Archive for March, 2012

Back to Work

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Hi all. We’ll we just got back from the race and its right back to trying to do our best for dogs, including other people’s. We need your help. A close friend of ours lost her job and must move. She has four dogs, but can only take one to the new home. We have agreed to take one, but there are two Siberian huskies that need homes NOW. They are spayed females, six year old, and they don’t have to go together. They lived as indoor dogs for the first few years of their life, but have lived in outdoor pens for the last couple. They are sweet dogs, please help us find them a home. She only has a week until she will be bringing them to a shelter. Contact us if you are interested and we can put you in touch with the owner to work out shipping details. Above and below are the pics.


Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Hi all, Cole just made it home yesterday afternoon. All the dogs made it back safe and sound too and have been enjoying fattening up and sharing time on the couch after all the hard work they did. Above is a finaly pic of Cole and Penny, both looking soooo tired, after crossing the finish line. Cole had to stick around Nome for a few days waiting for the banquet, and took a trip out to see some wild musk ox. I’ll try to post pics soon.
She had fun at the banquet. She found out her and another musher, Rohn, had moved up the same number of places (16) from their last Iditarods, but since he was one place in front of her this year, he recieved the “Most Improved Musher Award,” and the $2,000 that came with it. Drats! We’re always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to that stuff, but really the race turned out so much better than we hoped overall, we can complain. I mean he had his father, a past Idit-champ, helping him most of the way, whereas Cole did everything she did on her own, so we are still very, very proud of her, even if she didn’t get the big recognition. It seems to be too often the case with her, which sucks to see her work so hard and get so little credit. I thought it odd that the race photographer Jeff Schultz, as well as many of the race reporters, covered the teams that came in immediately before and after Cole, but not Cole herself. SAdly, Cole is used to it at this point, but it still hurts to see it happen to her.
Cole is starting to share some of her trail stories now that she has caught up on some sleep and is back home. I’ll try to get her to jump on here soon and share some if I can. In the meantime, here is a column I wrote about her and Wolf for the local newspaper I work at. I know some of you have stumbled on this, but not everyone has, so I thought I’d share it. Enjoy!

“Great” race in eye of the beholder
The Iditarod is also known as the Last Great Race, and indeed there are few things that can compare to driving a team of huskies across some of the most remote northern stretches of nature on this planet, though the “great” part is sometimes debatable. The chance of being stomped by moose not wanting to yield the trail, being knocked unconscious by trees on the Happy River Steps, having something dislocated while bumping through the Farewell Burn, and the ever-present danger of frostbite or freezing to death are all very real concerns for those who sign up for this race.

And why would anyone want to? That’s a question I’ve asked myself for years, even though I am a dog musher myself and love stepping on the runners for a jaunt with my canine companions. Running 1,000 miles in below-zero temperatures has always seemed like an exercise in masochism to me. I love eating ice cream, but I wouldn’t want to eat ice cream all day long for 10 days.

My wife, Colleen Robertia, apparently feels differently on this matter, because she is currently out there running the Iditarod. As I’m writing this she is along the Bering Sea coast between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik. This has me concerned, both for her well-being and for her sanity for wanting to be out running in conditions that the vast majority of people would run indoors to get away from.

Colleen is amazing, don’t get me wrong. She has an exceptional savvy for being in tune with our dogs, coping with the cold and managing sleep deprivation — all traits a good distance musher needs to succeed. It is because of this that my wife, despite this only being her second Iditarod and third 1,000-mile race, is running neckline to neckline with four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, 2012 Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff, and several others who have 10 to 20 years more racing experience than she does.

She doesn’t rely on other people to train her team all season long and then just step on the runners for the race. Every training — and there have been thousands this season alone — Cole put on those dogs on weekends or after a long day at work at her 40-hour-a-week job.

Though most media outlets covering this race focus just on the front runners, Colleen’s story is also one of substance. Unlike many mushers who breed year after year to skim the proverbial cream of the crop from each of these litters for their team, my wife has always prided herself on doing the best with the dogs she’s always had, which have often come from other mushers as runts, rogues or rejects.

One of the dogs in her team, which has even pinch-led a few runs in this Iditarod, is a dog that some of the best veterinarians in the state said would never be a sled dog again. Wolf, a feisty, black-and-white dog with glacier blue eyes, was hit by a car as a 2-year-old, along with five other dogs. Four died, one amazingly had no injuries, and Wolf had a completely shattered hind leg.

