Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Playing with Da BIG Dawgs (part II)

"Can you see what this life can be...?"

Dawson is my favorite city in the North; it's a magical place-haunting yet enticing. Quest mushers are required to stay there for 36 hours as handlers tend to the pooches while they are resting. Each musher is given a space in the campground across the river for their dogs to receive some rest and TLC. Yuka Honda, a Quest musher not racing this year volunteered to help Tamra out, she was also our security guard. Yuka's a great gal who we hope makes it to the finish line one day soon! The team is fed every 4-6 hours, massaged and taken for walks during this time period. Tamra's been doing this for several years now and has a great eye for injuries that even the veterinarians might have missed. Unfortunately Tam noticed that one of our main leaders Wonka had a bump on his left front leg, we kept our fingers crossed that the swelling might go down, also using massage and a wrist wrap to help the situation. After consulting with Dr. Renee we thought it best to leave Mr. Wonka behind, they'll be other races for him to enjoy. Our pooped out puppy Jester was rejuvenated thus we decided to keep him in the team.

The amazing aspect of this year's squad was the age- our oldest was five (Annie, Walter and Watson) with the average being around 3. We had 3 two year olds, along with Jester were his brothers Amigo and George. Famed Iditarod musher and friend Paul Gebhardt is always telling me how he loves racing 2 year olds, now I could see why- their enthusiasm and energy! Once times were readjusted we would be leaving in 2nd, a few hours after Hans, with Lance twenty minutes behind us. As far as I was concerned we were all tied for the lead. Before leaving I chatted briefly with Josh Cadzow. I was happy to see that though low on dogs he was excited- that energy would enable him to put on quite a show the second half of the race. Departing the following morning I was listening to some MJ on the ipod as we left Dawson headed for the Klondike Gold fields, " Billie Jean is not my lover, she's just a girl who..."

It was gonna be a long day at the office as our destination, Scroggie Creek was 1oo miles away. 1st things 1st however- King Solomon's Dome, at over 3,600 ft. is the highest point of the trail with amazing views that stretch for dozens of miles in any direction. The team was moving well as we ascended up the winding road. Numerous film crew folks were taping us, a camera was once again placed on the sled too. An hour from town one passes by Gold Dredge #4 which is a massive ship sized relic from a bygone era. In the dark of the night it sends shivers down my back though this time around I was just amazed by what a feat of engineering it is. All went well as we began our gradual descent to the mining area on Solomon's southeastern side. The team was a splendid, cohesive 11 dog unit now with Annie and Tyler still leading the way. Three hours out I stopped to snack the team and replace some booties, realizing it was a matter of miles before Mr. Mackey would be joining up with us.

The trail to Indian river is a rather flat and fast mining road that thankfully was semi-shady considering it was the heat of the day. A few hours later we reached a cluster of homes alongside a bluff- Indian river. I once again stopped the team for a quick fish snack. Suddenly Watson began to growl and howl. Looking back Lance's pink paws came into view. All his pooches were wearing pink booties this year, getting a lil' light in your loafers there buddy? He explained that they had been donated to him and were made with good material. Having just snacked his squad as well he passed on by as we ascended Eureka Mtn., though not too difficult a climb we took our time in the warm afternoon sun. Minutes later a snowmachine appeared from behind- it was 'Haywire Harry'- a local photographer who went on by. Unfortunately his machine broke down shortly thereafter and he would be stranded for a few days. Hence the nickname.

A dogteam's speed tends to diminish on these longer runs yet as the sun set ever so slowly our pace picked up a tad. Lance had to bag a dog that was overheating as we passed by him in the black hills. The view from up above here is gorgeous, especially the reds, purples and pinks as the sun sets to the west. Leaving the mining area we were back in the tree lined trail, nearing Scroggie creek for a well deserved rest. Early that evening we pulled into the newly rebuilt spot that we were eager to check out. William Kleedehn and co. had recently built a plywood cabin for mushers to use. It definately lived up to the hype though we think he intentionally made the door squeaky so people could not sneak out on other mushers. Hans was leisurely resting upon our arrival. The temperature was just below zero which was rather balmy for this section of trail. Jester was to be dropped here, it was obvious that the longer runs were too much for him to handle. We'd save him for the Iditarod trail which is typically easier on a dog`s body.

