Thursday, February 26, 2015

Iditarod 43: Bring on the Rookies!

With about 20 (I may have miscounted) rookies in this race, let's take a look at some of the more (in this blogger's opinion) interesting and exciting teams.

Let's start off with the "returning rookies" these are mushers that have run in previous years but scratched before the finish line in Nome. You are a rookie until you complete an Iditarod. So that means you can run 20 Iditarods and still be considered a rookie if you never finish.

Cindy Abbot is one such musher who was only going to run the race once - but a freak crash on the trail left her stiff and sore for days. She finally couldn't handle the pain any longer and was forced to scratch. When flown back to Anchorage she was checked out by doctors and it was noted that she'd broken her pelvis! Last year she tried again, but unfortunately saw trouble on the difficult, snow barren trail, and once again had to scratch. One wonders if she can make it this year with trail conditions being just as bad as last year's (and completely new for the first half of the race) but she's a determined person. I wouldn't count her out.

Lev Shvartz chose last year to be his rookie year, and it didn't go well. Like many teams - veteran and rookie - Lev ended up scratching in Rohn. This year the Gorge and Burn are out, so the trail is relatively safer for sleds and mushers. Lev was my choice of rookie last year, and I have no doubt that Shvartz can make it to Nome this year.

Philip Walters is a middle school band teacher - so right there I think he's pretty awesome. Walters runs dogs out of Snowhook Kennel owned by Justin and Rebecca Savidis (they're the ones with the super cool dogbox with the silhouette of the howling dog on each door). Walters won't really be competitive, but he's using his run to shed light on how important arts are for education. He's helped with the Iditarod curriculum as well.

Heidi Sutter is another teacher turned Iditarod musher this year. She and her hubby run KMA Kennel (and you can guess what KMA stands for). Heidi will be easy to spot as she is BRIGHT PINK hair. Heidi is a great advocate for the sport - she is incredibly active on social media - and brings a positive presence to the races. She says she's using this Iditarod to train her team for the 2016 Yukon Quest. Very excited to see how she does in her rookie year.

Alan Stevens is running a Buser team - most likely puppy team - so that makes his team interesting in and of itself. He's helping train Martin and Rohn's next batch of superstars.

Yuka Honda is a Janitor who lives in the Yukon Territory of Canada - but was born and raised in Japan. After graduating university she moved to Canada where she was a dog handler, then she saw the Iditarod on television and decided she wanted to race. She moved to Alaska to learn the ropes before moving to her home in the Yukon. She has a kennel of 25+ sled dogs. She's not a total stranger to 1000 mile races, she competed in the Quest in 2012.

Ben Harper is one of the more exciting rookies this year - he's running Redington dogs - but in his short time in Alaska he's been a top musher on the "junior circuit" coming in the top 4 of each of his Jr Iditarod runs. This will be a telling rookie year, and just the stepping stone for what looks like a very successful career in the sport.

One week until the Musher's Banquet where the bib numbers will be drawn!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Iditarod 43: Ladies of the Iditarod

Lisbet Norris' team of Siberian Huskies at the start of Iditarod 42.
With 10 days (well 9 days and 23 hours) to go until Iditarod 43 gets underway (with the Ceremonial Start) I figured I'd feature some of my favorite mushers/mushers to talk about. Some made my top ten list, others are favorites or friends of mine, and some are just known to the fandom and it felt wrong not to list them. So I figured I'd start with the Women of the Iditarod. This year there are 25 teams being led by a female musher on the roster of 78.

Leading the charge is Aliy Zirkle. She's a Yukon Quest champion (first and only woman to win that 1,000 mile race) and for the last three years has seen some very close second place finishes in the Iditarod. Team Seavey seems to be her kryptonite, but this year all bets are off with the trail changes and conditions. Zirkle's team ran the Yukon Quest (with Allen Moore running them) and came in second to Brent Sass. They sound like a solid team and are set to take it all the way. Zirkle and team have a great online presence with their blog and facebook accounts keeping accurate and knowledgeable information throughout the race. Zirkle is probably the most exciting lady musher since Susan Butcher, she definitely has the media's attention like Butcher commanded, and a larger percentage of the fandom rallies around her. She's a perfect ambassador for the sport and her rivalry with the big boys is fun to watch.

