Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle's "Live" Iditarod Trail Video -- Part 5

In this final part of Aliy's "Live" video from the Iditarod Trail, the team battles fierce winds of a "ground blizzard" approaching Shaktoolik and Norton Sound of the Bering Sea. The middle segment is a night scene at the checkpoint, and the finale is a camping scene after the storm has finally died down. Conditions were so bad that Aliy could barely hold onto the camera. The audio is pretty rough, but I think you'll get a very good idea of what the teams were facing during the worst weather of this year's Iditarod.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Home At Last, Getting Ready To Leave Again

On Tuesday afternoon we were able to get the dogs out of Nome on a cargo flight directly to Faribanks, then were all greatly relieved to hear from Kaz that she had picked them up at the airport and returned them to the Kennel. Getting the dogs home was our biggest concern, so that was a huge relief. Aliy and Allen were also able to get on a flight to Fairbanks later Tuesday night, and all of us left in Nome were happy to hear that they made it back to the Kennel as well.

I was finally able to get out of Nome yesterday morning and flew to Anchorage, where I found the dog truck and drove up to Wasilla to pick up the last four dropped dogs: Betsy, Huey, Petunia and Skittles. The five of us then headed north for the 350 mile drive to Fairbanks, which thankfully only took us 7 hours. We pulled into the Kennel a little after 10pm and had a grand reunion with Aliy, Allen and all of the dogs.

So, as of late last night everything and everyone was back at the Kennel, and just in time! Aliy and Allen are spending today sorting and packing all the gear they will need for their month-long Natural Extremes mushing adventures in the ANWR on the North Slope. Early tomorrow morning we will load about 35 dogs into the trucks, say our farewells and see them head out on their way. I will spend tomorrow catching a flight back down to Anchorage to get my car and a bunch of other gear that is left there, then drive back up here to the Kennel. Once that trip is complete, our Iditarod expedition will truly and finally be complete.

So, Aliy and Allen will be off-line for a few weeks, and I will be off-line for a couple of days. Once I get back I will wrap up the last of our Iditarod coverage, sort through all the emails and try to create some order out of the post-Iditarod chaos. I will also be working on "what's next" for the Dog Log... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle's "Live" Iditarod Trail Video -- Part 4

In this part of Aliy's "Live" video from the Iditarod Trail, the team slogs its way up the final hills to overlook the Norton Sound near Shaktoolik. As you will hear, the wind is really starting to pick up and Aliy has to work hard to keep the dogs focused. As a result, there's not as much of her commentary as in other parts of this series, but I think you'll find this to be an awesome video experience!

Iditarod 2009: Tales Of The Trail -- Nice Boots!

After fixing her busted sled runner in White Mountain, Aliy was hoping things would hold together for her 77 mile final run into Nome. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

About five miles into their run, the team approached some pretty nasty "overflow" which happens when a river that's running deep under its frozen surface builds up so much pressure that it breaks through the ice and water flows on the surface. Dogs don't like to go through overflow, not just because it is very cold and wet, but also because underneath the water is the former ice surface on which they can get no traction. As a result, it is very easy for them to slip and end up taking a very, very cold bath. Dogs do not like cold baths!

If a team is very enthusiastic and moving very fast, their momentum will sometimes just carry them through overflow. At the thousand mile mark of the Iditarod, however, Aliy's dogs -- not even her best leaders -- were quite gung ho enough to power through the foot-deep overflow in front of them. So, they came to a screeching halt and Aliy had yet another problem to overcome: How to get the team across this very nasty river of very cold, swift running water.

You can see in this photo that Aliy did the only thing she could: She got off the runners, walked up to the front of the team, grabbed the leaders' tug lines and pulled the team across. In the process, her Neos boots not only got thoroughly soaked on the outside, but became full of water on the inside. Once she had the team across the overflow she had a new problem: What to do about her over boots, inner boots, socks and feet that were rapidly freezing into a solid block of ice. You cannot just "tough it out" in circumstances like these, you have to tend to your feet or you will lose them. Aliy was not going to make the same disastrous mistake others have made.

As you know from our in-depth series on drop bags, Aliy had sent a lot of extra gear -- including extra boots -- out to checkpoints on the trail. To make the dogs' load as light as possible, however, she had left everything but the bare minimums back at White Mountain. With her feet starting to freeze, she had the option to either go back to White Mountain for replacement boots -- which would not only mean an additional 10 mile detour for the dogs but also a demoralizing "turnaround" for them as well -- or to improvise.

Choosing the latter option, Aliy quickly took off her rapidly freezing boots while she still could and started improvising with a pair of thermal wind pants. She first cut the legs apart, then wrapped and lashed them around her feet. Next she took a number of the dogs' extra wind jackets and added them in lashed layers. Satisfied that her feet would stay reasonably dry and warm, she got back on the runners and got the team going down the trail.

A few miles later, Aliy saw something that looked like it might be useful hanging on one of the trail markers and stopped to investigate. There, out in the middle of nowhere, she had found another pair of wind pants! Presuming that some musher or snow machiner must have lost them and not come back for them, Aliy claimed dominion over them and repeated the process of cutting them apart and adding them to her functional -- and now quite fashionable! -- footwear.

As we all watched Aliy approach Nome from a distance, we saw these big "blobs" on her feet. We speculated as best we could that she had for some reason undone her Neos and they were flapping around her feet. When we got a closer look at her coming down Front Street, Aliy's mom said as only a mother can, "What is she wearing on her feet?!?" When we got to the dog pound after the finish line, Aliy started unwrapping her feet and telling us the story. Yet another tale of the trail that you have to see to believe!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Remarkable Recovery -- Ready To Happy Dance!

It seemed to me that after running more than a thousand miles over the course of 11 or 12 days, the dogs would take a few days of "down time" to recover their energy. So, when I went over to visit them this morning I was very quiet about peeking around Bridgett's house to see how they were resting. To my utter amazement, all of the dogs were not only up on their feet but pulling at their chains to go running again!

Sled dogs have a truly remarkable recovery rate, and it really give credence to what Dr. Mike Davis says about them having a fatigue resistant physiology. Seriously, all of the dogs look fantastic, and some of them look even better than they did at the Kennel before the Iditarod!

One dog in particular is as full of energy as ever, and the second she saw me she started going nuts. So, both as evidence of the dogs' remarkable recovery rate and because she just cracks me up, I offer you this little video of Happy making it very clear she is ready to do the Happy Dance!

Well... Of Course!

That's right!... Of course the volcano blew! What else could we expect trying to get back from a race?

Because of the volcano eruption near Anchorage and the threat it poses to aircraft, all flights out of Nome were cancelled today. That means Aliy, Allen and the dogs won't get out of here tonight, and we don't really have much hope for tomorrow. They are trying to arrange a flight directly from Nome to Fairbanks, but it's not at all clear if they'll be successful. Shipping the dogs is a bigger problem, especially since the dog truck is down in Anchorage.

Like I said, of course we've got a problem... We always have problems getting home from races! I'll let you know when we have a solution... Because something else we always come up with is solutions!

Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Happy's Last Night In Nome

Hi, I'm Happy! I'm always Happy... That's why they call me Happy!

I am happy to share this picture with you because it shows Bridgett hugging me at the finish line here in Nome. Bridgett is soooooo nice to all the dogs and she has always been nice to me, but now she is really nice to me. What a difference there is in my life now that I'm an Iditarod dog! Do you think this picture makes my nose look weird? It's true I have kind of a hound dog nose, but does it really look like that? And what's up with that big bulge on the top of my head? It must be something wrong with the picture, because I do not have a bulging head. Do I? Oh, wow, this looking at yourself can really make you crazy. I think maybe looking at yourself should not be on the "Happy Do List." This picture doesn't make me very happy after all. Do my cheeks look fat? Oh, stop the madness!

