Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Alaska is Still the Wilderness


We take for granted the luxuries of civilization here at SP Kennel. We simply expect the running water and electricity when we awake each morning. Powerful lights brighten the dog yard at any hour. We have a heated garage and workshop for gear preparation and sled repair. The conveniences of town are really not too far away in a warm dog truck. Sometimes, it seems our life here is not so different from Suburbia, USA.

Then something happens that brings us back to reality and we realize … our corner of Alaska is still the wilderness!!

For the past few weeks SP Kennel has been the target of a wolf hunt. A wolf hunt, not as in: "we are hunting for wolves", but as in: "we are being hunted by wolves". Our dogs have become prey for the largest canine predator in North America.

Wolves are not uncommon in the Arctic. We see them several times a year on training runs and adventure trips, far from civilization. Wolves are known to be shy but clever hunters. In general wolves avoid human interaction. Why deal with the threat of man when they can go about their business in isolation, preying on moose, caribou and the occasional sheep?

Aliy and Allen have great respect for the wolves of the arctic. I (Aliy) spent a few years working as a Biology Technician for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the early 1990’s. I surveyed migration patterns and population trends of moose, caribou and wolves. Wolves appeared to be the noblest animal of them all. They chose to remain secretive and totally removed from human interaction, the epitome of independence. The wolves stayed aloof and in a world of their own.






Aliy tags a sedated wolf during her days as a US Fish and Wildlife employee.




But the wolf pack stalking SP Kennel is an anomaly. The wolves are not shy. The smell, sight or sound of humans does not threaten them. They have become acclimated to humans and their world. This creates huge problems for both the wolves and the kennel. Despite the fact that natural food sources are abundant in the area, the wolves are becoming accustomed to ‘civilized’ food sources. The kennel’s biggest problem, of course, is that our dogs are not happy to be the wolves’ prey. We are not happy either.

The wolf pack has been coming near the kennel at around 3 AM. A lone black wolf walks down the driveway and up to our house while the others wait near the field. The wolf comes as close as 20 feet from the garage door. It is stalking the closest dogs, at their houses on either side of that garage door, "Stella", "Girlfriend" and "Tyson".





Tyson's hiding place, behind the big birch.





Our dogs smell the wolves as they approach SP Kennel from a distance. The dogs start barking - a panicked, fearful bark - which, fortunately, awakens Aliy and Allen. However, in the short time that it takes for us to run downstairs and flick on the lights, the wolf is standing only 5 feet from its prey. When the lights come on the wolf slowly slinks down the driveway, turning to watch us watching him.

On several nights Aliy and Allen followed the wolf. We saw the rest of the pack at the end of the drive, waiting. Sensing a threat, the other wolves trotted off down the well-used dog mushing trail. Every 50 feet or so they stopped and looked back.

Allen even got a shot off at the wolves one night as they left the driveway. The wolves scattered and ran off through the brush. In only a minute they stopped and began to howl…separately. They called to each other. As this continued, the individual howls became one choir. It was obvious that the pack had regrouped.

Wolves are awesome creatures. They are magnificent canines with stealth and courage. But, they are more than a nuisance right now. SP Kennel has been lucky because we have lights in the dog yard, and Allen and Aliy are light sleepers. In the past month this pack of wolves has killed and eaten several pet dogs in the neighborhood.

One good thing about these "city wolves" is that they seem to take the easy route to their prey. They have approached SP Kennel only using the driveway and the trails. Since this is their pattern, Allen has rigged the driveway with an array of motion detectors. Some set off alarms. Others set off lights.

The alarms have not been activated for several nights. Neither have the lights. There have been no reports of wolf activity nearby for a few days. All of this is good for us and good for the wolves. But it doesn’t mean that this wolf pack has gone. And if they have, it doesn’t mean that they won’t return. The dog yard may be a bit more relaxed now, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the daily potential dangers that exist here at our little civilized oasis. Our corner of Alaska is definitely still the wilderness!!

For more info on the Two Rivers wolf stories link to: http://newsminer.com/2007/12/07/10280/

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Alaska in December


People often ask, ‘What is Alaska really like in the thick of winter?’


SP Kennel is located in the heart of this great state – right in the center! We are 350 miles from an ocean to the south, 450 miles from an ocean to the north and nestled between two mountain ranges. On a clear day, we can see the huge mountain peaks to the south: Denali is the centerpiece. The "Interior" of Alaska is made up of endless rolling hills, wild valleys with little civilization and small pockets of humanity. So, why are so few people in this vast and limitless country?


It is the winter weather that keeps the human population to a minimum. The hearty souls who choose to reside in this winter wonderland make their homes here despite some chilly obstacles. It is the very existence of these cold weather complications that define our winter lifestyle and create our daily winter routines.


The COLD

How cold does it get in December? We expect 40°F or 50°F below zero several times each year. (On Thanksgiving Day 2006, it was 46°F below.) On a day to day basis, however, the mercury sits at about 20°F below zero. That first cold snap of the winter is often rough on the fingers and toes. A stiff breeze at 20°F below is a sharp reminder to thoroughly cover up. Frost nip can easily result when skin is accidentally exposed. And once you "nip" an area it will always be sensitive.

We at SP Kennel must bundle up for even the quickest outdoor chores. When we spend a full day outside training a dog team, we bundle up even more. We all have different layering methods to ward off the cold and they change as the mercury rises and falls. Suffice it to say, the layers involve wicking undergarments, fleece mid weight garments, arctic outerwear and chemical heat warmers. During the coldest of cold days, you will find us scurrying around the dog yard with speed and efficiency, totally unrecognizable under the layers.




Aliy bundles up for December chores.



We do not train the dogs in the extreme cold. Our temperature cut off varies depending on wind, precipitation and other factors, but it is usually about 30°F below zero. We feed the dogs twice the regular amount during a cold snap. The typical Alaskan husky burns those extra calories to stay warm. We also have kennels in the basement for some of the shorter coated dogs or dogs with a high metabolism. We have had over 20 dogs in our 500 ft² basement.


As the month continues, we all (humans and dogs) get acclimated to the cold. The funny thing is, when a Chinook storm brings in warm breezes from the South, it seems like t-shirt weather at 10°F above. But, when this happens, you smile because you are confident that you are now weathered and really ready for winter.



The DARKNESS

How dark does it get in December? During daylight hours, the sun is never far above the horizon. It seems to hover just above the mountains to our south. The views are spectacular for any avid "sunrise" or "sunset" photographer and gorgeous snapshots are commonplace. But, the delineation between sunrise and sunset is a bit blurred at times.




Interior Alaska - Sunrise or Sunset in December



Today, December 6, 2007, the sunrise was at 10:31 AM and the sunset was at 2:48 PM - 4 hours and 17 minutes of daytime. We have 15 days until December 22, the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year. On December 23, the length of daylight hours begins to increase.


The lack of sun does not always mean total darkness! For a couple hours before sunrise and after sunset, the sky is often a silver glow, since the sun is not very far below the horizon. But regardless of the light, most December days are spent outside. Photos typically show dog mushers walking around with a headlight affixed to their brows. Many people do use headlights while mushing or doing chores around the kennel. But, we try to avoid dependence on them. A headlight creates "tunnel" vision and limits the focus of our attention to the small, lighted area. Although this apparatus is a constant companion in the winter, it is not the only solution. Our eyes and brains get accustomed to seeing in dim light and exceptional "night" vision develops. This is similar to the temperature acclimation: our eyes and brains just adapt to the darkness.



Allen models his headlight, a critical winter tool.



Training runs in darkness are the norm. When the winter sky is clear and the stars are bright there is enough light to drive a dog team down a wintry trail and still be able to recognize all of the team members. Trails, through the rolling hills and wild valleys and past the occasional lighted cabin, provide an serene experience. Neither darkness nor cold diminishes that feeling.


