Monday, January 30, 2023

Kaiser holds off Failor to win Kusko 300

Sunday afternoon brought on a finish "in the light" for the first time in years as Peter Kaiser's team crossed the finish line for a 7th championship for the kennel. Kaiser's race time was the slowest time for a winner in over fifteen years. The hometown hero, who won the Iditarod in 2019, battled "mashed potato" like trails in sometimes pouring rain while fighting back several top teams to take the top prize.

The race was all set to be its normal cold windy self when Mother Nature decided to throw a curve ball. The week of the race, warm winds blew in and the snow storm turned into rain and ice. There was water on top of the trail, and open water on the rivers. This was going to be more of a KuskoSWIM on the Kuskokwim Delta. Still, the trail was passable, and everyone was excited.

This was the first race since 2020 that fans were able to mingle with the teams and that race headquarters was stationed at the Longhouse Hotel where mushers, fans, and officials all gathered. With Covid making social distancing a must in 2021 and 2022, things felt more normal this year. The only hiccup race planners had were the fireworks traditionally set of after the last team takes to the trail. They'd not applied for the permit in time and were pretty sure they weren't happening this year, but thanks to a call into US Representative Mary Peltola they were able to get an expedited permit and just two days before the race the fireworks were back on.

Teams took off Friday night under rainy skies, they made their way to the Gweek River and to the first checkpoint in mostly normal fashion. There were spots of open water on the Gweek, and race officials marked them with lighted trail markers so teams knew where not to go. From the first checkpoint the teams began to hit bad trail. The "mashed potato" snow made for slow going, especially for those further back in the race. Eddie Burke and Isaac Underwood would lead the way for much of the night, with Peter Kaiser hot on their heels. 

By Saturday afternoon, Peter Kaiser had taken the lead and was first into Aniak which marks the unofficial halfway point of the race (which this year, due to trail route it's actually just a little more than halfway). Kaiser would not relinquish his lead for the rest of the race. On the return trip from Aniak back to the same trail to the finish, the front runners would report that the trail had set up thanks to cooling temps and the rain holding off. By the time the chase pack and back of the pack would run the trail they could not report the same. Teams would report "it got worse" to each others social media posts after the race. 

Though Kaiser never lost his lead, he was far from safely in first. By the time he reached the final checkpoint, Matthew Failor (the 2019 Kusko champ) was a mere eight minutes behind him. It would become a battle on the final leg between the two champions, but that 8 minute lead grew to a 10 minute lead and Kaiser held on to the win. Kaiser would tell the media at the finish that these trails were Pete's trails and there was "no way to beat Pete if he is out ahead of you." For their efforts, Pete won $25,500, and Matt came away with $17,500. Huge take-aways for a race of this size. 

 Even with the trail being difficult, there were only two scratches. Twyla Elhardt called it quits for her team in Aniak. There was no real report as to why, other than to say they were happily headed home. With trail conditions being what they were, and Twyla being at the back of the pack, it would not be surprising that she decided to end her race early to remain on a positive note for the team. The other scratch was last year's rookie of the year, Jason Pavila. Jason took a fall on his sled out on the trail and injured his shoulder, unable to properly hang onto the sled or take care of his team he was forced to end his race early.

The awards banquet was open to the public and was in person this year for the first time since the Covid-19 Pandemic. It was a great turn out that appeared to be close to standing room only. While mushers for the Akiak Dash and Bogus Creek 150 were not all in attendance due to the increasingly unstable river conditions making travel unsafe, there were still many locals in attendance to celebrate the mushers. 

Each musher from each race was given the opportunity to speak, and most did. Those for the Kusko 300 all made sure to not just thank their sponsors and families back home but their host families in Bethel. Some shared stories, others just said thank you and took their seats as with many mushers speaking in public isn't really why they got into the sport.

Jeff Deeter, who came in 7th place after having passed Dave Turner in the last mile (known as "No Man's Land") of the race, was awarded the Humanitarian Award given to the team that showed exemplary dog care. Deeter said he was shocked by the award, and that the thanks and credit go to the dogs and also to his wife KattiJo.

Sixth place finisher Will Rhodes spoke at length about the history of the race and his family's part in it. Rhodes is married to Brenda Mackey (who he credited as his heart and soul) whose father is the 1982 Iditarod Champion, Rick Mackey. Rhodes pointed out that Rick won the Kusko twice, in 1985 and again in 1987. He spoke with a lot of emotion as he also noted that the last year has been hard for his family as they said goodbye to Uncle Lance [Mackey] this past summer. He noted just two weeks after Lance's celebration of life his father in law Rick was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He choked up as he said he's thought a lot about Rick while running this year's Kusko.

Rookie of the year went to fourth place finisher Jacob Witkop who spoke about how great it was to come to Bethel where he didn't have much in the way of cell service so "work couldn't get ahold" of him. He also spoke at length at the kindness and generosity of the locals. He also noted that his host family kept him so well fed he wasn't ready to go home.

