SP Kennel is a premier sled dog racing kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska, dedicated to the individual dog through excellent health, nutrition, training and specialized care.

Friday, February 12, 2016

YQ: Watch the Team Leave Dawson

Allen and the Black Team left Dawson at 2.19am. Leading the team out was Kodiak and Mismo with Scout and Waylon in swing, Chipper and Izzy will run this next leg together followed by Schmoe and Scruggs; Dutch and Willie partner up, and Mac took his place alone on the line. Clyde and Commando bring up the rear in the wheel position.

In this video you'll see them leaving the camp spot with both Allen and Aliy on the sled as they make their way out to the checkout point. Allen's mandatory gear was checked then they were sent on their way.

YQ: They're On Their Way!

We got Allen and 13 of his team mates on their way to Pelly Crossing right on time and rearing to go.

The great news is we have 13 fantastic, strong, healthy and enthusiastic dogs on the trail with Allen!

Unfortunately Felix is still with us.

He came into Dawson looking great but he didn't eat as well as everyone else during the layover. He had a bit of a runny bum (not the technical term) and as departure time got closer it was clear he wasn't feeling 100%. We just ran out of time to get him over it completely.

He needs a couple more days rest, hydration and medicine but it is something we expect him to get over very quickly. Allen decided it was in Felix's best interest to do the rest of the race in the truck.

Allen is very fond of Felix and will miss him on the team.

We don't see the team now for a long time as they travel the 200-odd miles to Pelly. All we will see is the bouncing dog on the tracker so will be hitting refresh repeatedly!

We are catching some sleep now and will break camp down tomorrow. Thanks for waiting up with us!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

YQ: Leaving Dawson

It's T minus three hours! Allen and the Black Team will pull the hook at 2.19am (local time). Brent Sass and his team leaves a hair under two hours ahead and Hugh Neff half an hour after Allen. Matt Hall and Ed Hopkins also leave just a few hours behind.

Right now in Dawson it is 18F and there had been snow falling for at least 24 hours but it has now cleared a little. It's been a lot warmer this year than last which is great for the dogs while resting to stretch out when sleeping to ease their muscles and relax. It's not so great for the dogs running though as they would prefer a little colder.

Allen is about to head over to camp to start packing his sled and gearing up for the 200-odd mile run into Pelly Crossing. He will ensure he has enough dog food and snacks to feed meals along the way. He'll need human food also, and enough fuel for his cooker to make dog and human water to keep them all hydrated. It's so warm right now so hydration is important. Spare clothing and equipment for both musher and dogs is critical on such a long run because, as we know on the Quest, anything can happen and they must have contingency plans in place.

We will help gear the dogs up by dressing them in T-shirts and/or jackets if needed, booties and harnesses. At around T minus 15 minutes they will leave the camp spot and make their way down to the opposite end of the camp ground to sign-out and go.



As the run is over 200 miles they will need to stop between Dawson and Pelly - at this stage we don't know whether Allen will ask his team to do it in two runs or three. Historically he has run it in three but he could mix it up a bit this year. Who knows? (Well, actually, we do know but we ain't gonna share that piece of strategic information!)

About halfway along the trail to Pelly Crossing is Scroggy Creek. Scroggy is a dog drop stop manned by volunteers and vets and there won't be recorded times in and out as it is not an official checkpoint. Allen described Scroggy as an "8' x 8' uninsulated plywood cabin with a wood stove". It's an important milestone for the mushers to know they are almost halfway to Pelly! Any dogs left there will make their way forward to be picked up by the handler teams. The teams then get to Stepping Stone hospitality stop - famous for their creative signage and good food; then onto Pelly.

Earlier today there was a myriad of tasks to be completed. Mark was in charge of ensuring the sled was ready and all the gear dried out. Bridgett and Aliy have been mostly in charge of the dogs with help from Mark and I. As you will have seen, I've been in charge of letting y'all know what's been going on. The Dogs' and Allen's job today was to sleep and eat.

The town is really getting behind the race, as it does every year. This evening there is a city bonfire to celebrate the race and there are lots of people out and about to watch the first bunch of mushers leave. We are excited to get the team back on the trail this morning. I'll be back briefly after they've left to update you.

YQ: Dawson Dog Camp

As promised - this video shows you around the Dawson Dog Camp!

YQ: Stories from Dawson

We all sat down for breakfast together and caught up with Allen where he told us some stories of his trip so far.

