Spring Trips

And just like that, our tour expeditions have wrapped up for the season! Wow, what a whirlwind. We’ve spent the past month bopping between home and the Denali Highway in the Alaska Range. It’s hard to believe that traveling down the Highway, camping with dogs, and spending time with fellow dog lovers and adventurists is now part of my job! If you had asked me 10 years ago what my “job” would be, I’d have never dreamed it would include all that it does now: 1000-mile dog sled races, expeditions, day and aurora tours, reindeer farm. And I’m sure in another 10 years, I’ll still be baffled by the direction that life has traveled.

I recently saw a quote about embracing uncertainty, and it really hit home. So much of mushing involves uncertainty, and the resulting anxiety (whether rational or irrational) can at times feel overwhelming. What will the weather do? How will the dogs behave? Should we rest three hours? Four hours? Five hours? Will the truck start? Will the truck break down? Will the sled hold up? Will the guests have fun? Did I remember everything? What should I pack? Yet- it seems that the most rewarding experiences come from the most uncertain of situations. So as the quote was saying, embrace that uncertainty. Have fun. Let it lead you on an adventure.

But wrangling back in my rambling mind, I brought up uncertainty because I believe it plays a big role in our expeditions. On our side, there is much uncertainty. What will Mother Nature throw at us? Snow? Wind? Cold? Heat? Will there be good snow? Will the truck and our gear make it to the trailhead? How much food should we pack? Will the guests have fun? Will they enjoy dog mushing? Will the sleds hold up? But chatting with some of the guests, this trip is equally uncertain. For most, they’ve never been dog mushing. And we toss them on a dog sled, give a 30 minute tutorial, and launch them down the Denali Highway behind a charging team of dogs. And all that uncertainty transforms into a thrilling, rewarding, trip of a lifetime for all of us. We met so many incredible people this spring. I won’t name names to respect their privacy, but I’m inspired by their lives. There are some amazing people in this world. And there are some amazing dogs. I feel lucky to have spent the past month with some of both.

Here Moosey Moosey

This one hurt a bit.

Lefty and Thresher

Lefty and Thresher

Kalyn the dragon and May the Wilderness Stretching (aka yoga) leader

Paige, May, myself

And I should note, we have one more trip planned. Saeward, May, and myself are headed to the Brooks Range! Live on winter!

8th Place and Sportsmanship Award!

Saeward and team finished the Two Rivers 100 in 8th Place and received the Sportsmanship Award! Way to go! Thank you, Saeward, for taking such good care of the Ryno athletes and writing up this recap for all of us to enjoy!

The trail conditions were more challenging than we expected. First, it was very warm and sunny. Second, the first 20 miles of the race were deep sugar snow; in places the dogs would sink in up to their bellies. I think the yearlings were running in such deep soft snow for the first time ever, and it took them a while to get their running technique down. Everyone pulled hard the whole race, and they did great on the uphills. My 8-dog team actually passed multiple 12-dog teams on big uphills, and those other mushers were pedaling or running while I was on the drag mat.  We averaged 7.8 mph for the first run, although some of that was due to frequent breaks.

Saeward’s bootie haul

 For the first 10 miles, we moved very slowly and took lots of breaks in the shade. At first, the four yearlings were all high-stepping in the sugary snow and then sinking in awkwardly as they tried to learn how to run in those conditions. We started with booties on only their back feet and that turned out well because the snow was filling up the booties and tearing them off. I probably passed around 200 booties on the trail that had fallen off other teams, although I only managed to pick up about 50.

 After about 10 miles, all of the yearlings had finally mastered a somewhat normal trot, and we sped up slightly but continued to take frequent breaks due to the heat. By the time we had reached mile 20 in the run, the day had started to cool slightly and the trail conditions had firmed up.

 At mile 30, we’d gone through our overflow for the day and the sun had dipped below the trees, so we stopped for a 10-minute break. We snacked and I put booties on everyone. The trail firmness continued to improve throughout the rest of that first run.

 We only stayed for 5 hours at the checkpoint because after a certain point all the dogs woke up and decided they were done resting. When we left the checkpoint they were pulling like maniacs.

