Monday, January 16, 2017

A Woman's Place is...

behind that racing sled dog team!! I am thrilled to see several of my favorite lady mushers leading the pack in the Copper Basin 300, which is nearing its end as I write this. We will have a winner in another hour or two.  Right now it is looking like Ryne Olsen but Paige Drobney is giving Ryne a run for it. Behind them is Allen Moore, the sole male in the leading five. Michelle Phillips and Aliy Zirkle round out the leading pack.  Cody Straith, who is Paige’s other half, is moving up on Aliy but has not passed her at last report. 

Paige and Cody are a fine young couple who came to racing by the back door, starting out just wanting to take dogs out into the winter woods! I met them briefly in 2014. They also have Dog Paddle Designs making competition sleds and other gear.  And I am pretty sure I shared a seat with them on the flight from Fairbanks down to Seattle last October! I was just slow on the uptake to realize, oh yeah, that’s who they are!

Sad news that Nic Petit seems to have a problem with a dog about 40 miles out and has scratched. He was in the leading group most of the day. I wish Nic well and hope he can get his failing team member the help it seems to need.

Sebastian Schnuelle scratched earlier. He'd been sharing some great videos taken as he drove down the trail. He was the one who lost two dogs and had some more hurt when a vehicle plowed into his team while on a training run not far from his Two Rivers home just days ago.  It was a tragic accident and no charges were filed; I think the driver covered the vet care for the injured dogs. An incident like that has to take a huge toll on the rest of the team and the musher. I understand Sab or Seb as he is known to friends may also have withdrawn from the Iditarod. I really feel empathy for both these guys and their problems. Sled Dog racing is not a sport for the weak or timid!

This has been Aliy’s first race since the traumatic encounter in last year’s Iditarod. Although she does not seem to have pushed super-hard, she’d done very well and between her and Allen I am sure they are picking out the “A Teams” that both will be running in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. Aliy, having won the YQ once years ago now runs only the YQ 300 but Allen will be seeking to add one more win to his record on the main race.  They seem to have an unofficial agreement not to directly compete—perhaps another reason why Aliy is not closer to the lead. I expect to see Allen drive the B Team in the Iditarod this year as usual.

The weather has been rough up in east central Alaska with some heavy snowfall and wind, blizzard conditions and biting cold. The snow is the dry powdery "sugar" snow that is tough for the dogs to navigate as it will not pack. That may have contributed to the eight or so racers who scratched earlier.  Several were rookies but some seasoned mushers also ended their runs early.

SPK’s current handler and apprentice Chris Parker is running some of the Surfivers and a mix of old and younger dogs. I think he is back in the pack but I am anxious to hear how Ginger and her brother Ernie have done on their first real race. As an aside, it is kind of an irony that Ryne Olsen was also a handler and apprentice for SPK a few years back. It appears she learned very well!

The YQ begins on February 4 but there are several more mid-distance races for the rest of this month which I will be following. The registered racers for the YQ is now posted and probably will not change. They do limit how many. The field for the YQ 300 is also limited. They will both start In White Horse, Yukon Terr. this time and the big one finish in Fairbanks. Several women are competing in the main race this time to include Jessie Royer—a rookie there although a multi Iditarod finisher. And several past winners will be racing again to include Allen and Hans Gatt, who won last year.

Last I heard there are 79 signed up for the Iditarod but if Seb did withdraw it may be 78 now. More changes possible before the ceremonial start restart on March 4 & 5.  And a last bit of news, I will be there! I made my plane reservations and reserved a room in the Lakeside Hotel which is the race headquarters. I will arrive very early on March 1 and sing in to do my volunteer stints in several areas. I am really looking forward to this!

More soon as the 2017 racing season unfolds.

Here are two pictures of Aliy and Ginger. Yes they are both still great favorites of mine!

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