2011 Racing Season Re-Cap
The 2011 racing season was a huge success thanks to my family, and many loyal sponsors and friends. I had big expectations to race hard and hopefully place well especially after I acquired 10 new dogs in August through a lease agreement with my good friend Ed Iten. These extra dogs added a level of depth in our kennel that I have not had in the past.
Thanks to my Dad we were able to start training the dogs in mid August. I got off work in early October and took over full time from there. We trained exclusively on sleds over the bare tundra from August 10th until the first snow fell. These runs were short distances but very physically demanding and I could feel the strength of the team building during each run. We were very fortunate to have better than average training conditions in the Bethel area this year and I was really pleased with the runs I was getting on the dogs early in the year. By early-mid December we were doing 90 mile runs with short breaks, and this is when I knew I was working with a serious team of dogs. For the rest of December we focused on maintaining good speed on long runs of 80-130 miles.
My goal for the Kusko was to really get an idea of how strong a team I had. This meant racing hard, but staying within the dogs limits as to not sacrifice anything for the upcoming Iditarod. We moved our way near the front of the race by the ½ way pont of Aniak where I stopped to give the dogs a 45 min. break and a quick feeding. A few of my competitors blew through this checkpoint but I was banking on them having trouble later down the trail and my team benefiting from the extra rest. On the way to Kalskag I passed Martin Buser and John Baker. My team was rolling like a freight train and we pull into Kalskag in 3rd place. Once again I stopped for 45 minutes to feed, still hoping my team would be able to overtake the two teams in front of me, Paul Gebhardt and Mike Williams Jr. The team marched out of Kalskag and we headed downriver for Tuluksak. Again the team was very steady and moving nicely down the trail. We pulled into Tuluksak and it seemed we weren’t going to catch Paul or Mike unless they had major touble on the home stretch. We were solidly in 3rd place and were able to coast into the finish with a big, healthy team. My 3 year old leader Frosty performed flawlessly and was still banging on the line when I stopped 10 miles from Bethel. She led every step and was going to be a key dog in the upcoming Iditarod.
I was very excited for Iditarod, but really wasn’t sure what to expect since it was only my 2nd race. I didn’t have a goal as far as where I would place, but mainly wanted to be as efficient as possible, make minimal mistakes and stay focused. I figured top 10 was a possiblilty with the team I was driving but there are so many variables in the race that I knew it would be difficult. We started off conservatively and slowly moved our way through the pack. By Nikolai we were 4-5 hours behind the leaders, which I expected and was happy with our position. We took our 24 hour break in Takotna. The dogs were fighting a stomach bug that they caught earlier in the race and did not eat much during our stay. I dropped a few dogs there and we left with a team that I felt was going to need some special care until they kicked this virus. We traveled ½ way to Iditarod and stopped at Dons Cabin for 4 hours. I was hoping more teams would do the same thing, but most of them went strait from Takotna to Iditarod. This Put us further behind but I figured this rest would pay off in the end. We arrived in Iditarod as the sun was setting. My team was performing well but were still having diareah and not eating well. We stayed over 6 hours. A little longer than I planned but I figured the dogs could use the extra rest. We had a really strong run to Shageluk on a trail that was much better than reported. I was happy with the dogs performance but still very frustrated with the illness and lack of appetite. We took our mandatory 8 in Shageluk and left in the evening for a night run through Anvik to Grayling. Once again the dogs had good speed and for the first time since Finger lake their appetites seemed to be coming back. We left Grayling with Ken Anderson and Michelle Phillips and I felt like I could start racing. We traveled together up the Yukon river to Eagle Island. Me and Ken took 6 hours in Eagle Island and left for the long run to Kaltag. The Dogs left slowly and took a couple hours to get loose under the hot afternoon sun. After trailing Ken for 4-5 hours I passed him and the dogs really picked up speed as the sun went down and temperature dropped. The