Just because I'm not in Alaska this winter doesn't mean I'm not paying attention to what's going on at SP Kennel. I am. Very close attention, in fact.
Surprisingly, having an "insider's" view from thousands of miles away is pretty interesting. I feel like I'm seeing things that I didn't notice so clearly when I was right in the middle of the fast and furious action. I'm also finding that not having the advantage of an "everyday involvement" context, I'm "filling in the blanks" with recollections from the past to make sense of it all.
Even with my in-depth, inside experience, I find it hard to put all the pieces together. I have a new appreciation for what it must be like to be a distant fan -- especially someone without first-hand experience -- and try to really understand what's going on in something like the Sheep Mountain 150 this past weekend.
So, I thought I'd take a few minutes to jot down some observations/interpretations -- something along the line of musings -- of my own about the race. For those of you who are long-time -- dare I say "hard core" -- SP Kennel fans, much of this may have been obvious to you. But, in the hope that I may be able to add some useful "color" to the story -- especially for those of you who are more recent fans -- here goes…
Logistics: So much emphasis is placed on the actual race, the times, the checkpoints, etc., that it's easy to lose sight of the monumental logistical challenge it is for SP Kennel to run three teams in the SM150. For starters, some simple math: 3 teams of 12 dogs equals 36 dogs. Now some not so simple math: How to you fit 36 dogs in 30 dog boxes -- the total number of boxes on both of the Kennel trucks combined -- when you have to factor in issues like which girls are in heat and have to be sequestered from the boys, which dogs don't travel so well and need their own space, which dogs like -- or don't particularly like -- other dogs, etc. It becomes pretty dynamic jigsaw puzzle!
Then, keep in mind that you've only got three people -- Aliy, Allen and Ryne -- to handle the dogs: To load, drop, feed, walk and totally take care of them. These humans also have to drive the trucks, not an easy job in the dark, arctic cold on icy, remote, windswept highways. Don't forget to keep your eyes sharply peeled for moose who often seem eager to jump in front of your speeding truck!
Gear: This is trickier than you might think. To be sure, Aliy and Allen have plenty of experience to be "old hands" at preparing and packing their gear/sleds. They've done it many, many times before for themselves. But what about having to prepare and pack the third sled for Bridgett who met them at the race?!? How would you like to have your daughter's life in your hands as you try to pack everything she could need to survive in some of the harshest conditions on earth? Can you imagine the trust Bridgett has in Allen and Aliy that she can rely on them to pack her gear? I don't want to over emphasize this, but I think it's something worth thinking about. Would you let a family member pack your suitcase for even a weekend trip to the beach where there's a store on every corner? I doubt I would!
Dogs: When I first saw the results of the race, I found myself repeating the same word over and over… "Wow, wow, wow…" I don't know if I can convey this fully, but I'll try: SP Kennel is a small sled dog kennel, having only a fraction the number of dogs of other kennels with which it competes. Instead of having something like a hundred dogs from which to pick twelve for the race, the 36 dogs on the three SP Kennel teams represent about 80% of ALL the racing dogs at the Kennel! The reason for my "Wows" was that 36 dogs started and 36 dogs finished! Not a single dog needed to be dropped from any of the teams. And, did you see what great, energetic shape they were in when they finished! The only word I have for this is "Astonishing!" It's a testament to the quality of the SP Kennel dogs, their ability, their training, their handling… their down-right awesomeness!
Now, here's something you may not have noticed: A number of the very best SP Kennel dogs weren't even in the race! That's right, some of the true "superstars" didn't race, including Butterscotch, Snickers, Skittles, Oddball, Homey, Stormy and Tatfish! Let me put it this way: Possibly the best SP Kennel team was "left in the dog yard"! Keep that in mind when you think about the 100% finishing rate of the 36 dogs who raced… and about the competitive places in which they finished!
Sportsmanship: How cool is it that Bridgett won the sportsmanship award! She is "the real deal" and her sportsmanship is just one of her many fine attributes. Bridgett is talented, tough and tenacious, and nobody -- NOBODY! -- is better with the dogs. Add in her cheerful personality and her upbeat, willing interaction with others despite the harshest conditions, and you'll understand why I hope she continues to bring her "game" to SP Kennel for years to come.
What the sportsmanship award doesn't cover, though, is that helping another musher in the race is only a very small part of what SP Kennel mushers are so well known for. No matter how focused they are in a race, or how worn down they are after caring for their dogs in a checkpoint, or how tired and hungry they are when it's time to go inside and grab a moment of urgent rest, Aliy, Allen and Bridgett never fail to take that extra minute to chat up a less experienced musher, to offer words of advice or encouragement, or to simply foster the mutual goodwill that exists in the tightly-knit sled dog community.
When I look at the race results, I don't see finishing positions. Frankly, as good as they are, to me they are irrelevant. Instead, I see an amazing story of depth of talent, skill in execution and sportsmanship in competition. I saw it every day when I was there. I see it even more clearly from a distance.
Congratulations to the entire SP Kennel Team! I couldn't be more impressed -- Macgellan