DeeDee Jonrowe is another favorite among the fans, she was the one that was to take the helm once Butcher retired as top female musher. She did respectably staying consistently in the top 20 and coming dangerously close to winning a few times. She had to keep up with the likes of Jeff King, Martin Buser and Doug Swingley in their primes. Jonrowe is a cancer survivor - running one of her races just months after having surgery to get rid of the tumors. She's tough as nails and is synonymous with the Iditarod. She's easily spotted in her bright pink parkas and kuspiks. You can follow Deedee on facebook. Her team is very good at keeping team updates current. A good group of people who are positive about their musher and her dogs.

Kristy and Anna Berrington - the Berrington twins. Who doesn't love to see double? Kristy runs the B team for Paul Gebhardt (though really between the two of them they share the top dogs) and Anna runs the B team for the Mushin' Mortician, Scott Jannsen. The girls typically run their teams together along the trail, much to the frustration of insiders who feel that both need to be a little more competitive in their racing, but last year Kristy kicked it up a knotch. While they do most things together (they run triathlons and marathons together too), they still have their individual goals and race to run. It's always fun to see them working on the trail, and I've no doubt they'll both make it to Nome again, just hopefully not hand in hand this time around.

Jodi Bailey is probably my absolute favorite musher on this list. She is a joy to talk to (granted I'm too shy to talk to her in person, but thank god for technology!) and cares greatly for her sport and her dogs. Jodi and her husband Dan Kaduce run the Dew Claw Kennel and switch off running the Iditarod each year. It's Jodi's turn this year, and she's trained hard. She's one of the lucky ones who live in the general area of snow. Jodi keeps fans and friends updated on the teams progress throughout the year on her blog. She's also incredibly active on facebook (most mushers aren't tech savy) and shares photos and updates in many mushing specific groups. Jodi, we will be cheering you on through the Tudor Crossing again this year, and throughout the race. Kick booty!

Lisbet Norris was a rookie last year, and is one of the few teams run with all pure bred Siberians. This typically means that the team will not be competitive, but within the Iditarod there is the race of these teams. Whoever gets to Nome first is a winner in their own right. Lisbet grew up in alaska but learned to mush in Norway, and now lives in the Mat-Su valley where she raises and races her team. You can follow her kennel via her blog, facebook, and instagram. With the incredibly warm weather this year, I expect her team to be back of the packers... however, at the same time they've been training in this weather all year so at least they'll be more used to it. At least they'll be one good looking team coming down the trail.

Monica Zappa also ran her rookie race last year and is back again for another go. She's a Peninsula musher (w00t!) and is another musher who is tech savvy enough to keep fans and friends updated with training and races. Zappa grew up in a mushing family in Wisconsin and moved to Alaska in 2010. After meeting Tim Osmar (yes, THAT Tim Osmar from THAT Osmar family) she has begun her own Iditarod racing career. She embraces all that the Alaskan lifestyle has to offer, and brings a lot of flair and color to the trail. I'm excited to see how she continues to improve, and hope this race is a good one for her! You can follow along with her on twitter, facebook, and instagram. I highly recommend that you do!

Michelle Phillips is another veteran to long distance mushing. She runs Tagish Lake Kennel with Ed Hopkins and their son. Michelle is a consistent runner in the top 20, with just a couple of finishes outside the top 20. That's pretty good for only five Iditarods. This year she won the YQ300 beating out Aliy Zirkle (the second time this happened, first being in 2013). With the trail being new to most everyone for the first half of the race (give or take) it would not surprise me that any of the consistent top 20 finishers of past races come out on top. The shake up could be exciting, and I expect Phillips to be in that mix. She has a good team set this year, and she's coming off a very successful race season. You can follow Michelle on facebook and her blog.