Sometimes our trail is lighted by the Northern Lights, pulsing overhead in shades of green, red and purple, creating a spectacular vision characteristic of Interior Alaska. These are the times we realize how fortunate we are. We may be bundled against the 20°F below temperatures, but we are surely living in God’s Country.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

SPONSORSHIP

Start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
We can't do it without our sponsors!



How does SP Kennel run financially?

Allen and Aliy are like many Alaskans – they have a "summer job" and a "winter job".

Summer jobs in Alaska are the norm. (Usually May through September.) This is when the sun shines 24 hours a day, the temperatures are reasonable and plenty of outdoor work can be done. Allen and Aliy have built a spec home every summer for the last 5 years. They build the home from the ground up - from clearing trees to hanging cabinets. The income from these projects provides the money for their personal living expenses.

Winter jobs are less common in Alaska and many "Snow Birds" fly south to find employment in the Lower "48". Obviously, winter (October – April) for Allen and Aliy is spent working at the kennel, training dogs and racing. SP Kennel makes money through race winnings, dog sales and a limited tourist operation in April. These moneys go directly to the kennel and can be significant. However, the most critical source of operating funds for SP Kennel is sponsorship.

Sponsorship varies widely. For an extreme example of sponsorship, look at any NASCAR racing event. Most of the car drivers are paid big money to decorate their cars with name brands, drink certain soda pop while on TV or wear a ball cap with a particular logo. SP Kennel does not, thank heavens, go to that extreme. But, our sponsors are a wide variety of people and companies from around the world.

SP Kennel has several important Corporate sponsors. HORIZON LINES of Alaska and EAGLE PACK Holistic Brand Dog Food are two of our large sponsors. Horizon Lines has a reputation in Alaska for dedication and professionalism, just like SP Kennel. Thus they identify with Aliy and use her for community outreach, public speaking and company entertainment throughout the year. Eagle Pack, developer and producer of a unique formula for long distance racing dogs, expects top race performances. Our teams are highly competitive thanks, in part, to their diet of Eagle Pack brand dog foods. The teams’ performances are true and just advertisement for Eagle Pack products.

As we have mentioned previously, the health and welfare of our dogs is the most important goal of SP Kennel. Dr Jean Battig, of Chena Ridge Veterinary Clinic, helps us care for our dogs throughout the year. Her sponsorship, through her veterinary services, allows us to routinely provide every dog (pups, racers and retired) with the very best possible health care.

SP Kennel also has Individual sponsors. These are people who want to be a part of the SP Kennel team. They want a team to root for and want some inside information on "what it’s all about". These folks end up being the heart and soul of the team.

We have different levels of individual sponsorship depending on how much an individual cares to donate. Larger donations are received with the commitment that these donors will be an important part of the SP Kennel team throughout the season. They often make a trip to the kennel, the Iditarod start or even to the finish in Nome. These folks become very familiar with the dogs and the kennel set up.

Smaller donations are just important. Some folks may not have the time or means to visit the kennel or Alaska this season, but still would like to be a part of the SP Kennel team. Often these people will agree to sponsor a dog for the season. They receive updates on ‘their’ dog’s training and racing progress. These individuals are an integral part of the team because, as we have stressed, it is the individual dogs that make sled dog racing so special.


Venus, one of our 'special' individuals, gets harnessed up to race. She is a hardworking and opinionated team leader.



We have also had people sponsor a specific checkpoint along the Iditarod Trail. In doing this, they pay for all of the supplies needed at that re-supply stop during the Iditarod. This is an exciting learning experience. These sponsors become intimately familiar with the geography, population and weather for a portion of the race trail while having a tangible impact on the race progress of the SP Kennel teams.

Lastly, some folks have a limited budget but still want to be part of the SP Kennel team. These sponsors will send a small donation that is directly responsible for an item needed on the Iditarod trail. For example, we have a regular sponsor who buys 20 Chemical Heat Warmers for the Iditarod and he knows that he is keeping Aliy’s hands warm!

Regardless of the level of sponsorship an individual or corporation chooses, we at SP Kennel are thankful to them all. Sometimes it’s the smallest gesture that gets the team to the finish line!

For more details about sponsoring SP Kennel go to http://www.aliyzirkle.com/ and click on ‘Sponsorship’.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

SLED DOG AMBASSADORS

Kennel life is full of dog chores, training dogs, running puppies and racing in competitions. But there is another side to our kennel life that is just as critical to the future of Dog Mushing. That is publicly supporting and promoting Sled Dog Sports!

Dog Mushing is ambiguously understood by animal enthusiasts worldwide. There are Sled Dog Sports on most continents and Mushing has a history dating back hundreds of years. Many people have heard a story about a Sled Dog team clambering across the frozen tundra, but few people have ever seen a Sled Dog and even fewer have ever been Mushing.

If Dog Mushers, and those concerned with the future of Sled Dog Sports, expect to be understood by a continually evolving world, then we have a responsibility to educate the public the very best that we can. By doing this, we create future mushing enthusiasts and hopefully… racing fans!

Aliy and Allen spoke to well over 10,000 Princess Cruise tourists this past summer in Denali National Park. We were ‘Ambassadors’ with a job to educate people with the truth about Dog Mushing in Alaska. We were able to connect to folks on a very personal level, speaking about nothing other then our favorite topic….the Alaskan Husky, the elite dog of long distance racing.

The summer tourist rush is certainly over now! Denali National Park and every Princess Hotel or Lodge in the area stands vacant until the snow melts and the leaves return.

But, the job of Ambassador continues.

Every high school student in Alaska must take an Alaska Studies course prior to graduation. Since Dog Mushing is an important part of Alaska history, and our official state sport, SP Kennel is committed to bring our Mushing message to area schools. This past school year, Aliy spoke about her passion at several local high schools. She is prepared to do so again this year in both the Fairbanks and Anchorage areas.

In the same vein, not every Alaskan youth attends high school. In tandem with our major sponsor, Horizon Lines of Alaska, we visited Covenant House Alaska (Anchorage) in late October. Covenant House provides a safe haven and positive role models for homeless and run away kids. Here Aliy was able to talk to the kids about the path her life has taken and the joys and tribulations of living her dream. Girlfriend, the Super Talented Sled Dog with very humble beginnings, was really the star of the show – proving that a lot of determination and hard work can provide a road to personal success.

October was a busy month. The Alaska Dog Mushers Association sponsored its annual International Symposium in Fairbanks. Hundreds of Dog Mushers and fans from throughout the U.S. and Canada gathered together to share stories and hear from the experts. Aliy spoke on breeding and puppy raising techniques. Her philosophy of limited, selective breeding and intensive, hands-on training was a favorite of the attendees.

Aliy and Allen discuss puppy training techniques with an International Symposium participant.


Many people came from the Lower 48 for the symposium. SP Kennel is located in Two Rivers, a 25 mile drive from downtown Fairbanks and arguably the ‘heart of dog mushing’ in Interior Alaska. Symposium attendees from Idaho, North Dakota and Maine drove out to visit our kennel, meet with our canine athletes and experience a training run.

The bottom line is: We love our job as Ambassadors! We will continue to share our passion for Dog Mushing locally, within the U.S. and world wide. We encourage you, our fans, friends and future dog mushers, to visit SP Kennel when ever you come to the Fairbanks area.




Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sammy Arrives

We recently welcomed a very important addition to the SP Kennel Family. Samuel Gray Zirkle Crowe, son of Kaz Zirkle and Ray Crowe, was born on October 6, 2007 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sammy is healthy, handsome and eager to eat frequently. His parents are elated and exhausted. Our hope is that he will be on 4th Avenue, cheering for his Auntie Aliy, at the Iditarod start in March.


