Friday, August 31, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Aug 31)

Aside from a sunny warm spell on the Kenai Peninsula - training season temps have hit Alaska, and teams are hooking up and running down their trails working to get into race form by December. The last litters of the year have been born, and in another couple of weeks the first litters will start learning about being "big dogs". Yearlings will be harness broken this fall, and will work to become sled dogs like their parents and grandparents. Mushers will pull away from the civilized world and become increasingly focused on dogs. It's the most wonderful time of the year for mushing!

If you're interested in taking part in it yourself, there are several teams still looking for a handler for at least part of the 2018-19 season. Squid Acres are looking for someone just for the fall months.

National Dog Day was celebrated by many mushers last week - though, really, when you're a dog person EVERY day is National Dog Day!

Training vids and pictures have been shared more than any other type of post this past week.

Until the snow flies, training is done hitched to atvs running in neutral or very low speeds. It allows mushers to run and control larger teams.

The end of touring season is still ongoing, with most every glacier tour closed for the season by September.

Seeing Double Kennel (run by twins Kristy and Anna Berginton) are expanding their training regimine to include bike-joring. Kristy's husband, who ran his rookie Iditarod this year, Andy Pohl has taken to using a few of the dogs to do some dryland runs with his bike. Pohl and Berington met when Kristy was running the Iditarod with dogs, and he was biking the trail (brrr).

Iditarod musher Rick Castillo works hard year round not only as a musher, but he works with combat veterans who suffer from PTSD and other issues as a result to their service for their country. Battle Dogs has been praised Nationwide for their work. And now they're being recognized by the Combat Veteran Motorcycle Group! Congratulations, Rick and team!

Several dog teams in Nome were let loose earlier this week. One dog died as a result, others injured, and another dog is still missing. Mike Owens, Chrystie Salesky, and Janet Balice all have dogs in a secure dog lot outside of town. There has been no information as to who or why the dogs were let loose, but it's caused a major stir in the community of Nome and the larger dog mushing community.
Sixty dogs were let loose, from three of the four kennels who park their dogs there. For some unknown reason, the fourth kennel's dogs were not bothered. Many speculate that the vandals responsible ran out of time to release all of the canines.

Iditarod roster is up to 32 name with a rookie from France joining the mix. The roster now stands at 32 names, tying the roster of the very first Iditarod with the smallest list of names in race history. Still no Marrs or Seavey on the list.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Aug 24)

I intentionally skipped last week's round up. There wasn't much in the way of new news, and what was new was kind of the same ol' same ol'... plus, I was just not feeling it. I'll admit it, I was lazy... but there were a few shake ups this week (many being released within the last few hours of August 24) so I guess I best get to sharing what's going on.

Breaking today (Friday, August 24) is the news out of the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) - Board President Andy Baker, brother of 2011 Iditarod Champion John Baker, announced that he has stepped down from the position and has resigned from the board of directors. Baker plans to be a spectator and continued supporter of the Last Great Race (which at this point means just a spectator who may pay dues every year if they want to, but they no longer get a vote... but hey we still get a discount on their merchandise!) Succeeding Baker as president is newly appointed board member Mike Mills. The change comes seven months after an independent study produced by the Foreaker Group recommended an entire overhaul of the ITC board due to mushers and fans alike having no faith in the leadership of the race. To further support that claim, many well known mushers chose not to sign up for the 2019 race, and many still are not on the roster as of today. It will be interesting to see in the coming days and weeks to see if this is the change that will get more mushers to sign up. Currently Wade Marrs, Mitch Seavey, Dallas Seavey, Ray Redington, and Robert Redington are leading the boycott until changes to the race leadership is made.

In less dramatic news, Jodi Bailey of Dew Claw Kennel announced the arrival of six new pups! Mama dog and babies are doing well.

Iditarod veteran Cindy Abbott posted about a recent showing at the Founders Day Parade in the MatSu Valley. She and dogs were supporting another musher from Dream a Dream kennel, and a legendary musher in his own right Vern Halter. Vern is mayor of the MatSu and so it's fitting his two passions pull together to better the community.

Iditarod Champions Dallas Seavey and Joar Leifseth Ulsom are headlining a symposium over in Norway in September. I wish I could tell you more about it - but I can't read the language. Still, if you're over on the other side of the Atlantic, look it up. Norway knows how to celebrate the sport of mushing and its stars (dogs and humans alike). It's almost like a rock concert at the start of some of these races. I can only guess that this is a mushing equivalent to ComicCon. (There should BE a MusherCon in Alaska! Let's make that happen!)

