Archive for January, 2011

T200 Finish

Sunday, January 30th, 2011


Well, by now most of you have seen Cole finished in fourth place overall. She and the team had another great day, despite the heat. Cole said Waylon, with his huge size and black coat, was really struggling when the sun came out, but he managed to hold it together.
Cole was actually picking up speed and gaining on the third place competitor, so much so that when he came in he even said “I can’t believe she didn’t catch me.” But what he didn’t know is not long after leaving the last checkpoint, Buliwyf pulled a muscle ni his hind end (the vets think it may be a groin). She had to turn around and go back to the checkpoint to drop him, which ate up all the time she had gained.
Penny, after being banged up and on the bench for most of the Copper Basin 300, was back in tiptop shape for this race. Cole said she lead beter than she ever has, which is why she stayed in front for the whole 200 miles. Metoo also led the first 50 with her, Wolf the second 50, Quigley the third 50 and Zoom led with Penny to the finish.
Going into this race, Cole was hoping to do better in the final standings, but she said she had one of the best overall runs she has ever had in a race, a few folks just did better. She is really happy with the team’s performace though, and she still improved her standing in the race (her career best in the T200 before today was 10 two year ago).
She was also happy to, as usual, have one of the best looking teams at the finish line. Even as the officals check her gear for the final time, Metoo, Quigley, and te usual characters were ACTUALLY still hammering their harness and raring to go (See pic above of Metoo jumping around at the fin. That’s Keno and Seeker in swing in the fourground).
It was an adventurous weekend, and we’re thankfull al lthe dogs came through it safely. Two 100-mile legs through the heat of the day wasn’t easy on them and this will probably be our last T200 unless the format changes back to adding in more or different rest to avoid the long, day runs.
Well, all for now, it’s time for us, all of us, to get some sleep. Here’s parting shot that ran on the front page of the local newspaper. Here’s a picture of Cole leaving the starting chute, it was shot by Scott Moon.

Halfway Point Update

Sunday, January 30th, 2011


Cole made it to the halfway point way ahead of schedule and with all 14 dogs still in harness and raring to keep going. Yet, she seemed to be having mixed emotions about her fantastic run.
Cole set a pace better than 10 mph over the 103 mile run to the halfway and she said the dogs did better than she had ever seen, but at the same time a few other teams did a little better and that troubled her.
Cole had set a personal goal to try and place in the Top 3 for this race and she was currently sitting in fourth place, but I assured her their was still plenty of race left for their to be a few switches in the standings.
It looks like 1st place is out of the Question. Dee Dee, who weighs probably 50 pounds less than Cole and who has at least 20 more years mushing experience, had a 45 minute lead on her next closest competitor, but 2nd position through 6th place were only seperated by less than 25 minutes. That is next to NOTHING with 100 miles left to go. One minor tangle or a quick stop to change out a leader could mean a shift in position, so there’s no telling how this is going to wrap up. It will be exciting to follow over the next 10 hours.
Everyone who was close was trying their best to get an advantage. Most people dropped all their extra or emergency gear to only carry the mandatory equipment. A few mushers also left without bootying their dogs, since they run faster without booties, but Cole left with all her dogs in boots because she felt the snow was a little to course ina few spots to risk shredding feet.
I tried my best to get a few photos, but both when Cole came in and when out, handling the team to prevent tangles kept me from snapping many pics. I tried to get one of Cole on the way out, but she told me tending to the dogs was more important than getting a good pic, so the phtot at top is the best I could do tonight. It’s Hank and Waylon in wheel round a corner.
As to the temp, it continues to boil. Cole pulled her hooks at 5:22 a.m. and it was already 33 degrees and predicted to get warmer. Still, she had all 14 dogs and they drank tons while on their break, so they should be pretty well hydrated for the return leg.
Well, I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, so I’m going to grab a few winks, but keep checking that stats at the T-200 site, and before I forget, I wanted to say thanks to friend of the kennel Amy Greg, who made the several hours trip down to volunteer for the race. She tiresless stayed up through the night helping park teams and ensuring that no drunk snowmachiners ran over our team while they were camped out. A big THANKS to you Amy. We couldn’t have races like this without volunteers like you.

