Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sass battles extreme temperatures to win Copper Basin 300

Brent Sass and Lead Dogs at the finish of the
2022 Copper Basin 300. January 10, 2022
Screencapture from feed by Kale Casey Live.
42 teams originally signed up for the 2022 Copper Basin 300, by race week the roster dwindled to 25, by bib draw 21 teams made up the official roster. The weather played a huge factor into the roster changes. Many teams withdrew after a very difficult december full of storms dumping feet of snow - kennels spent all their time digging out, and unable to train properly. Other's withdrew once the forecast came out that the Copper Basin was looking at temps between -40F and -50F. 

The cold did not disappoint - mushers woke up to at least -40F on race day. Two teams ended up withdrawing just hours before the start due to trucks that seized up and refused to start in the extreme cold. Four-time and reigning Copper Basin Champion Nicolas Petit was the first to announce withdrawal because of a frozen dog truck. Rob Cooke's announcement would soon follow.

With the reigning champ out of the way, the race was wide open for another team to take the spot. Most believed Brent Sass to be the favorite. Living off grid in the interior, Brent's team was most capable to handle the weather being thrown at them. Jessie Holmes was another favorite for similar reasons, but the reality tv turned competitive musher ended up scratching midway through the race. Matt Hall, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, and Paige Drobny would prove they weren't willing to just hand Sass the win. The four teams led the race and came in with strong, happy dogs. 

Each team went into the Copper Basin hoping for a solid training run, every musher - scratched or finished - have said that while the cold was at time brutal they couldn't be more proud of their dogs. The Red Lantern went to the Shaytaan Siberian B-Team. While Rob Cooke was sidelined with truck problems, he got his second string to the start and allowed musher Giordano Tarara to continue with his first Copper Basin 300. Tarara did very well, even after having to drop several veteran dogs. He ran much of the race with more dogs running their first 300 mile race than he had veterans. Tarara wrote on his facebook page: "this race has taught me some things:
- That being able to take a shower again whenever you want is really beautiful
- That in a race the miles are fucking longer than the kilometers
- That if you have the strength to not give up, the results always come."

The Copper Basin proved itself to once again be the toughest 300 miles in Alaska. Congratulations to all of the teams who accomplished whatever it was they set out to do. On to the next race!

Friday, January 7, 2022

2022 Copper Basin 300 Race Preview

The Copper Basin 300 is set to head out at 10am on Saturday and forecast predicts another COLD one (at last glance it should be around -40F at the start) and it could be another breezy race (though hopefully nothing like last weekend). Still the roster boasts a competitive field as well as some rookies working to qualify for their Iditarod and Quest runs.

While the roster is a little on the small side (for CB300) there are still 25+ teams set to run - though final count won't be official until the bib draw Friday night. Teams have posted to their social media pages that they were making their way to Glenallen. 

Let's take a look at the top teams that should challenge for first.

Brent Sass - The three-time Yukon Quest Champion has proven to once again be one of the top mushers in any field. Sass has shared a lot during the training season of just the daily trials and struggles of running a champion level kennel. He's shared video of the slow going of putting in a trail, to breaking trail, and losing a snow machine (for you outsiders you call it a snowmobile) to overflow. Sass lives off grid in the interior of Alaska and should be well suited for the crazy cold temps the racers will face this weekend.

Jeff Deeter - Deeter was scheduled to run in the Knik 200 last weekend, however the severe snow storms that the Interior of Alaska has faced most of the winter set back his training. He posted earlier this week that he is bringing his core group of Iditarod dogs to this race but is looking for this to be more of a training run. He DID use a "however" throwing in the possibility that should his team look strong, he'll challenge for the top spot.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom - The 2018 Iditarod Champion and new dad is starting his season in the "toughest 300 miles" race. Joar is not good at sharing what his plans are for any given race, but it'd be easy to guess that he will be working hard for a top finish. He did come in second last season.

Matt Hall - Matt posted that he was on the fence for several days if he was going to come down to the race or not. The -40 temps had him second guessing his choices, but he is headed for the race today. Look for Matt to put up a strong race.

Nicolas Petit - The four-time and reigning Copper Basin Champion looks to keep the streak alive and snag a fifth title this weekend. Petit won the Knik 200 last weekend with seemingly little problem with the wind and overflow, so look for him to once again take the lead early and hold on to it. He is, in my mind, the king of the mid-distance races.