I think the main thing on many mushers' minds when they arrived into Dawson was the extra "hill" they had to climb. Allen said he must have misunderstood the trail report when they were told they had AN extra climb over A hill. Turns out it was about 50 miles of UP. He said he kept wondering at what point there was going to be some downhill!

When we look at the tracker elevation map of the whole race (below) you can see the obvious peaks: Rosebud and Eagle Summit at the start, American Summit is next, the BIG wide one is the Clinton Creek "hill" right before Dawson. After Dawson you'll see King Solomon's Dome which, up until this race, was the highest peak they climb then it is followed by the Black Hills.


Elevation map of the whole race

When you see the elevation map expanded you can see the nature of their additional climb. For much of the time they are travelling along the Top of the World Highway and Allen said it is so far up - you are above the treeline and higher than everything else around! So, I think all the mushers and dogs will be pretty happy to get that climb behind them and have 36 hours of rest!


A closer look at the Clinton Creek Hill

Along the top of the ridge when the Black Team went by, evidently there were some Caribou on the trail. Allen said as soon as Mac saw them he went completely crazy! He started barking and lunging and the whole team perked up and flew along the road for a few miles chasing them. "If only they'd seen that 20 miles earlier" Allen quipped.

---

You may have seen the Newsminer article that told us Allen broke his handlebar just before Eagle. He said that they had been travelling on jumble ice for miles and miles with the sled crashing and banging all the way. On the very last 'jumble' before Eagle the handlebar broke so he had to navigate his way into Eagle without one. He was able to fix it at the checkpoint well enough to carry on to Dawson. Mark was on hand to reinforce the fix once he got his hands on the sled in Dawson.

Over breakfast Allen told us about his scenic excursion through Eagle.



We tell you about the dogs and how and what they eat on the trail but what about the musher? Allen works incredibly hard behind the sled ski-poling and running up hills that he burns a lot of calories also. He was talking to Bridgett and I last evening about how hungry he is right now.

On the trail he eats oatmeal bars, nuts and bacon as snacks then freeze dried meals or seam-sealed "proper" meals for a bigger meal. Once at a checkpoint, however, he will eat all the food he never eats at home: burgers and sandwiches and more burgers... and he said at this point he is always hungry. Aliy and Allen are very strict and regimented with their diets during the year but when racing Allen he can and will eat anything. And he doesn't put on weight.

Bridgett and I thought that sounded like the perfect scenario so Allen suggested we could do it too "just run up Rosebud, Eagle Summit, American Summit and Clinton Creek Hill and that'll do it!" Thanks Allen, but I think I'm okay.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

YQ: Dawson Videos

I have two videos for you!

The first is the team crossing the line and Aliy mushing the team literally right into their tent! (NOTE: the little red spots on the ground in the finish chute is salmon roe from the thawed fish snacks they got at the finish - it looks pretty gruesome!)



The second is the audio Bridgett captured as they crossed the line combined with some fantastic photos from Jen Nelson and Urs Wyss. You can hear Allen's mandatory gear check by Janice the volunteer checker, his passport check by the officials, then he answers some questions from the press nearby. Listen for when Aliy tells him she's going to take the team and you'll hear Mac and Schmoe start screaming to go again!

NOTE: The first minute or so is a little quiet but it gets louder.



Also: Head over to the Yukon Quest Facebook page for more arrival videos!

YQ: Black Team into Dawson!

As at all checkpoints, the old adage "hurry up and wait" definitely applies to Dawson. After the drive over and setting up camp all we could do next was wait and prepare. We all got a really good night sleep, especially Aliy who hadn't stopped since Friday night before her race.

This morning we refined our plans - planning is an essential part of the 36 hour layover. Who is doing what and when are we doing it? We prepared a meal for the dogs, got a change of clothes, a meal and thermos of water ready for Allen then waited...

With the change in route the teams didn't come down the river like 'normal', rather they came down the road so we caught sight of them just over the other side of the river. It was thrilling to see them after a couple of days! They trotted down Front Street with Mismo and Scout in lead and all of them looking fantastic! They quickly gobbled down their thawed salmon snacks Mark had on hand.



Allen had his mandatory gear checked then Customs and Immigration officers checked his passport and did their immigration duties right there in the chute. Aliy took the team over from him and mushed them back over the river to camp while Allen answered a few questions from reporters.

I met Aliy and the team over at camp and we both set to and removed harnesses, booties and jackets while the others made their way over from town. Next was the compulsory and thorough veterinarian check of all the dogs while we fed and rubbed them down, and gave them fresh jackets and fleece blankets. One by one they settled into their straw beds and are now fast asleep, stretched out in their warm, cozy accommodations.



