We wish the best of luck to all the Denali Doubles teams out on the trail this weekend!
Both of the twins were signed up with partners to run the Denali Doubles Invitational Sled Dog Race this weekend. After weighing possible options, they all agreed it was best to withdraw from the race. Pairing Anna with Scott Janssen and one dog team left the other dog team home, with no one to maintain their rigid pre-Iditarod training schedule. Kristy and Paul found themselves in the same boat... er, sled. So while it would have been a fun race to run, withdrawing from this one and keeping their attentions focused on Iditarod was the best choice.
We wish the best of luck to all the Denali Doubles teams out on the trail this weekend!
Race officials examined all possible options and unfortunately had to cancel this year's Tustumena 200 this past weekend. "We just don't have the snow and way too much water in the hills to put together a quality race" reported their site. Meanwhile, the lower 48 have more snow and cold than they know what to do with... Mother Nature clearly has a taste for irony.
Many mushers, the twins included, have had to travel to find suitable trails to train on. There simply isn't enough snow in Kasilof and Knik, so nearly every musher in the Valley and on the Peninsula has gone 'snow hunting.' Anna and Kristy cried "Eureka!" in, of all places, Eureka, Alaska, about 120 miles northeast of Anchorage. Although not as bad of a trek for Anna, that's a healthy 6 hour drive one way for Kristy. It was worth it to have great snow, enough to warrant at least one return trip.
There were several mushers enjoying the snow in and around Eureka, giving everyone a chance to compare notes on what they're hearing about this year's Iditarod. We'll post more in our Iditarod Race Blog. And don't forget to check back later this month, as the Denali Doubles Invitational starts Thursday night, Feb. 13th. The twins couldn't ask for a better way to spend Valentine's Day than on the trail with their furry friends.
The Kuskokwim 300 has a reputation for being one of the toughest dog sled races in the world, and this year it held up to its notorious nature. As mushers gathered at host families in Bethel, Alaska, so did rumors of a postponed start and an alternative route. The river was ruled as too dangerous for travel as far up as Tuluksak, the first checkpoint, and the forecast called for freezing rain, which delayed the transportation of drop bags to the three checkpoints along the river. But the determined staff of the K300 committee made an overland trail to Tuluksak, and pilots were able to find a small window of clear weather to make the drop bag deliveries. But these small problems only marked the beginning.
On Friday evening, Jan. 17th, at 6:30 p.m., 14-dog teams left in tandem in a dual start, two by two, until all 24 mushers bid farewell to the comforting lights of Bethel for the dark barren tundra of the unknown. The first 23 miles were rough to say the least. Tussocks ~ rocks of ice the size of baseballs and basketballs ~ were frozen to the ground and littered the trail. Snow was scarce, making a rough, turbulent trail for the mushers clinging to the backs of their sleds. The eager huskies, though, smiles spread across their faces, ate up ground, playing 'crack the whip' with their white-knuckled drivers.
It all proved a little too much for the 24-time finisher of the K300, Mike Williams Sr., when he lost hold of the handle bar on his sled and his team got away. It's unspoken musher code to give an abandoned musher a ride, so Martin Buser accepted his duties and collected Mike when he was the first to encounter him on the trail. Meanwhile, Mike's team rolled on, musherless.
A little further up the trail, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who left the shoot wearing bib number 9, was able to alert Kristy to the loose team. He had barely passed on the news when the runaway team came careening by. Despite a quick grab, Joar missed the sled by inches. Instantly the two mushers called up their own dogs and were in hot pursuit of the team. Kristy, now ahead of Joar, managed to pull up alongside the empty sled and made an attempt to drive the two simultaneously. With a foot on each break, she juggled the sleds and finally brought them to a stop. Joar caught up and secured the snow hook for Mike's sled and, with Kristy's go ahead, left the lone musher holding a combined total of 28 dogs... and every last one was going crazy! After 5 minutes that felt like 5 hours, with team after team of other competitors passing by, Martin and Mike finally caught up. Mike was reunited with his team and, after a quick thank you, everyone was back in race mode and gunning down the trail.
It was this feat that later earned Kristy the Sportsmanship Award, voted on by her fellow mushers.
Back on the trail... The race went on and mushers filed in and out of Tuluksak and onto the Kuskokwim River. Glare ice quickly turned to slush, then standing water. Teams had no choice but to trek on in water that was anywhere from ankle to knee deep. Add insult to injury, it began to rain. Rohn Buser, Paul Gebhardt, and Jeff King were the first to reach Kalskag, the second checkpoint 100 miles into the race. Soaking wet teams managed to find dry places to camp while race coordinators, checkers, and vets pondered their next move. Would they allow teams to continue on down the river where conditions were reported worse or have them turn back? Three hours later Paul Gebhardt left Kalskag for Aniak, 67 miles away.
The next 67 miles are known as the White Fish Lake Loop. Almost half of this section of trail is run over tundra, swamps, and woods, giving teams a brief reprieve from the river, only to reunite with it in Aniak. Organizers were again fearful of the open water leaving Aniak. The idea of going back on the White Fish Lake Loop was also floating around among mushers and organizers. But teams were undaunted by the looming insecurity of the river. They continued on down the original trail.
