Sunday, January 27, 2008

And Next Time?

If there is a next time I'd do a few things the same and a few things differently. I'm all rested up, the dogs have been eating well and have their full energy back, and I just can't stop thinking about what I'd do differently next time. It is worth remembering that these statements are based on one experience in what some said was the toughest trail conditions imaginable. These are the conclusions I've come to so far:

First of all, I'd have the same kind of dogs and use them exactly the same way. One major misconception about distance dog mushing is that you need speed. Speed can definately help at times, but any team that can cruise at 10 mph or handle rough trails at 6 to 8 mph can run a distance race. Some of the guys had very racy teams with lots of pointer in them, but a few had dogs like mine. Most notably John Baker and Paul Gephardt. They had dogs as large as mine. I purposely stay away from the 80+ pounders. I feel that athleticism meets power at 70 pounds. Paul Gephardt finished that race with 13 dogs. He dropped one, it had a sore wrist. That says a lot for good sized dogs. Also, the dogs did a lot of breaking trail, running across bare ground, running through water, all the stuff we do day-in day-out around here.

So we'd keep the same type of dogs, but we'd need a lot more of them. My 10 dog team would have been fine with a more "normal" trail. I knew that if I had to drop a bunch of dogs we'd have a tough time. Most finished the race with 6 to 9 dogs, a few did better. So most dropped at least 5 dogs like I did and a few dropped 8. With 10 dogs you don't have the luxury of dropping so many dogs. In order to have 14 (the limit for the K300) a musher needs to be training at least 2 dozen. Starting training with 24 solid adult dogs gives the musher room for injuries during training and makes it possible to pick the best ones for the race. So I wouldn't try this again without a lot more dogs in the yard.

Thought a lot about training too. Most started the race with 1400 to 1600 miles on the dogs. I started with 1000 to 1200. That was more then some mushers started with. The Iditarod mushers are on a pace to have around 2500 miles on their dogs by the start of the big race. If they start the race with 3000 or more miles they find their dogs have already peaked. So most of those guys finished the weekend with about 1900 miles on their dogs and may do another mid-distance race, but will only put on another 600 miles the rest of this month and February. So how would I put the miles on the dogs?
  • First of all, I'd try having a swimming program during the summer. Getting the dogs swimming twice per week would be a great help for them. The dogs could be trucked up to the lake or down to Kanakanak. It would take some figuring out, but it could be done.
  • Then I'd start with road work the first of September, basically doing it the same as this year. Just for time's sake, I'd probably hitch-up 24 dogs in front of a truck and run them every other day starting with 3 miles and building up to around 25 miles by November 1st.
  • November 1st I'd head to Ekuk. November is a weird month weather wise, but for a number of years now it is still Fall. A team can run 45 miles down Ekuk Beach before having to turn around and head back. I'd go down there for a few weeks in early November and do back to back runs. Run down 30 miles, rest 4 hours, and run back. Give them a day or two off and do it again building up to running down 45 miles, resting, and running back. You'd have to pay attention to tides, but it could be done. A team could figure on leaving Ekuk with 1000 miles under their belts.
  • Then I'd come home, let the working dogs be working dogs and let the weather do whatever it wants to do. I'd run the dogs on bare ground breaking trail, haul wood, set a few traps, plow through fresh fallen snow while following their old trail. Just keep the dogs moving, having fun, and letting the weather do whatever it wants to do.
  • As soon as the rivers froze and trails set up (some time in December) I'd start with the long runs. We'd begin with 45 milers to Snake Lake and back and 50 milers to Manokotak and back. We'd do back to backs using both trails and could do 95 mile runs by combining them. Before you knew it you'd be at 1600 miles and ready to race.
  • If I were doing more then just the Kusko I'd again get the dogs back to running traps, maybe some camping trips and trips to different villages, haul a few loads of wood. I'd just keep them honest, keep them working.

Eric and Ryan were an enormous help this year. It taught me how important it is to have a good crew. This year was the first year the dogs and I really miled up and I didn't want to miss any of it. I wasn't sure how they would respond to it. I put the miles on the dogs with help from Eric and Ryan. In the future who ever (I hope it would be Eric and Ryan) was helping me would do some of the runs on their own. Even the 50 mile runs are pretty straight forward. Not much can go wrong. For time's sake, I'd also do a bunch of runs with a pile of dogs in front of a snowmachine. A person wouldn't have to be a master sled driver to take the dogs on a safe 50 mile run.

