Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jr Iditarod is over!

The ten contestants all ran a good fast race. Kevin Harper won, beating second place Andrew Nolan by about fifteen minutes. Third was Bailey Schaeffer, a rookie, who was about an hour behind the top two, both of whom have run before. Kevin won for the second time. Ksenia Deits was the last in, taking the red lantern award. Six young ladies were among the ten contestants. This was the last year Kevin Harper can run; I expect he will be following big brother Ben's runners right into the Iditarod next year. One must be eighteen to compete in the big race. I congratulate the young mushers on a fine race and look forward to seeing some of them in the future!

As to the Iditarod, it looks like eighty six racers will be starting. And Martin Buser will be one of them. I am surprised and yet, not really. He is a very dedicated racer and competitor and although I would think another win would be unlikely at this point, I can understand his running this race, partly in honor of Nikolai who is fighting a good fight of his own to recover from the accident. Rohn did withdraw; so I guess he will be taking care of the kennel while the race is on.

Deedee's Go Fund Me page has raised $55,000 and counting. She has assembled most of the gear she needs and has been working hard with her dogs. She put a very nice thank you video on the page and I  am so proud of her and happy to have had a small part in helping her to make this race. She says she is sponsored by the generous and caring people of Alaska. She is almost universally loved in the north 49th with a lot of friends and admirers in the lower 48 as well.

This week will see a number of pre-race events happening in Anchorage. I would love to be there but will still work toward being there in the future, next year if at all possible. This time next week they will all be on the trail! I will be with some of my favorites in spirit, at least!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Pause before the Rush!

The Junior Iditarod will begin this Saturday. Eleven young mushers are signed up to participate. I will be following the action, of course! This is not the only trining ground for future competitors but it is a good place to start and many who now run in the Iditarod and/or the Yukon  Quest did enter the kids' version at some time. Racers must be between 14 and 17 and certainly both girls and boys are equally well received and represented in recent years. This yer they will start at Knik Lake which I believe is the traditional trail. They had to move north to Denali last years due to the lack of snow.

An update on Nikolai Buser; he has recently moved from the hospital in Seattle to a rehab therapy facility. He's expected to be there several weeks but may be home by April. This is wonderful news. I am sure his youth, strength and fitness paid off well in helping him recover from some horrendous injuries. Certainly prayers and good energies from many friends and supporters played a role as well. His brother Rohn has gone home as of a week or two ago and now his dad has headed back to Alaska as well. I noted that Rohn had withdrawn from the Iditarod but so far Martin had not. I expect him to, but I have been wrong before. I'll be checking again soon and also trying to follow up on Deedee Jonrowe's situation. I am still praying and hoping for her to run this year.

Next week will be a busy one as the mushers get ready for the big race and the festivities in Anchorage. Most of them will be there with their teams by mid week. The bib draw and starting banquet is Friday and the ceremonial start is Saturday, the 5th of March. Then they move north but only a short 60 miles or so to Willow where the official start will take place on Sunday, the 6th, Right now there is a huge number of racers signed up; we will see if any more withdraw before the start but at last count it was over eighty! That almost staggers the mind. Eighty times sixteen (dogs) is a heck of a lot of booties and many tons of dog food and --well, it's just crazy! It will take over two hours to get them all started, I expect. The early numbers will have a lot of time added to a layover to put everyone even again.  At times that can hurt but it is only fair.

The Junior Iditarod has its own site. so you can click out to it and see what's coming up.  And start watching the main site by about Wednesday for late breaking news! Of course I will share anything I learn here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wrap Up of YQ and looking down the trail

There are still several racers of the nineteen who will finish out on the trail. They are now taking their tiem and just enjoying it, I think. Yuka Honda made it in 9th with nine dogs, the higest place woman this year. Laura Neese and Paige Drobney are at Carmack. No,. Laura just left for the last run still with nine dogs and will be i tonight in 13th place.   Paige and Cody are still traveling together and will probably be in tomorrow morning with 8 and 9 dogs respectively as the 14th and 15th. Four more are still out, three rookies and one veteran So my honor roll of female mushers consists of three this time. It's all over but the banquet and awards on Saturday evening. Two of Allen's handlers took the team home in the dog truck. They are now bedded down in their own barn with lots of love and care.