In fact most of the team will be performing in both 1,ooo mile events. It might be difficult for cityfolk to understand but these animals, beautiful northern beasts of nature actually get stronger as they go- their bodies become 'hardened in'. Other mushers are always amazed how I rarely look tired or discombobulated despite days with lil`sleep on the trail. What they fail to realize is that since the year 2000 I will have now competed in 17 thousand milers, including both major races back to back the last 6 years in a row. While some are always focused on what place they finish personally it`s all about retaining the Passion within us! Lance and I had numerous discussions on this subject. The internet has been great for expanding coverage of our sport but what many fans fail to realize is: We`re not competing to impress You or `win one for the gipper`- for many of us this is a sacred event in which we are trying to evolve into better dogmen, true sons of the North. Nowadays so many people are trying to latch on to mushing `celebrities`in order to use them for their own selfish gain. As mushers we need to realize this, concentrate on what is most important- the Dawgs- and be satisfied with whatever place we finish, as long as they are happy and healthy. Lance commented how insulted he was by people telling him how sorry they were for his not `winning`a race. Just because you don`t come in 1st in an event does not mean you have not had a good run. If there's any musher out there who only cares about winning I suggest they sell their dogs and get some therapy.

After enjoying some hot dogs and soup we waited for Hans to leave, bootying up an hour after his departure. All of us were experienced enough on the trail not too waste much time playing head games with each other. In this year's contest may the best team win! Next place to rest would be Pelly Crossing another 1oo miler that by now the dogs were used to running. The trail to SteppingStone is quite hilly thus we would be setting no speed records, a nice consistent pace is what we were seeking. Fortunately this run would be done in the dark, heat would not be an issue. Descending down towards the river I noticed that Lance was pumping his fist in the air. We had caught up to Hans- he looked back at us bewildered at our arrival. As he bedded his team down in SteppingStone we continued on to Pelly. Hans, like all mushers, was enduring a tough run, having had to carry a dog in the sled. He's one of the best in the world however, this was just a glitch for him to overcome.

An hour later as we travelled on the Pelly river I looked up from staring at my dogs to see Lance chasing after his dogteam. With one last leap he jumped forward and lurched onto his sled's handlebar. Glancing back at me with a big grin on his face I couldn't help but start laughing- what's the deal with people leading races and losing their dogteams? I would later find out that his seat had busted, I couldn't believe how fast he ran to catch his squad, talk about an adrenaline rush! Nearing Pelly early that afternoon media were once again on the trail filming us. The sun was heating up as our pace diminished, just outside of town Lance whistled up his squad as they left us in their wake. He obviously had more power to play with. We were greeted by friends and race fans upon our arrival. The pooches were really in a nice groove now with healthy appetites as they chowed down on some beef chunks and chicken breasts.

During our break I was heartened to learn that only 1 team of the entire field had scratched from the Quest- this was an amazing year considering normally only half the teams finish this grueling event. Having finished a delectable meal of spaghetti the excitement suddenly peaked amongst the assembled fans as Hans arrived- the race was on. The temps. were in the 30's that afternoon so we decided to wait til early evening before departing. Heading out of Pelly one must ascend a rather steep hill before crossing over several lakes that lead to Minto and McCabe Creek. McCabe's checkpoint had burnt down last year and is now under construction. Our run time was just over a few hours as we arrived there being greeted by Jari Kruse. Lance instructed me to guard the teams while he ran into her parent's house to grab some coffee and cinnabuns. Unfortunately as we left McCabe jumble ice awaited us- it was a bit difficult drinking coffee while navigating these bouncy sections.

Carmacks was our next destination, some 40 odd miles away. This section can leave you quite disorientated with twisty up and down narrow roads to follow. Thankfully the final few miles leading into this native village are downhill as both man and dogs were once again in need of some rest. Lance, Hans and our team were blowing the roof off of the record book. Last year's pace felt like a crawl compared with this contest's accelerated environment. Fog greeted us as we came into the checkpoint, coming up to the parking area the team accidentally went on to the road. Fearing a time penalty I quickly ran up to the leaders and pulled them back over to the trail. "You need not have worried Hugh", the officials called out once we arrived. Now ya tell me.
Twenty minutes later Hans arrived. "Race is on.", Lance chimed in. I grabbed some eggs and ham before enjoying a quick rest. We realized that Hans had the best team among us, our sole choice was to see if their speed would diminish if they had a bit less rest than ours.

