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

Monday, April 3, 2023

2023 Kobuk 440 musher roster & race preview

Did you think the mushing season was over because Ryan Redington won the Iditarod (and then my blog unplanned just "went dark")? Well, you were wrong. The Iditarod kept Iditarod-ing, and now we have the final "big race" of the season with the Kobuk 440 taking place this weekend on the Northwest Coast of Alaska! As the snow is quickly melting in South-Central Alaska, they still have plenty further North, and we'll no doubt see another fantastic race.

While the cap for the race was 20 teams, they didn't quite make that number. Twelve solid teams will be leaving in the mass start on Thursday, so let's get right to it and meet the teams. As always I've compiled the list via the race's official list on their website. The list will be in alphabetical order until the Bib Draw is announced Wednesday (hopefully). So let's meet the mushers! I have their kennel names listed as well as links for their websites/socials.

Musher Roster

1 Jessi Downey (Aimaagvik Kennel) Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
2 Richie Diehl (Real Diehl Racing) - Facebook
3 Michelle Phillips (Tagish Lake Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
4 Bailey Vitello (Team Baily) - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram 
5 Hugh Neff (Northern Whites Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram 
6 Jeff Deeter (Black Spruce Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
7 Jessie Holmes (Team Can't Stop) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
8 Jim Bourquin (Orion Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
9 Kevin Hansen (Hansen Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
10 Lauro Eklund (Skookum Expeditions) - Website / Facebook / Facebook 2 / Instagram / Instagram 2
11 Martin Early (Husky Homestead Kennel) - FacebookKennel Facebook / Instagram
12 Dempsey Woods (Miss Haley Kennels) - Facebook 

This is a great field of competitive teams and up and comers. It will be interesting to see how Holmes, Diehl, Phillips, Deeter, and Neff do. Neff, of course, is the reigning champ with a chip on his shoulder as more races decline his entry so look for him to push hard the whole way. Deeter's wife took the A-team to Nome and said that they would have placed much higher than 16th if Jeff had been driving. That may have been Katti not giving herself enough credit, but unless Jeff's bringing a puppy team to the Kobuk he should be right in the mix. Of course Michelle Phillips is the reigning Yukon Quest 450 champion and she sat out Iditarod so her team should be more than ready to go. Richie Diehl came third in Iditarod and barely lost the Kobuk last year, he should be a force here.

Weather conditions for the start (Thursday afternoon) will be in the negative temps (what else is new, right?) that will continue to drop as the race progresses throughout the weekend. The Kobuk is known for its storms that pop out seemingly out of nowhere. Forecasts are calling for cold and a typical wind, but so far no big storms are on the horizon.

The race starts in a mass start, no two minute intervals, which means there's no time differential to make up. There is a mandatory 20 hours of rest each team must take, and they can break that up however they see fit in the different checkpoints. 

How to Watch

Unlike what we just had with Iditarod (if you paid for Insider), the Kobuk like most of the mid-distance races relies more on social media posts and radio updates than they do video. Depending on weather and internet connection there may be live video of the start and finish, but with temps hitting below zero plus wind chill bringing temps even lower we could see a frozen feed (pun not truly intended). Still, there are ways to keep up with the race happenings, so let's make sure we have all of the links you need.

Official Website - You can find the rules, links to all ways of following the race, and the history of the Kobuk 440 here. Musher bios are also available. The official website may have links to live feeds, so also keep a look out for that. Click here for the link.

GPS Tracker - We're all attached to this bit of technology. If you wonder where the term "tracky boi" came from, you can thank the Kobuk 440. Their social media team were the first to coin the phrase... the phrase that sets some fans' teeth on edge, but it's becoming more endearing each year. Once again, you can follow the race thanks to TrackLeaders (link is not yet live). Beep-boop-beep.

Radio Broadcast - Race updates throughout the weekend will be broadcast over on KOTZ-AM. They have a livestream. They may broadcast the start, but it's unclear. Click here to listen in.

Social Media - This is where it's at. The most entertaining race has to be the Kobuk 440 for their amazing social media team. The volunteers know how to get and keep your attention. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter where they are most active as well as Instagram. KOTZ-AM also has a Facebook page that should share some race info throughout the weekend.

Schedule of Events

Wednesday, April 5
10:00am - Radio interviews
6:30pm - Musher Meeting/Bib Draw

Thursday, April 6
12:30pm - Race Start

Monday, April 11
5pm - Musher Meeting
6pm - Awards Ceremony

Got any predictions? Who are you cheering for? Comment below!