Jessie Royer is another lady musher that people expect great things from. She's a consistent competitor and serious about her racing. Jessie is from Montana, and while she has a home in Fairbanks, she and the dogs are based in Big Sky country. Royer learned the mushing ropes from 4-time champion Doug Swingley before branching out on her own. Jessie is in the top 20 just about every time she races, an seems pretty comfy up in the top 10. Her best placement came last year - in what most consider the most difficult race in the history of the Iditarod - when she placed 7th. This season Montana's seen more snow than Alaska, and that just might help Royer and team - their training season wasn't stunted. Plus, she seems to thrive on adversity.

The last person on my list, Zoya Denure, probably shouldn't even make my cut - but she gets a lot of attention. She's a former model from Wisconsin who seems to have a knack for PR and BS. Zoya runs a kennel with her more established "mushing expert" John Schandelmeier. You may recognize his name as he published a not so popular article on the teams that scratched on the Yukon Quest. The irony plays right into this as that seems to be Zoya's go to strategy when things get a little tough out on the trail. Zoya's scratched more than she's finished (though she has finished an Iditarod, once in four tries). It's always something random with their team that keeps them from making it to Nome. I only include her because of her popularity. I don't expect things to go any better in 2015, though if she does scratch I can't see how she and her kennel can save face after John called some of the Worlds most renowned mushers for "quitting" just this month. More power to her if she runs the whole thing, but I wouldn't waste time on hoping for it.

These are just some of the faces out on the trail, each one brings something to the race that makes it worth noting that the Iditarod sparked possibly the greatest slogan for Alaska:

"Alaska: Where men are men, and WOMEN win the Iditarod."

It's time for someone to take up that torch. Will this year be the one?

What do YOU think about the women in this year's race? Drop me a note in the comments.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Iditarod 43 - My Top 10

The 43rd running of the Iditarod is set to take place in just two weeks. Lack of snow has forced the race to run further north than ever before, with the ReStart moving for only the second time in race history to Fairbanks. This levels the playing field in a way as none of the teams have any real experience on the new trail (which visits several villages/checkpoints for the very first time) so their run-rest strategies are at best educated guesses.

This may be one of the races where it truly is more about the dogs and their abilities and not the mushers. Who knows? It's all anyone's guess.

So This year I'm going with 10 names that I think are just on the upswing, or at least have that experience needed to keep the dogs from over doing it before that final push. They're not in any particular order - I'm not that good at predicting (in fact this list is probably going to just jinx them all).

Tonichelle's Top 10 

Brent Sass - Brent just won the Yukon Quest with his team of amazing dogs. His only real issue that was reported on the trail was when he overslept (you'd think he'd learn not to do that after Jeff King lost the Iditarod to Lance Mackey back in 2008 doing the exact same thing). He had to run down Allen Moore running the A team out of his kennel. The same team that Aliy Zirkle will run in the Iditarod. Moore's team kicked it up a notch in the final stretch, but seemed to tire through most of the race. Sass's team seemed to "feed the monster" (as the Seavey's say) at all the right times. After the bad fall last season that ended his Quest and Iditarod runs, Brent finally delivered on his potential. I have no doubt this will BOOST his confidence going into the Iditarod.

Dallas Seavey - Dallas came seemingly out of nowhere last March to win the race. Jeff King was supposed to have the win in the bag, but his team refused to run in the horrible winds as they made their way to Safety. Jeff had to flag down some snow-machiners to help him and his dogs get to the checkpoint. At that point he scratched as teams cannot have outside help. That meant that Aliy seemed to have the race in the bag as Dallas was a long ways behind her - but with the winds being what they were and the news from all weather reports saying it was only going to get worse, she decided to hunker down and wait them out. Dallas was unaware of any of it and ended up continuing (better to just run in the wind than sit in it, afterall) which put him in the lead and gave him just enough time to win the darn thing. He's just that lucky - and he's also just that good. I don't know what his team looks like this year, but his goal is to stay consistently in the top 5. He's young, confident, and a two time champion. There's no way in Hades you should count him out.

