Friday, December 8, 2017

Mushing News Weekly Round Up (Dec 8)

With the advent of social media, it's a whole lot easier for fans to immerse themselves into the mushing world. It's also easy to miss a lot of the interesting and newsworthy stuff as it seems to become overloaded in the weeks leading up to race season. Training reports begin as the leaves fall from the trees, and then almost over night the snow hits the rosters are finalized and we're in the middle of race season.

So a new feature here on Reitter's Block starting this week is a sort of weekly round up of news, and interesting stories from the mushing community. These will be selection that caught my eye, and in no way everything that happened within the week.

In response to the Iditarod Trail Committee's announcement on December 1 about their plan to come up with a standard of "Dog Care" for kennels to be eligible to compete, Iditarod Veteran Wade Marrs took to his website to share his thoughts. While, overall, Wade is supportive of the idea - he wanted to voice some concerns he had. It is equally a response to another kennel that has created a lot of drama since October when they decided to try and promote themselves as the kennel/people all mushers wish they could be like.

SP Kennel (Home of Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore) shared an adorable update on their trio of pups. It's not really news worthy, but it's adorable, and there's video. What more does a mushing fan need than a puppy cam?!

Monday brought the amusing with the report that Jeff King was auctioned off during the Talkeetna Bachelor Auction, and brought in a whopping $4,600! King is thought to be the first Iditarod Champion (and certainly IS the only 4-time Champion) auctioned off at the event. Known as one of the larger than life mushers, it should come as no surprise that Jeff was up for something like this. But it was still amusing to read. Much better than the articles showing the mushing community up in arms.

And, just today, Monica Zappa took to Facebook to announce that the 2018 Iditarod will be her last "for a while" as she needs to go off on new adventures. Iditarod will be far less colorful without her neon colors out on the trail. So when you see her run down the trail this March, cheer extra hard for her!

Speaking of Facebook - my favorites on the social media round up:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Hopefully that little earworm is making its happy little home in your head right now. It's been stuck in mine for months. Why? Because I made the decision early this year that I would attend the 2018 US Figure Skating National Championships hosted this year in San Jose, CA.

I know, you're confused. For over five years, this blog has been mainly mushing/Iditarod news and Alaska photography. I've not given up on my second favorite sport, I just haven't followed as I used to (thanks to NBC having the two worst commentators EVER on the mics these days). Niche sports are hard to follow, and others follow skating better, so I focus on mushing.

But! Instead of sitting on my butt all weekend refreshing the GPS tracker for the first race of the season in January, I'll be sitting in an arena hanging out with friends and cheering on the skaters trying to make Team USA. I haven't been to a championship (or any skating event) in ten years! I haven't seen some of my friends in ten years. I cannot WAIT for this trip!

While I'll really only be there for the senior skating events (the championship begins in December, but I just couldn't swing that), I'll be gone from January 1-13 (of course if I'm in California I've gotta visit Disney, too!). I'm working on itineraries and everything. I'm so out of the loop as to what these competitions are like. Waiting for the practice schedule to come out. Have we always had to wait this late for info?! Ugh!

But so far, here's what I have.

January 1, 2018
Drive up to Anchorage @ 8:00am

January 2, 2018
Fly out @ 6:45am
Land in Seattle @ 11:21am (10:21am AKST)
Leave Seattle @ 1:00pm (Noon AKST)
Land in San Jose @ 3:14pm (2:14pm AKST)

*Possibly attending the Junior Ladies Free Skate @ 7:15pm (6:15pm AKST)

January 3, 2018
Junior Men Free Skate @ 10:15am (9:15am AKST)
Senior Ladies Short Probram @ 6:00pm (5:00pm AKST)

January 4, 2018
Junior Free Dance @ 10:00am (9:00am AKST)
Senior Pairs Short Program @ 12:50pm (11:50am AKST)
Senior Men Short Program @ 5:30pm (4:30pm AKST)

January 5, 2018
Senior Ice Dance Short Dance @ 1:10pm (12:10pm AKST)
Senior Ladies Free Skate @ 3:45pm (2:45pm AKST)

January 6, 2018
Senior Pairs Free Skate @ 11:45am (10:45am AKST)
Senior Mens Free Skate @ 3:45pm (2:45pm AKST)

January 7, 2018
Senior Ice Dance Free Dance @ 12:30pm (11:30am AKST)
Fly out @ 7:07pm (6:06pm AKST)

My hotel is supposed to have wifi, so maybe I'll check in... but we all know I most likely won't blog much - so follow me on twitter for anything I might say about the competition (if you're so inclined).

