Sunday, July 29, 2018

Farewell to the Northern Lights 300

Mushers and fans alike were saddened to learn today that the Board for the Northern Lights 300 sled dog race has disbanded. The race typically scheduled to run at the end of January has had a rough couple of years with poor weather and trail conditions, as well as seeing smaller roster numbers. In their announcement this morning, the race pointed out that financial obstacles that made running without a full roster impossible. The race was cancelled last year due to lack of participants.

The Northern Lights 300 is a well established race that took place in the heart of Alaskan mushing country. The race was hosted yearly by Happy Trails Kennel - owned by four-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser - and boasted some very robust rosters over the years. Starting in 2013, however, the race, like many other races that take place in "South Central Alaska", began dealing with poor weather conditions. While 2012 was bitterly cold, the very next year saw "soupy" trails and rain. The race went on, even though last minute decisions had to be made to trail route.

2014 and 2015 ran very much the same - trail routes switched around, and roster filled and overflowing with waits as the Tustumena 200 - which typically runs the same weekend - postponed or cancelled their race due to no snow or frozen rivers to cross. Last minute trail changes are always a logistical nightmare as well as financial to make it possible to lay in the trail and make sure the race had the mileage needed to keep it a 300 and qualifier for other races such as the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.

Last year, the Northern Lights 300 found itself with just a handful of teams. The Tustumena 200 was able to run their race, even though they had to change their route, and many teams stuck with the Kenai Peninsula's only mid-distance race. The NL300 just could not find the teams to fill their roster, and so made the tough decision to pull the plug on the 2017 race.

Now they are pulling the plug on the race entirely. Other races will go on in their stead. The Tustumena 200 will hopefully be able to run again this year - though there is concern that this will be another warm winter which could make the race impossible. This is yet another sign of changing times where finances for races are tight, and the weather has wreaked havoc on any game plan. Without knowing that a race will go on, most teams will pass for other events that have a better chances of happening (meaning heading North or to Canada and MidWest USA).

See the full announcement below:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (July 27)

Another week closer to fall, another week closer to the summer tourist season finishing up, another week closer to sled dog tales of the trails! Once again, not a lot of hard hitting news coming out of the mushing community, but here are the ones I've found.

Sad news in the mushing community this week. Iditarod veteran Bryan Imus passed away due to injuries sustained during an ATV rollover. Imus ran the Iditarod in 2000 finishing 33rd of 68 teams - not bad for a rookie! Imus was just 47 years old, and leaves a wife and two sons behind.

Ed Stielstra's Nature's Kennel shared an adorable photo of a couple of their pups. Looks like someone's ears are starting to stand up!

Nature happened on a glacier today as one of Meredith Mapes' dogs gave birth to happy, healthy puppies. Reports say mom and pups are all doing fine and the pups will soon be getting lots of socialization as the first part of their training to become sled dogs. Stop over to her facebook page and send your congratulations... maybe give some ideas for a litter theme!

It must be puppy week in the mushing community, as a lot of kennels shared cute video and pics of their newest team members. Four-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser was seen this week with one of this litters running free on property before heading back to the puppy pen.

Paul Gebhardt announced the birth of his final litter of the season yesterday with a post of a couple of photos of the proud mama dog and her brood.

Not true puppies, but the "young dogs" of Muktuk Kennel in the Yukon were having a blast last week running on the dog wheel. Like Iditarod and Quest veteran musher Rob Cooke said - these dogs don't have to be forced to run!

Enjoy your last few days of July. Next week we'll be looking ahead to Yukon Quest sign ups!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (July 20)

Aliy Zirkle's lead dogs run through Anchorage during the
Ceremonial Start of Iditarod 46. March 3, 2018.
Another week in the books, another week closer to fall... which is another week closer to training season for the Alaska dog teams waiting for cooler temps and less busy mushers. The Sockeye are finally starting to show themselves in the river, meaning everyone is busy collecting food to fill the freezer. It's the height of the summer season, tourism at its peak for the next couple of weeks. The last hurrah before the fireweed are in full bloom...

But I digress, you aren't here for that. You're here for sled dog news. So let's get to it, shall we?

The Redingtons had a GREAT start to their week with two of their own being inducted into the "Iditarod Hall of Fame". Though not associated with the race officially, the Knik based Hall of Fame acknowledges mushers, dogs, companies, volunteers, and others associated with Alaska's Last Great Race. Both Raymie and Joee Redington were awarded this year. Joee passed away last year due to complications in surgery, so it is a bittersweet moment for his family - but a proud one none-the-less.