Jeff King - Jeff is a wildcard in a lot of ways. He had to scratch on the Quest due to the extreme cold and the fact that he didn't have enough food for the dogs to compensate at the checkpoint he was at. It was a difficult decision, but it was the RIGHT ONE. That a certain kennel that "will be running the Iditarod" (I bet they scratch before the halfway point) called him out for that should not even factor into one's mindset when discussing King's racing skills. Jeff is one of the most experienced mushers out on the trail - it's his dogs that don't seem to have the experience to finish a thousand mile race. They don't like running when the going gets tough in the last stretch. However, that was one of the reasons King ran the Quest. He wanted to train them up. I expect King to finish this year, and I wouldn't bet against him coming in first. He was set to do it last year. He can do it again. Just pray for no wind gusts in the last 77 miles to Nome.

Aliy Zirkle - This is her year. It has to be. Her team has come in second the last three years in the Iditarod, and just came in another close second on the Yukon Quest (husband Allen Moore ran that team). Quito will no doubt still be lead dog over the 1000 mile race, and with that knowledge the team can't fail. So long as those dang Seavey's don't take control of the race in the last leg... as long as she doesn't slow her team down... as long as this isn't another one of those insane races that is completely unpredictable. If there's a team in this race that I desperately want to see win this year - it's Aliy's. She more than deserves it, but she has to be able to take it.

Martin Buser - Buser and son got themselves in a bit of trouble in one of the season's earlier races. They "took the wrong turn" and ended up on a shortcut. Both of them did. Hmmm. Makes the spectators go hmmm. It ticked a certain other musher off who was lower in the standings because of it. It had people discussing issues of the Buser racing "strategies" over the year. Still - Martin is a 4 time Iditarod champion, and a crowd favorite. He made some pretty bold pushes in last year's race, but his team couldn't keep the pace they'd set. After their 24 hour layover they lost speed and ended up in a lower position than they'd planned. Martin's son Rohn is also running this year - and I'm  not sure they aren't splitting the A team in two again. Still, I wouldn't count Martin out. Especially on a trail that no one is familiar with.

Peter Kaiser - Another musher riding high after winning the Kusko in his hometown, Pete is looking good to make a move this year. The last couple of years he's been just outside of the top ten (13th both in 2014 and 2013), but those were warm weather years. While Alaska has been VERY warm this winter, with the race running further north this might help this Coastal team keep from overheating. And it COULD drop in temps like the Yukon Quest for the early part of the race, which should also help teams like Pete's.

Mitch Seavey - I'll be honest, I am completely out of the loop these days with Team Seavey. Last year was my last year with them, so I am not current on training reports, dog reports, etc... but this is Mitch. He's consistent, he knows how to drive dogs. I've no doubt he's got a solid schedule set for the new trail, and I expect his team to run well. He came in 3rd last year... and, oh yeah, his team WON the thing (second time for the musher) in 2013. I think leaving his team off this year would be a very stupid idea. And it's not just because I'm a biased fangirl.

Richie Diehl - I'm gonna give this guy some props, in just his second year he came in 14th, not too shabby. I don't expect him to win the darn thing, but I expect him to break the top 10 if all goes well. Basically he's my dark horse in this whole thing.

Aaron Burmeister - It was said that Dallas Seavey won his first Iditarod title thanks to Aaron Burmeister because Dallas's team consisted of many of Burmeister's A team. Aaron had decided to retire and sold off many of his dogs - Dallas snatched them up and the rest is history. Then Aaron decided to come back to the sport (shocking. most can't stay retired) and it's like he never left.He's stayed consistently in the top 10, coming very close to winning several times. With the trail being new to everyone for the first half, he may have the advantage on the coast - his home base. The dogs know where home is and know how to get there.

Ray Redington Jr - Ray's having a great year, even with his scratch from his rookie run on the Yukon Quest. He's another musher who's had a run of top 10 finishes, and his team seems to be really clicking this season. He's poised for a great race, and should be able to adapt to the new trail with the rest of the best. I'd love to see a Redington finally win the race. They're a strong mushing dynasty - and of course the Iditarod wouldn't even exist had Joe Redington Sr not gotten the crazy idea in his head. Look for Ray to make a move again this year, and don't be surprised if he goes all the way.

