Sunday, September 17, 2023

Petit 'has a question' for the Willow 300 board, others speak

Nicolas Petit at the Iditarod Picnic.
Iditarod Headquarters. Wasilla, AK. 2023
Things are still very muddled after news broke this weekend that the Willow 300 had several board members announce they were leaving the board effective immediately due to the race "not going in the direction that aligns with our moral and values". As the comments poured in it became clear that the somewhat vague announcement was going to need more explaining. Mushers began asking questions, the board members who once were willing to let all questions flow through just one of them spoke up.

While those not in the know wanted to know more, it wasn't until Nicolas Petit asked questions publicly that they were answered publicly. Those that wrote to the resigned board members earlier in the weekend were essentially told that it had to do with "transparency". Some worried that the values and moral concerns had something to do with dog care, but when Nicolas Petit - the 2023 Willow 300 champion - entered the conversation it was made a tad more clear.

"Ok so Here’s my question…" Nic's post began. "For months now I’ve been trying to have the race reissue my check for this year’s first place prize." Petit's post noted that he had been irresponsible and misplaced the check for his winnings from this year's race. He gave a quick explanation of how he contacted race organizers asking for them to reissue. "At the time I was told “no problem but we on vacation so we’ll send it out when we get home”. I don’t want to nag people so I let time go by as I checked my mail box occasionally."

Nic does not give an exact timeline on how long he waited, however the Willow 300 runs in January, and we're now in Mid September. Petit reported that he did try contacting organizers again via facebook messenger and he was told that he would not be able to get his check until November because "they" were once again out of town. 

No one has named who is still in charge of the race. The website has not been updated with a revised list of Board of Directors. Of the website's list, if it is accurate, four out of the eight members are no longer members - if it's accurate as to who holds what title. 

Resigned member Juliah DeLoach responded to comments accusing those that resigned as being full of ego. "I just came on board in spring then we didn’t have meetings that I was aware of for a few months," DeLoach shared. "The bylaws were requested at the August meeting. It took until last week to get those from the directors. No one on the board knew the situation we were in when we attended the spring meeting and accepted nomination."

That new board members were not provided with bylaws, policies, and expectations at their initial join meeting is a tad odd for non-profits. Most organization give out some sort of "welcome packet" with all the necessary information and paperwork. Still, this is mushing, and in a sport where the champions misplace their winning checks, it should come as no surprise that things aren't done "normally". However, that several board members noted and commented on these issues and were essentially ignored as DeLoach's comments would suggest, is not a good sign.

Casey Randall who resigned as vice president earlier this year for similar reasons also took to the comments to explain frustrations. " There are a lot of great people, including all of the people who resigned tonight, who wanted to make this race awesome. If this is what is needed to make a better future race, then let’s work toward the future!" Randall has now turned her attention to the Willow Jr 100, which is a race separate from the 300/150 races with its own board and trail.

Randall, DeLoach, and others all brought up the fact that "transparency is key" to a successful board. At the core, that seems to be what the resignation is about - these members do not believe that those in charge are being forthcoming with the goings on of the race and its organization.

DeLoach responded to Nic saying that the board members who resigned want to see him paid and paid in a timely manner. Mushers who reached out to Karin Hendrickson in the hours after the original announcement (to which Karin posted all questions needed to come to her) reported that all they were told was that there was concern about transparency and to not plan on running a Willow 300/150 this year.

For Petit, he didn't want to see his questions used to further divide an already divided race. " I’d like to know what I’m supposed to do about this without causing any more trouble to the race. Thank you," the musher wrote, then continued "Also Thank you to all who have made this race great".

Ship Creek Lodge remained silent this weekend on the goings on with the race, but by all reports is still unwilling to be the meeting place or finish line for the 2024 race.

Juliah DeLoach added one final comment to those coming down harshly on the news. "Someone else stated that by so many resigning it makes dog mushing and racing look bad. We are trying to represent our sport by being good role models," she wrote. "We had no other course of action available."