Eddie Burke Jr maybe the most improved musher this year as he found himself finishing in a strong third place. Burke is a relative newcomer as he's only been serious about mushing at a high level for the last three years. He gave credit to his mentors Aaron Burmeister, though he said Aaron's been busy being a family man this year and not spending time on the runners, but gave most of the credit to mentor Tony Browning. 

Matthew Failor shared stories of dreaming of Richie Diehl's mom's pizza (it's "awesome") and when he ran into her during the race he let her know just how much he thinks about her pizza. He caught a nap and woke up to fresh, hot pizza slices waiting for him. I mean, I think pizza would be the highlight of my race, too. He also praised the "new bathroom facilities" in Aniak, though he got to see a little too much of a couple of his fellow mushers (the stalls don't have doors).

Then it was Pete Kaiser's turn at the mic. He of course praised the race, thanked his sponsors, and gave a shoutout to all of those that travel from outside of the Kusko-Delta, "we love sharing our trails with everyone." The seven time champion said the only story he had to share was how technology has improved the race in so many ways, and how it's leaps and bounds what it was just a few years ago. As he was coming off the Gweek to head back to the finish he noticed some fans in the distance and he decided he needed to "take a leak" before getting any closer. As he was doing his business he heard a weird sound coming from above him, looked up and caught site of a drone! He spoke out to the crowd to "whoever has that footage, you'll need to do some editing... or don't." Mushers and bathroom humor, it's a thing. Trust me.

Overall, the Kusko once again lived up to the hype. This is definitely one for the record books.

How'd your favorite place? Did you come across a favorite story from the trail? Share your thoughts below!

If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Failor chasing down Kaiser in final leg of the Kusko

In a race that saw Eddie Burke and Peter Kaiser play leap frog in the first 3/4s of the race, it's now coming down to just a handful of minutes between two Kusko Champs: Kaiser and Matthew Failor. Matthew Failor "held back" for much of the race, contentedly staying in the chase pack, but last night he passed by many teams to come into the final checkpoint and mandatory four hour layover just eight minutes behind Peter Kaiser.

Both teams left right on time after their rest and charged down the trail on the return route to Bethel. They ran this trail Friday night, and in Kaiser's case these are the trails he trains on. Failor's team hasn't had to "break trail" for anyone and hasn't played the rabbit, but they aren't as familiar with the route - other than what they just did this weekend.

The chase pack is being led by Eddie Burke who, after leading for most of the first twenty four hours and playing leap frog with Kaiser, is having a fantastic race season running the "A-team" out of Wildstyle Racing kennel. The improvement between his first year of races (just three years ago) to now is incredible and a top five placement in this very competitive race is something he can be proud of. Burke can't rest on the runners, though, he's battling with Jacob Wiktop for third. A quick look at the trackers shows that Eddie is three miles back from Failor (give or take, can never 100% trust the trackers as they don't all ping at the same time). 

The race should see its first finish around Noon Alaska Time. Will it be Failor, Kaiser or will Burke somehow manage a huge upset? We'll find out in about two hours.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

2023 John Beargrease roster and race preview

Not so fast, race fans! We've got another race taking off this weekend. Sunday marks the start of the John Beargrease Marathon in Minnesota and as the first of the BIG races in the US, this is one you'll want to follow. Lots of familiar names will be on this roster that fans will most definitely be cheering for.

As always, the roster will be listed in alphabetical order until I get the bib numbers and then the post will be edited. Due to concerns with trail conditions the race capped entries early in December, but the roster is still very strong.

As of Saturday morning there are eighteen teams ready to start on Sunday.

Andy Heerschap (Paws on Patrol Mushing) - Facebook
Colleen Wallin (Silver Creek Sled Dogs) - Instagram 
Daniel Klein (Redington Racing) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Ero Wallin (Silver Creek Sled Dogs) - Facebook / Instagram 
Jennifer Freking (Manitou Crossing Kennels) - Website / Facebook / Instagram  
Jesse Terry (On the Land) - Facebook / Instagram
Katherine Langlais (Akkada Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Keith Aili (Miles Ahead Racing Kennel) - Website / Facebook
Kristen McCarty (Hauling Dogs) - Website 
Laura Neese (Nature's Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Martin Massicotte (Chenil des Patriotes) - Facebook
Mary Manning (Doodledog Kennel) - Facebook / Twitter
Matthew Karl Schmidt (Sawtooth Mountain Racing) - Facebook
Nick Vigilante (Nathan Schroeder Mushing) - Facebook
Peter McClelland (White Wilderness Kennel) - Website / Facebook 
Ryan Anderson (AnderTier Racing) - Facebook
Sarah Keefer (Redington Mushing) - Website / Facebook / Instagram

How to Follow
The John Beargrease has a wonderful media team for the race, and you'll no doubt want for nothing for the live feed of the start and finish. Both local media outlet WDIO and Mushing Midwest plan to livestream the start Sunday morning, and they've also streamed the finish in the past. 