Race Day

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Hey all. Don’t have a lot of time for a big update right now, and to be honest, you probably know as much as I do if you’ve been following the race. The morning went well. The weather was still a little warm for our likeing. It was 29 degrees when Cole pulled the hooks, Luckily it didn’t get much hotter through the day, but sadly, the sun has been down for a few hours now, and it also hasn’t cooled down much either. The weather tomorrow is predicted to be even warmer, so hopefully nobody will overheat.
The dogs drank a ton of broth and ate some salmon (which they also get moisture from) before they left the chue this morning, and Cole was carrying plenty of wet snacks. Sorry, I don’t have nay photos to post. Unbelievably, I didn’t get a single shot of her today. Part of the problem was Metto, Quigley and Zoom were in rare form today. They got themselves worked up into a fit about 20 minutes before Cole was supposed to start, so rather than taking pictures, I had to babysit them to keep them from blowing off to much energy by barking, howling and basically acting nuts. They put on quite a show for the spectators, so hopefully somebody got some pics of them that I can put up at a later date.
Adding to the no-photo situation, this was Cole’s first race using Wolf, the dog who joined our kennel this past summer. He ran with me in the Gin Gin, and then hurt himself in the Copper Basin, so this will be their first race together. Wolf is a bit of an alligator at hook-up and tries to bite whoever is next to him. We’ve been working with him on this for months and he’s gotten pretty good in training, but on race day, he is just too amped up to be left without a chaperone, so I monitored him in the final seconds of Cole counting down the start clock in the chute.
I’ll try to get some pictures tonight, but no promises since the night photography of such fast moving objects as sled dogs ends to be really, really tough. Keep following the standings on the Tustumena 200 website. Right now they have Cole list as being in third place, but I think she is actually in fourth by a couple of minutes. This isn’t bad though, Cole tends to be a slow starter and a fast finisher in races, so she may still pull in some of these teams tomorrow. There’s still 100 miles of race left so anything can happen. More info when I can. All for now.

Prerace Problems

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011


A dark chi seems to have settled over the kennel this past week, but hopefully it will pass by the time the Tustumena 200 begins this weekend. First the weather.
As is common here on the Kenai Peninsula, a freeze-thaw cycle has cycled. It went from minus 10 to the upper 30s and even 40 above once over the last week and a half. This has been brutal on the dogs, since so many of our races have been in the temperature range of around minus 15 to minus 40. The warm weather has also caused some challenging conditions for the T-200 race trail. A few of the frozen creeks have opened back up, and the snow has turned into the equivalent of mashed potatoes. Worse still, it has rained a few times during the day, and then froze at night, so on top of the mashed potatoes is a thin crust of ice that nicks and cuts the dogs feet and ankles if we’re not careful.
We’ve tried to fine tune our prerace training to get the dogs to peak for the race, but with the weather being what is has, this hasn’t been easy. Several runs had to be cut short due to the heat, and a few trails were just too soft with deep snow to risk running them so close to the race. We wouldn’t want any dogs to pull a shoulder muscle just to get in a few extra miles.
Adding to the situation, this is the time of year when the moose start to get hungry from so many months without food. The snow in some places has also gotten deep, so they have taken to walking on the dog trails to save calories, and they don’t want to yield to dog teams. One mean one has even begun hanging around our property (see pic at top of post).
Two days ago we had a very, very close call. A huge, 800-900 pound cow, ran out from the side of the trail and into the team. With its ears back and head down it began stomping. Luckily it cut through, rather than down the line, and somehow the dogs were able to deek it’s sledgehammer like legs. It ran right between Metoo and Penny, two of the smallest dogs in the kennel, so even a glancing blow would likely have killed one of these two shrimps.
A day later, on the same trail, we believe the same marauding moose came out again, but Cole was moving too quickly for it to get into her team this time. Still, the moose ran down the trail after her trying to knock her off the sled.
In Alaska, in these scenarios it is legal to shoot this moose “in defense of life and property,” but we are always sad to have to kill an animal just for attempting to live in its natural environment. We can’t risk the dogs’ safety though, so we have begun carrying our 12-guage shotgun in the sled. We’ve gotten rubber slugs from Fish and Game to haze it first, but if this doesn’t work we have real slugs too, and we always have a .44 caliber pistol that we attach to the sled for emergencies like this.
This is only the second time in about 8 years we have had a moose be so aggressive. When the Doc litter were just pups, on one of their first training runs we had a cow moose run through the team attempting to stomp dogs when we ran into it, and the calf it was trying to defend, on a blind corner. It came close to getting Hildy and stomped right on her neckline, but luckily it broke and Hildy was able to dive to safety.
Other mushers in the neighborhood have not been so lucky. About 10 years ago a neighbor of ours had his team stomped and several dogs were killed, and the same year that Hildy had a close call, another musher had a moose run out and kick one dog, permanently injuring it.
With the moose hanging out, and the race so close, we have decided to just shut the dogs down and focus on preparation and packing for the race. Cole is still hoping to place in the Top 3, even with this warm weather. The heat of the day will be hard on her and the dogs, but it will be true for all teams in the race. Hydration will be the name of the game for this weekend. Cole is hoping to do the best she can, but she won’t risk over heating a dog just to place further to the front.
The competition will also make this a tough race for Cole. Returning again is Cim Smyth who has won the race two or three times over the last 5 years. DeeDe Jonrowe has also signed up and she has been mushing almost as long as Cole has been alive. There are also a few young guns signed up that we know could be dark horses for a win, these include Zoya Denure, Mike Santos and Gary Vanloo.
Well, we’ll know who the victor is in a few days I guess. Wish us luck. I’ll be covering the race for the newspaper, so I’ll try to get lots of good photos and scoop for the blog and make updates as often as I can. The race can also be followed at the T-200 website.
Until then, enjoy a few photos of Dunkel trying to tackle Colleen before a training run earlier this week. He always gets so excited that he will run and cannonball us until we put his harness on. It’s a ridiculously fun game, for us and him.