Twenty minutes outside of Carmacks I had my answer as we let Hans team pass by. Before leaving I had mentioned to the japanese film crew not to be disappointed if we finished 3rd, I'd give it our best shot but in dogmushing it tends to be rather obvious by the last stages of a long-distance race who has the more powerful squad. Even though Lance had a 15 minute advantage on Hans I was relatively confident that he too would be passed somewhere during the 75 mile run to Braeburn. There was a mandatory 8 hour layover there thus if any team had more than a 20 minute advantage on their nearest competitor the odds were heavily with them to cross the finish line 1st. It feels more like a 100 mile run as numerous lakes and portages cover this section of Quest trail. Coghlan lake offers the most panoramic views with massive pingos jutting out from islands in its center. Though a bit disappointed that we could not keep up with the other outstanding squads I still reveled in the moment, thanking the pooches for giving such a wonderful effort. Ya know folks, often out on the trail tears are streaming down my cheeks- even to this day after tens of thousands of miles traveled- joyously celebrating the fact that a simple cityboy from Chicago is so fortunate to have witnessed all that these eyes have seen.

Nearing Braeburn it was obvious despite all of my efforts at massaging Watson that his massive chest muscles were impeding him from running properly. I decided this would be the 1st time he would not be finishing a 1,000 miler. Considering this was his 6th major race in 5 years it was an emotional experience letting my lil' buddy know that we'd be leaving him behind. Steve Watson is the owner of Breaburn and a good friend. His massive meals along with a cold Kokanee really hit the spot. The weather was getting quite warm as we neared the finish line in Whitehorse. Fortunately our departure was set for 3am when the temps. would be a bit cooler. Each year we do some training runs on this last section of trail thus the dogs attitude picked up knowing they were heading down the homestretch. By this point Hans was an hour ahead of us and 30 minutes in front of Lance. The famed Austrian musher was in control now as he would be tied with Lance as the only 2 people to win the Quest race 4 times each. I had wishful thoughts of catching Mr. Mackey but realistically it was a longshot.

I made a musher's mistake by bringing the team up too early to the departure chute, they became bored waiting for the clock to tick down. I replaced Tyler in lead with Walter who pulled us down the trail and on our way towards home. Thankfully it was quite windy that morning much like air conditioning for the pooches. Nearing the Takhini river, just a few hours from the finish line we met up with an old friend Colin Morrison who was checking out teams as they passed by the Flat Creek parking lot. Unfortunately this was the spot where we start most of our training runs- they looked at Colin's car wondering if it was a miniature dogtruck. Stopping them for a fish snack, Colin offered me some Kiwi mentioning that Lance was 40 minutes ahead. By now the temps. were in the 30's, considering the nearest competitor behind us was over half a day back I decided to take our time and enjoy the last remaining hours of this historic race.

Passing by the Takhini river bridge I noticed a bearded fella awaiting our arrival, "I'm so proud of you Hugh." It was retired legendary Quest musher Frank Turner, his thoughts were truly heartwarming. Rounding the river's bend I noticed Keizo Funatsu and the japanese crew were there to film the final sequence. We were now all friends after what we had shared together the previous weeks. Pulling into Whitehorse, Annie and Walter led the way, followed by Amigo and George, Delilah and Tyler and finally Nathan and Zodiac. It was easily the smoothest run I have ever had in any race let alone the Quest- having finished a 1,000 miles in just over 9 days it felt like the event had just begun yesterday. As I explained to the gathered crowd after checking in and feeding the Dawgs. "No matter how many Iditarod races and other competitions I compete in, no matter how successful we might be- at Heart - I'll always be a YukonQuest dogmusher."
And that's all he wrote...


Friday, February 19, 2010

Playing with Da BIG Dawgs

" One's life is judged not only on what they achieve but on what they have overcome..."