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Willow 300 board of directors implodes

The headline may be a bit of hyperbole, but the fact is that as of tonight - September 13, 2023 - there has been a massive upheaval with the board of directors of the Willow 300 sled dog race. Several members of the board and volunteer staff posted on the race's Facebook Page announcing their departure, as well as the departure of main sponsor and race host Sheep Creek Lodge. The announcement created a slurry of comments by fans and mushers, many of whom seemed to be taken completely off guard by the announcement.

"The current board of the Willow 300 Sled Dog Race 2023 is not going in the direction that aligns with our moral and values," the Facebook announcement stated. "Therefore Secretary Karin Hendrickson, Member at Large Melinda Crawford, Sponsorship and Volunteer Coordinator Catrina Mathis, membership Coordinator Marianne Schoppmeyer, and Member at Large Julia DeLoach all resign. Sheep Creek Lodge also withdraws all support as race headquarters and finish."

Karin Hendrickson, retired Iditarod musher and (now) former board secretary quickly took to her personal Facebook page to share the race's post stating that if any mushers had questions they could message her. Several mushers commented on the posts with concern and sadness as the Willow 300 in a well loved race by many in the sport.

Known for its well marked trails and strong purse. The Willow 300 came about in 2016 to fill the void left by several long time mid-distance races ending. The Willow 300 managed to run even in poor snow years that saw other races in its general area cancel or move. Sheep Creek Lodge provided logistics for the race as well as a finish line and housing for handlers. Now all of that seems to be over in less than ten years, and it's left fans and participants wondering why.

This is a developing story.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Picnic Photo Highlights

I apologize for the lateness of the photos. I was hoping to upload them to a facebook album and share them that way, however their latest greatest changes have made it impossible for me to upload anything! Computer is a total 0 after many tries over the last month and I have to fight often for hours just to post a photo from the cell phone. So for now we'll have the highlights on the blog and then eventually I'll make an album in my professional portfolio.

Rookie Lauro Eklund signs up for his first Iditarod and is all smiles.

Hunter Keefe and Isaac Redington keep tabs on the registration
lists for both the Iditarod and Jr. Iditarod.

Rookie Isaac Teaford sits down to register. He will drive a team
from Dallas Seavey racing kennel, but won't be alone in that...

Yes, that's Dallas Seavey getting a hug from daughter Annie as he
signs up to run Iditarod 52!

More under the break. :) 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Twenty six teams sign up opening day for Iditarod 52

Mushers, Volunteers, and fans came together Saturday for the annual Iditarod Picnic and Musher Sign Ups. Musher registration opened at 9:30am and it wasn't too long before social media was abuzz as the first names popped up online. By the end of the day, 21 mushers would sign up in person with 5 sending theirs online. 

Alaska has been under some very wet weather since at least April (and if you count all the snow accumulated all winter and how 2022's summer ended we can safely say it's been nearly a year of WET), but the sun broke through the clouds with only a light breeze. While the gathering still felt small, it was the general consensus that the overall look and feel of the picnic this year was far more positive. As names were added to the list under the registration tent excitement grew. As always, mushers hovered near to get a glimpse at how many were on the roster in direct competition for winning back their entry fee. 

By noon there were ten names signed up in person and three online. Last year fourteen signed up in person with eight choosing to send in their application electronically. Last year there were no Iditarod champions on site at HQ during the picnic, this year there were three. The atmosphere felt different, nearly normal. Aside from a still smallish crowd, and the fact that the teacher's conference was being held in the lower 48 this year, the picnic felt very similar to those from the last 50 years.

Riley Dyche was first in person to sign up - not surprising as he is running tours at HQ this year and was hard at work throughout the entire picnic giving rides to guests at $10 a pop. Rookie of the Year for 2023 Eddie Burke was next, with several rookies behind him. Fan favorite Hunter Keefe is once again running dogs out of Ramie Redington's kennel. Dallas Seavey Racing was on hand at the picnic as rookie Isaac Teaford signed up for his first Iditarod followed by the Five-Time Iditarod champion.

