Sunday, April 12, 2009

Becoming a Student of the "Game"

"Natural Beauty should be Preserved as a Monument to Nature..." - Neil Young
Happy Easter everyone,
Enjoyed a brief 5 mile jaunt with the pooches this morning. Wanted to go further but sunny conditions with no wind made the decision to turn back early an easy one. This time of year we stop every five minutes or so, it's more like running wind sprints than any type of long-distance running- just keeping the pooches happy and healthy! Up in the lead with Mr. Wonka was a dog we brought back from Fort Yukon named Ringo. He was in Josh Cadzow's winning Quest 300 team last year as well as this year's Quest squad. A beautiful white 5 year old male, he should be lining up at the starting line of numerous races next year. After sponsoring Josh, his dad Cliff, out of appreciation, told me I could have this gifted canine once the season was finished. Cliff ran Ringo in lead for the 300 mile Yukon Flats race. Needless to say Ringo looks wonderful, a great gee-haw leader which is always nice to have around I suppose.
Lots of time on the sled runners to ponder over life. At the beginning of the year we had hoped to do well yet realized this was going to be a bit of a rebuilding season. Lots of younger pooches were replacing our more experienced canine explorers. We will not have that 'excuse' next year. The level of talent I get to enjoy goofing around with each day is mesmerizing. Capone, Nemo, Griffin, Geronimo, Amigo... the list of promising yearlings goes on and on. Hoping to have at least 2 racing squads next year. Whomever is lucky enough to be one of our handlers next year is in for one heck of a ride!
As a musher, one is always seeking to improve- even if there name is Lance Mackey. All of us mushers hope that our sport evolves as well. Known as one of the more 'oddball characters' of our sport allows me the opportunity to speak my mind w/out fear of repercussions from sponsors. All of our sponsors are our friends, not just someone looking to make a buck off of our name. Hugh Neff , I promise you, will never be some 'walking billboard'- we're here to play with dogs not sell our soul. That being said, some readers will notice that I might be a bit more 'vocal' in my opinions but at least I'm out there on the trail- I witness firsthand what I write about. The Iditarod is a wonderful trail to play on but there is always room for improvement. Folks might think after viewing the Versus cable show that surviving Schaktoolik was the toughest part mentally for me to handle. The run from Safety on into Nome was actually more harrowing mentally. Why? Well, it was the middle of the afternoon, above 30 and sunny out- tough conditions for the dogs to handle, especially in their tired condition after travelling nearly 1,000 miles already. Famed 4-time Iditarod champ Martin Buser once told me that he did not like competing in races where the trail went over mtns. instead of around them. That's part of the reason so many Iditaroders steer clear of the Quest. Though of the 5 past years in which we participated in both 1,000 mile events, the Iditarod trail has been in much worse shape overall than the Quest. Alot of this is due to Mother Nature as well as the fact that much of the Quest trail goes over roads which are easier to maintain. The reason I'm bringing this up is that I believe teams should have the option of going over or around Cape Nome. Though only ten miles from the finish, this lil' bump has caused too much havoc in recent years. Do the dogs really deserve to be put thru this?
Now, I'm sure all of the 'top competitors' would rip into this notion but is the Iditarod about what 'You' want or what is best for the overall health of the animals. Leaving Safety we were just over 5 minutes behind Ken Anderson yet there was no way I would push pooches hard in the sweltering heat of the day, up and over over a thousand foot hill. But why are we on this hill when there is a nice flat road right next to it that we could be travelling on. Some of the unfortunate events that have occurred over the last few years would probably have been avoided if the dogs had not been overly stressed with the streets of Nome just within reach.
In the Percy Dewolfe race mushers must travel from Dawson to Eagle by any trail they so choose. Why not the same option coming into Nome? Sometimes going over the hill might be an advantage if there isn't much snow on the road. Let the mushers decide their trail into town. Isn't it all about what's best for the dogs?
Yesterday was rather strange, even by my standards. Greg Damon from KMOX in St. Louis, a CBS affiliate interviewed me live on the radio over the phone. I met Greg a few years back when we still gave summer tour rides. (We do not agree with how that mushing operation was run and refuse to ever put any of our pooches thru the summer tourism scene on the coast. It just isn't healthy for their hearts or spirits.) Greg has a Nascar show each weekend at KMOX/CBS Radio.
It was fun talking about our dogmushing season to folks half a world away. Greg then mentioned he had a surprise for me, "Our next question is from... Columbia, Missouri." I knew immediately who it was- my older brother Bruce. It's an interesting interview- you can check it out via the web. Will have our upcoming school tour schedual midweek, waiting to hear back from a few teachers 1st. Enjoy the view, Hugh


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