1st day was a bit ruff on the Quest trail this year. The previous evening we were watching Alaska's famous balladeer Hobo Jim at my local watering hole, Ivory Jack's, in Goldstream Valley. Towards the end of his gig Hobo shouted out at the audience, "Are there any YukonQuest mushers here?" Zack Steer had just left so everyone pointed in my direction. "You're my hero- now get the heck out of here!" I shouted back that you're my hero as well Hobo- we quickly grabbed our jackets and headed for the door. The Cadzows were kind enough to let us stay in their guest cabin. Josh was once again signed up, we were all hoping he'd make it to the finish line this time around.

The following morning the Japanese film crew that was doing a story on us and Josh arrived early to film us preparing for the race. Compared with 2 years ago the Quest start was rather balmy, in '08 the temp. was 50 below- one could barely even see their dog team, this time around it was in the teens, purrrfect dog weather. Pat Barrett, one of our main sponsors, flew in from Philly to catch a ride to the starting line as well as some pics with the team. Her cheery demeanor is always wonderful to have around the pooches. For any musher, once the race begins the worst part has already passed- the waiting! Thousands of folks lined the chute as Watson and Wonka led us on our merry way. Folks along the route handed out hot dogs, cookies, cokes and even an Alaskan Amber beer! Let the 'suffering' continue...

This being our 10th anniversary run of the Quest I could not help but reminisce about all I've witnessed throughout the years- the good, the bad and the ugly. Nowadays I call the trail my 'office'- imagine knowing nearly every nook and cranny of a 1,000 mile rollercoaster ride, experience is a powerful entity in this world of ours. As in past years I had decided to avoid the throngs of other teams by doing a longer run. There were a couple stretches of nasty, icy overflow that I wanted to pass over as well, it made sense to push the team a bit further so that they would be less energetic and thus easier to control in these dicey situations. All went well as we pulled over to rest with Dave Dalton, Brent Sass and my buddy Mike Ellis. Once our teams had been fed and cared for we enjoyed some campfire chat. Though competitors, we are also comrades who all realize how lucky we are to enjoy such a beautiful and adventurous lifestyle.

A few hours went by before teams came whizzing past, it's always fun to 'size up' the competition, even though it's the middle of the night and pitch black out. Their goes Gerry W. looking good, Hans is as powerful as ever, too funny Lance is just a minute behind him- already playing head games. As Brent's team departed I bootied up the kids for our next leg of the journey- Mile 101 checkpoint. At over 3,500 ft. Mt. Rosebud would be the big test for this section of trail. Before ascending her steep slopes we had some nasty twisty trail to cover. At one point we missed a turn and dropped some fifty feet over a riverbank and on to the ice below. Fortunately Watson turned us around and back on to the main trail as I apologised to Abbie West who we were travelling with at the time. Approaching Rosebud I noticed a sled up ahead, we were gaining on Brent. Being much younger than myself I decided to let this young buck from Minnesota be our sherpa guide up and over the mountain. This year I had decided to use a sit down sled- yes I was kicking up the steepest section of the Quest trail while sitting on my bum- I know-lazy! Thanks Brent, owe you one Brotha.

The trail was in decent shape as we pulled in to 101 for our mandatory veterinary check. The pooches did well, were eating and now resting as I sauntered off for an hour of shuteye. Lance Mackey was already in the cabin crashed out. I call Lance my 'soul brother'- we've witnessed alot together over these past 5 or 6 years. However before the race I repeatedly told Tamra that I needed to stay out of his sphere of influence, one loses focus when travelling with such a legendary figure. Concentrate on the dogs and not other mushers, realize how lucky you are to be you. Well, so much for that plan- from here on out we'd be travelling together for most of the race. Karma- it is what it is.

Hans Oettli, the Race Marshall had given us permission to place a camera on the sled to film the notorious descent down Eagle Summit. This year the conditions were ideal as we flew up and over without any problems. Unfortunately the camera was knocked out on the bumpy ride, nonetheless I was hootin' and hollering all the way to Central- what a rush of enjoyment! 20 miles from town we cross over the steese hwy., I noticed that Lance's Mrs., Tonya and handler Braxton were hanging out in a truck awaiting his arrival. Waving to them, we continued on thru the next portion of trail known as the Schandelmier gauntlet. John is an old school musher who has won the race twice and is now the head trail person on the Alaska side. Each year he makes a point of reminding mushers they are on the Quest trail - the next section had numerous twists and turns over small uprooted trees. Nothing too major but a reminder of how lucky we are to have such great trail for most of the way.

