Sunday, August 30, 2015

Slow-Mo Sunday: 2015 Iditarod

In our new occasional series "Slow-Mo Sunday" we take video clips and, as the title suggests, slow them down. This is a really great way to truly appreciate our amazing dogs in action!

These clips are of the Red Team during 2015 Iditarod. You'll see some start line action from Fairbanks, the team leaving Manley checkpoint and then crossing the finish line in Nome.

Hope you enjoy it!

Music: Borealis by Apple Inc

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Indianapolis 500 - “Dogs versus Cars”

One of the most common phrases that mushers say in order to describe the unique race-like culture of the Iditarod is: “There is only one Indianapolis 500 and there is only one Iditarod!”

Aliy and Allen were in Indianapolis last week. They thought it would be a crime to be in Indianapolis and not visit the Indy Motor Speedway (just like it would be a crime to be in Wasilla and not swing by the headquarters of the Iditarod.) So, Aliy, Allen and Bob McDonald (Aliy’s uncle) drove to the ‘Brickyard’ just before noon one day to simply get a glimpse of the historic 2 1/2 mile race track.

As they neared the enormous, famed race track they got excited and could almost hear the cars engines revving (maybe that was Bob's heavy foot on his accelerator!) But, when the three of them walked through the doors to the Motor Speedway museum they were immediately surrounded by racing memorabilia and excitement. The thrill of competition was everywhere! Needless to say, Allen wouldn't stay out of the Indy cars!

For racers, like Aliy and Allen, that excitement became quite overwhelming. They couldn’t help but compare everything to the Iditarod! And, of course... it came down to a competition between dogs and cars.

Dogs versus Cars

Heat 1: The Indy 500 started in 1909. Iditarod started in 1973. The cars win.
(Note: the 400 mile All Alaska Sweepstakes Sled Dog Race did start in 1908.)

Heat 2: The Indy 500 is 500 miles. The Iditarod is 1000 miles. The dogs win.

Heat 3: The Indy 500 cars moving average speed is 161 mph. The Iditarod sleds moving average speed is about 8 mph. The cars win.

Heat 4: Number of Cars entered in the 2015 Indy: 33. Number of Sleds entered in the 2015 Iditarod: 78. The dogs win.

Heat 5: The Indy 500 Motor Speedway has 300,000 fixed seats for race fans. Iditarod… probably not so many. Aliy did say that in 2015 “Race spectators lined each and every street in downtown Anchorage this year!” But, let's be honest, the entire population of Anchorage would have had to be in attendance in order to achieve and audience of 300,000 and we know for a fact that at least one couple was on their Honeymoon in Hawaii that weekend. The cars win.

Heat 6: The first woman to race in the Indy 500 was Janet Guthrie in 1977. The first woman to race the Iditarod was Mary Shields in 1974. The dogs win.

Janet in her racing gear; Mary in her racing gear.

Heat 7: The first woman to win the Iditarod was Libby Riddles in 1985. The first woman to win the Indy 500... hasn’t won yet. The dogs win.

Heat 8: The Indy 500 Race song is sung by Jim Nabers. The Iditarod song is sung by Hobo Jim. Tie.

Results: 4 Heats to the Dogs. 3 Heats to the Cars. 1 Tie.

The Indy 500 Motor Speedway was a lesson in history as well as an inspiration to keep up the racing passion! As the Alaskan mushers pulled away from the race track Allen quietly remarked... “The Indy 500... the Iditarod... neither of them have anything over the Yukon Quest.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Horizon Lines is now Matson

The Hawaiian company, Matson, has acquired the Alaska service formerly operated by Horizon Lines. "ALOHA!" is the first word you have to know when you meet a Matson employee. Aliy and Allen were fortunate meet many of the Matson Board members and executives during an 'Aloha to Alaska' reception this week in Anchorage.

