Friday, December 31, 2021

2022 Knik 200 Race Preview

Happy New Year, race fans! 2022 is just a day away and with that comes the first "major" race of the season! In an almost Christmas Miracle like fashion, the Knik 200 is set to run for the first time in several years. Plagued with both bad weather making trails impossible and then of course pandemics, the Knik 200 was all but considered a dead race. Last year the board disbanded and handed over control to the race's future to the Knik Trail Blazers who were not ready to give up on the sled dog race meant to tribute the Father of the Iditarod. Everyone held their breath throughout December as temps dipped low and snow accumulated (what a roller coaster of temps). Then over Christmas Chinook Winds came in and melted quite a bit of snow, but it wasn't enough to derail the rejuvenated season opener. 

The roster at one point was over 20 teams for the 200 (the 100 also has a healthy roster with well known names), however storms and other issues saw several names withdraw late - but completely understandable. Still, 18 teams plan to hit the trails tomorrow. So let's look at some of the key players in this weekend's race.

Who to Watch

Aaron Burmeister - the runner up in the 2021 Iditarod, Burmeister has announced this is his final competitive season (at least where Iditarod is concerned). Family has always been Aaron's main focus and as his kids get older he wants to be present for all of their accomplishments. Stand up guy, and a great dog man. Burmeister ended his Iditarod run heated and wanting to do more. I expect Aaron to have a solid race season, with the main focus finally bringing that Iditarod win home to Nome. All races/runs will be with that focus in mind (I'm totally guessing as I don't know what his plans really are). 

Dave Turner - Dave has become a name to watch in mid-distance races. His team is fast and he is a quick study. Expect him to make a run for the win here, and don't be surprised if he does. Turner was the final Tustumena 200 champion, but that was a few years ago now, but ever since that win I'm hard pressed to keep him off the "who to watch" lists. Turner has withdrawn from the race. 

Matt Failor - Failor is one of many of his generation of musher on the "upswing". The 2019 Kuskokwim Champion has really come into his own (he freaking ran the Iditarod while hobbling along on a bum hip! WHAT?!) and there's no sign that he is slowing down yet. Expect Matt to be right there in the mix for the win. 

Nicolas Petit - I keep crowning him the king of the mid-distance race, but it really is where Petit's team seems to thrive. I'm more apt to declare him the favorite to win a mid-distance than I am to declare him a shoo-in for a long distance championship. Expect Petit to take the lead early and do everything to keep it. But ALSO expect that he just is entering this for fun and will sit back. One can never be sure which Nic will show up.

Travis Beals - another "young" musher who makes a statement in most races. Beals is also focused on Iditarod and uses races to prepare for the big one. He could easily find himself in the top teams in this race as his team IS a top team.

**Hugh Neff - Neff proved himself last season after running the Summit Quest last year. Having fulfilled his requirements of reinstatement from the Yukon Quest after being suspended for having questionable dog care during the race several years ago, Neff has returned to regularly scheduled programming. I have him as an "honorable mention" because some personal life upheaval had Neff making the move from the interior to south central Alaska and he's now running dogs out of Jim Lanier's kennel. Hugh could be very competitive here, or he could be middle of the pack. Not knowing what the plan is, I didn't want to list him as a shoo-in for a top placement. 

How to Watch

With the restructuring, most of the info has been hard to find. It could be that come race day I'll be on the fly giving info, but here's what we know so far:

Official Website
The race does not have an official website, but they are active on Facebook. Expect most information and updates to be posted there, though it may take a while. 

GPS Tracker
The race WILL have trackers for both the 200 and 100 race, but the link has not been posted by trackleaders yet. You'll find the map with the trackers here.

Social Media
As I said above, they are active on Facebook. The race has not been active on Twitter in years. There's also no Instagram. However, with the Knik Trail Blazers being in charge they may also post to their Facebook. We'll see what we get. It's a reorganizing/rebuilding year, we'll take what we can get. 

Schedule of Events

Friday, December 31, 2021
3:00pm-5:00pm Musher's Dinner and Bib Draw

Saturday, January 1, 2022
8:00am Knik 200 Mandatory Vet Check
10:00am Knik 200 Start
12:00pm Knik 100 Mandatory Vet Check
2:00pm Knik 100 Start

Sunday, January 2, 2022
6:00pm Award Banquet

Which team do you think will win? Who are you cheering for? Comment below!