Pulling in to Central I was a bit apprehensive considering a 2 hour penalty for yours truly gave the race away to someone else last year. During that contest I had gone down the road while giving an interview to a german film crew, the head fella told the reporters assembled that I was a 'cheater'. One must ask the question however- who is the cheater? The person who is given a penalty that decides the race or someone else who might have performed the very same action, though for not as far, yet hidden their agenda and successfully used this to their advantage? (Despite the fact that they left a fellow musher hangin' in the wind by their covert actions and thus dishonored the integrity of the race.) Race fans might tease me about staying off the road but we in the 'biz' know what really went down and which musher should be haunted by what they have perpetuated. This time around I could only laugh as I noticed that all of the teams in front of us went straight down the street despite being told before the race of the trail that ran in the gully along side it- it was completely unsafe to stop the team on the paved area, oh well. Pulling into the checkpoint I couldn't resist humming a lil' Willie Nelson tune- "On the road again..."- a few folks in the crowd began giggling...

The beauty of this year`s race was its mellow atmosphere, after last season`s embarassing finish everyone wanted the world to once again see what the YukonQuest truly is all about. Hans and his crew allowed the media a bit more access to the mushers, handlers were not being harassed, etc.. Everyone was having fun and smiling- it truly is a celebration of our unique northern lifestyle. It being the heat of the day I decided to stay for a burger, the bar was packed as the super bowl began. In sauntered this wild woman from down south, Kathy Chapoton is Martin Buser's wife and man was she pumped up about her Saints. She knew that I am hoping to do some school presentations there one day soon and was kind enough to give me a New Orleans souvenir to carry with for good luck. There was some bad news however as Shifter. a 65 pd. blonde pooch had to be dropped. The speed of the smaller, quicker dogs had worn him out.

The temps. in the mid teens were quite comfortable as we set off late in the afternoon, our next journey being some 75 miles to the village of Circle on the Yukon river. Crossing over Medicine lake we began to pass by numerous teams that were camping: Hans, Gerry, then Dave and Brent. Dropping down on to Birch creek we were now in 2nd place behind Mr. Mackey- deja vu Hugh. The sun recently setting set up a firmer trail as our speed accelerated. 10 miles later we caught and passed by Lance who was snacking his pooches. I was excited to go see my buddy Carl Cochrane whose residence is some 28 miles from Circle. Pulling up to his cabin a few hours later we exchanged pleasantries and a cup of joe. I would have loved to stay longer yet was afraid the young energetic squad might pull the hook and leave me stranded. After replacing some booties on the pooches I bid Carl adieu as we set off towards the mighty Yukon river.

The team was in a groove as we pulled in to Circle, Lance and Zack Steer were now ahead of us after our brief restbit at Cochrane's. The race officials, fans and japanese film crew were floored by our pace. "We didn't realize this was going to be a speed race", the head interpreter Izumi blurted out. "Blame it on Mackey", I responded. Once head veternarian Kathy McGill and her crew were done going over the dogs I went into the fire hall to grab some chow and shuteye. Lance was on his 2nd plate by the time I arrived. Quest checkpoints provide a variety of chow for mushers to enjoy, suppose that's why we're always in a hurry to get to the next one.

From circle we would travel on or near the Yukon river for nearly 300 miles with only one checkpoint, Eagle, to resupply our outfits with. For much of this section of trail the lead alternated between Zack, myself, Hans and Lance. This year's poster depicted a musher crossing over jumbled ice, now we understood its meaning. It can be quite unnerving travelling the brief areas that contain ice such as this-they typically cut across the Yukon from one side to better trail on the other. You can only imagine all the difficult work the trail crew puts in creating these pathways. Slavens cabin was our 1st resting spot, Zack's team was bedded down upon our arrival. Unfortunately we had a major wipeout a few miles back and my sled's seat had broken off the back as I was drug down the trail. After tying it back together we continued on as I noticed one of our wheeldogs, Ellsworth, was doing a small bunny hop. After discussing the matter with Al the vet we decided it best to drop our slanty nosed buddy. It's always tough mentally to say adios to one of your furry compadres but their health should always be numero uno on a musher's mind.