Official Site
One of the best ways to keep track with the race is to use the Beargrease's website. It has loads of information on the race and links to the tracker, live feeds, musher bios, and time sheets.

GPS Tracker once again comes through with the fan favorite spot trackers. You won't miss the action following those cute little beep boops.

Social Media
As with most sled dog races, the Beargrease is fairly active on their facebook page and they do have a twitter account though it isn't very active. And for a few pics check them out on Instagram

Schedule of Events

Saturday, January 29
8am - Vet Checks
3pm - Opening Ceremony

Sunday, January 30
8am - Meet the Mushers
10am - Race Start

Comment below with any thoughts about who you think are favored to win. If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Thursday, January 26, 2023

2023 Kuskokwim 300 race preview

One of the most exciting races of the season kicks off Friday in Bethel, Alaska. That's right, it's time for the Kuskokwim 300 to finally take off across the Delta to crown a champion! The Kusko is one of the premier races in Alaska, with many of the top teams vying for a coveted spot on the roster. This year saw quite a few early sign ups, but for one reason or another there were several last minute withdrawals, but that does not at all diminish the highly competitive field here this weekend.

The Kusko is known for its storms, as with most coastal Alaskan races - it's always windy. This year teams may also deal with freezing rain and the lovely overflow they've come to know in the past few years. This year the race will start with a winter weather advisory. They are predicting 3-5 inches of snow in Bethel beginning noon on Friday and ending around midnight. They also expect freezing rain south of Bethel. Teams could be looking at a very slippery time out on the trail mixed with wet snow. 

While the start will have snow, the finish could end up with ice as an ice storm is set to hit on Sunday. We're also looking at very warm temperatures, above freezing!, for most of the race which is not the norm. It will be interesting to see how it all combines and what that means for the teams. Western Alaskan teams often are heavier coated dogs that don't do well in above zero temps, and this is their backyard so it will make for a complex strategy for everyone.

There are twenty one teams ready to take off tomorrow night and, as I've said many times, this roster is one of the most (if not THE MOST) competitive fields for the entire season. There are so many options on how things will play out, and even with Nicolas Petit choosing to run the Willow 300 instead, there are still many who can challenge for that top spot. So let's look at the top names, shall we?

Who to watch

Brent Sass - The last time Brent ran the Kusko and placed was in 2017 when he came in second. The reigning Iditarod Champion has grown a lot since then, and his kennel is solid. He's come up second in the Knik 200 and Copper Basin 300 this year, both times within minutes of the winner. Look for him to again challenge for first.

Cim Smyth - Never count out a Smyth. Cim was king of the Tustumena 200 in its day, and ask any musher they'll tell you they are always nervous to find Cim (or his brother Ramey) behind them. They're known to carry running shoes for the last push to the finish. Cim comes from a mushing dynasty, he has 40+ years of mushing experience. Look for him to be a contender.

Dave Turner - Turner has had to withdraw from the other races he entered this season, but he IS in Bethel and will run the Kusko. Turner is a quick study of any trail he's run, and come back in a very short time to win them. He is a Tustumena 200 champion as well as champion of the Yukon Quest 300. Dave's got a speedy bunch of dogs, and is race savvy.

Eddie Burke - I made the mistake of counting Eddie out in my preview of the Knik 200, do not make that mistake again! Eddie is running Aaron Burmeister's dogs, sure, but he's worked with them for three years. His race plan is his along with the mentorship of Aaron Burmeister and his kennel partner Tony Browning, but they don't have a strict rule that they follow their suggestions. He is very much his own musher and he has a fantastic team trained up. They had a slight "stutterstep" Wednesday when the musher made it to town but the dogs didn't, however they've since reunited and he's stretched out their legs and they look strong.

Jason Pavila - Last year's rookie of the year will be looking to improve on his eighth place finish. He finished 6th in the Bogus Creek 150 a couple weeks ago, running against several teams running this weekend. Pavila may not challenge for first, but he's a solid choice for your Fantasy Team, and at a decent "price".

Matt Failor - Failor surprised everyone when he won in 2019, and he's challenged to regain that title several times since. The 2022 Kusko second place finisher seems to have a knack from running this race and it would not be a surprise any longer should he find himself first across the finishline again. 

Pete Kaiser - The six time Kusko champion (and let's not forget the 2019 Iditarod Champion) has been first or second in this race since 2015. No one has won this race more, and it wouldn't be a stretch to see him win another. Pete's come in second (or close to it) in just about every race he's entered this season, and it's no doubt high on his mind that it's about time he come in first. These trails are in his backyard, and this is his race. 