Anyway, if you look at the picture really carefully, you can see two special things: One is the piece of reflective tape that Allen put on my collar ring so that drunk snow machine drivers would see me at night and not hit me. Was that nice of him, or what? The other is my very first piece of jewelry! That's right, the little red tag you see on my collar ring is my Iditarod identification tag. It has my team number on it and also a letter for my place on the team. All the dogs got them, but this is my first so it is really special. I've never dreamed I would ever have jewelry. Can you believe it? Me, a poor village dog with jewelry!

Everything is happening so fast that I'm a little topsy-turvy! I'll be flying out tomorrow and won't get back to the Kennel until late on Wednesday, so it will probably be later in the week when I write to you again. I can't wait to get back and see all my other Kennel mates. A lot of them don't have any jewelry... They'll be so jealous!

Talk to you soon!

Love, Happy

Iditarod 2009: Tales Of The Trail -- "Runner Repair!"

As if Aliy didn't have enough to deal with, about five miles before reaching the White Mountain checkpoint she totally busted the right runner on her sled:

She stopped the dogs for a few minutes while she dug through her sled bag and came up with enough "stuff" to lash it together... Just enough to hold on until the checkpoint! Then, during her 8-hour mandatory rest, she scrounged around and found some "better stuff" to make repairs that she hoped would last her to Nome.

Here's a little video that Bridgett shot on location in White Mountain of Aliy's sled runner repair. They were both speaking very softly so they wouldn't disturb the dogs, and although I've bumped the audio as much as I can it's still barely audible. Nevertheless, I think you'll get a pretty good idea of what it was like. I don't suppose I need to remind you that it was freezing cold, that Aliy had already tended to the dogs and that she was repairing her sled in lieu of getting any much needed sleep! How do they do it?

Coming Up, Keeping In Touch

Important information! Please read and respond...

Although we've still got some great video and tales from the trail that we'll be posting over the next few day, Iditarod 2009 is drawing to a close for us and we imagine it is for you, too. So, we wanted to give you some information about what's coming up and take this opportunity while we are all still "connected" to make arrangements to keep in touch.

Aliy, Allen and the dogs will be flying from Nome to Anchorage tomorrow night, then driving back to the Kennel in Two Rivers. By the end of the week they will all have packed up again and driven out the Dalton Highway -- "The Haul Road" -- to conduct their Arctic Expeditions in the ANWR for the first three weeks in April. I will be going with them on the last trip and plan to shoot tons of video to share with you when we get back.

In early May, Aliy and Allen will be taking a little time off for some warmer weather in Mexico, then SP Kennel will start settling into "Summer Mode." We intend to keep this website pretty "fresh" with new posts, but it will not be an everyday thing, and certainly not the several times a day it has been for the past two weeks!

The best way to keep in touch with what's going on at SP Kennel is to click here and subscribe to the website feed. If you are not familiar with subscribing to feeds, don't worry. We invite everyone to join our new email list to which we will send out periodic notices and updates. Even if you think we already have your email address, please take a moment to sign up by clicking here. I'd much rather take a little time to weed out any duplicates than take a chance on you missing out!

So, please sign up and stay tuned! Thank you!

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle's "Live" Iditarod Trail Video -- Part 3

In this part of Aliy's "Live" video from the Iditarod Trail, the team works its way toward Shaktoolik, over an ancient portage trail and into the coastal winds. As always, Aliy's commentary and verbal interaction with the dogs is amazing. Even thought the wind interferes with the audio quality during the second half of the video, it also adds a dimension of its own to the ordeal!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sleeping With The Big Dogs!

Hi, I'm Happy! I'm always Happy... That's why they call me Happy!

This is so cool I just had to share it with you right away! It makes me very happy!

You may have read on the SP Kennel Dog Log that all of us Iditarod finishers -- don't you just love the way that sounds! -- are chilling out in Bridgett's back yard. Well, that's only part of the story... Check out this picture:

That's Teddy on the right... She's an Iditarod legend, finishing with Aliy more times than I can count (which is more than one paw's worth of toes). On the left is Venus, a really, really strong dog -- sort of a bossy pants if you ask me -- who has also finished the Iditarod many times. In the back is Tatfish, a big, strong boy (who I kind of like, but don't tell him).

And who is that right in the middle of them? That's right, it's me... Happy! There I am, sleeping with the big dogs! This is great!

Somebody who has already signed up on my email list has asked if I am going to the ANWR with Aliy, Allen and a bunch of the dogs next week. Well, I can't say for sure yet, but if my current status is any indication I think it just might be possible! If I do, I will be sure to take lots of pictures and videos and all that stuff!

Meanwhile, is this cool or what! I'm sleeping with the big dogs who hardly ever even noticed me before!

Iditarod 2009: Hanging Out In The Back Yard

In case you are wondering what the dogs are up to after running the Iditarod, the answer is that they're hanging out in Bridgett's back yard. In a semi-makeshift dog yard, all 23 dogs are having a grand time being waited on paw and paw. Those dogs who prefer to sleep outside -- like Teddy with her fabulous fur coat -- are comfy on their straw beds, and those who prefer a little more isolation -- like Bullet with her agoraphobia -- have either a box or a crate to call their own. Every few hours, Bridgett takes out a steaming hot bucket of fish soup, soaked kibble or stew and doles it out. These are some very happy, pampered and maybe even spoiled dogs!

Iditarod 2009: The Happy Finish!

Here she is! Happy crossing the finish line in Nome and getting some very special attention!

I regret to report that I do not yet have any video of the actual smooch! While I was busy smooching Happy's bottom, Aliy was using my camera to catch the still shots. If anybody has video of the moment, please let me know in the comments and we'll figure out a way to post it!

Meanwhile, here's what I've got to offer you now:

Many thanks to all of you who have been so enthusiastic, supportive and creative about "The Happy Story!" I've tried to keep up with the chat rooms and I am truly touched and inspired by all of your comments and suggestions. Just two of my favorites so far:

1) Thanks to "peanut" for the idea of a children's story that could begin: "Once upon a time, in a land far way, lived a Happy little girl made famous by a kiss." -- Fabulous!

2) Thanks to "mitten" for this t-shirt slogan: "I'm Happy, so kiss my butt!" -- Perfect!

How about this one that just occurred to me: "There's a little bit of Happy in all of us!"

Please leave your ideas in the comments, and I promise that as soon as the snow settles I will pursue your suggestions for Happy stuff -- patches, t-shirts, hats, mugs, whatever. And if anybody can get Happy booked on Ellen... I love that idea!

Meanwhile, Happy will be resting in Nome for a couple of days then flying to Anchorage for the drive back to SP Kennel in Two Rivers. Just two days later, she will be traveling with Aliy, Allen and 30+ other dogs to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the remote North Slope of Alaska for a few weeks of Natural Extremes mushing adventures. These fantastic trips take people into the heart of the north Alaskan interior where motorized vehicles are prohibited. Everyone drives their own dog sled team and camps out in what may be the most pristine wilderness left on earth. Trips are full for this year, so you'll have to book early for next year! Go to Natural Extremes for more information.

