Wednesday, February 27, 2008

1,000 Miles Down, 1,000 Miles to Go

The Quest is over. 15 mushers crossed the finish line in Whitehorse. Lance Mackey won the Vet's Choice award and teared up as he spoke about the award and his dogs. Mushers like Lance are showing the way for the future of our sport.

Our sport's immediate future revolves around the big one, the Iditarod. Dubbed the "Last Great Race on Earth", the Iditarod runs from Willow to Nome with a ceremonial start in Anchorage. 96 mushers from around the world plan to make the starting line in Anchorage Saturday as well as the re-start in Willow Sunday. For many, getting to the starting line has been a life's dream. They have sacrificed family, money, sleep, and more to experience Alaska on the runners of a dog sled. For them completing the race is the goal. I hope they all achieve it.

For others, this is the culmination of their year and their careers. The elite group of professional distance dog drivers will push themselves, and their dogs, to claim the ulitmate prize. Last year Lance Mackey did it just weeks after winning the Yukon Quest. Can he do it again? It would be beyond belief, but not beyond possibility. The field contains a number of past and future Iditarod champions. This year's winner will definately earn his crown.

So who will it be? That's the question. They say it takes a magic ride. It's not always the best dog team. The best team in the race can catch a virus, fall ill, and fade back to the middle of the pack. It's impossible to predict who will experience the complete coming together of driver, dogs, equipment, etc. So I won't give you one name, but will instead predict the type of dog team to first cross under the Burled Arch in Nome. This year's winner will drive a team of predominately 50-60 pound huskies. Many will have pointy ears, most will have a decent coat, and all will look the part.

In the last few years, breeders have bred sprint lines consisting of different pointing breeds into their distance sled dog lines. It's said that sled dogs consisting of 1/8 pointer offer a combination of speed and durability. Many distance sled dog teams consist of short haired, floppy eared, 40 pound dogs. Recently others have gone back to teams more "husky" in appearance. Proponents of husky-type dogs say they are more durable and able to travel longer distances at the conclusion of the race.

Last year Lance Mackey and Paul Gephardt overtook Marten Buser and Jeff King at the end of a very difficult trail. They did it not by running faster, but by running longer and resting less. Running longer is the future of distance dog sled racing. Mushers have proven that it can be done safely. Team Norway and Robert Sorlie are credited with first mastering the style. Although some say it is the technique employed by Siberian Husky drivers in the early days of the Nome Kennel Club 100 years ago.

So this year's winner will maintain a conservative run/rest schedule early in the race staying with the front pack. After taking their 24 hour layover, they will begin running longer and longer and will finish the race with dramatic 100 runs combined with short rests until crossing under the burled arch with both dogs and musher exhausted and satisfied.

Follow the Iditarod at The race is fortunate to employ the most gifted musher/writer of our time. You will find Jon Little's trail updates both insightful and entertaining.

Enjoy the race.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Quest

Every race is known by abreviation in mushing circles. You've got the K-300 (Kuskokwim 300), the Tustemena (Tustemena 200), the Copper, Copper Basin or CB300 (Copper Basin 300), the Iditarod is sometimes called the I-rod. Then there is "The Quest". Sounds like it deserves it's own soundtrack doesn't it?

The Yukon Quest is the "other1000 mile sled dog race". Iditarod is a word synonymous with Alaska. The Iditarod is a well funded, and well marketed, race involving throngs of volunteers and almost 100 mushers each year. The Quest is much smaller. The purse is about 1/4 of the Iditarod with 24 mushers beginning this year's race. Iditarod runs from Anchorage to Nome while the Quest alternates between beginning in Fairbanks and ending in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and beginning in Whitehorse and ending in Fairbanks. Iditarod has been dubbed the "Last Great Race on Earth" while the Quest is known as "The Toughest Race on Earth".

To this point, 9 mushers have completed the race with 6 more still on the trail. 8 mushers have scratched (dropped out of) and one was withdrawn. The Quest has a new website this year at . It's worth checking out.

A section of the new website contains video clips. They've posted video clips for the first 4 mushers across the finish line in Whitehorse. Surely the others are in the works. All the clips so far share a feature in common, Lance Mackey. Mr. Mackey has turned the mushing world on its head. He won the Quest for the 4th time in a row this year and won both the Quest and the Iditarod last year, a feet some thought impossible. Of course Lance Mackey was featured in his video clip, but he was also there to congratulate the second place musher Ken Andersen. Lance handed Dave Dalton a beer as the third place musher and helped him bring his sled to the dog truck. Of course he also greeted and congratulated fourth place musher Michelle Phillips on a "great run". Can't wait to see the other finishing video clips. Did he greet and congratulate everyone? Maybe he's just bored hanging out in Whitehorse waiting for the awards banquet, but I don't think that's it.