last 10 miles into Kaltag I was standing on the track to slow the team from going to fast. The team looked great in Kaltag and ate a ton. We left after 6 hours and passed Bob Bundtzen, Martin Buser, and Aliy Zirkle on our way into Unalakleet. After another 6 hour break we left for Shaktoolik. I was making a plan as I went and decided to blow through Shaktoolik and continue on to Koyuk. The dogs were going ballistic in Shak as I ran over to grab some dog food from my bags. We headed out onto the ice for the long, boring run to Koyuk. We slowly caught up to Sven Haltman and pulled in seconds behind him. We stayed 4 ½ hours and continued on to Elim still driving 12 dogs, one of the biggest teams in the top 15. The dogs were amazing again on the run to Elim and were trotting along with incredible power, my super dog Frosty still leading the way. We pulled into Elim to find Dee Dee Jonrowe and Sonny Lindner in the checkpoint getting ready to leave. The checkers also told me that Jessie Royer had just left 20 minutes earlier. I quickly snacked the dogs, repacked my sled with extra dog food and headed for White mountain and the 8 hour mandatory break. I passed Jessie Royer as we headed up Little Mckinley and this put us in 8th place. It was weird getting to White mountain with only 7 teams ahead of us and I was very proud of my team for just pulling of two monster runs. We pulled into Nome in 8th place to a big crowd of family and friends. Dollar and Frosty in lead. 9 days 7 hours.
After Iditarod I was undecided whether I would run the 440 or not. I wanted to get home and run the dogs a few times to see where they were at mentally. I was confident they were in great physical health after there strong finish in the Iditarod. It was obvious the dogs were very excited to be home and they looked really good on our first few short runs. They were animated and traveling faster than I expected after a long, tough Iditarod. I figured the team had a shot at winning and thought it would be a shame to sit it out. So we packed up and headed to Kotzebue for our 3rd attempt at this race. The previous two years I had finished 3rd and really learned a lot . I had a plan and figured if the team performed up to there capabilities we would have a good race. We started off slow and watched many teams pull away in the first 70 miles. We pulled into Kiana for our first rest and learned we were 30 minutes behind the leader Ken Anderson. I was not surprised by our position and figured I could have been faster if I wanted to but rode the track to try and save some power for later in the race. We left Kiana after a 4 hour rest and started in on the long run to Ambler. My leaders were in heat and it was causing some issues, but we were still moving down the trail at a nice speed. We pulled into Ambler and had gained some ground on a few teams but were still 10 minutes slower than Ken. I figured over a ten hour run that 10 minutes was a very small difference in our traveling speed, and was hoping from now on he wouldn’t be faster than us. We stayed 5 hours in Ambler and headed upriver to the ½ point of Kobuk. Chuck Scheaffer was the first to leave. Ken left about an hour later and I followed him out of the checkpoint. I drafted Ken through Shungnak and up to Kobuk. Chuck was stopped in Kobuk for a short break and Ken also stopped briefly. I blew strait through, took the lead and was the first team back to Ambler. Even though I was in the lead I figure I was about 40 minutes behind Ken, due to our difference in rest times. We stayed another 5 hours and blazed our way to Selawik. This is the hardest run of the race, as it is in the heat of the day and very long and desolate. The team was really working nicely and we had a fast run time of 9 hours and 20 minutes. This was the last stop for us and after we finished the rest of our mandatory rest (5 hours) it would be a 90 mile sprint to the finish. I made up time on Ken on the previous run and he was now 8 minutes behind me leaving Selawik. 8 minutes isn’t much and I looked over my shoulder all the way to Kotzebue. The team was powerful all the way to the finish and we emerged from the fog on Sunday morning to win the 2011 Kobuk 440. Frosty once again in lead crossing the finish line.
2011 was a huge success and I am very excited about the future of our kennel. A very special thanks to my parents and all my friends and sponors. Ryan Air, Bering Marine, Knik Construction, Dr. Bob Sept (Bering Sea Animal Clinic) Yukon Helicopters, South West Fuel, John Wallace, Rick and Kathy Hanson and many more. Without all your help I would not be able to pursue this dream. Thank you to all!