Despite having just run 1,000+ miles from Anchorage to Nome on the Iditarod, I can assure you that Happy will be very happy running in the ANWR. With no pressures of racing or the paparazzi, she and all the dogs enjoy doing what they love most: Running, running, running in the great outdoor wilderness. And that's another part of "The Happy Story!"

Iditarod 2009: Allen Moore At The Finish In Nome

Here is Allen finishing the 2009 Iditarod with his team of young racers!

Iditarod 2009: The Happy Smooch!

It's late and I'm really tired, but it just didn't seem right not to share "The Happy Smooch" with you right away...

That's right, as unbelievable as it may be, Happy made it to Nome! What is perhaps even more unbelievable is the number of people who were at the finish line, in the freezing cold at midnight, asking "Which one is Happy? Where's Happy? Where's the guy who's gonna smooch her bottom?" There were even a few chanting "Happy! Happy! Happy!" As Bridgett's husband Scotty put it, "Happy's a rock star!"

I was so thrilled -- and proud -- to see Happy running down Front Street and charging up the chute that I can hardly describe it. So, it was with great honor that I posed with the crazy girl then smooched her bottom, right there on Front Street, right there in front of everybody. What a moment!

I don't know what's ahead for Happy, but I do know that she has already accomplished more than anyone could have ever predicted she would. On top of her astonishing Iditarod performance, Happy has touched the hearts of many people and I don't know if it gets any better than that.

So, stay tuned for Happy updates... Somehow I'm just sure there will be more to "The Happy Story!"

Iditarod 2009: Allen Moore Finishes In Nome!

Shortly after midnight, Allen Moore crossed under the famous burled arch in Nome to complete his third Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. His exact time has not been posted yet, but the duration of his team's journey was just over 12 days, 10 hours. Allen is thrilled about his team, and all 11 dogs are in excellent shape. We've talked a lot about this team of young racers, but it's still hard to express how significant their accomplishment is. Only four dogs on Allen's starting team had Iditarod experience, and only three of them finished. All the rest were Iditarod "rookies" and none of them had ever run these kinds of distances. To have this many young dogs gain so much experience so fast is a tremendous boost to the future of SP Kennel. Congratulations to Allen on such an extraordinary performance of dog care!

I have some good video of the finish that I will edit and post tomorrow, but for now everyone -- including me -- is going to get some sleep, happy and relieved that both SP Kennel teams have completed Iditarod 2009 and are safely off the trail!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Allen Moore Through Safety

Allen has just cleared the Safety checkpoint, so he's only 20 miles from the finish in Nome! The entire SP Kennel crew is getting ready to drive out to the end of the road to see his team run by. Wouldn't if be great if young Dingle is still in lead! Of course, we are all hoping that Happy is still going strong... especially me!

They should be here some time after midnight, so it will be very late by the time we get the dogs settled and completely wrap things up. Look forward to several updates tomorrow, starting as early as I can get going on them.

Keep in mind that I've still got some great footage that Aliy took out on the trail, plus Doug has given me some very interesting video that he shot while he was volunteering at the Eagle Island checkpoint. So, even if the race is over... Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle's "Live" Iditarod Trail Video -- Part 2

In this part of Aliy's "Live" video from the Iditarod Trail, the team cruises up the Yukon River at dawn then heads toward the coast from Kaltag. I think you will agree that she provides us with some fantastic commentary, despite the fact that the dogs seem to get a little distracted -- maybe even a little annoyed -- by her talking to the camera!

Iditarod 2009: Beemer Pickup

Nope, this isn't a story about a new pickup truck from BMW. Instead, it's a sweet little video that wraps up the story about Beemer, the extraordinary SP Kennel yearling who ran on Allen's team.

Even though you've already read about most of the story -- how Beemer was dropped on the coast in Unalakleet, flown to Nome and cared for by the "dropped dog volunteers" until Bridgett picked him up -- I think you'll enjoy seeing it as well. A few things to note are the comfy accommodations the dogs have in the "dog pound", how thoughtful and caring the volunteers are and, of course, how Bridgett really takes the prize for being "dog first!"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Thursday Wrap-Up From Nome

Aliy had a huge bowl of spaghetti with a coconut cream pie chaser then went to crash for a long, long time. So, we'll have to wait a little while for her stories. Like I said, though, I think there will be some great ones!

Meanwhile, what about Allen? Well, he and his team are still out on the trail and continuing to do very, very well. They are out of Elim and headed to White Mountain where they will have their mandatory 8-hour rest. Then, it's just a 77 mile jaunt to Nome! Bridgett predicts he will be here tomorrow evening, at 11:17 to be exact!

So, look for more great "stuff" on the Dog Log tomorrow and... Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle At The Finish In Nome

Here it is! The video of Aliy finishing the 2009 Iditarod, from her approach down Front Street through to the "dog pound" at the very, very end of the Trail!

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle Approaches Nome

Before I show you the video of Aliy's finish of the 2009 Iditarod on Front Street in Nome, I think you'll want to see this footage of her approach to the town. A bunch of us drove to the end of the road about five miles out to watch her come in, and what we saw was just astonishing. The video is pretty self-evident, except for the facts that it was -10 degrees with 30 mile an hour gusts, she had a broken sled runner and no insulated boots. Oh, and one more thing... Aliy and the dogs had already been doing this for over 1,000 miles!

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Finishes In Nome!

Aliy Zirkle passed under the burled arch here in Nome at 4:28 this afternoon to take 17th place in the 2009 Iditarod. Her total time on the Trail was 11 days, 2 hours, 28 minutes and 45 seconds. She was immediately surrounded by family, friends and the media, but first bypassed them to take time to thank and congratulate each of the 11 great looking dogs on the team. When she went back and addressed the media, she said she was very happy with the result, especially in light of such extremely difficult conditions on the trail. She congratulated Paul Gebhardt who finished just two minutes ahead of her, admitting that she'd been chasing him down since the Safety checkpoint. Paul, who is a good friend and frequent racing companion, thanked her for making him work so hard right up to the finish and added, "If it hadn't been for your busted sled runner, I think you might have had me!"

Meanwhile, the dogs all stayed on their feet to devour a number of salmon snacks that Bridgett passed out up and down the line. Most of them thoroughly enjoyed the attention and pats they received from the from crowd, especially Tatfish who couldn't seem to stop wagging his tail. Manny put in a good "word" here and there, and the rest of the dogs were quite lively. All except for Bullet, that is, who did all she could to overcome her chronic agoraphobia on the special occasion of completing the Iditarod and allow a few pats from children.

In the dog compound, Aliy said that she feels pretty well, adding that she was very hungry but not tired... Yet! She concluded by saying that her first priorities once the dogs were taken care of would be a hot shower and a big bowl of spaghetti, to be followed by an entire coconut cream pie that she specifically requested be on hand for her here in Nome.

There hasn't been time for any kind of debrief yet, but Aliy did look me in the eye and say, "Have I got some stories for the Dog Log!" The busted runner on her sled and the homemade bootiess on her feet -- made out of what were previously the legs of her pants filled with extra dog blankets -- assures us that we have a lot to look forward to hearing about. I will post it all -- plus video coverage of the finish -- as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Zirkle's "Live" Iditarod Trail Video -- Part 1

It looks like Aliy shot a ton of fantastic video out there on the Iditarod Trail. It's going to take me quite a while to sort and edit it all, so we should have some great viewing ahead of us in our upcoming days of Post-Iditarod decompression. Meanwhile, I wanted to share something with you right away.

In this video, Aliy and her team are completing their climb of a big, long hill to overlook Golovin Bay and see White Mountain in the distance.

