Time to recap another successful race weekend for the Ryno Kennel athletes! We crossed the finish line at 7:15 PM on Monday night in 4th place with a super jazzed and tail-wagging dog team. At the truck, they gobbled up their snacks and a big meal, flirting and playing with each other, trying to crawl around under the truck- you could hardly tell the team had just run 300 miles. Other than the strength and positive attitude of the dog team, the highlight of the race was winning the Vet’s Choice Award. The whole reason I race is to experience adventure and travel the Alaska Wild with some of my best friends on the planet. While winning is a major goal, being recognized for the health and happiness of the incredible athletes that make this whole crazy sport happen is incredibly rewarding. In other words- a big thank you to my dog team for making me look good.
When I reflect on the race itself, I have mixed feelings. The dogs absolutely excelled and exhibited the confidence of champions. As the musher and coach...well... I learned a lot. In my mind, I believe we were the team to beat, but due to a few mid-race decisions, I did not run a strategy that best fit the dogs. I’m specifically referring to my decision to run through Mile 101 straight to Central. The team posted one of the fastest run times from Two Rivers to Mile 101 and then again from Mile 101 to Central; however, an 8 1/2 hour run for our second leg in a 300 mile race over two mountain summits was a gamble. I knew this at the time, but the length of the run was nothing new to this team, so we made a bold move. The team took it in stride, but what advantage we gained in cutting rest we lost in speed. To make back the speed, we had to camp on the run from Central to Circle and give up any advantage we had gained. Basically, we made a big move, and it proved to be the wrong decision. But as Derek and I always say to each other whenever we make a mistake- Fail Fast, Be Better. Don’t dwell on the failure, embrace the lesson. So with that in mind, we camped between Central and Circle, then posted the fastest run time on the final leg to the finish in Central. Did I mention these dogs are incredible?
Perm- Perm was the MVD of this race. This dog gets happier and stronger the farther we go down the trail. When Fire was in the sled bag to rest a minor tricep and no one else felt like leading the charge, Perm proudly took the responsibility and barked her way down the trail in single lead. Sass. This girl just has tons of sass.
Katy- Katy led for the middle section of the race. Normally Katy’s achilles heal is her weight watching (she likes to keep a slim figure), but this year, she has become a much better eater and looked great the entire race. Katy and Lefty led together for one leg of the race, which was hilarious because even though they’re half siblings (both Nacho pups), they have ZERO resemblance. A 38 pound, shorter coated, red/brown social butterfly running next to a 57 pound, hairy white awkward science nerd.
Fire- Fire led the first half of the race then developed a minor tricep cramp. To make sure it completely healed, Fire rode in the sled bag from Central to Circle with a heat pack strapped to her shoulder and lots of Algyval massages. After our rest in Circle, she looked great and led the team back to the finish line in Central. I think she’s good to go for the rest of the season.
Lefty- Being only two-years-old, Lefty really stepped it up this race. He did exceptionally well and even led occasionally. I expect Lefty to be one of the main leaders in future years. Even though he’s a bit of a weirdo, Lefty is intelligent and driven and loves being a sled dog.
Jana- Jana and her sister Drummer (from Boundary Sled Dog Kennel) had another flawless race. She pulls, she eats, she’s no nonsense- the perfect sled dog. While she’s not necessarily very animated, Jana was always ready to go when it was time to pull the hook. Plus, she’s quite the cuddler when it’s time to take a nap in the straw, which is another trait I personally like. :)
Drummer- Drummer (from Boundary Sled Dog Kennel), started the race in wheel with Drake but worked her way up to run in swing with her sister Jana. Jana and Drummer have such a strong resemblance that many people struggle to tell them apart. They’re twins that have some invisible bond and do exceptionally well when paired together. And I have to mention Drummer was a total pig. She ate everything and anything.
Rucu- Rucu is my rock. He always pulls, always eats, and has finished every race with me since he was born. He ran in the middle of the team for most of the race but prefers to be in wheel. When I put him in wheel near of the end of the race, you could just tell his mind was at ease. He loves to have that direct connection with the sled and really be able to yank it around.
Kindi- Spunky Kindi is part of the core of the team like her brothers Rucu and Supai. 60 miles into a run, she’d get a whiff of moose or some other critter and start driving and loping like crazy. Her tail wags harder than any other dog on the team. I wish every dog could have Kindi’s positive personality.
Supai- Like his brother Rucu, Supai has finished every race with me. The handsome little devil did exceptional as always. I love this dog. He works, he eats, he’s happy, he’s perfect. Enough said. Supai is the best.
Ham- Ham got a shoulder within the first 30 miles of the race on the Chena River after stepping in a crack on the ice. Huge huge bummer. Unfortunately, it appears to be a major muscle pull. He’ll have to sit out for a couple weeks and get some serious rehab but hopefully he’ll be back for Iditarod. Fingers and toes are crossed. It wouldn’t hurt if everyone reading this crosses their fingers and toes too.
Cartel- Cartel ran in lead from the start to Central over both mountain summits. I dropped her in Central for a very minor wrist. It was a conservative drop to make sure that she’ll be 100% for the rest of the season. Like Katy, Cartel used to be a picky eater, but recently, she’s been stealing food from her neighbors and eating everything in sight!
Drake- Drake did really well this race, especially in the mountains. Climbing Rosebud and Eagle Summit were probably his two favorite parts of the entire trail. I put Drake in the bag for the part of the final run to the finish line because he is not as fast as the other dogs, but Drake would have none of that business. He busted through the back of my sled bag like the Hulk and angrily insisted he stay in the team. Because I now had a huge hole in my sled bag, Drake got his wish. Even though he didn’t pull super hard on the last run, he kept up the pace and finished happy.
A video of the dogs relaxing after the race as we wait for the banquet.
Here is a short clip from our last run down Birch Creek back to Central. Running Birch Creek at night can be painfully monotonous, and I'll admit, I had difficultly staying awake on this section the night before (granted it was 2-6 AM). Running Birch Creek in the light is a much more enjoyable experience because you can actually see the changing terrain and frost tipped trees rimming the creek banks.