Samuel Gray Zirkle Crowe
October 6, 2007
7 lbs 7 oz

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fall Training


The sleet is falling and the dogs are howling. For us, this equates to Fall Training. This is a “lump sum” term for the seasonal start of training our sled dogs. Fall Training should be clarified.

In human terms, Fall Training would liken to the chores, work and mental concentration that begin again after a long relaxing vacation. Perhaps you were on a month-long Mediterranean cruise. While cruising you notice your waistline expanding and that Nautilus Workout Room doesn’t out rank the 24-hour “Dessert Bar”. You are probably packing a few extra pounds. You are also mentally out of the loop as far as your job, your home, you bills, and your social obligations. It definitely takes a few days to get back into the grind.

Well, let’s consider that our dogs took an extended vacation. Not only are we trying to get one canine back into the program. We are working with the minds and bodies of every dog in the dog yard!

The adult racers, those between the age of 2 and 9, are the core of the yard. They are excited to get back into the harnesses, but they also know what is expected from them. They have all had at least one season of training and some of them have had many additional years. Even the first day of Fall Training, we can generally hook up rather large dog team to an ATV 4 wheeler and start to put on miles.

We start with distances that everyone would scoff at later in the season. We might run 3 to 5 miles until everyone looks like they have their wind and stamina. Our speed is kept down to 8 to 10 mph. We do this by gearing the ATV in a lower gear so that the dogs are actually pulling against the engine. If we were to use the brakes all of the time we’d have none left by October! Slowly we increase distances, speeds and the dogs improve their endurance. We then begin to incorporate speed intervals and hill training in our work outs. Of course, just like human beings, dogs require rest days to recuperate their muscles, so we have to manage the training calendar precisely. No dog will get any more then 2 days off through out the season.

Manners and obedience are of great importance during Fall Training. The behavior that is deemed acceptable this time of year will be expected through out the season. Manners include a lot of things, for instance: allowing us to harness them (did I mention that they are quite excited?). I have to admit that I have received a black eye or big lip from an overly exuberant dog. I TRY not to get irritated if this happens, for I know that they are quite energized. But, it becomes obvious at this time that we must teach them exactly what acceptable behavior is.



Heidi “Lining out” at a race start.




Manners also include “lining out”. The ManMat harness system that we have been using for several years does not use a neck line from the dog’s collar to the mainline. The dog is only attached to the mainline with one tug line to his/her harness. Therefore, a dog can face any direction they want and thus pull in any direction as well. This could result in complete chaos if the dogs weren’t actually taught the obedience of “lining out” in the correct direction.

Manners also include a dog’s behavior toward other dogs. Our dogs generally get along. In the yard, the dogs live at houses that are quite close together. They can touch one other and play a lot with their neighbors - commonly siblings.




Spot and Bisquit spend an afternoon playing





But, while hooking up a team, arguments can happen. In all honesty, our dogs are not generally “fighters” but squabbles occur once in a while. There is usually a simple reason behind a quarrel and it can often be rectified by monitoring partners. Some dogs are relatively patient as they wait to go. These dogs are generally conscientious and thoughtful. But, other dogs are CRAZY and they appear out of their minds at times as they shriek and wail – simply excited to go! These high energy athletes jump up and down and all over. They might even jump on top of their running partner because they can not contain their enthusiasm. You can see how one dog might annoy another.

Obedience is expected during and after a training run. After the run, the dogs come into the yard and stay lined out. We then go around to all of their dog houses and place a treat or dog food on the roof. We walk to the front of the dog team and, starting with the leaders, we let every dog run back to their respective houses. This helps us to monitor their post run condition. Many of the dogs have lived at the same house for years, so it doesn’t seem that far fetched to expect a dog to know where he/she lives. I believe that the more you expect from a dog, the more it will rise to the occasion and try to please you. Of course, dogs will be dogs and Tony will stop at Butterscotch’s house and eat his treat prior to returning to his own house for a treat. Or Teddy insists on running over to play with the retired dogs prior to returning to her house. But, all in all, if you account for the individuals in the yard, most of the dogs will head home.

Our major goals in Fall Training are to begin our training season with a positive, fun outlook and establish acceptable behavior patterns. This way, ALL of us will enjoy mushing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DOGS!

The goal AT SP Kennel is to compete at the highest level in international sled dog races. We maintain a small select group of canine athletes that allows us to succeed at this goal. A smaller population allows us more individual time per dog and enables us to operate both financially and physically at a high standard. The life style of our sled dogs must be the best that we can provide, since we expect them to be Olympic caliber athletes. All of this, of course, takes time, money and effort.

The life of a sled dog is centered around working – running with great enthusiasm down a trail while pulling a musher laden sled. Luckily, sled dogs, ours are Alaskan Huskys, have an innate desire to pull and do not need to be taught to do such. They are like Black Labs retrieving a ball when it comes to knowing their “job”. But, these dogs do need to be trained other sled dog necessities such as obedience, manners, pacing oneself and habits. As well, they are conditioned for endurance, speed and stamina. All of this training and conditioning start when dogs are still quite young. Many of our dogs are “in harness” prior to their first birthday. This does not mean that they are then full fledged athletes and ready to jump into the Iditarod, however.

PUPS (0 to 1 year) are happy-go-lucky and are constantly growing. Often they look out of proportion, with extremely long legs and lanky bodies. We do not expect them to be part of a racing team or endure any serious training. They run around a lot, cause trouble and generally have a good time!






YEARLINGS (1 year to 2 years) are still gangly and not physically mature. They are like human teenagers: scrawny and awkward. You really don’t want to leave them with a whole lot of mental responsibility either. But, we do expect them to exercise and be a part of the training teams. If they race at all, it will be on a younger “Junior varsity” squad.





RACING ADULTS (2 years until retirement) are full grown, mentally mature dogs. Male or female, we don’t have a preference. Males are generally bigger and stronger, but we do not need to move a mountain, we just need to trot across the state of Alaska. Our dogs may be on a competitive Iditarod team as early as 2 ½ years and have raced as old as 10 years.


RETIREES (age depends on individuals) are, once again, just like people. Dogs come to a point in their life when they slow down and might not want to race as hard as they used to race. At this point dogs at SP Kennel have 3 options. 1) They may be sold or given to lesser competitive sled dog kennels or mushers 2) They may be given to a home as a pet dog, often in the Lower 48 with a family that was a fan of the kennel. 3) They may retire with us and never leave the kennel. We have several “couch potatoes” and older dogs who wander around the dog yard.

SP Kennel is really all about the dogs!



Monday, April 30, 2007

Summer Time in Alaska

Mushing near Pipeline

After the Iditarod concluded, Aliy, Allen and the dogs headed up to the North Slope to guide trips into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They took two groups of 3 people into the most incredible area in the world. They saw thousands of caribou, wolves, moose and a wolverine. A wonderful trip. Girlfriend slept inside the tent with Aliy and Allen the whole trip. Can we say “Pet Dog”!

Miss Girlfriend with Allen

Summer has hit the interior of Alaska. Our spring which we call break up is the muddiest time of the year. Although the temperature is enough to melt the snow, the ground is still frozen giving the water no where to go. Now the mud is gone and the skies are beautiful. The sun rises at about 6am and sets after 10pm. Great time of year. The dogs are all lying out on their dog houses having a well deserved rest.
Flood Enjoying the Sun

We have three pups that were born in early April just starting to move around, two boys and little girl. Jethro is the largest and is probably a good two times the size of the others. He never stops nursing. Life is good.

Aliy will be talking to tourists on the rail road again this year once a week. She will be driving down to Denali for that. Allen or I will most likely be heading down will her. Have a great summer and we will start updating the log again when training begins.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Allen Arrives in Nome

“Coming to you live from beautiful, downtown Nome, Alaska on Friday, March 16, here is the 2007 Iditarod Wrap Up show.”