Edited 12/31/21 to note Dave Turner's withdrawal and adding the link to the trackers.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2022 Knik 200 Musher Roster

It's the final countdown! In just a few days time we will have the mushing season in full swing. While other races have taken place in this very snowy December in Alaska, the Knik 200 has always been the kick off to the "regular season". (Look at those beautiful football analogies applied to dog mushing.) Warm temps and increasingly late snows in the last decade have seen many a Knik 200 be canceled, but it looks like all systems are go for the 2022 race. Last year the race saw a major overhaul to the board and is now under the direction of the Knik Trail Blazers. The new board seems to have a lot of enthusiasm which has trickled down to the teams interested in running. The roster boasts a lot of familiar and top names in the Alaskan mushing community and should provide a very exciting opener for fans to follow along.

Musher Roster

1 Spirit of Joe Redington Sr.
2 Hugh Neff - Facebook / Instagram
3 Eddie Burke - Facebook / Instagram
4 Walter Robinson - Facebook 
5 Anna Berington - Website / Instagram
6 Travis Beals - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
7 Casey Randall - Website / Facebook / Twitter
8 Kristy Berington - Website / Instagram
9 Braxton Peterson - Website / Facebook / Instagram
10 Katie Timmons - Facebook 
11 Karin Hendrickson - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
12 Matt Failor - Website / Facebook / Instagram
13 Isaac Teaford - Facebook
14 Hunter Keefe - Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
15 Aaron Burmeister - Facebook
16 Nicolas Petit - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
17 Lev Shvarts - Website / Facebook 

Who are you cheering for? Comment below!

Edited 12/31/2021 to remove Jeff and KattiJo Deeter from the roster as they withdrew prior to the race.
Edited 12/31/2021 to remove Dave Turner and Dakota Schlosser & to organized based on bib draw.

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Sunday, November 7, 2021

Wade Marrs releases statement on Iditarod withdrawal

Former Iditarod Finishers president and mushing fan favorite, Wade Marrs' name moved to the withdrawn list last month creating quite the buzz among armchair mushers. Marrs took the time to respond in a statement released today stating that yes he has withdrawn from this historic race year due to the vaccination requirements of all participants. Instead of quoting bits and pieces, his whole statement is posted here: 

In a week in sports marred by athletes dancing around the issue with inelegant word game tactics, Marrs stands out among those that acknowledged their decision and accepted any heat they may receive. Wade received support from many in the mushing community, including some of the races in the lower 48 he plans to participate in this coming season. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Award winning author and Iditarod finisher passes

Photo from Gary Paulsen's
GoodReads bio.
The news of Gary Paulsen's passing earlier today was shared on social media via Publisher's Weekly and news quickly spread in both reading and mushing circles. The 82 year old author penned many books for young adult readers, three of which landing him a Newbery Award. Paulsen's work was based loosely on his childhood and young adult experiences of wilderness adventures, and sparked the imagination of many young readers.

Paulsen's most known work - most likely, anyway - is Hatchet, about a teen thrown into the wilds of Canada forced to survive for weeks before he finally finds rescue. The book would land on many required reading lists across school districts. The book was so popular, fans begged for sequels and so Paulsen returned to the story for several more books creating "Brian's Saga". 

Wilderness Survival tales weren't the only themes of Gary's books. The author also penned several novels for young readers - and a couple for adults - about his life as a dog musher. Paulsen began dabbling with sled dogs after beginning trapping and being intrigued by the (fairly new) sled dog race The Iditarod. Always up for a new adventure, Paulsen learned how to mush by trial and error. He entered the Iditarod in 1982 as a rookie, finishing in 43rd place. He would run again in 1985 but failed to complete the race. His third and final time running the Iditarod was 2006 (he did not finish that race either). 

He would write about his experience training the Iditarod in his semi-true book Winterdance: The Find Madness of Running the Iditarod (which is a must have for any Iditarod fan). The book follows his hijinks as he becomes a musher, as well as covers much of his rookie run on the Iditarod. The author would later admit that some of the stories he shared in the book were not his stories but ones he borrowed from others. It still makes for gripping and entertaining reading and inspires many a musher and fan. 

Winterdance was written with grown up readers in mind, so Paulsen would write a similar one for young readers and titled it Woodsong. He would also write a book entitled Dogsong about an Inuit boy and his journey into mushing to honor his history. Both books are often used by teachers using the Iditarod Education curriculum in their classrooms. 

"I had gotten lost, been run over by a moose, watched a dog get killed, seen a man cry, dragged over a third of the teams off on the wrong trail, and been absolutely hammered by beauty while all this was happening. (It was, I would find later, essentially a normal Iditarod day — perhaps a bit calmer than most.) I opened my mouth.

