Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Year of the Bear

As stated in my other road trip blog posts, 2020 has offered a unique ability to do a little bit of tourism within my home state. Just about all of my summer adventures happened with my best friend and her daughter (who was 10 at the beginning of summer but turned 11 on the first day of the new school year, poor kid). Many of those trips included a quick trip down Skilak Lake Road just about an hour north of where we live. Adds quite a bit of time because we go slow hoping to see some wildlife, and this year has not disappointed. We've seen birds (including a horrible collision between a pick up and a Spruce Hen), squirrels, rabbits... and BEARS. There is a lot of bear activity in that area, both brown and black. We've seen both over the years, but not as often as we've seen them this year (to be fair we don't normally drive that road as much as we have this year). 

One night we were able to catch some photos of a black bear cub (no mommy in sight!) and then a few weeks later we spotted a sow brown bear and her three cubs close by floating on the Russian River. I've included both here just because.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Exploring Independence Mine


Earlier this summer the bestie, the kid, and I all went up to Hatcher's Pass to explore Independence Mine. I'd only been once, and they'd never been. here are images from the day. I'm not going to bore you with a lot of text. If you want to learn more about the area check out Adventuring Alaska's blog post

See more under the cut. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wild Blueberries in Turnagain Pass

Last weekend my best friend, her 11-year-old daughter, and I took a road trip from Anchorage. This has been a different sort of summer, what with Covid-19 shutting down much of the travel industry, so the roads have been a little more clear of tourist traffic. Alaskans have all taken advantage, and we're no exception. We'd already planned to make this summer one of many trips to touristy parts of the state, but with a lot of the mandates we've opted to stick to our normal routes and explore the "wilds" where we can. We've dubbed it the "Summer of Sub-Par Adventures" because after introducing the Indiana Jones movies to the kid, she decided she could not be an adventurer, and could only do sub-par adventures. 

Anyway, on our way up we stopped off in Turnagain Pass. There are trails behind the rest stop, and I'd wanted to explore for many years but we're always on our way somewhere - plus I am not gonna do it by myself! - and this was the day! We made a spur of the moment decision. The 11-year-old was not convinced we would have fun until we suggested if she looked she might be able to find some sort of berry to eat. This perked her up and we let her lead the way. Have to say she is a good little Alaskan-type Sherpa.... except she likes hills and I do not.

The trails are well worn, but often dead end, so there was a lot of searching for the next one, but that just meant we could keep going further into the pass. We didn't do any creek crossings, but we were tempted to try and find our way to the bridge used in winter for the snowmachines and back country skiers. My best friend has been obsessed with the bridge all summer as we pass through the area and she spies it through the bushes. Her goal was to find it (spoiler: we never did), but the Kid had no idea what we were talking about and was just focused on finding berries (she had very little idea on what she was looking for there, too). 

To be honest, we have very little knowledge on berries. We were hoping we'd run into something easy like blueberries where we wouldn't have to dive into our rusty knowledge of what a safe red in color berry looked like (like cranberries, salmonberries, etc). The Kid kept telling us "facts" on how you could tell which berries were poisonous and which ones weren't, and none of it sounded correct - but that doesn't mean it wasn't. Still, it gave her a goal while her mom and I explored an area we drive through so many times and never stop to enjoy.

The fall colors weren't all the way out yet, I'm guessing we've got more color in the area now (man, should've gone to find some POP this weekend). But it was still more fall than summer in both temperature and foliage. We were not the only "hikers" in the area and we met quite a few dogs out on the trail. Just a great afternoon jaunt on the mountainside.

Either we weren't good at spotting the berries, or they just weren't around for the first part of our walk. It's wasn't long before my bestie and I got a little silly. The 11-year-old was not amused. She's definitely in the age where she is easily embarrassed by the adults in her life and to be honest I'm totally here for it. I was belting out Disney's "Just Around the River Bend" (Pocahontas) and her mother was all about "The Sound of Music"... you can clearly see from the pictures that the child was not amused. If looks could kill!