As some people might know, Horizon Lines was a principal sponsor for SP Kennel for many years. Matson has much to learn about Alaska and dog mushing but Aliy and Allen are ready to 'jump aboard' and be a big part of that. Matson has always supported the communities in which they do business in --that is actually a strong part of Matson’s corporate culture. Employees throughout the organization take pride in participating in activities and events that help benefit their respective communities. So, we are delighted to say…

Here is a little more about the Matson Company:
Matson’s transportation offerings span the globe from Shanghai to Savannah and encompass everything from providing a vital lifeline to the economies of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Micronesia and the South Pacific to delivering a wide range of multi-modal services throughout North America. Long recognized as a leader in Pacific shipping, Matson continues to strengthen its ocean transportation services through fleet enhancements, industry leading on-time arrivals and award-winning customer service. As one of the nations' top logistics providers, Matson Logistics extends the reach of the company’s transportation network, offering customers domestic and international rail intermodal service, long haul and regional highway brokerage, supply chain services and LTL transportation services, as well as third-party logistics services that include warehousing, distribution, and international freight forwarding.

Here are details about the Horizon Lines Transition:
"We are doing everything possible to ensure the transition is seamless and smooth for our customers. We are continuing to deploy the same three diesel-powered ships in their regular port rotation. All terminal and gate hours will remain the same. Similarly, all online booking and shipment management systems are remaining in place during this transition period. To access online shipment management tools, interactive vessel schedules and other Alaska service customer service features, please use the following website:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Changes to the upcoming Training Roster

The training roster is finalized for September 1st. SP Kennel fans will notice a few missing names.

Each off-season we make the decision to retire a number of dogs to "make way" for the puppies from the previous summer. In fact, Aliy and Allen are thinking about a retirement plan for every dog, long before they are "due" for retirement.

Last season Aliy wrote this great post explaining how, when and why we do this. Essentially we have to keep our overall dog population in check so we enough time, effort, space and money to care for, train and race each SP Kennel dog. If our population gets too large, the dogs don't get the level of individual care and attention we like to give, so we have an optimum number for our small operation.

You already know that this spring we said farewell to Beemer and Viper. We also found forever homes for I.V. and Puppet, and have retired Rambler - although he is still living with us at the kennel as one of our couch dogs.

Last summer, I.V. injured herself while playing with her neighbour Lester. She was immediately flown to a spine specialist in Anchorage. After an entire summer of rest and treatment, I.V. started training in the Fall. By November, she had a rear leg issue which was determined to be caused by her previous trauma. Training her to be a Champion sled dog was out of the question. This was a huge blow for us as she was an extremely talented sled dog and should have been on the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod with her brother Chemo instead of refreshing the race website GPS tracker (photo above).

She now lives with her former sponsor, Teresa, her husband and toddler son in Fairbanks. She also spends time with her co-sponsor and "Step-Mom", Linda. I.V. has adjusted to her life as a pet dog - enjoying lots of walks and showing very little signs of her injury. She does, however, show her independent sled dog 'spirit' every once in a while. But, hey… who doesn't?

In April, "Puppet-dawg" (below) traveled to her new forever-home in Minnesota. The Louters family, including four enthusiastic kids, have a small kennel and plan to train for some shorter races in coming seasons. They also have Puppet's Mom, Tessa, at their house! Puppet was a great SPK dog and was on the winning Quest teams in 2013 and 2014. We choose to send her to a new home while she was 'still at the top of her game'. And the big news is that Puppet is new Mama, having had nine beautiful and healthy babies in June. The puppies’ father is a dog from a successful Yukon Quest Team in Alaska. By all accounts, Puppet is a great Mom and is enjoying life with her new family.

"Ramble-dawg" has quickly become accustomed to his new role as a house dog. He was Moira's cabin dog last season and has spent the summer on the deck at SP Kennel or with Mickey and Doug at their cabin down the road. We find that all of ChaCha's offspring make the transition to pet dog extremely easily. They are tough racing dogs but also have a very sweet nature.

Rambler's health has been a concern for nearly a year. He became somewhat lethargic, had significant hair loss as well as skin issues last Fall. After winter-long Veterinarian consults, biopsies, analysis, ultrasounds as well as a strict regime of holistic supplements there was no obvious answer. This June he was medicated for Cushing's disease as a 'last option'. After 3 months of serious drug therapy, Rambler has some significant improvement. We are thrilled!