‘I …’

Nothing came. She patted my arm and nodded. ‘I understand. It’s so early in the race. There’ll be more later to talk about …’

And she left me before I could tell her that I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.

I had come just one hundred miles." -excerpt from Winterdance

Gary got out of dogs in the 90s to pursue another adventure in sailing, but soon returned to his true passion. He would write in his 2006 bio: "I never should have left dogs-all the time sailing the Pacific, not a day went by that I didn't miss dogs and the dance that running them is for me. I will not leave them again." Paulsen would sign up to run the race again in the twenty-teens, but would not make it to the starting line due to unforeseen circumstances. 

Paulsen's legacy will live on in the imaginations of readers all over the world, and he will keep inspiring. He was writing up until his death and should have at least one more work published early next year.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hobo Jim's wife shares final message from singer

As most have heard, Alaska's Balladeer Hobo Jim (James Varsos) passed away at home on Tuesday, October 5 with his wife Cyndi at his side. The singer-song writer was diagnosed with end stage, stage four pancreatic cancer a mere 17 days before his passing - a shock to all who knew him. While never one to spend a significant amount of time on social media, Hobo would post wonderful stories and throwbacks for friends and family to enjoy. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Varsos would often put up a live feed and do free concerts for viewers playing requests and his all-time favorites (he even did one specific for children and made Alaskan millennials happy by playing his songs from the books Thunderfeet and Danger the Dog Yard Cat). 

Sunday, Hobo Jim's widow went onto his page to post Hobo Jim's final work he had saved to his phone. "Upon going through Jim's phone," she writes, "I came across this final message Jim wrote to all of you in his own beautiful words. "Thank you for loving him and embracing his music and love of Alaska. There is no one like a Hobo Jim fan. Here is to all of you. May God Bless you all, Cyndi."

Not surprisingly, Hobo Jim's mind was tuned to Alaska and her spirit that constantly called to his. Varsos spent 49 years of his life in the 49th state, most of those literally singing her praises. His songs spoke to many Alaskans on their lifestyle and why they loved their homeland. His memory will live on through the ballads, polkas, and folk music dedicated to his adopted state. 

The GoFundMe account is still active to help support Jim's wife Cyndi through this time. Hobo Jim's facebook page (and fan group page) is still up and fan tributes continue to pour in. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mushing community mourns the loss of Alaskan Balladier

Photo courtesy of "Alaska Bob" Parsons.
James Varsos, better known as Hobo Jim, passed away after a short battle with pancreatic cancer on the morning of October 5. His wife of 42 years was by his side and confirmed the singer's passing in a statement to Alaskan media on Wednesday. Hobo Jim was 68 when he died.

Hobo - as he's lovingly called by friends and fans alike - moved to Alaska in 1972 and immediately fell in love. The singer-songwriter wrote songs of the Alaskan way of life from commercial fishing, to mushing, and off grid life. His songs endeared him to Alaskans and in the early 80s he was given the official title of Alaska's Balladier. 

Varsos and his wife Cyndi settled and raised their family near Soldotna, Alaska (a town on the Kenai Peninsula). His homesteading life inspired many Hobo Jim classics, and many were inspired by his love for his devoted partner. He didn't just write for himself, several well known singers throughout the decades recorded songs he wrote (including Country Legend George Jones). 

The song that solidified Hobo Jim's legendary status came in 1982 when he released the famed Iditarod Trail song which quickly became the official song of the Last Great Race. What was once a "bar song" is now sung in classrooms around the country (if not the world). The catchy polka inspired hit both inspires and haunts those that hear it (mainly because it's an earworm rivaled only by Disneyland's It's a Small World"). 

Hobo Jim would write other memorable mushing songs including Redington's Run which he wrote in tribute to his friend and Iditarod founder Joe Redington Sr. after the musher passed in 2002. Hobo's classic "Wild and Free" was the inspiration for Yukon Quest Champion Brent Sass's kennel (known as, what else, the Wilde and Free Mushing). Hobo Jim was often seen playing concerts benefiting the different races and kennels. 

Varsos announced September 18 that he was diagnosed with end-stage cancer and doctors had given him 3-6 months to live. The singer would pass just 17 days later, a shock to most every one. Family, friends, and fans all took to social media in the days leading up to his passing sharing favorite memories and songs along with encouragement and love. Following the news of his death, the tributes continued. The mushing community was no exception as the emotions and tributes poured out from kennels all over Alaska. 