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Out Of White Mountain

Bridgett just returned from an overnight snow machine trip to White Mountain where she saw Aliy and had a great visit. She said the dogs looked fantastic and that Aliy was in really good shape. Aliy left White Mountain on schedule at 5 o'clock this morning, so we expect her to arrive here in Nome sometime mid-afternoon. Good news!

Some other really great news is that Aliy has been shooting video out on the trail and she gave the memory cards to Bridgett to bring back to me. I've only taken the briefest look at some of it, but I can tell you there is some really amazing "live" footage. I will start processing it as fast as possible and upload it as fast as my lousy internet connection will allow, but for the moment I will share with you this frame: A self-portrait by Aliy somewhere out on the Yukon! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Wednesday Night

Aliy pulled into White Mountain at 9 o'clock this evening with 11 dogs. She has a mandatory 8-hour rest, which means she will be pulling out at about 5 o'clock in the morning. It's anywhere from 8-12 hours from White Mountain to Nome, so we expect to see her team running down Front Street sometime tomorrow afternoon. I can't wait to see them and hear the stories!

Allen left Shaktoolik at about 8pm, still with 11 dogs, so he and his team continue to do very, very well. He's still got a long way to go, so I won't even think about making any predictions about his arrival in Nome. Whenever it is, we will all be waiting and cheering!

Iditarod 2009: Happy Update!

I just received an email telling me that Happy has become quite a celebrity in the Iditarod race forums, and asking for an update! That's really great, and I'm sure Happy will be very happy to hear it!

As far we know, Happy is indeed still out on the Trail with Allen and going strong! We know four of his five dropped dogs -- Heeler, Kipper, Quito and now Beemer -- and we think we know the fifth is Huey... But we don't know for sure! So, let's all think "Happy" thoughts and get her into Nome! (And, yes, I'm still puckering up!)

"The Happy Story" has worked it's way off the front page, so here is a link directly to it! Also, you can find the Happy forum links here!

Go Happy!

Iditarod 2009: It's Beemer!

Bridgett called me a few minutes ago to say she was driving over to get me. She'd just gotten a call that a dropped dog had arrived from Unalakleet who was "released" and ready for pick up. We got to the dog compound and who do we see...

It's Beemer! His report noted that he had no injuries or medical problems, and that Allen dropped him only because he was starting to lose some weight. Although Beemer had been eating very well, it's hard for yearlings to "keep up" on calories. Their metabolisms -- like most juvenile animals -- just burn energy too fast. So, Beemer made it all the way to the coast on his debut Iditarod, running 862 miles of tough trail in difficult conditions. This is a huge accomplishment for any dog, but it is simply extraordinary for a yearling... Way to go Beemer!

We hugged the stuffing out of him and told him many, many, many times what a good boy he is! He is obviously very tired and was quite happy to sleep on my lap as we drove back. He is now relaxing in luxury, occupying a kennel in Bridgett's heated entryway. He will get all the food he can eat, frequent walks to work out the kinks plus more hugs and kisses than he's ever imagined.

Beemer didn't quite make it to Nome, but he sure gave it a heck of a run. We can all look for great things from this lad in the future! (Note: For what it's worth, it seems to me that the smart money locks up this young superstar's sponsorship right away!)

Iditarod 2009: Wednesday Update

The excitement and crowds grew all morning here at the finish line in Nome, waiting for Lance Mackey to come mushing down Front Street. As is the custom around here, the town's fire siren went off to signal a musher on the outskirts of town and the crowd filled in to pack the finishing chute. A few minutes before noon, Lance crossed under the famous burled arch to win the 2009 Iditarod. He ran a commanding race and we all congratulate him on another outstanding performance.

The rest of the picture for us is not nearly as clear. Aliy's GPS tracker appears to be busted --again! -- as it has not reported in almost 12 hours. We know from the leader board that after spending 26 hours in Shaktoolik she made good time across the ice and blew through Koyuk, stopping for only 7 minutes. The leader board has just updated to show that she has now also gone through Elim, stopping there for only 10 minutes. I am speculating, as usual, but it looks to me like she is capitalizing on the dogs' long rest back in Shaktoolik and pushing through to White Mountain where she will have a mandatory 8-hour rest. Several teams were only an hour or so ahead of her out of Elim, and she could be making a move. She still has 11 dogs, so that's a good sign!

Allen has recently pulled into Shaktoolik with 11 dogs and will probably rest there for a while. We are all hopeful that the weather has abated some and that they can have a good run across the ice. I can only try to picture some of his young dogs tackling that experience for the first time... Go B-Team! Communications remain virtually non-existent, so we are all just sitting around Nome, calling each other with questions, speculations, hopes, worries, etc. Frankly, I'm exhausted!

So, stay tuned and we'll see what develops over the course of the day and night!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Tuesday Night

Frankly, I don't really know what's been going on out there on the trail.

Aliy just left Shaktoolik where she has been for the past 24+ hours. She is in a "convoy" of sorts with a number of other premier mushers -- Martin Buser, Jeff King, Hans Gatt and Paul Gebhart to name a few -- and is on her way across the frozen Norton Sound. A few mushers left earlier this afternoon and I have to admit I was a little surprised that Aliy wasn't with them. They made it across to Koyuk, but Aliy didn't and couldn't know that at the time. You see, we have the benefit of watching the GPS trackers but the mushers do not. So, Aliy didn't know whether they would -- or did -- cross the ice safely or not.

As those of you who have been following this website for a while know, everybody at SP Kennel is "dog first." That priority starts with Aliy and is adhered to by everyone at the Kennel, no exceptions. Being "dog first" includes races, and Aliy will trade a few race positions in exchange for dog safety. So, I'm betting that conditions at Shaktoolik "improved" to become "marginal" and some mushers took off. To their credit, they seem to have guided their dogs safely across the ice and made landfall on the other side. Unless I'm mistaken, Aliy chose to wait until conditions were better than "marginal" before making her departure. She would want to have a strong sense that it was "safe" for the dogs to cross the ice, not just "let's give it a whirl and see what happens."

So, Aliy is currently running on the ice in 17th position. As usual, she is in "good company" for the crossing and we're all keeping our eyes glued to the GPS to see that she makes it. From there, who knows what will happen. She and her dogs must have had a good long rest and should be in good shape for the run into Nome. Plus, conditions are cold enough that our "Interior Alaska" dogs could really shine and make some passes along the way. As you no doubt have figured out, there's no such thing as predictability on the Iditarod!

Allen continues to move his team well and is out of Kaltag for the coast at Unalakleet. Hopefully, some of the dreadful weather will have cleared by the time he gets there and he will be able to make a "normal" rest before continuing across the ice. Keep your wallet in your pocket, though, because I'm not taking any bets on anything in this race!

What's really great to see is that Allen still has 12 dogs. Considering the difficult trail they have mushed, it is a credit to his skill and guidance that the crew of "Kids and Kooks" are doing so well together. When you remember that Allen spends the first part of the season as a "speed demon" in the shorter races -- e.g. his typical domination of the Copper Basin 300, the Sheep Mountain 150, etc. -- it is especially admirable that he is able to "change gears" so completely into a "fostering young talent" mode on the Iditarod. An adequate analogy fails me, but I'm thinking along the lines of a sprint car racer switching to an Indy 500 car. It's an entirely different reality, let alone temperament and skill set. Go Allen!

By the time many of you read this in the morning we may have a much better picture of what's going on. For now, though, I'm taking my best shots at guessing. Frankly, I already can't wait to read Aliy's famous post-Iditarod report to find out what actually was going on out there, with the team and in her mind. It's always fascinating, so make sure we have your email address to send you a copy. You can email it to us here.

