Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good Morning

Sunrise over the Stardancer Kennel "Dog Yard", January 29th.

Good morning.  I've come in from feeding the dogs and scooping the yard, and I'm basically killing some time until the dogs have had time to digest and are ready for a run up into the hills.  There are a few topics worthy of touching upon today.

Sled Dog Races Around the U.S.

There are several interesting sled dog races happening around the U.S. today.  Down in the high country of Wyoming and Utah mushers and race fans are enjoying the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race.  Lance Mackey, Newton Marshall and Aaron Burmeister have all driven down to run this race, which has earned quite a following over the past few years.  In 1996 Frank Teasley, with the help of public nurse Jayne Ottman, launched the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race to showcase the beautiful state of Wyoming and to make sled dog racing more accessible to the public. In addition, the race worked to spread the word about the need for childhood immunizations—and each year the race makes a contribution to communities on the race route for childhood immunizations.

This year's Stage Stop includes an opportunity to compare teams from a champion long distance musher to those of an equally accomplished sprint racer.  Blayne "Buddy" Streeper has one of his high-speed teams competing against Lance Mackey's crew of long-haul specialists.  Today is Day 2 of the race, and I'm looking forward to seeing the results later tonight.
Down in Minnesota the 29th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon will be starting tomorrow.  Currently beginning in Duluth, Minnesota and traveling through Minnesota’s north woods to Trail Center (Poplar Lake) on the Gunflint Trail where Marathon musher’s and their teams turn around for the return leg. The race originated in Grand Portage, Minnesota. The annual event also includes a mid-distance race which also begins in Duluth and ends in Tofte, Minnesota.

The “Beargrease” is named for John Beargrease a Grand Portage Chippewa who was one of many individuals who carried mail to the developing communities of Minnesota’s north shore in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  The “Beargrease” trail is considered among the toughest there is. Though considerably less distance than the famed Iditarod or Yukon Quest, the terrain of the north shore provide considerable challenges as teams face a rapid series of ascents and descents as the trail winds through Superior National Forest and the “Sawtooth Mountains”. Though the race doesn’t travel along the lakeshore, Lake Superior’s effect on weather is far reaching. Musher’s can face wind chills as low as -70 and temperatures exceeding -35. In the same day they may experience weather well above zero and precipitation ranging from rain to near blizzard conditions. 

Closer to home, the Tustumena 200 will be starting tomorrow.  The Tustumena 200 has earned notoriety as a very tough, mountainous trail and the race and the race usually attracts some of Alaska's top performing teams.  

Coming Soon - The Yukon Quest

 Of course the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is the one everyone is watching, and for good reason.  Far less 'commercialized' the the more infamous Iditarod, the Quest is a true musher's race that even the very best teams and mushers in the world find incredibly challenging.  The 1,000 mile Quest has fewer checkpoints, spaced more widely apart than does the more famous race.  Many believe that the Quest provides harsher weather and a wider variety of challenges, thus earning the nickname "The Toughest Sled Dog Race on Earth."

I'll be at work during much of the Quest, (which starts on February 5th) but will be off duty in time for the finish banquet.  Meanwhile you can rest assured that I'll be following it as closely as I can without disrupting my duties and I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about it.  It being an odd-numbered year, this year's Quest will run from Whitehorse YT to Fairbanks.  I've already sent an inquiry about tickets for the finish banquet.  

The line-up for this year's Quest promises to make for some exciting racing.  Some teams I especially like in the Quest include:

Sebastian Schnuelle, 2009 champion and widely regarded as one of the best dog trainers in the game and who many described as having an almost spiritual bond with his dogs.

Hans Gatt, who has won the race four times in the past.  Hans ALWAYS has a strong and fast team and is another with a reputation for having an incredibly close relationship with his animals.

Hugh Neff took 2nd to Sebastian in 2009, and probably would have run had he not drawn a 2 hour time penalty for leaving the official trail.  He's proven his ability to put together a winning team, so we'll see if can keep his own head together to accomplish his goal.  

Brent Sass, who has run the race four times in the past and is a focused up and coming young racer.

Josh Cadzow, last year's "Rookie of the Year" is another up and coming young racer who deserves our attention.  

No one knows the Quest trail better than Dave Dalton, who has entered the race 17 times, and finished in the top 10 on six of those attempts.  I would suggest he is way past due for winning. 

Mike Ellis, who runs a team of purebred Siberian Huskies and holds the record for the fastest Quest finish by a purebred team.  Mike trains his dogs almost year round and is also one of the best when it comes to caring for his dogs, with several humanitarian awards to show for it.
There are several Quest rookies well worth our attention as well.  Of course I have a soft-spot in my heart for my friend Allen Moore.  Married to the only woman to ever win the Quest and having finished the Iditarod several times, Allen knows his game and is a good choice for "rookie of the year".

To earn that slot he'll be competing against Dallas Seavey, son of Iditarod champion Mitch.  Dallas takes his trade seriously, and though he admits his goal is prepare his team for the Iditarod, you can bet he won't just be dawdling along.  

Here at the House...

My plan today is a run another team up in the hills, following the same route as Thursday.  I think Ted also wants to run his dogs and learn this route to add to his own training program.  

I have to return to work on Tuesday, working day-shift again to accommodate a special project happening at my workplace.  It sounds like the sort of thing that could keep me pretty busy.  I've already done much of my "pre-work errands", so I may be able to run dogs Monday before I have to head back up.  Work truly is the curse of the leisure class.

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