Hobo Jim left one final message on his facebook at the end of September. 

When Varsos announced his cancer diagnosis friends rallied and started a GoFundMe to support the singer and his wife. Their goal was $75,000 and they had just over $51,000 raised at the time of the singer's passing. They've chosen to continue to raise funds to help Cyndi Varsos, if you would like to contribute you can find the GoFundMe link here.

Do you have any fond memories of Hobo Jim? Favorite song? Share below.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Mid-Distance races open up registration this weekend

With snow falling consistently for the last two weeks in Alaska, fans can officially say it's mushing season. Teams began early fall training late in August and have continued to share their impressive early season miles as the weather remains cool to crisp. While races like the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod open registration in mid to late summer, the mid distance races wait to organize as thoughts turn to long hours on the back of a dog sled. 

This weekend two of the big names in mid-distance races opened registration. The Copper Basin 300 in Alaska and the John Beargrease of Minnesota opened registration Saturday with much fanfare. With Covid numbers rising in Alaska and elsewhere, it was curious if there would be much enthusiasm by the mushing community to look ahead to January and sign up - but sign up they did.

While the Copper Basin is missing some familiar names to the opening name roster - most noticeable is reigning champion Nicolas Petit is not listed (however the musher did comment with plans to sign up, but was having credit card issues) - the Beargrease is welcoming a rookie to their race but not to the sport Wade Marrs. Marrs joins a field with several past champions (Redington, the Frekings, and reigning champion Erin Letzring) as well as some fan favorites and is shaping up to be one competitive race. The Beargrease is partnered with the Iditarod and QrillPet Sports as part of the "Grand Prix" of mushing known as QRILL PAWS Arctic World Series which began in 2019 but has since been sidelined due to the global pandemic. 

The Copper Basin 300 race begins in Glen Allen on January 8, 2022. Registration is open for the first 50 teams, after which names will be held on a waiting list until/if a spot opens up. Deadline to register is December 1, with late entries being allowed for an extra $150 registration fee. So far, the Copper Basin has not maxed out on registrations. 

The John Beargrease Marathon's registration is open from now until January 27, however if mushers want to get in at the cheapest rate they need to sign up by December 31. For the marathon race, due to covid mitigation - they will cap the registration at 25 teams (and then a wait list). The marathon has not maxed out its roster, yet. The race begins in Rice Lake Township on January 30, 2022.

Other races have also opened registration or will open in the next couple of weeks. Snow is literally in the air. It feels like sled dog season. Before we know it, we'll be cheering our teams from the comforts of our home (or out on the trail). 

Which races are you excited to watch? Who are you excited to see sign up, and who are you hoping to see add their name to the roster(s)? Comment below!

Like what you see and want to see post like this continue? Support is always greatly appreciated, if you want to buy me a slice of pizza (or more) I won't say no. (To be honest that money goes into paying for internet and other website related costs.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Lance Mackey diagnosed with cancer again

Iditarod/Mushing fans on facebook were shocked tonight when the four time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion Lance Mackey posted that he was looking to rehome his top dogs due to his winter plans changing. Mackey then dropped the bombshell that he has once again been diagnosed with cancer. 

"my winter plans just changed yet again .. I was diagnosed with cancer again and being a single father has made shit abit different from my winter plans," the musher wrote. Mackey became a single father last year after his partner Jenne was killed in an ATV rollover accident (Mackey was the one who found her). This year Lance spent a lot of time on a different sort of race track as the musher is also an accomplished race car driver. 

Mackey also had a concerning crash on a race track earlier this summer that he thankfully walked away from.

The champion musher has seen more than his fair share of tragedy. After having a tumultuous childhood, Lance fell on hard times before being diagnosed with throat cancer just as he returned to mushing. Mackey credited his dogs as one of the big reasons he survived the grim diagnosis. Lance would go on to dominate the sport's two long-distance races in the late '00s and early '10s. Mackey's rivalry with the self proclaimed "winningest musher" Jeff King thrilled race fans for several years.

Things seemed to take a major detour as Mackey's personal life unraveled during his divorce, but things began to look bright again as his relationship with Jenne blossomed. They welcomed two children into their family, and Lance's racing took a turn for the better. However, Lance's health was a major setback that had him questioning his ability to continue to race in the sport he loved. Then he lost his mother. He then tested positive for an illegal drug during the 2020 Iditarod and his top 20 finish was stripped from him. The musher entered a rehab program and had just returned home when the ATV accident took Jenne. 