 The second run was much easier for everyone, mostly due to cooler temps and nicely packed trails. I was on the drag the entire second run, and the team picked up a lot of steam in the last 10 miles. We averaged 8.1 mph. In the last 5 miles I passed a musher from the 200, and he tried to chase us. Everyone looked good, so I let off the drag a little and we sped up to about 9 mph. The other musher couldn’t match the pace so he ended up falling behind.  Everyone was quite amped up when we pulled into the finish.

 Ham: Ham is my hero and a fantastic leader. He pulled so hard, did great passing other teams, and was the team cheerleader every time we stopped. I think he was the most tired dog on the team when we got home, but boy was he happy.

 Ewok: She’s a fantastic leader. She provided so much power and enthusiasm. She was nervous about passing teams but did alright with Ham’s encouragement. She did a wonderful job with Ham of keeping the team away from the deepest spots of soft snow on the trail.

 Vanessa: Pound for pound, Vanessa probably provided the most power of any dog on the team. She’s a good little munchkin, and was a great example for her partner Thresher when he wanted to be distracted by squirrels and other wildlife.

 Flash: Flash normally pulls hard, but she definitely kicked it up a notch for this special occasion. She did very well in the heat, too. If only she didn’t wake up the yearlings at the checkpoint by trying to play with them…

 Thresher: This little squeaker is super hard-working and was probably the most graceful of the yearlings in the soft snow. It only took him a few miles to get a nice trot going. He did seem to get the hottest of any dog on the team, and when we stopped he took the longest to cool down. He often squeaks as he runs to indicate excitement, and it’s super cute.

 Bowser: Bowser pulled hard on this race and wins the prize for most consistent yearling. He’s such a laidback dog that he does a good job of working hard and steady without overexerting himself right at the beginning. He pulled with confidence when passing other teams, which is a skill he has sometimes struggled with a bit in the past.  

 Faff: Faff was in wheel position (right in front of the sled) for this race. This required more coordination and grace than being farther up in the team, especially given the soft snow conditions. She really stepped up to the plate and pulled hard. About halfway through the second run, Faff started looking back at me a little more often, although she was still pulling hard. I stopped and checked her over and didn’t find anything wrong at the time, but when we finished the race she had a slightly swollen wrist. She’s been getting a daily massage and is recovering quickly.

 Bull: This guy was sweet, enthusiastic, hard-working, and a little klutzy. Bull took the longest of any of the yearlings to learn how to run in the soft snow, so we took it slow for several hours until he figured out a smooth trot. Despite his awkwardness, Bull pulled very hard for the entire race – even on the initial steep hills where he looked like a baby giraffe trying to swim. Despite how hard he worked to run, Bull finished his race by sprinting victory laps around the yard before settling into his house for a well-earned nap.

While Saeward and team were racing, the rest of the dogs, myself, and Derek headed to the Denali Highway for our first 5-day expedition of the spring! A big thank you to Kalyn and Saeward for holding down the fort while we were away!

Lefty and Cooke

Lunch Break

Ice Caves

One More Race!

Just when you thought the Ryno Kennel racing season was over, we’ve signed up for one more race! Saeward will be running a team of eight Ryno athletes in the Two Rivers 100 starting tomorrow!

For the past couple months, Saeward has been conditioning four yearlings to prepare them for their first “longer” race. She’s taken them on camping trips and gradually increased the miles, so that tomorrow at noon, they’ll be ready to rock their first 100 mile race! Saeward and team drew bib #28, which is the 8th bib for the 100-mile racers.

Who will be in Saeward’s Team?

Ham and Ewok

Vanessa and Thresher

Flash and Bowser

Faff and Bull


Also, you may recall that Saeward handled for Kalyn during her Copper Basin 300. Now it’s Kalyn’s turn to handle for Saeward! The best place to get race updates will be on the Two Rivers Dog Mushers Facebook Page. Since this will be the yearlings first 100-mile race, Saeward’s main focus will be getting them to the finishline with wagging tails and energy to keep on running! (Which is important since the race ends at Pleasant Valley Store and Saeward will just run them home afterwards!)

While Saeward and Kalyn are participating in the Two Rivers 100, Derek and I will take the majority of the kennel down to the Alaska Range for our first 5-day expedition. Time for some camping! Fingers crossed this warm weather cools off soon!!