Lance Mackey is a cancer survivor and has worked very hard to get where he's at. The greatest distance dog musher ever is simply a real person. The kind of guy who'd love to have a drink with you. I briefly shook Lance's hand at the Quest starting banquet this year. I introduce myself to every musher I can. I say, "Hi. I'm Kyle Belleque a dog musher in Dillingham." Some of them shrug me off as a groupy having no time for some wanna-be dog musher from Dillingham. A lot do talk with me for a while though. Lance didn't let me finish. He said, "Dillingham? What's the deal with that Nushagak race. I've never been out there. Give me a call if you get it going again." He was refering to the Nushagak Classic that hasn't run in a while. He wanted to come out just because he hadn't been here before.

Lance, and his dog team, epitomize the type of dogs and drivers that compete in the Quest. The dogs tend to be a bit more husky and less hound. 60 pound dogs are very common on the Quest trail with 70, and even larger, dogs competing each year. The trail is said to be more difficult and the temperatures can be brutal. Musher's enjoyed -60 F beginning this year's race. One musher who has run both races said, "The Iditarod is for egos and the Quest is for mushers".

I'd like to run the Quest some day. It's a race my dogs and I could potentially do well in. The race would be very complicated to orchestrate from Dillingham for a number of reasons. Mainly, a handler with a dog truck must follow the race cleaning up after the musher and picking up dropped dogs. Not sure how I'd get a dog truck to the road system (I don't even own a dog truck!) or who I'd talk into driving through Interior Alaska and the Yukon in February. It's a bit of a dream right now. But who knows, maybe some day.

Those of you familiar with the Quest already know what I'm talking about. Those learning about mushing through this blog should check out the Quest website. A couple books have been written about the race and a couple DVD's produced. It's worth looking into. The Quest is as close as one can come to traveling across our winter wilderness as it was done 100 years ago.

Congratulations to all who started this year's Yukon Quest, that is no small feet. Congratulations to all those who have finished this year's Yukon Quest, very few have. Good luck to those still on the trail. Keep looking for the lights of Whitehorse, maybe Lance Mackey will be there to hand you a beer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Do 30 Year Old Couples Do When the Kids Go To Bed?

Pay tribute to the great hair dos of our generation. What did you think I was going to say?

Remember the super tough upper middle class mohawk? Where you had to look carefully to confirm that the middle strip of the scalp was in fact longer then the sides since it mainly just looked like short hair.

How about the every sassy sideways pony tail. Jo doesn't look so sassy.

What ever happened to great hair and true love?!?! Someone turn up the Hall and Oats!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kari, Aimee, or Some Other Name We Haven't Thought of Yet

This is the first photo of our baby Belleque number 3. There were no protruding male parts (see arrow) so the radiologist suspects another girl. Jacob and Alethia would both love a sister so they are delighted. I would like to apologize to the baby up front. We won't post any more pictures like this one. I promise!

Baby's lower legs. Need I say more! When she is older these will be keeping us awake alot of nights. As of now, I just feel her moving from time to time. She isn't keeping me awake yet. Maybe in another month.

Here is the baby's profile from her head to her toes. I can't wait to hold her.

Face photo. Isn't she beautiful?!!! I can't wait to see who she looks like.

This last photo was of the baby's heart and heartbeat. The kids didn't get to hear it when I had the ultrasound, but they heard it when I saw the doctor. They were so excited. Alethia and Jacob are both practicing taking care of the dolls. Alethia is such a big helper already, she is going to love taking care of the baby. Jacob will love holding her.

It was so exciting to see the baby. They only allow one other person in the room besides me so Kyle didn't get to see the whole thing because we had Alethia and Jacob. They did get to come in at the end and see the baby though. I was glad that Kyle and I got to share that with the kids. Alethia was beside herself to hear it was probably a girl. Don't know what we'll do if it comes out with boy parts. It's so exciting to be able to share all this with you.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"We're home anyway."

Johanna's mom is visiting and while discussing the blizzard outside she said, "It's all right. We're home anyway." I smiled. I remembered.

Johanna's Apa (grandpa) used to say that when the weather got bad. He was already an old man when I met him. Unfortunately he took ill the summer we were to be married. Evan McCarr, always putting his family first, waited and passed away the day after our wedding. Apa died in his own home surrounded by family. The doctor had given him pain pills to help with the cancer quickly spreading through his body, but he never took them and didn't complain. It was a lesson in death I will never forget. Strong. Courageous. Graceful. Beautiful. He died as he lived.

