Denali Highway Expeditions

We've just finished our adventure trips on the Denali Highway, and we're already having withdrawals from the beautiful mountains and simplistic life of living on the trail!

The first trip, we explored the Alaska Range with Ryno Kennel dog sponsors, Melissa and Jeanne. After a windy first day when Melissa and Jeanne got to experience what mushing can be like on the coastal trail of the Iditarod, we were rewarded with crystal blue skies, milder temperatures, and mountains as far as the eye could see. We spent a couple of cozy nights in the Arctic Oven tent and two plush evenings at Maclaren Lodge. A perfect trip!

On the second trip, we joined forces with Smokin' Ace Kennels and brought nine MBA students from Columbia mushing on the Highway. All the students were originally from either Spain or Argentina, so the mushing experience was very new to them. Even with three days of intense wind where the students were blown off the trail, they finished the trip with big smiles and stories to tell their grandchildren.

All in all- the spring adventure season was a huge success, and we can't wait until next year! If you're interested in joining us on a trip, just send me an email at ryneolson@gmail.com, and we'll see if we can plan a trip just for you!

Perm and Boone

Meandering the Quest Trail

Even though the Iditarod is beginning and is the main focus of most distance mushers right now, the Ryno athletes are done with race season and exploring around Alaska!

The past week, we enjoyed cruising the Yukon River at a leisurely pace rather than the rigorous run/rest schedule of the Yukon Quest! I loved seeing the country in the daylight and sharing it with Derek, Gunhild, Jeff, Deb and Nycole (even though the insane snow in Fairbanks made Deb and Nycole a little late to the party). We explored the Quest trail between Circle and Slaven's Roadhouse, climbed all around the Coal Creek Dredge, and followed wolf, caribou, and fox tracks down the Yukon. I apologize for all the Coal Creek Dredge photos, but it was so incredible to envision the dredge in production and what life must have been like. Or just think about what it took to barge all the parts of the dredge up the river!

Lefty and Ewok with the Coal Creek Dredge

According to the National Park Service, the Coal Creek Dredge ran day and night, processing 2,500 times more material in a day than a man could. In 17 years, it moved enough gravel to cover a football field nearly a mile deep and extracted 3.2 tons of gold. The dredge was ordered in 1935 and arrived at Coal Creek that fall. The next spring, the parts were sledded about 6 miles up Coal Creek where it was assembled near Cheese Creek. Incredible!

Along the way, we also met Michael who has been walking the entire Yukon Quest trail! He is just now arriving in Fairbanks today after walking the 1000-miles from Whitehorse. He began his trek on February first! Talk about making us feel lazy. Thank you to the folks in Circle for helping us get our truck started when it grumbled about being parked for several days of -30F to -40F!

Below are some photos of the Coal Creek Dredge.

Below are some pictures from the trail.

Yukon Quest Recap

Another 1000-mile race in the books, and I'm once again sitting at my computer wondering how that happened so quickly. While certain moments on the race seemed to last forever, as a whole, the race seemed to be over in the blink of an eye. One second I was camping on the trail to Braeburn and the next I'm sitting at the Two Rivers checkpoint with only 70 miles to the finish line. An even stranger sensation is crossing under the finish line, loading up the dogs in the truck, and then saying, "Whelp that was fun! What's next?" As I sit typing this, the dogs are outside barking and twirling, wondering what the next adventure is and how long we're just vegging out at home. Luckily for them, we're leaving tomorrow for a few weeks of expeditions! But I digress- what I'm trying to articulate is how the rhythm of a long distance race just becomes life. Dogs and racing consume every thought so there's really no time to think of what day it is, what is happening in the outside world, or how long we've been on the trail.  Instead I'm intently watching each dog's gait, their appetite, their attitude, and trying to evaluate how I can be the best musher possible for them. And when they do excel (like Lefty and Goblin leading over Eagle Summit in 40 mph winds or Calamity Jane crossing the finish line of her first 1000-mile race) the pride and happiness I feel almost brings me to tears. On the other hand, when something goes wrong or I drop a team member, I'm devastated. When covering 1000 miles, injuries happen just like any sports team; however, I really struggle to keep a positive attitude whenever I have to leave a teammate behind. For this reason, I normally describe the race as lots of ups and downs. When things are going good, I feel like I could fly, and when things aren't going as planned, the exhaustion sets in and I become rather pessimistic about life. But that's racing. Enjoying the highs and coping with the lows. And who better to share those highs and lows with than a team of incredible dogs who also wear their emotions on their sleeves and are so honest and devoted. The connection we form is unlike any other, and for this reason, we're already thinking of the next race and the next adventure.

And now for the Athlete Report:

Supai- Supai has done it again. He finished another race, and even though it was a chilly one with -40F and -50F temperatures, he crossed the finish line heavier than he started! Supai is the ultimate long distance dog, eating everything in sight and finding such enjoyment in adventure of traveling long distances. And he’s handsome- I think I’ve said that before…

Katy- Little Katy has another 1000-mile race to add to her resume! As a Quest and Iditarod finisher, she’s racking up quite a race history. Not only is she finishing, but she is recruiting several personal fans along the way. The Vet staff and volunteers remember her from race to race and are always trying to steal her away from the team. Of course it’s hard not to when she’s giving them kisses and trying to cuddle during vet checks!

