Racing the Two Rivers 100 was the highlight of my time helping out at SP Kennel. I had one of the most recognizable 'front ends' in Alaska; it was like being handed the keys to Daddy's Ferrari! Most recently I have found myself managing the SP Kennel Mentorship Program. This involves taking some of the most talented kennel dogs and having them show the 5 yearlings how it's done. For this race the mentors were Quito, Olivia, Chica, Boondocks, Nacho, and Biscuit. The five yearlings were Chica and Clyde's litter of Five, Ernie, Ginger, Rodney, and Scooby who had never raced before let alone been in a dog truck; so many new experiences for them.
The trail immediately started climbing one of multiple Chatanika hills but the team was so energized that I still used my drag going up-hill in order to pace them and make sure their muscles warmed up properly. It didn't take long before I was passed by musher #39, Dakota Schlosser. We started what essentially became a private race that lasted until almost the finish line. We passed each other almost a dozen times during the course of the race. Every time someone stopped to fix booties, tangles, or snack, they were passed.
The Chatanika hills were hard work but one of the most serene mushing experiences I have encountered. It was slightly overcast but the wind stopped by the time I was in the hills and large fluffy snowflakes started to fall. It was like mushing in falling cotton candy in a winter version of Charlie's Chocolate Factory! The amazing views were panoramic all through the hills.
Hard up-hills soon became steep down-hills and required my full attention. Having over 30 teams brake downhill ahead of me resulted in a trail with not much for the brake to work with and some very rapid descents. The trail eventually flattened out in a valley and most of the remainder of the first run was very flat and fast.
One of the concerns I had going into this race was how the yearlings would handle being passed, and passing from behind. We had a shaky start and the first pass by Dakota Schlosser required a bit of untangling. The next pass was our turn to pass a lady and her team. She was about to pull her hook from adjusting something when she saw us so she waited for us to pass her by. Quito and Olivia perfectly led the team quickly by on a left hand pass. The entire team followed suit except Rodney who decided to pass her on the right. His tug line clothesline'd her behind the knees and caught her off guard. I jammed on the brake fearing that both musher and dog were injured. Rodney was fine and the musher assured me she was also and we kept going. Most of the rest of the passing was done by us and the yearlings gained confidence with each pass.
The Two Rivers Lodge checkpoint was great with well organized parking on a frozen pond. On private camps, Scooby and Rodney had eventually learned to settle down and be quiet, however with so many other teams around them it took a bit longer this time. Eventually they got it and lay quietly as other teams left. It wasn't until the team next to us got ready to leave that they could no longer contain their enthusiasm. Unfortunately I had to leave Nacho behind at Two Rivers Lodge; the fast down-hills caused his right shoulder to get a bit sore and he ended up returning to the kennel early.
The second leg of the race was on familiar turf and we took the trail at a pace that neither pups nor musher had experienced before. It raced along Two Rivers trails before heading out to an even faster river trail and then back into the Two Rivers forest. The river section involved multiple passings with Dakota's team except when we both had to jam on the brake when two large moose tumbled into the trail right in front of us and proceeded to race each other across the ice. They were either the largest moose I have ever seen or I was just way too close.
As the race went on and on you could see the pups wondering what was going on. They had never run this long and fast before. To their credit, they never stopped pulling and couldn't wait for each snacking. The older dogs knew the game well and just kept going as fast as I would allow them.
Here is a Team Summary of everyone's performance:
Quito- It's amazing to have her on my team. I think her passing skills saved us at least 5 minutes of tangles. She never slowed down and her drive and desire is as strong as ever. It's time to start running some of the younger dogs in lead with her since she has so much to teach.
Olivia - Is a bundle of energy and her leading abilities can rival Quito. Combined they are a complete Power Steering Unit that can make minor trail adjustments on command.
Olivia, Scooby, Ernie and Rodney
Chica - It's hard to know what Chica is thinking as she has such a mellow personality. I always suspected she may tire but she never did and was as strong as ever the entire race.
Boondocks - ran in lead for about 30 seconds when her harness became unclipped. She passed Olivia and Quito but turned around once she realized she was alone. Her enthusiasm is as strong as ever and she was circling at every break and getting tangled with Chica up until the very last snack.
Nacho - is the perfect mentor for Five. They are both big dogs and have similar running styles. They never get tangled and just run side by side. Nacho's knowledge and attitude were impeccable as he demonstrated how to pass teams and lean into the harness in the hills. I hope Nacho and Five get lots more time together.
Biscuit - does set a good example for eating, sleeping, and enthusiasm. However, sometimes his enthusiasm gets the best of him and his line manners show it. Five moved back with Biscuit when I had to drop Nacho and that resulted in teaching Five how to circle and get tangled!
As soon you stop the sled to check, his head pops up and he looks at you as though you have just messed up his rhythm. I predict that he will become a key player at the kennel.
Ginger - (right) is solid with a continuous tight line. She does not get too distracted with anything and has learnt to camp very quickly. She is quick to settle on her straw and will keep her eyes closed until it's time to get bootied.
Rodney - has been learning from Biscuit. Everything gets him excited and he gets impatient if the snack breaks take too long. His passing improved drastically during the course of the race and I predict that once we learn to manage his energy he will become a very dependable dog. He also won't stop eating; I think he would eat a car tire if I gave him one.
Scooby- Wins the Most Improved award since I started working mostly with the yearlings in December. He and Rodney used to compete for the most chaotic hookups but now he is patient while he gets his booties put on and does not spin while waiting on the line. He looks around a lot while running and absorbs everything that is going on. He is well on his way to becoming a solid team member.
Ernie - Is a sensitive soul who thinks that getting booties put on is a form of being cuddled. He loves attention and craves approval. He is not as strong as some of his siblings but his line did not go slack once during the race and I couldn't have asked for more.
Wes - worked his tail off going up the hills and arrived at Two Rivers Lodge without one. Fortunately he did not need one on the second leg as the trail was so fast there was nothing he could have done to help the team's speed. His hat and jacket required wringing out at Two Rivers Lodge. Wes is still available for sponsorship.