The musher would post about an hour after his initial post that this would not be the end of his mushing career, he just needs what is best for his dogs this year and also just cannot focus on racing this winter. 

There is no doubt that Mackey's determination and just sheer grit will get him far. Hopefully the right team can be found for his top dogs, and that he can focus on kicking cancer's behind again. 

This is a developing story and one that will no doubt be followed closely by many.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Nome, Sweet Nome for Iditarod

Now that you've made it to Nome, what is there to do? Depending on when you come into the final stop on the Iditarod, you may have a bit of a wait until the champion or your favorite musher cross under the burled arch. But, don't worry about being bored! The City of Nome looks forward to the Iditarod week every year. There are many city hosted events taking place as everyone waits for the siren to go off and teams to come up Front Street.

In my last Idita-Getaway post, I pointed out the different restaurant options. Each one holds a special bit of Nome in them, and if you are at all into Food Network shows like Diners, Drive Ins, or Dives or if you were a fan of Anthony Bourdain it might be fun to take a look at all of them (and if you are there long enough it's easy to do). 

Your first stop should be your hotel's front desk. Most will have the calendar of events for Iditarod week. If by chance they don't, you can take a walk to the Nome Visitor Center (which you should do anyway). The calendar will give you the times and places each event/attraction take place. It typically has a map of the city on the back, and a description of each event. These maps are free, and make a great souvenir (speaking from experience). You can also download the Event Calendar ahead of time by visiting the Nome Visitor Center's website.

While at the Visitor Center you can chat with the very friendly volunteers and staff and ask their advice on what to do and see. They will give you updates on the race as they are able, they can explain the weather and the history of their City. They often have other free or cheap souvenirs (I'm a fan of their I <3 Nome buttons). It's also a great place to stop and warm up as you wait for teams to come in. They're also responsible for the City of Nome webcam, and are the folks you'll want to contact as you make plans for your trip and are in need of lodging (should you not be able to get a hotel, they are the keepers of the list of rooms for rent in local homes). This is also often the site for different tours to pick up/start. 

Behind the Visitor Center is a trail to the sea ice and the Nome National Forest. This one of a kind forest is the self proclaimed northern most forest, and is a unique photo op. Be sure to check with the Visitor Center before exploring just incase the sea ice is considered unstable (in 2019 we couldn't visit as the day after we arrived the ice broke up). What makes the forest its own is that while the trees are natural - they are "planted" on the ice after Christmas by the local families. They're used Christmas trees! The city also puts out different wooden decorations and other photo ops. It's totally kitchy and every visitor to Nome should experience it at least once.

Once you come back up to Front Street it's just a quick walk to the Russian Church and the Nome Craft Bazaar. Do not miss this. Many of the local artists and craftspeople plan their whole year around this bazaar. There are many beautiful Alaskan made crafts, artworks, and clothing. Many of the artists are more than happy to talk to you about their craft, their lifestyle, and their culture. There is also an art show where you can see many talented pieces and how they are judged.  Be ready with both cash and card as some of the vendors prefer one over the other. There is also typically a raffle at the door. 

Next, take a walk (or grab a cab if you aren't renting a car) and head for the Nome Museum. The Museum is fairly new having been built in 2017/18. It is one of my favorite museums in Alaska. Most of the exhibits are interactive and they share the Indigenous history as well as the goldrush and beyond. You are met at the entrance of the museum with a full on display about how mushing has been a huge focal of the area - with a tribute to both the Iditarod as well as Nome's most well known and celebrated musher Leonhard Seppala and his dog Fritz. You learn about the diphtheria outbreak that made Nome famous (as well as that little dog name Balto). Plan to spend at LEAST an hour there. Often during Iditarod you will find free talks and Iditarod specific exhibits. Jon and Jona Van Zyle (official artists of the Iditarod) were there in 2019 with a special exhibit of Jon's paintings and posters, and they also did talks on Jon's running the Iditarod as well as their adventures in Alaska.

Before or after you visit the bazaar, walk through the snow over to the Welcome to Nome gold pan sign. You can also meet the "Three Lucky Swedes" who supposedly put Nome on the map. This is a popular photo op for Nome visitors, and depending on the snow depth you may be much taller than the statues. There are also some recreations of Indigenous people's tools like a boat and salmon drying rack. Signs at each spot explain what you are looking at and the history of the items. 