Meanwhile, like I think I've written in every post for the past 10 days... Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: Manny In Ophir

Here's a little treat for all of you Manny fans out there...

My internet connection here in Nome is pretty slow, so I've been clicking on some Insider clips then doing other stuff until they've loaded and start playing in the background. In this process I was hearing an interview with Dallas Seavey when all of a sudden... That's Manny! I clicked onto the window and sure enough, there was Aliy in the background tending to the team in Ophir. I've ripped out the audio and looped the best part: Manny voicing his opinion and Aliy responding in kind... Priceless! Go Manny!

If you are having trouble with the embedded mp3 player, you can click here to access the mp3 file directly and play it however your computer normally handles mp3 files.

Iditarod 2009: Status Quo

It was pretty strange to check the leader board and GPS this morning and see practically no change in team positions from last night. That's a sure sign that the weather has pretty much everybody bogged down. Aliy remains in Shaktoolik with 14 other mushers. She called Kaz last night to say that the dogs are all under shelter and tucked in between bales of hay. That's pretty much like living at the Ritz for our furry friends, so they should be quite fine. The mushers are all hanging out together inside the community center. Don't you wish you could see and hear what's going on in there!

Allen is in Kaltag, also with a dozen other mushers. We have not heard from him directly, but the Iditarod Insider has a clip with him saying it was hard going up the Yukon and the team did very well. It sounds like little Dingle was in lead for most of the 11 hour run but "lost it" a little toward the end. Allen says he then put one of his few "adults" in lead to finish the job. I imagine that was Hoss, but let's give two year old Dingle some props for being such a main leader on his first Iditarod!

There's no sense in trying to fly out until the teams get across the ice, so I'm still hanging out in Nome. There's no telling how long the weather will remain impossible, but it is quite telling that the last time I looked only 8 teams were moving on the entire Iditarod Trail. Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: Have We Got A Whole New Race?

I've been watching the GPS, and something very interesting has just happened.

Jeff King and Hans Gatt -- who left Shaktoolik early this afternoon -- got to the Norton Sound, waited a while, then turned around and have returned to Shaktoolik. What this means -- though I admit this is just fairly educated speculation -- is that they felt they could not get across the Sound and would be better off back-tracking to wait at their last checkpoint. Aaron Burmeister and Mitch Seavy are camped out on a spit of land just before the long ice crossing. Apparently, they feel they are better off waiting there in the open rather than expending energy to get back to Shaktoolik.

What we have is one of those situations that makes the Iditarod such an amazing race. Only three teams have made it across the frozen Sound: Lance Mackey is through Koyuk and on his way to Elim; Sebastian Schnuelle and John Baker are in Koyuk. The next dozen teams are "stuck" before the ice crossing in Shaktoolik, with veterans Martin Buser and Ed Iten on their way in from the south.

So, what does this mean? Well, folks, I think we may have a whole new race brewing! You see, except for Burmeister and Seavy who are 12 miles ahead out on the point, all the rest of the top runners will be starting more or less together from Shaktoolik when the weather clears enough to let them get going. We could have a real dog race on our hands. Maybe not for the top three spots, but certainly for the rest of the top 10!

There are some factors that will play into this "new race" that I thought it might be helpful for me to write a little about. First and foremost, you've got a real imbalance of "run/rest" to consider. Those teams -- like Aliy's -- who got to Koyuk and stayed there will have rested extensively before taking off on the "new race." King and Gatt expended energy to move up the trail, then more energy to get back to Shaktoolik. Depending on how long the weather keeps them all there, they may or may not be able to catch up on rest.

Regardless, those teams have done a "turn around" which has an adverse impact on the attitudes of the dogs. You may recall that Lance had a short "turn around" when he fell asleep on the sled and lost the trail a few days ago, and he made a point of saying that it affected the morale of his dogs. Obviously it didn't affect them all that much, but they were also near the beginning of the race and not at the 750-mile mark where dogs are more susceptible to set-backs. A "turn around" out here on the coast can be devastating to morale.

Jeff and Hans both have teams of great, great dogs and I am in no way impugning them. The simple fact is that there's only so much "gas in the tank" and they've expended extra energy to no advantage. I also want to take a moment to commend Jeff and Hans on their decision to turn around. It had to be a bitter pill to swallow, but I admire them putting the safety and welfare of their dogs first. It takes real fortitude to give up ground in a race, and I respect them for it.

Martin Buser -- who arrived in Shaktoolik while I've been writing this -- is in very interesting position. The weather has given him a chance to "catch up" with teams that were ahead of him, but it has also given them rest time. My observation has been that Martin rested a lot early in the race in order to have energy in the tank for a late push, so we'll have to see how this works out. Depending on how long the weather keeps them all in Shaktoolik, he may be able to balance out the run/rest cycles... or not!

To say the least, the weather has provided us yet another Iditarod drama and I suspect it will be a very, very exciting finish for the top-10 places!

Go Aliy!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Monday Night

I just got a call from Mickey reporting that Aliy called her from Shaktoolik. There is a "ground blizzard" going on there, with high winds and zero visibility. She is there with a number of mushers, but no one else has come in after them for a quite a while now. The dogs are all well sheltered and the mushers are "warm, dry, fed and safe." Aliy concluded that conditions are so bad they may all wait until morning to depart. Thankfully, they've got enough supplies in their drop bags to last them a long, long time!

Allen has just pulled into Kaltag. I'm sure he is happy to get off the Yukon, but he still has a lot of bad weather ahead of him. He's got plenty of supplies there too, of course, thanks to the drop bag ordeal that I'm sure you remember us going through! He dropped a dog back in Eagle Island, but there's been no word yet who it was. I expect to be hearing any minute that some dropped dogs have arrived here in Nome, and I can assure you I will find them and hug the stuffing out of them!

Speaking of dropped dogs, Mickey said that five dogs -- Heeler, Tony, Quito, Kipper and Spicy -- are all safely back at the Kennel with no lingering ailments from their time on the trail. Ray Crowe -- Kaz's husband -- drove down to Cantwell and picked them up on a relay from Anchorage courtesy of the Millers, a family of long-time supporters. Thank you all very much!

It appears that Aliy's GPS tracker has either been fixed or replaced, so that will help going forward. It also looks to me like they've made some good improvements to the data handling in the tracker web window. We can now sort by race mileage and speed... Woo hoo!

Frankly, I've kinda been marooned here in Nome for the past two days. I won't try to describe this metropolis, so just think of a cold, remote, desolate place you've been to and you'll have a good enough picture.

I do have a line on a possible plane ride tomorrow. If at all possible, I'm going to try to intercept Aliy somewhere on the coast, preferably in White Mountain where she will have a mandatory 8-hour rest. Like all things around here -- and in the entire sport of sled dog racing -- you hope for the best and hang on for the ride!

Until tomorrow...

Iditarod 2009: Monday Note From Aliy

Aliy posted this at 11:14 this morning as a comment to last night's update... I don't know how many of you check the comments, so I'm posting it here:

Aliy said...
Macgellan - HEY!!! Am here in UNK and on the table is a "Tommy Mac". Had to jump on quick and say hi to all.

It is blowing like ..... can't say publically. Will have Bullet in lead in an hour or so leaving to head to Shak. Paul, Dee, Jessie and I are heading out somewhat together.

Had to leave Besty and Petunia here though. Tunes is sore in her front end. Betsy has gotten a little thin. Hope that you will have them in Nome ASAP and you can give them plenty of hugs and belly rubs.

