The goal for the Red & Black Team during Copper Basin was to give the dogs a safe, positive race experience. I had no expectations for a specific finishing position, as my plan was to take more rest than just the mandatory 18 hours. This seemed important in order to make Copper Basin a good experience for the two yearlings, Lydia and Sandy, for whom it would be their first mid-distance race.
Photo credit Josh Turnbow
After resting conservatively for the majority of the race, this team blew me away by rallying into a 15th place finish. Though each run presented a fun, unique challenge (open water, tight trails, long, sleep-deprived hours), the run over the hills between Meiers Lake and Sourdough was by far my favorite. We had that magic that you get when every dog in the team is feeling 100%. It became clear to me at that point that not only was our team capable of taking it up a notch, but that the dogs (especially the little pint-sized spitfire, Lydia) wanted to race. I felt like I was driving a freight train, as we caught team after team and charged past them. Each passed team fed their excitement.
Every dog on the team brought their unique strengths and quirks to the table:
RANGER (aka “Ranger Danger”) is my main man. Being a sensitive guy, he is my happiness barometer for the team, and his leadership is inspirational to the rest of the dogs (and to me)! He successfully navigated ice bridges over open water, numerous passes with crazy teams, and kept his swift, bark-filled pace in lead for the entire 300 miles. What a dog.
Being one of the R&B dogs with the most race experience, DINGLE was my wisdom on the team during this race. He is as reliable as they come, a truly honest dog, and I was happy to have him along to help show the youngsters how to race (and perhaps more importantly, how to rest). “Ding Ding” ran about half the race in lead with Ranger, and then I moved him back to help keep the peace in the middle of the team.
VIPER is a solid race dog who gave some extra “oomph” to the front end of the team. His ability to run well in lead and in swing (and certainly anywhere else in the team) makes him a super versatile dog. Between his “vocal tendencies” and Ranger’s, the other teams certainly didn’t have to guess when the R&B team was coming!
I’ve said it before, but HONDA’s most distinguishing characteristic is his unflinching work ethic. He is trying to single-handedly pull that sled up every hill by himself. He gives 110% every single mile, and I have literally never seen his tug line go slack. He ran in lead with Ranger from Lake Louise to the finish.
LESTER has such a calm, steady presence. He may be the shy guy when it comes to strangers, but he is all business on the trail. Never aggressive with other teams and always positive, Lester made a fantastic running partner and mentor for Lydia.
Honda and Lester
LYDIA’s body may be pint-sized, but her heart is huge! It’s clear to me that this little gal is going to be one of the next rockstars of the kennel. She drives incredibly hard and isn’t intimidated by anything. She is confident, but not cocky.
PUD was the definition of team player during Copper Basin. He worked hard, rested hard, and did everything I asked him to with a good attitude. He runs well next to anyone, and is one of those dogs who you never have to worry about. What a stud!
As a two-year-old, OUTLAW brought his crazy energy and enthusiasm to the team. As a last-minute addition to the team, he really put his nose to the ground and did a great job. I think a small neighborhood could be powered with his energy if you could bottle it. All you have to do is point him in the right direction and let him rip!
BORIS really stepped up his game for this race. He’s had a strong training season this winter, and it shows. He’s one of the dogs at the kennel who’s more sensitive to heat, but he avoided any problems at Copper Basin by eating well (which kept him hydrated and less likely to cramp up). Boris finished the race just as strong as he started it. He’s one of the dogs that I’m especially proud of this year.
Boris and Mismo
With an oversized body that he hasn’t quite grown into yet, MISMO is an unlikely hero, but a hero he is! This young guy was definitely the cheerleader for the back half of the team. Even late in the race, when it’s normal for dogs to be a little less crazy, he was the one screaming to go. Mismo also does double duty as a guard dog for the team, always alerting us to anything amiss, like a moose lurking in the woods (or another team getting fed).
BONITA proved to be an excellent choice as a buddy for Sandy on this race. She has such a beautiful, easy lope and is a steady worker. She knows the drill at checkpoints, and is always one of the first to curl up and rest when we stop. This was a great influence on Sandy, who was initially reluctant to lay down and miss any of the action (Sandy would actually fall asleep sitting up, her forehead slowly drooping down to touch the snow). The two ran the entire 300 miles together.
As a Copper Basin rookie myself, I’m thrilled with how the team did and am honored that these twelve dogs let me call the shots for 300 miles. They made the whole experience as smooth and enjoyable as it can be. I also want to acknowledge the Copper Basin volunteers and trail crew, who did such an outstanding job with marking the trail and making it clear where to go. Thanks to them, I was able to enjoy the challenges of running dogs through the Alaskan wilderness that are inherent to the endeavor, instead of worrying about trail markers. They made this race a truly authentic experience for our team.