Depending on what days you'll be in Nome there are several fun events you can attend as a spectator or even as a contestant. Several bars host trivia contests, pool tournaments, there's wet buns/tshirt contests (if that's your thing, the Alaskan spring break), poker tournaments, concerts, foosball tournaments. This is where that calendar of events really comes in handy. Most events are free to spectate, but some do have a $5 or $10 cover charge. Nome during Iditarod is a very festive atmosphere along Front Street where everyone comes together and you are the best of friends during the week. 

There are several gift shops open during Iditarod, and it's worth going into each one to talk with the store owner and to look at all the souvenir ideas. A lot of local artists fill the shops with their creations, and there are some really fun novelty items as well. The bars are also easy to slip in and out of even if you aren't a drinker (I'm not). A lot of history within those walls and there are several that people tell you to visit just to say you've been there.

If you have time and are dying for some every day entertainment, head to the Subway sandwich shop and go to the back, the Nome Movie Theater typically has two movies playing with your typical movie theater concessions. There will also be the basketball tournament going on during Iditarod and that brings a lot of athletes from all over Western Alaska to Nome. Many Iditarod fans go to catch a game or two. 

There's also a need to stop into the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve building. You can watch some videos on the ice age's "land bridge" that brought humanity to North American all those millennia ago. They offer snowshoe tours out in the preserve, as well as a host of information at their office. You can view fossils, there are some wonderful souvenirs (including pins that you can only get from National Parks), and learn some valuable history of the area. This is more of a hidden gem for many.

And then do not miss walking down to the Iditarod HQ. It is below the Iditarod Finish line and it's where you will mingle with mushers, their families, their handlers. The Iditarod dog lot will be behind the building and security will ask you to look but not take pictures. You can see how well the athletes coming off the trail look (which is AMAZING in comparison to what their mushers look like). Inside HQ are volunteers willing to answer all of your questions, a computer where you can check in with the GPS tracker to see how close the teams are to finishing, food for sale, and the Iditarod merchandise tables. There's also free (but very slow) wifi, and a lot of places to sit and warm up while your phone charges. 

There are things that I'm missing on my list. Nome events are always changing, though the mainstays go strong every year (except for when Pandemics hit). Every part of the week is a part of your Iditarod experience and while I do suggest taking your time and just being spontaneous, I also encourage you to take in as much as possible. By the end of your trip you'll most likely be in serious planning for your next trip to Nome. Just walking through the streets of Nome you can run into some really neat things. Talk with the locals. Talk with other travelers. We're all feeling the excitement (it's the one time I'm not THAT much of an introvert).

But, wait, what about...

Don't worry, I know what you're thinking WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL FINISH?! I want to see MY team come under the arch, I want to see the champion! Don't worry, I have that post planned as  my next article!

Like what you see and want to see post like this continue? Support is always greatly appreciated, if you want to buy me a slice of pizza (or more) I won't say no. (To be honest that money goes into paying for internet and other website related costs.)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sivo Kennel welcomes newest member

2018 Iditarod Champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom and his wife Margot Fairbanks-Ulsom welcomed the newest member of the Sivo Racing Kennel on Monday when their son Henrik Fairbanks Ulsom entered the world. The happy parents waited until Sunday to announce the arrival of their first child, sharing a quick post with several pictures on the kennel's facebook page.

Congratulations, Ulsom family! Welcome to the world baby Henrik!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mushing News Round Up: Iditarod Picnic Edition

What better way to try and bring back the weekly mushing social media/news dumb posts than by doing a special edition specific to the Iditarod Picnic this weekend? With more and more kennels choosing the jump into social media, fans have a plethora of goodies from their favorite teams. Here are some of the highlights from kennel pages documenting teams at the picnic and signing up for the 50th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. 

From Ryan Redington's kennel:

From rookie Eric Kelly's kennel:

From Riley Dyche's kennel:

From rookie Julie Ahnen (running with Jessie Holmes' dogs):

From Rookie Bridget Watkin's kennel:

From rookie Amanda Otto (running out of Jeff King's Kennel):

From rookie Joe Taylor's kennel:

From Aaron Burmeister:

From the dogs at Rob Cooke's Kennel:

From Mats Pettersson:

From Michelle Phillips' Kennel:

From Meredith Mapes:

Sunday, June 27, 2021

"There WILL be a Nome this year."

The mushing season unofficially opened yesterday as fans, volunteers, and mushers came together in Wasilla for the first day of registration for the 50th running of the Iditarod. After having canceled the event last year due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the Iditarod picnic was a welcome sight coming out of a very long unsocialized year. People greeted each other with excited smiles, hellos, and hugs. As always, it was a true reminder that the mushing community is more like family than like frenemies. 