Here we go. See you soon..


There you have it direct from Aliy! Her GPS tracker still appears to be busted, so we'll have to just watch the leader board! Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Sunday Night Update

It's pretty crazy out there on the Iditarod Trail, but here's what we think we know...

The leader board shows Aliy out of Kaltag a little after 4pm this afternoon and on her way to Unalakleet. Her GPS tracker has either broken or fallen off her sled, because it last reported in Kaltag almost 10 hours ago and shows her as still there. Ah, technology. It's great until it doesn't work. The weather has gotten much colder and we're hoping that helps our tough, "Interior Alaska" dogs. Aliy still has 13 of them on the trail, so that is really good news.

Allen is doing great and he is just thrilled with his team, as you will hear in this update from Bridgett:

If you are having trouble with the embedded mp3 player, you can click here to access the mp3 file directly and play it however your computer normally handles mp3 files.

Iditarod 2009: The Happy Story

This isn't just a happy story, this is the Happy story. It's a difficult story to tell in this format of still photos and video clips, and I've been working on it all week to try to do it justice. It's also a long story, but I think you'll find it worth your while...

A couple of months ago when Aliy and Allen starting forming up their Iditarod teams, Aliy picked all the "top dogs" as candidates for her "A-Team" and handed the list of the rest of the dogs to Allen for him to make his selections. Now, you all know that it has always been the plan for Allen to run a "B-Team" of young and inexperienced dogs to help develop them for the future. He is really quite happy to be doing this, but that doesn't mean he hasn't taken a few shots at getting a little sympathy along the way.

Looking at the list of dogs that remained available for for his team, Allen said playfully, "I'll never get to Nome! There's nothing on this list but kids and kooks. Heck, I might as well take Happy!" At that, Aliy and I laughed so hard we had tears streaming down our faces. Of all the dogs in the Kennel -- perhaps in the entire sport of sled dog racing -- Happy is by far the least likely dog to run the Iditarod. To understand why, you need to know a little about Happy and her history.

A couple of years ago, Aliy was mushing through some of the remotest regions of Alaska and in some of the coldest, nastiest weather on record. After pulling into a tiny village she stopped in front of an old log cabin, simply astonished by what she saw. Among all the other dogs in the yard who were hunkered down and trying their best to stay out of the blizzard, there was a puppy who was chained to a boat motor, hopping up and down on it's hind legs, waving joyfully at her and barking out a welcoming greeting.

As Aliy tells the story, "I was so amazed by this puppy I determined right then and there that I wanted to have it. I knocked on the door of the cabin, and after several cups of coffee with the owner I said, 'I'll give you fifty bucks for that puppy.' We did the deal, then I put the puppy in my sled and headed down the trail. I immediately named her Lucky -- as in lucky to be alive and lucky to be out of that village -- and brought her back to the Kennel."

Aliy soon discovered that no matter what the circumstances, "Lucky" was always happy. She never seemed to be bothered by cold or discomfort and she would always do a little "happy dance" every time you called her. She quickly got the nickname "Happy Dog" and Aliy eventually just renamed her. Happy truly is the happiest dog you'll ever meet.

Aliy also soon discovered, however, that Happy is far from the typical husky sled dog. She doesn't look like one -- having more of a "hound dog" appearance -- and she doesn't really act like one either. For example, whenever you go out into the yard to harness dogs up for a run, they all come out of their houses and make a racket to get attention and be picked for the team. All of them, that is, except for Happy who stays in her house. You literally have to go over and knock on her box before she'll look out at you with an expression that says, "Can I help you?"

As you stand there for a few seconds, she seems to slowly realize something is up. Finally, she quite happily comes out of her house and sits while you put on the harness. The whole time, however, she looks up at you as if to say, "I love you and I love all this attention, but what exactly are you doing?" When I first got to the Kennel I thought this was because Happy doesn't get to run as often as most of the dogs and that she had adopted an attitude of low expectations to avoid disappointment. I quickly came to the conclusion, however, that she simply forgets from one day to the next that she lives in a sled dog kennel and that mushing is what goes on there. In truth, I realized that Happy is kind of an idiot.

When I asked Aliy about Happy she said, "Yep, Happy is an idiot. She's especially an idiot out on the trail. We'll be running along and all of a sudden she'll bolt sideways like she's chasing a rabbit or something. Sometimes she'll just stop running, like she's forgotten what she's doing. She'll turn around and look at me as if to ask, 'Who are you? Where am I? Why am I running?' It's really a hoot!" When I asked Aliy why she kept such a dog at the Kennel, she quickly responded, "Happy is the sweetest, happiest dog in the world, and a joy just to have around. Plus, she never seems to run out of energy. No matter how far we run, she gets back to the Kennel and is still ready to go. The other dogs may be lying down and panting, but she'll be there doing her little Happy dance. She really grows on you. You'll see."

True enough, Happy has become one of my very favorite dogs at the Kennel. So when we were all laughing out loud about Allen's joke of taking Happy on the Iditarod, it was with a great deal of affection that I said to him, "If you take Happy on your team and she makes it to Nome, I will kiss her bottom... Right there at the finish line on Front Street, right in front of everybody!" This made Aliy laugh even harder, but there was a little twinkle in Allen's eye when he quietly said, "We'll just have to see about that."

It didn't dawn on me the next day when I was harnessing Happy up for a training run, or the day after that. But after a few days in a row of Happy going out with the team, I started to realize that Allen might be seriously looking at her for his team. I made the offhand comment that "You're sure giving Happy a lot of work" to which he quickly replied, "I have to, she has an appointment in Nome!"

And so it came to pass that as I was loading up the dogs to drive them to Anchorage last Thursday, I found Happy's name on the list. As I lifted her into the box, I tried to recall if she'd ever even been in the truck before. The only time I could think of was just a couple of weeks earlier when she rode into Fairbanks for her blood test and EKG. You see, Happy has never run a race before. That's right, she is making her racing debut in this year's Iditarod.

To illustrate a few highlights of Happy's Iditarod experience, I've put together the little video below. The first part is just a few quick clips of Happy at the dog truck in the hotel parking lot. In it you will get a little sample of "the Happy dance" and a clear example of how she is very, very different in behavior and attitude from the other sled dogs. I think you will also see why we say she is so sweet and such a joy to have around.

Second, before the Official Iditarod Start last Sunday, Allen did some interviews with the media, beginning in the usual manner of posing with his main leader Hoss. When that segment was done, the reporter pointed to an energetic dog behind him and asked, "What's the story with that dog?" In his customary casual way Allen replied, "She's one of our young dogs." Well, the reporter knew that Allen was running a team of young dogs and was probably looking for a scoop on a "rising star" so he asked to film another interview. I'm sure you've guessed by now that the dog he had pointed to was Happy. Everything Allen says in the interview is true, of course, and if you didn't know "The Happy Story" you'd probably think this was just a modestly interesting little clip. Now that you know the rest of her story, however, I think you'll find it sweet, ironic and even a little hilarious: "Happy, the up and coming sled dog... Film at eleven!"

Third, I watched the Iditarod Insider clip about Aliy and Allen being reunited in Takotna and was touched by the special attention Aliy paid to Happy. Suddenly, though, I laughed so hard I spit coffee out through my nose. I can't show you the video, but I've ripped down the audio and put a sequence of still shots over it. Just in case you miss what Aliy said out loud and on camera, I've repeated it a few times. That's really all I can say here without spoiling the surprise! Enjoy!