Richie Diehl - Another musher who has grown up on the Kusko trails, Richie stopped Pete from continually winning the Kusko back in 2021. He's good friends with the repeat champion, but he's hungry for more wins in his part of Alaska. He's another solid pick for your Fantasy Team and could very well be first across that finish line.

Will Rhodes - The other half of Mackey's Alaskan Distance Dogs operation. While not a Mackey he is married to one, but he is an experienced musher in his own right. He's a consistent top ten finisher in this race, and could play spoiler if given the opportunity. He's a solid choice for your fantasy mushing, if you play that sort of thing, and expect a strong, healthy team at the finish.

Now that that's all out of the way, how can one follow along if you couldn't afford to hang out in Bethel for a week? Let's take a look...

How to watch
While many of the other mid distance races rely on fan videos and Kale Casey LIVE to cover their races, the Kusko is unique in that the local grade school runs a program where they film the start and finish of the races. They go live on Facebook with race coverage done mainly by the students. It's fantastic and well worth a watch.

Official Website

The Kusko's website is pretty slick. You can follow all of the races, fundraising and news from their site. It's easy to navigate and they have great musher bios. And this is where you will find those ever important in and out times from the checkpoints. Be sure to check it out.

GPS Tracker

Real time updates will come through the trackers as always. With the cold there may be more glitches than we'd like (I blame the aliens!) but there's not much we can do. Cold and technology don't get along. You can follow the trackers here, but they won't go live until closer to go time on Friday.

Radio Broadcast

KYUK Radio will broadcast the start which begins at 6:30pm (start listening at 6pm for pre-race info). You can listen to the broadcast online through this link.

Social Media

Updates will most likely be posted on the race's facebook page, and possibly their twitter account. Photo updates should come from Instagram. They typically try to have a facebook live feed. If you are tweeting, instagramming, etc. the traditional hashtag is #K300.

KYUK is also plans to post updates on their facebook page, including facebook interviews with the mushers from the last week or so.

Schedule of Events

Wednesday, January 25
Vet Checks

Thursday, January 26
Vet Checks
5pm - Musher Meeting
7pm - Bib Draw (KYUK to livestream)

Friday, January 27
6:30pm - 2020 Kuskokwim 300 START

Saturday, January 28
NOON - Akiak Dash Mass Start

Monday, January 29
5pm - Musher Awards

Comment below with any thoughts about who you think are favored to win. If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

2023 Kuskokwim 300 musher roster

I'm not ashamed to admit that I find this race's roster to be THE roster of the year. It's the strongest group of teams for the entire season, that includes the Quest and Iditarod rosters. Yes, I've said it all year on all platforms: THE KUSKO KNOWS HOW TO PUT ON A DOG RACE, and I feel that EVERY race organization INCLUDING the Iditarod need to start taking classes from the Kusko 300 organization. Everything from the purse, to the PR, to the roster is just FIRE. I am a huge fan.

Now that that is out of my system, let's talk musher roster. We have twenty-one (one very last minute entry happened Wednesday) teams ready to take off down the trail this weekend and they are a who's who of the mushing community both at large and the very healthy Kusko-Delta mushing community. It's a strong mixture of both "road system" and local teams, and even with the late withdrawals of some strong contenders (including Nicolas Petit) it's still anyone's guess who will come out on top.

As always the roster isn't finalized until the bib draw, and so we're going with alphabetical order until we get bib numbers. The blog will be updated once those changes are known. Until then the roster is as follows.

Updated January 27 to reflect bib numbers/starting position.

1 Jessica Klejka (Tailwind Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
2 Pete Kaiser (Kaiser Racing Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
3 Isaac Underwood (Underwood Kennel) - can't find any online presence.
4 Brent Sass (Wild and Free Mushing) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
5 John Snyder (Snyder Kennel) - can't find any online presence.
6 Cim Smyth (Perserverance Springs Farm) - Facebook
7 Reese Madden (Amagupiaq) - Facebook / Instagram
8 Matthew Failor (17th Dog/Alaskan Husky Adventures) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
9 Eddie Burke (Alaskan Wildstyle Racing) - Facebook / Instagram
10 Will Rhodes (Mackey's Distance Racing) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
11 Paige Drobny (Squid Acres) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
12 Josh McNeal (Crooked Creek) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
13 Jeffrey Deeter (Black Spruce Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
14 Dave Turner (Racing Chaos) - Facebook
15 Jason Pavila (Bad River Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
16 Richie Diehl (Real Diehl Racing) - Facebook
17 Lev Shvarts (Team Ollie) - Website / Facebook 
18 Jacob Witkop (Happy Feet Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
19 Jackie Larson (Jackie's Racing Kennel) - Facebook
20 Nate DeHaan (Old Friendly Real Diehl Kaiser Dog Farm) - Facebook / Instagram
21 Twyla Elhardt (Old Friendly Dog Farm) - Facebook

So there you have it. Twenty teams ready for the Kusko! Who are you cheering for? Let me know in the comment section below!