That's right, Dallas's "taking time off until my kid doesn't think I'm cool" plan is over... his daughter turns 13 in another month and hinted that she's ready for dad to get back to racing. Still, it was surprising when he took a seat at the table and handed over his already filled out paperwork and credit card over to the crew.

Brent Sass made the drive down to throw his hat in the ring. The 2022 Iditarod Champion chose last summer to register from "somewhere on a beach", but this year he decided to do so in person. As his "Wild and Free" truck pulled into the parking lot the tables were buzzing in anticipation. 

Also buzzing was Barbara Redington who kept tabs on the Junior Iditarod sign ups (her grandchildren both signed up at the picnic, racing each other to see who would get that number one slot... Ellen won) as well as trying to find out where her son - reigning champion Ryan Redington - was. Dressed in a button up shirt (with sponsor logo Inukshuk Dog Food), Ryan finally made his way into the picnic to sign up. Ryan was all smiles as he was greeted and congratulated by friends and fellow mushers.

Jessie Royer made her way back to Iditarod last year after the pandemic kept her away due to border issues, but this year she was able to once again attend the picnic. She reported that she was very sore as she had an accident with her horse and was pretty bruised up. She was all stories and smiles at the picnic, though, and if she didn't tell you about the accident you wouldn't know.

Seeing Double Racing Kennel were all present for the picnic, but only Anna Berington signed up to run Iditarod 52. Anna was overheard saying how she and Kristy plan to split the races this year due to the make up of the kennel this year.

Registration in person closed at 2:30pm with the drawing for which two mushers would win back their entry fee being held at 3pm... at about 2:58pm Nicolas Petit arrived to sign up. Petit was giving tours and hoping to have a sponsor to be able to make the entry fee - it took a little longer than he thought but he made it and after a quick talk with officials he was allowed to make the roster before they announced the winners of the raffle.

Rookie Joshua Robbins won the dog food ladle and dog dishes, Dallas Seavey won 500 dog booties.
And then what the mushers were all waiting for, the entry fees, were decided - Eddie Burke Jr. and Brent Sass were able to get their refunds same day this year. Brent was overheard saying that it was worth the drive!

Mushers caught up with each other, as they also celebrated the number of dogs going back to 16 (Jessie Holmes responded with "as it should be!"). CEO Rob Urbach made his rounds chatting with most of the mushers. At the end of the picnic he announced that there was a Musher Incentive program they would have this year where each musher would be getting their own link to share to sell Insider subscriptions and other Iditarod merchandise with a percentage to be shared with the musher.

21 mushers signed up in person, 5 online. Of those signed up officially on the first day, 8 are rookies. There is known to be at least one more musher who has sent in their application, so expect the list to grow in the next few days as rumor is there are several that didn't make the official list today (applications in the mail/sent in after closing of registration today).

Riley Dyche
Eddie Burke, Jr.
Josi Thyr (R)
Connor McMahon (R)
Jason Mackey
Jeff Deeter
Hunter Keefe
Lauro Eklund (R)
Isaac Teaford (R)
Dallas Seavey*
Jessie Royer
Jessica Klejka
Brent Sass*
Gabe Dunham (R)
Mille Porsild
Joshua Robbins (R)
Anna Berington
Jessie Holmes
Ryan Redington*
Travis Beals
Mats Pettersson
Rob Cooke
Bryce Mumford (R)
Erin Altemus (R)
Matt Hall
Nicolas Petit
* Notes past Champion
(R) Notes Rookie status

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Iditarod Picnic and sign ups set for Saturday

Jessie Holmes and Dan Kaduce chat at the 2022
Iditarod Picnic & Sign Ups. Iditarod HQ.
June 25, 2022
Happy Summer Solstice, IditaFans! We're nearing the end of June and with that comes the final Saturday of the month being the kick off for the next Iditarod. No, teams are not running any time soon to Nome, but they are dreaming big as the official opening of registration for next year's race opens Saturday morning at 9:30am Alaska time.