Allen is also fast asleep, stretched out in his warm, cozy accommodations.

I have video and pics to edit and will get them to you soon.

We are so happy they are here and looking great!

YQ300: Red Team Wrap-Up

I built this roster assuming that Lester would be my main leader and he was! Lester will pair with anyone, and run anywhere. He is a confident little trooper but he doesn’t like to press the pace so lucky for me I was trying to go slowly (9 miles/hour) for most of the race. I thought if I sat between 9-10 miles/hr hour at the start, I could finish doing 9-10 miles/hr – apart from the two huge hills where I would go 2 miles/hr!

I brought Boondocks as my back up quarterback, and because she makes me laugh. She totally looks small compared with the small two year old girls! She really has no legs and I don’t know how she gets over the trail like she does. I can see Boondocks has definitely slowed down over the years, but haven’t we all? It wasn’t too long ago she was winning the Quest.

Chemo (right) was an alternate for Allen’s team and at the last minute he chose Commando so I was happy to have Chemo on my team – it was slightly unexpected.

I guess in one word he’s ‘steady’ but I thought “why not mix things up a little?” so I put him in lead leaving Central on the longer run over to Circle. He really stepped up to the plate and he was genuinely happy to be up there.

He’s not super fast but when you talk to him and get him excited he will pick up the pace (and drag Lester along with him).

Driver’s (left) been on every one of my mid-distance races this season. He’s such a big lug of a dog compared to all the little sprites on the team but he can move those legs and stay up with every one in a simple casual trot, whereas the other dogs have to canter to keep up. I like that he’s pretty excited to go whenever we stop - it reminds me of his dad Biscuit. I expected him perhaps to get a little more tired on that last leg because he did lose a tiny amount of focus but his tug line was never loose. He was in swing for the last 150 miles and it’s important to be enthusiastic in that position.

This was Iron’s (right) first 300 mile race. He is a strong positive part of the team and he just is always there when you need him, that’s for sure. His one flaw is that he grabs for snow off the side of the trail constantly. I actually put a neck line on him because he would accidently fall into the deep snow when he misjudged his dip and that would bring the team to an angered halt with him deep in the snow. So he had a neckline on.

A little over 5 miles from the finish line there was a long patch of crunchy sugar snow and we were all sinking pretty deep into it and we came up an embankment. I saw Iron go deep into the snow and I think he may have damaged a tendon. So, for rest of the race I made the team go a little slower because he was not comfortable on it going up hill.

I had Sandy in wheel – I guess I just habitually put her there. She’s pretty agile and fast so she can maneuver all those quick turns we had. You can tell she’s a pretty experienced three year old: she’ll set up camp as soon as I want her to, eats all her food when I want, then she gets up , gets tangled with excitement and is ready to go. I don’t think that race was very hard on her. She’s just kinda always there - I don’t know what else to say about her.

Amber ran in the back in wheel with Sandy and they are a nice little pair together. Amber is one of my favorites, she doesn’t seem like she should be as perky as she is because she is kind of shy and reserved in the yard, especially meeting new people, but, holy cow, whenever we are getting ready to leave a checkpoint she is jumping on her back legs screaming or when climbing a big hill (and there were quite a few!) she would actually scream going up the hill. The team was quite vocal climbing up the hill, there were 5 or 6 of them yelling. Possibly all the two year olds wondering what the heck are we doing? That was her first 300 mile race.

Daisy (left) is a bigger bolder dog than her female siblings. She’s not actually that much bigger but she seems it. She really likes being near the front of the team so I ran in swing with Driver for last 150 miles. She has some confidence up there. She puts her head down really low and she trots, she’s not a loper, but she puts a lot of effort into that harness. That was her first 300 mile race as well.

I like to call her my little brown dog because she’s so ‘plain’ looking compared to the glamorous Amber and Violet and the other blue eyed dogs.

Champ is gorgeous, number one. He should be the best sled dog we’ve ever had seems he such a handsome fellah. He was completely solid. He has a really pretty trot - an efficient, pretty trot, I could tell that those longer runs made him tired though, he was actually laying on his side in Circle, sound asleep snoring when I came out to the team. Not curled out in a little ball – he was splayed out. He’s a really easy dog to get excited about anything: he’s one of the first to get to howl and another of the dogs barking when climbing the steep mountains. This race must have given him more confidence and that’s the only thing he lacks. This was his first 300 mile race.

