Spencer tells us about his Red & Black team:
Lester - Not a super fast dog, but he’s a solid and efficient command leader with experience that made him a great “puppy team” leader. I knew that I could trust him to get the job done and I rarely took him out of lead. He’s self-contained, but very affectionate.
Viper - Another that spent much of the race in lead. His confidence in lead around other teams and obstacles in the trail was a great example for younger dogs and he did a great job of tolerating Commando. Older dogs have to show a lot of composure when they get stuck training the next generation. I think Viper actually enjoyed running with Commando.
Beemer - Anybody who knows Aliy Zirkle knows Beemer. He’s an honest, smart, sensitive dog who was another go-to leader and great example to run different yearlings with.
Commando - If it weren’t for the three above, I could easily say that Commando was the MVP on this team. Commando does everything that I ask him to and likes it. He’s the yearling that I am tightest with and he is always seeking to please me. I was so happy to have him on this race. He spent 300 miles in swing or in lead with Viper. Any time that I wanted to speed the team through some hills or perk them up on a boring stretch of trail, I put Commando up front. He is an enthusiastic, up-beat natural lead dog with an infectious attitude.
Torch - A yearling who had an exceptional attitude. He always wanted to go and even in the middle of the race was barking while charging up the hills and keeping everyone excited and in good spirits. He ate everything that I put in front of him, and was always the first to rise from the straw and show he’s readiness to hit the trail.
Chena - Right there with Torch most of the race. The two of them learned quickly the routine of running, eating, sleeping. Chena is a slightly picky eater, and was burning calories faster than she was taking them in, which made her tire a few miles before her teammates. She hitched a ride in the sled with me for the last 20 miles. I figured this would happen at some point along the race, but wanted to see how far I could get her. She did a phenomenal job. I particularly enjoy her personality - calm, confident, sassy little girl. Chena and Torch were always the ones who got the team howling before we hit the trail.
Puppet - I really enjoyed having her with us. She is a no-nonsense, honest dog who does her thing and doesn’t need anyone to hold her hand.. er.. paw.. whatever. She isn’t a super hard-driving dog on the flats, but when we came to any kind of hill, Puppet did her darnedest to haul the sled up by herself.
Tinder - It seems to me that he always works too hard. Early on in the race, I remember thinking.. Man, if he doesn’t chill out, he’ll never make the whole way. Then by the middle of the race, …Man, how is he still charging like that? Finally by the end, he started to get tired. About the last 30 miles or so, I was telling him what a good dog he was and making sure he and the team knew how happy I was with what they’d done. He needed a little help at the end, but that was a great learning experience for him - a taste of how to throttle back and just travel when you are genuinely tired. Lessons like that are exactly why you put young dogs in races. Get as many to the finish line as possible and have a positive experience. Tinder got it.
Driver (right) - This guy is a lumbering, lovable goof. He didn’t sleep the first night because he was so interesting in what was going on in the checkpoint. Which meant that he hit the straw as soon as I put it out on our next camp. He’s slightly slower because he doesn’t lope. But if you’re traveling at a comfortable speed for him, he’s a very hard-working dog. You can specifically feel him pulling on the towline. Another dog who held it together at the end. Also, he eats like a maniac.
Violet - Did an awesome job all the way to Sourdough. There was some rough, uneven trail going into that checkpoint and when we got there, she was a bit sore. I wrapped her wrist and massaged her shoulder as soon as we stopped to camp, then walked her around after her rest to see if I thought she should go on. The next checkpoint at Mendeltna Lodge wasn’t for another 85 miles and I knew that I’d be carrying her at some point if I kept her in the team. She’d had a great performance to that point, so I figured it was best to drop her and not risk anything.
Sandy - She’s what some mushers call an “invisible dog”. That is, a dog who puts their head down, keeps their line tight and generally, does everything right. She’s a Biscuit pup which I’ve come to realize, means among other things, that she has a GREAT appetite. Another solid dog who very much helped get us to the finish line.
One of the best parts of this race was getting to know the dogs. When they realize that you’re not running back to the truck or the kennel, they come to depend on you, just as you do them. You all fall into a rhythm as a team. That’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of and really, the essence of dog mushing. I had the pleasure of seeing them begin to realize their potential and they gained confidence from getting to know me all the better.
This was a total success and I’m excited to who takes it to the next level this season.
Thanks to the handler team of Mark and Joanna, supported by Ray and Moira.