Allen Moore, number 71, arrived in Nome at 11:45am, almost exactly 25 hours after Aliy arrived. He passed through Safety at 9:11am, just 12 minutes behind Rick Casillo. Aliy, Bridgett, Allen’s mom
Donnie and the crew went out to the road crossing to cheer Allen on, and by that time, Allen was about a minute behind Rick. As we were standing on Front Street, we didn’t know who was in the lead. When the musher popped up on the street from the pack ice, we saw someone with ski pole in hand, kicking and poling. We knew then that Allen had passed Rick and we erupted in the shoot. Allen had passed him about 50 feet from the ramp onto the street. He had Imac and Doña in lead. He also had Girlfriend, Mouse, Blossom, Heidi, Rose, Snickers, Petunia, Reeses and Betty in harness. He dropped Hera in White Mountain with a shoulder injury.

After settling the dogs in, we headed off for lunch and laughs. He said he still didn’t know what was coming at him when he was hallucinating. He just said they were coming from every direction. When he told everyone the story of catching the sled seat on the tree, it sounded even worst! I am sure that when he wakes up from his nap, he won’t even be able to move. That is how Aliy was yesterday.

Aliy got lots of sleep since she got in. She is now up working with the dogs. Her hands are still swollen twice their normal size and her hip is very tender and blue. She doesn’t even remember doing that. Waking up this morning, she came out of the room asking if it were morning or night. I think she thought that she missed Allen coming in.

So how did everything go this year. Aliy started the race with what she thought of as the best team she had ever brought to Iditarod. Unfortunately, her team was plagued with injuries. I am so proud of her for not following the trend. Instead, she made it all the way to Nome. Her knowledge, love and ability to care for her dogs allowed her to fight through and finish her journey to Nome. I am so proud of her and her dogs.

Allen’s team did so much better than we expected. He made it all the way to Kaltag with 15 dogs! Of the 11 he finished with, he had rookies on the team. What an education for the dogs as well as for Allen. He ran an excellent race.

This year’s Iditarod is over for us. With positives and negatives, this race was difficult. It lacked snow and was bitterly cold. The wind was a constant challenge. But I am so proud of both of them. Aliy dealt with what was handed to her with style and grace and Allen just forged on, bringing along the future of the kennel. I hope you have enjoyed following this race with me. I will try to get some pictures up as I get them.Thank you.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Aliy Arrives in Nome!

Aliy is in Nome! She arrived at 10:57am with 7 dogs in harness. She finished with ChaCha and Oddball in lead. Manny was in single swing, then Pingo and Bullet, and Teddy and Tony in wheel. She had to drop Heeler when she went through Safety.

Oddball had never run lead in his life before this race and has now run close to 200 miles up front. I asked Aliy before she fell asleep whether it was a one time thing, being short on dogs. She said that he looked like his dad AJ up there. That is quite a complement. She also said she didn’t know if he would have the concentration to be able to lead once he was off the race. However , she could never put AJ up in lead until he had already run about 1000 training miles. Maybe a new star was born.

Oddball wasn’t the only neophyte leader in the team. Tony, Oddball’s brother, also lead the team down the coast. Tough situations make for interesting choices.

Allen is on his way to White Mountain. He should be there by about 8pm tonight. We are expecting to see him in Nome about the same time Aliy arrived today, around noon. He was telling us yesterday that he was having some pretty interesting hallucinations over the last few days. We are wishing him some entertaining ones on his final trek.

I am sure we will hear many more stories over the next couple of days from both Aliy and Allen. I will pass some along. We are off to feed the dogs and get them settled in their new little dog yard. Keep checking to Blog for pictures. I’ll get them up as soon as I get some in.

I am so happy she is here!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Awaiting Aliy in Nome


It is 11:15pm Wednesday, March 14, 2007 and Aliy will be leaving White Mountain in exactly 1 hour. It will take her between 9 and 12 hours to make her way through Safety to Nome. Bridgett and Scotty, Allen’s daughter and son-in-law, have set up a dog yard at their house here. We will bring the dogs down to the Iditarod dog yard to be checked out by the vets before bringing them to their temporary home. Bridgett and I headed out on a snow machine to put signs out to welcome Aliy and Allen to their final goal.

Here waiting for them are Mickey and Doug (Aliy’s parents), Donnie (Allen’s Mom), Bridgett and Scotty and Ray and I. It will be wonderful to get them here. I’ll let you know when Aliy arrives.

Aliy In White Mountain

Aliy is into White Mountain. The Iditarod Website has Aliy into White Mountain as of 1615. She has a mandatory 8 hour rest there and can leave at quarter after midnight. Hopefully we will see her around 10am. YEAH!!!!!!!

Sled Design – Materials

I left Two Rivers several days ago to fly to Nome and then on to Unalakleet. I was away from both computer access to this site and sleds to examine because I spent a couple days in Nome waiting for the right time to head to Unk. Thus, no reports then. While in Unk I helped by raking up straw after teams had left and parking teams when they arrived. There were a number of volunteers at the Unk checkpoint and arrivals were spaced out. As a result I spent most of my time watching and waiting for arrivals.

I was traveling very light and did not have a digital camera with me. A number of mushers sent their second sleds ahead to Unk to have for the run along the coast to Nome. There were few new or unique ideas evident in these sleds. The designs were generally traditional although several had a driver’s seat. Quite a few wooden sleds were there.

Using wood for stanchions and handle bars may not necessarily be old fashioned. White ash provides good strength with light weight and some degree of flexibility. One must be careful about how the wooden parts are connected or their strength can be severely reduced. Solid wood runners make no sense for racing. Wooden runners have to be thick to have enough strength and are then too heavy and too rigid.

Most newer sled design use aircraft aluminum for the stanchions and handlebars. Fiberglass is used to a much lesser extent. Over the last few years, sleds have changed to incorporate a seat. Most driver’s seats employ one of these two materials, wood or aluminum. Often, old runners are cut up and used in some sleds, presumably to get the benefits of aluminum at low cost. Too much weight. Too hard to blend into a smooth design.

Ramey Smith’s sled at Unalakleet was a small traditional wooden speedster, almost a sprint sled. He had taped used plastics over the new runner plastics for protection in shipment. All he had to do was cut the electricians tape to remove the protective runners and he was ready to go. Most other mushers had to change plastics if they wanted fresh ones for the run to Shaktoolik.

Martin Buser’s sled (I don’t know if it was his starting or second sled) has an interesting driver’s seat. Martin took a plastic dog crate and modified it. He cut the top of the crate in half side-to-side. The half with the door was attached as usual. The other half was turned upside down and backwards. This created a seat that could also carry a dog.

Most of the sleds with driver’s seats that I saw in Unk were not unique. They were permanently attached to the runners. Some had “sled bags” to hold items under and behind the driver. Some had a rectangular cooler fit on top of a table supported by legs to the runners. The top of the cooler became the seat. Aliy was carrying her seat in her sled bag. Having only eight dogs left she planned on doing quite a bit of running and pushing up the hills ahead and wanted it safely out of the way.

Z

Aliy and Allen on the Trail

How is Aliy doing? She seems to be doing well. So far, she is sticking religiously to her 6 hour run/rest plan and it is working. She is making her way steadily down the coast. She arrived in Elim at 5:28am. If she rests her 6 hours before heading out to White Mountain, she should arrive there at 7 to 8pm tonight. She is required to stay there for 8 hours, meaning she should leave around 3 to 4am. If the dogs are in good enough condition to run the whole way into Nome, I expect she will be in around noon Thursday. If she stops in route, we will see her later in the afternoon. I am sure she is ready to get here.