Several generations of mushers were represented at the afternoon affair, trailbreakers like Dan Seavey and Dick Mackey sat at a table to relive those first races. A new batch of rookies nervously signed up and chatted amongst themselves with that energy that only first timers have. The seasoned veterans - including several past champions - sat back and relaxed while chatting with fans and signing autographs. For mushers who ran their rookie race in 2021, there had been no pomp and ceremony for their sign ups, so mushers like Will Troshynski noted they still felt like rookies as they signed up the traditional way at this year's picnic.

While in most years the picnic sees several hundred attendees, this year's event felt far more intimate. Due to travel restrictions mushers and fans alike were unable to make their way to Alaska. With no cruise ships coming into Alaska, the giant tour groups that typically show up to take in a little Iditarod are much smaller. There was no Teachers Conference - put on every year by the Iditarod Education Program - and they always end their conference with the picnic. Those that did come out enjoyed a warm summer day - while the rest of south central got rain, the spot in Wasilla that is the Iditarod HQ saw sun - and good food and fun.

Veterans of the inaugural Iditarod, Dan Seavey (left) and Dick Mackey
swap stories at the Iditarod Picnic. Wasilla, Alaska. June 26, 2021.
Mushers milled about throughout the afternoon - the Iditarod holds drawings for prizes and two lucky mushers are drawn to have their entry fee waived, but mushers must be present to win - chatting with eager fans as well as amongst themselves already sizing up the competition. Many were overheard asking about what races each kennel planned on participating in, and every so often a musher wandered over to the registration table to see how many were signed up (most to see what their odds were of winning their entry fee back). 

As the event came to an end, Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach took to the mic (that they still haven't replaced, and its wires are so loose it cuts out more and more every year) to announce the door prizes. Rob thanked the dedication of the staff and volunteers especially over the last year with a race finishing at the start of covid, and one run during covid. He praised race officials for keeping the race going during shut downs and in spite of shut downs. He thanked the mushers for their continued enthusiasm and support. He noted the change of trail in the 2021 race and noted how much Nome was missed... and then announced "There WILL be a Nome next year!" to which the crowd erupted into cheers.

Urbach went on to say that fans and mushers needed to "stay tuned" as in the coming weeks more announcements would be made as the Iditarod is working on several projects and initiatives in conjunction with celebrating 50 years of Iditarod. There was no hint as to what they were, but Urbach promised they were very exciting. The Iditarod CEO also noted that they would be unveiling a new Logo - which many were unsure if that meant the 2022 logo or a new race logo. Time will tell.

Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach addresses the crowd of mushers
and fans during the Iditarod Picnic. Wasilla, Alaska. June 26, 2021.

Once the announcements were made, the moment all the mushers had waited for were upon them. Mark Nordman, Iditarod Race Marshall, took the mike to announce. Matt Failor - with sled dog "Black Sabbath" (known as "Sabby") in tow - won the door prize of a dog food dipper and dog dishes. Anja Radano won the case of 1,000 dog booties. Nordman then handed the names over to Rob Urbach saying he didn't want to pick the entry fee winners as he didn't want to be accused of rigging it (said tongue in cheek). Riley Dyche and Deke Naaktegboren were announced as the winners of the entry fee door prizes, and with that the picnic was over. Everyone continued to mingle before wandering back over to the parking lots. 

By the end of the day, 49 mushers signed up for Iditarod 50. Registration will continue through December. Mushers are not announced/accepted until their paperwork is complete and their entry fee (a whopping $4000) is accepted and processed. Mushers can apply online, through the mail, and in person at Headquarters (I think fax might still be an option, too). Of those signed up, six former Iditarod Champions are in the mix. Nine rookies are already on the roster as well. Along with the champs and rookies are a list of who's who in mushing. Once again, the race is looking at one of its most competitive fields. With the race hitting the historic milestone of 50 years, it is expected that the roster will only deepen with many old timers contemplating openly how they'd like to participate. To view a full list of mushers, visit the Iditarod's musher list

Mushers have until December to register for the Iditarod (after November 30, the entry fee jumps to $8000). More announcements on plans for the 50th Iditarod will be announced beginning July 1. We're just under three months until the fall training season should begin. 

Who are you excited to see sign up? Who are you surprised isn't on the list, or hope to see on the list? Comment below!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Iditarod Sign-Ups open this Saturday

The last weekend in June marks the beginning of the mushing pre-season in Alaska with the opening of Musher Sign-Ups for the next Iditarod. The annual Iditarod Picnic is back after having to take last year off due to Covid-19 concerns. The excitement is back as mushers, volunteers, and fans all plan to attend the festivities at the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla on June 26. 