So it's time to shift gears and start looking ahead to the Iditarod 2016.  Right now there are a heck of a lot of racers signed up. Three have withdrawn so far ahead of time for various reasons. I seriously doubt that Martin Buser will run this year since he is still in Seattle with his son. I expect someone has been working his dogs but he is going to be out of shape since you can't exercise the same way and I know that has not been his big focus for the past six weeks or so. Rohn has gone home and I suppose he still may race; that remains to be seen. Nikolai is recovering but it is going to be a very long slow process and how completely he will heal remains unknown. That he survived and is not a vegetable or a total paraplegic is a near-miracle.

There look to be about 23 women signed up again. Some may drop or scratch along the way; that is not unusual, but I am glad to see a good showing so far. I guess teh final word is that the traditional route will be used this year. Drop bags will be going out very soon. These are the big bags of supplies,dog food and such that are placed at each checkpoint for the mushers to re-stock with. The logistics for getting something like twenty bags each for seventy plus mushers almost staggers the imagination. This race has gotten to be so huge. I have mixed feelings about that but you cannot stop 'progress'! It has reawakened international interest in the sport and has basically saved the dogs from near extinction. I cannot complain about either of those.

Here is a shot I snatched of Allen with his finishing lead dogs at White Horse. Scout--the 'old school' and Izzy representing the up and coming. Mismo, who ran the 300 last year with Aliy and was her MVD is off to the side. He was in the swing position, the pair right behind the leaders.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The big excitement is over--Yukon Quest

The top four racers are in, and in order of their finish, Hugh Neff, Brent Sass, Allen Moore and Matt Hall. Roughly an hour separated each team in the time they crossed the finish line/. Of couse in one way I m disappointed that the Black Team did not get the ultimate victory but in another perspective, I( think that finish of a 1000 mile race is truly Awesome!

Allan brought in thirteen of the fourteen dogs he started with, the best of the finalists. To me this says volumes about his care and concern for this team. Felix was the only drop. He had loose bowels and was not eating real well at Dawson so the SPK folks agreed he should be dropped. He is much better now, they report. Still, when you consider Allen was running a few older dogs and mainly three year olds and one just thirty months of  age, I think this finish is a fantastic achievement. To me it bodes very well for the future of SPK as these good dogs come into their prime in the next couple of years.

Someone remarked on Facebook that Quito could have pulled out a win. I do not agree. She has been a fantastic one-of-a-kind dog but she is nine years old and her age-mate Scout is hardly a bit less great; he led the team a good part of the race. One dog cannot do it by itself, regardless of how great he or she may be. You can never lose sight of the fact this is a team effort and the fifteenth (YK) or seventeenth (Iditarod) 'dog' or the human member of the team is both the weakest and strongest link.
Allen and Aliy put the welfare of the other team members first--always--and will not push them past their limits 'just' to win a race.  This is one thing I really admire about them and some other mushers who have similar bond with their dogs and ethics in their management.

Hugh Neff is not my favorite musher. He is good and probably ran a legitimate race here; he held back for about two thirds and then pushed hard to win. However he dropped five dogs along the route. I am not sure where these drops happened as I do not have a link to a website for him and his kennel but it does make me wonder. And, back in the tough 2013 race when the freaky blizzard up the coast toward Nome caused Jeff King, a very experienced veteran, to give up and get help to save himself and his team and thus scratch out, Neff pitched a fit about the fact the ITC did not give sufficient warning and support to the mushers in this situation, especially to him.

Gee, I was not aware that the Committee signs any agreement to babysit, hand-hold or bail out any musher! Yes, they try not to leave anyone hung out to die but sometimes even snow machines and other aid is just not enough to cover everyone's backside. It is assumed mushers are adults and responsible for themselves and their team. Thirty years ago there was nothing near the safety net that exists now; if it is not adequate I think a person should consider quitting this sport! Libby Riddles pushed on through a similar storm and made it to be the first woman to win back in 1985. Is Mr. Neff maybe not as tough as he pretends to be?  I am sure there may bae facts I do not know but this left me feeling less than positive about him.