Like I said, I didn't know Apa long and never when he was young and strong. Once he explained moose hunting before the Nushagak river was at its current population levels. Taking out across the tundra on his snowshoes, when he found the right tracks he followed them at a trot. Apa ran in his snow shoes until he reached the moose and eventually brought it to bay. How long did that take? Six hours. Then he would go home, hitch up his dogs, and haul the moose home. Once he told me his five dog team could haul two moose on a twelve foot sled.

Apa's stories were incredible, almost unimaginable, but not uncommon. When the entire village would travel by dog team, one man's job was to run ahead on snowshoes, establish rest stops by lighting camp fires, then continuing on to light another fire and so on until the destination was reached. Johanna has a relative on her grandmother's side that was said to run as fast as a caribou. These men were respected and widely known. They were amazing. Travel to any village in Alaska and you can hear the same stories. The languages would change, but the physical prowess and knowledge of the country (or water) would be the same.

Once I asked Apa how he camped when he traveled with his dogs. "Light a fire and wrap up in a canvas." That's it. Sometimes they were out for long periods traveling perfectly raw country. No checkpoints. No veterinarians. No handlers or food drops. Often long trips employed two men, one dog team, and hundreds of miles. Typically each man took his turn in front of the dog team breaking a trail for the dogs to follow. They traveled and camped in every kind of weather. Bitter cold, driving snow, rain, wind, they dealt with everything imaginable. They had to do it and they did.

So the next time the weather drops to 40 below, a blizzard moves in, the temperature shoots to 115, or it just won't stop raining, don't forget... It's all right. You're home anyway.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Blog Comments

I've recently loosened the restrictions on the blog comments setting so that anyone can post comments on this blog whether you have a google account or not. Apparantly you click on comments (at the bottom of each post), type something in, then click "post", "submit", or something like that and you get a message. The comment is saved for me to deny or approve the next time I log on.

Unless you write something stupid or annoying I'll be happy to put everyone's comments on the blog. Please remember this blog is written for our family and friends around the country. Everyone is welcome to join us of course, but save your criticisms and critiques for someone who wants to hear them. Don't bother writing anything that ticks me off cause I ain't postin' it anyway.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Who ever said you can't buy happiness forgot about puppies."

Don't remember who said that, but it's one of my favorite cheesy quotes. Below are a couple pictures of the youngest members of our new sprint racing team.

They are seriously cute. Their Momma, Minnie, is doing a great job with them. She had a little trouble during delivery and we lost a few pups, but she has the mother thing down pat now. They were at the dog yard in my insulated puppy house until the temperature dropped. These sprint dogs don't have much for hair. We've got them in a kennel in the house. The pups are still small and not moving around much. The kids and I can go down and play with the pups while giving Minnie some attention as well. We take Minnie outside to clear her pipes a few times a day. She goes out, does her business, and then heads straight back to the house always wanting to be with her little ones.
We also have a blond male leader named Jerry (formerly Cherry, but Alethia thought it was Jerry so that's what we call him) and just got a 4 month old cream colored pup dubbed Mulan. Should also mention the pups are named Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella, and Prince Phillip. Can you guess who's doing the naming around here? All the dogs were purchased from Howling Dog Racing Kennels in the Fairbanks area. We bought Minnie as a bred female.
We're poised to have a young team of 7 sprint dogs next season, but we'll continue to breed and train and will be in full force in a few years. As I mentioned earlier, Ryan will be doing most of the sprint dog training and racing.
You might ask why a person who proudly boasts about his working sled dogs would get into sprint racing. A valid question. It's something Johanna and I have talked about for some time. You see I don't ONLY enjoy working sled dogs. I've also owned and enjoyed working retrievers and pointing dogs, was enamoured with my grandpa's sheep dogs as a boy, and would own and train every sort of working dog in existence if I could. I love seeing working dogs peforming tasks they were bred and trained for. More then that, I enjoy seeing them doing it well. We have a small sprint racing circuit in the region and are trying to increase the number of local races and participants. So if I'm already in the dog business, have plenty of food available, and have a energetic athletic fella eager to work with them, why not own sprint dogs?
The two lines will not be crossed. Each line will continue to be raised and trained to perform its intended tasks. Raising and training sprint dogs is a whole 'nother ball of wax, but that's part of the fun of it. Never been one to sit on haunches content with the status quo. Spent the last 6 years teaching dogs to pull. They'll still be pulling, just that some of the dogs will do their pulling at 18 miles per hour.