The section from Slavens to Trout creek cabin passes by some of the more scary areas of the trail. The Nations river is typically windblown with nasty portions of ice. This evening however the air was still as we travelled upriver towards Eagle in the darkness and star filled skies above. Typically every few hours the team is snacked with meat, kibble or fish. Frequent rest breaks are taken along the way to check on booties, luv up the pooches, etc. Trout Creek cabin is run by Mike Seger who comes out from Eagle each year to man this rest area for all of us. This would be the 1st place I actually had some quality sleep since the beginning of the race, just over an hour or so. Most cabins along the way find Lance and I shooting the breeze with folks we don't want to miss the opportunity to share some story time with. As Mr. Mackey often says, "There's plenty of time to sleep when you're dead." This year it was quite noticeable that a voice was missing from the conversation. A good friend and mentor was not participating- William Kleedehn. One of the Quest's greatest dogmen ever, William was sorely missed, we all hope he returns to the trail again in the future- where he belongs.

Following Zack and Hans early the next morning we set off the remaining 45 miles to Eagle. The sky was illuminated with pinkish hues as the sun rose on the horizon, the mountainsides were adorned in splendour. Life was gorgeous - this was the Quest trail fluffing her wings for all to see! Nearing Eagle we immediately noticed that the Yukon river was wide open in the middle- it was unbelievable to witness such a scene in the arctic in the coldest part of the winter. Eagle had been devastated by floodwaters the previous spring as mammoth chunks of ice destroyed the native section of town. A few miles out a massive headwind nailed our teams as mushers were forced to hunker down low behind their sleds or else they'd become a sail and slow down the team's momentum. The cliffsides surrounding the river here resemble Yosemite- heavenly, a rock climber's paradise. Pulling in to the schoolhouse checkpoint, Lance commented that this area would not be too bad of a place to settle down. I heartily agreed though I doubted that our better halfs would concur .

The frontrunners, knowing each other quite well, were respectful of each other the entire race. The competition was heating up however to see who would be the 1st to Dawson to collect the 4 ounces of gold. Zack left Eagle 1st followed by Lance then myself. By this point in the race Tyler was up in front of our team next to Annie. I named him after a boy we had given a glacier ride to thru the 'Make-a-Wish' foundation. Tyler was a sweet kid that always seemed to have a big smile on his face despite having cystic fibrosis. His willful determination lives on thru the spirit of our mystic-eyed, white pooch who has superstar written all over. It was a blessing to watch him lope up the highway leading to American Summit. Even more harrowing to view was Hans' team as they flew by all three of our squads- it was obvious now who the favorite squad was for this race. The winds were howling as we travelled around the mountain's top. 4 dogteams against Mother Nature- yet another Quest test to endure.

From there one travels the Taylor hwy, which is not plowed, for several hours of hilly terrain finally descending down onto the forty mile river. By now Hans had left us in the dust, Zack had fallen back a bit as well. In past years we would have broken this 150 mile run up into 3 sections yet the times are a changin'- "Oh Canada"- here we come baby! The forty mile river is rather narrow compared with the quarter mile wide mighty Yukon. Large hillsides adorn either side of the stream leaving some amazing vistas for one to enjoy. A few hours downriver we came upon Hans who had set up camp at the border crossing, his dogs were bedded down on straw and resting. Having won the race 3 times Hans in my book is the champ. Not because of his victories but all he has done over the years. Many Questers use his sleds that can take a beating and keep on flying. The forty mile descends down to the Yukon thus its a mellow trail for the pooches to travel on. Exhaustion for humans was taking affect by now. "Lance, Lance.", I repeatedly yelled out, finally I hiked up Annie to go by his team. Suddenly he jumped up out of his dream state. A few hours passed by before he asked to once again lead the way.