The musher who owned him at the time paid for him to have his leg fused back into place with metal and pins. He was given rehabilitation to be able to walk around again, and slowly began to run in the team. But when this musher sold his kennel, the buyer wasn’t interested in a question mark like Wolf.

We stepped in to give Wolf a good home and decided to allow him to do as much exercise as was comfortable for him. We figured he could handle a few training runs, then could sit out when he showed signs of soreness, but to our surprise the more runs he did, and the longer they got, the stronger he got.

Cole tried him out in short races, then a 200-miler. Again, the more Wolf did, the stronger he got, so when the time came to pick her 16 dogs for Iditarod, Wolf’s name made the list. As I’m writing this, he has made more than 700 miles of the race in good fashion, and I’m hoping to see him under the Burled Arch in Nome.

That’s how Colleen is, too. Like Wolf, she defies convention, and has often found success — even if only on a personal level — from prevailing where so many others wouldn’t have dared go. Her goal is not to win, but to succeed on her own terms. In the end, maybe that is the greatest calling of the Iditarod for her.

Post Race

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Hi all. Well we are still in nome recovering from all the stress, excitment, lack of sleep, etc. etc. Cole has gotten a hot showever and a few big meals into her, and she’s only fallen asleep midmeal or mid-conversion about a halfdozen times, so that’s poretty good. She got some really good sleep last night, ironically 8 hours, the same amount that she cumulatively got over the last 10 days. I don’t know how she does that.
Funny story though. After she got in from the trail, she went to take a hot shower at the hotel we were staying at. They are more people in Nome right now then places to stay, so we had to take what we could get. We got a room in one of the more questionable establishments. We checked in and one of two communal toilets for the hotel was being snaked out from backing up. We shared a shower and toilet with about 60 people as a result. The room is over the bar, which started hoping at night when the wet T-shirt contest started, so between the bass of the music and the cheers of the crowd, the floors and walls were vibrating till about 4 a.m.
Anyway, Cole came in and started to taking shower, but didn’t know the bathroom light was on a motion sensor, so as she was in the shower cubicle, the lights went out. In her sleep deprived state she wasn’t sure what happened or what to do since she was all soaped up, so we just heard her start pounding on the walls shouting, “Hello! Hello!” We came and shouted instructions thorugh the door to get the light back on, but it definetly wierded her out.
Luckily, while having breakfast with some mushing friends of our and their friends, Cole met a woman who had a room for the next few nights in one of the nicest places in town WITH a shower in her own room, and she couldn’t stay any longer, so she gave it to Cole and at least tonight Cole will finally get to rest in comfort. I’ll miss out as I’m flying home with the dogs to get them back on their home turf where they can truly be comfortable and start putting all their weight back on.
Everyone actually doesn’t look too much worse for the wear, especially Buliwyf and Seeker. They both look and are energetically acting like they hadn’t just run 1,000 miles. Zoom is the only one who looks pretty trail worn. She got a virus toward the end of the race which caused her to lose her appetite, but gave her really bad diarhea. The combination has caused her to drop a ton of weight since finishing since her metabolism is still processing like a marathon runner’s, but luckily the veterinary team worked closely with Cole to get her a spot indoors in the heat, so she could rest without burning any more calories. They also gave her some antibotics and vitamins to help get her on her feet quickly and as of today she has started ot eat like a wolf again. We went to the grocery store and bought her some really fatty pork chops, which she has really been enjoying.
Well all for now. I’m sad I won’t get to see Cole claim her trohpy and give her finishers speech at the banquet on Sunday, especially since she worked so hard and I’m so proud of her, but it sounds like Tatika is really no doing well back home with us gone, so Cole said she would rather have me be there for Tika than her.
All for now, but more when I hear more from the banquet. There are always numerous awards gvien out besides the placement awards, so maybe Cole will have earned somehitng else. We’ll find out soon. Thanks again to everyone for their support, and I hope you enjoyed this new picture at the top that I found on the web of the cermonial start, which seems like a lifetime ago after how crazy the past 10 days were. Still can’t believe its all over.

They DId It…Again

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

They finsihed in 21st place after 10 days 20 hours 4 minutes and 19 seconds! Thank you everyone for all your support! We couldn’t have done it with all your help!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, WE HAVE A DOG RACE!

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Holy cow, that group of 10 mushers moved with about 3 miles of each other for nearly 100 miles. That just doesn’t happen in distance racing. Finally toward the end of the day as the all neared White Mountain, Cole finally drove to the front of the pack to come in in 21st place!