Nutrition is also something I've thought about a lot. We have access to great meat sources in Bristol Bay. I'd get more fish (salmon and whitefish), more beaver, and more other stuff. Then I'd add that meat to a top shelf commercial food. The food I had was good, but the top mushers have all agreed on 3 or 4 brands that work the best for high striss situations. This food would be an expense, but I'd have to be ready for that going into it.

And the race? I wouldn't change a thing. I'd go into it with a basic plan early and then read the dogs and run their schedule. It's exactly what Lance Mackey does. He doesn't have a strict racing schedule, he just does what the dogs are capable of. I'd prepare them, feed them well, and then race them at their ability level.

The race would be run with a new sled however. I'd build a sit-down sled on Matrix runners. I've talked with Roger and we figure a guy could build a nice hand-tied birch sled on the Matrix runners. The sit-down sled is a must. More then anything, it allows you to comfortably get out of the wind. Changing plastics on the Matrix runners is a cinch. Pull a pin, slide the plastic off, slide new plastics on, and put the pin back in. It takes hours to change the plastic on the runners I have now. I'm also not sure about the Seavey Harnesses for distance racing. I like them for everyday mushing and I still think anyone hauling loads, especially with small teams, should be using those harnesses. They really do rub on the thighs. Also, they're so darn tough to get ahold of. The company that makes them can't keep them in stock. This is a major issue when you need some new ones. I'm not sure what other type of harness I might use, but I do like the set-ups without necklines. There are the ManMat harnesses Jeff King and others use, but there's also a nice harness that Alpine Outfitters makes, and an interesting looking harness called the "buggy harness" that virtually eliminates any possibility of harness rub. I still don't like the typical x-back harnesses. If you get down and look at the pressure put on dogs hips you can see why folks have tried getting away from them in recent years. They're good for sprint racing where the dogs aren't really pulling any weight and for ski-joring where the angle on the tug line is pointed straight back or slightly up, but I still don't like them for pulling big loads or running long distances.

And most importantly, family would be more involved. The main reason distance racing is on hold is because of family. Five years down the road, the kids could be involved in most aspects of the training schedule. They wouldn't be doing back to back 80 mile runs at 20 below, but they could do a lot of it. Having other guys doing some of the runs would help too. I'd also bring them to the race with me. That was such a great experience and I wished Jo and the kids were there the entire time.

Those are my thoughts at the moment and I reserve the right to change my mind about any of it at any time. Racing with my working dogs was a unique experience and has not led me away from traditional working dogs, but brought me closer. It's those unique rugged values of the old working dogs that a musher comes to lean on when a race gets tough. I've got the right kind of dogs for anything I want to do. That has been the biggest lesson I've learned and the one I'm the happiest about.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Scoop

Ryan, Eric, the dogs, and I landed in Dillingham yesterday afternoon. Ryan and Eric loaded up the stuff in Bethel then flew to Tuluksak where we threw on the sled and remaining dogs and then went straight to Dillingham.

I scratched from the race in Tuluksak 50 miles from the finish line. It was a long difficult 250 miles and probably easiest to describe in parts. Below is an account of our Kusko 300 run.

Bethel to Tuluksak: The first 50 miles was uneventful. The starting line was a zoo. Folks in Bethel really turn out to support the mushers. After some passing and being passed in the early miles of the race, we settled in and cruised to Tuluksak. There was some wind and soft trails, but everything was well marked. Temps were right around freezing. I pulled into Tuluksak with 10 dogs, ran up to my drop bag to grab a bag of booties, and left with all 10 dogs still pulling well in harness.

Tuluksak to Bogus Creek: I was the last musher to Bogus Creek. Most mushers went from Bethel through Tuluksak to Kalskag, but Paul Gephardt, Sabastian S., Mellissa Owens, and myself stopped at Bogus Creek for a rest. Bogus Creek is just that, a small creek. There were people there for the Bogus Creek 150 race that runs from Bethel to Bogus Creek and back. We got into Bogus Creek, the dogs ate and slept for a while. Everything still looked good.

Bogus Creek to Kalskag: Oh how the wind did blow. Shortly after Bogus Creek, the trail drops back onto the Kuskokwim River. The wind was howling and snow blowing. The trail was mostly blown over, but the stakes were still up and could be followed. The dogs required a lot of directions to stay on the trail. In sections we fought through small ground blizzards.