So there's my top 10. What's yours? Comment on this blog post and let me know if we agree, disagree, or what you'd like to see happen during Iditarod 43.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mature bald eagle photos

We've had that Juvenile Bald Eagle visit the bone pile all week. It's been pretty neat to see, though he was getting annoyed with the attention and flying off more and more. Last night we were surprised to find a mature eagle on the bones. Looks like Jr. decided he needed his parental unit to keep us from bugging him.

Joke was on him, though, because we brought out the cameras again to get some captures of the beautiful mature bald eagle. Here are just a few (I may have taken over 100. Yeah, not sorry.) of the photos I took while he ripped into the carrion.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

This week's animal shelter photos

Just a few, the shelter was busier this week than it has been all month - but still not close to full. That's a good thing!

They have birds, cats, and dogs all available. There's even a kitten (not pictured, it was at the vet when we were there) and a puppy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Juvenile Bald Eagle photos

Here in Alaska when a moose gets hit by a car (or hits a car) and dies or has to be put down, the Alaska State Troopers have a list of people to call offering the meat. All the person on the list has to do is butcher and package the moose.

My dad gets the call for their church so that people who are unable to do the butchering can still get the meat. He got a call on Saturday night (during his and mom's Valentine's Day Date) that a moose had been hit and killed and that they'd be dropping it off at our house.

So all this weekend was about blood and meat and bones... and the bones are now sitting out in the backyard to let the birds pick them clean. Normally that means magpies and ravens but yesterday....

 But instead this guy showed up. He is an immature (juvenille) bald Eagle. I don't think I've ever seen one in our backyard munching on moose bones before. They normally perch in a tree or just fly over (did that a lot when Yuka and Lulu were puppies...) but this guy spent all afternoon ripping left over flesh off of a moose's backbone.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Please sign the petition to bring the children home.

PLEASE TAKE THE TWO MINUTES AND SIGN THIS PETITION! There are adopted children waiting to come home and can't because of the ban on exit letters from the Congolese government. Both the Congo and the US have said these adoptions are LEGAL. That they have families. THEY JUST AREN'T ALLOWED TO LEAVE to go home with their families. They've been waiting OVER FIVE HUNDRED DAYS! Enough is enough, bring them home!

Iditarod ReStart - Official Press Release

This week has been insane so I can't blog about this like I want to. So I'll just leave you with the actual press release the Iditarod Trail Committee released this morning.

Press Release: For further information contact:
Stan Hooley, CEO, 907‐352‐2204 or
Mark Nordman, Race Director, 907‐360‐1814 or

Iditarod XLIII To Restart in Fairbanks
Anchorage, Alaska – February 10, 2015 – The Board of Directors of the Iditarod Trail Committee held a special meeting earlier this evening to hear a final report from a four person trail committee which spent the day with race staff flying over various portions of the trail via helicopter. The Board was unanimous in making the decision to move the Race Restart to Fairbanks as it was determined that the conditions were worse in critical areas than in 2014 and therefore not safe enough for the upcoming Race.

The traditional Anchorage Start will take place as scheduled on Saturday, March 7, beginning at 10:00 a.m. The Restart will now take place in Fairbanks on Monday, March 9, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

This marks the second time in the history of the Race that the Restart has been moved to Fairbanks because of poor conditions in the Alaska Range. The first was in 2003, when Robert Sorlie of Norway, won his first Iditarod.

“While some snow did fall east of the Alaska Range over the past couple of weeks, other parts of the trail, in very critical areas, did not get much or any of it,” said Stan Hooley, CEO.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to make this very important decision this far out, but the task of getting tons of supplies and equipment in the right places, on time, begins this week,” said Mark Nordman, Race Director.

Additional details regarding the Fairbanks Restart will be available on as additional planning decisions are made.