Seeing the harnesses come out.

“Come on mom, hurry up!”

Finally in the team and happy.

One parting shot, him finally worn out from a hard day’s work.

T-200 is Coming

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011


We’re back at the kennel and getting ready for our next race, the Tustumena 200, which starts right down the street and is an annual favorite of ours. This course runs through the Caribou Hills, which is where we did 98 percent of our winter training this season. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are we know the race course very well, so there should be few surprises other than whatever the weather presents, such as a race weekend storm.
The disadvantages are the dogs are SOOOOO used to these trail that they don’t really get fired up for the race the way they do when we travel to other parts of the stat to compete. Also, they know all the spots we have stopped and camped throughout the year, so they tend to be a little sluggish when moving through these areas the day of the race.
Based on the race field, we are hoping Cole can place in the Top 3, of course it’s a dog race so anything can happen. Looking back at the Copper Basin 300 is a great example of this. Without a doubt we had a Top 10 team for that race, but as can happen with the “luck of the draw,” Cole drew a start position far to the back of the pack. This led to chewed up trail which caused an injury to her main race leader and caused for slow going conditions, but also, in the minus 15 degree temperatures and on trails only a dog team wide in many places, Cole would get stuck behind teams that had tangled up with each other while passing and she’d have to wait and wait while the drivers tried to undo their frozen snaps to fix the mess. She lost a lot of time and never made it back. She finished 13th overall, still her best finish in that always tough race, but nowhere near as good as we knew we could and should have done.
Hopefully the T-200 will offer some redemption. We have been back training on the race trail (see photos at top of post) and much of it is hard and fast, which isn’t our usual forte. We prefer when the snow falls and it becomes a slogfest so that the truly tough teams can move to the front. Snow is predicted for next week and we hope it comes. We have only had about two inches all month (see pic below of a frosty Brick and Boo at the end of a run).

If not, we will have to be cautious to not injure any ankles or shoulders on the hard fast downhills. The race changed a few years ago from several 50 mile runs and is now only two 100-mile legs, which is a little longer than we train, so that too should offer a bit of a challenge.