If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Willow 300 begins with confusion

All teams for the Willow 300 and 150 are on the trail, but it didn't go off without a hitch. Teams were scheduled to leave the starting line at 9am for the 300 mile race when at around 8:45am they were given word by officials that the start had been moved back an hour to 10am. This was after it was announced at the mushers meeting just the day before that the start was not 10 but 9.

While to some this seems like a small change that shouldn't matter much, it does. There is a rhythm and schedule to these types of things. We're talking dogs who cannot understand the concept of "go time is now an hour later" and mushers are now thrown off their schedules (should they write those up). At the time teams were finding out of the time change, most had their dogs out of their dog boxes, bootied, and some were even lined out. That meant that they now had to unbooty the dogs and put them back in the truck... dogs would be incredibly confused as they are supposed to GO after booties and line out, not just get back in the truck and not run.

To make matters even more confusing, it was announced around 8:30am that the trackers never made it to Willow so there would be no GPS tracking for fans. Not a huge deal from a musher perspective, but it was a bummer to fans. Then as they were announcing the time change for the start, the tracker link went live and it was "the trackers are on their way!" Ah, there's the reason for the start delay.

While I'm not complaining that we get to track the teams, I'm not sure waiting on the trackers is enough to delay a race. I'm sure some mushers were thinking the same thing.

Still, as the close struck 10am, the first team was off the starting line and across the lake. 

Oh, yeah, that was the other big change - no mass start. With the weather turning so warm, overflow is a major concern and it was not safe to park all the teams, personnel, and dog trucks on the lake, so they started at the Willow Community Center (like they do for the Iditarod ReStart) and left at two minute intervals. They will make up their time differential at the mandatory four hour stop at Sheep Creek checkpoint. 

So, armchair mushers, I hope you enjoyed this bit of whiplash as much as this blogger did. We have a lot of mushing to follow in the next 5 days or so (really longer once Beargrease starts) so don't let go of the sled, stick with us for all the news and action! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

2023 Willow 300 race preview

It's time to kick off one of the busiest race weekends of the season with the early start of the Willow 300 which takes off of Willow Lake at 10am Wednesday. This is the first of two 300 mile races that will take place between now and Sunday, the Kuskokwim 300 kicks off later this week.

The Willow 300 is joined by their little brother the Willow 150 and both races will take off together and run much of the same trail. Both are used as qualifiers for the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest and the 150 decided to allow junior mushers (ages 14-17) the chance to run. 

During today's mandatory vet checks, the mushers reported the temperature getting as high as 41 degrees. That's crazy warm for this time of year, and the forecast shows much of the same for the remainder of the week. There should also be rain mixed with snow on both Wednesday and Thursday into Friday. This will make the race a slog fest as in those temps and conditions the set trail is most likely to be slush on top of the packed trail. The lakes and rivers will no doubt have overflow like conditions. It will be warm, dogs will need to rest, booties will need to be changed more often, this race will be slower than normal. How much slower remains to be seen. 

There are 24 teams signed up for the 300 mile race, and 9 signed up for the 150. While they follow the traditional no bib number one in respect for the honorary musher, bib number 13 is also being left vacant, that's due to Lance Mackey being the honorary musher. Mackey won his first of four Iditarods with lucky number bib 13, the same number his brother Rick and father Dick won their Iditarods with. While it wasn't his bib number every year, it's a number many think of as Lance's, and it seemed only fitting they should remember him that way. Lance is honorary musher for both the 150 and the 300.

Even though there will not be a Fantasy Mushing competition this year for the Willow 300, we should still take a look at some of the top teams that are entered in the 2023 running.

Who to watch

Dan Kaduce - It should come as no surprise that Dan is on this list. The team of Dew Claw Kennel made sure people paid attention during the 2021 Iditarod and Dan hasn't looked back. Dan is one of the few mushers (one of only two) to be able to say they finished in the top 10 with all of their dogs in the Iditarod. He is one of the ultimate dog men, he cares for his dogs and they are time and again amongst the top teams in mid-distance and now long distance races. Expect Dan to be right up there in the top finishes in Willow.

Jason Mackey - Mackey may have the goods, but it's unclear if this is his year yet. He's been out of the running for several years, and this may end up being a rebuilding year for Jason. There's been a lot of upheaval for Jason with the passing of his brother and other personal issues, but you can't count a Mackey out. He had a decent showing in the Knik 200, and he'll look to build on that. It's possible he's running a lot on his name, but it's a good name to run with.