I respect Brent Sass although he was disqualified in last year's Iditarod for carrying a forbidden device, I assume a cell phone. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say with the unusual start and attendant confusion he just forgot to leave it behind. I never heard any further about that situation which occurred at the second check point. He ran a good rce in this one.

As to the women running in this race, Yuka Honda is in eighth place, in Carmacks (the cinnamon roll place!) and still has ten dogs prior to leaving there. Rookie Laura Neese is doing very well, not a breakneck pace but I am pretty sure she will get in.She is in thirteenth place, also with ten dogs, at Pelly Crossing.  Paige and Cody are still traveling together in Pellly Crossing in 14th and 15th place in the 21 still running.. She is down to eight dogs and he has nine but that is not out of the ordinary. The mountains do get to some dogs not accustomed to that elevation, for example. I expect them to finish over night--all of these folks, in fact. And my hat is off to each of them if and when they do!

It has been a good race, an exciting one and I have enjoyed every minute. I'll do a wrap up tomorrow and maybe dare to grab a photo or two to share. There is on one the SPK site of Allen with Scout and Izzy, the leaders who came thru the gate and Mismo, another of the great dogs. It's a relly good one!!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

YQ moving along!

The leaders are well out of Dawson now and Allen was first into Pelly Crossing, the next checkpoint.The Black Team seems to be going great guns! There is still a good bit of race to be run but it is looking pretty good for the Black Team. The SPK crew does a great job of posting updates and inside info on their blog, even when the internet is a bit spotty out in the wilderness s it is in Yukon Territory!  It is a real treat to see videos and still shots of the dogs and read about their quirks and character.

It's a little warm for the dogs with daytime temps around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That means they tend to get a bit overheated. Allen told an interviewer he would prefer last years -50 if he had to choose. That is a bit hard on the mushers but the dogs generally handle it pretty well.

So far there have been only two racers scratch out, I think both are rookies. Your first 1000 miler can be a bit of a rude awakening! Even completing several mid-length races, 250-500 miles, doesn't quite prepare one for the challenge of an eight or ten day trek. The Quest is especially hard because you are out on your own many miles between checkpoints, which are not exactly urban centers! The Iditarod at least has more of them so you seldom go 100 miles between them. On the YQ, that is the rule:100-200 mile runs where the musher has to pack feed, straw for the dogs' beds etc and plan to camp once or twice on the trail. At times racers are traveling fairly close but sometimes they are spread out with substantial distances between them.

By the way, Paige Drobney and Cody Strathe are traveling together and doing well. I expect they will finish in the middle of the 21 racers still running A couple racing that way is something of a novelty. If they finish both the YQ and the Iditarod, that will be a first.

So Happy Valentine's Day to all of you and another good rce day to the YQ mushers!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Update on YQ races

It's now old news that Aliy and the Red Team came in second. She posted a great report on the SPKennelDogLog blog about a misadventure and a fellow musher's--a former student/apprentice handler-- help in a tricky situation and the performance and contribution of each dog. She finished with ten of the initial twelve but no big problems. Her handlers took them home while she's now gone on to Dawson where the big rest stop happens for all the racers in the 1000 miler. Allen and the Black Team have arrived there in good shape, all fourteen four footed members still going strong.

YQ is very different from the Iditarod in that there are few mandatory rests except the midway one where each racer is required to take thirty six hours and the start differential is computed into that lengthy break. Also unlike the Iditarod where no real help is allowed except in emergency situations, at this one spot the handler/helper team can take over care of the dogs and let the musher have a real rest. I think this is a quiet testament to the fact that the trail is really rough, three high climbs and slippery descents and many fewer checkpoints. A good rest is critical to both the dogs and their human team member.