As the sun rose that morning we pulled into Sebastian Jones cabin at forty mile. We were again back on the Yukon river now. We decided to stay at least 4 hours, it was Hans decision now. We had fun visiting with Sebastian, just over 2 hours passed when Hans' squad rolled on thru. There was no sense in not giving the dogs a proper restbit considering we were barely halfway into the competition. Besides we had both won the Dawson prize before. The remaining run into town was rather sluggish as the wind drifted over large portions of the trail. We could only imagine what Hans was going thru a few hours ahead of us. Twenty miles from town I noticed a few planes soaring above us. Rounding a bend in the river I was immediately awestruck- 4 Caribou were racing down the trail in front of us- was I seeing things? I had to laugh, both planes were heading upriver towards Dawson thus missing some incredible video. As we neared the 'Paris of the North' our pace accelerated. Unfortunately near Moosehide there was a large section of water that had been opened up, time to get wet kids!. Thankfully it was barely a few feet deep though my mood was soured as we pulled up to the multitude of media. Encrusted in ice, "Huge Mess" was not a happy camper. Pulling a pooped out pup, Jester, from within the sledbag I explained to race official Thomas Tetz that I had hoped to get a shower in Dawson, not before it!

to be continued...

Monday, February 01, 2010

Annie's Army

"If you want to make the world a better place, take a look in the mirror and... Change....."- MJ

And they're off!!! The heart of racing season begins this weekend with the start of the YukonQuest in Fairbanks. I love this race unlike any other, it truly has a grip on my heart and soul for this is where I learned to...? SURVIVE! What has me excited for this year's saga? Well, competing against dogmushing friends is always fun and challenging but in all honesty it's Terra, the LAND, that keeps the anticipation heightened. One thousand miles of pure pleasure, this will be our 1oth Quest race but with so many amazing views I'll always feel like the eternal rookie. Heading over Eagle Summit, sunsets on the Yukon river, the valley view from up on top of American summit- Dawson City- the hills heading in to Scroggie creek. The twisty rollercoaster ride just outside of Carmacks and finally the Emerald valley that guides one for the last remaining miles into the wondrous city of Whitehorse. And best of all? 14 of your favorite furry friends to share each and every exhilarating experience with. Quest mushers truly are some of the luckiest humans on the globe!

This year's squad is dubbed Annie's Army- along with her brothers Walter and Watson, 3 of her sons will be participating- Jester, George and Amigo. The other dominant litter is from our retired leader Omen, they are- Delilah, Tyler, Tolliver and Ellsworth. Rounding out the team will be Shifter, a pooch we picked up from Lance Mackey last year, Zodiac who we acquired from Lance's bro Jason. Tamra's boyfriend Nathan will be back again as well as my hero-Mr. Wonka. (check out our website for pics) It'll be an interesting group of kids to play with considering the average age of the team is 3-4 years old. If you are a fan whose only desire is to follow a 'winning team' I suggest you check out someone else's internet sight- our kennel's sole purpose is having fun. I've seen too many other mushers over the years lose their souls all in the pursuit of defeating others. That type of attitude is not only bad for dogs but for a lengthy dogmushing career as well. Our goal as I've stated in the past is to finish with wagging tails that are ready and roaring to go on to the next adventure. What's best for the Quest? the more finishing squads the better. In mushing just as in life, one should never worry about being 'better' than those around them- just don't beat up on yourself. Take this from an Eagle Scout who has witnessed a thing or 2 over the years- Be Prepared.

We plan on racing in 5 or 6 more competitions this season- the Quest, Iditarod, Roadrunner ( a 100 miler in Whitehorse) possibly the Percy Dewolfe, Yukon Flats 400 as well as the Kobuk 440 in Kotzebue. As in other years it's quite the full slate but if one has a deep passion, their energy is limitless. And that is what mushing is all about- the ENERGY. When you and the team are as one single entity that train is a ROLLING round the bend- and it doesn't matter if you ever see sunshine cuz the beauty of the trail will never end. Here's wishing all my Quest compadres well on the trail. If you want to be successful always remember to lose the stress, compete not with others but with yourself and most importantly- Unleash the BEAST within.
Enjoy the view, Hugh

Paw Partners Rick and Wanda Hilman
Susie Calderwood 49er Feed
Karen Russo Kipmik
Pat Barrett Gerry Willomitzer
Hans Gatt Ray Redington Jr.
June Shelley Caitlin Santos
Sam Harrell Roland Riley
Our awesome handler Elie Lafave!
All of the school teachers and kids we have had the pleasure of visiting.
And so many others- if I forgot you my apologies.
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