But, it is still only minutes that separates her from several other high caliber mushers and with 77 miles to go it is impossible to say if she can hold onto that spot. She could do it, or give up a spot or two, or totally crash from today’s big, fast push and end up in 30th place.

We’ll find out tomorrow as they should get in to Nome around 10ish by my estimates, but maybe sooner or later depending on the trail, the wind and how far apart they remain over that distance. Seeing 10 teams every time you look over your shoulder has got to have everybody kicking and poling as hard as they can, and if they weren’t today, the definitely will be tomorrow.

Just talked to Cole as I was writing this and she said she is so excited for tomorrow that even though she hasn’t sleep in days, she still can’t sleep. She’s really worried about Lance, Anjanette or one of the others behind her dashing past, and it may happen. She said it’s been really fun moving with Lance so much too because while he obviously isn’t havingt the race he wished for. Moving with a four-time champ like him and seeing him at every checkpoint, she’s really learned a lot about her own racing routine.

Its funny hearing her perspective on the last 100 miles too because she said for most of it, she had no idea any of those teams other than Lance were even around her. She said going through the storm out of Shaktoolik, she didn’t know any of them were that close and she said it was of the scariest runs of her life because she felt so alone in such terrible weather.

As to the dogs who have gotten her through all of this the last day or so, she said she has been in a constant rotation between Penny, Wolf and Zoom. Penny has been her rock, but when the wind gets too tough on her she goes to Wolf, but Wolf hasn’t want to do hills, so she goes to Zoom for ups. She said goliath even stepped up and pulled out front for the leg to Golovin because the other three were all getting pretty pooped. She said Zoom has also picked up a virus in the last 24 hours, so while she is still eating and performing well, she has pretty bad diarrhea so her weight is really slipping, so its good the end is so near.

It’s been an exciting end to what has been a race with lots of emotional ups and downs. It’s UNBELIEVABLE no media outlets are covering this race within the race, not to mention word here in Nome is that several teams behind Cole’s grouping didn’t make it through the winds storms out of Shaktoolik and one musher got lost for hours and another got turned around by the terrible head winds and lack of trail. I guess as is far too often the case in mushing coverage, now that the first person has crossed the finish line, many media folks think the race is over.

Any how, I’m still following it with the excitement of a school boy on the last day before summer vacation. In the meantime enjoy these two pics. The one at the top is a screen capture of a distance of less than two miles to show how close all the teams ran all day. The one at the bottom is a snow sculpture overlooking the dog lot in Nome where hopefully the dogs will be parked and getting some well earned rest tomorrow. All for now.

Race within the Race

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Holy cow!!! It looks like there’s going to be a 10 way race for 20th place.!!! The clump of teams that all moved through the storm together now appear to be racing each other for those 10 places from 20th to 30th, and Cole has fought her way back to 23rd and it looks like she is trying to real in fourtime champ Lance Mackey (currently in 22nd) and Kelly Griffin (curretnlyh in 21st). Everyone appears to have cut rest or not taken any in Elim and are on their way to Golovin, but with the mandatory 8 hours rest in White Mountain, I’ve gotta believe that’s where everyone is headed, unless Cole is going to briefly stop in Golovin too, and just wanted to play mental poker with those she (thought ) she left behind in Elim. Sometimes when mushers see a musher cut rest and go like that, they think “she wants it more than I do, I’ll just stay longer.” But it looks like this time it didn’t work and as Cole left, everyone else bootied up and took off after her. CAn’t wait to see how it plays out. Could be a foot race down front street if this keeps up. Stay tuned.!

Getting Closer To Elim (and the end)

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Hi all, made it it Nome and have been glued to the screen watching COle’s progress. WAs in Unalakleet yesterday and the pilots going and comeing were talking about how terrible the wind was from Shaktoolik to Koyuk. It looks like it picked up on the northern end ther near Koyuk as the day went on, which couldn’t have made it too easy on Cole and the others, who the papers haved come to call “The Storm Troopers,” (my nephew’s going to love hearing that.)
I couldn’t tell you what happened since I haven’t talked ot her yet, but watching the size of the group that went and knowing the winds didn’t die down, I’d guess as a group they decided to wait until the warmest time of day and then just decided to drive into the wind. Glad they all made it, and Cole left Elim with 10 dogs still, so hopefully the wind didn’t take out Penny’s champion heart.
It’s clear from the standings the windwtorm let a LOT of people catch up to Cole. She gave up about 8-10 positions depending on how the leapfrogging is at the moment. It looks like following the GPS tracker, though, she is still trying to claw her way back to the front of the pack she is now in.
This will be tough to do at this stage of the race. COle eaked out the lead she had on some of these folks by running hard when she had powerhourses like Quigley, Cyder, Rowdy, Dunkel and Keno. All dogs that are now home. With only 10 left, she may not be able to keep up with these teams that ran more conservatively most of the race, and as a result have lkarger teams now with more cumulative rest on them overall.
That’s what makes it a race though, so time will tell what will happen. She called from Koyuk, but my phone is no longer working in Nome. Hopefully I can figure out a way to here fomr here in Elim. All for now.