I talked to Allen yesterday. His two year olds are getting a bit tired, but he is so proud of them. He called from Unalakleet. His run to the Coast was beautiful and thankfully, uneventful. He arrived into Shaktoolik at 4:26am this morning with his 12 dogs. We believe he will arrive in Nome early Friday morning.

Mushers Arriving in Nome, Change of Guard

Yesterday went by with a flash. I made it to Nome. My flight into Nome was filled with friends and family of all the mushers, kind of like a reunion. Lance Mackey’s brother, sister, mother and nephew were there. Ray Reddington’s, Jessie Royer’s, Hugh Neff’s, Zack Steer’s and so many other mushers’ families were on there as well.

So what is happening? Lance Mackey arrived in Nome in at 8:08pm to become the new Iditarod champion. What an amazing story! He is the first person to ever win the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in the same year, and he did it wearing the same number his father and his brother won the race in and with the same number of dogs as they had.

I have seen the Champion come across the finish line 6 out of the last seven years. I have never seen someone as exuberant and just so happy to have won. It was a real changing of the guard. The rest of the top three are Paul Gebhardt in second and Zack Steer passed Buser on the stretch to Nome to come in third. A lot of people didn’t even know Zack’s name before this race.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Tactic Change for Aliy

Okay, things are changing out on the trail for Aliy. She had to drop another dog in Kaltag. She dropped Butterscotch for a triceps injury. So far, only Skittles has been dropped for something other than that. The rough trail has caught up with her and all plans have changed.

Aliy is no longer racing. She only has 8 dogs and her entire goal now is to get to Nome. She is going to be switching over to a 6 hour run, 6 hour rest schedule until she makes White Mountain and then she will see from there. She is seriously worried about several dogs still in the team and has to go into conservative mode. By the time I talked to her in Kaltag, she had accepted that fact and was doing okay. So much is now going to depend on her staying positive for the dogs and just making her way down the coast. She should be in Unalakleet and on the coast by 5pm this afternoon.

I expect she will be running up every hill and be kicking and poling the entire way to Nome. She said that when she isn’t poling, she can walk faster than the team is going at this point. The last time this happened to her team, she lost 25 pounds by the time she made it to Nome.

The dogs, other than the triceps, are doing very well out there. They all have good weight on them. (I got Pepper back last night. I can’t believe how big she is! It’s great.) They are just going very slow. Aliy can’t push them without an injury coming up and forcing her to drop another dog. She is not the type of musher or person who will push her team to the breaking point. She has always been very good at knowing the line and NOT crossing it. This is not how we imagined this year’s race going, but she is playing the hand she has been dealt.

Our father Doug has flown out to Unalakleet this morning to meet her and try to give some moral support. Hopefully we will here from him this evening.

Allen on the other hand is still cruising along with 15 dogs. He may very well start catching up with Aliy on the trail if she holds to that 6 hour schedule. The computer has him in Eagle Island, but we know he probably left at 5 or 6 this morning. It seems to be a black hole for communications out there.

We are trying to keep good thought going out to Aliy, and Allen, on the trail. Hope you’ll join us.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Life in Two Rivers

Doug and I have been manning SP Kennel in Two Rivers AK, about 25 miles east of Fairbanks, for the past week. We are tasked with caring for the non racing dogs: 15 young adults, 16 puppies and 4 retired. We make sure they are fed, cleaned and loved a bit each day. Doug left yesterday for Nome, and several checkpoints on the Bering Sea, so the job is mine for a few days.

It is now 10 AM Sunday morning. The sky is overcast, the winds are calm, a light snow is falling and the thermometer reads -17 degrees F. That temp is not a surprise for you Alaskans reading this, but for our friends and neighbors in Florida, it is unimaginable. Since our bodies are not acclimated to Alaska winter, we dress in 4 to 5 layers and liberally use chemical hand/foot warmers when working outdoors. My cold tolerance is very limited

The dogs, on the other hand, are bred to thrive at these temps. They snuggle up in their straw lined boxes at night. During the day they play with each other, chase ravens, nap and eat ravenously. I am quite sure they miss their regular runs with Aliy and Allen.

Tomorrow, Monday, I expect the dropped dogs from Aliy’s and Allen’s teams to arrive here at SP Kennel. Kaz has been receiving dropped dogs from the Iditarod vets and caring for them in Anchorage. Tomorrow morning she will drive them north 175 miles from Anchorage: Ray will drive south 175 miles from Fairbanks. When they meet on the Parks Highway, somewhere near Cantwell, Ray will take the dogs and head back north again. The dogs should be in their own beds by evening.

Doug had the additional duty of repairing some older sleds in preparation for the annual SP Kennel Adventure Tour to the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). My additional duty is to answer piles of fan mail from school children all over the US.

So that is a view of SP Kennel Base in Two Rivers AK. We are in constant contact with SP Kennel Anchorage (Kaz) and SP Kennel Nome (Bridget and Scotty). Our thoughts are always with the 2 SP Kennel teams on the Iditarod Trail.

Kennel Mom

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Allen in Shaguluk

The stories from Allen’s race are increasing by the day. I talked to him today once he reached Shaguluk. He was tired and hungry but in good spirits. As is his custom, he was more worried about Aliy and how she was doing than about himself.

He said his dogs are looking great! He doesn’t expect any of them to need to be dropped before he leaves for Anvik and Grayling. He says that he is still running Girlfriend and Anvik quite a bit up in lead, but all the dogs are doing very well.

He had a bit of an incident going into Shaguluk. As we have heard, the trail was very barren there, with lots of tundra and stumps sticking up. Only a few miles out of the check point, a stump caught his sled seat. The sled came to an abrupt halt. Allen flipped over the handle bars and landed with Blossom and Hera in wheel. He couldn’t believe he didn’t hurt himself, but he said he is going to be very sore when he gets to Nome.

Aliy left Grayling after 7+ hours to make her way to Eagle Island. She did drop another dog, Sparky – with, of course, a triceps injury. She is down to 9 dogs but a strong 9. Hopefully she can go through a couple of checkpoints now without having to drop a dog.

Aliy in Grayling

Talked to Aliy in Grayling. She has had too drop too many dogs in the last day for her liking. She is down to 10 now. She joked about if she dropped a dog at each checkpoint, there are too many checkpoints. She is still very positive, but she is unhappy that so many talented, great dogs have been injured on this race.

Aliy says being on the Yukon is great. The winds are blowing up to 60mph but there is snow on the trail. A huge improvement. If you haven't seen to picture of Jeff King going into Iditarod yet, you have to check it out. http://www.cabelasiditarod.com/coverage_2007/cov07_mar09_02.html
Most of the dogs coming back now have injured triceps. It is not something one sees a lot when running on snow. The barren trail has been taking its toll.

They still have Allen in Iditarod as of the last update. He has to be gone for hours by now, but there is little communication to that remote checkpoint. He is still listed as having 15 dogs.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Sled Design – Breakage

While working on one of Aliy’s toboggans yesterday for a trip to the North Slope, the one she used to win the Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race, I started thinking about the number of broken sleds in this year’s Iditarod. Broken sleds are nothing new. Trees frequently jump into the way of an oncoming sled. A few years back Jack Berry’s sled was stomped by a moose in the Yukon Quest. My guess is that more of the sled breakage this year is caused by the hard, uneven trail conditions than unintended encounters with trees or large animals.

The type of sled failure most common with these trail conditions starts as a stress fracture in a runner near a weight supporting stanchion. Once weakened the runner literally snaps off. All sleds have a point on their runners where the weight of the sled and its load applies a torque to the runners in one direction and the weight of the driver applies a torque in the opposite direction. Sleds with rear driver’s seats add more torque in the direction applied by the driver. Heavier loads and heavier drivers both apply more torque. Similar break patterns occur with sleds that have older type driver’s seats. These are bicycle seats on a post that pivot just above the point where the handle bars attach to the runners. The driver’s weight is partially supported by a backwards pull on the handle bars. This pull creates a large amount of torque where the handle bars attach to the runner.