Iditarod Musher Kristin Bacon, owner of Bacon's Acres Kennel, is hiring! Bacon is looking for a handler for the upcoming season. Housing and a stipend are some of the perks, plus you'll be working with an Iditarod kennel. Bacon is well connected within the mushing community, so you may rub elbows with some of the biggest names in the sport. Author note: I am not affiliated with Kristin in anyway and have no working experience with her or her kennel. This is not an endorsement, just sharing the info.

As reported by this blog (as well as many others), on Monday the Iditarod Trail Committee announced its newest board of directors members. Four new names join the remaining ITC board and will spend the next few weeks/months becoming educated on the race and the inner workings. The four newest BODs were not voted into their position by ITC members but by the current Board of Directors. The same board that was found to have lost the trust of mushers and members alike and were told that they should step aside. Only three of those members did so - others have made excuses for why they need to stay (among them Andy Baker, board president and brother of a now retired Iditarod champion). While most have been positive about the announcement, many are still in a wait and see pattern before they celebrate any changes.

If you follow Aliy Zirkle, you know she's been sharing videos she made while out on the Iditarod Trail this year. Little vlogs if you will, it's been a great way to break up the waiting as summer goes by. Aliy's team does a fantastic job of keeping fans involved while Allen and Aliy work to provide for their kennel.

I know I just shared puppy stuff from Jeff King's kennel last week, but I can't not share this. I mean... it's puppies. You can't go wrong with puppies!

Ryan Redington is the only Redington signed up for this year's Iditarod (still), and he's hard at work with summer tours before heading back to the lower 48 to race down there before heading back to Alaska for the race his family helped create 47 years ago. From time to time he gives us a glimpse into touring life.

The Yukon Quest announced yesterday that their purse for next year's race will be $115,000 USD. The purse will be divided among the top 15 teams. Sign ups for the 2019 Quest begin on August 4, just two weeks from now. The Quest may see a larger number of entries with the lack of mushers signed up for Iditarod - some may decide to try a new race where there typically is less drama from the powers that be.

Monday, July 16, 2018

New voices added to Iditarod Board of Directors

The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) announced the addition of four names to their board of directors Monday. After months of speculation as to who would be named - or even if the ITC would follow through with the promise to change up their roster - the cat is out of the bag. The Iditarod released the names Monday afternoon, with a brief description of each new member.

Depending on your familiarity with winter sport, Alaskan politics and business, you might recognize some of the names presented in today's press release. Still, the names listed have seemingly little experience or knowledge of the sport the Iditarod represents. This, however, is not as alarming as some make it out to be. The independent research done by the Foraker Group found that there was a need to change the board and its policies - starting with getting rid of those with a conflict of interest. Mushing is a small, tight-knit community. It's hard to find someone not related to those racing to be able to be part of the board of any race. Those listed today have experience in running large organizations successfully - something the ITC in the last two years has demonstrated they have very little success in doing.

The new members of the Iditarod Board are:

Nina Kemppel - a four time Winter Olympian for Team USA in cross-country skiing, Nina is a long time Alaskan who has many ties to the state; most noteably as the president and CEO of the Alaska Community Foundation which provides grants to non-profits statewide. She is also on the board of directors of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and sits on their Athlete Advisory Council. Kemppel brings an impressive resume to the table, and while not experienced in dog sports or mushing, she does understand the workings of a successful sports program as well as what it takes to keep a highly visible non-profit working. Her addition is an interesting and exciting move on the ITC's part. It will be interesting to see how they utilize her in the coming months.

Karen King - president and CEO of "Alaska's largest advertising company", Spawn Ideas, King's resume boasts helping companies reimagine themselves and reset their course within the public eye. She's worked with General Mills, Coke-a-Cola, and local entities like the University of Alaska and GCI (an Iditarod sponsor). One only needs to look so far as her company's website to have an idea of where Iditarod plans to use her. One of the biggest areas of improvement needed is how Iditarod is perceived by the public and fans - and that's where King will most likely step in. Spawn Ideas promotes a very positive work mantra: "Everyday, we challenge ourselves and our clients to create strategically smart, provocative, bold ideas." Perhaps it will transfer to Iditarod.

Mike Mills - a lawyer who apparently is on of "the Best Lawyers in America" since 2003. Considering the ITC has seen itself in a legal nightmare more times than not over the last few years with animal rights "activists" going after them, misuse of their name/logo, and of course the quagmire that allegedly started this mess: doping. It doesn't take too much imagination to know what Mills will be bringing to the board, but it is so desperately needed.

Ryan York - representing Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), York is the corporation's senior VP and chief director of Finance. One of the largest Native Corporations in the state, York understands the many working parts and personalities an Alaskan company/program has. While not native to Alaska, he has a love for the state and for the sport. BBNC has been very supportive of the race for years, and this no doubt will add to their enthusiasm as the Iditarod continues.

