Hi, my name is Atreyu. I am part of the Oracle Crew and we are the youngest pups in the kennel. Last year I started training with the big team. I am already looking forrward to next winter!
This is Spencer. He is getting a little grey but still one awesome sled dog. He arrived from our good friend, Hugh Neff’s kennel the second year we were in Alaska and has been a solid foundation on our team on just about every training run and race we have ever done.
Spencer is the brother to one of our main lead dogs, Sidney. Spencer is a big lover. He loves to gives hugs and kisses and will nuzzle up to you when ever we are in the kennel.
Follow Spencer and the rest of the team on Facebook
@teamineka on Twitter
Last year we heard about a race from our friend Dan that we knew this year we would have to put on the schedule to attend. It was the Tolsona 50/50. The Tolsona Lake Resort is on mile 170 of the Glen Highway, a couple hundred miles from home. It is one of the checkpoints on the Copper Basin 300 and from what we heard a great place to run dogs.
We were scheduled to take part in the Willow Relay Race with our teams on this weekend but with the rapidly melting snow in Willow and the un-seasonably warm temperatures we made other plans. The Sunday before the race we decided we would enter two teams. Robert (me) and Tyler would run together. Tyler hasn’t ran in a race in two years and it would be good to get him back on the runners and spend some time on the trails with me.
We called Crystal at the lodge, made a room reservation and told her we would be there with two teams in tow.
We packed up the truck with gear, sleds, and dogs and hit the road about noon. Michele would have to stay behind to take care of the remaining dogs and she had several dog training client meetings over the weekend. She would be the designated social media liaison during the race.
I would be running: Frosty-Shock, Bodhi-Raegan, Shifter-Gabby, Spencer-Aussie.
Tyler would be running: TyTy-Vela, Lock-Burton, Barrel-Rasp, Trapper-Valdez
We made it over the rivers, mountains and through the woods in good time and arrived to the lodge at about 4pm. We checked in, dropped the dogs and fed them dinner before heading over to the lodge eat dinner. We spend the evening talking with Dan and his family and playing pool. Nicole had never played before so we tried our best to teach her the new game.
The mushers meeting started at 9am and we drew our starting positions. Tyler would be going out second, behind our friend Karen and I would be going out six minutes later in lucky number 5. Running a small eight dog team it is easy to get things ready to go and it being a shorter race we only had a few pieces of mandatory gear. We were required to pick two of the following: parka, sleeping bag, axe, tree saw, cooker and fuel, or snowshoes. I took the lightest of the group and packed the axe and saw. Same with Tyler.
As the start approached we bootied up a few of the dogs and hooked up Tyler’s team and the countdown begun. With only ten teams entered, we would all be on the trail in short order. Karen pulled her hook and was on her way. Then the fun began!
Tyler pulled his hook and immediately the sled tipped over. The dogs took off like a rocket toward the chute with Tyler being drug down the lake. Several people started to run after him including Nicole with the big Canon camera around her neck. Tyler managed to finally right the sled and was on his way. While it was only a few seconds the whole thing seemed to be going on in slow motion. As he got back on the runners the people watching cheered and Nicole had to run back to help me with my team as I only had six minutes before I was supposed to leave.
Out of breath, Nicole managed to get my team on the line with a minute to spare and I was on the trail on time.
The race would be 50 miles each day with Sunday’s heat running in the reverse direction. The teams would also be starting in reverse order. Meaning the last team to finish on Saturday would be the first team to start on Sunday.
We were on Tolsona Lake for just over a mile before we made a sharp gee (left) turn into the woods and down a hill towards the creek. We were told that the creek had some open water and if we wanted we could make a sharp left turn and go over the bridge but a tree might be in the way.
Our dogs are used to running through a lot of open water during the rainy fall training season so we skipped across the creek soaking my Neo’s (boots) up to my calves. There was a bit of glaciation as we made our way to the very wide trail. The trail for the next 10 miles or so was as big as a two-lane road and is much used by snow machines and freighting gear to the cabins along the lakes.
Teams started passing each other as we made our way down the trail. At mile 8 I saw Tyler pulled over and changing out leaders. I yelled out. “are you okay?” and he said his shoulder was hurting real bad from the fall.