As I write this, Happy is running on the Yukon river. I know in my heart that I will see her here in Nome in just a few days. I hope so. I suppose I could say, "Me and my big mouth" but the truth is that I'm already puckering up to kiss her bottom, on camera and in front of everybody at the finish line on Front Street. It will be an honor.

I've been around enough to have learned that you just never know where you'll find your inspirations. Happy truly is an inspiration that it doesn't matter where you're from, how bad you've had it or how dumb you are. If you face every run in your life like it's your first, and if you keep a happy disposition all along the way, there's no limit to what you can do or how far you can go. You can even run the Iditarod and get to Nome. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you, too.

And that is "The Happy Story."

Iditarod 2009: Sunday Update

Greetings! I don't know about you, but I'm having a hard time believing it was exactly a week ago that the SP Kennel teams started the Iditarod. I'm not sure whether I'm having a harder time with the fact that it has "already" been a week or that is has "only" been a week!

The teams are both in a communications "dead zone" on the Yukon river portion of the trail, so we know practically nothing about what is going on. We do know that Aliy was 13th into Kaltag this morning, still within six hours of all the leaders except Lance. That continues to be really good news and we are all very excited for her. She completed her mandatory 8-hour rest on the Yukon back in Eagle Island, and her speed en route was among the fastest... Go Aliy!

Allen is cruising right along on his way to Eagle Island. He has also completed his mandatory 8-hour rest, and he still has 13 dogs! What a story this could turn out to be... Go Allen!

Speaking of stories... There's nothing going on here in Nome today -- and no way for me to get out on the trail -- so I'm taking the day to finish up a story that I've been working on all week. I hope to have it posted this evening, and all I will tell you in advance is that it is a very, very happy story... Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Saturday Update From Nome

I made it to Nome first!

Okay, I cheated by flying but it was still a bit of an ordeal. Nevertheless, I am here and settled into my new "operations center." I've got internet... sort of. It's really slow and not very stable, but I'll do my best to make it work!

Now... Let's take a look at the leader board:

Aliy is doing great! She was 12th into Eagle Island, getting there within 6 hours of all the top runners except Lance. All of them -- again except Lance -- are still there, so she remains right in the thick of it like she has been since the beginning! Go Aliy!

Speaking of Lance, there is no dispute that he is on a tear and doing extremely well. As he himself has said, however, it's way, way too soon to make any predictions. You may be aware that he fell asleep on the sled and got lost yesterday, later commenting that having to turn around and back track had a noticeably adverse effect on the morale of his dogs. Now we see that he has dropped a dog at Eagle Island. Writing as someone who is dedicated to good sportsmanship yet also obviously rooting for Aliy, I hope you will forgive me for choosing to look at those two events as a couple of chinks in the Lance armor!

Allen continues apace, now within 10 miles of Anvik and still running 13 dogs... Go "Kids & Kooks"! When Bridgett -- who lives here in Nome -- picked me up at the airport, she said that she thinks Allen is having a good, fun run this year. You may recall that he had a miserable Iditarod last year, picking up a parasite along the trail that made him so sick he was hospitalized briefly upon his arrival in Nome.

I'm afraid the only "news" I have for you today is that Amy Wheaton just called to say she was on her way to pick up Spicy, the dog Aliy dropped back in Iditarod. We don't know why she was dropped, but the fact that she was shipped to Anchorage and immediately released means that she has no medical issues. We've heard nothing yet about the dog Aliy dropped in Anvik.

If I get any other news I will, of course, post it immediately. Meanwhile, I am going to try to find a way to get from Nome back to a checkpoint or two along the coast either tomorrow or Monday. Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: Saturday Morning

As you can see, Aliy had a very good run last night and arrived in Grayling at 3:30 this morning. She is still there, and Bridgett speculates she will stay for her mandatory 8-hour Yukon rest. She has dropped another dog, but still has plenty of power. So, Aliy continues to do very, very well and we are all really excited for her!

Allen is out of Iditarod and cruising down the trail, still with 13 dogs! I've got a feeling that he's going to make some kind of move pretty soon and can't wait to see what it is. Allen has so much energy on the sled that it always seems to inspire his dogs. So, keep your eye on him!

I'm off to Nome... Go teams!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Friday Wrap-Up

Aliy is running in 12th position on her way to Anvik, the start of the long Yukon River part of the trail. Her team had a lengthy rest during the heat of the day this afternoon, so she's probably in good shape to run through most of tonight. She still has 14 dogs which is also encouraging. Sorry, no word yet on which dog she dropped earlier today.

Allen is cruising right along on his way to Iditarod. He's still got 13 dogs on the line, so the "Kids & Kooks" are doing great! Go "Beemer" and "The Dog I Haven't Told You About Yet"! Seriously, you're going to love the story when I tell you! The B-Team is running very respectably in the middle of the pack at position 37, and I suspect Allen has been conserving their energy so he may have plenty in the tank to start moving up.

The mushers have a mandatory 8-hour rest to be taken somewhere on the Yukon, so it ought to be confusing and exciting to see how that plays out tomorrow. Also confusing and exciting will be my migration to Nome tomorrow. If all goes well I will be there and back online in my next base of operations by late in the day. Stay tuned!

Iditarod 2009: "Meet & Greet" In Anchorage

As I'm packing up and preparing to move my base of operations to Nome in the morning, I'm also wrapping up the last -- but not least -- of my Pre-Race coverage in Anchorage. Last Friday, SP Kennel sponsors Hawthorn Suites hosted a "Meet & Greet" with Aliy, Allen and our fantastic dogs.

It was a fun and very well attended event at which Aliy and Allen talked about mushing and the Iditarod, including an introduction to sleds, gear, Iditarod rules and a guest appearance by a few of the dogs. The fine folks at Hawthorn Suites have also been my hosts throughout the week, and I appreciate all their support... especially 24-hour use of the coffee machine!

Here is a little video of the event:

Iditarod 2009: Sleepy Time In Takotna

Clockwise from top left: Betsy, Teddy, JJ & Spicy, Tatfish

Iditarod 2009: Takotna "24"

Okay! Here's the last of the "stuff" from my time in Takotna, where the teams took their mandatory 24-hour rest. You've already seen my "interview" with Aliy, so I've focused here on a little bit of the "look and feel" of the place and -- most important -- the great dogs of the SP Kennel A-Team! As you can see above, they had a pretty nice location in the "suburbs"... Check it out!

Iditarod 2009: Takotna "Re-Re-Start"

I grabbed this shot of the checker's sign-in sheet while I was in Takotna, but the significance of it didn't really hit me until I looked more closely at it just now. Take a look and see if anything stands out for you:

That's right! Every musher on the page declared their "24" -- their mandatory 24-hour rest period -- in Takotna. Every other year that I know of, the leading mushers have taken their "24" in a variety of checkpoints. Since everybody takes the same amount of mandatory rest over the course of the Iditarod, where they take their "24" doesn't have any significance in terms of actual time. It often matters greatly, however, in terms of circumstances, because weather and trails can change so much over the course of a day.

For example, if a musher takes the "24" early while others go on by, he or she might later run into bad weather that the other mushers have avoided. Conversely, those mushers who "24" later may have had to slog through bad weather that clears for later racers. On top of these unknowns, it has always been very hard to figure out the leader board until everyone has taken their "24" and gotten in sync. Until then, a musher could be a day "ahead" but still be "behind"... ugh!