Winds Still Roaring

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Just a quick update. Went to a few different weather sites while sitting here in the Anchorage terminal. Looks like the winds have gotten strgoner if anything, so Cole has not left yet. The teams have, and it remains to be seen if they made the right decision for their own outfits. That’s the tough thing with this kind of weather. it’s not unpassable if you knjow what you’re doing and have some solid leaders. Cole called this morning and said if she had Cyder she’d likely take off in it, but with only Penny the risk is too great. In those winds, if she had to stop for any length of time, she could be risky the tiny dog’s life, and in those winds, there wouldn’t be much taking off of the mittens to try and change out leaders. Cole’s hands would freeze and frostbite in seconds. She can’t go until she know the dog out front is going to go non-stop or the winds die down. It’s hard to watch people that were 9-10 hours behind her now out front, but sadly, that is how it goes on the Iditarod sometimes. Ther are many people who could probably have claimed a win had a Norton sound storm not shown up. It sucks for her to sit and wait, and wait, and wait some more, but its the safesat decision at this point.
In other less absymal news, Dunkel, Quigley and Rowdy made it home last night. Metoo was so excited to see Dunkel. She hoped up on the couch next to him and just groomed him non-stop for about an hour. He didn’t get in until about 3 a.m. and I had to leave at 5 a.m., but he got to sleep in the bed with me for a few hours that he seemed very happy for, especially since Cole wasn’t on her usual side, he got to really sprawl out. Wish I could have given him longer, but had to get on the road. Although at this point, this storm is making me wonder if I’m making this flight for nothing. On cole’s original schedule she would have finished sometime tomorrow, but now i’m wondering if i’ll even get to see her finish since I have to fly home on Friday to take care of the dogs left behind. Our house sitter can only watch the place till then, then she has a prior engagment in another part of the state. I’d hate to think of spending on this money on a flight and hotels in Nome for her to than role in to no one there on Friday. Let hope this wind lets up soon.

Can’t Win to Lose

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Who’s ready for their daily dose of bad news. Seriously, I don’t know how else to describe what is going on now, because just when I think it can’t get any worse, it gets way worse.
Cole made it to Shaktoolik where she called to tell me what I had already known from watching the weather. The winds came up…in a major way. The mushers just ahead of her slipped up to Koyuk just before it got really bad, but Cole came in to sustained winds of 30 mph, and they were expected to keep howling through the night.
This would be dangerous at any time, but when combined with the temperatures which on the sea ice were already hovering at minus 20 to minus 30, well, this comes together to make a windchill factor that is somewhere around minus 50 to minus 60.
This is the danger zone for sure, but now Cole is faced with several tough decisions. If she waits it out, she doesn’t know how long that wait will be. A few years ago teams pulled over to wait out winds, and they built up to 50 mph and lasted for 2-3 days.
However, if Cole tries to drive into them, she is risking that the team may not be able to handle it. Mostly because her main leader at this time is pint-sized Penny, who while she still isn’t lacking in heart, just doesn’t have the body size to handle winds that strong. I have seen her literally picked up off the ground and thrown in winds this speed.
Cole has faced worse wind and colder temperatures, but it was with a much fresher dog team in 200-300 mile races, and with her full battery of leaders. Sadly, Cyder, Quigley and Keno, her largest and most powerful leaders, are all already home with me due to various maladies.
Again, adding to this situation is the fact the Cole is still on next to no sleep, so while these situations are dangerous to anyone who finds themselves in them, my fear is Cole may not have the mental faculties at this point to do what she would normally do if she were better rested.
The worst part, for me personally, is I fly out tomorrow to hopefully see her in Nome. I have to be up and on the road to the airport before she will even get into Koyuk (based on the times it took people who weren’t driving into the wind), so I won’t know until Acnhorage if she made it, or is out there fighting for her life and her dogs lives.
The only thing keeping me from completely peeling my skin of with worry is that Cole has been moving with four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey and his handler of several years Braxton Peterson. They are old neighbors of ours who Cole knows well. She said they talked in the checkpoint and agreed they all stood the best chances of making it safely if they moved together through the storm in a caravan.
Lance is no stranger to finding his way though way worse storms on the coast than this. He clawed his way through the one I already mentioned that pinned everyone down in Shaktoolik two years ago to earn a win, so if there is one guy in this race I’d like to see her move though this storm with, its him.
That being said, this is still the Iditarod and not Cole or Lance or anybody is unstoppable, as we already saw on the way to Unalakleet when four-time champion Jeff King scratched for the first time in his 22 year Iditarod career.
So, anyway, that’s all I have. I am literally terrified for my wife and canine family. If any of you are the religious types, please pray for her. If you’re the non-religious types, please keep your fingers crossed for her, because she and the team are going to need every ounce of luck they can get tonight.
All for now, and until I get to Nome tomorrow evening.