ACE Race (Alpine Creek Excursion) is happening again this year and have announced the date. It's a race out of Cantwell. 64 miles round trip, so not a qualifier, but fun none-the-less.

Pedigree Stage Stop Race announced this week that their roster had been set for the 2019 race (seems so early to me!). Only one Alaskan team is participating, but the roster looks to be very strong and should be a very exciting race to follow.

The end of August typically marks the end of Glacier dog sled tours, Glaciers deteriorate over summer and it become dangerous to be on them, plus weather is worse and it's harder to transport to and from the glaciers. So that means a lot of dogs are returning back to their kennels to begin the fall training. September is so close, and the weather has cooled some in Alaska, so training has begun for a lot of team.

Squid Acres is looking for a short term part time handler to help with the fall training season - contact them if you're interested. They're a competitive kennel for both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod.

Don't be surprised if the next couple of weeks if there's a lot of training related posts from different teams. And keep fingers and paws crossed that Iditarod's changes move the race in a positive direction.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Beads of Courage

I haven't shared on my blog, but if you're following me on social media you may have picked up on the fact that my cousin's daughter is fighting for her life. Baby Ella was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). In her short life she's had multiple surgeries and has spent more time in the hospital than she has at home. She is a fighter, and has the best - most amazing - parents any child could have. It's been hard being so far away unable to do anything but pray (even if prayer is probably the best thing at this point to do). Mom and I have come close to booking flights down a couple of times as it looked like we were going to lose Ella Rae...

...but then Ella pulls through by the grace of God! It's been an incredible roller coaster of emotions, and I'm just the cousin who sees the family once in a blue moon! I can only imagine what my cousin, her husband, and their families are going through.

This past week, though, my cousin's world and mine collided when Ella received a "bead of courage" from the Iditarod Trail. Since 2011, The Iditarod has partnered with Beads of Courage to have mushers, veterinarians, and the teacher on the trail carry beads that are then sent to children nationally who are facing medical hurdles. The beads are collected by the child and used to tell their story of how they've overcome the obstacles thrown in their path. The beads are sent with a card signed by the person who carried it, with a little note of encouragement. Some also carry an extra glass bead that is later auctioned off by the program to fund their work.

This week my cousin sent me two photos with a message saying that she knew I'd probably enjoy knowing about the gift Ella'd gotten this week. Ella got a bead from Iditarod musher Becca Moore from when she ran in 2016 (the last time she's run). Becca is married to Iditarod Veteran Ramey Smyth who is signed up to run again this year. When Becca was carrying Ella's bead she was also carrying something a little more - she was pregnant with their daughter!

I don't know if I'm just wishing it, but I kinda feel like that was God's way of saying that even though "all I'm doing" is praying, that I am with my California family during this fight. It is a special connection that really made me stop and smile. Ella still has a long battle ahead of her, and she's slow and steady and I believe will win this "race". She is Ella strong. Please, if you so believe, pray for little Ella and her mom and dad and big brother Eli. Pray for wisdom and skill for the doctors, wisdom and peace for her family, and strength for baby Ella. Thank you to all who have encouraged and prayed and loved on them.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mushing News Round Up (Aug 10)

It was a roller coaster week of weather for South Central Alaska - have to admit the talk of a warm winter again this year makes me nervous for the Alaska Mushing season... we still have several months until the first traditional snow fall, but training is right around the corner, so long as the weather behaves. As of last weekend Alaska's two biggest sled dog races are now open for entries.

The Yukon Quest saw a fantastic turn out for their first day of sign ups on Saturday. 40 teams in all split between the 1,000 and 300 mile races signed up, and as of today two more rookies signed up - one for each race. Both are women. This may mark a turning point in the sport of mushing. The Quest has been in an unofficial competition with Iditarod to be proclaimed the best race in Alaska. With all of the Iditarod upheaval, and the subsequent response by many of the top racing kennels, this just may boost the Quest as the premiere sled dog event for Alaska. The Iditarod still sits with a roster of 30 teams.

After taking last season off from racing, Brent Sass was on hand at Quest sign ups to get back into the swing of things. Sass is a past champion of the Quest, and was thought to be part of the crop of younger up and coming mushers that would dominate the sport. He's had a few bumps along the way, and decided 2017-18 was going to be the season that he took off to regroup.

The Quest changes start and finish every year, they rotate the direction of the race every other year. 2019's Quest begins in Whitehorse and finishes in Fairbanks. Fairbanks based mushers are excited to be racing towards home.