Kalskag to Aniak: I checked into Kalskag and the headed for Aniak, the front runners were coming off their 6 hour rest and many passed me along the way. Again we fought through the wind. At one point a gust hit us broodside and shoved us all right off the trail. Never had that happen to me before. It really started getting warm during this run. Not exactly sure what the temps were, but it had to be in the high 30's or low 40's. Sled dogs are not made to run in above freezing temperatures. It's very taxing on them. Along the way, Felix began having difficulty keeping up. At one point I loaded him in the sled. It was my first lesson in the dangers of loading one of my 70 pound huskies in the sled. It makes a lot more work for the others. We did make it to Aniak where the dogs rested and ate. We took our mandatory 6 hour rest.

Aniak to Pike Lake and back to Aniak: Bernard had a very sore wrist so was dropped in Aniak. It seemed that all Felix needed was some rest so I took him along to Pike Lake with the others. The trail to Pike Lake takes you across the Kuskokwim River, up a mountain, then gradually down the mountain to some lowlands and then to Pike Lake which is just a tundra lake. I passed Paul Gephardt on the way out where he told me, "There's a lot of water up there." He didn't know the half of it. We made it through all the creeks and such in pretty good shape. The deepest water was about 6 inches, with most around 3 or 4 inches. My dogs usually don't like water, but they did well the whole way out. We got to Pike Lake where some volunteers had been seeing mushers go by. I asked them if they had been on the trail recently. Told them it was getting wet and turned to head back to Aniak. As I was headed back I began hearing snowmachines being started. Before long about a dozen snowmachines of all shapes and sizes went roaring past me. My heart sank. I knew the trail home would not be an easy one after those snowmachines went on it. In their defense, they probably didn't want to get stuck out there. The holes that were 6 inches were now a foot in a half. Instead of the dogs wading through water up to their ankles it was up to their bellies and even chests. When not in the water, the formerly nice trail looked like it had been shredded by a one ton cheese grater. To make things worse Felix stopped pulling again and seemed to be cramping up in his back legs. So we marched the 24 miles from Pike Lake to Aniak through deep water, over bare ground and torn up trail with 70 pound Felix in the basket. The dogs were tired when we got to Aniak. We stopped for a rest. I thought something near 4 hours would be fine, but we should have stayed longer. The guy behind me rested his dogs longer as I should have. He had been on the same difficult trail from Pike Lake. Felix was dropped in Aniak.

Aniak to Kalskag: By now it was really warm, the windy river trail I had traveled the day before was mostly slush and water. We made it into Kalskag with little trouble, but the dogs were tired. I rested them there for a while. David Tresino came in behind me and we decided to rest the dogs and travel on together. The rest of the pack had left us behind. I dropped Phoebe and Charlie in Kalskag. In retrospect, I should have kept them with the team. They have helped in the next run.

Kalskag to Tuluksak: It seemed that David and I had finally caught a break. Things had cooled down and the trail set-up pretty well. We were moving nicely and I was feeling good about things again. Just then I noticed Hagar beginning to limp. The limp got worse and worse. He had to be put in the basket. We still had at least 40 miles left to go with 5 dogs still in harness and 70 pound Hagar, my old dependable leader, in the basket. The 5 dogs in front were doing well as David and I traveled down the river, but those 5 dogs did get tired. We crashed. The dogs just got too tired and wanted to rest. We took an hour break and then tried to get going again. David got his team moving, but my poor dogs would not follow. They were just too tired. I tried everything I could think of and finally had to lead them myself. I walked in front of them and they followed. They would follow me, then pull themselves for a short distance, then I would walk in front of them again. We finally made it the 5 remaining miles to Tuluksak. The dogs ran the final distance as they saw the village and heard the dogs. That would be the end of our race.

In Tuluksak: The plan was to just give the dogs a bunch of rest and then finish the race. David and I would miss the banquet, but we'd make it in just the same. Before long we began hearing the stories from the finish line. In the last 10 miles of the race mushers were falling into holes up to their knees, waist, and even shoulders. Dogs were left swimming for dry land. Even with a fresh team this would have been difficult traveling. We opted to stay in Tuluksak and see what the weather did. As it turned out, things began cooling Monday night and continued to cool Tuesday. This made things even more dangerous. Now instead of a river with water and dry sections, it was all ice, some very thin. A musher would not be able to differentiate between good trail and dangerous holes. At that point I decided we had gone far enough. The dogs had been resting for over 24 hours and could have ran into Bethel, but the race was over and it was time to go home. I flew out of Tuluksak yesterday morning. David did make it to Bethel claiming 16th place. I enjoyed getting to know him and was glad to see him finish. As for me, I was happy to be home. Our Kusko adventure had come to an end.