The Picnic is a thank you to the countless hours put in to make the race successful each year by the numerous volunteers throughout the State of Alaska. Located in Wasilla at the Iditarod Headquarters, it is an informal but festive get together for mushers, volunteers, and fans to chat with one another in the relaxed Alaskan setting.

Though the picnic is about the volunteers and feeds over one hundred people each summer, there's some very serious stuff going on as this is also when mushers show up to through their hat in the ring for the next Iditarod. Mushers that sign up in person and stay through the whole picnic are eligible to win their entry fee back as well as possible other door prizes (typically dog food and other items for mushing purposes). 

The Iditarod Headquarters is a popular tourist destination throughout the summer, with tour buses coming in regularly to stop and drop off vacationers wanting to learn about the last great race. This does not take a holiday on picnic day, so adding them into the mix makes for a very busy and bustling day for those working the gift shop inside HQ. 

Most years there are also dog cart rides run by an Iditarod kennel. These happen the entirety of summer and, like everything else, do not stop just because the picnic is happening. For years the Redingtons (most recently Raymie and Barb) conducted the tours, but after "retiring" from the gig in 2021, it's now Riley Dyche's party this summer. Not only do visitors get to take a ride, they also get to meet the dogs and often get to snuggle puppies. What's not to love, right?

Attendees can also expect to see a few "old timers" from the early days of Iditarod. Often you'll see Dick Mackey and Dan Seavey attend to swap essentially the same stories about those first few years of Iditarod. Both have seen their mushing legacy continue in their children and grandchildren and both can boast of their accomplishments (Dan is father to Iditarod Champ Mitch Seavey and grandfather to Iditarod Champion record holder Dallas Seavey, Dick Mackey is father to Iditarod Champions Rick Mackey and the legendary Lance Mackey). There are always several Redingtons on hand and we often see fan favorite DeeDee Jonrowe stop by to check in.

The great thing about the picnic is everyone is laid back and you can easily snag a relaxed photo with your favorite musher and get autographs. There are door prizes for volunteers attending, some old Iditarod memorabilia and some are door prizes donated by the kennels. No matter the weather people are in a good mood and everyone is eager to see who puts their name on the list.

If you're local, stop by. Even if you aren't a volunteer it's a nice way to learn a little bit about the race and maybe catch the volunteer bug. If you're visiting Alaska and are traveling through Wasilla be sure to make a stop at the Iditarod Headquarters. Even if you miss out on the picnic, there's still a good chance you'll run into a musher or two any day of the week (anyone bitten by the Iditarod bug can't seem to stay away). If nothing else you can get you some IditaSwag and maybe snuggle a puppy (but man they will frisk you before you leave if they think you tried sneaking a puppy in your pocket).

The one thing EVERYONE will be wondering throughout Saturday is who and how many will sign up for Iditarod 52. While registration is open through November, the biggest surge is always opening day. Who do you hope will sign up, or who do you expect to sign up? How many teams do you think will sign up opening day? Comment below with your thoughts or if you're planning to attend the picnic! (and if you see me I'm shy but please don't hesitate to come up and say hi. I just don't initiate conversation, but I don't mind holding conversation!)

As always, if you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Monday, June 19, 2023

Iditarod raises purse ahead of 2024 race

After six years of no purse raises that saw inflation play a pivotal role in the shrinking numbers on the roster, the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) announced Saturday that they had raised the overall purse for the 2024 race.

With just a week away from the opening of registration for the 2024 Iditarod, it's quite obvious that the ITC hopes that this will boost opening day sign ups. Last year's race saw the smallest roster in race history with just 32 taking off for Nome, and only 21 signing up at the picnic. One of the top reasons given by teams as to why they didn't sign up was because the financial strain training and entering the race is on most kennels. 

The ITC announced an additional $50,000 to the TOTAL purse to include the "special awards" (like Humanitarian, First to the Coast, Most Inspirational, etc.) They have not given a breakdown as of yet how the purse will pay out but announced the purse for 2024 will be $574,000. If they hold to the traditional purse break down, the majority will go to the top 20 finishers before giving the rest of the field $1049. 