L-R: Rambler 2013 Portrait; Rambler 2014 Portrait; Rambler current snap shot.

By retiring these five dogs from the SP Kennel training roster we have opened up five spaces. Ernie, Five, Ginger, Rodney and Scooby have incredible "shoes to fill" but we have very high hopes for these novice yet enthusiast pups to step up and become future All Star SP kennel sled dogs themselves.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mickey's Camp

This week, Aliy was invited to be a camp counselor at Mickey’s Camp in Indianapolis, Indiana. Bob McDonald, Aliy’s uncle, has been a Camper at Mickey’s for 10 years.

Mickey’s Camp is a 3-day gathering of local business and educational leaders established by Mickey Maurer, a lawyer, businessman and dedicated philanthropist. The goal of the adult camp is for business men and women to leave behind daily pressures and explore new opportunities, as well as enjoy the camaraderie of fellow campers. The camp is located in a rural setting so that the Campers leave behind their business suits and 24/7 “plugged in” culture.

Mickey’s Camp is set up so that Campers choose four sessions per day in which they will learn business skills or hear stories from some of the most renown leaders in their fields or learn a new skill from experts. The sessions are set up in friendly, intimate setting. Or Campers can choose to really “get away from the daily grind” and get a massage or acupuncture therapy. These therapists are the same professionals who work on the Indianapolis Colts Football team and the Pacers Basketball team. So they know what they are doing!

Bob has shared SP Kennel stories for many years while attending the camp. Mickey became so intrigued with the story that he invited Aliy to speak at two sessions this year. So, Aliy and Allen shared the story of SP Kennel to very enthusiast audiences.

Mickey’s Camp is a great idea to improve the mind, body and soul of all the Campers. But, even more important than that, Mickey’s Camp has raised millions dollars for charity. First of all, four charities are selected each year. Then all camp food and beverages are sponsored by the highest quality restaurants and beverage suppliers in the area. The speakers, experts and professionals donate their time. Then every Camper pays a fee to attend. He or she must select to which of the four charities their fee will go.

Thanks Bob for introducing Aliy and Allen to Mickey and his wife, Janie. As well as all the other incredibly interesting and generous people of Indiana.

Not to mention, Aliy has found another great coffee bean source: Mission Coffee.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dog Hauler Construction - Phase One

The Dog Box Artist has taken over the SP Kennel garage!

Construction in underway on a new dog box. This luxury 20-Dog hauler will be in commission this coming Mushing Season on the flatbed of "Hollywood" (the Kennel Ram 2500 Pick Up Truck.) After engineering the "perfect dog box", the Dog Box Artist, also known as Doug, has been diligently cutting, gluing, screwing, routering and sanding various parts and pieces. His diligence on the project has several times gotten in the way lunch breaks, cocktail hour and the occasional golf game (gasp!) In other words… he is thoroughly dedicated!

The finish date for the final product is September 26th. No pressure Doug!

THIS (above left) is supposed to fit on THIS (above right).

Everyone is a critic! L-R: Rambler inspects the boxes for "comforting rating"; Allen talks about storage areas dimension.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Just a hint of Fall

The grass is still growing and the afternoons are often sunny and warm. But, you don't have to look very far to notice that Fall is just around the corner.

August has been the traditional rainy month that it is known to be. We have had a few cooler nights and the dogs are sassy in the morning temperatures.

The Fireweed flowers have grown to the top of their stalks and are pollenating the air. And yes… there is just hint of Fall colors on a few leaves in the neighborhood. They certainly catch your eye as you walk along the trails or drive to the Post Office.

It will be here VERY soon!

Friday, August 14, 2015

FlashBack Friday: American Summit 1998

This week's Flashback Friday is simply a photo.

Aliy ran her first 1,000 mile race -- the Yukon Quest -- in 1998. She finished in 13 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes. This photo is of her team: (L to R): Flood and Rubia; Chip and Kronk; Roger and Cisco; Missy and Stasha; and Twister and Martin) as they finally reached American Summit in incredibly poor weather conditions. The wind was howling and the trail had blown over. Aliy and the team had struggled for hours to reach the summit.