I really like Chena. She’s an honest worker and solid leader – I’m not sure she knows Gee, but she definitely does know Haw – or smart enough to ignore me at times. She did quite well for 100 miles but when we pulled the team out of its parking spot at 101 she was limping. Neither the vets nor I noticed anything weird earlier so she might have slept on it wrong or got a cramp, but regardless, I didn’t want to take a limping dog down the trail so I left her with Wendy.

I really really like Violet (right), she’s not graceful by any means, hergait is kind of a pace but she’s comfortable in it so I guess I can’t complain. She’s got longer legs than any of her sisters so I guess she’s gotta do something with those appendages. I had moved her in last 150 miles up to middle of team running with Boondocks. Boondocks, as we know can get a little sassy, but Violet can handle that sass if I put them together. She did exceptionally well on this race. This is her first 300 mile race that she actually finished.

I love Spark. He just generally makes people smile because he’s such a goof and he’s no different on a race. Honest cheerful and I’m kinda bummed that he didn’t make it the last 150 miles. I could tell he had some kind of upper right hand stiffening going on because he started to do a little different gait than normal to compensate for something. The vets thought that maybe he had a cramp in his shoulder muscle. After I dropped him Wendy said he had a meal and was running around playing so I hope it is nothing serious.

---

Bill Cotter (former Yukon Quest champion and multiple Iditarod competitor) was joking with me prior to the race when he asked: “Why do you insist on running the hardest 300 miles?” I laughed it off but boy, you forget how hard anything is you when you finish. This is a challenging 300 mile race! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the mountains on the Yukon Quest are not challenging. Because they ARE!

Probably the thing I like the most about it is that you can decide how much rest to give your team. It’s not decided by the race rules. The only mandatory rest you are required is for an official vet check and gear check and that’s a 6 hour rest so you can give anywhere between 6 or 25 hours if you want to, which I like because then you can do your own thing. I chose to rest my dogs the minimum amount that I thought they needed in order to complete those 300 miles. I might have been able to skimp another hour but I think my speed would have dropped dramatically in the end.

Always my goal is to finish with all my team mates because when you leave a couple behind they, and you, don’t get the full experience that you signed up for.

---

So, I was rather confident in this team. I was running up Boulder Summit – the mountain before Rosebud - and at the beginning it is not real steep but you do have get off and run behind the sled. I saw a team parked ahead – doing stop and go, stop and go, and my team was barking and ready to roll. They like mountains so I got right behind this team (Tore in the YQ1000) BUT then that’s when I got cocky and shouldn’t have. I decided to pass him right on the steepest part of the mountain! I asked my leaders to go Gee and we went in deep snow around his team. I got off and ran straight up hill (what we’d all been training for) and I was ahead of him for a while and he was right behind us.

We got almost to the precipice and it was very steep, I don’t know how to describe how steep. The steepness only was a problem because it was so windblown and hard packed that my boots didn’t have any traction. I needed crampons (which – side note – Allen ALWAYS packs on YQ). My sled came to a stop, I need you to push because at this point I was underneath and the dogs are above it. I could get no traction at all and the sled started coming back about 4 feet because I couldn’t hold up. I was failing at my end. Then it slid back another 2 or 3 feet and I couldn’t hold the sled or myself from sliding down mountain.

The dogs, trying to please me obviously thought: “Oh you don’t want us to go up any more? You want us to go down?” and I can’t blame them as I did pull them backwards. “Alright, we’ll go back down.” Tore was right there any my team fell into a little ball of dogs right at his feet. Anyhow, we got that sorted and I told Tore to go ahead, I didn’t want to screw up his race. His team lined out up the hill and I thought that my team had followed them before so they might again now. It took a bit of time for us to get sorted out, I put necklines on everyone and needed to get the sled in right direction so by time we were ready he was already at the top.

Then Ryne was next up the hill at the same time my team was still in a cluster. She asked if I was alright – “Yeah… kinda..” So she went on by and I was trying to put one snow hook behind the sled then crawl up to front and put the other snow hook in front so they couldn’t turn around. I got them sorted out and untangled but I still had no traction! I had to use my little snow hook as an ice axe to climb up I looked up and Ryne come running back down hill. She’d parked her team at top and she didn’t say anything – she just grabbed the hook and I got on back of sled and together we went up the mountain - all 14 of us. I don’t think I even thanked her because there were no appropriate words but I’ll make it up to her somehow. I would have made it up that hill but it would have taken me probably another hour at least using the snow hook as ice axe, so I sure am happy I didn’t have to do that. Thanks Ryne.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

YQ: Dawson Crew Checking In

We are all ready for the team as they come off the trail sometime tomorrow!