The solution that frequently comes to mind is to make the runners stronger in these areas of high stress. The thought is that this would make the runners less likely to break. Actually, stronger (and thus stiffer) runners make the problem worse. The better simple solution is to design the stanchion attachment so that the stress it transmits is spread over more of the runner’s length. Allen had broken the runners on his Prairie Built sled a year ago. The company sent him two new runners and a long piece of plastic for each. This plastic was to be inserted into the runner under the stanchion attachment. The plastic insert would spread the stress over a longer part of the runner. This fix has worked fine, but it does create “hard spots” in the runners that may some day exhibit the same problem.

The best solution is to make the runners more flexible and at the same time build them to spread the stress of the stanchions over a broader area. A more flexible runner would not only reduce runner breakage, it would also reduce the shock loads and vibrations that are transmitted to both the dog team and the driver. These shock loads and vibrations are a major cause of injury and fatigue to the team and the driver.

Z

Thursday, March 8, 2007

In an Out of the 24 Manditories

Allen arrived at Takotna at 2:34am. He had an excellent run from Nikolai. Really must have felt great after all the craziness that has happened to him.

He got there before Aliy left at 4:52am. Talking to Allen, he says that Aliy’s team looked great leaving the check point. The dogs had been battling a bit of diarrhea but Aliy thought it was under control. She dropped Kingston due to a shoulder injury. He is just a big boy and she just couldn’t afford to carry him.

Her run to Ophir was averaging 10.18mph so the dogs must have been feeling pretty good! She stayed in Ophir long enough to pick up supplies for the long run to Iditarod. I think she will stop and rest on the way. Reports from the trail say that about 9 hours out of Iditarod the trail gets bad again. There is little to no snow over the tundra.

Allen’s team is looking great. He is very happy about the way they are looking and behaving. He doesn’t feel like he has a dog that will need to be dropped in Takotna. They are all eating well and sleeping. He will feed them ever 6 hours or so and try to get some sleep himself over the next few hours.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Aliy from her 24 in Takotna


I just spoke to Aliy. She had gotten a couple hours of sleep, gone back out to feed the dogs a second meal and then got herself some food. She says it’s beautiful there. The dogs are lying out in the sun, relaxing. She is working on putting the team back together.

Due to the rough trails, there are a lot of small injuries, some wrists and some shoulders. In her words, the trail has been like being on one of our North Slope trips instead of a race. That benefits her though because she and the dogs have all been on trails like that.

She wants to give the dogs as much rest and food as she can in this 24 hour period. A few have some stress diarrhea which she should be able to get taken care of before she leaves. She is working with sore dogs, massaging them and wrapping them with doggie Ben Gay.

She hopes to leave Takotna with all her dogs. We’ll see what she does.

Allen in Nikolai

Allen gave me a call from Nikolai about an hour after he arrived. He has had a very interesting race so far!! When we lost him in of Rain Pass, Allen was dealing with one crazy situation after another. First, the race officials wouldn’t allow him to leave the check point when he at 4am. He was putting booties on dogs when they came up and told him the wind was blowing 80 mph on the way to Rohn and that no mushers should leave the check point. Finally at 8am, once it was light, he started on his way down the trail.

Leaving the checkpoint, he has to crest a summit. Cindy Gallea was in front of him. She couldn’t get her dogs over and they got all tangled up. Allen stopped to help her. They ended up tying their sleds together to get them moving. After many stops to untangle dogs, they made it to the Steps before separating.

After getting through all this, Allen was on a patch of frozen overflow. He was out in front of the team, leading them across. He got them all lines out and walked back to the sled. The second he hopped on the sled, 13 of his 15 dogs took off down the trail with out him, the last two dogs and the sled. Blossom, in heat and a bit crazy, had chewed the line in front of her and Hera. Allen had passed a snow machine (mobile) camp a few miles back so he started walking back to them and woke them up. He put Blossom and Hera in the sled and attached it to the snow machine. They took off after the team and found them a couple miles down the trail, in a tangle. All the dogs were fine.

I think Allen was very happy to get to Rohn!

All of his dogs are looking great. He is doing well and sounds very positive and upbeat, even with everything that has happened. He thinks he will spend about 8 hours in Nikolai before heading off to McGrath.

Aliy in Takotna and Allen Found!

Aliy is at Takotna for her 24 hour. I talked to her briefly this morning once she arrived. She sounded very up beat. She had a good run to McGrath. She thinks it was one of the fastest times she has ever had. From what I could tell, the trail was much better and she finally could enjoy herself a bit. I will be talking to her again in a little so I will do more of an update later on her.

Allen is on his way to Nikolai. I expect he will get there sometime in the next hour or so. Yesterday, I got very frustrated with the information coming out of Rainy Pass. They had Allen still there hours after he should have been gone. Finally, I went over to the Race Headquarters to find out what I could. Although the Iditarod people couldn’t help, I spoke to a vet that had just come from Rainy. She said that there was near white out conditions leaving Rainy and that many mushers were waiting it out. So I figured that Allen may really still be in Rainy Pass.

Since I was already down near the dropped dog area, I decided to go look and see if Venus, Aliy’s second drop dog, was in yet. She wasn’t, but this handsome face looked up at me and started wagging his tail and jumping. Peterbuilt, one of the two year olds running with Allen, was there. Since I didn’t even know he had dropped a dog, this told me two things. Allen had definitely left Rainy Pass and of course, he only had 15 dogs with him.

So, they never actually had Allen out of Rainy Pass, but they finally did sign him into Rohn. I don’t know how long it took him or if he took the same wrong turn Aliy did. Hopefully he will call from Nikolai when he gets there.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Sled Design – The Rules

There are few limitations on the designs of the sleds for the Iditarod. Rule 15 of the Iditarod addresses sleds as follows. “Sled: A musher has a choice of sled subject to the requirement that some type of sled or toboggan be drawn. The sled or toboggan must be capable of hauling any fatigued or injured dogs under cover plus equipment and food. Braking devices must be constructed to fit between the runners and not to extend beyond the tails of the runners…. Sleds or mushers may not be assisted with sails or wheels.”

A “sled”, as referred to by this rule, has a platform that carries the load that is supported above the runners by stanchions or posts. Only the bottoms of the runners are normally in contact with the snow. With a “toboggan” the platform is mounted directly on top of the runners. The toboggan’s platform frequently does come in contact with the snow. Toboggans are better in deep, soft snow. They are capable of carrying more weight. Their runners are used basically for directional control. “Sleds” are preferred for packed or firm surfaces.

Iditarod trails are often groomed or hard packed so few toboggans are used in it today. The distances between checkpoints are short enough that the sleds need not be heavily loaded. Neither of these conditions is true for races such as the Yukon Quest where one tends to see more toboggans.

Sled design has evolved slowly. They have become lighter and use more modern materials. Thus, sleds have become faster and easier to turn. The compromise is that they break much easier. This is addressed in Rule 15 which limits a racer to using three sleds or less. Racers frequently send second or third sleds to checkpoints along the trail before the race starts.

Recent changes in sled design have been a bit more radical. The most visible is a built-in driver’s seat at the rear of the sled. Fold up bicycle seats had been the norm. Many people have created their own versions of rear driver’s seats. Most of these designs only recognize one of the three possible benefits of such a design: the driver’s comfort.

The three benefits of having a driver’s seat are: an improvement in the balance of the sled, a reduction in wind resistance and finally a way for the driver to take the weight off his or her feet. Many of these seat designs add too much weight to the sled and misbalance it and thus slow it down. They frequently place severe stresses on the sled.