Looking back, no one thing prevented us from finishing the race in a respectable time. It was a combination of weather and injuries, Mother Nature and bad luck. No one was to blame. It's just the way it happened. I could have mushed into Bethel with David yesterday, but it was time to come home. Another weather system was heading for Southwest Alaska and I didn't want to get stuck in Bethel for another day or two after finishing. Johanna is headed for Anchorage Saturday and I wanted to spend some time with her before she left. Lots of things are more important then dog races, none more so then family.

So what now? It will be a while before we enter another distance dog sled race. I wanted to learn what it took to prepare for and run a distance race. Just so happens I picked the toughest Kusko 300 in history to learn. That's not all bad. If I had coasted along a well packed trail and finished the race grinning ear to ear, I would not have learned as much I did. I learned a ton about distance sled dog racing. This knowledge will help me in the future no matter what I do. Johanna and I talked last night. We both thought that in 5 years when Alethia is 10, Jake 7, and the other kid 5 we may try it again. Until then I'm planning to find homes for a few dogs and breed my best ones. We've got plenty of property and food is easy to come by out here. I'll be breeding, raising, and training dogs for a while, the rest we'll decide as we go.

This does not mean we are getting out of racing however. I have purchased some sprint dogs and am planning to train up a team and win the local sprint races. We've got a yellow male named Jerry, a female named Minnie who should be having a litter of pups any day now, and another pup to arrive shortly that I will let Alethia name. Ryan plans to stay with me and run the sprint dogs. He is an incredible athlete. We are both excited. I get to raise and train dogs and Ryan can mush them across the tundra at break-neck speeds. Should be fun.

Eric also plans to stay on and help with the dogs. Hopefully he can help with the working dogs. I'm looking to have a litter of pups every year for a few years and will need help getting miles on them. The young dogs will learn to haul loads and travel over rough trails, even breaking trail when need be. This is something my dogs did do well. As long as they had their energy, they worked hard and were able to handle the difficult trails.

I'd like to thank all the sponsors who helped me out these last few months. The support we received was tremendous. Although we didn't finish the race, we learned and grew together. I am 10 times the musher I was 4 months ago. You're support allowed me to live a dream. I'll never forget it.

I also understand that a number of folks have found this blog and enjoyed following it. Although our distance racing has come to an end for now, there is still plenty more to come. We'll be training pups and living the life we love so well. The blog's title, "The comings and goings of a Rural Alaskan family and their team of working sled dogs" is no small thing. Our life in this little corner of the world is rich and well lived. Drop in from time to time and see what we're up to. Things rarely get boring around here.

Of all the closing statements that come to mind, I think it best to let Thoreau end this post.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Walden or Life in the Woods
- Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Greetings from Aniak!

Kyle is now somewhere near Kalskag or beyond as I write this posting!

Ryan and I are packing up our gear here at my friend Dave's here in Aniak! The temperature is 33 degrees and there is not much wind. Ryan and I elected to travel in the cool of the evening tonight rather than fight the slush on the Kusko.....looks like we need it to get a bit colder. :o)

Kyle had a tough run last night from Aniak up to Pike Lake. He was supposed to leave at 10:26 pm Saturday night but officials held him as word had come from the Pike Lake checkpoint that the trail was dangerous. A ruling was made to let Kyle and the other mushers go on up. Kyle was held up for twenty some minutes and these will be deducted from his overall time as it was their call to hold him.

Kyle came back in here to Aniak at 6:42 this morning after about an 8 hour run. He had Felix in the basket and Kyle was smiling and glad to be off the Pike Lake trail. Felix had muscle cramps and seemed in good spirits. The vet checked him and said that he was fine just a bit sore. He joined Bernard (sore wrist but fine) on the drop dog line and will get to fly to Bethel.

The trail to Pike Lake was steep and also full of water. Kyle stated that the dogs were belly deep in the water many times during that run! I am sure that it was one of the toughest runs of his career!