Nicolas Petit - Hey, remember when he posted after the Knik 200 that it was a "good run of winning" but now that was "over" and then he went to win the Copper Basin 300 like I warned? Yeah, at this point just ignore everything he posts about his race "strategy". Nic will be Nic every Nic-ing time. Expect him to get out in front and stay there. I'll keep saying it, he is the KING of the mid-distance race. He was supposed to run the Kusko, but chose last minute to stick closer to home. 

Ramey Smyth - The only name that seems to strike fear in a musher's heart when they find out that musher's behind them is Ramey Smyth. While most talk about Redingtons, Mackeys, and Seaveys, we should also be talking about the Smyth mushers. Their dad was another founding member of the Iditarod TrailBreakers and they KNOW. THEIR. STUFF. Chances are it's Ramey (or brother Cim) who wins the Safety to Nome fastest time award. Why? These guys pack running shoes in their sled, they are known for kicking up speed on the home stretch and they can pick off a ton of teams on their way to the finish. The only time I've ever heard/seen a Seavey get worried about a shake up in Iditarod standings is in 2012 when Ramey started charging up the coast and jumped over 10 places, he gained a lot of time and miles on Dallas. We know how that ends of course, but it sure made Danny Seavey sweat doing the math to see just how much of a threat he was. Ramey chose to run the 150 instead.

Travis Beals - Another team that was supposed to be at the Kusko this weekend, Travis decided road system would work better for his team. Expect him to use this as a trial run for his run at Iditarod. Being in South Central Alaska he'll no doubt have his team ready to deal with the somewhat warmer temps and slushy conditions, but he'll also be preserving his team for Iditarod so don't expect him to do anything wild and crazy. Beals is one of those teams that sticks to a plan.

Now that you've got an idea of who the front runners should be, what about watching the race sitting there at home (like I am, not judging at all. Armchair mushers unite!) I've got you covered with all of the ways to keep in tune with the race!

How to watch

Unlike the other races that have established media sources and big sponsorships that garner attention from outside media, the Willow 300 runs mainly by its volunteer staff to keep fans updated. Here are the links you need to know to be able to follow the race.

Official Website

A couple of years ago the Willow 300 went big league and got their own website, and it's a decent one! Lots of good information on the race as well as all the links on the front page to help you follow the race in real time, as best as possible. It's definitely worth a look. 

GPS Tracker

Beep, boop! That's right, we have trackers. Can't have races without trackers, right? No worries, has us covered once again. Don't forget to jump on Wednesday morning to follow along! TRACKERS DID NOT COME IN IN TIME, THERE WILL BE NO TRACKERS FOR THIS RACE! Nevermind, they delayed the start to get the trackers.

Social Media

For the Willow 300, Social Media is the race's life blood. They post mainly to their Facebook Page, and they are sometimes active on their Twitter account at race time. They also share a few photos and posts on their Instagram Page. The official hashtag is, simply, #Willow300. Expect a live feed for the start and finish on their facebook page, and videos throughout the day.

Kale Casey is in Willow covering the race on his facebook page. Make sure to follow his page Kale Casey LIVE so that you don't miss whenever he goes live.

Schedule of Events

Tuesday, January 24
9am-3pm Vet Checks
3:30pm Musher Meeting

Wednesday, January 25
10am Mass Start Changed to 2min interval start

Saturday, January 28
6pm Finisher Banquet & Auction

Who are you hoping to see finish first? Thoughts on the race? Comment below!

Comment below with any thoughts about the roster, or any corrections. If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

2023 Willow 150 musher roster

There are two races happening at once in Willow! Along with the 300 mile race, we also have a 150 mile race that also counts as a qualifier, and BONUS they now allow junior mushers to enter the 150! This is very exciting as there are fewer long races for junior mushers, so to have them be able to run a mid-distance race ahead of the Junior Iditarod is a huge boost to their mushing education. Not all of the teams are juniors, of course, but it's nice to see them young 'uns in the mix! (And watch out for the Emily Robinson! Don't let her age fool ya!)

There are a few recognizable names, but some many probably will not recognize, so this will be a fun one to learn about some of the up and coming teams in the next few years. Make sure to give them a follow on social media and cheer them on this week!

2 Emily Robinson (Robinson Racing Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
3 Walter Robinson (Robinson Racing Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
4 Kelly Ridley (Lost Creek Mushing) - Facebook
5 Dries Jacobs (??) - Facebook
6 Brianna Blomgren (Team Bailey?) - Facebook
7 Samantha Lalonde (Ryno Kennel) - Facebook / Kennel Facebook / Instagram
8 Artyom Krutikov (Team Petit?) - Facebook / Instagram
9 Ramey Smyth (Smyth Racing) - Facebook

The race starts same place and time as the 300. Look for a preview of the 300 later today (hopefully it's a slow day in the office so I can sneak some blogging in). Thank you to all who follow the blog, and request changes/extras. I do this for myself, but I'm also doing it for fellow fans!
*Edited to reflect the FINAL final roster. Added Smyth and took off two other teams. Sorry for the confusion.