Travis Beals - Travis came in second at this year's Knik 200 race, and won the humanitarian award for best dog care. Beals has been climbing steadily as one of the foremost mushers in this sport, and his season has started off incredibly strong. He'll no doubt want to keep the momentum going for this race.

How to Follow
While covid is still a concern, last year proved that - for the most part - mushing races are relatively safe for all participants and so rules are a little more lax. It also helps that most mushers and volunteers are vaxxed as it's a requirement for the Iditarod and everyone must be vaxxed well in advance of that race. 

GPS Tracker
As fans have come expect, there is once again a GPS tracker to follow your favorite teams! Many thanks to TrackLeaders for providing the technology needed to make this possible. You can find the link to track the 2022 race here.

Radio Broadcast
KCAM Radio will broadcast the start beginning with musher interviews at 9:30am. If you're in the area you can listen to the broadcast on AM 790, or online through this link.

Social Media
Updates will most likely be posted on the race's facebook page, and possibly their twitter account. They do plan to have a live feed that you can stream from their facebook page or their website, however they noted in a post today that with the forecasted weather they cannot promise the feed won't die. They will also livefeed or record the first five finishes of the race. If you are tweeting, instagramming, etc. the traditional hashtag is #CB300.

KCAM normally posts updates throughout the weekend on the race on facebook as well. 

Schedule of Events

Friday, January 7
9am-4pm Registration
10am-4pm Vet Checks
6pm Handler & Musher Meetings, Meet and Greet, and Bib Draw

Saturday, January 8
10am - Race Start

Will you be watching? Who are you hoping takes the win? Comment below with your thoughts!

Like what you see and want to help offset costs to keep this blog running? You can send me a slice of pizza (that is code for "pay for internet and server fees"). 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

2022 Copper Basin 300 Musher Roster

Once again, I've compiled the list of links for each musher currently set to run this weekend's race. If I have missed any links, or if the roster changes between now and Saturday let me know and we'll get it fixed. Once the Bib numbers are drawn I'll edit the list to reflect everyone's starting order. The musher list is taken directly from the race's website. Here's hoping this race is a little less windy. It'll no doubt be cold enough without the added windchill.

Comment below with any thoughts about the roster, or any corrections. 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).

Brent Sass - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Dane Baker - Website / Facebook / Kennel Facebook / Instagram
Dylan Robins - Facebook / Instagram
Elliot Hubbard - Website / Facebook / Kennel Facebook / Instagram
Giordano Tarara - Facebook
Jacob Witkop - Facebook 
Jeffrey Deeter - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Jesse Salyer - Facebook / Instagram
Jessie Holmes - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Joar Leifseth Ulsom - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Joe Taylor - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Lauro Eklund - Website / Facebook / Facebook 2 / Instagram / Instagram 2
Lindsay Llanes -  Facebook / Instagram
Martin Buser - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Matt Hall - Website / Facebook / Instagram 
Matt Paveglio - Facebook / Instagram
Michael Baker - Facebook / Instagram
Misha Wiljes - Website / Facebook
Nicolas Petit - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Paige Drobny - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Robert Cooke - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Shaynee Traska - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Tekla Butcher-Monson - Website / Facebook / Instagram

Musher roster as of January 8, 2022 at 9:44am (Alaska).

Friday, December 31, 2021

2022 Knik 200 Race Preview

Happy New Year, race fans! 2022 is just a day away and with that comes the first "major" race of the season! In an almost Christmas Miracle like fashion, the Knik 200 is set to run for the first time in several years. Plagued with both bad weather making trails impossible and then of course pandemics, the Knik 200 was all but considered a dead race. Last year the board disbanded and handed over control to the race's future to the Knik Trail Blazers who were not ready to give up on the sled dog race meant to tribute the Father of the Iditarod. Everyone held their breath throughout December as temps dipped low and snow accumulated (what a roller coaster of temps). Then over Christmas Chinook Winds came in and melted quite a bit of snow, but it wasn't enough to derail the rejuvenated season opener. 

The roster at one point was over 20 teams for the 200 (the 100 also has a healthy roster with well known names), however storms and other issues saw several names withdraw late - but completely understandable. Still, 18 teams plan to hit the trails tomorrow. So let's look at some of the key players in this weekend's race.