*Edited April 6, 2023 to include links and bib number.

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).

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Mushing Radio: Iditarod Redington's Run

Join hosts Robert Forto Toni Reitter and Michele Forto as they talk about Redington's Run on the Iditarod podcast. 

Redington's Run

Well, he did it. It took 51 tries, but a Redington has finally won "Redington's Run". Joe Redington saw his dream of a long distance sled dog race come to fruition in 1973 when he literally bet his house against the odds and mortgaged it to the hilt to be able to pay for the "First Great Race". Originally believing The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race would be a loop out to the Ghost Town of Iditarod and back to Anchorage, it was suggested that it would get more attention if it started in Anchorage and went to Nome. 

Joe's vision didn't happen overnight, he'd tried as far back as the 60s to get this hairbrained idea off the ground. He enlisted his mushing friends (names like Mackey, Smyth, Seavey, and others) to share in his vision and he kept that dream alive until finally he was told to either get it off the ground or give up. It took him from the fall of 1972 to March of 1973 but he did it (with a lot of help from his friends). Originally set to run the inaugural race himself, Joe had to withdraw as this little thing of not having secured the funds to pay out the promised purse was something Joe was tasked to figure out.

Originally thought to be "Joe's Folly" (we like to label things as someone's folly up in these parts. Secretary Seward could tell Joe a thing or two about it, I'm sure), the Iditarod stood the test of time. It has battled anti-mushing propaganda, several economic busts, global warming, increasing changes to trail due to population expansion... but the love of dogs and the dream of doing "the impossible" spurs the imaginations of mushers in each generation.

Though Joe Redington is the Father of the Iditarod, he never won the race - never really even came close. His sons ran the race and got closer. His grandsons have run, with grandson Ray coming closest a few years back. Each year the media would pressure whichever family member(s) was in the race - was this the year they'd bring a win home for Dad/Grandpa? Joe Redington Sr passed away in 2002 and it became a "will this be the year you win it for Grandpa's memory?" The pressure from fans and other outside sources had to be immense, and then the added of the personal desire to get that bust of Joe on the mantel also weighed no doubt heavily.

Ryan Redington has steadily climbed the ranks in the mushing world. He's a multi-time Beargrease champion, but he couldn't quite take it all the way in The Big One. Last year was supposed to be the year. It was the 50th race, he titled it Redington's Run. He finished 9th in an incredibly difficult final leg. 

This year Ryan tried a little bit of a different tactic, probably brought on by the crazy warm temps the first few days of the race gave the teams. The slower pace seemed to level everyone out, though Ryan told Insider several times he wasn't sure his team was ready to win this year. Whether that was mind games or what Ryan was seeing at the time, one can't possibly know, but it felt like this would be yet another Iditarod without a Redington leading the charge.

Until Kaltag. Brent Sass had exited the race, Jessie Holmes had stalled, Nic Petit had never materialized. Suddenly Ryan found himself in front - not by a lot - but he was in front. Peter Kaiser was hot on his heels and had all of the analysts salivating over out good his team looked (stop I don't mean they were hungry for sled dog). But Ryan had been given an opportunity and he took it.

Before the race began, Ryan found a note in a fortune cookie that would give him the same sort of magic inspiration that Lance Mackey got in 2007 during a Bib draw. For Lance it was drawing bib 13, the same number his father and brother wore when they won their Iditarod titles. For Ryan it came down to his fortune cookie telling him the number five would be very lucky for him that week. Ryan drew Bib #5.

And so as he lead the way from Kaltag to Unalakleet he never looked back. Yes, there were bigger, stronger teams that all of the past Iditarod mushers and analysts were talking about. Yes, he'd crashed and burned on Iditarod before, but this time he told himself he needed to stay focused and keep the pace.

And then he was first to his mother's home village of Unalakleet - a first in the Redington and race history. Then first to Shaktoolik. Kaiser still close behind and gaining. Then Koyuk. And then the big move. Ryan and team ran straight for Koyuk into White Mountain. A "monster" run of 88 miles. His dogs and he looked beat. Mentally the dogs were in need of a break and Ryan needed a nap. So he fed and bedding the dogs for an 8 hour rest. While Ryan ran all the way, Peter stayed in Elim resting his dogs and giving Ryan a five hour cushion - or so fans thought until Pete made his way to the check point of White Mountain and he was only four hours behind. Still plenty of time between Ryan and Pete to give Ryan some breathing room. He contemplated staying past the mandatory eight.