We got to Dawson in record time and not because we did anything illegal, simply because we left Fairbanks at around 9pm and there was zero traffic, and all the places we might normally stop to get a bite to eat were all closed up by the time we got there. So... we just kept going and snacked on trail mix and dried fruit.

Once we got to Dawson we checked in with Gaby, the Checkpoint Manager, and picked up the drop bags we sent ahead. Then we found our camp spot (the spots are pre-assigned by bib number) - a really nice, secluded spot where the dogs will not get disturbed by any foot traffic up and down the main thoroughfare. After some planning we set to an shovelled out the spot for the dog shelter and our arctic oven handler tent. Thanks also to Bob Huston (our sled sponsor), John and Jen for helping us out - it really made a difference to have so many hands on deck!


Before


Bridgett and John shovelling snow


Ready for the tarpaulin

The dog shelter is so cozy - we've laid out a couple bales of straw and have their jackets and blankets all ready to wrap them in. They will be snug as bugs in rugs! We'll take you on a tour in the next day or two.



Phew. Now we are sleeping. With the computer...

YQ: Next Generation Showing The Right Stuff

As I write this, the SP Kennel Black team is out of Eagle and cruising down the trail to Dawson, holding steady in second position about 20 miles behind leader Brent Sass. This is a remarkable accomplishment. Here's why I say that:

Let's face it, we've all become a bit spoiled over the past few years cheering for SPK with dogs like Quito, Olivia, Chica, Nacho and their sibling superstars in the team. Those dogs have had amazing careers racing for SPK, but now they are all either retired or running shorter races to teach the youngsters their craft.

Much like college sports, top sled dog teams often change rosters almost completely over a four year span. When you get a group of superstars at their peak all in one "class" you let them compete together as long as you can. When their time on the roster comes to an end, you can find yourself almost starting over with a new class. That's pretty much the case now at SP Kennel.



Here's something to think about: Of the 14 dogs on the SPK Black Team right now, 6 dogs (Mismo, Chipper, Kodiak, Dutch, Felix and Commando) have no YQ1000 experience at all. The only 1,000 mile experience they have has been running with Allen once (twice for Mismo and Felix) on the Iditarod "puppy team." Running on a "puppy team" is all about having fun, gaining experience and getting to the finish line. There is no "race pressure" on them, it's all just a casual series of eat-sleep-run days on the trail.

With these youngsters -- SPK's "next generation" -- racing in the YQ1000, Allen must walk a fine line. He must push them to be competitive, but not so hard that they get too tired, lose confidence or spoil their positive experience. Allen truly excels at this. Being so close to the lead 400 miles into the race really shows that they have "the right stuff" to become future champions. Allen must be pleased and very proud of them.

I would be shocked -- delighted, of course, but shocked -- if this young SPK team wins the YQ1000. They're up against teams which have vastly more experience in the race. A second place finish would be fantastic, even astonishing. I will be immensely impressed and thrilled for the future if they finish in the top five.

Speaking personally, the only thing about sled dog racing that ever bothers me is the focus that is placed on the mushers rather than the dogs. I'm the first to admit that dog breeding, training and care along with race strategy and skill are all reflective of a musher's outstanding ability. That said, it's the dogs who wins races, not their musher. I remember Lance Mackey speaking at the Iditarod finish in Nome after his fourth consecutive win: "Anyone could have won with my dogs."

In line with my comment above about four-year cycles for dog teams, it's worth noting that Lance's four consecutive wins (2007-2010) were followed by four years not finishing higher than 16th. Susan Butcher and other mushers have had similar four-year peak records. We all know that Aliy had three consecutive 2nd place Iditarod finishes with a superstar SPK team, after not having finished higher than 11th in her previous 11 races. After a great four-year class of dogs, you generally have to restart and rebuild with the next generation.

Please understand that I am not trying to take anything away from the mushers or their mastery of everything that is involved in sled dog racing. All I'm trying to do is place the spotlight on the next generation SPK team in this year's YQ1000 and emphasize both how well they are doing and what it may mean for the future. Knowing Allen, I can assure you he is racing with a smile on his face. No matter how the team places in this race, you can bet the future is bright... Go SPK!