Friday, December 1, 2017

Iditarod Roster Set for 2018

The sun shines on the Iditarod Finish Line, March 2017.
With the deadline to enter ending today, the Iditarod roster is officially set. There could still be a few names added so long as their applications are postmarked prior to the deadline - or special circumstances where veteran mushers can sign up past the deadline as what happened in 2017. As it stands, 69 teams will run the trail to Nome in March with four past champions in the mix. Five previous champions signed up originally, but four-time champion Dallas Seavey announced in October he would not run in the 2018 Iditarod. Seavey's father, three-time and reigning Iditarod Champion, Mitch Seavey still plans to run this coming March. Four-time Champions Martin Buser and Jeff King, and 2011 Iditarod Champion John Baker also plan to run.

Sixteen rookies are set to run the 46th running of the Last Great Race, leaving a large list of 53 veterans. Familiar names and fan favorites dot the list including late entries of Hugh Neff, and previously retired-from-Iditarod Kelly Maixner. Wade Marrs, who took a commanding lead for much of last year's Iditarod, is once again looking to set the pace. Aliy Zirkle and Jessie Royer are looking to be that first woman champion in over 2 decades to win, as DeeDee Jonrowe looks to make 2018 her Swan Song.

Other happy returns on the list include fan favorite Rob Cooke, Seward musher Travis Beals, and Army Veteran Steve Watkins. Watkins last run to Nome was in 2014, and he then went on to attempt to climb Mt Everest only to be caught in the major Earthquake while at basecamp! Apparently when not planning to run the Iditarod this year, he's been running for US Congress! It takes all kinds to create this one of a kind monster of a race.

While things looked a little bleak a month and a half ago, it seems a lot of frustration and anger has died down and most mushers who were backing Dallas are now content to run the race. Dallas Seavey, on the other hand, was true to his word that he would not run the race, and has instead opted to run a prestigious race in Finnmark. The race takes place the same week as the Iditarod, and other well known Alaskan mushers have participated in the past. Lance Mackey ran it a year ago and reportedly did well, and Hugh Neff has also visited the race in the past.

Also remaining off the roster is Paul Gebhardt. Gebhardt announced last month that he would not be racing this season as he is currently battling cancer. Gebhardt once again took to social media this morning to report that due to his ability to not have to take a week off in between cancer treatments, the dates have been moved up for when he will head down to Seattle for his stem cell transplant. Paul and his daughter will be in Seattle for a month after his treatment to be sure everything takes and that he is safer from infection and illness. They will essentially be in quarantine for 6 weeks. Paul will travel, now, at the end of December. The GoFundMe page is still up and accepting donations, it sits roughly around 50% of their overall goal.

Also on the Iditarod Trail Committee's plate, are plans to revamp the dog care requirements for mushers and their kennels. The Anchorage Daily News reported tonight that come 2019 there will be a "Best Dog Care" rule. The ITC says this is not a response to any accusation or misconduct, that it's been in the works for a long time and they are finally ready to move forward with implementation. This will most likely affect the newer kennels more than well established and successful kennels. This should come as no surprise as to be successful in this sport, dogs must come first at all times, not just when the cameras are on.

Who are you most excited to see on this year's roster? Tell me in the comments below!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dallas Seavey to race in Finnmark

I'm at work and can't do a big blog post, so, for now, I'll just let this facebook post do the talking.

What do you think of this latest announcement? Let me know if the comments below!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

No Iditarod for Cindy Abbott this year

Cindy Abbott took to her social media platforms yesterday to announce that she was not signing up for Iditarod 46. Siting personal and health reasons, Abbott assured her fans that she was taking care of herself.

Abbott is a red lantern Iditarod finisher, as well as a spokesperson and hero for many fighting incurable, little-talked about diseases. Cindy was diagnosed with Wegener's Granulomatosis in August of 2007, instead of curling up in a ball in a corner, she set about taking life by the horns. She has successfully climbed Mount Everest, and then fixed her sites on the Iditarod. It took her 3 rookie tries to complete the race in 2015 (one year she scratched after breaking her pelvis and several other bones and not realizing it!) where she won her first of two red lanterns. The Red Lantern is awarded to the final team to cross the finish line.

After retiring from her job last year, Cindy and her husband moved to Alaska with the intent on her running the 2018 Iditarod and other future races. Cindy cites in her post that her husband was supportive of her plan to run this year, and the decision to not run was solely hers. Abbott runs dogs from Iditarod Veteran - and current MatSu Burrough Mayor - Vern Halter's Kennel. She will continue to train the team, but a little less intensely, building them for 2019.