Who to Watch

Aaron Burmeister - the runner up in the 2021 Iditarod, Burmeister has announced this is his final competitive season (at least where Iditarod is concerned). Family has always been Aaron's main focus and as his kids get older he wants to be present for all of their accomplishments. Stand up guy, and a great dog man. Burmeister ended his Iditarod run heated and wanting to do more. I expect Aaron to have a solid race season, with the main focus finally bringing that Iditarod win home to Nome. All races/runs will be with that focus in mind (I'm totally guessing as I don't know what his plans really are). 

Dave Turner - Dave has become a name to watch in mid-distance races. His team is fast and he is a quick study. Expect him to make a run for the win here, and don't be surprised if he does. Turner was the final Tustumena 200 champion, but that was a few years ago now, but ever since that win I'm hard pressed to keep him off the "who to watch" lists. Turner has withdrawn from the race. 

Matt Failor - Failor is one of many of his generation of musher on the "upswing". The 2019 Kuskokwim Champion has really come into his own (he freaking ran the Iditarod while hobbling along on a bum hip! WHAT?!) and there's no sign that he is slowing down yet. Expect Matt to be right there in the mix for the win. 

Nicolas Petit - I keep crowning him the king of the mid-distance race, but it really is where Petit's team seems to thrive. I'm more apt to declare him the favorite to win a mid-distance than I am to declare him a shoo-in for a long distance championship. Expect Petit to take the lead early and do everything to keep it. But ALSO expect that he just is entering this for fun and will sit back. One can never be sure which Nic will show up.

Travis Beals - another "young" musher who makes a statement in most races. Beals is also focused on Iditarod and uses races to prepare for the big one. He could easily find himself in the top teams in this race as his team IS a top team.

**Hugh Neff - Neff proved himself last season after running the Summit Quest last year. Having fulfilled his requirements of reinstatement from the Yukon Quest after being suspended for having questionable dog care during the race several years ago, Neff has returned to regularly scheduled programming. I have him as an "honorable mention" because some personal life upheaval had Neff making the move from the interior to south central Alaska and he's now running dogs out of Jim Lanier's kennel. Hugh could be very competitive here, or he could be middle of the pack. Not knowing what the plan is, I didn't want to list him as a shoo-in for a top placement. 

How to Watch

With the restructuring, most of the info has been hard to find. It could be that come race day I'll be on the fly giving info, but here's what we know so far:

Official Website
The race does not have an official website, but they are active on Facebook. Expect most information and updates to be posted there, though it may take a while. 

GPS Tracker
The race WILL have trackers for both the 200 and 100 race, but the link has not been posted by trackleaders yet. You'll find the map with the trackers here.

Social Media
As I said above, they are active on Facebook. The race has not been active on Twitter in years. There's also no Instagram. However, with the Knik Trail Blazers being in charge they may also post to their Facebook. We'll see what we get. It's a reorganizing/rebuilding year, we'll take what we can get. 

Schedule of Events

Friday, December 31, 2021
3:00pm-5:00pm Musher's Dinner and Bib Draw

Saturday, January 1, 2022
8:00am Knik 200 Mandatory Vet Check
10:00am Knik 200 Start
12:00pm Knik 100 Mandatory Vet Check
2:00pm Knik 100 Start

Sunday, January 2, 2022
6:00pm Award Banquet

Which team do you think will win? Who are you cheering for? Comment below!

Edited 12/31/21 to note Dave Turner's withdrawal and adding the link to the trackers.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2022 Knik 200 Musher Roster

It's the final countdown! In just a few days time we will have the mushing season in full swing. While other races have taken place in this very snowy December in Alaska, the Knik 200 has always been the kick off to the "regular season". (Look at those beautiful football analogies applied to dog mushing.) Warm temps and increasingly late snows in the last decade have seen many a Knik 200 be canceled, but it looks like all systems are go for the 2022 race. Last year the race saw a major overhaul to the board and is now under the direction of the Knik Trail Blazers. The new board seems to have a lot of enthusiasm which has trickled down to the teams interested in running. The roster boasts a lot of familiar and top names in the Alaskan mushing community and should provide a very exciting opener for fans to follow along.