Comment below with any thoughts about the roster, or any corrections. If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Monday, January 23, 2023

2023 Willow 300 musher roster

Hope you got all of your chores done LAST weekend, race fans, because this weekend we are jam packed with sled dog action. Kicking it off will be the Willow 300 in, where else, Willow, Alaska. This is a very popular race for many reasons - mainly its central location in mushing central. 

The Willow 300 was created to fill a gap when other, much more established, races were starting to go by the wayside for one reason or another. With fewer qualifiers for mushers to use for Iditarod and Quest, something had to be done and the Willow 300 was born.

Unlike most other races, the Willow 300 determines bib number by sign ups. This year the honorary musher is Lance Mackey (they were the first to choose him, in fact). Instead of bib #1 being for Lance, though, they have #13 in honor of Lance. Lucky number 13 was the bib number Lance (and brother Rick, and dad Dick all) wore to win his first Iditarod championship.

There are currently twenty-four teams signed up for the race, which seems small compared to recent years but as stated previously they're having to compete with the Kuskokwim 300 for entries and the Kusko is stacked!

As always, this roster is subject to change up to go time on Wednesday, January 25, but for now the race roster is as follows:

2 Matt Randall (Rock On Racing) - Website / Facebook / Twitter
3 Jason Mackey (Mackey's Top Notch Racing) - Website / Facebook
4 Travis Vanderhoof (Dream Team Kennels) - Facebook / Instagram
5 Anna Hennessy (Shameless Huskies) - Facebook / Instagram
6 Juliah DeLoach (Oil Well Kennel?) - Facebook
7 Eric Kelly (Daybreak Kennel)Facebook / Instagram
8 Kristy Berington (Seeing Double Racing) - Website / Instagram
9 Anna Berington (Seeing Double Racing) - Website / Instagram
10 Beckie Hacker (Dream Big Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
11 Michaela O’Connor (Dream Big Kennel) - Website / FacebookInstagram
12 Calvin Daugherty (Seavey's Ididaride) - Website / Facebook
14 Millie Porslid (Running Sled Dogs) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
15 Jonah Bacon (Nautique Sky Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
16 Jonathan Hayes (Seavey's Ididaride)* - Website / Facebook / Instagram
17 Dan Kaduce (Dew Claw Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
18 Keaton Loebrich - can't find them online anywhere!
19 Mike Parker (Northern Whites Kennel) - Facebook 
20 Lara Kittleson (Seavey's Ididaride) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
21 Hunter Keefe (Redington Mush Alaska) - Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
22 Joshua Robbins (Evermore Adventures?) - Facebook / Outreach 22 / Kennel Facebook
23 Joanna (Jagow) Weber (Motley Crew Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
24 Nic Petit (Team Petit) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
25 Travis Beals (Turning Heads) - Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
26 Ramey Smyth (Smyth Racing) - Facebook

*Note that Jonathan Hayes is running Mitch Seavey's dogs in this race, however I have linked his kennel in Maine for this roster as there is more information at those links, plus he plans on running his own dogs in other races/The Iditarod, and they deserve some spotlight. But he IS running Seavey dogs for this qualifier.

Comment below with any thoughts about the roster, or any corrections. If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Friday, January 20, 2023

50 years of Iditarod Champion Highlight - Emmitt Peters

With 2023 marking 50 years of the Last Great Race, and the 51st running, it's high time we look back on the mushers who had that magic ride into Nome in first. For the next few weeks as we count down to March 4, we'll highlight the 24 Champions of Iditarod. That's right, 50 races with 24 names on the Champion list. Just as more folks have climbed Everest than have run Iditarod, the Champions list is surprisingly short.  

The Yukon Fox

Photo from KTUU Sports archives.
The final rookie to win the Iditarod, Emmitt Peters was not a rookie to the sport. An accomplished sprint musher in his own right, he was encouraged to enter the Iditarod in 1975 after he ran the Fur Rondy Sprint Races where a sponsor would note that he had a "hell of a team" but that he was "running the wrong race." 

Peters had a dream of running the Iditarod and had studied the mushers from the last two races and everything about their runs, but he hadn't planned on entering in 75. With someone willing to foot the bill just days before the start, he headed to Ruby to train and prepare for a last minute entry (something that would not happen today). As Emmitt trained his team his mother - worried her son would freeze to death - and sisters worked tirelessly to make sure he stayed warm on the trail. The village of Ruby chipped in and sewed booties for the dogs. They say it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a Village to outfit an Iditarod musher.

In 1974, Peters loaned his lead dog Nugget to Carl Huntington and they won the Iditarod. In 1975, Peters would run with Nugget in lead and she would be one of the key factors to his win. Nugget gained a reputation in her years as having the best memory of a dog - and musher. While Emmitt was brand new to the trail, Nugget knew where she was going and how to get there. She was a tough dog - one who refused to wear booties - and by all reports incredibly smart. In fact, Nugget would be a key component to the win.