The Iditarod stated:

"This increase was a result of a commitment and subsequent fundraising effort by the Iditarod Board of Directors. “Given that the pandemic and inflation disproportionately impacted our mushing community we feel it is very important to increase the prize purse at this time. We realize more is needed to further defray the increasing costs of maintaining an Iditarod kennel, but this is the start of what we hope will be our ability to further increase the purse,” said Mike Mills, President of the Iditarod Board of Directors."

The release also promised more announcements on fundraising initiatives to support the Last Great Race coming soon. 

Sign ups for the 2024 Iditarod open on Saturday, June 24, 2023 at 9:30am (Alaska Time). Mushers may sign up in person or online. At this time (Monday, June 19) the Iditarod's link to the "2024 Information for Mushers" link does not work, so it will be interesting to see when that goes live to see rules/entry fees/etc.

What do you think of this announcement? Do you think this will be enough to see a surge of sign ups this year? Any guess as to how many sign up Saturday? Comment below with your thoughts!

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Friday, June 9, 2023

2023-24 Race Schedule

KattiJo Deeter and team at the restart of Iditarod 51.

Race List

Alpine Creek Excursion Sled Dog Race
December 9, 2023

Knik 200*
January 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

MUSH Synnfjell
January 7, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race
January 2024
Website / Facebook

Gunflint Mail Run
January 6, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Copper Basin 300*
January 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race*
January 20, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Willow 300*
January 25, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Warm Lake Stage Race
January 24, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Kuskokwim 300*
January 26, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Pedigree Stage Stop Race
January 26, 2024
Website / Facebook

Idaho Sled Dog Challenge*
January 28, 2024
Website / Facebook 

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon*
January 28, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

February 7, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Caledonia Classic
February 2, 2024
Website / Facebook

Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby
February 2, 2024
Website / Facebook

Yukon Quest Alaska*
February 3, 2024 
Website / Facebook 

Willow Jr. 100
February 9, 2024
Website / Facebook

Race to the Sky*
February 9, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Wilderness Sled Dog Race
February 10, 2024
Website / Facebook

Yukon Quest Canada*
February 17, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Goose Bay 150*
February 2024

Bergebyløpet N70
February 9, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Amundsen Race*
February 22, 2024
Website / Facebook 

February 2024
Website / Facebook 

Northern Pines Sled Dog Race
February 17, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Canadian Challenge*
February 19, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race
February 25, 2024
Website / Facebook

Junior Iditarod
February 24, 2024
Website / Facebook

CopperDog 150
March 2, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Iditarod 52*
March 3, 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Can-Am Crown International*
March 2, 2024
Website / Facebook 

March 8, 2024
Website / Facebook 

Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Run*
March 2024
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Taaqpak 120
March 2024
Website / Facebook

La Chic-chocs
March 2024

Hudson Bay Quest
April 6, 2024
Website / Facebook

Nome to Council 200*

Kobuk 440*
April 2024
Website / Facebook

Junior Kobuk 440
April 2024
Website / Facebook

*Iditarod/Yukon Quest Qualifying Race

Do you like having an easy to find list like this and want to see them continue? This blog has always been a hobby and will continue to be - and this list is more for myself than anything - if you can spare a few dollars to help keep this blog running I would greatly appreciate it. Please do not feel obligated, but know that all support (in every form, not just financial) is greatly appreciated! Click here to "buy me a coffee".

Thursday, April 20, 2023

No 1000 mile race for the Quest in 2024

 The boards of both the Yukon Quest Alaska and Yukon Quest Canada released a joint statement Wednesday saying they will not come together to host the thousand mile race across the Yukon Territories of Alaska and Canada. After dealing with the borders closing during the Covid-19 Pandemic, and then a major shake up within the organization that saw the two boards split and go their separate ways, fans were not completely shocked at the announcement this week.