Abbott stated in her post that she intends to run the 2019 Iditarod, where she will be 60 years old.

You can purchase Cindy's book Reaching Beyond The Clouds: From Undiagnosed To Climbing Mt. Everest on

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Signed up to Volunteer

My grandparents began volunteering for the Iditarod in the early years of the race. I don't know the exact year. My grandmother started the obsession. She worked at the McGrath checkpoint a year or two before they decided to help take care of the Anchorage trail. That was back when the "Ceremonial Start" also meant something to the actual race. They would time the run to Eagle River. It was before Anchorage was so grown up that they were still somewhat safe to do so.

Our family has volunteered at the "Tudor Crossing" of the trail for more years than I've been alive (32). "Back then" there wasn't a footbridge for the teams to use to cross the busy street. My grandparents and their merry band of volunteers had to stop traffic, they had to move snow onto the street just to shovel it back off so that the cars could pass after the teams passed by. Our team now has it so much easier now than back in the "good ol' days".

Tudor Crossing is now "University Lake and Tudor Center". The teams run along a lake that is an off leash dog park before going through a tunnel (so as  not to have to cross a side street) and then up and over a foot bridge as the busy traffic of Tudor goes by seemingly unaware of what's taking place above and around them.

As a very young child I must have been a part of the action, but I honestly do not remember. We moved to the Kenai Peninsula when I was almost 6 years old, so a lot of the "early day memories" I might have had are far gone in the recesses of my brain. We rarely went up for the Iditarod after that - it was always during important dates for school or dad's work. I didn't even know that my grandparents had a history with the race! It wasn't a topic of conversation that I paid attention to. I knew my grandparents knew several of the mushers, and had met my heros (Libby Riddles and Susan Butcher) but that was the extent of my knowledge.

I do remember a year when I got to go to the ReStart when it was still in Wasilla. It was terrifyingly crowded and I remember not enjoying it as I couldn't (or wouldn't) push through the crowd to see the action. I just remember being scared that I would get lost. I remember thinking this was a huge deal, but that I didn't see myself doing this again. I was 9 or 10 at the time (so 1994 or 95).

Then when I moved to Anchorage to attend college I managed to land a short term (read one weekend) internship with a photographer who was helping with the Iditarod. No, it wasn't Jeff Schultz (I wish!), but it was another photographer they'd tapped to take pictures for the Iditariders (fans who bid to ride in a particular musher's sled during the 11 mile Ceremonial Start). He wanted me to take photos halfway down the trail at - you guessed it - Tudor Crossing. I mentioned it to my grandfather and he showed me how and where would be the best place to set up.

That was 2005. I was only used that one year as a photographer, so I joined Grandpa's crew of trail guards the following year. I had a blast! I was hooked. In 2007 after Iditarod was over I was so hooked that I ended up applying to work for Ididaride. That's when the pride and obsession really grew. The more I learned about the behind the scenes stuff, the more I wanted to be a part of it.

After my grandmother's stroke in December of 2009, my grandfather was unsure and really unwilling to plan for another Iditarod. He took it seriously, and he was just too busy focused on her (as he should have been). I didn't want to see our family tradition die there, and my grandmother certainly didn't want to see that happen either. She LOVED Iditarod. So since she was on the road to recovery, I set about getting in touch with the coordinator of the Ceremonial Start Trail Guards asking if it would be alright if I was the "go between" for he and my grandfather with the understanding that in another year I would be fully ready to be "in charge" of our crew.

Since Iditarod 2010 I have been the "crew leader". That's 7 years, going to be 8 next March.

I know, some might find this shocking after all that's happened in the last month and a half. However, I feel very strongly about my family's tradition of being a part of The Last Great Race. I can disagree with how things are managed. I can demand certain things change. We all can. I see nothing wrong with having a disagreement with things. But the ITC is not the Iditarod (yeah, that quote was stolen from Dallas Seavey). The Iditarod is so much more than political back biting and butt protection. Iditarod is Alaska. Iditarod is dogs. Iditarod is Man and Animal coming together to do the "impossible". And I continue to want to be a part of that.

All organizations can improve. I work for a Non-Profit, and we're constantly scrutinizing what we do and how we can do it better. If you don't do that, you risk screwing up and not being able to recover. You risk losing the trust of your supporter and donors.

