That’s the hardest we ever worked for no reward. Well, that’s not to say there was no reward, but there was no monetary award anyway. But for the fulfillment of fun, adventure and happiness we were rewarded plenty.
First, the trip up to the race. We made a brief pit-stop in Anchorage to celebrate the tapping of the first keg of beer named after our lead dog: 28-pound Penny. Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, our main corporate sponsor, had made a special batch to celebrate Cole running the Iditarod and named it Penny’s Maple Porter (see below the first glass getting poured). It was delicious and the keg sold out halfway through the event, and we enjoyed getting a first taste of the beer, signing posters and talking to race fans throughout the evening. After the event, one of our newest sponsors, Embassy Suites in Anchorage, put us up in an incredible room for the night and picked up the tab for us. It was a great way to get some much needed rest for the remainder of the long drive up to the race.
In Cantwell, the race began on a beautiful day. The sky was clear and blue, and the temperatures during the day were close to 20 above. We packed our sled and quickly found the first mishap of the race. We had three bags of food and supplies. Two were supposed to go to Paxson, while we carried the other. Somehow, we had kept one of the bags that was supposed to be shipped and sent off the wrong one. This wasn’t a huge deal, since most of the bags were packed with a fairly similar amount of supplies. We just had to adapt to the situation and feed the dogs a little bit different on the way out.
The dogs harnessed at the truck and ready to get the race on. Pictured from top to bottom is Hank, Seeker, Oaky, Waylon (black) and Ghost (white).
Cole putting booties on Cyder before the race.
Above is the beautiful country we mushed through. If you look close in the lower left corner you can see the smooth curve of the trail we were on.
The run to the first checkpoint was fast and we got there with the dogs still going completely crazy. Despite going 60 miles they didn’t want to rest and kept pulling ALL three hooks as we attempted to get the team parked for rest. Finally after about 20 minutes and several tangles we got them under control. Almost all of them anyway.
Quigley was tireless and refused to lie down and rest, while the other dogs eventually got with the program. He kept trying to get them to play and he was barking at us, basically disturbing everyone, so we decided to bring him back and tie him to the sled so the others could get some sleep. What a mistake! The little son of a gun was so antsy to get running he took out his frustration by chewing on the gangline. He normally isn’t a chewer so we weren’t paying close attention and he managed to get through one of the three braided strands of our rope before we noticed his destruction. Had he gotten through it, he would have severed the whole 20 dog team from the sled!
Fortunately, that was the last major mishap of the race. The rest of the event went really well with the exception of the dogs left Paxson a little sluggish after we picked up another 75 pounds of food and supplies and began climbing the steep hills again. We lost about an hour as the dogs really slowed down on the return, despite the night temps being a cool minus 5 to minus 16, depending on our altitude. Still we managed to keep to our overall schedule very well, and as usual, by taking extra rest – beyond that required – our team looked FANTASTIC at the finish. Especially since we had just run the team about 20 mph for the last five miles since we were in a neck and neck race to the finish with another team.
Sadly, only two people were there to see it, but one of them was a friend, Emilie (see above riding with Metoo, she’s from France who came to handle for our neighbor Patty) who came along for the trip to help handle for us. She was literally dragged to the truck by Kawlijah and she made it a point to say how she couldn’t believe how much energy he and the others still had after running 265 miles. It made us happy to hear the kudos and know the team was so well cared for, but we were VERY disappointed in the race organizer for not showing us the same respect as he showed the front runners by being there at the finish to congratulate us on a job well done (and not updating the website with our finish in a timely manner, as described in the last entry).
We had paid the same amount of money to be there as others and worked just as hard during the race, and set down a pace that in iditarod would have been a nine day finish, but because we don’t have the same caliber of dogs as other mushers who have 100 dog kennels to choose from, or who have killed and culled to get a genetically superior team of dogs, we often get treated with less respect by people who don’t think we were “racing” as hard as the winner and front runners. What was a real thorn in our side about this matter was that we had only finished 6 hours behind the winner, which is very, very close in a 265 mile race. Back home in the T-200, we have seen two to three days go by between when the first and last team come in, so for the organizer to not wait six hours to see all the teams come in was nothing more than a classless act in our book.
Still, we didn’t let this one rude incident mar the whole weekend. We got to take nearly our whole kennel mushing through some of the most beautiful country in Alaska, during an incredible stretch of good weather, and we got to experience it TOGETHER. Neither of us could think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day and we won’t soon forget it.
Also, after the race we got to spend some time with a friend, and our former veterinarian, Jayne Hempstead. She moved to Cantwell several years ago, and it was nice to catch up with her, and get treated to some delicious food, comfortable accommodations and friendly conversation after such a long weekend. We definitely voted her house the best checkpoint of the race.
On the drive home we got one last fiasco to remember the trip by. As seems to be some kind of weird coincidence when we got to races, we hit a terrible storm on the drive home. There was no snow this time, but the wind was extreme and seemed determined to rip the sled from the roof of the dog truck. At one point a drive pulled alongside us shouting “you’re about to lose your ride!” We pulled over and found the wind had STRAIGHTENED the bungee hooks we used to hold down the sled in two places (see photo above). The two backup ropes were the only thing holding it on. It was a close call.
Well that’s about it for now, time to get back to packing the Iditarod food drops which are due Thursday. It’ll be a real challenge packing our frozen meat since we returned home to temperatures up to 45 degrees! Anyway, here are a few more pictures by Emilie of some of our dogs. Enjoy.
Ghost, looking energetic as always, after the race.
Zoom, who led roughly 100 miles of this race. She really shined.
Squirrel, looking regal as always.
Our beautiful red-coated, yellow-eyed, Butterscotch.