SPK has pitched a big tent and all the dogs are inside bedded down in straw there for a good rest. Allen gets to sleep as long as he needs to while the handlers, with Aliy lending a hand, take care of the dogs. Since the top five racers so far are all there at about the same time, they'll be leaving much the same so it will be a bit slow for a day and a half! Other racers will be streaming in also and each settling for their mandatory break. The last I heard, Allen is still in second place behind Brent Sass. They may well be racing close together for the rest of the trail along with the others in the top five. It promises to be exciting in a few more days!

There was a great article in an Alaskan newspaper forwarded to me by a friend--my host last June, in fact--that gives a good feel of this race. It is smaller and does not get the hype and promo blast of the Iditarod; the Quest is still a real mushers' race.   I expect that Joe Redington is rolling in his grave at what 'his' race has become--a regular five ring media circus. In a way I am disappointed too but it is what it is. That is what makes the Yukon Quest unique and special, though. I hope it gets a little more publicity but not too much!!

At any rate, no study of the women who run these endurance races would be complete without a good coverage of the Yukon Quest. Mary Shields also ran it several times in its early days and thus far, the only woman who has won it is Aliy. Women have been involved from the early days and that is good! This year several women are running, well back in the pack behind the five current leaders but just to complete this one is certainly as big a challenge as the Iditarod to the degree no finisher is a in any way a 'loser'. If you finish you are a WINNER.

As it winds down, I will try to do a short honor roll story on the women who complete this year's race.

Monday, February 8, 2016

I'm still here and YQ is going on

but having computer problems. It is hard to try to follow two races and do my regular stuff while juggling hardware and then loading my stuff on a temporary system my brother is setting up for me while I shop for a new desktop.

On the YQ 1000 so far it is looking like a race between Allen Moore and Brent Sass who won last year but with 750+ miles to go a lot can happen.... In the 300, Aliy Z and a couple of gals she worked with in the past are in a fairly tight pack at 200+ miles so it may be Ryne  Olson who gets there first--or could be either of two others or Aliy with her new team. They will likely be in to Circle finish late. tonight. Everyone else is a good ways behind and one gal has scratched. I guess her dogs were not ready or up to it; she hails from North Carolina, hardly a frozen northland place!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

They're Off!

Between the two races, there are now forty-six teams out on the trails. From the Facebook page, they all got off to a good start, most of the dogs lunging and barking and so eager to run. Some of them will still be going strong as they near the finish line. Some will slow down and conserve their energies but there is no question that Huskies, both the Alaskan and the Siberian varieties are high energy dogs and they are literally born to run. At least four teams of the "Sibs' are running in the 1000 miler. I would be surprised if one of them won but you never know. Generally the modern mushers feel they are a little slower but they are still great dogs and can run darn good races.

The trackers are barely showing any motion yet since the races have only been underway a relatively short time. For now the order is still their starting order with no passes showing up yet. We'll start to see that tomorrow.

Both Aliy and Allen are running mixed teams of experienced and younger dogs. Allen has Scout who has been a member of two YQ winning teams and has often been a co-leader with Quito so he is no slouch! He's the oldest member and Commando is the youngest, a big honor for a dog not yet three.Teams are 14 for the 1000 and 12 for the 300. Allen's team consists of: Scout, Chipper, Clyde, Commando, Dutch, Felix, Izzy, Kodiak, Mismo, Mac, Willie, Schmoe, Scruggs and Waylon. Several of them were in Aliy's team last year. This time she has Lester, Boondocks, Chena, Daisy, Spark, Amber, Violet, Driver, Iron, Champ, Sandy and Chemo. Among them are three of Quito's pups and four of Olivia's. from their 2013 litters. These young dogs are carrying on some top bloodlines and showing a lot of promise already. I will be watching them for they carry the hopes of the future.

Of course none of the Surfivers are running in these serious and challenging races; they are still barely a year and a half old. And only one of the prior year's litters is included. A lot of the famous names in the SPK pack are also missing as well. In some cases they are being saved for the Iditarod or recovering from minor injuries. This year's two mamas are not yet fit enough for the hard competition but one or both may appear in Allen's Black Iditarod team which is a training team to get the younger dogs more used to the 1000 mile efforts.  He does not push them and usually finishes in about the middle of the pack.

