by Nicole Forto
This is such an exciting and sad time all in one. I will be running my last junior race as a musher. Contrary to popular belief we as mushers don’t sit around on top of our dog houses all day basking in the sun’s rays glaring off the snow. Instead we spend a lot of time being glorified poop picker uppers for our furry friends. You may be sitting there asking why do we do it then? The answer is quite simple. Mushers have a deep bond, that not many people ever have a glimpse of feeling, with our dogs that can’t be broken no matter how many miles are trucked or piles of poop picked up that bond stays as tight as our tying of knots. With all that being said I would like to offer an opportunity from the Team Ineka family to yours and share with you an all exclusive inside look at my junior Iditarod team and answer any questions fans were dying to ask me!
Shock and her three brothers and sisters as well as her mom were given to us by Vern Halter when we first started our kennel. Shock has endured vigorous amounts of leader training with her pal Sidney. This will be Shock and I’s first race together.
A note from Shock: Hello fans of Team Ineka from here in alaska to all over the globe. Thank you for following my pack and my best friend Nicole on our journey across the junior Iditarod trail. Nicole has spent all season long pushing me to my limits to be the very best leader I can be for her. I would pull till the end of the earth for Nicole and maybe even do it twice! I’ll be running next to my speedy pal Frosty whom I would like to say I know a lot more then because I am of course better than anybody else. I mean come on! I’m Nicole’s absolute favorite and every dog needs to know it! I love Frosty for his speed but Nicole likes me to run with him to keep him focused! I look forward to seeing you on the trail look for my floppy ear tips!
Frosty came to Team Ineka from Hugh Neff along with Toliver to help out with leader training to get the Team Ineka crew some speed in races this year. Frosty and I had a rough beginning during fall training. He was having a lot of trouble grasping how to lead on dirt roads and how to listen to my commands as the musher. As sleds hit I gave him more chances to run with TyTy. He quickly got a hang of things and helped the team build up their speed endurance. I’m looking forward to watching Frosty pull the team down the trail.
A note from Frosty: Well hello!! I’m so excited to say thank you for watching Nicole and I out on the trail this year! I’m shaking in my booties with excitement to pull Nicole across the trail! I fell in love with Nicole when I saw her. I was really nervous when I first ran lead for her but I’m so glad she still gave me a chance to prove my abilities! I love to run fast and not ever stop! I keep all my pals on the team going through some pretty tough obstacles as fast as possible. I hope to get Nicole a fifth place trophy this year because red is just not my color! I don’t want that red lantern. You can look for me on Hugh Neffs Iditarod team.
Team Ineka received Toliver from a good friend Hugh Neff this summer. Toliver came to us to help out with some leader training. This will be my first race with Toliver, but I’ve ran countless training runs with him in lead and have complete faith that no matter the obstacle he will pull all the way to the finish.
A note from Toliver: Hi everyone, I would like to thank you for reading about me and my pal Nicole. I’m so very excited to be one of her main leaders for junior iditarod. I’ve run countless races with my owner Hugh Neff but haven’t gotten the opportunity in my years to run a junior race. I’ve been working all year long to prove myself to Nicole since we had a rocky start when I first arrived at Team Ineka. Little did I know that some 5 foot tall girl was going to be hooking me up to an ATV to run on trails that I didn’t know hundreds of miles away from my pals, so we had a bit of an argument and I got put in swing for awhile. However, once snow hit Nicole gave me another chance and I vowed I would show her what I was made of. Months later Nicole’s main leader TyTy had showed me the ropes of what it takes to be Nicole’s leader. You see Nicole isn’t mushing just to win a race she wants to be able to trust her life in the hands of her dogs and have a bond that is impenetrable
Sidney is my rock on the trail. Every race I have ran I have had Sidney, her brother Spencer, and their pal Shifter; not a single one of them ever stops pulling. Sidney is a back-up leader this year for she is getting a little slow but she can still lead her heart out. She’s going to be in swing position along with Toliver to help out on the tough spots on the trail where Frosty and Shock need it.
A note from Sidney: Hey everyone, I’m so happy Nicole decided to keep me on the team this year! I know I’m getting kind of slow but I’ve got too much heart to quit now! I feel like a big sister to Nicole sometimes; I’ve helped her get through some tough situations and with just one look she knows that I will never let her give up on herself. I look forward to helping out Frosty and Shock where I need to as well as enjoying my last race with Nicole as a junior musher!
Gabby joined Team Ineka a few years back with her brother Aussie. She’s a great little dog who can out pull any of the “big boys” in the kennel. She’s a spitfire with a lot of attitude. She always knows how things are suppose to be and how the dogs are suppose to act. Whenever anyone is out of line she is quick to snap them right back into focus. Gabby is also an astounding backup leader who will be running in team position this year.
A note from Gabby: Hi! My name is Gabby but I love to be called gabby gab or gabby girl! I’m excited to be part of the Junior Iditarod team this year. Last year I had to get benched just days before the race due to a spider bite that made me feel not so good. So this year I’ve made a huge effort to stay in tip top perfect health so I may run in Nicole’s last junior race!
Aussie is my savior on the Junior Iditarod trail. If it weren’t for his perseverance on last years race I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line if it weren’t for his courage to lead the team all the way back. I look forward to Aussie helping keep the team going up every obstacle including his all time favorite open water. Aussie dives straight in and drags the team with him through snow ice and open water. He is a true savior on the trail!