Musher Roster

1 Spirit of Joe Redington Sr.
2 Hugh Neff - Facebook / Instagram
3 Eddie Burke - Facebook / Instagram
4 Walter Robinson - Facebook 
5 Anna Berington - Website / Instagram
6 Travis Beals - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
7 Casey Randall - Website / Facebook / Twitter
8 Kristy Berington - Website / Instagram
9 Braxton Peterson - Website / Facebook / Instagram
10 Katie Timmons - Facebook 
11 Karin Hendrickson - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
12 Matt Failor - Website / Facebook / Instagram
13 Isaac Teaford - Facebook
14 Hunter Keefe - Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
15 Aaron Burmeister - Facebook
16 Nicolas Petit - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
17 Lev Shvarts - Website / Facebook 

Who are you cheering for? Comment below!

Edited 12/31/2021 to remove Jeff and KattiJo Deeter from the roster as they withdrew prior to the race.
Edited 12/31/2021 to remove Dave Turner and Dakota Schlosser & to organized based on bib draw.

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Sunday, November 7, 2021

Wade Marrs releases statement on Iditarod withdrawal

Former Iditarod Finishers president and mushing fan favorite, Wade Marrs' name moved to the withdrawn list last month creating quite the buzz among armchair mushers. Marrs took the time to respond in a statement released today stating that yes he has withdrawn from this historic race year due to the vaccination requirements of all participants. Instead of quoting bits and pieces, his whole statement is posted here: 

In a week in sports marred by athletes dancing around the issue with inelegant word game tactics, Marrs stands out among those that acknowledged their decision and accepted any heat they may receive. Wade received support from many in the mushing community, including some of the races in the lower 48 he plans to participate in this coming season. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Award winning author and Iditarod finisher passes

Photo from Gary Paulsen's
GoodReads bio.
The news of Gary Paulsen's passing earlier today was shared on social media via Publisher's Weekly and news quickly spread in both reading and mushing circles. The 82 year old author penned many books for young adult readers, three of which landing him a Newbery Award. Paulsen's work was based loosely on his childhood and young adult experiences of wilderness adventures, and sparked the imagination of many young readers.

Paulsen's most known work - most likely, anyway - is Hatchet, about a teen thrown into the wilds of Canada forced to survive for weeks before he finally finds rescue. The book would land on many required reading lists across school districts. The book was so popular, fans begged for sequels and so Paulsen returned to the story for several more books creating "Brian's Saga". 

Wilderness Survival tales weren't the only themes of Gary's books. The author also penned several novels for young readers - and a couple for adults - about his life as a dog musher. Paulsen began dabbling with sled dogs after beginning trapping and being intrigued by the (fairly new) sled dog race The Iditarod. Always up for a new adventure, Paulsen learned how to mush by trial and error. He entered the Iditarod in 1982 as a rookie, finishing in 43rd place. He would run again in 1985 but failed to complete the race. His third and final time running the Iditarod was 2006 (he did not finish that race either). 

He would write about his experience training the Iditarod in his semi-true book Winterdance: The Find Madness of Running the Iditarod (which is a must have for any Iditarod fan). The book follows his hijinks as he becomes a musher, as well as covers much of his rookie run on the Iditarod. The author would later admit that some of the stories he shared in the book were not his stories but ones he borrowed from others. It still makes for gripping and entertaining reading and inspires many a musher and fan. 

Winterdance was written with grown up readers in mind, so Paulsen would write a similar one for young readers and titled it Woodsong. He would also write a book entitled Dogsong about an Inuit boy and his journey into mushing to honor his history. Both books are often used by teachers using the Iditarod Education curriculum in their classrooms. 

"I had gotten lost, been run over by a moose, watched a dog get killed, seen a man cry, dragged over a third of the teams off on the wrong trail, and been absolutely hammered by beauty while all this was happening. (It was, I would find later, essentially a normal Iditarod day — perhaps a bit calmer than most.) I opened my mouth.

‘I …’

Nothing came. She patted my arm and nodded. ‘I understand. It’s so early in the race. There’ll be more later to talk about …’

And she left me before I could tell her that I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.

I had come just one hundred miles." -excerpt from Winterdance

Gary got out of dogs in the 90s to pursue another adventure in sailing, but soon returned to his true passion. He would write in his 2006 bio: "I never should have left dogs-all the time sailing the Pacific, not a day went by that I didn't miss dogs and the dance that running them is for me. I will not leave them again." Paulsen would sign up to run the race again in the twenty-teens, but would not make it to the starting line due to unforeseen circumstances. 