At mile 13 we made a sharp haw (right) turn and the trail crew was there taking pictures and recording times. I was in ninth place at that point with only Tyler behind me. We made our way through a winding wooded trail for several miles before coming to Crosswinds Lake. It is huge! We were on the lake for three or four miles and the trail was getting a little soft in the afternoon sun. As soon as we got off the lake we started up hill. The next twenty or so miles would be up and down, up and down. It as getting really warm and the dogs slowed down to about seven miles per hour. At about mile 30 I switched Shock out with Aussie in lead. I could see Dakota’s bright orange jacket in the distance so I knew I wasn’t too far behind the next team.
After all the hills we made a sharp left turn away from Lake Louise and headed back toward the intersection. As I approached the trail crew still there taking pictures and recording times I asked them how I was doing. They said I was about 30 minutes behind Dakota.
We were back on the wide trail and 13 miles from the finish and Reagan was slowing way down and dipping snow. I stopped the team and loaded her up in the bag on the sled. She didn’t want to go willingly but she finally settled down and we made our way back to the creek. We flew through the water and up the hill toward the finish line. I ski-poled a lot during this race and my arms were burning as we got closer to the truck.
We finished strong and I checked in with Greg, one of the race crew, on how we did. He thought we looked good. About the time Nicole and I were done snacking the dogs and putting them back in the truck Tyler came in with his hand in his pocket supporting his sore shoulder.
Once we got his team snacked and unhooked we could tell he was in a lot of pain. His shoulder was dislocated and I helped him get it back in place using the hood of my truck. He screamed in pain! He then pulled up his sleeve and had a huge ice rash up and down his arm that bled through his sweatshirt. He ran 50 miles with a dislocated shoulder. That’s a musher for ya!
We finished our chores and headed up to the lodge for a most excellent Prime Rib dinner before getting back to the room and retiring for the night.
Tyler decided that he wouldn’t be running the second day with his hurt shoulder and the fact that one of his leaders, Vela, was just too slow in the heat of the day to be effective on the team.
The Race Marshal said we could trade out mushers, and have Nicole run, or let me use some of Tyler’s team on mine. I didn’t think it was right to change the rules up for us so I declined. I decided to start with seven dogs, leaving Reagan off the team. There was no reason to push them too hard as this was mainly just a fun training run for us all.
We started the day off in reverse order. I was heading out first now that Tyler was out of the race. I was followed by Dakota and Karen.
Shortly before the creek Dakota passed me. When we got to the creek it was fully open by then and Dakota had to wade through knee deep water to get his dogs across. As we were waiting for him to do that Karen decided to take the bridge and got her team tangled in the tree. She recovered nicely as I passed her by on the slick icy trail. I asked her if everything was okay and let her pass me a mile or so down trail.
By the time we were at the turn off all the teams had passed me and I was comfortably at the back of the pack. I knew the next 37 miles or so would just be me and my team on the trail and I settled in for the hills. I turned on my iPod and started listening to a mix of Godsmack and Rob Zombie, my trail favorites and slammed at 5-Hour Energy shot.
The hills weren’t nearly as bad on day two as we were going in the opposite direction. It was much more decent than ascent. We were averaging about 9.8 miles per hour when we reached Crosswinds Lake. I stopped the team and let them have a quick five minute break and switched Shock next to Bodhi which was an open spot on the line since I left Raegan at the truck. Now Frosty was in single lead.
We ran across the lake and through the wooded trail to the intersection. I saw the trail crew and asked how I was doing. It was about the same as the day before.
I ski-poled a good portion of the wide trail and was making decent time even though we slowed down to about 8.5 miles per hour.
We crossed the creek which was even deeper now and the sun was still warm. I look off my wind-shirt and headed toward lake and the finish.
We finished strong again.
It was almost 3 pm when I finished and we were just in time for the banquet. I rushed to the room, packed up our gear and changed clothes.
The banquet was great. The lodge had a spaghetti dinner for us all. The awards ceremony started and everybody got their prizes. I got a certificate for “the whitest parka” for my white wind jacket and even Tyler got a certificate for the “best start.”
We were back on the road and home by 7:30.
What we learned
As I always do on my race recaps I list what we learned during the event. I do this to hopefully learn from our mistakes and to show our rabid fans things we see and do along the trail. I am a firm believer that we all can learn from each other and this is as good of a way as any to do so.