No Good News

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The title of this post says it all. Despite her fairly phenomenal run time compared to those around her, Cole’s run to Unalakleet was one of the longest of her life. She did stop for rest for a few hours along the trail. She was heading to a cabin between the two checkpoint, but in her sleep deprived state, she wasn’t able to tell how far she had gone so she stopped and camped along the trail, only to later learn what all of us watching her GPS blip knew, she had stopped just a few miles before the cabin.
Still, the dogs got some much need rest and she began to push on, but it seemed like everything was against her and the other mushers out there. The trail is said to be very soft, so the dogs could go more than about 6 miles per hour though it. It was around minus 30-40, and there was a bit of wind roiling over her, not a terrible wind as it can get in this area, but enough to further slow them all down by blowing the trail in and chilling her to the bone.
As most people following the race closely know, even four-time champion Jeff King’s dogs stopped on him on this leg. This is a guy who has mushed for more than 30 years and run this trail enough times to have seen it all in terms of weather and fussy dogs, but this run to Unalakleet even became dangerous for him as you can tell from this picture below I pulled from the web.

He and the dogs had to curl up in the snow, no insulating straw to keep them warm (although thankfully he had coats for them as you can see), while they waited for help from a snowmachiner. To those who know how tough King is, this picture should send shivers of fear down your spine for the other people in the race who don’t have the lifetime of experience that King does. This photo is also telling because if you look closely by the dogs closest to the sled, you can see the 3-4 inches of snow that have blown into the trail. Like running in soft sand at the beach, this is the stuff that is slowing the teams to a walking pace.
Cole didn’t see King out there, but she did see another musher whose team had quit on him, but she said she was hallucinating so badly from sleep deprivation, she wasn’t sure she was really seeing who it was, where they were. Another sign Cole is really struggling. Managing sleep deprivation has always been one of her greatest strengths as a distance musher, and this is the first time, I can remember, her ever talking about her mind playing tricks on her.
Adding to Cole’s situation, Dunkel (the howling dog in the restart pic at the top of this post) finally got worn out and had to be carried in the bag for the last 40 miles. Dunkel is the youngest dog on the team at this point, he’s only two years old, and like any youngster – human or dog—he has a super high metabolism. It seemed that no matter how much food Cole pumped into him through the race, he was still getting leaner and leaner with each run. Cole had even been giving him extra food. She sent out ziplocked McDonalds double cheeseburgers to all the checkpoints because they are high calorie and easy drop into the cook pot when boiling water for dog broth to heat them up. She said Dunkel has even been getting these treats the last few hundred miles, but it still wasn’t enough calories to keep his strength up.
In Unalakleet, Cole plan was to rest them for 8-10 hours before making the push to Shaktoolik. These next two runs should be two of the tougher ones for her as well since she and the team will be on the Bering Sea Coast. Not only is this are prone to intense and sudden windstorms, but for teams that come from heavily forested areas like ours, the lack of landmarks on the sea ice which is flat and featureless for miles can really mentally take its toll on the musher and team. No matter how fast they are going it just seems like they aren’t moving, which can slow them down even further.
Here’s to hoping she can just get this thing finished up and in good fashion. I know a lot of you have asked how Cole could be having such a bad race, yet be doing so well in the standings, and all I can say is it is a testament to her perseverance as a person and her extreme savvy with being in tune with her team.
Mushing, if it is about one thing, is about overcoming obstacles. The better you are at that, the better you do in this sport, and that’s what Cole has been displaying for the last few hundred miles. This hasn’t been the magic carpet ride, it’s been headaches and hurdles at every step, but she is doing the best she can and that’s all anybody can really do out there.