In other news, Mushing Magazine picked up one of my photos for next month’s cover (above). Here’ a sneak peak. It is a real honor to have our picture on the front of the magazine, but since it is also a picture of our own dog team, it is extra special. Loyal blog readers will remember this shot from the start of winter. It was when we got our first snow fall, an amazing three feet in 24 hours, and had to break out the snowshoes to put in trail for the dogs shortly after this shot was taken.
Also, I have been promising to post some of the fun photos of our dogs enjoying some of the Christmas presents that friends of the kennel sent. Here are a few shots of some of the guys playing with their Cuz toys sent by our friend Susan McRae.

Metoo attempting to claim all the toys for herself, but Dunkel is sneaky.

A wornout Dunkel does his best to make sure no one gets his Cuz.

Where’d They Go?

Monday, January 10th, 2011


Sorry folks, but the bad luck streak continued and affected my ability to make blog posts, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me start with where I left off. So, Cole left for Tolsana (above) with Penny in the team, and it looked like all her massaging had paid of. She had gone about 15 miles and Penny was looking good. Then came on particularly steep downhill that had had all the snow scraped off from the brakes of all the sleds that had already gone through. She couldn’t rate the team down on the dirt and Penny came up limping again. She quickly bagged her in the sled and then gave her to me at Tolsana.
Cole pushed on to Wolverine making good time despite another batch of serious overflow again. This sections was two feet deep and Cole had to get in and carry the dogs over one by one. The water, which quickly turned to ice, wasn’t just on the outside of her boots. In this deep water in had made it’s way down in. Her feet got Cole and the icy buildup on the outer boot caused Cole to not be able to stand correctly. She came in with a sore back and knees from the awkward riding stance.
At Wolverine Cole chisled her boots off and was lucky enough to get to the dryer before everyone else dumped their gear in there. While the team rested, at around midnight the northern lights came out in a spectacular 20 minute show of heavy grean ribbons with a bit of pink mixed in at times. Despite the minus 15 degree temperatures, we couldn’t help take a few moments to stop what we were doing and enjoy the light show.
I saw Cole off and as she mushed her way to Sourdough I began the long 100 mile drive, but the truck conked out. First there was a loud his, then the engine began to overheat, then the batery light came on, then the steering went out, and finally the brakes were no more.
I turned the truck off and looked under the hood. The serpentine belt looked like a pile of black spaghetti thrown on the engine (see photo below of old belt next to the new one. I flagged down the first dog truck that came by, but the musher spoke French. He got some of my message, but not all. About an hour later a race offical called my cell and sayed they would try to get me some help.

Two hours later, our friend Sue Ellis came by a picked me up, along with Penny, Wolf, Shagoo and Buckwheat. We had to stop for gas, but we thought the COle was vappor locking the pumps. We could only get about 2 cents in at a time and then the tank would spit gas back at us. After an hour of this and three different gas stations, we figured out her gas gauge was broken, and the tank was full.
We continued down the road and serendipiditously saw a wrecker heading into his automotive shop at 4 a.m. We swung in and I asked if I could get a new belt, he had one left and sold it too me quicky as he was on his way to towing a women stranded just outside of town. It was the only reason he was in the shop so early.
I hitched a ride to Sourdough to help park Cole’s team, then hitched a ride back to the truck with another musher friend, Brent Sass’s dad. We made the 100 mile drive and in the daylight found out it was actually the bearings of a pulley that had blown and took out the belt. We drove 30 miles back to town, then 30 back to put all the parts in, then made the 100 mile trip back to SOurdough to pick up COle dropped items, then I drive to MIers Lake to see her come through.
The whole fiasco took the whole night, so I was never able to get near a computer. I slept 3 hours in three days, and survived on a strict regiment of bad coffee, cheese burgers and Reese’s peanut butter cups.
At MIers, the team looked GREAT, so I headed for the finish to see Cole come in in 13th place, and OUTSTANDING finish considering the caliber of mushers she was up against. We were really proud of how the guys did, especially Zoom whole led 250 miles of the race, really filling in for Penny. Two year old Quigley also made it through and was still banging his harness in the finishing chute, a sign he had had a great time.
This is a bit of an abbreviated version of the events and I’m sorry there isn’t more dogs news, but the truck took so much time and attention from the race, I missed out on a lot too. Sadly, one thing I didn’t miss out on was developing a stinky case of trench foot. NOt being around the truck for a day and running around in my mushing gear like a madman, I never changed by socks and below is the end result. All for now. Maybe I can get Cole to share some tails of the trail in a few days.