- We have always been a team that runs the best at night. With our training schedules worked around our jobs and schools almost all of our runs are made when it is cool and dark. This hurts us every time on races and has cost me to scratch on a few occasions. I have said over and over this is our weak link. I am unsure how to fix this. We don’t have the luxury of not having to work or go to school.
- Another one of our big problems always has been the lack of hill training. Living in Willow it is relatively flat and the trails are winding wooded trails and over lakes. While Nicole had a great experience during the Junior Iditarod with all the hills of the Denali Highway we just didn’t have enough of this type of training this year to make a difference.
- I thought overall my dog team did very well. Even though it was hot, all of them were eager to run and wanted to finish.
- Vela is the slowest of all of our leaders. While I have known this since our Tustumena Experience a few years ago, we just haven’t had great success with training up and coming leaders, except for Shock, to fill that roll. That is a major training goal for this coming off season.
- One of my proudest moments was when an Iditarod musher who was parked beside us said, your dogs eat like robots! That is great! I wish our dogs ate like that! This is great to hear from another musher. One of the things you must train for is for your dog team to eat heartedly and mightily on trail. This little thing can make or break a dog team and the success or failure on the trail.
- Never let go of the sled! This is the number one rule in mushing and Tyler did great! He managed to get the sled back on the runners while the team was running as fast as they could at the start of the race. We have taught this rule to our kids since the first day they were on a sled and Tyler did a remarkable job in controlling his team.
- Use the ski pole more. I really enjoyed using my ski pole during this race and this was the first time that I have ever used it for many miles. Next year I plan to use two ski poles in training and in races.
- Speed. I have no idea what I need to do to get our team to go faster. Looking over the training logs for the entire season using the Suunto Ambit2 it shows we are a consistent 8/9 miles per hour. While this is a decent pace for a long distance team we were half as slow as the winner of this race who was racing at over 14 miles per hour! I am sure it is a variety of factors including genetics, older dogs in our team who are used to and Iditarod/Yukon Quest pace and they are training the younger dogs to run slower.
- Frosty is one awesome little sled dog! Frosty has ran in every race and most of the training runs this season. He came to us in the fall from our friend Hugh as a leader prospect and Nicole did a great job working with him. Just in the month of March he finished the Junior Iditarod, 800 miles of the Iditarod trail with Hugh and this race in single lead. Being only three years old he is the future of our team in lead along with Lock, Shock, Barrel and Burton.
- It is always fun to run these types of races among friends. I knew just about everyone we raced with and spent a while talking with each one. To me that is what mushing is about. Hanging out with friends and making new ones learning from each other and sharing experiences. It was great to spend time with Dan, Kim, Dakota, Greg, Zoya, John, and Karen.
- The future of this sport may well depend on races like this. These smaller, no fuss, no pressure races is what this sport needs. Everyone is not concentrating on running the big races and with the qualifiers filling up in a matter of minutes, races like this could very well save this sport. I encourage every club, lodge, organization to think about putting on races like this in the future.
Lastly I want to thank the folks at the Tolsona Lake Resort and to everyone there that made this possible. Their hospitality was top notch and they are a great place to visit if you get a chance. We will be back next year if the calendar allows. We had a blast–even if I was lead to believe this was a race around a lake! (wink, wink…)
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!
The Willow Winter Carnival is like no other carnival I have ever been to. They have a Frostbite 5k, snow-shoe softball, dogs weight pulling, good food, bingo, bands and lots of handcrafts.
They also have the Earl Norris Memorial Sled Dog Race. It is named after one of the most iconic names in sled dog racing in Alaska, if not North America. Earl and Natalie Norris’ name can be traced far back into the Siberian Husky history in the United States and their kennel is still in operation right here in Willow with their son, John (JP) Norris running sprint races like the Fur Rondy and their granddaughter, Lisbet Norris running in the Iditarod.
The Earl Norris race has been ran as part of the Winter Carnival since the early 1960’s.
It was an honor to have the privilege to compete in this race this past weekend.
I have said it once and I will say it again, we are not sprint mushers but I thought it would be fun to get out on the trails and enjoy the new snow and the beautiful weather as we head into the middle of the winter here in Alaska.