Some changes were announced weeks ago with the resignation of Wade Marrs as the Iditarod Official Finisher's Club (IOFC) representative to the board, and Aaron Burmeister. Both had to resign due to the restructured bylaws stating that no board member could be actively racing in Iditarod (this was a rule change at the recommendation of the Foraker Group conducted earlier in 2018). Also not returning is five-time Iditarod Champion and retired musher Rick Swenson who chose not to run for re-election.

Current Board President Andy Baker, brother to Iditarod Champion John Baker, is not stepping down as originally planned, stating that his brother is retired and so there is no longer any conflict of interest. Mushers and fans alike petitioned for Baker to resign well before the start of this year's Iditarod, but he said he would not step aside until after the race. Now, he is saying that he will not serve another term when his term expires next year. Time will tell.

Most talk of today's press release has been positive. The Anchorage Daily News (ADN) reached out to three-time Iditarod Champion Mitch Seavey for his response and he, too, had only positive things to say. The ADN also reported that Seavey is still waiting to sign up until the Board reviews the new revisions to the "personal conduct rule."

The Iditarod also announced today that they plan to add one more name to the roster in the coming months.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (July 13)

Happy Friday the Thirteenth! It's been a quiet week online for mushing news, but there are a few tidbits worth sharing, so let's get right to it, shall we?

Retired Iditarod Musher, Karen Ramstead was in the news in Calgary talking of her newest passion - border collies - the article details her life as a musher and how she went from recreational musher to Iditarod musher and back. Karen still has a kennel with a few Siberians and is still active in the mushing community having been a race official for Iditarod several times now.

Newly retired Iditarod musher Scott Janssen - aka the Mushin' Mortician - was awarded by the State of Alaska yesterday for his act of bravery during this year's race. You may remember that Janssen came accross fellow musher Jim Lanier in the infamous "Blow Hole" very close to the finish. Lanier and team were forced down and stuck due to high winds. Both Lanier and Janssen flirted with hypothermia, but Scott refused to leave his fellow musher. He ended his race to get help for his friend.

Mushing Legend and Alaskan hero, Leonhard Seppala's house has been a mainstay in Nome for decades. Seppala, of course, is long gone having moved to the lower 48 after many year's in the "frozen North" before passing away in 1967. The house has become run down and was set to be demolished until a group of mushing enthusiasts and historians came together to try and save the building. Headed by Jon Van Zyle - artist and former Iditarod musher - the house has been saved and the restoration is underway. The house will become a historic building housing a museum of mushing and the history of the serum run that Seppala and his famed dog Togo ran to save Nome from the Diptheria outbreak of 1925

There are still only 29 mushers signed up for Iditarod 2019. Iditarod officials and fans are all hopeful at least once Seavey will add their name to the list soon.

Like I said, it was a light news week... though I am sure I missed something - if there's some news I missed or you feel I should have included, please send me a note! Chances are I just didn't see it.

Disclaimer: all of my blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect anyone else's viewpoints unless I share a direct quote. I am in no way related to, or employed by, any musher or member of their family/crew. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Dipnetting 2018

I'm not sure I plan to report every day on the dipnetting, but I've gone up and done a couple periscope broadcasts. Yesterday was grey and rainy... today sunny and so windy! The surf today was insane. If you missed the live feeds, you can watch them on replay.

Tonight we are looking at having a Super Tide, with 23 foot seas near the mouth of the Kenai, which means they are closing the beach and making every tent move. It'll be interesting to see the reports of how that went - high tide is around 3:30am Thursday morning.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (July 6)

The mushing news round ups were popular last year, so I'm going to do my best to do this again. Starting much earlier this year as last year. Some mushers have already given some great tidbits into their summer and future racing plans, so let's get a run down of some of the top stories of the week.

Brent Sass broke radio silence this week to announce his return to competitive mushing. Announcing his plans to sign up for the 2019 Yukon Quest on his website, Sass said the break during the 2018 season was just what he and his team needed. Sass had a rough couple of race years with a disqualification in the 2015 Iditarod after he used a piece of technology that in that race year was a banned tool (two way communication technology is now allowed). Sass again had trouble in 2016 when he pushed his dogs a little too hard in his attempt to win the Last Great Race, his team stalled in White Mountain. Sass went on to come in 20th. In 2017 Sass scratched from the Yukon Quest just 150 miles from the finish when two of his dogs collapsed, reportedly without warning. Sass believed it was due to a genetic issue within his team's bloodlines. He withdrew from Iditarod and seemingly disappeared from the racing scene. It will be interesting to see if the Quest Champion will be able to rebound from his unlucky streak.