Start to Glennallen

Sunday, January 9th, 2011


Hi all. This is going to have to be brief. I’m on little sleep and have been wrestling trying to find reliable internet. The first leg of the race was undeniably the hardest section of trail Cole has raced in a long time. As feared, a few of the rivers broke open, and with each passing team got worse and wrose. The reason being, as a team scrmble to the edges of cie, they often crumble it out, exteneding the wet spot further, and/or making open water deeper as they churn through it. Cole going out 41, got some serious cold water emrsion therapy, but nothing nearly EVERYONE else in the race didn’t see. She came with frozen boots, and I mean frozen, as in encased in ice. All the dogs were carrying iceballs too, Looked like they had gone in at least chest deep. She used the cooker to get a hot meal into the dogs and thaw out her frozen drinks (photo above)
Sadly, in one of the crossing, the ice actually broke open under the dogs and dumped a few. Penny camp up with a sore wrist as a result. Cole massaged her thoroughly at Chistochine, which this year was is a new place and quite spacious. Cole got a great campsite for the dogs. Got to get indoors by a woodstove and at least slightly thaw her feet. And the host family made some cinnamin buns for the mushers to enjoy.
After 3 hours rest, Cole took off. She had wanted to stay longer, but the reports were there was another 40 yard section of 18inch deep overflow waiting up the trail. She wanted to get to and through it before too many other teams made it worse. As luck would have it, the minus 10 degree temperatures froze the overflow before Cole got there.
Penny was still looking a little stiff in Glennallen, so rather than only staying four hours as Cole has planned, she took 8 hours and did much, much more massaging on Penny with our medicated balms. The dogs enjoyed camping out during the “heat” of the day (See photo below)After the eight hours rest everyone, musher and dogs alike, looked much better. She is now heading toward Tolsana, where the plan is just to go straight through, then camp for a few more hours at Wolverine.

As for the Wolf update, I think he is ruined, but in a good way. he has been sleeping in the cab with me, except he is a huge sleeping bag hog. He’s really living up not being out there running through the cold temperatures and icy waters. (see photo below).
All for now.

CB300 START

Saturday, January 8th, 2011


Things are off to a bad start already as Cole began her fourth run of the Copper Basin. We woke up last night at midnight to drop the dogs so they could pee and when we went out we found another musher had pulled up in the night and was letting his truck run to stay warm.
Unfortunately, the exhaust fumes from this mushers truck were blowing right into our dog box. Luckily we caught in when we did and moved our truck. I don’t think a whole night of it would have asphyxiated our dogs, but it would likely made them very sick at the least.
That’s not the bad news by the way. The bad news is while we had the dogs down and attached to the truck this morning before the race, nervous Wolf spun under the truck to possible avoid a passing stranger and he gave himself a huge laceration down through the skin, to the muscles in his hind leg. We check the truck for these kind of thingds all the time, but the reality of having an ’99 truck that is rusty from years of driving on winter roads, is sometimes things pop up you just don’t see.
So, sadly, Cole had to drop a dog before even starting the race. Losing not only a leader, but a little more power compared to the other team who all went out with 12 dogs each. This weighed heavy on her conscience, which was already burdened with the usual race worries.
The sad irony of the situation is that every other race we have ever done we have always brought a few “spare” race dogs, just in case something like this ever happened. Last year I brought Metoo, and we considered bringing her this year, but at the last minute we found out our usual dog sitters could not care for our oldest dog, our German Shepherd: Tatika. Not wanting to over burden our other petsitter, I took a few of the problem children with me, so she could focus on Tatika, and rather than riding around with a full cab of dogs, I left Metoo behind. As Murphy’s Law has it though, the one time we didn’t bring the dog we needed one.
I tried to best to cheer her up and by the time she pulled the hooks to leave the chute, she had a smile on her face. The dogs were definitely jazzed to go. Quigley, being the wildman he is, broke our drop chain as soon as he saw the first teams starting to go out. It was long hour and 20 minute wait let me tell you.
After she left I got with the race veterinarians and they performed arroom surgery on Wolf, cleaning up his wound and suturing it. I guess he’ll be riding with me and my other copilots, Shagoo and Buckwheat, for the next three days.
All for now. More when I get near better internet.