Sign-Ups in person open at 10am Saturday, with the picnic kicking off with grilled burgers and salmon for anyone in attendance at 11am. Door prizes for the mushers will be drawn at 1:30pm (one of the prizes is winning their entry fee back), and mushers must be present in order to win. This gives fans and volunteers an opportunity to chat with mushers in a relaxed, celebratory manner. Friends reunite, stories are told, it's everything you expect from a picnic/bbq.

As with last year, mushers can choose to register online. While they won't be entered in the drawings for the door prizes, they can win an advantageous spot for the bib draw (those that sign up opening day get to draw first for bibs in March). Mushers must pay the $4000 entry fee upon registration for their application to be accepted. 

The Iditarod will hit a milestone in 2022 with its 50th running. The first race was run in 1972, and has run consecutively every year since. What was once considered a fool's folly has become the premiere long distance sled dog race in the world. It's boasted that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have completed the Iditarod. It is a legend all its own, and inspires many the world over into the sport. What was once a dream in keeping the sled dog alive and well and the spirit of the Alaskan adventurer has grown to be a lifestyle for men and women alike.

With the 50th running, it's natural for many to want to take part. Many mushers have already announced they plan to sign up - and it wouldn't be surprising to see the biggest turn out for opening day. Some mushers are unable to make it in person on Saturday and have already let slip that they submitted via the online form. Mushers like the Swede Mats Pettersson and British-Canadan Rob Cooke took to facebook earlier this week sharing their registrations were sent in. Other mushers have taken to social media to announce their intentions. The 50th running is a BIG DEAL. It wouldn't be a surprise to see some teams we haven't seen run in years join in on this one.

Who do you expect to see sign up? Have any mushers you hope to see on the roster? Comment below with how many teams you think will sign up opening day!

As I have for more than a decade, I plan to be in attendance on Saturday. After having no picnic last summer and not being able to be a part of the pomp and ceremony of the start this past March, there's no way I want to miss out on the reunion. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for updates as I'm able to share them (I don't always have great service at the HQ). If you're going to be there, look for me! I'm shy but feel free to say hello! 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

2021/22 Race Season Schedule

With the Summer Solstice behind us, it's only a matter of time before autumn is upon us here in the North and with that the touring season will give way to the training season. As has been my habit over the last few years, I've compiled a list of the mid and long distance races fans wait for every year. If there is a new race, or one that I've missed in previous seasons please comment below with information and I'll be happy to research and add it! I'm always looking for more races to follow, and I'm sure other fans are, too!

And now, without further adieu, the 2021-22 race schedule. As always this page will be updated as dates become official.

Race List

Alpine Creek Excursion Sled Dog Race
December 11, 2021

Two Rivers Solstice 50/50
December 21, 2021

Knik 200*
January 1, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

MUSH Synnfjell
January 7, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Gunflint Mail Run
January 8, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Copper Basin 300*
January 8, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Alpine Creek 200/300*
January 18, 2022

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

Willow 300*
January 26, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Kuskokwim 300*
January 28, 2022 
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Pedigree Stage Stop Race
January 28, 2022
Website / Facebook

Tustumena 200*
Hoping to return in 2022!
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Idaho Sled Dog Challenge*
January 30, 2022
Website / Facebook 

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon*
January 30, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

February 2, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Caledonia Classic
February 4, 2022
Website / Facebook

Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby
February 5, 2022
Website / Facebook

Yukon Quest*
February 5, 2022 (Alaska)
February 19, 2022 (Yukon)
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Summit Quest (Formerly AK Yukon 300)*
February 5, 2022?
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Bergebyløpet N70
February 9, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Amundsen Race*
February 16, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Race to the Sky*
Website / Facebook 

February 17, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Yukon Journey 450
February 19, 2022?
Website / Facebook

Northern Pines Sled Dog Race
February 19, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Canadian Challenge*
February 22, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race
February 27, 2022
Website / Facebook

Two Rivers 100/200*

Junior Iditarod
February 26, 2022

Iditarod 50*
March 5, 2022
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Can-Am Crown International*
March 5, 2022
Website / Facebook 

Website / Facebook 

Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Run*
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Hudson Bay Quest
Website / Facebook

Nome to Council 200*
TBA, March 2022

Kobuk 440*
April 7, 2022
Website / Facebook

*Iditarod/Yukon Quest Qualifying Race

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