We reluctantly turned around to head back to the car to continue to make our way to Anchorage. The Kid ran up ahead to get away from the most embarrassing people she knows. As we made our way, the bestie looked down and spotted a few blueberries. The Kid came running back to gather them up, then suddenly it was like the ground exploded and they were everywhere! We spent several minutes scooping up handfuls. At one point I smooshed a bunch on my shoe - and then the kid fell and sat in a big bunch of them so it looked like we'd slaughtered something. We all laughed a lot!

We didn't bring any containers so we only took what we could carry in our hands and the kid ate them all as she walked back to the car (fine by me, I don't like berries of any color). All in all a fun experience and we're already talking about trying different trails next time.

Friday, September 18, 2020

New Mid-Distance Sled Dog Race Announced

In a year where everything seems so up in the air comes news that a new 250 mile sled dog race is happening this winter in Alaska. The "Sweeps Sleddog Race" will run out of Caswell, and promises to be a difficult and challenging race. According to the race's newly created website, the "company" is "headed up" by Renee Crawford and the race is "facilitated by an advisory board". Iditarod Rookie of the Year's Mille Porsild heads up the rule committee, and Sam Crawford is the trail boss. 

Teams of 8-dogs will run the 250 mile course that "will be well-marked, but not necessarily broken" stopping in three checkpoints for 15 minutes each for a mandatory dog check. Teams must start with no more than 8 and finish with no less than 6, with no substitutions along the way. There are no mandatory hours of rest, however teams must spend at least 15 minutes in the checkpoint upon entering for a mandatory vet check of the dogs. There are a total of 49 rules, and a note at the end on possible trail conditions and hazards:

"Sweeps urges Racers in the race to fully prepare themselves and their team for possible hazardous trail conditions and challenging weather conditions. Part of the trail will be in remote lightly traveled areas and racers who lose the trail must be prepared for survival in such an emergency situation. The trail will be marked and the progress of racers will be closely monitored. However, weather may prevent a Racer from being helped in the event Racer is lost. Please plan accordingly."

The race could go to 300 miles, depending on trail and weather conditions, or could be shortened. The official trail and mileage will be decided closer to the race start and will be announced at the musher meeting ahead of the race. The purse is a hefty $4,000 (that's an Iditarod sized entry fee), but the purse payout is promised to be a big one (winner could bank up to $40,000 depending on entries). There is a limit of 25 teams and a minimum of 21 teams; there is no limit to how many teams from one kennel may enter.  

The website went live on Friday and news is traveling. At this time there's no information on whether or not there will be trackers for fans to follow - but with the race falling back on older race type rules and infrastructure it may be a safe bet that fans will have to rely on official reports from the race. There's also no social media presence for the race itself. Hopefully these and other questions will be answered as it gets closer to race time.

It will be interesting to see how this race progresses and how sign ups go. Deadline to sign your team up is December 1, 2020. Race start will be February 19, 2021. 

Willow 300 needs volunteers

September into October often sees many sled dog races start to amp up their social media presence (if they have one at all) with updates on race dates and registration links. It's not often that a race starts asking for volunteers to commit to shifts so soon, but that's what the Willow 300 did on Tuesday. The Willow 300 is a fairly new race in Alaska - having started in 2017, but having to cancel in 2019 due to weather. The race returned in 2020, but has always struggled for man power. 2020 saw a small field of volunteers having multiple duties all at once. There was talk of burn out, but the love of the dogs and sport kept them in the trenches. 

Wanting to improve the quality of the volunteer experience, as well as address burn out and safety concerns, the Willow 300's 2021 race is contingent on volunteer sign ups. The teams to run the race are there, but they need the infrastructure to successfully continue one of the few races in South Central Alaska used as an Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier. 