Allen and Aliy have driver’s seats that can carry a filled cooler. They are adjustable to two heights to deal with the wind. They can be removed so that the sled is more manageable in difficult terrain.

Trial and error has been the historical way of improving sled design. We should see more improvements on the driver’s seat in future races.

Z

Talked to Aliy in Nikoli

I talked to Aliy at 2:15pm. She is in Nikoli resting the dogs. She sounds good, but a bit worried about her dogs. The trail has been “the worst she has ever seen.” The lack of snow is leaving rocks stumps and trees exposed. The dogs are sore. The trails are so hard and fast.

The wind was gusting near 60 mph between Rainy and Rohn. Markers were knocked down. Several mushers including Aliy got lost when the Iditarod trail took a hard turn. Most of the markers were down and the other trail was better used and also marked. Aliy thinks it was the Iron Dog Snow Machine Race’s trail. She went out 45 minutes before thinking something was just wrong. She turned around saying she would go back until she found a marker or a dog team. She did find a marker that looked just like the Iditarod ones and was about to turn back around when Zack Steer came up on her. Together they found the correct trail. When you look at the times, the mushers who made it to Rohn in 4 hours didn’t get lost and those who made it in 5:30 or more got lost. To make things worse, the temperatures were hovering around -40 degrees out there.

The second dog Aliy dropped was her star Venus. She hurt herself on the rough burn area. Hopefully she can get the team into the 24 hour rest without losing any more dogs. They will be able to rest and recoup.

Still no reports on Allen. I am going to head over to Race Headquarters and see what I can find out.

Aliy in Nikoli

So much has happened in the last day. Aliy is now in Nikoli. She ran straight in from Rainy Pass. She has dropped two dogs. She dropped Skittles in Rainy Pass. She got to Anchorage last night at about 7pm. She hurt her right front triceps. She is doing very well now. It doesn’t even look like it hurts her. She is out enjoying the sun here in Anchorage.

Aliy also dropped a dog in Rohn. I don’t have any information about that dog yet. Normally, dogs dropped there go to McGrath before they head in to Anchorage. Maybe later today I will find out who it is.

“Dropped” dogs are dogs that the musher decides should no longer be in the team. They could be hurt, sick or just too tired to continue. The vets at each check point takes care of the dogs until they can be flown back to Anchorage where the mushers’ handlers pick them up. Once a dog is “dropped”, the musher is short that dog. For example, Aliy now has 14 dogs in her team. She can not add any others.

Aliy has been running at the top of the pack. Her last two runs have been a bit slower than the fastest times, but she is holding her own. Before she left she commented on how she thought that our dogs tend to do better on tougher trails rather than faster trails. So far it seems like this trail has a little of both.

Reports from the Burn before Nikoli were that it had very little snow and was close to -40 degrees. Good thing it’s been so cold in Fairbanks for the last few weeks. Apparently, Lance Mackey arrived with only one runner attached to his sled, so the trail was definitely rough!

There has been no news out of Rainy Pass for MANY HOURS. They still have Allen in Rainy Pass when we know he probably left early this morning. There have been no updates from there.

The section of the trail near Rainy Pass has claimed two veteran top ten mushers and another top musher. Both Doug Swingley and DeeDee Jonrowe had sled crashes that resulted in dislocated and broken bones. They both scratched in Rainy Pass. Jacques Philip, a well known stage stop musher, also scratched in Rainy Pass. Eight mushers have withdrawn from the race at this point.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Team


All right. I have to calm down enough to write this. As I am putting this up, Aliy is running in 3rd out of Rainy Pass. She still has all 16 dogs. Yeah.

Okay, down to work. Aliy’s team is Hoss, Heeler, Venus, ChaCha, Butterscotch, Oddball, Skittles, Manny, Kingston, Hawke, Tony, Teddy, Pingo, Bullet, Pepper and Sparky.

Allen’s team has Girlfriend, Doña, Blossom, Heidi, Reeses, KitKat, Snickers, Rolo, Petunia, Peterbuilt, nutMeg, Rose, Hera, Imac, Mouse and Betty. He is currently still at Finger Lake.

I am heading down to the Race Headquarters to see what info I can find out.

Kaz
Allen's Daughter Bridget

Initial Observations on Sled Design

Having been peripherally involved with the sport of dog sled racing for a number of years due to Aliy’s participation, and having a technical leaning, I have found the design and evolution of racing dog sleds very interesting.

Both the sled that Aliy will start on in Iditarod 35, 2007, and the second sled that she has had sent down the trail were made by Armstrong. Alan’s starting sled and his second sled were made by Prairie Built. Perhaps not all of us understand exactly what that means. In fact, many people wouldn’t have a clue as to what those two descriptions mean, much less the individual characteristics of each and the reasons for the differences in design. Hopefully a short discussion of this subject might give us a little better understanding of this subject, and the complexities and compromises that must be made in the design, construction and use of a racing dog sled.

A good start in discussing sled design is to identify the functions that it should perform. These include the following.

• Carrying items for dog care: food, medicine, equipment, dogs, etc.
• Carrying tired or injured dogs.
• Providing a platform for the driver to direct the team.
• Carrying items for the driver’s care and safety: food, medicine, clothing, equipment, etc.
• Carrying mandatory race items.
• Providing a platform for the driver to assist team.

There are a number of other things to consider in sled design in addition to its desired functions. We want the sled to be able to carry its load for a long period, over rough terrain and in inhospitable weather conditions. A sled’s design should minimize the potential for injury to the dogs pulling it. The same is true for the person driving it. The sled should have good directional stability but should also be easily turned. All of this should be done with a minimum of adverse affect on the dogs’ speed or the amount of effort that they must expend.

Originally sleds were large, wooden and heavy. They were sometimes equipped with Gee-poles because they were difficult to turn. If they carried a driver, he or she sat on top of the cargo. Sled design has slowly evolved over the years. Sleds are now much lighter and carry the driver. However, due to the market size, little effort has been made to “engineer” a top performing dog sled. We will discuss some specific areas of sled design in future messages.

Z

Friday, March 2, 2007

Anchorage & The Banquet

The Iditarod starting banquet is a huge production, with thousands in attendance. At last night’s event, Susan Butcher’s huge accomplishments were honored. Major race sponsors (e.g. Wells Fargo Bank , Alaska Airlines, Anchorage Dodge Chrysler, GCI Telecommunications) took the opportunity to showcase their businesses. The Iditarod leadership introduced the organizers. Thousands of volunteers, from around the world, greeted each other and the racers. And, almost as an aside, each musher, 82 in all, thanked his / her supporters and chose a starting number. This event started at 5:30 pm and ended about 4 ½ hours later. The entire SP Kennel contingent was in attendance, except one! At our table were Aliy, Allen, Kaz, Ray, Mick, Doug, Toebe & Bob McDonald, Jeanne Reilly, Roger Wasson, Julie Verette and her son Mike. Poor Bridget was sitting in a plane on the tarmac in Nome and didn’t arrive in Anchorage until 2 am.

At about 8 pm, each musher was introduced in the order in which he/she registered for the Iditarod. Theoretically, if a musher signs up in June, that musher can choose a lower number and better starting position. Aliy was the 20th musher to register. She was called to the stage about 8:30 pm, thanked her family and supporters and chose #16. This is her lowest Iditarod start position.

Allen, on the other hand, registered in December for the Iditarod. He was the 79th musher out of 82 to choose his start position. He only had 4 numbers to choose from. Allen was called to the stage at about 9:50 pm, said “howdy” to the crowd and chose #71. Ten minutes later, we all filed out, tired, but one step closer to the race start.

Check the Iditarod at www.iditarod.com or the Anchorage Daily News at www.adn.com for the list of mushers and their starting positions.