But then 12:12am came around and Ryan was ready to pull the hook. Reports of those watching the feed grew concerned as Ryan's dogs seemed to need help waking up, but they started down the trail and while not a blistering record setting pace, they made their way to the checkpoint of Safety through wind that were forecasted to gust up to 40mph. Slowly they made their way through the Topkok Hills, through the blowhole and into the checkpoint. They continued on to the finish line coming in at 12:12pm. His small team of six dogs looked better coming into Nome than they had the night before, but are most definitely excited for warm beds and fresh snacks. They did their job and made their musher proud.

This was a long time coming, we've all said it, and watching Ryan achieve a lifelong goal was the perfect way to kick off "the next fifty years." Joe's grandson brought this race full circle not only achieving the Redington family dream and legacy, but inspiring the mushing community. Ryan is Inupiaq, holding up a long standing tradition of mushing that was passed down for thousands of generations of Native Alaskans.

Congratulations, Ryan, on completing your Redington's Run.

"Here's to Joe, and it's off you go
In the land of the midnight sun
They call this race the Iditarod Trail
But to me it's Redington's Run
In my heart it's Redington's Run!"
                                -Hobo Jim

Monday, March 13, 2023

Redington with four hour lead in White Mountain

For the first time in race history, there is a Redington sitting first (and alone) in White Mountain. At 4:12pm Alaska time, Ryan Redington and team checked into the checkpoint outside the village of White Mountain for their mandatory eight hour rest. The Beargrease champion came in looking tired after he and his team essentially ran the entire way from Koyuk to White Mountain in a gamble to put distance from his closest competitors of Peter Kaiser and Richie Diehl.

Leaving Koyuk, Ryan had a 35 minute lead running to Elim. While Pete ran close behind cutting the 6 mile gap from the run before to 3 miles, Ryan continued out of Elim on his way to While Mountain. Peter Kaiser stayed behind.

And stayed.

And stayed.

Then stayed some more.

In fact, Pete stayed so long that Richie Diehl came into Elim and rested a couple of hours before leaving again and THEN Pete left. Diehl's lead was short lived and Kaiser made his way in front of his "best friend"'s team. The Kusko Boys ran from Elim to White Mountain together coming in just a few minutes apart. Pete's run into Elim was an hour and seventeen minutes faster than Ryan's, but his team has a four hour and seventeen minutes deficit to make up on Ryan. With only 77 miles to the finish line there may not be enough time for that to happen. Richie Diehl is only eight minutes behind Peter Kaiser. We're looking at having a "mini Kusko" finish for second place.

That being said in the Iditarod Insider evening report out of White Mountain from Bruce Lee, Lee reported that in talking with Ryan Redington there may be a longer rest in store for the current first place team. Redington ran the 88ish miles from Koyuk to White Mountain in one shot with no significant rest. That was a monster run that is completely doable but it can be taxing this late in the race. It was gutsy, but as Ryan's team came into the checkpoint of White Mountain they were visibly exhausted mentally (and the musher physically). At one point the team kept trying to jump off the trail onto a snowmachine trail and Ryan had to stop and reroute them at least three times, after the third correction his lead dog gave the signal that they were done leading. That's not a good sign for how his race may go tomorrow morning, so it makes sense that with a four hour cushion the veteran musher allows his team a couple of hours "extra" rest. Two hours is still a big gap of time to make up in the roughly 10 hour run to the finish.

It should also be noted that Pete Kaiser had not planned on running the Iditarod this year. His name was noticeably absent from the roster for several months before he slipped in before the deadline. Sure, it wasn't last minute like Ramey Smyth who waited until February to throw his hat in the ring, but Kaiser let it be known that it wasn't something he'd seen himself doing until he did it. Now, here he is in second place with the possibility of winning his second Iditarod if Ryan's race goes to Hell.

And let's not forget Richie Diehl. He's been working for this for nearly a decade now and he's giving a former Iditarod Champion and a "legacy" musher a run for their money. If either one of them hiccups, he's poised to jump on them. He's no doubt excited to be having a magical run and challenging the favorites - plus his team just looks good (so does Kaisers).