Peters had decided to take his mandatory 24 in Ruby. Back in those days there were no rules about where one could stay on the trail/in checkpoints. Emmitt decided to 24 in his home village so that he could sleep in the comforts of home. Problem was his mother - like any mother would - did not understand the 24 hour rule and so whenever a team would come into the checkpoint or leave, she would come and wake a resting Peters up to tell him he had to leave. After his layover the musher left dog tired with a well rested and re-energized team.

As the story is told in the book Iditarod: The First Ten Years, Emmitt began to fall asleep on the runners so he climbed into his sled bag and slept as his trusty lead dog Nugget lead the team down the trail. Emmitt would later find out that he passed two teams while sleeping in his sled! 

Peters would be credited with starting the more modern race's run-rest strategy. Instead of going until everyone was tired to rest, he stuck with a schedule: run four hours, rest four hours. Sure, he was getting passed by his competitors as he rested, but his dogs were never too tired to give more when he asked. As decades pass the run rest schedule changes - it's now about 6 to 6, or mushers make the rule of "no more than 50-100 miles" depending on the portion of the trail. But it is key to never let the team get over tired. AND that means four hours of rest for the dogs, the musher must spend that time caring for the dog. Emmitt would be quoted as saying "you have to take care of the dogs better than you. They dogs are the main machine, doin' all the work. You gotta take care of them first." 

Peters would run the race a handful of times after his win, but he would only come so close as second. He is also the last rookie to win the race. As he came in towards Nome, a radio DJ believed him to be another musher. Emmitt corrected him saying something like "no, that guy's behind me," and so the DJ began calling Peters the Yukon River Fox - which has since been shortened to "The Yukon Fox".

Emmitt is still considered one of the greatest of Iditarod history for how he managed to not only beat the odds, but he shaved a ton of time off the record finish time. He dropped nearly six days off the champion finishing time. All because of his dog care strategy, and a dog named Nugget.

Emmitt Peters passed away April 2, 2020 at his home in Ruby. 

If you're an Iditarod Insider, you can view a clip of Emmitt Peters talking about Nugget from an interview in 2016(14?). You can also read the Anchorage Daily News' obituary for Peters here.

What are you thoughts on this new series for the blog? Comment below!

Like what you see and want it to continue, you can "buy me a pizza" as a way to support the costs of running the blog.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

2023 Eagle Cap Extreme roster and race preview

Happy race day, folks. Yup, this is getting out late because the Eagle Cap Extreme out of Oregon starts on a Thursday and not a Friday or Saturday and I just realized that last night! Whoops! Vet checks are happening today (Wednesday) and then the teams take off on Noon Thursday.

Like most of the races in the states, there are several classes including a 200 mile race that can be used as an Iditarod and Yukon Quest Qualifier. In fact it is Oregon's only qualifier, and they get to boast having the only one in the entire Pacific Northwest!

This year there are six teams signed up and ready to run the 200 mile race and most are using it as a qualifier for bigger races. Because this roster is so small, I've decided to combine the roster with the race preview. I'll also just say WATCH EVERYONE! This race is not on the fantasy mushing list, so there's no need for me to try to guess who will take home the prize. And, can I be completely honest - I don't really know this race at all. Sure, it's been around a long while, but it almost always lands when another race in Alaska is taking place. Not this year! This is the only qualifier running, so here we go!

200-Mile Roster

10 Jed Stephensen (Nordic Wayfinding) - Website / Facebook / Instagram 
11 Charmayne Morrison (Morrison Racing Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
12 Bryce Mumford (Cub River Kennel) - Instagram
13 Rex Mumford (Valley Kennel) - Facebook
14 Josi Thyr (There & Back Again Sleddogs) - Website / Facebook
15 Clayton Perry (TSA Kennel) - Facebook 

How to Watch

The Eagle Cap has a wonderful website full of tons of information for how to watch in person at the different checkpoints. It is well organized and easy to read, you definitely want to take time to explore their site. You'll definitely want to read the musher bios, some fun little tidbits hidden there.

They are active on Facebook, and will most likely share even more as the race begins.

Trackers will be used on this race as well! I know how much fans love those little GPS minions who sometimes hitch a ride with the aliens, and it is confirmed that we will have SPOT trackers on the race again this year. Be sure to check back as once the link goes live I'll edit this post to include it.

Schedule of Events
(Note: times are Pacific Timezone)

Wednesday, January 18
9am-4pm Vet Checks
6pm Musher Meet & Greet
6:30pm Potluck & Bib Draw

Thursday, January 19
12pm Race Start

Saturday, January 21
Finishes throughout the day
5:30pm Awards Reception