We have lots of stories from the Yukon Quest as well as videos and photos to share, but what about those canine athletes?!
I’m so proud of this year’s team and am bursting with pride over their performances. While we finished with a small team, that was in no way indicative of the their drive and desire to run. And probably more important than being good sled dogs, they’re just wonderful dogs.
Lefty- This. Dog. Lefty joined the team in Carmacks. He led a significant portion of the race. He’s certainly not fast, and he’ll let the gangline get slack if the dogs behind him try to run faster than his pace, almost like a stubborn grump saying, “this is my pace, like it or lead yourselves.” That being said, he’s one of the most reliable leaders in the team. Overflow, blizzards, open water, summits- Lefty will navigate it. He’ll find a blown-in trail or lead off trail if we’re setting up a camp or maneuvering around an obstacle. I trust him with my life. He’s finished everything he ever started.
Jana- I almost didn’t bring Jana on this Quest. She’s slowed down a bit (she’s 7, almost 8 now), and I was thinking the youngsters might be ready to fill her shoes. Boy, am I glad I changed my mind. Jana led the last 200 miles including over Eagle Summit, Rosebud, and through our “finish line storm”. Her pace is faster than Lefty’s, so they make a good pair, with Jana encouraging Lefty to speed up a tiny bit. In the finish video, you can see Jana still harness banging to go, although I have to admit this is partially because Jana HATES crowds. She prefers her one on one time.
Cooke- Wow. This guy rocked it. He was the only two-year-old on the team, but you wouldn’t know it. He ran in team or swing the entire race, until the final leg when I thought, let’s give Cooke some responsibility and see how he does in lead. Cooke led from the Two Rivers checkpoint, through a blizzard, by our kennel (this is a huge mental challenge!), and broke trail down the Chena River. Normally the last leg takes 8-10 hours, but with the storm and trail conditions, our final run was turning into a 12-13 hour run, which is really long! At hour 11 of breaking trail and running through overflow, Cooke started to get a little overwhelmed and started running a half step behind Jana. I swapped him out for Lefty, telling him what an AMAZING job he’d done. This guy has a very bright future.
Rucu- My Rock. Rucu probably pulled 70% of the weight from Circle to the finish line. When this guy retires, I’ll need at least two dogs in the team to fill his shoes, maybe even three. Even though we finished as a 7-dog team, it was more like a 10-dog team since Rucu was in it. He’s such a powerhouse and thrives in challenging conditions like Eagle Summit or breaking trail. He gives his heart and soul to the team. If the dogs voted on a Sportsmanship Award, he’d be the one to win it.
CJ- She’s done it again and finished another Yukon Quest! I jest because CJ is an under-performer in training and is easily distracted by squirrels, cars, other teams—really anything. She’s good at pacing herself and makes sure that she always has energy in reserve. That being said, there’s something about her happy-go-lucky attitude that is the perfect balance to the competitiveness and seriousness of the other veterans. She reminds us to not take ourselves so seriously. Chase that moose. Pounce on that bootie in the trail. Chew on that willow. CJ has spotted lots of wildlife for us, including a lynx outside of Circle, a wolverine outside of Eagle, and that pestering drone hovering about 1/2 mile away taking aerial shots (I actually love the drone shots, but CJ is good at spotting them from far away).
Katy- Katy added another 1000-mile race to her resume! She led the first 100 miles from the start to Braeburn, but the next 900 miles she ran in either wheel (immediately in front of the sled) or a spot up from wheel. Normally it’s nice to have a powerful dog in wheel to help maneuver the sled, but Katy is actually a spectacular wheel dog. She can easily duck underneath the gangline and move from side to side to avoid obstacles. She’s a favorite of the volunteers and vets because she’s tiny and cuddly and cute. It was nice to have Katy in reserve in case we needed another leader.
Uno- This was Uno’s first 1000-mile race and she did spectacularly. In Dawson, while the rest of the team was enjoying the spa treatment, Uno was the first to start bouncing around, wondering why we were camping for 36 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Uno tired. She had a brief mental lapse when we ran by home and continued to run for a few hours on the way to the finish line, but once she sensed the vibe of the rest of the team, she zeroed back in on the trail and powered forward.