Matt Failor announced on his team's facebook page that he would have a second string of dogs running in Iditarod under the careful guide of Michael Baker. Baker first ran the Iditarod in 2017, and is returning to run again. This brings the roster of Iditarod mushers up to 29 for the 2019 race. Baker placed 58th in his Iditarod rookie run.

Paul Gebhardt is still recovering from his battle with cancer - and all news has been positive on that front. Gebhardt was diagnosed less than a year ago, missed the racing season, and let most of his team be leased to other mushers - specifically Ray Redington. Gebhardt underwent Stem Cell treatment in early spring, and is now back on the Kenai Peninsula working at the kennel and at his construction business. On July 4th his kennel posted a quick update on their facebook page.

Speaking of the Fourth of July, the annual Mt Marathon race in Seward, Alaska saw several mushers (current and former) hit the trail. Dallas Seavey, Travis Beals, Conway Seavey all ran the course, as well as Tekla Seavey - who, okay, isn't a musher but she married into mushing "royalty"... and she beat Dallas and Conway's times so... I had to rub it in. Girl power!

Jeff Deeter gave a look into life off grid last week (and since I didn't do a news round up last week, I'm going to share this one here). Deeter was one of two mushers who won their entry fee back at the Iditarod sign ups last Saturday, so I'm sure it will go to good use around the kennel in other ways.

The Yukon Quest is gearing up for their musher sign ups. The kick off is August 4th on both sides of the border. Check out their facebook page and website for full details.

Blair Braverman, who last week signed up for her rookie run on the Iditarod, shares a lot of great glimpses into kennel life on twitter, and one of the most heartwarming was most definitely her "bedtime story for sled dog pups" that she gave July 5. Be sure to click the link and follow the thread. You won't regret it.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Iditarod BBQ 2018

Last night I was so tired after a long day of driving and "extroverting" that I did a very short blog post about the BBQ before passing out for the night. I live in Kenai which is a 4 hour drive (one way) to Wasilla... on a good day... without traffic... or a dad who wants to stop at Cabella's for a man's version of retail therapy... and who also drinks way too much fluids when road tripping if you get my drift. I guess he's getting me back for that summer of potty training when I'm pretty sure I waited until no bathrooms were in sight and I just had to go behind a bush on the side of the road.

But I digress, you're not hear to read about my road trip woes (it really wasn't that bad).

The BBQ was not as well attended as in year's past. Normally by noon the overflow parking is filled with dog trucks and volunteer cars alike, but when we got there only a handful were there. This is a huge field to park in, so it was a very noticeable difference. There is no doubt, to me, that the "woes of the ITC" in the last two years are starting to greatly affect the long standing fans and volunteers along with the mushers. You cannot have a race the size of the Iditarod without those, but it seems the ITC is still more concerned with protecting their seats than the race.

After parking we made our way to the gift shop, where I ran into my first musher - Iditarod Rookie Blair Braverman. As I said in a previous blog post, she flew in from Wisconsin to sign up for her first Iditarod. I've "known" her husband for 4 years as he followed me on twitter, and I think it was a year later he suggested I follow Blair - and I'm glad I listened. Blair is such a positive voice for the sport - she just makes it fun. She is a kick to follow on twitter, and if you like sled dog puppies (I love them) then you definitely want to follow her, too.

I didn't actually spot her, she spotted me as I walked into the gift shop and she shouted my name. It's a small room, but I think we were all shocked that we'd finally managed to be in the same place at the same time (we missed meeting up at the restart this year, her husband worked at Ididaride one summer and I never saw him, it's crazy!). After exchanging hugs and introductions to my dad, they pointed out that Mitch Seavey was in the room next door and so Q went to interview him, Blair and I chatted and realized he was never coming back so we went in search. It was an interesting conversation considering Mitch had let the world know just a few days before that he was considering sitting out next year's race. Mitch attended the meeting that morning in hopes of having his concerns listened do and addressed, we had a very interesting conversation (for instance they are changing the "dropped dog" term to "returned dog" and it sounds like that was a heated debate in what the new term should be).

Trying to convince the three-time champion that social media is a great tool.
I'm still very much Team Seavey so I am biased, but I do feel that Mitch - as always - has a really good perspective on the issue and that he's thought it through. A part of me wants him to run and just to hell with the rest of them, but another part of me wants him to stand firm. I don't know if there is a right answer. I'd like to think Mitch is right, because it's the closest to what I think, but I'm not sure. I do know that there's a lot of hurt, and a lack of trust, and it's not just Seavey... and they're not the ones who started it. There was a quietness to the event this year that just seemed to hang in the air.