Jana- Jana did exceptional per usual. She ran in swing the majority of the race, with a leg or two in lead. She always ate, kept a tight tug, and seemed to enjoy traveling the 1000 miles next to her sister Drummer. Those two have a very special bond and would occasionally glance over at each other and hop around with a burst of speed as if they were laughing at an inside joke between them.

Drummer- Drummer had one of her strongest races in her career. I think she gained a lot of confidence running with her sister Jana. As I mentioned in Jana’s blurb, the sisters often seemed to be having private conversations and really enjoyed sharing the adventure together. When temperatures dropped to -40F and -50F, I carried an extra sleeping bag that I would drape over Jana, Drummer, and Goblin- they had their own little slumber parties!

Rucu- Rucu was a powerhouse as always until about 10 miles out of Clinton Creek. On a steep drop down a bank to the river, Rucu misstepped and strained his shoulder in the sugary snow. At first I was in denial- Rucu never gets injured- but though he tried to mask it, I realized he needed to be carried. Rucu rode in the sled 100 miles to Eagle, up and over American Summit. During the process, he chewed any line close by, my sled bag, and gear in the sled trying to show his displeasure at being carried. He provided much needed comic relief.

Lefty- This was Lefty’s race. Lefty led almost all 1000 miles and did so in a calm, confident manner. He wasn’t showy or loud, but he enthusiastically took on the responsibility and was often one of the first dogs off the straw, stretching out and getting ready for the next leg of the race. His focus and determination in the footage over Eagle Summit speaks for itself- Lefty rocked it!

Fenton- Fenton (aka Daddy Long Legs) had another stellar race. Fenton has now finished every race he has started including the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. Even 800 miles into the race, Fenton would be banging his harness to run and excitedly whine in anticipation for the team to start moving. Such a stud.

CJ- The Most Improved Award goes to Miss Calamity Jane. As a yearling, CJ was the extremely distractible and often preferred chasing squirrels to pulling a sled. As a two-year-old, she finished every mid-distance race but was dropped 500 miles into Iditarod for her lack of focus. Now as a three-year-old, CJ was one of the strongest dogs on the team! Even though she was driven and focused, she still had time for her CJ antics- squirrel chasing, screaming up hills, and playing with her running partner. It would be boring with her!

Belle- Adorable little Belle gave it 110%; however, stiff shoulders caused me to drop her in Scroggie. In both Iditarod and Quest, Belle has been dropped about 400-500 miles into the race, so I’m not sure 1000-mile races are in her future. She’ll get to quench her running thirst with mid-distance races! Her bouncing, happy personality is always such an asset to the team.

Goblin- In case you haven’t heard, Goblin is now an official Ryno Kennel athlete! Originally, Goblin was just going to join the team for the Quest; however, since he finished Iditarod with me last year, and I had a feeling he’d finish Quest with me this year, I asked Sebastian if Goblin could join the team permanently. He led the majority of the race with Lefty- I’m so happy he’s part of the team!

Drake- Drake had a fantastic race and really thrived in the colder temperatures. He ran next to Fenton since they’re similar size, but I had to be careful that Drake didn’t eat all of Fenton’s food! Drake is not the best at sharing and occasionally postures and struts like a tough guy even though he’s just a big snuggler. Volunteers would immediately recognize Drake from his handsome good looks.

Kindi- Kindi was a rockstar for the first 400 miles of the race. She’s the loudest cheerleader and would get everyone amped up for the next run. Unfortunately, she inherited her momma Scooter’s straight shoulders, and so she came up a bit sore. I left both Kindi and Belle in Scroggie Creek. As I was hooking up the team to leave, I could hear Kindi screaming and crying to be put back in the team- it was heartbreaking! These dogs absolutely love what they do.

Coot

Coot- Coot has another race to add to his resume; however, I have to admit, it wasn’t his best race ever. Coot was a big cheerleader for the first half a of the race, but when we started traveling long sections on rivers, Coot seemed to become bored with the scenery. As we hit Eagle Summit and Rosebud, his attitude was noticeably more upbeat as if to say, “About time! Those rivers are so dull!”

Niagra- My goal for Niagra was to finish the race, unfortunately, I just don’t think she’s cut out for 1000-mile races. Her heart screamed to go, but her body just can’t hold up. Niagra was dropped in Dawson with a sore back leg although she stoically tried to convince me that she was 100%. We definitely missed her cheerful personality on the remainder of the race! The first half to he race, Niagra was always the first athlete to start bouncing up and down every time we stopped as if she was on a pogo stick.

A big thank you to Derek, my mother, Gunhild, Joan, and Shaynee for handling for me during this race. Sometimes I think instead of saying handling for me I should say handling me because I know I'm not always the easiest to deal with :)

A big thank you to the Yukon Quest volunteers, board members, race staff, and trail breakers. The hospitality and welcoming atmosphere of this race is unlike any other, and I definitely plan to be back!