Paulsen's legacy will live on in the imaginations of readers all over the world, and he will keep inspiring. He was writing up until his death and should have at least one more work published early next year.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hobo Jim's wife shares final message from singer

As most have heard, Alaska's Balladeer Hobo Jim (James Varsos) passed away at home on Tuesday, October 5 with his wife Cyndi at his side. The singer-song writer was diagnosed with end stage, stage four pancreatic cancer a mere 17 days before his passing - a shock to all who knew him. While never one to spend a significant amount of time on social media, Hobo would post wonderful stories and throwbacks for friends and family to enjoy. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Varsos would often put up a live feed and do free concerts for viewers playing requests and his all-time favorites (he even did one specific for children and made Alaskan millennials happy by playing his songs from the books Thunderfeet and Danger the Dog Yard Cat). 

Sunday, Hobo Jim's widow went onto his page to post Hobo Jim's final work he had saved to his phone. "Upon going through Jim's phone," she writes, "I came across this final message Jim wrote to all of you in his own beautiful words. "Thank you for loving him and embracing his music and love of Alaska. There is no one like a Hobo Jim fan. Here is to all of you. May God Bless you all, Cyndi."

Not surprisingly, Hobo Jim's mind was tuned to Alaska and her spirit that constantly called to his. Varsos spent 49 years of his life in the 49th state, most of those literally singing her praises. His songs spoke to many Alaskans on their lifestyle and why they loved their homeland. His memory will live on through the ballads, polkas, and folk music dedicated to his adopted state. 

The GoFundMe account is still active to help support Jim's wife Cyndi through this time. Hobo Jim's facebook page (and fan group page) is still up and fan tributes continue to pour in. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mushing community mourns the loss of Alaskan Balladier

Photo courtesy of "Alaska Bob" Parsons.
James Varsos, better known as Hobo Jim, passed away after a short battle with pancreatic cancer on the morning of October 5. His wife of 42 years was by his side and confirmed the singer's passing in a statement to Alaskan media on Wednesday. Hobo Jim was 68 when he died.

Hobo - as he's lovingly called by friends and fans alike - moved to Alaska in 1972 and immediately fell in love. The singer-songwriter wrote songs of the Alaskan way of life from commercial fishing, to mushing, and off grid life. His songs endeared him to Alaskans and in the early 80s he was given the official title of Alaska's Balladier. 

Varsos and his wife Cyndi settled and raised their family near Soldotna, Alaska (a town on the Kenai Peninsula). His homesteading life inspired many Hobo Jim classics, and many were inspired by his love for his devoted partner. He didn't just write for himself, several well known singers throughout the decades recorded songs he wrote (including Country Legend George Jones). 

The song that solidified Hobo Jim's legendary status came in 1982 when he released the famed Iditarod Trail song which quickly became the official song of the Last Great Race. What was once a "bar song" is now sung in classrooms around the country (if not the world). The catchy polka inspired hit both inspires and haunts those that hear it (mainly because it's an earworm rivaled only by Disneyland's It's a Small World"). 

Hobo Jim would write other memorable mushing songs including Redington's Run which he wrote in tribute to his friend and Iditarod founder Joe Redington Sr. after the musher passed in 2002. Hobo's classic "Wild and Free" was the inspiration for Yukon Quest Champion Brent Sass's kennel (known as, what else, the Wilde and Free Mushing). Hobo Jim was often seen playing concerts benefiting the different races and kennels. 

Varsos announced September 18 that he was diagnosed with end-stage cancer and doctors had given him 3-6 months to live. The singer would pass just 17 days later, a shock to most every one. Family, friends, and fans all took to social media in the days leading up to his passing sharing favorite memories and songs along with encouragement and love. Following the news of his death, the tributes continued. The mushing community was no exception as the emotions and tributes poured out from kennels all over Alaska. 

Hobo Jim left one final message on his facebook at the end of September. 

When Varsos announced his cancer diagnosis friends rallied and started a GoFundMe to support the singer and his wife. Their goal was $75,000 and they had just over $51,000 raised at the time of the singer's passing. They've chosen to continue to raise funds to help Cyndi Varsos, if you would like to contribute you can find the GoFundMe link here.

Do you have any fond memories of Hobo Jim? Favorite song? Share below.