Kyle fed his dogs upon coming in and then let them sleep. Most ate well and all ate eventually. They were tired but doing well. He is "seeing what they are made of", that is for sure! Kyle was in great spirits and really having fun with all of the runs and developments. We hung out with several other mushers and they traded trails stories and we all laughed quite a bit.

Kyle headed out this morning at about 10:30am (Sunday) for Kalskag. He and his dogs looked strong. He has 80 miles to go until his mandatory layover in Tuluksak. Ryan and I will pass him on the trail some time this evening. The river trail is sloppy and by starting a bit later we hope to not rip it up too much for him and the other mushers as they have now all left Aniak. Should be another interesting "all-nighter"!

Have a good one!

Kepp your sticks on the ice!

Eric Holland,

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mid Race update by Eric....Saturday Jan 19

Greetings from Aniak!

Kyle and his band of dogs are all sleeping right now here in Aniak on the mighty Kuskokwim River. He was glad to be in Aniak and was in great spirits and having fun. He was fun to just be hanging around with! Ryan and I are also in great spirits! We are all having fun!

Kyle had a strong run up to Tuluksak yesterday and ran on to Bogus Creek. The trail was challenging with soft snow and many ruts on the trail between Bethel and Tuluksak. His dogs all looked strong when they came into Bogus Creek.

Ryan and I left Bogus Creek after Kyle got the dogs to bed. We travelled up to Kalskag and arrived up there at about 5am. The conditions were poor as it was howling and the was a lot of blowing snow! I was nodding off for a five mile stretch as the going was slow and the blowing snow had a hypnotic effect on me. We took a break and I was fine the rest of the day.

Kalskag was an interesting scene as there were a lot of teams coming in. Ed Iten came in there first and Dee Dee and Jeff King and others also had their dogs bedded and they were taking their mandatory six hour layover. People were in good spirits despite the ground blizzard type conditions. We enjoyed our coffee there and took off for Aniak a bit after 6am. The conditions had deteriorated and we left in near white out conditions. The check point officials were surprised that we were leaving but it was on a marked trail after all. :o)

The 32 miles to Aniak was one of overblown trails and numerous complete white outs. We took a break at the 16 mile mark in a sheltered spot on a slough. The moon was out and it was harsh but we were optimistic and having fun! We speculated that it would be better for Kyle to come through in the daylight in these conditions. We were excited that it all seemed to be going well!

Aniak checkpoint was not open as there were no teams this far North (130 miles now). We travelled over to my friends place where Ginny Woodmancy had a great breakfast prepared for us. We were even on time!

After a breakfast and a shower we took a six hour nap. We got up, gassed up and went over to find Kyle into the Aniak checkpoint after and awesome four hour and 16 minute run from Kalskag to Aniak in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable. It had warmed up to 38 degrees and the snow was still blowing like heck! He and the dogs did very well but I am sure that he will be sore from having to crouch down behind the sled to avoid the "sail effect". The conditions were severe but Kyle and the dogs did great!

Kyle is probably getting up right now at 9:00pm. He has some preparations before he leaves out of here at 10:26 pm this Saturday heading up on a 22 mile one way run up a hill to Pike Lake and then back here to Aniak! It is the time in the race where the mushers will find out what they really have! Questions that Kyle will have to answer will include whether or not to have the dogs wear boots on the slick trail conditions?? Will he need to do another rest at Aniak on his way back from Pike Lake or will he head on down the river?? Will his dogs that are known to always eat continue with this good and imperative habit?? Time will tell........however....his dogs looked good as he got them all bedded down in straw here in Aniak this afternoon! This sure is a lot of fun!

There were still three teams out on the trail coming into Aniak when Kyle layed down for his 3 hour nap. Now is the time where some teams will probably quit moving. Teams are starting to have some issues. Unplanned breaks will have to be taken. The plot continues to thicken!

So, we will try and post another blog before too long. Check out the K300 website. Kyle and company are doing well! Good Night from Aniak!

PS: Everybody loves our "Ocean Beauty" Musher Hats! Everytime they ask us we always proudly tell of our Number One sponsor!

Eric Holland

In Aniak

Friday, January 18, 2008

Time to Go

We'll be loading up the dogs and heading to the starting line in a few hours. The dogs are ready. I've been loading the sled and they know it's time. Luke is ready to rock. He's whining and whimping and dancing around.