A note from Aussie: ROAR!!!!! That’s my bark! I don’t howl or cry or bark I roar! I love to run almost as much as I love to jump on Nicole for kisses! I’m running in team this year and am prepared to be any part of the team that Nicole needs me to be. I hear there is going to be a lot of hills so it’s a good thing Nicole got me nice and fattened up so I’ve got plenty of energy to make it up even the highest peak!
Spencer is Sidney’s brother and just like Sidney is a true heart and soul of the team. Spencer loves to run not only for me but for anyone and everyone. He knows how to hold the team back if need be or fight and dig his hefty paws in to make it up any hill!
A note from Spencer: Spencer here, I’m ready for those hills on the Denali Highway! I’m a powerhouse built like a brick wall I never back down and don’t plan to ever! I love running with my pal Shifter so I’m super pumped Nicole paired us together this year! My favorite spots are wheel or swing however, I’m comfortable running anywhere even lead if I must!
Shifter is the oldest on the team this year but his age doesn’t slow him down. Just like Spencer Shifter is a powerhouse on any trail terrain hilly or not! Shifter has ran every long distance race I’ve done. Last year on Junior Iditarod I almost had to drop Shifter for about halfway through the river he was dripping blood down the trail. Turns out thanks to the great vets Shifter had only knocked a tooth out because of how hard the snow was packed down.
A note from Shifter: I may have lost a tooth on last years race but that didn’t stop me from pulling as hard as I could to the checkpoint and back to the finish. I think my favorite part of racing with Nicole is when everything is settled down at the checkpoint and Nicole comes and nestles next to me in the straw for a well deserved nap. She keeps me nice and toasty warm since I am a bit old my bones get a little chillier than the rest of the team.
Valdez came to us last March from James Wheeler. Valdez in all actuality came to us as a leader but because he is so big he didn’t fit next to any of our leaders. So Valdez began his training at Team Ineka as one of the main wheel dogs along with his buddy Trapper who also came from James Wheeler. Valdez digs his giant paws in the to ground and never stops pulling rain or shine. He keeps a tight tug line and always likes to glance around at the scenery along the trail. I’ve never seen a dog be excited for hills but oh Valdez loves them. He thrives for the challenge to pull up a hill he doesn’t even bother to stop for a pee break like most of his pals on the team.
A note from Valdez: I’m super shy so my message might be quite short. All in all I’m very excited that I made the cut for Nicole’s team this year. I have ran in one other race with her but that was a sprint race and was really nothing to me with how long my legs are. I’m a little nervous about camping but I know Trapper and Nicole are going to be there to help show me the ropes of what camping is all about. I don’t like to pop my tug line while Nicole hooks up the team so I get put on before a lot of the team dogs because she knows I will stand and line out for her.
Trapper came to us along with his eight pals from James Wheeler’s kennel about three years ago. Trapper has ran with my dad on the Goose Bay 150 and Knik 200 although on Knik Trapper got a very bad shoulder injury he recovered quickly and shortly after ran Junior Iditarod next to Shifter last year. This year Trapper has ran in a few sprint races next to his buddy Valdez and will be running in wheel next to Valdez in this years Junior Iditarod.
A note from Trapper: Just as my fellow wheel partner Valdez I’m very shy and am not a huge fan of being touched. Occasionally however I don’t mind a head scratch or a quick nose kiss just as long as none of the other dogs see it! I’m not too worried about shoulder injuries or really any muscle injury for this years race. Nicole took the extra time last year to massage out my shoulders and wrists to make sure I was nice and relaxed. She gives one good doggy massage. With all the hills this year I can almost guarantee that everyone on the team will get a nice massage at the checkpoint from Nicole so, she can insure the health of her dogs and keep us all nice and relaxed. I think I look forward too it more than the nice ten hour rest.
Open Questionnarie from Facebook:
1.) Quinn Johnson asks “What got you started?”
Growing up we had thirty-six sled dogs in Colorado so my love and respect of the sport started early on. Moving to Alaska I was looking for a way to be able to help my dad reach the finish line in Nome for the Iditarod. Little did I know that I would get so involved in racing itself.
2.) Shirley Yarbrough asks ” What are the advantages/disadvantages of the new route?”
A lot of the advantages and disadvantages are all aligned in the same perspective. For instance, the new trail is extremely hilly and my dogs don’t have a lot of hill training so the race this year will not only be a challenge but a learning experience for my dogs.
3.) Donovan Burress asks ” Why doesn’t anyone use Huskies anymore?”
There are still a few mushers out there both sprint and long distance that use full teams of huskies. Team Ineka has three pure bred siberian huskies. A huge factor for having “mutt” breeds of huskies is a speed and endurance factor. I know first hand that our Alaskan Huskies or our “mutt” huskies run much, much faster than our pure bred siberian huskies.
4.) Beth Standley asks “Do you have lights on your sled? Will there be a way to follow/ track your progress along the trail?”
I don’t have lights attached to my sled however I run with a headlamp and my two leaders will be wearing blinking lights since the trail is going to be full of snowmachiners. As for a tracker to my knowledge we are receiving spot trackers. The link for the tracking website will be posted on Team Ineka.
Thank you to all who have wished me luck for this years race. Also an even bigger thank you to my sponsors; Alaska Dog Works, The Five Sibes- Dorothy Wills-Raftery, The Upholstery Gallery, Alaska Spirit Crafts, and Underdog Feeds this race wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the support of my family, friends, followers, and sponsors!