With everyone taking their "24" in Takotna this year, there will be few if any of these unknowns. All of the mushers are in the same "time zone" so to speak and will be facing the same circumstances. So, Takotna is sort of a "Re-Re-Start" for the 2009 Iditard, and it's now a straightforward, exciting dog race to the coast... and beyond!

Iditarod 2009: GPS "Leader Board"

I don't know about you, but I'm really enjoying the new GPS tracking system the Iditarod has this year. It's added a whole new level of information and I think the "real-time" data really adds to the excitement. So, good job Iditarod!

The sorting functions do seem to be a little wonky, to me at least. I can get the mushers sorted by bib number and name, but I can't get them sorted by mileage. So, I find myself doing a lot of scanning up and down the trail and counting tags to figure out relative positions. I also end up doing a bunch of math to figure out how much distance there is between teams and up to the leader. I don't know whether this problem/behavior is ubiquitous, but it's been bumming me out a little and I hope they make improvements to the data handling next year.

In the meantime, I've come up with a workaround of doing a copy/paste of the tracker data into a little spreadsheet I've put together which sorts the mushers by their route mileage and calculates the distance back from the leader. I've pasted an example of the output below. Let me know if you find it useful. If so, I'll be happy to include it in future posts.

Meanwhile, go Aliy go!

Iditarod 2009: McGrath Checkpoint Tour

By now you've all probably seen plenty of what it looks like at the Iditarod starts: Cheering crowds, masses of media, lots of activity and noise. What you probably haven't seen much of is what the Iditarod looks like out at the many checkpoints along the trail. Proportionately speaking, the Iditarod is no less of a "big deal" in these remote locations, there just aren't very many people -- or in some cases any people -- to make such a scene.

Doug shot this "tour of the checkpoint" footage during his time in McGrath, and I think it provides an excellent opportunity to see what it's like "out there." As you watch, keep in mind that McGrath is actually one of the larger checkpoints on the Iditarod. The smallest consist of nothing more than a couple of tents!

Iditarod 2009: Friday Morning -- Follow-Up!

I just knew that the second I hit the "publish post" button on my last entry they would update the leader board... Aargh!

But, good news! Aliy is 11th out of Iditarod and moving well down the trail!

She has dropped a dog, and I have no idea which one... I'll let you know if and when I hear!

Iditarod 2009: Friday Morning

Good morning! Some of you may have been watching the leader board and wondering what happened over night.

Aliy was 10th in line on the approach to Iditarod last night, but she was 21st into the checkpoint this morning. At this moment, the leader board shows her still in Iditarod but the GPS shows her back out on the trail and moving well in 11th position. The two mushers right ahead of her are showing zero speed, so they may be camped and she may pass them...

Can this drive you crazy or what?

The problem with viewing a fluid situation in snapshots is that so much happens in between frames. We've had no direct communications at all, so I have no solid information, but it looks to me like Aliy camped out for a rest on the trail. She likes to do that, and it is always part of her plan.

Allen, meanwhile, is cruising right along and should reach Iditarod in time to rest during the heat of the day. Perfect!

I'll let you know if I get any real-time -- or anything close to it -- info. Meanwhile, I'm working on a few last postings from my time out on the trail... Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Iditarod 2009: Thursday Wrap-Up

I've got a few more things to post from my time out on the trail, but I'm pretty wiped out so I've declared my own "mandatory 8-hour rest." I'll wrap that all up tomorrow as I get ready to fly ahead to Nome.

At this moment, Aliy is 10th in line on the approach to Iditarod, two places ahead of her starting position out of Ophir. So, she is moving very well, on her plan and right in the thick of it! Allen is just clearing Ophir and heading to Iditarod, so he's doing absolutely great with his crew of kids and kooks! (Seriously, there even more to the story than we've told you so far!)

Bridgett just left me this voicemail about a phone call she had with Allen, and I thought it would be a nice way to wrap up the day. Thanks very much to her, Doug and Mickey for all their help in bringing you news about the SP Kennel teams in Iditarod 2009!

Good night!

If you are having trouble with the embedded mp3 player, you can click here to access the mp3 file directly and play it however your computer normally handles mp3 files.

Iditarod 2009: Aliy Through McGrath

With all the stuff I've posted today, I'm almost caught up after being out on the trail. This actually might be my favorite post so far for Iditarod 2009, and here's why: It really shows the value of teamwork and a little bit of luck.

In the footage that I got from Doug -- Aliy's dad -- last night, there was a clip of Aliy entering the McGrath checkpoint in the wee hours of yesterday morning. Although there was some ambient sound, Doug had not provided any narration and I was concerned that the video wouldn't make much sense. As I was pondering this, I checked my voicemail and found a message from Mickey -- Aliy's mom -- relating a phone call she had received from Doug about Aliy passing through. On a hunch, I put the voice message with the video and it was perfect! Plus, a film crew had their camera lights on so you can really see what's going on. How's that for luck!

Finally, watch closely at the very end when Aliy looks up and realizes that her dad is there to meet her... Sweet!

Iditarod 2009: Sugar In Takotna!

How sweet is this! From the Anchorage Daily News:

Iditarod 2009: Dropped Dogs

To everyone involved in sled dog racing, the term "dropped dogs" is a very familiar one. I've used the term here recently, and it occurred to me that those of you who are not as familiar with the sport might find a little explanation useful:

In every sled dog race -- not just the Iditarod -- mushers will often decide that it is no longer good to run a dog. This is occasionally due to injury, but the vast majority of the time it is simply because a dog is fatigued, sore, not eating well or just lacking enthusiasm. In such cases, the musher "drops" the dog from the team at a checkpoint.

For example, Allen "dropped" two dogs -- Kipper and Quito -- in Nikolai yesterday. There was nothing "wrong" with the dogs, but Allen decided it wouldn't be good for them to run any more. Specifically, both are young, hard working females. They are also both small dogs. With temperatures relatively high on the trail, some of the dogs -- including these two -- are not eating aggressively and are losing some weight. Because these two are small to begin with, they do not have any "reserve" weight to lose. Since Allen's primary goal is to give the Kennel's young racers a positive experience on the Iditarod, he didn't want to take the chance of running them any further and having their experience go sour. So, he "dropped" them.

What happens next is that the dogs are "handed off" to volunteers at the checkpoint whose sole job it is to care for the dogs until they can be flown out on the next available plane. These "Dropped Dog Volunteers" are all experienced sled dog handlers who feed, water, walk and house the dogs in a temporary kennel at the checkpoint. Like all volunteers -- and everyone involved in Iditarod -- they are "dog first" people.

As soon as space on a plane is available, the dogs are flown either back to Anchorage or on to Nome, depending on where along the Trail they were dropped. Upon arrival, the team's "local support volunteers" -- usually friends of the musher -- are notified and they pick up the dog. Our dog care support team in Anchorage is Ken & Amy Wheaton, who just called to say they have picked up Kipper and Quito and to give us the "report" on why they were dropped that I've shared with you above. Amy added, "Heeler has had our undivided attention for the past two days, so he seemed a little bummed to have company. Now that Tony is here, too, we've got four great dogs to love!"

Tony's path to the Wheatons included spending a night in prison. Before you jump to conclusions about Tony being a bad dog, let me simply explain that when dogs cannot be picked up right away by local supporters, they are cared for by select inmates of the Anchorage prison. The dogs are very popular with the inmates and they are very, very well cared for. So, when it is no longer good for the dogs to run they are "dropped" at a checkpoint and remain on site until they can be flown to supporters in Anchorage or Nome... With an occasional night in the slammer! At every step of the way, they receive loving care, lots of attention and tons of affection.