Friday night we had sign ups during the carnival kick-off dinner at the Willow Community Center. I was the third musher to sign up for what eventually would be 14 entries. The fee was a hundred bucks with the top ten finishers in the money, so to speak.
The morning was a chilly minus eight degrees at the start of the race. I drew bib 7 so I would be heading out at 10:14. The time started as soon as we launched from the truck. I rode the brake as we headed onto the lake. I had Frosty-TyTy in lead, Shock-Burton, Barrel-Gabby, Aussie-Lock, and the big boys Trapper and Valdez in wheel. Along the 31 mile race route we would have four road crossings, a plywood bridge over some glaciated ice, a loop on the swamp and several turns that you had to be on your toes for. The trail was marked simply with red plates on the side of the turns and the occasional blue plate to indicate you were on the right trail.
Throughout the run we passed and were passed. I passed several teams and wouldn’t see them again until after the end of the race.
The trail was beautifully groomed and the sun was bright. It was cold enough to pull up the hood on my parka and pull out my sunglasses on the bright snow. The race was broken up into roughly thirds. The first third was marked by two road crossings and a long down hill along a road as we neared the Willow Creek Campground and onward to the Willow Swamp. The Swamp loop was roughly eight miles and the last third was in reverse with the road being slightly uphill for a couple miles. It was just enough of a grade were I kicked with the dogs but not enough that required a whole lot of effort from man or beast.
We made it to the finish in just seconds over three hours. That means we were going a little faster than 10 miles per hour. This is above average speed for us but we wanted to keep it under 11 mph anyway.
I finished the day in ninth place. All teams but one would advance to day 2. There was a four hour cut-off.
We snacked the dogs with salmon snacks and were home by 3:00. It was a great day of mushing for Team Ineka!
Sunday’s race started off much the same as the day before except I was going out fifth instead of seventh. In most sprint races you go out in reverse order than the day before with the slower teams heading out first. Bib 2 didn’t show up so we had to wait ten minutes before we could get started.
Before the race Nicole and I discussed if we should put Shock in lead and move TyTy back in swing (behind the leaders). I decided to keep the more veteran TyTy up front for the start.
We shot off down the hill and onto the lake in fine fashion, finishing our first mile in just over four minutes. That is blazing fast for our team. As I said previously, our goal was not to go super fast, just a nice steady 11 miles per hour. We made it over the first road crossing before we passed the first team, bib 1 and then hit the long wide road before we saw Peter Duncan’s Siberian team. We passed Peter (bib 4) and as soon as we did TyTy put on the brakes and did not want to run ahead of the team that we just passed.
I quickly changed out Shock and TyTy with the young patawan up front with Frosty. While I was changing out the leaders Peter passed us again. As we got close to the Willow Creek Campground at the bottom of the long down-hill road I passed Peter again before we headed into the woods.
Over the next few miles Nick Petit (Bib 8) passed me and a few other fast teams as well. We had a great run until we got into the Willow Swamp, at about 12 miles into the run. I could see smoke billowing in the distance and knew it was a team camped on the side of the trail. We were told that we would see teams on the Swamp from the Knik 200 race that was going on at the same time.
As we approached the camping team head on, Shock and Frosty thought they might head over to join them for a snack. This caused a major tangle with my team and several of the sprint teams passed me as I was getting the dogs lined out.
We lost about 4 minutes due to the tangle and my average speed quickly went down from 11.9 mph to 10.3 according to my Sunnto watch. No worries. We still had 2/3 of the race to go. James Wheeler passed me and then I passed bib 4, 3 and 1. I would stay out ahead of those three teams from the rest of the race ensuring a ninth place finish unless my dogs really slowed down.
As we were coming off the swamp bib 7 and Lisbet (bib 6) passed me and we passed a couple Knik 200 teams head on.
The rest of the race was beautiful and sunny and a bit warmer than the day before. My team finished strong with Peter’s team close behind me.
After all the teams were in we had a quick awards ceremony. I did finish in ninth place and “in the money”. Maybe there is something to this sprint mushing thing after all. I have finished in the money in all the sprint races I have done up here in Alaska. It may not be much but its way more than we have one in distance races!
It was a great weekend of mushing I am glad we got to take the team out for a couple really nice runs. We made it home by 3:30 just in time to watch the Super Bowl!