"Urgent: Please spread the word.
We want more than anything to hold the Willow 300 Sled Dog Race this year, but if we can be frank, we need more volunteers to make it happen. Experience, no experience, all are welcome.
The last few years we have managed on fewer volunteers than we really should have. We never jeopardized safety, and we never will, but this year, due to not only Covid but the strain of everything else that is ongoing, many of our regular volunteers may not be able to assist. Due to travel constraints, essential employees needed where they are and economic reasons, many volunteers will have to sit out this race.
If you can help, in any capacity, we need a firm commitment of the day or days, hours you can give us. We can take it from there once we have people who are willing to commit. We will see where you can be placed and work with you to make it happen.
We can't stress enough the urgency of our need. Will you help keep a tradition alive?
If so, please contact us by pm or contact Marshall at 907-707-9254. Call or text is fine.
If you are a musher and have friends or family that can volunteer, we appreciate you sharing our call for help. 🙂
The dates of the Willow 300 are Thursday, February 4 - Sunday, February 7, 2021. Volunteers are also needed the day before and after the race dates.
Thank you in advance for helping us keep a wonderful tradition alive." - W300 Facebook

The volunteer positions will mainly fall to Alaskans with the pandemic still hanging over the race season. While the Willow 300 has not stated what - if any - special accommodations they have planned depending the state of Covid by February, several other races have given details into how they will keep contamination to a minimum. The Yukon Quest has cancelled their Canadian version of the 300 - which originally was going to be in place of the 1,000 mile race - and on the Alaskan side they've renamed the 300 race to the Summit Quest. Iditarod put out a statement this weekend saying that they are planning for several options dependent on the severity of the Covid-19 Pandemic by March and how villages feel. The Kuskokwim 300 gave the most detailed plan this week on how they plan to allow teams and volunteers to travel into the Western Alaska town and villages. 

With travel still limited, it may be a great way to encourage Alaskans to stop thinking of Hawaii and instead take up some volunteering with the state's official sport. If you are interested in volunteering for the Willow 300 contact Marshall at 907.707.9254 for info. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

2020/21 Race Season Schedule

Yes, this blog is still active. Don't judge the lack of posts thinking Covid's taken another fun thing from our lives. It's just with Covid a lot of things have been up in the air regarding race season, but good news! Races are staying positively optimistic that the season will go on as planned. There will be, of course, changes to how races are run (best example is there is no thousand mile Yukon Quest this year due to border restrictions) because of the pandemic are still being worked out, but overall the winter is looking bright for sport lovers ready for something to follow. Below is the schedule with most of the big races in North America and Europe featured. The list will be updated as time allows and information comes in. If I have missed a race you feel should be included, please leave a comment below and I'll do my best to find info. Most races on the list come from the Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifying races list.

Alpine Creek 200/300
TBA, December 2020

Knik 200*
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

MUSH Synnfjell
January 1, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Gunflint Mail Run
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Copper Basin 300*
January 9, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Kuskokwim 300*
February 12, 2021 (postponed from original date)
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Caribou Classic Sled Dog Race
Website / Facebook

Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race*
January 20, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Tustumena 200*
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon*
January 31, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Willow 300*
February 4, 2021
Website / Facebook 

February 5, 2021
Website / Facebook 

Caledonia Classic
Website / Facebook

Yukon Quest*
TBA, February 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Summit Quest (Formerly AK Yukon 300)*
February 13, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Bergebyløpet N70
February 12, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Amundsen Race*
TBA 2021
Website / Facebook 

Race to the Sky*
February 12, 2021
Website / Facebook 

Website / Facebook 

Canadian Challenge*
February 17, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race
February 20, 2021
Website / Facebook

Yukon Journey 450 & 200
February 21, 2021
Website / Facebook

Two Rivers 100/200*
February 25, 2021

Junior Iditarod
February 27, 2021

Iditarod 49*
March 6, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Can-Am Crown International*
Website / Facebook 

March 12, 2021
Website / Facebook 

Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Run*
March 6, 2021
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Hudson Bay Quest
TBA, March 2021
Website / Facebook

Nome to Council 200*
TBA, March 2021

Kobuk 440*
TBA, April 2021
Website / Facebook

*Iditarod/Yukon Quest Qualifying Race