Photographer Laurent Dick was positioned just over the summit on a snow machine. He captured this great image. There are many other fantastic images from that race in Laurent's book: "Yukon Quest Photo Journey".

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nome Burled Arch

Long distance dog mushing is incredible. One of the most magnificent sights is watching a dog team come across the Iditarod finish line and under the burled arch in Nome. It doesn't matter whether the team has won the competition, come in second place or even 50th… the emotional aspect of this final act is incredible.

This finish line represents the ultimate bond that can exist between dogs and humans. To all of us here at SP Kennel, dog mushing is a fine balance between respect and love. We know what SP Kennel dogs need, we know what they want, and we know what they will do for us. That’s where the respect and love come into play. We must always respect their limits and abilities and only then will they continue to love us and do whatever they can to please us. We need to know exactly what we can ask from each individual. These dogs are our teammates, our buddies, and the bottom line is:
their love and respect is our only mode of transportation through 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

TBT: Happy Birthday Honkeytonks!

Later this month the Honkeytonk litter will turn seven!

The Honkeytonk litter is Lester, Scruggs, Boondocks, Waylon, Willie, Hank, Reba and Bubba. As you may have guessed, many of them got their names from Ole Time Country performers: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (who sang the Beverley Hillbillies theme song - I bet it's playing in your head right now huh?), Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and Reba McIntyre. Boondocks and Bubba were names that Aliy came home with after a Spring visit to Allen's hometown in Arkansas.

Five of the litter still live at the kennel and are all phenomenal sled dogs. You can see their profiles on the Dogs page (click the red link). Hank now lives in Texas with Randy and D'Ann Chappel (remember Randy from the ChaCha story?), Reba lives with some friends who have a recreational kennel and Bubba spent some time in Whitehorse, Canada.

Let's take a quick look back to when they were puppies with these adorable pics from 2008.

L-R: Lester, Scruggs, Waylon, Boondocks and Hank.

Hank and Lester (his ears were still learning to stand up!)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Denali Express Railroad

Princess Cruises has many land excursions across the state of Alaska. One spectacular option is to disembark from a Princess Cruise Ship in Whittier and get directly onboard a luxury railroad car that travels north up the Cook Inlet and into the heart of the Alaska Range. This train brings guests directly to Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge just outside Denali National Park. Aliy and Allen have worked on the “Denali Express” Northbound train for years. They share their passion of dog mushing with Alaskan visitors and tell stories about sled dogs, racing adventures and, of course, each other.

Aliy and Allen jump on board at the Hurricane Depot. The Alaska Railroad conductor is a friend and generally slows down enough to let them on! The train then crosses Hurricane Gulch (Milepost 284), goes through Broad Pass in the Alaska Range (Milepost 304), peaks at Summit (Milepost 313), passes the village of Cantwell (Milepost 320) and pulls into the Denali Railroad Depot (Milepost 328). As the train makes its way north through the mountains, Aliy and Allen walk through the train cars speaking to between five and six-hundred guests. They hand out photo postcards to everyone and several lucky guests win SP Kennel t-shirts. The Denali Express Train runs from mid May until mid September. If you find yourself onboard, please take time to say ‘Hello’ to our two Mushers!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

YQ 2016 Sign Ups

Today was the first day of sign ups for Yukon Quest 2016! Mushers are able to submit registration forms and fees at either Yukon Quest office - in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, Canada or in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Allen was entertaining visitors on the Denali Express Train and was unable to join the festivities today but he made a special trip to YQ headquarters in Fairbanks one day early to drop off his and Aliy's forms. Allen will again compete in the Yukon Quest 1000 mile race and Aliy will compete in the Yukon Quest 300. Both start in Fairbanks on Saturday February 6, 2016.

2015 Quest L-R: The Black Team on the start line in Whitehorse; The Red Team arrives into Pelly Crossing

We're so excited to have teams in both these awesome races. They're races we know and love and we're also excited to see the large competitor list after just one day of sign-ups. 21 mushers have signed up to run 1000 miles and a further 18 to run 300. Who's ready for race season to start??

For more information on the 2016 entrants go to or the Quest Facebook page.