We've been laying low, resting and eating. The dogs look fantastic. Their weight is perfect and they are well hydrated and rested. We've been staying with the Vanasse family here in Bethel. The hospitality is off the charts. Everyone has made us feel very welcome. These people know how to put on a dog race.

Yesterday was rather busy. We dropped off the food drop bags at two airlines, had caribou soup at the K300 feed store, then a musher's meeting at 4:00, and finally we chose our starting positions on KYUK TV and radio. It's interesting being in the same room, and indeed the same race, as all these folks I've only ever seen on the internet or in magazines. I've enjoyed meeting them.

Been a long time since I've felt this way. Everything is ready and it's time to go. Of all the emotions, worry is not one of them. A million different things could, and probably will, happen. But everything boils down to me and my dogs. That's it. We are not chasing anyone or worrying about anyone else. For me this entire race boils down to myself, Luke, Hagar, Lucky, Bing, Bernard, Lucy, Olaf, Charlie, Felix, and Phoebe. I know all those characters very well and we'll be fine together.

Remember, you can follow the race at . Also, check the blog from time to time. Eric and Ryan may be able to make a post or two.

Time to go.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ready or Not

Here we come. Headed to Bethel Tuesday evening leaving Dillingham around 7:30 and arriving in Bethel near 9:00. Spoke with our host family today. Making final food preparations, preparing drop bags, and packing tonight and tomorrow night.

Ryan and Eric are coming along to help out before and after the race, but they are also planning to travel the trail. They will try to update the blog from the trail and give you a very frank impression of how the dogs and I are doing. Whether or not they can do it mainly depends of if they can locate a good internet connection in the villages.

You will be able to monitor my progress during the race at as well. Like most races, the K300 maintains a chart showing each musher's progress. You can view one right now at by clicking on updates. Lance Mackey is currently leading the pack at the Copper Basin 300 being run in Interior Alaska. These charts show what time you get into a checkpoint and what time you leave the checkpoint. It will also tell you how many dogs are still in harness (I may drop dogs during the race for any number of reasons), speed between checkpoints, and if I've completed my mandatory layovers.

I had a pretty firm schedule to run the race, but have opted for more of a "do what feels right" approach. To start with, we will rest after the first 50 miles in Tuluksak. That rest should be 3 to 5 hours long. The dogs won't be too tired at that point, but I'm going conservative early. From that point, we'll see how the dogs do. I may run another 50 miles and take my mandatory 6 hour lay over in Kalskag, or we may continue another 30 miles and take it in Aniak. My anticipated run/rest schedule right now is to run 50 miles to Tuluksak and rest 3-5 hours. Continue another 50 miles to Kalskag for the mandatory 6 hour rest. Then push an 80 mile run by running past Aniak, up to Pike Lake, then back to Aniak and rest 4-6 hours. We would then do another 80 mile run from Aniak, past Kalskag, and on to Tuluksak for the final mandatory 4 hour rest. Then it's a 50 mile run back to Bethel. That is a general plan, two 50 mile runs, two 80 mile runs, and a 50 mile run. We may find ourselves resting more or less depending on the dogs. The race only requires the 6 and 4 hours of rest, but I'm planning on twice that much. I'm sending drop bags with enough food to all checkpoints so I can adjust the schedule as the dogs need. So as you're watching the race unfold on the internet, if you see me pulling up for longer rests, you know the dogs are getting tired. On the other hand, if you see some longer runs and shorter rests, the dogs are doing well. Hopefully Eric can log on and tell you exactly what's happening on the trail.

So who is going to Bethel with me? I'm bringing 10 dogs (plus the two humans mentioned earlier); Hagar, Lucky, Luke, Bing, Lucy, Felix, Bernard, Phoebe, Charlie, and Olaf. Hagar, Phoebe, and Bernard all had their old injuries checked by Dr. Hagee today, he gave them all a thumbs up. He sent me a note to bring to the race vets in Bethel. If the injuries cause problems, I'll drop them. You've met each of these dogs except Phoebe, couldn't find a picture of her. She is Luke, Bing, Charlie, and Bernard's sister and Felix and Olaf's mother. At 58 pounds, she'll be the smallest dog on the team. She's a sweetheart. With the exception of Hagar and Lucky, I've raised each of these dogs myself. Luke, Hagar, Lucky, and Bing will be my main leaders. Felix, Lucy or Phoebe could also get a turn in lead, but it's unlikely. All 10 of these dogs could finish the race and it will be my pleasure to enter the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race with this team. Final mileage can be found at the end of this post. We didn't get as many miles as I had hoped, but we've got enough to run the race. Those were some hard fought miles.