Cole giving me the usual dirty door directions of which dog will go where.

Quigley going nuts!

Penny and Keno lead the way.

Prelude

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Just got back from the drawing banquet and Cole drew (a dreadful) bib #41 out of 51 mushers in the race. This should make things interesting tomorrow as this first leg of the race is one of the most challenging of the course in terms of natural obstacles. There’s a lot of big hills to climb, a few open creeks to cross, and the trail is VERY narrow in many places. This can be tough to pass or get ahead if someone if front of you is slower than you are. Also, the more teams that go out in front of you, the worse the trail conditions get. Ice bridges get broken out and the hardpacked trail gets chewed up from all the sled brakes. Hopefully Cole won’t loose too much time before the race gets to the first checkpoint.
Also, Susan asked about overflow. We forget not everyone knows “musher speak”. Overflow is caused by two different things, when it gets really cold, the ice on a lake or river can get so thick is pushes down on the still liquid water below and forces it up to the surface where it will be wet for a few hours. NOthing is worse than hitting still liquid water in minus 40 temperatures like we saw in the GIn Gin 200 last week.
The other type of overflow is what we will be seeing this weekend. It comes from when a warm front moves in and melts some snow, but not all of it, so the melted water will pool on top of ice and snow. With the 30-40 degree temperatures that swept the state last week, this soggy mess is entirely possible on the race course, especially if 40 teams in front of Cole churn up the dry snow sitting on top.
Oh well, like they say, sometimes luck is in the draw, and so far luck has not been with us. In addition to the crappy starting number, several last minute mushers signed up nd its basically become a who’s who of the Iditarod. The field went from a few good mushers to a lot of great mushers, but we’re still hoping to stick to our goal of doing the best we can.
I’ll update more tomorrow and as often as I can when I’m near WiFi. In between, Cole’s progress can be followed on the Cooper Basin 300 website under either “race updates” or by following the SPOT tracker. All for now.

Back to Paxson

Thursday, January 6th, 2011


It seems like we just got home and unpacked from the last race (these photos are from the Gin Gin 200, sent to us by Dyanna Bergen), but it’s time to head north to Paxson again. The Copper Basin 300 starts on Saturday and Cole will be racing in it for the fourth consecutive year. This is a tough, tough race due to extreme cold temperature, lots of talented mushers and a rigorous race course. Cole’s highest finish so far has been 14th place, but she is hoping to improve that this year.
It’s hard to say what our goals are for this race. There’s easily 10 to 15 teams that could win this thing, and Cole is hoping to be one of them, but realistically, if our team can finish in 3rd through 10 place, we would be ecstatic.
However, like all our races we really only have three goals, in this order: Do our best. Have fun. Make new friends. So hopefully that will happen again this weekend. Rather than the usual minus 40 to 50, the weather predication for this weekend is said to be around minus 5, which would be extremely comfortable mushing. The downside is there is said to be massive amounts of overflow on the trail from the “warm” temperatures.
Also, new this year, all mushers will have GPS trackers, so you at home should be able to follow Colleen’s progress. Just visit the Copper Basin 300 web site and click on the SPOT trackers page. Also, for those who didn’t catch our blog post about it, this year’s race poster is a photo I (Joseph) took. They are for sale on the race website, signed by all the mushers in the race, so check it out. It’s a beautiful shot from last year’s race.
Also, to read a newspaper article about Cole’s first place finish in the Gin Gin 200, check out this link: http://redoubtreporter.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/from-kasilof-to-championship-%e2%80%94-peninsula-mushers-off-to-fast-start-in-racing-season/
All for now. We’ll put up some pics and the story of how it went when we get back form the race. We also have some fun pictures to put up soon of the dogs enjoying their Christmas presents sent to us by our Iditarider Susan. They loved them Susan!!!

Cole and the team a few minutes after finishing. Notice the “discount” beer prices on the banner behind her.

Cole taking the booties off of Penny, the best lead dog in the world.