I don't want to see the Iditarod become the next fatality of a ridiculous campaign by the liars and hypocrites of PeTA and other "Animal Rights" groups. I will continue to support the race, while calling for transparency of ALL. Not just this latest issue.

So I will see you all at the Tudor Crossing as I have for over a decade now. It's still the most wonderful time of the year. The Race Season begins in just over a month. We've got a lot to celebrate and talk about!

Monday, November 13, 2017

My experience with Team Seavey

2007 Wildride, retired Iditarod Champions Angus and Zebra
pull Alaskan Malamute rescue Buddy out of the Arena.
Guys, I'm having a hard time remaining silent. For over a month I've watched a friend and former employer go through some pretty crappy things, and for the most part he's handled it with far more grace and dignity than I ever could. But, in the last couple of weeks, a couple of blowhards looking for - I guess - a little more limelight decided to jump on the hate train and come out with some pretty ugly allegations of their own. I won't link to their writings, because I feel that any more hits to their site is exactly what they want... and she who must not be named demanded over two years ago that I not use her name on my blog. So I won't. But if you're reading this blog post, my guess is you know who and what I'm talking about.

I met Dallas Seavey in the spring of 2007. He was starting a new attraction in Downtown Anchorage and was hiring folks to work in his gift shop. I ended up landing a "bigger" role than "just" gift shop girl. I ran the soundboard for his outdoor arena where he and his [then] fiance and a few other mushers showcased the power of the sled dog. I worked for them for four summers straight. It was probably the most fun I have EVER had with a job - and that's including my being a professional photographer. I'm not exaggerating for anyone. You can pretty much ask anyone who knows me - I talk about Wildride, still, after 10 years. I LOVED that job. I LOVED being around dogs and puppies all day. I LOVE the people I got to work with.

After I moved back to the Kenai in 2011, I figured I was done working for the team in any sort of capacity. I didn't even make it up to see the show in its final year, I was so busy trying to make ends meet. It was a very lonely time. I missed being part in some way of a sled dog team. How weird is that? I was never a dog handler. I still can't tell you the more intimate details of training, feeding, etc. But I loved being a part of the bigger picture. It wasn't long, though, before Team Seavey came calling again.

I worked for Mitch Seavey for another three years. Again, not in any dog handling position, but the daily office work that comes with running a touring business as well as social media for an active racing kennel. Again, I had a blast and learned so much and I'll always be grateful. But this was where I became increasingly aware of the ugliness of mushing. Don't think this is going to be a blog post supporting the allegations being lobbied at both Dallas and Mitch, far from it. I'm talking the ugly, untrue, and disgusting thing said by the likes of PeTA and other "Animal Rights" organizations against the Iditarod and the sport itself. One group used to have a "head hunter" list of mushers who needed to be "dealt with". Their photos from the Iditarod Website were placed on wanted posters. It was crazy. But the real kicker was when "fellow mushers" (term used loosely) decided to go after the team that was on top.

My first encounter with Mitch was my first week of work with Dallas back in 2007. That was the year that the Ramy Brooks "incident" happened during Iditarod. The decision had just come down from the Iditarod that Brooks would be banned from the race for 2 years, and following that would have a 3 year probation. As a fan of the sport, I felt the sentence was too light (still do), and for some reason when I met Mitch it was a burning question in my head that I had to ask. What did he think? I woke the bear with that question. Mitch has a way with words. Many find him standoffish with not a lot to say, but I think he just likes to choose his words carefully. One of the many things I admire about Mitch is how he presents himself, and how he speaks. I could listen to him talk shop for hours (which I've been chastised by his wife at different functions where the last thing she wants to hear is more dog talk).

Mitch let it be known than hitting/spanking/beating a dog was the most asinine way to try to get a dog to run. Key word is "try". You cannot beat a dog to run. That was a point he stated repeatedly in his - what felt like eternal - rant. Nothing good comes from losing your temper and taking it out on your team. The dogs' first instinct is to curl up and protect itself by shutting down and hoping it stops. They do  not understand what they are doing "wrong". Sled dogs are out there to have fun. Period. If it isn't fun, they stop. It is a delicate balance of how much you can push and for how long before they pull a Forrest Gump, stop, turn around and say, "I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now" in the middle of no where. It's a mantra that Mitch has held on to I'm sure his entire racing career.