The night made travel eerie. Teams would encounter black holes in the river ice. With the hair raising on the backs of their necks they would urge the dogs across, letting out a sigh of relief when the dogs made it and swimming wasn't required. This would be the norm all the way back to Kalskag where teams constantly found themselves on the "ice road" or lost, unable to locate any trail markers. Mushers looked forward to the mandatory 4 hour rest in Tuluksak, and knowing that the finish was only 50 miles from there.
Just after 9 o'clock in the morning, Rohn Buser would claim victory after an elapsed trail time of 38 hours and 48 minutes. Only 7 minutes behind (in what amounts to a close finish in a race like this) was 9 time K300 champion Jeff King. Kristy finished with 9 dogs in harness and in 17th place. Musher after musher trickled in, until all 24 teams finished by noon on Monday, Jan. 20th. Not a single one scratched. It isn't a stretch to assume that every musher thought to themselves during the race, 'I will never run this race again' or 'I hate this race' only to cross the finish line with mental preparations for next year.
All the racers congratulated each other on a race well run, no matter the placing, it was an accomplishment just to have made it around. All 24 finishers were awarded with cash prizes and one musher was given the coveted Humanitarian Award. While every musher strives to meet the needs of every dog on their team, this one award is given to the musher who displayed the most care and compassion for his or her team while also remaining competitive. Kristy was this year's Humanitarian Award winner! Nothing compares to this, except maybe winning the race itself.
The Kuskokwim 300 celebrated its 35th running, and to date has never been canceled. The 2014 race would be considered by many one of the roughest Kuskos of all time. We will have to wait another year to see what the K300 will throw at its tough and determined racers and organizers for 2015.
The 2013-14 race season was underway late last month, but before we get to that, a brief update on Anna! Last year, Anna accepted a great offer to work more closely with our friend Scott Janssen, fondly known as the Mushing Mortician. This took Anna from the twins' long time base in Kasilof, on the Kenai peninsula, to Knik, Alaska. This is still very familiar territory, as Knik isn't far from Anchorage and is even closer to the site of the Iditarod official restart in Willow. Anna will be helping care for Scott's team as well as the 5 dogs she now proudly calls her own.
Kristy is still working with Paul Gebhardt in Kasilof. And DON'T PANIC! Although they were later registering than normal, both twins are signed up for the 2014 Iditarod.
To kick off this season, Anna and a team of young pups ran the Aurora 50/50 on Dec. 21st and 22nd in Big Lake, securing 7th place in this fun, pre-holiday race. Shortly after, on Jan. 4th and 5th, both twins ran the Knik 200. Kristy and Anna were again running puppy teams, and were happy to place 18th and 19th out of 41 entrants. Many of the dogs on their teams had never competed in a race before, but all 24 dogs (12 per team) finished in style. It was a warm and snowy trail, and the twins were able to run the second 100 miles together.
Punxsutawney Phil may not have seen his shadow on Groundhog Day, February 2nd, but most of the mushers out on the Tustumena 200 race trail did. And while the occasional sun sightings during the race once again made for unseasonably warm conditions, at least mushers could glance over at the shadow cast by their team and hope ~ contrary to Phil's prediction ~ it was a good omen for another 6 weeks of winter weather.
Of the 34 mushers to leave the T200 starting line this year, 5 scratched and 29 crossed the finish line. Anna worked her way up from a 25th starting position to finish in 16th place with 13 (of 14) dogs in harness. Kristy crossed the finish line in 9th place with all 14 dogs in harness. Despite having a team of young and fairly inexperienced dogs, Kristy's canine friends ran a very strong race. They were in great shape crossing the finish line, still full of spunk and injury-free. Those factors helped earn them a competitive ranking in the finish as well as Kristy being awarded this year's Humanitarian Award!
Anna and Kristy both enjoyed this year's T200. The race is held on the Kenai Peninsula, essentially in the backyard of the twins' home kennels. This means they both enjoy a lot of familiarity with the trails, checkpoints, and weather patterns. It also eliminates the often tiring and tedious need to travel a long distance before even getting to the starting line.
Their respective dog teams were both made up of young dogs without a lot of racing experience, but they faced the challenge well. One dog on Anna's team, a yearling in his first competitive race, decided part way through the race that he'd just had enough and didn't want to pull anymore. Rather than risk an injury or let his attitude infect the rest of the team, Anna secured him in her sled basket and carried him over 20 miles to the next checkpoint. Kristy essentially enjoyed the opposite behavior from one of her young dogs. Little Bit, a 1 year old female, was given a chance to run the lead position for a while during the race. Not only did she step up to the task, she did so remarkably well, leading the team for a 50 mile stretch. Given the warm conditions, both twins kept their speed in check and a close eye on the dogs for any sign of overheating.
With 23 mushers separating them, the twins did not get an opportunity to run along the trail together. But, during the 32+ total hours on the trail, they were usually able to overlap for a short time at the checkpoints, giving them a chance share tales from the trail and give each other encouragement.