A weather system out in the Bering Sea is currently headed straight for Southwest Alaska. Warmer temperatures and snow are in our future. Hopefully it doesn't delay our trip to Bethel. My bigger stronger dogs would do better with some snow on the trail. I'd take a foot if I could get it.

I had better keep packing. I'll try update the blog from Bethel. Stay tuned.

Hagar-987, Lucky-1147, Luke-1146, Bing-1187, Bernard-828, Charlie-1156, Felix-1077,
Olaf-1168, Lucy-1006, Phoebe-874

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Best Sled Dog I Own

This is Luke.

Luke is Hagar and Lucky's son and the best dog out of their litter. At 3 years of age he is the best lead dog I own. He holds the line tight during hitch-up, gees and haws (turns left or right) on command, will break a trail, has perfect feet, has a great appetite, can follow an old trail, is friendly with everyone... Shall I go on?

I like all my dogs, but appreciate my hard workers the most. Even my hard workers have their quirks. Luke has very few quirks. He's only 3 so there are things he hasn't learned to do yet, but so far he has mastered each new challenge. More then anything, he wants to please me. If he knows I want him to do something, he works at it and figures it out.

He weighs 68 pounds with long legs and body and a perfect coat for the region, not too long and not too short. Luke is perfectly suited for our corner of the world. He can handle the -30 and -40 degrees we're having right now, but can also mush above freezing if need be. He has the physical ability to do anything he wants, but it's his head that sets him apart. He does tire both physically and mentally, just not often.

We have a special bond Luke and I. Together we drive our team of dogs. I wouldn't have gotten the miles on the dogs without him. Of all the dogs in the team, he's the one I count on most. I'm looking forward to running the race with him next week. I can't wait to see how he reacts to yet another challenge.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


My family is from Oregon's Willamette Valley. My favorite part of summer vacations in Oregon was visiting Grandpa and Grandma's farm. It was a magical place to a young Alaskan boy, full of animals, fruits, sights and sounds I only knew from books and television.

Grandpa always had working dogs on the farm. Most were border collies, but I remember one dog that looked more like a large blue heeler. Grandpa called him Felix and obviously liked the dog. Grandma chained up the collies at night while Felix had the run of the place. Felix didn't like me much, think he may have bitten me. He was grandpa's dog. I remember that well.

When Pheobe had her first litter I kept two dogs. One was named Olaf, who you met earlier, and the other named Felix. The name suits him. Felix is definately my dog. He likes Jo and the kids and is not aggressive, but he's not overly friendly either. Felix enjoys his own space and doesn't get too excited about anything. A beautifully rugged long gray dog, he looks and acts rather wolfy. I need to say that none of my dogs have wolf in them and I'm against infusing wolf into domestic dogs. It is an old practice that needs to stay in the past. What I refer to is the way he carries himself, very confident and calculated.

Felix fits the working dog bill nicely at a rangy 70 pounds. He pulls hard and never complains. His feet and wrists have held up nicely so far. Mostly, Felix runs in the swing position directly behind the leaders. He's run some lead, but hasn't shown the drive in front that a good leader needs. Perhaps in time he'll become a better lead dog. I'm not yet sure whether he'll be bred. Want to see what kind of leader he turns out to be first. But I must admit, I wouldn't mind having another half dozen dogs like Felix.

Here's a nice shot of Felix. He's got the classic look of a working sled dog.
Another shot of Felix during hitch-up. Never in a rush and always ready to work.

Monday, January 7, 2008

1000 Miles and Such

Been a while since the last post. Much to tell you about. This may be a long one, bear with me.

First of all, the sled dog ride fundraiser was a huge success! Funds raised completely covered the cost of booties (no small thing at $1.00 per bootie!), new sled runners, new coolers and bowls for feeding during the race, new racing lines, and a few other odds and ends. I also had a lot of fun doing it. For most it was their first time on a dog sled. Many had questions and most were excited to hear we were headed to the Kusko and wanted to support the effort. Father Scott blessed the dogs and myself before one morning ride. We asked for Saint Francis of Assisi (patron saint of animals) to pray for us. It was a very nice blessing on a very nice morning.