Before sign ups, Mary Helwig posted how her morning was going. Retired sled dogs still keep kennel life interesting.

Cody Strathe posted about his(?) new glasses... in the cutest way imaginable.

And puppy pictures just keep coming, this one from Caribou Crossing Kennel.

Plans seem to be moving forward for the proposed "Mushing District" in downtown Anchorage. Famed Alaskan artist and musher Jon Van Zyle posted on his facebook page that he has been asked to contribute to the project, and he seems very excited. Honestly, I think I'm starting to really like the idea as well. It will be interesting to see what happens.

And more puppy pictures came from Jeff Deeter! Puppies, puppies, puppies! Is it any wonder we love mushers and their sled dogs?! SO MANY PUPPIES!

And for another dose of a different kind of cute, Iditarod's 2019 Teacher on the Trail was featured in the Boston Globe (he's a local boy) for his work with the race. The middle school teacher, you may recall, made quite the splash among fans and teachers alike for being tall and very handsome. I'm just sharing the news, y'all.

And while I'm trying very hard to stay out of politics these days, former Iditarod musher Steve Watkins (also a war hero, and Everest climber, and yadda yadda yadda) is running for congress and just won his state's GOP primary by a narrow margin. I've been somewhat following his campaign, and so it's neat to see him come out on top - whether or not we agree politically.

Did I miss anything? Comment below with your thoughts/news that I maybe skipped over. I had a busy week so I no doubt missed a few things.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Forty mushers sign up for the Yukon Quest events

As predicted by insiders, the Yukon Quest rosters are healthy ones. 22 teams, including seven rookies, signed up on the first day for the 1,000 mile race. 18 teams, half of them rookies, signed up for the 300 mile mid-distance race. Familiar faces in both. Names like Aliy Zirkle and Hans Gatt are among the top names in the YQ 300. Over on the thousand miler side, Allen Moore looks to go for another title, and Brent Sass has returned to racing choosing the race he's previously won.

Not on the list, of course, is Hugh Neff. Neff has been suspended from racing either Quest race this year due to the findings of the necropsy of a dog that died on his team this year in the race. Hugh appealed the decision, but it was upheld in June. Neff must sit out this year's race, and must run the 300 to re-qualify for the 1,000 mile Quest. His dogs will run in 2019, however, as his wife Olivia has signed up for the 1,000 mile race. Olivia's grandfather helped create the Yukon Quest, and she has worked hard to be able to run her "family's race". (She is shown as Olivia Webster on her roster as that is her maiden name - per FBNMQuest on Twitter - and that is what is on her passport used to cross the Al-Can border. Who knew?!)

Considering the dismal number of sign ups currently on the Iditarod roster, one can't help but wonder if those names on the Quest's list that haven't signed up for Iditarod are in silent protest over the past year's drama. While some mushers like Quest and Iditarod veteran Rob Cooke have been vocal about not planning on running both races (he lives in Whitehorse and prefers the Quest), others have not given a reason for why their name does not appear on both like in year's past. That being said some are signed up for both. Aliy Zirkle and Matt Hall the most notable to date. The Iditarod sign up window does not close until December, time will tell if their roster of 30 grows any larger.

Mushers have until January 4, 2019 to sign up for the 2019 Yukon Quest races.

Grant Hochstein at the US Figure Skating Championships

With the announcement this week that Grant Hochstein was retiring from competitive figure skating and would focus on coaching, I thought I'd go ahead and show off some of my photos I took of him back in January when I attended the US Figure Skating National Championships. (How's that for a run on sentence?!) This short program was perfection. So glad I got to see his final skates at Nationals.

Grant HochsteinGrant Hochstein

Grant HochsteinGrant Hochstein

Friday, August 3, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Aug. 3)

Rob Cooke's team of Siberian Huskies at the start of the 2018 Iditarod.
We've entered into August, the final month of summer for most of Alaska; the last hurrah before training season truly begins for many sled dog teams statewide. While the summer has been sparse with news out of kennels, there was a boom this week. The Yukon Quest sign ups begin tomorrow with a big kick off on both sides of the border, and that has the mushing community buzzing with excitement. Where the Iditarod sign up seemed quiet, and the roster is still just at 30 names, it is expected that the Quest will outshine in its hoopla this year.

Puppies continue to be the name of the game this week. Many of the summer litters are quickly turning to dogs, and mushers proudly show off their pups on social media. Sarah and Travis at Turning Heads Kennel are no exception.... and they have some good looking pups that will no doubt turn into good looking super stars in the next two to three years.

