again this year. The Yukon Quest will be starting there this year and ending in White Horse, Canada since they reverse the route each iteration. More on that in a bit.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

SPK mommy report

Quito and Olivia have both weaned their litters some weeks ago and are back in harness. It is not sure yet whether they will be able to run in the big races but they are working with yearlings and two year olds to help train them and are out doing what they love. This is really awesome and I am glad they are not going to be retired this year, anyway, barring unforeseen issues arising.

Allen and Aliy will be relying on other leaders for the YQ (Black Team) and Iditarod (Red Team) but Quito may get to run with the Black Team in the latter and help further to train the young dogs coming into their adult careers.  Next year the Coffee and the Golden Harness litters will be starting to train as the Surfivers are this season. I am so excited about these new members of the stellar SPK racing crew.

BTW, the new puppies are now up on the SPK Dog Fan Club page and I chose one from each litter to become a fan for just as I did Ginger last year. My two new girls are Creamer and QT. It feels good to have at least a very small stake in the future of these dogs and SPKs continuity.

Some unexpected events have come up and I think I will be freed up to spend quite a bit more time working on my Women Who Run With the Dogs book from home and perhaps also up north this year. In one way the change was sad but since it opens this new opportunity when closing another chapter, I am looking ahead with enthusiasm.