Jessie Royer is training in Montana, her home state. She posted a cute shot of her handler's Blue Heeler riding while her team ran up a winding snowy road. She called him the Stow Away! She is a racer to watch for this year's Iditarod as she came in 4th last year, a very strong showing. My dream finish would be Aliy winning, Jessie 2nd and a newer but upcoming racer, Jodi Bailey placing third or perhaps Paige Drobney! About as likely as the moon rising over the distant coast of Russia I guess but that would be very cool!

I am concerned that Michelle Phillips dropped out of the Copper Basin 300 and now is not running in the YQ 300. She edged out Aliy to win it last year. Her partner/husband Ed Hopkins, started 3rd and is running the 1000, no surprise, but I am afraid that their diabetic teenage son is perhaps having problems and requires a parent's care. I'll say a prayer or two for them; I had a cousin who showed up with Type 1 Diabetes at about age 10 and even with good care lifelong died relatively you, blind and on dialysis. It is a tough disease to deal with and stressful for the parents as well as the kid who has it.

There is a lot to see on, their facebook page and of course SPK's Doglog blog so join me in following the action!

YQ quick update

Aliy will be starting first with twenty two more races coming after her. They will be starting in about 2.5 to 3 hours as the 1000 mile race will be starting in about an hour and a half. I may be able to gab a photo or two of the start although I try not to do that a lot; they are not really mine to share. At the least, I can give links!

Go YQ racers and especially GO SPK!!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Yukon Quest Begins!

The Yukon Quest will take off from Fairbanks early tomorrow afternoon Alaska time. The twenty three racers in the 1000 miler will leave first and then those running the 300. I do not yet have a count or start order for the 300 but the main race is now posted on the YQ site and Facebook pages. I am sure the shorter one will be up soon.

Allen Moore--Mr Aliy Zirkle ;-)--will be fourth to start. He is followed by Paige Drobney, one of the ladies I met when I was in the Fairbanks area in 2014. She and her partner, Cody Straith are both racing. He starts somewhat later, I think in the teens. They are going to try to be the first couple to finish both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year. They are not seriously trying to win but plan to make a good race and to complete it. At least two other women are racing the 1000 miler, Yuka Honda of Japan who ran last year's Iditarod and a new name, at least to me, Linda Neese, who gets to start first.

Everyone agrees this is one tough race with many fewer checkpoints than the Iditarod and a great deal of up and down as they go through several major mountain ranges. The route of both YQ races has been modified some this year. The 300 has cut out a return on a stretch of the Yukon river where these is some very wicked jumbled ice that will be hard on dogs, equipment and mushers. The 1000 mile route is also changed some but I am not aware of the rationale yet. I expect it will be discussed more.

At any rate all the fans are excited and by tomorrow they will all be off and running. You seldom see big clues about who is going to win that soon but by the second or third day a few mushers often scratch out and then the field gets narrower and tighter. Those who really want to win being to apply their strategies and the tough get going!

A few old timers are running this one. I noted Ed Hopkins, Hugh Neff, and Brent Sass, last year's winner. There are racers from Norway, Japan and I believe Spain so as well as the US and Canada so it is truly an international race. Not a lot of mushers opt to do both 1000 milers in the same season but it has been done and one man even won both the same year, Lance Mackey.  I'm not sure if we will see him in the Iditarod this year or not. He was going to retire after the frost bite problems last year but it's hard to get mushers off that sled! He is not running the Quest, at any rate, no surprise.

I wish all the racers a smooth, safe and fun run but of course am rooting for my favorites to come to the finish line first! With mostly a new team--the only veteran in the fourteen dogs Allen is driving is Scout--it's going to be a challenge and a test. We'll see if fine bloodlines and the special SPKennel brand of training pays off. I have a hunch it will and expect to see them in the top five if not better.