Monday, January 22, 2007

Kusko 300

Hey y'all,
Just finished our 2nd mid-distance race in the last two weeks. Thus far the prospects for a successful season seem advantageous. Laughing Eyes kennel's squad of Dawgs finished 6th out of 19 teams in the Kuskokwim 300 which finished yesterday afternoon. Temps. hovered just above zero which was pleasant travelling weather. Martin Buser edged out Jeff King in a thrilling down to the wire finish. Our Yukon Quest dogs fared pretty well compared with the highly rated Iditarod teams we were up against. Though in retrospect many of the teams were 'fine tuning' their dogs for the "Last Great Race on Earth" which begins the 1st weekend in March.

Typically the Kusko is a relatively flat trail, however this year they put in a loop over to Pike lake that traversed over a small mountain range. As is her custom, Alaska offered some breathtaking views as well as throngs of new friends to meet along the way. What was truly amazing is that in most of the villages along the river system the native Yupik is still spoken. Much fun was had sharing stories with local dogmushers in the villages of Kalskag, Akiak and Tulusak where we had layovers at. This race did have one MAJOR problem I had to encounter-the BEARS. Obviously the local ones are hibernating this time of year though the football team in Chicago was busy making history on its way to the Superbowl. A local lady, Lori, taped the game which I watched at 5am this morning. Much like the snow falling down onto the players' helmets, tears flowed from my eyes while watching tv- though no team will ever match the spirit of '85's Ditka squad. When it comes down to it for our kennel that's what dogmushing is all about. We'll let others concentrate on making money- our focus is on personal perfection. Lord knows we have a ways to go, yet we're heading in the right direction. Standouts on the Kusko team were a recent Lance Mackey dog Storm, lil' lady Shyela in lead as well as mama Colby and her son Watson.

The last two pooches have has quite a busy agenda having finished in the Cantwell Classic 200 event which we finished 2nd behind Mr. Mackey out of 26 teams. That course travelled along the Denali highway winding its way through some majestic mountainous scenery. There were two reasons we decided to participate in the inaugural running of the 200 mile event. The chance to explore new terrain is always high up on our list of things to do. The main reason was that the race was honoring the greatest competitive dogmusher of all time Mr. George Attla. The 'Huslia Hustler' is good friends with my mentor Lester Erhart. With 50 miles left in the event, as we descended down a hill onto the Big Su river, we flew around a corner and into some major trouble. My main leaders Watson and his brother Walter lunged off of the trail into some bushes-what's up fellas? I then noticed that a fat varmit was waddling deeper into the thicket. The pooches faces suddenly popped out full of porcupine quills. Fortunately the checkpoint was only minutes away. Unfortunately for Walter he received the majority of the punishment and would be dropped immediately for medical attention. (He's resting comfortably on the couch back at our casa on Annie lake now.) Watson went relatively unscathed with only a few quills on his nose that were removed immediately. He would end up running well and finishing both races (along with his mom). I could have sworn half of the time we were moving down the trail to back to Bethel he was sniffing and scanning through the bushes just waiting to get some revenge on that pesky porky that messed his brother up.

During our 'break' between races Tamra and I prepared our food drops for the Iditarod in Anchorage at our good friends, Jessie and Alisa's place. She returned home with one team of dogs once everything was organized into dozens and dozens of 50 pd. bags supplied to mushers by the race committee. Quest bags were done a few weeks ago allowing us now to concentrate on the poopers without all of the numerous shopping distractions. Many thanks go out for all of the positive feedback and warm wishes. Special thanks for my host family in Bethel Pat Barrett. She has a lovely fenced in yard for the kids to run around in as well as numerous couches for them to lounge out on. The wine and sauna kept yours truly focused on finishing as soon as possible also.

We have our finishing banquet this evening, a plane flight to Anchorage in the morning followed by a 14 hour drive back to Whitehorse. This surreal mushing life of ours can be quite demanding at times yet up here in the north we have a saying, "Instead of calling it work, call it play- that way you're more likely to keep smiling all day." Have a good one.
Hugh and the Laughing Eyes Crew DA BEARS


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