Depending on which side you talk to the split is basically blamed on failure to compromise. One side wants to revamp how the race is run, the other wants to share the financial strain. If you listen to the talk by mushers, former members, and longtime fans - it's a little more ego at fault than anything else. Either way, Mom and Dad are still separated and they aren't sharing custody of the kids, it's a Parent Trap situation.

The statement reads:

"The Yukon Quest Alaska and Yukon Quest Canada boards held a joint board meeting on April 18th, 2023. The boards discussed moving forward with separate races for 2024 while also coming together to support the spirit of the race and celebrate the history of the 1,000-mile race.

The boards want to let Quest fans around the world know they can look forward to world class distance races in 2024 in both Canada & Alaska. Even though the 1,000-mile traditional Yukon Quest is still on hold, the boards will continue to explore ways to once again bring it to life for mushers and fans alike.

More details on race distances and trails coming soon."

Fans were excited to see the two entities had, at least, come together to discuss the possibility of returning to the historical 1000 mile race across Alaska and Canada. However, like last year, they concluded to keep with two separate races for next season. No information was given for what those races would like like or what distances would be run. Alaska ran a somewhat larger roster (not by much for their longest distance), did not have the online and media infrastructure of Canada, and had an iffy decision by the race marshal choosing to withdraw a team they felt was no longer competitive (which the board reversed after the race concluded). Canada had much smaller rosters, had the better social media and website, and had no questionable calls by officials. 

Overall both boards ran successful, very exciting races, and it gave many hope for a reconciliation in the future. However, it could also be argued that because both entities were successful they no longer feel the need to work with the other. All of this, of course, is conjecture and speculation. Many commented on the statement on social media last night still very positive for 2025 and beyond, so it's still a wait and see if we will ever see the Yukon Quest in its former glory.

The 1,000 mile race was last run in 2020.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Jessie Holmes wins the 2023 Kobuk 440

Jessie Holmes and team at the restart of Iditarod 51.
March 5, 2023. Willow, Alaska.
Jessie Holmes finished the Kobuk 440 at 8:38am Sunday morning, two hours ahead of the next team making him this year's champion. The musher from Interior Alaska started fast and stayed close to the front throughout the race. The team came into the finish line in Kotzebue in a strong trot with tails wagging as they came to a stop. Weather reports from boots on the ground claimed the team finished with windchill bringing the temps down to -45F! The frosty musher pulled snacks out of his iced up sled bag and quickly fed the dogs before signing off the trail. With very little fanfare the team turned around and ran back down the trail about 100 yards to their host home.

Second place may have been a little more exciting as Richie Diehl and team raced most of Saturday taking down the teams in front of him. Diehl ran down Hugh Neff to gain third place last night, and in the wee hours of the morning overtook Michelle Phillips. The musher from Aniak closes strong in the Kobuk often and is making it a habit to come in second in a highly competitive field. Back home, Richie's young son kept up with the race and his mom shared the most adorable pic of the babe during tummy time following the tracker on facebook

Diehl came in at 11:33 Sunday morning, just over an hour ahead of third place Michelle Phillips. Hugh Neff came in at 12:54pm with rookie Bailey Vitello rounding out the top five. Jeff Deeter has also finished. There are six teams still on the trail, with two currently on their way into the finish. The back of the pack are all in he final checkpoint of Selawik. Windchill is still keeping temps at very cold levels, and the other race happening this weekend (The Arctic Championship Series) had their third and final leg canceled today due to the winds (sprint races need warmer temps). Lots of frosty pictures of race judges all over social media today.

Typically the Kobuk is plagued by storms, so this year's cold temps and wind are a nice reprieve from the ground storms that seemingly come out of nowhere. With the negative temps along the way, the trail set up nicely for a fast race. The final six will continue to run throughout the night and the race should wrap up nicely early Monday - well ahead of the musher banquet Monday night.

Who do you have coming in as the red lantern? Did you pick this year's winner? Comment with your thoughts about the race below! 

Thursday, April 6, 2023