Matt Hall at Smokin' Aces Kennel is looking to sign up for the 2019 Yukon Quest tomorrow morning, but the last few weeks he's been focused on putting in a new dog yard. Matt shared some of his progress on social media over the weekend.

Iditarod musher Lev Shvarts took to social media on his Team Ollie page to place a want ad for a handler for the winter season. Many kennels need help to keep the teams conditioned - just because the snow flies it doesn't mean that mushers don't have lives/jobs outside the realm of dogs. They have to find a balance to make everything work, and that typically means opening up their kennel and home to handlers (think of them as glorified interns). Many get their start in this way and work their way up to having their own dogs and kennel and racing teams through handling for other established kennels. If you're interested, it looks like the job is still available.

Four-time Yukon Quest and (consecutive) Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey made headlines again, and it's positive. Lance, as you may know, has not given up the dog life, but he has increased his need for speed and has turned a lot of his attention to car racing. While he does plan to race this season in the sprint and mid distance sled dog races, Mackey also has plans for NASCAR. That's right NASCAR. The Daily News-Miner out of Fairbanks, Alaska reported on the mushing legend this week. At some point, Mackey may have to make the difficult decision to choose one passion over the other. In some ways he may have already made his move, as he's sold off a lot of his equipment and long-distance team dogs. That being said, Mackey has been very vocal in his fight against animal rights groups like PETA who want to see the sport of mushing destroyed.
Lance Mackey's team at the start of the 2018 Tustumena 200, January 27.

The Iditarod Trail Committee announced their fifth and final new board member on Monday. The ITC selected Alaska's chief of the National Transportation and Safety Board, Clint Johnson. Johnson runs the investigations of all plane crashes in Alaska among other duties. He is admittedly not familiar with the sport, other than having attended the starts of the Iditarod and Rondy races, but says he is willing to learn about the culture the sport entails. With Clint's experience one has to wonder if there aren't significant plans for changes within the Iditarod Air Force coming with this addition to the board. The Iditarod Air Force is the volunteer group of pilots that transport equipment, people, dogs, etc. to and from the check points. They are the ones who assist in returning dogs back to Anchorage to be handed off to the handlers (these were previously called dropped dogs, dogs who for whatever reason needed to stop racing and go home before the race is over, they are now designated as "returned dogs"). There have been a few mishaps in the last couple of years, one of which resulted in dog deaths, and in the Iditarod's history there have been several planes that have crashed (non-fatal, but no less terrifying). One has to think that he will be giving some guidance on how to improve a system that after 46 years may need fresh ideas to keep flying.

Black Spruce Kennels, owned by Jeff and KattiJo Deeter, made news this week via Penny Hoarder with their kennel being highlighted as an off grid haven. Jeff is one of the youngest mushers to run Iditarod, running his rookie year back in 2008 at the tender age of 19. After taking ten years off to find his calling, Deeter returned to Iditarod running this past March and doing rather well. Jeff is once again signed up for the Last Great Race, and was one of two mushers to win their entry fee back during the June 30 sign up BBQ.

Snow Owl Sled Dog Tours announced the names of their newest sled dog team members with some super cute photos of, you guessed it, PUPPIES! And this is doubly awesome because the litter names are inspired by the Addams Family. Uh, sign me up!

Iditarod musher Lisbet Norris is throwing her hat in the ring for the 2019 Yukon Quest, this will be her rookie run. She was excited not only to share that news with followers of her page but also to show off her awesome dog truck rig. Unlike the Iditarod, handlers are allowed to help their musher within certain check points on the Quest, and with her new rig, she's able to safely run "the other thousand mile" race.

Beckie Hacker - who dreams of one day running the Iditarod and is working towards that goal - proudly showed off her new leaders in a quick update on her social media pages.

Mary Helwig had a little bit of frustration this morning as she found that one of her retired pups had decided to go into landscaping.... in her newly landscaped yard. Needless to say the pup seems pretty dang proud of himself, and she is without a lot of nice flowers and veggies.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Conway Seavey Band at Music in the Park

Old habits die hard. I haven't been a "paid stalker" for the Seaveys in four years, but I stopped by Conway's free concert in the Soldotna Creek Park last night. As always, he did well to get the crowd dancing. Much different from when he was that 11 year old kid on the Iditarod Banquet stage belting out Idita-Rock-and-Roll.

Here are a few photos to highlight the evening. I already miss the sun.