It's why his kids and fans sometimes get frustrated with him because he typically plays it a little "too safe" and holds his dogs back and makes the push too late. You don't want the race to ever become a chore for the dogs. When it does, it's not pretty. Most mushers eventually take it in stride and hang their head low knowing they - not the dogs - did something wrong. They forgot for a second about the dogs need to have fun, and they focused on the placement. Or they were just having so much fun themselves going at a nice clip that they didn't see the subtle warning signs.

Please note: this is what I took away from Mitch's statements over the years, I in no way speak for him.

You can see how my first year working for Dallas & Mitch shaped my outlook on the sport. The Seaveys have been a part of the Iditarod since the beginning. Since before the beginning. Dan Seavey (possibly one of the greatest human beings to ever breathe air) was one of the friends helping Joe Redington get his crazy idea of a race started. He's raced it. He's defended it. He's watched a son and a grandson both win it. Iditarod's a big deal in their family. Their involvement is due to Dan following a childhood dream to Alaska and staying here to see it through.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hit and Run collision injures dog from Wade Marrs' kennel

Wade Marrs reported today that
one of his dogs was injured during
last night's training run.
"Last night around 8pm, we received the nightmare phone call…" Wade Marrs' post on facebook today begins. Only, this isn't a classic Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy is sitting on his dog house typing "it was a dark and stormy night." No, this is every musher and every dog lover's nightmare. On a training run around 8pm last night, Andrew Nolan - an Iditarod Rookie next year who is running dogs from Wade's kennel - called to report that the team had been hit by a car. The car's driver, reportedly, sped off after tagging the team's lead dogs. 

Thankfully, Nolan and most of the team were unhurt, but lead dog Sockeye wasn't so lucky. Marrs reports the dog has a serious break in her leg which will require expensive surgery. "Xrays determined an oblique displaced fracture, which is good news because it’s a great candidate for successful surgical repair with a plate and pin... It will put her out for the rest of the season, but pending a successful healing she will return to run next year."

This is an increasingly common danger of training teams. With population growth, teams are forced more and more to encounter busy roadways. Last year, Quest Champion and Iditarod Veteran Sebastian Schnuelle's team was hit crossing at a designated sled dog crossing. Two five-year-old dogs were killed, others injured, and Schnuelle's return to the Iditarod ended as he did not have enough conditioned dogs to race. Three years ago, Karin Hendrickson and her team were hit when a car slid off of the Parks Highway and landed on her team. Hendrickson's back was broken, and some of her team were injured, but no loss of life happened though seemingly by miracle. Hendrickson could not run the Iditarod that year, but had a friend and fellow musher Bryan Bears run her team for her (he would end up scratching during the race). 

In both cases, the drivers stayed at the scene, and were understandably shaken and remorseful. Last night's accident, however, appears to be a hit-and-run. Nolan reported to Wade Marrs that the car kept going after hitting the lead dogs. The dogs were illuminated by the lights from the atv, which Nolan reportedly flashed multiple times to warn the driver of the dogs in the road. There is no excuse to EVER leave the scene of ANY accident, especially when a life is involved (2-legged or 4-legged).

Stump Jumpin' Kennel - Wade Marrs' Kennel Name - has set up several ways to help with surgical expenses for lead dog Sockeye.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dates & Links to major Alaskan Races

I've had this info on the blog for a while on the sidebar, but figured it wouldn't be bad to have a post that folks can link to if they desired.

If I've missed one please let me know. Tolovana and Gin-Gin (which I wouldn't link Gin-Gin after its directors pulled the crap they have anyway) are not running this year, but I believe I have all other major races. Even though Willow 300 is not considered an official qualifier for Iditarod or Quest, they are in the process of becoming one so for now it's on the list.

Knik 200
January 6, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Copper Basin 300
January 13, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Kuskokwim 300
January 19, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Northern Lights 300
January 26, 2018
Website / Facebook

Tustumena 200
January 27, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Willow 300
February 1, 2018

Yukon Quest
February 3, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Yukon 300
February 3, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Iditarod 46
March 3, 2018
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Kobuk 440
April 12, 2018
Website / Facebook

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Jen Seavey Statement/Update

I'm at work, so I cannot blog my thoughts at the moment, but I wanted to share this here, now, while it's still "hot".

I have known the Seavey family for over ten years. I know them to be honest, dedicated, caring people - all of them. I know I can sometimes say some things tongue in cheek about Dallas, but that's just because I had some of the best times working for him and for Jen, and that grew into a friendship. That they're having to defend themselves from PETA and other ridiculous "animal rights" groups (read homegrown terrorists) but now from wild and unfounded accusations by two humans I barely feel should be classified as people... it just makes me want to scream. They don't deserve this.