TWO RIVERS, AK – After competing in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race the past two winters and receiving so much support from so many Gladwin County friends and strangers alike, I decided to give you all an update on our kennel’s 2019/2020 race season. I am still so grateful to everyone who has helped us along the way and allowed the team and I to achieve our dream of completing the 1,000-mile Iditarod. Running the race every year would be awesome, but for my husband, Jeremy and I, it would be nearly impossible. Our basic expenses of caring for 41 dogs are very, very costly let alone competing in this race! Preparing for the Iditarod is also extremely time consuming and stressful. Two thousand plus miles of training are put on the dogs beforehand during the months of October-February. Leading up to the race, all of the thousands of pounds of supplies (dog/human food, gear, etc.) must be packed and shipped out to checkpoints along the trail. With Jeremy and I maintaining the kennel by ourselves, almost every minute was spent somehow getting ready for this big adventure. Needless to say, it is overwhelming and stressful right up to the minute you take off with the dogs to cross the wilderness of Alaska with no support team along the way. So as much as I would love to compete in this amazing event every year, there’s more to life than being wrapped up in preparing for it nonstop!
This being said, Jeremy and I had a very fun winter competing in shorter races that were closer to home. After returning home to Two Rivers (outside of Fairbanks) from our summer employment in Juneau, we moved our kennel to new property. The cabin we now live in is completely off-grid running on solar power and a generator/battery system. There were definite learning curves to figuring out this new system once the temps dipped to forty below zero...which they did a lot this winter! But the secluded property allows us great access to trails for training the dogs and with an early winter that stayed cold for the duration, our training was nearly perfect.
We started off the winter racing in December in the local Solstice 100, a 100-mile race that travels on the trails we train daily on. Temps for the 100 hung around forty below zero while the team and I zoomed around our home terrain. The trail was mostly flat terrain and consisted of a 50-mile loop, a four-hour rest at the local gas station/store/post office, followed by the same run around the 50-mile loop. At the halfway layover, the team and I were tied for third place with friend Jake Witkop. Being our longest runs of the season so far, I wasn’t sure the dogs would be able to maintain their speed and I held them back quite a bit. It wasn’t until a few miles before the finish line that I actually took my foot off the brake and let the dogs roll faster. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch Jake...and finished just a mere three minutes behind him. The team and I took fourth place out of nine against some fast teams and I was thrilled with how the dogs performed!
Just a few days after the Solstice, I ended up in the ER on Christmas Eve with appendicitis...not what I had pictured for the winter! Surgery would put me out of commission for training dogs for about three weeks. Jeremy had to take care of the dogs (I helped as much as possible, but wasn’t able to do much), continue training for our longest race coming up in early February, and work running dogsled tours. He had his hands full, and didn’t get much sleep, while battling the near-constant 30 to 40 below temperatures. I at least kept the fire going in the wood stove and packed, as much gear as I could that would be needed for his upcoming adventure.
The “big” race for our kennel this season was the Yukon Quest 300. Jeremy would take the team as it would be his last Iditarod qualifier. This race is extremely tough and crosses two mountain summits. When the team pulled into the first checkpoint, 70 miles from the start, the temperature was forty-two below zero. Running the entire 70 miles continuously, it had taken them just over seven and half hours. The dogs were still barking and jumping as they pulled in to their resting spot. Jeremy and the dogs looked awesome! From there, Jeremy would lead the race the next 150 miles...over the notoriously dangerous Rosebud and Eagle Summits...and down the cold and unending Birch Creek. Leaving the final checkpoint, Jeremy had about a ten-minute lead on Dave Turner, known for having one of the fastest mid-distance teams in the state. We knew Dave wouldn’t take it easy on us and it would be hard to stay ahead on the final 75-mile dash to the finish. Dave did pull ahead, but Jeremy stayed hot on his tail. About ten miles from the finish line, our biggest dog, Sanford, looked like he was getting tired and was having a hard time keeping up with the team. So Jeremy loaded all 65 pounds of him into the sled so he could rest and ride into the finish. This gave Dave the chance to steal some time and he ended up winning the race. Jeremy crossed the line eighteen minutes behind him...wow, what a race! Jeremy tied for the Vet’s Choice Award, voted on by the many veterinarians that work the race and given to the musher(s) who show the best care of their dogs.
Next week: The final races of the 2020 season