Wingman- Wingman’s race ended in Two Rivers but he was an important team member and sorely missed on the last run to the finish line. He worked hard, had a good attitude, and ate everything in sight. Every time we arrived at a checkpoint, Wingman loudly barked and screamed to announce “We are HERE! We had a great run! Hey everybody- we’re HEREEEEEE!!!” He was also a cheerleader leaving all the checkpoints, but his excitement upon reaching a checkpoint was unmatched.
Goblin- Goblin has been a main leader for our past three 1000-mile races, and this race was no different. He joined the team in Pelly with the idea that he’d be well-rested for the remainder of the race. Unfortunately, Goblin developed a sore wrist and was dropped in Central. Up until then, he led through some of the gnarliest, icy sections on the Yukon River and was a big cheerleader for the team. Goblin and Boone made a fantastic leading pair. This was the first time Goblin has ever been dropped from a race, and he wasn’t happy about it.
Boone- I am soooooooo proud of Boone! She led from the very beginning of the race until she was left with the handling team in Circle. Her Achilles was slightly swollen, so we played it safe and ended her race early. But wow. She did so, so, so well! Her attitude was through the roof, she ate all her meals, and she increased the team’s speed by at least a mile per hour. Her only area of improvement would be leading over ice. I can’t really blame her, but she hated running across ice and would try to pull the team into the willows. She needed a strong partner like Goblin or Lefty to reassure her that the ice was safe to run across.
Wombat- Wombat was the first athlete dropped in Pelly. She ran from the beginning to Pelly and was a big cheerleader for the team, but unfortunately, she developed a sore wrist from the hard packed trails. Wombat’s problem seems to be that she works too hard and injures herself. She needs to learn to settle down a bit, watch her step, and pace herself for the long haul. She’s a fantastic car companion though and cuddled in the backseat, causing no problems and being exceptionally adorable. Cuteness score- A+++
Fish- Fish and her mom, Perm, were the biggest cheerleaders in the team. Any time we stopped, left a checkpoint, or arrived at a checkpoint, Fish started banging her harness in anticipation to run. Her race ended in Scroggie when she developed tendonitis in her back leg. I had never seen this injury before, and Fish tried to assure us that it was no big deal, bouncing around as if to say “put me in coach! I can do it!” Like Wombat, she was an excellent car companion, but I think she’d have preferred to be running in the team. I know the team sure missed her mega-stoke attitude.
Perm- Perm and Fish were our two biggest cheerleaders, with Perm hitting a whole new level of motivational barker. I like to sing out loud on the trail, and Perm decided that she was a perfect back-up singer, especially when I’d try to hit high notes. Neither one of us have very pretty voices, but the team would get fired up anyway and we’d zip down the trail. Perm developed a stretched Achilles on the way to Trout Creek outside of Eagle. Much to her dismay, she had to ride in the sled for about 75 miles until we reached Slaven’s Roadhouse. Her race ended there, where the veterinarians and race officials made a soft bed in the roadhouse for her and splinted her back leg as a precaution. Once she returned to Fairbanks, Saeward took her to North Pole Veterinary Hospital where after x-rays, Dr. Lovely determined it was just a strain and surgery would not be necessary! Perm is on bed rest for 6-8 weeks, so she’s currently living in the cabin. She’s a hoarder, and I stumbled upon two bones, a roll of electrical tape, and a canister of bear spray hidden in her crate, so we’ve since “child-proofed” the house for Perm.
Supai- This is the first race in which Supai has ever been dropped. I was pretty emotional about it since he has run every race with me since the very beginning of Ryno Kennel, but Supai had developed a sore wrist and was dropped in Circle. He’s such a hardworker and LOVES big climbs like Eagle Summit, so I was hoping he’d bounce back after a nice long rest in Circle, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards. Supai was such a powerhouse all the way to Circle, ate everything, and had such a great attitude. I love this dog. A lot. He has an impressive resume and deserves to be on a Wheaties Box.
Even though we didn’t win, these dogs showed such perseverance, heart, and strength, and I’m honored to be part of their pack. I’m certainly biased, but they’re the best dogs in the world, and I wouldn’t want to travel 1000 miles with any other group of dogs!