In 50 runnings of Iditarod there's never been a Redington in first. In 50 runnings there's only been a handful of Alaska Native champions. In this, the 51st running of Iditarod - barring them all having their race blow up in their face - there will be a Native Alaskan champion (last done in 2019 by who else but Peter Kaiser the first Yup'ik champion). In the 51st running that Champion could be a Redington. In 1973 when Joe Redington's race first kicked off on its way to Nome, Joe hoped that it would inspire a new generation of Alaska Native mushers to keep with dogs and hold to their thousands of years old tradition. Sadly in the race's history that has been lost as sponsorships went for easy to access teams on the road system and it became increasingly more expensive and difficult to get to races from the villages. In 2011 John Baker ended a decades long drought and joined the small ranks of Alaska Native champions, in 2019 Pete Kaiser won and inspired a new generation of mushers in the Kuskokwim Delta, which has a healthy mushing community that holds an entire series of mushing competitions as well as a dog food co-op of sorts.

This is Joe's dream and legacy coming full circle 50 years and 51 races later. As Jeff King said at the start of Iditarod 51, here's to the next 50 years of Iditarod. Let's add to it - we made it, Joe. Your dream is realized. 

No matter who comes under that burled arch tomorrow, this is what Iditarod was made for. Yes the roster was small, and yes the legends of the last 50 years are all but retired, but it's in good hands.

*For those wanting to know when to expect the champion, Redington can leave out at 12:12am Tuesday, IF he leaves at that time it'll be an almost 10 hour run for most, last year he ran it in 9hours and 45ish minutes. So start checking in around 9:30am (this is all ALASKA time and yes we follow Daylight Savings). IF Ryan chooses to stay longer in White Mountain (not a bad idea) then it may be later in the morning or early afternoon. As always keep to social media and this blog and we'll keep it updated as we can.*

Redington still leading the Iditarod

Fans woke up and frantically checked the tracker (if they slept at all and didn't just will those little flags to move all night) this morning to find Ryan Redington maintaining a three mile lead over Peter Kaiser as the teams ran to Elim. Both had spent about three and a half hours in the checkpoint of Koyuk in the wee hours of the morning. Kaiser has a slightly faster team and has eaten up several minutes in each run from Unalakleet, what was a six mile lead last night is now only a three mile lead.

Redington reached the checkpoint of Elim checking in at 8:35am, Kaiser is making his way into the checkpoint now and it will be interesting to see if he's gained any time on the legacy musher. GPS shows Ryan as moving out of Elim though the current standings do not show him leaving (updates sometimes take time). It's 46 miles to White Mountain and their final mandatory 8 hour rest. It could be that both teams decide to make the run from Koyuk to White Mountain without stopping (a "monster" run at 88 miles). 

Depending on how the teams fare on the run to White Mountain we'll either have a clear favorite to win, or we'll be seeing them in some sort of ski pole duel down Front Street Tuesday afternoon.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Mushing Radio: The Third Third of the Race


Join hosts Robert Forto, Michele Forto, and Toni Reitter as they discuss the third third of the race. 


Redington rests in Shaktoolik as Kaiser, Diehl draw closer

Ryan Redington had an impressive 5 hours and 13 minute run time from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik before apparently taking a break in the checkpoint on the edge of the Norton Sound. Redington had nearly an hour lead over the next team of Peter Kaiser, but now as Ryan sits just about a half hour into his break in Shaktoolik, Pete is coming into the checkpoint. There are no live feeds in Shaktoolik so we have no real idea of how teams are looking as they come into a very windy run to then head back out into even stronger winds.

Speaking of wind, they expect a steady 25mph wind leaving Shaktoolik according to the morning report by Greg Heister and Bruce Lee. That isn't the most terrible weather we've seen in this stretch, but hard cold wind gets to even the most hardened of dog teams. The Norton Sound sea ice is still the trail they are planning to run, though yesterday there was concern about open water that does not seem to be the case today.

Both Kaiser and Redington will need a little bit of rest at the very least for the dogs to recover from their runs. Kaiser has just rolled into the checkpoint and Richie Diehl will be into Shak soon. If Ryan can keep his speed, he most likely has this race and Peter seems to have second in the bag in this case. Mushers like Bruce Lee and Dallas Seavey aren't counting Peter Kaiser out for the win, though, as both have been extremely impressed with how Kaiser Racing dogs look in Unalakleet.

The race. is. on.