Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alaska Days 3 and 4 Sunday and Monday, Feb 25, 26 2007
Sorry for the delay in reporting on day 3.......I was tired. How can anyone get tired sitting in a sled bag for an hour and half? Well, when you are me and the sled bag is on a sled being pulled by 10 dogs fresh off the Yukon 300 race it is surprisingly easy. That much excitement for an old lady can be exhausting. Of course, this mushing rookie got to help hitch and unhitch the team.

Mike Suprenaut had been scheduled to run the Iditarod as a rookie this year and I was going to be a handler for him at the Start/Re-Start. However, to run each musher must finish 2 races with an accumulated total of at least 500 miles, finishing in the top 75% of the field or in an elapsed time of not more than twice the elapsed time of the race winner. Like most of us, at times the best laid plans go astray. His second qualifier was canceled due to weather (this time too much snow) and in order to complete his qualifiers he had to go to Whitehorse, Canada to run the Yukon 300. The main problem with using this as a qualifier is the food drops for the Iditarod occur while the Yukon is still running. Mike did not make the food drops and withdrew from this year's Iditarod. The good news is he is ready to go for next years race without having to worry about anything but that race. Mike's website is at

I got to meet many of the dogs on his website. Boy, are they different from Mals! These are self driven athletes; Focused on running in team like our dogs focus on dinner. The first difference is it is standard procedure to take the dogs out of the dog box (many of the times the dogs are put in 2 to a box, especially when there is not a far distance to travel) and while one dog is being harnessed and hitched to the gangline, the other dog is wandering around loose. The dogs stay pretty close, but do wander over to other teams and up to people standing around begging scrtiches. I just kept thinking -- not with Mals -- and later a recreational musher showed up with a Mal, an Alaskan and a Sibe. She did not let her dogs wander. Mike and Eric both said all you need are 3 dogs to run a sled. Hummmm, I have seven at home……………..

When we got to the dog training area (lots of groomed runs) which is a sledding club, Mike had just finished running his puppy team. Most of them are litter mates he bred and are 9 months old. They had just been on their first 6 mile run and were tired. I helped Mike snack them, and then he put them up and started pulling out his race team.

While we were hitching the team, another dog truck showed up and Mike said "That is Eric Rogers (Iditarod veteran and entered this year) and he will be coming over to give me a ragging because I withdrew." Sure enough, Eric came over, and first congratulated Mike on finishing his qualifiers and then asking him why he couldn't have come back in the middle of the race of make the food drops. Mike introduced me to Eric, who I knew about through one of the mail lists I am on. When he heard my name, he said "Bilinda from Texas?" WOW, he knows who I am!!!!! And then he very 'seriously' warned me that I was taking a very big risk going out with Mike as he often gets lost since he forgets all the trails where we were running go in a circle and he needs someone out in front of him dragging a hunk of meat behind their sled so his lead dogs can find a trail, any trail. Mike thought this was hilarious. They then stood there for a while talking about the trail conditions for the Iditarod and strategies for drops and the need for extra plastic sled runners for Eric's sled since there are long stretches which right now do not have any snow.

I am standing there listening and pinching myself.....Am I really standing in 10 degrees, surrounded by some of the most beautiful snow covered mountains, listening to REAL Mushers discuss THE RACE?????

Then I got in the sled. The only coaching I got was if the sled tipped over, stay in the sled. Oh boy, what an auspicious start.

Then he started the team, and it was like sitting in a drag car. The dogs LAUNCHED! And we were off. The area we ran in is beautiful! It is run mostly through the forest, up hills, around corners, around corners going down hill, corners at the bottom of hills, though culvert tunnels, and then the super bonus -- we went out on the inlet and ran on sea ice. I do not have words to describe the experience, though I am sure in the following months y'all will be sick and tired of hearing about it. Mike said we did about 20 miles.

About half way through the run, every now and then one of the dogs would bark. I asked Mike what was going on, since they had been running quietly. He said one of is bitches, Munich, hated when the dog in front of her started to slow down, and she would bark at that dog to pick up the pace, even if that dog was going the same speed as the rest of the team -- just not fast enough for Munich. He also said that if the dog would get close enough to her she would bite its tail to move it up and speed it up.

When we got back to the dog truck, he just told me where the snacks were and told me to snack the dogs. The warning I got was to be sure to throw the snacks on the ground and not feed them by hand -- some of the dogs were not gentle. And yes, I had a couple of them jump up and grab the meat before I could get it out of the bucket and drop it. They are sharks!

When they had eaten, he started unharnessing them and I was in charge of stowing the harnesses. Not exactly brain surgery but hey, I am a total flat rookie when it comes to working around a team -- real racing or recreational.

Came back to the hotel, peeled off several layers of clothes and then went to dinner and then to sleep!

Today, we went down the Kenai Peninsula to Portage Glacier. Most of the story is on Roland's blog with pictures. When he says cold he means COLD, and the wind was brutal. Driving was interesting....when a truck would meet us the car lurched from the wind being blocked and then hitting us again. Additional notes to Roland's photos....the buffalo on his blog are very special. They are Woods Buffalo or Wood Bison ((Bison bison athabascae). The ones we all are familiar with are Plains Buffalo. The Woods Buffalo is indigenous to the interior of Alaska and Canada. They are larger and darker than the Plains Buffalo (bison bison bison) with a squarer hump and are lacking the 'cape' of heavy fur over the shoulders. This herd is a breeding herd for reintroduction of the Woods Buffalo to Alaska. Two years ago the first Woods Buffalo was born in Alaska in 100 years....the breeding stock was brought from a refuge in Alberta.

The Portage Glacier. OK, YOU find the glacier in snow covered mountains. I know it is there and we did see another area where there was blue glacier ice coming over the top of a mountain. Note to self, if you want to go OHHH AHHH at glaciers, look at them in the summer when they are surrounded by something other than snow.

Tonight was a lazy night, stayed in and watched TV.............and warmed up!

Tomorrow, Museums and off to the Millennium Hotel, the Race HQ.

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