Would like to say a few words about the folks helping me along. Ryan and Eric have been amazing. They've gone on every run with me but 2 or 3. They're out there with me at all hours of the day and night in all temperatures. All I'm giving them is a hat and a plane ride to Bethel. Would never have gotten this far without them. My wife's brother-in-law in Anchorage has jumped in to help as well. He's been out tracking down specialty items in Anchorage and shipping them out to me. Apparantly I could have had even more help. One lady asked if I needed help sewing booties. I thanked her and told her I already bought them, but a generous offer just the same.

Eric and I took the dogs on the longest run of their (and my) lives. We left the dog yard at 11:00 Saturday morning and ran them 70 miles before resting for 6 hours at Snake Lake. We followed the rest with another 70 mile run before returning home at 2:00 Sunday afternoon. A 140 mile weekend and the dogs handled it great. We ran the first 50 miles at 9 mph (pretty good for my slow working dogs), the next 20 included a mountain and soft trail that slowed us down. They came right out of the rest ready to go and trotted along nicely the entire way. We dealt with tidal overflow on the edges of two rivers and some serious cold. The first day wasn't too bad. The run started at about -15 F and warmed to probably -5. That was as warm as it got. We didn't have a thermometer, but it's always colder in town near the bay then it is inland. My co-worker said they had -32 at his house Sunday morning. I'm guessing we camped at -35 and ran some of Sunday at -40. It had warmed to -20 when we finished up Sunday afternoon. That kind of cold does things to both man and beast. We were well prepared for the most part. Eric and I stayed warm most of the way. I did use chemical heat packs in my mittens and boots and Eric had to do some aerobics on the trail to keep his blood flowing. We both came home tired and hungry. Jo fed us well and we both went to bed early. The dogs handled it well too. Running in cold weather always hits them hardest with weight loss. They all lost a lot of fat reserves so they're getting big chunks of raw frozen beaver, dog food, and other meats and fats to bring their weight back up. Also, Lucy and Lucky are my shortest haired dogs and wore coats on the trail. I told Eric, "My dogs are wearing coats. That either makes them professional or just wimps!" Shorter haired dogs often wear coats in distance races.

We also have a bunch of dogs with over 1,000 miles under their belts. That's pretty cool, very proud of them. They usually only run 700 or 800 in winter. They've got 1,000 miles and winter's really just now coming on strong. I'll post individual mileage at the bottom of this post.

My sister pointed something out to me. I haven't mentioned when we'll be running the Kusko 300. The race begins at 6:00 Friday January 18th. We load up a Cessna Caravan and fly to Bethel next Tuesday evening. There is a little concert Wednesday evening and the musher's meeting and drawing Thursday. The dogs also need a few days of laying low before the race. Lucy doesn't enjoy flying and will need a day or two to settle her nerves.

The Kusko has become a star studded event as usual. Here's who is signed up to this point: Jackie Larson,Kyle Belleque, Mike Williams Sr, Mike Williams Jr, Myron Angstman, Paul Gebhardt, Hugh Neff, Sebastian Schnuelle, Jessica Klejka, Melissa Owens, Mitch Seavey, Ed Iten, Jeff King, Dave Decaro, Jim Lanier, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Gerald Riley, David Tresino, Martin Buser, Rohn Buser, Ramy Smyth. You'll notice I was the second person signed up. That's no accident. They let you choose your starting place in the order you sign up. I'll be able to choose one of the last slots out of the shoot so my slower dogs don't have to spend the first few miles of the race being passed by faster teams. At least that's how they've chosen starting orders in the past. Hope they don't change it this year. Most will recognize Jeff King and Martin Buser, but Mitch Seavey, Paul Gephardt, Ed Iten, Dee Dee Jonrow, and Gerald Riley are all top Iditarod mushers and a few of them past champions. Many other on the list are successful professional mushers and are well known in mushing circles. I've never met any of these characters. Looking forward to meeting them. Should be fun.

In the next 7 days we'll put another 100 or so miles on the dogs, prepare food and drop bags, pack up all our stuff and make final preparations. I'll make a few more posts before the race. I've got a couple more dogs I'd like you to meet. Also, I'll explain how to follow the race on the internet. It's simple and a lot of fun.

Gotta go. Jo's going to cut my hair. Haven't had time for that lately either.

Hagar-926, Lucky-1086, Luke-1085, Bing-1120, Charlie-1095, Felix-1016, Olaf-1107, Lucy-945