P.S. The temperatures in Anchorage are much cooler than they have been for the last 2 Iditarod starts. Daytime readings have been 10º to 15º and nights around -5º. Wind gusts were clocked at 35 – 45 mph yesterday. The temperatures should remain in this range for Saturday’s start. Winds should decrease to 10 – 15 mph on Saturday.

Down in Anchorage

The dogs arrived in Anchorage Thursday night from Fairbanks. They were happy to escape the steady 40 below nights, even if it is a bit windier here. They all look great. Aliy and Allen have them out at the track for a short stretch out as I write this. We are all looking forward to the start tomorrow and looking even more forward to getting them out on the trail on Sunday.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Iditarod Family Reunion

Tomorrow we hop a jet in Orlando and head to Anchorage. Doug and I (Aliy’s and Kaz’s parents) are the first in a parade of family members traveling to Alaska for Iditarod 2007. We are there to help with logistics and provide moral support. With both Aliy and Allen competing, the start will be a huge undertaking.

In Anchorage, we headquarter at the home of Jeanne Reilly and Larry Bogue, dedicated sponsors and great friends. Doug and I will sleep there Tuesday night and then await the arrival of Aliy and Allen on Wednesday. They drive 6 to 7 hours south from Two Rivers in a truck loaded with sleds and racing gear. Both need to be rested and alert for a sponsor dinner Wednesday night and mandatory pre-race meetings all day Thursday.

Early morning Thursday, Kaz, Ray and 38 canine athletes board two dog trucks and head south from Two Rivers to Anchorage. They will stop once or twice en route to stretch and water the dogs (and themselves). Their trip will take about 8 hours.

Also on Thursday, Aliy’s two uncles (Toebe and Bob McDonald) meet at Minneapolis Airport to fly directly to Anchorage. They arrive late afternoon just in time for the Iditarod Starting Banquet.

Eight family members, along with ‘adopted’ family and friends, meet for the Starting Banquet on Thursday evening, where Aliy and Allen choose their starting positions. It is the time for mushers, sponsors, families, friends and groupies to gather and celebrate the spirit of the Iditarod.

Early Friday Allen’s daughter, Bridget, arrives in Anchorage from Nome, where she has been working since November. She is an experienced musher and will be a critical member of the starting line pit crew.

There will be 9 of us in Anchorage related by blood or marriage. We can only hope that the labor and the love of family will help reduce starting line ‘stress’ for Aliy and Allen. We can only hope!!!

P.S. Allen’s Mom, Donnie, flies to Nome, Alaska from Manila, Arkansas, for the finish. More later on the family reunion at the finish line.

The Top Eighteen

Well, time is just flying by. Iditarod is less than a week away. Soon the family will be heading to Alaska and we will be packing up the dogs and heading down to Anchorage. So who are we bringing? That is a good question. Let’s start with Aliy’s “A-Team”. Many of the dogs were on Aliy’s team last year and most of those and a few others were on Allen’s Championship Copper Basin Team. Here they are – the 2007 Iditarod Team.
1. ChaCha (5yrs) – Main Leader. Iditarod: ’06, ’05, ’04. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
2. Venus (5yrs) – Main Leader. Iditarod: ’06, ’05. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
3. Pingo (8yrs) – Main Leader. Iditarod: ’06, ’05, ’04, ’03, ’02, ‘01. Yukon Quest ’00. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
4. Teddy (5yrs) – Team Dog. Iditarod: ’06, ’05, ’04. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
5. Skittles (3yrs) –Leader/ Team. Iditarod: ’06. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
6. Butterscotch (3yrs) –Leader/ Team. Iditarod: Rookie. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
7. Reeses (3yrs) –Leader/ Team. Iditarod: Rookie. In ’07, Kusko 300 & T100.
8. Manhattan (5yrs) – Leader / Wheel. Iditarod: ’06, ’05, ’04. In ’07, CB300 & T200.
9. Hoss (4yrs) – Leader / Team. Iditarod: ’06. In ’07, CB300 & T200
10. Oddball (4yrs) – Team Dog. Iditarod: ’06, ‘05. In ’07, CB300 & T200
11. Tony (4yrs) – Team Dog. Iditarod: Rookie. In ’07, CB300 & T200
12. Heeeler (3 yrs) – Leader / Team. Iditarod: Rookie. In ’07, CB300
13. Bullet (4yrs) – Leader / Team. Iditarod: ’06. In ’07, Kusko 300 & T100
14. Pepper (4yrs) – Leader / Team. Iditarod: ’05. In ’07, Kusko 300 & T100
15. Sparky (4yrs) – Leader / Team. Iditarod: ’06. In ’07, Kusko 300 & T100
16. ROSEmary (2yrs) – Leader / Team. Iditarod: Rookie. In ’07, Kusko 300 & T100
17. Kingston (4yrs) – Team Dog. Iditarod: ’06. In ’07, T200 (Dean Osmar Dog)
18. Hawke (4yrs) – Team Dog. Iditarod: ’06. In ’07, T200 (Dean Osmar Dog)

The dogs ran their last long run yesterday. The next couple of days will really begin to show who Aliy will take this year on her trek to Nome. It is an exciting time at the kennel. So much to do.

Thursday night Aliy will draw her race number. We will let you know where she and Allen will be starting.

Thanks for all your support.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

43 Below Zero

Well, we woke up this morning to another cold snap. It is currently 43 below zero. Hopefully it will warm up during the day a bit. We still have two longer runs that we need to do and right now 20 below is too cold to be running the dogs. Yesterday, the weather was saying Sunday before warming up. Hopefully sooner, but we just have to take it as it goes.

The Yukon Quest is finishing up right now. Lance Mackey has an 8 hour lead on Hans Gatt leaving Chena Hot Springs. CHS is the final checkpoint about 90 miles from the finish line. If all goes well, Lance will win his 3rd Quest in a row this afternoon. You can follow the finish at www.yukonquest.com.

Monday, February 19, 2007

VET CHECKS

Vet Checks are done! Sunday, February 18, Dr. Jean Battig of Chena Ridge Veterinary Clinic did physicals on about 40 dogs for Aliy and Allen’s teams. All and all they looked GREAT! Poor Blossom is heading for some dental work and has a broken toe nail. She was about the “worst”. We started at about 11am, Dr. Battig and a vet student Paige doing her practical and finished at about 5pm. It is always fun to see how our dogs relate to other people and to dogs. They are just so darn NICE. Rubia, Aliy’s pet dog, fell in love with Dr. Battig’s little poodle!

Now, over the next week, Aliy will finalize her team. They have 2 longer runs left before leaving for Anchorage. It is all about keeping them healthy until March 3. The runs are slower and the trails are a bit “simpler” right now. No need to tempt fate. It is not really a time when you can joke around with Aliy much. “Oh, that’s interesting!” tends to send her into “What, what’s wrong?”

Allen and Ray are working on sleds and getting battery packs made up. Allen is constructing new removable seats for the Yukon River and the coast. Ray is making any final repairs on the racing sleds. We’ll be ready!

We are very excited about how the dogs are looking! It should be a good race. For Both Teams!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Craziness Has Begun

Welcome to The SP Kennel Dog Log!

Although Iditarod 2007 is over two weeks away, SP Kennel is hopping! On Tuesday, Febuary 6, Aliy and Allen took 48 dogs into Fairbanks to have EKGs and Blood Drawn to make sure they are as healthy as they can be heading down the trail. The results have come back and we are very pleased. On Monday, February 12, we brought 1541 pounds of dog food, people food and gear for Aliy and her dogs into the drop point to be sent out over the trail. Allen's weighted a bit more at 1634lb. This weekend, Dr. Jean Battig of Chena Ridge Veterinary Clinic will be heading out to the kennel to give physicals for all the dogs possibly heading out on the race. She will be checking a minimum of 40 dogs.