Seventy-nine (79) teams, the sixth largest field in the history of the Race, are busy training and preparing for the 43rd running of the Iditarod.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

500 Days Waiting and more...

Three-and-a-half/almost four years ago longtime family friends of ours announced they were adopting two babies from the DRC. They shared their story with the online world and we followed along and rejoiced as each milestone happened. The referrals, the call to come over, the meeting of the babies, and the bringing them home. We've gotten to watch them grow up through their blog as well as through social media. I grew up with Casey's family - her dad was the pastor of the church I grew up in, and Casey babysat me a few times. This adoption seemed to go smoother than smooth and Ezra and Evie are happy and healthy kiddos...

Fast forward to today and we learn that it seems the Chappell kids got "lucky". Soon after they came home, the DRC didn't close adoptions, but they closed down the required exit letter program that allowed the legally adopted children to go home with their legal parents. All paperwork is approved and signed by both the DRC and American (or other country) governments, and yet the last signature needed - the one that allows the children to leave the country - cannot and will not be given.

One of Casey's childhood friends and her family are waiting to be reunited with their sons in the Congo. She and her husband were over in the DRC when it was announced that there would be no more exit letters given. After a few weeks with the boys they had to give them a tearful farewell. More than 500 days later they ARE STILL WAITING TO COME HOME. They have weekly skype dates, but as the unrest rises communication can become increasingly difficult.

The financial burden is great, but manageable... it's the emotional toll that needs our help and support.

Some facts (from
  • Over 350 orphans who have already been legally adopted by American families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are still stuck in orphanages and temporary foster care waiting for their American families to bring them home. 
  • There are at least 400 families that have been matched with children that are in the process of completing their adoptions. As the processing of their adoptions is completed, their children will be added to the list of children who cannot come home, despite having been legally adopted by their adoptive parents in the DRC and having received clearance for a US Orphan Visa from the US Government.
  • The immigration and emigration office (DGM) of the Congolese government announced that they would no longer issue “exit permits” for adoptions approved on or after September 25, 2013.
  • On May 26, DRC released 15 children to their adoptive families, with no apparent rationale for the cases that were chosen. Since then, 6 children that were in extremely poor health have also been released, after efforts by Ambassador Swan on their behalf. The remainder of the families to whom DGM originally promised exit permits, will not be considered until after September 25, 2014.
  • At least 11 legally adopted children have DIED waiting for their exit letter without their forever family there to comfort and love them.
Please join the campaign this weekend and encourage your senators, congressmen, and the White House to end this and bring the children home. Hashtags are: #BEBcampaign #500dayswaiting #uniteourfamilies #DRCstuck

Let's show these families we care.

If you are a family currently waiting to be united and whole and wish to keep in touch please comment on this post so I can pray for and follow your journey!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Weather cooperating for the Yukon Quest

With talk all last month that the Yukon River was open water all along the trail leading out of Whitehorse, concern was growing that major changes to the course were needed to be made. Race officials held off with announcing any such changes, stating they were watching the river and were actively working on alternate routes... but they trusted mother nature to work with them.

And work with them she has. The last few weeks temperatures dropped and snow hit the area; Much as it has elsewhere in Alaska. The trail reports are all positive - the river is frozen, and the more remote parts of the trail are in the process of being groomed. The weathermen predict a -45* start to race day (that's factoring in the windchill).

Yup, it's going to be a good race.

The starting order is as follows:

01. Allen Moore
02. Brent Sass
03. Normand Casavant
04. Cody Strathe
05. Nicolas Vanier
06. Tamra Reynolds
07. Damon Tedford
08. Lance Mackey
09. Jeff King
10. Tony Angelo
11. Dave Dalton
12. Kristin Knight Pace
13. Rolland Trowbridge
14. Torsten Kohnert
15. Scott Smith
16. Ryne Olson
17. Brian Wilmshurst
18. Joar Ulsom
19. Ray Redington Jr.
20. Ed Hopkins
21. Rob Cooke
22. Mike Ellis
23. Magnus Kaltenborn
24. Jason Campeau
25. Matt Hall
26. Hugh Neff