The T200 was the last mid-distance race for the twins before the Iditarod. Anna and Scott Janssen had planned to compete in the Denali Doubles the following weekend but unfortunately had to drop out before the race. The Iditarod requires EKGs and blood work on all dogs listed on a musher's team, and both Anna and Scott ended up with scheduling conflicts between these tests and the race.
Here are a few photos and a pretty cool video from the race. Enjoy!
While many folks were enjoying a long weekend courtesy of Martin Luther King Jr day on January 21st, Kristy and her canine pals were battling the challenging conditions on the Kuskokwim 300 race trail. Of the 28 mushers originally signed up for the race, 21 crossed the finish line. Our friend Paul Gebhardt posted an impressive 4th place finish. For her first attempt at this race, Kristy came in a respectable 19th place with 11 of 14 dogs in harness after 51 hours 34 minutes and 36 seconds on the trail.
The K300 is known for being a tough race by way of weather conditions, and this year was no exception. As much of the trail follows the river, there was no lack of jagged ice and overflow. There was also a fair amount of snow, some freezing rain, and poor visibility overall. Ambient air temps averaged below zero Fahrenheit with roughly -33F (-36C) temps when you factor in wind chill and wind gusts sometimes reaching 40mph.
Of the 14 dogs Kristy started with, 11 crossed the finish line. The 3 that were left in caring hands at checkpoints were suffering from sore wrists, a common ailment when trail conditions are rough. Duchess, one of Kristy's key leaders, was dropped early in the race, and Kristy paid for it later. Over half of her dog team was running their first competitive race ever, and few of the more experienced dogs were proven leaders. As Duchess was dropped about 1/3rd of the way into the race, that left Kristy juggling dogs and trying to find the right dog in her remaining team to lead the way.
Why is a good lead dog so important? Judge for yourself... At one point later in the race, Kristy left a checkpoint knowing the next section of trail ran along the lake. A ground blizzard was reported and, when you're running near a lake, misdirection can lead you to open water ~ a disaster in the making. Kristy left the checkpoint under very fair conditions and spent the first part of the run wondering what all the hub-bub was about. Before long, she hit a veritable wall of snow, with visibility so poor she often couldn't see the lead dog at the front of the gangline. Trail markers were knocked over or gone all together. Her inexperienced leader kept wanting to pull to the right, and she was left wondering if the dogs knew best or if it was time for a little human intervention. After swapping one dog after another in the lead position, eventually Kristy hopped off the sled and led the team on foot until conditions improved and the trail was more apparent. The twins are rarely scared when they're on a sled or out on the trail, but this was one situation where Kristy will admit she was more than a little nervous!
Fortunately, the race ended well and was generally a success. While this is an expensive race to run, Kristy says she would do it again. It is a fun race despite (or maybe because of) the challenges, and is a great learning experience for the musher and more seasoned dogs. It can be hard on yearlings, as Kristy learned firsthand with her young team this year. Part of what makes it especially fun is the fact that the race runs through small villages, and the inhabitants really get into it and support the mushers as they pass through.
Next up for both Kristy and Anna is the Tustumena 200, starting this Saturday, Feb. 2nd. The race starts in Kasilof, making it a "home game" for both of the twins. They have both been able to get out and run sections of the race trail on training runs, which hopefully will give them an advantage. Recent snowfall of 8-9 inches should make for good trail conditions if the current threat of freezing rain holds off. Although the T200 isn't known for having the brutal weather conditions of the K300, it is a very hilly race that presents its own challenges.
In addition to preparing for the T200 this weekend, Anna is also preparing for the Denali Doubles race starting on Feb. 7th, and both twins are frantically packing their drop bags for the 41st Iditarod. Drop bags are due to the Iditarod race committee in 2 weeks, which is no small undertaking. Each musher must have an idea of where they're planning to stop and what they might need when they get there, making educated guesses about the dogs that will make the final cut for the team and weather conditions. And nobody gets a "do-over" on drop bags... If you haven't packed it, you had better be prepared to find room for it in your sled or do without!
Stay tuned for more updates on the T200 and Iditarod preparations.
If you've been checking our site periodically, you're probably wondering where the race updates are for the 2012-2013 race season. Sadly, Mother Nature is not cooperating so far this year as far as snow is concerned! But before we get to that, allow us to provide a couple of other updates since our last Off Season Blog posting.
For the second year in a row, Anna and Kristy participated in the Turkey Trot on the Kenai Peninsula on Thanksgiving weekend to benefit the Tustumena 200 race organization. The twins crossed the finish line together after 29 minutes, 56 seconds to take 1st and 2nd place in the women's 5k division. Check out this article on the event in the Peninsula Clarion.
After the Turkey Trot, both Kristy and Anna were eagerly looking forward to running with their canine friends in the Sheep Mountain 150 in mid-December. Although not one of the longest mid-distance races held in the area, it is still recognized as being a very tough race given the mountainous terrain and often rough trail conditions. Those two factors mandate a substantial snow base on the trail for mushers to race safely, as snow is needed to ensure teams have proper braking ability and to limit chance of injury to the dogs. Unfortunately, race officials determined there just wasn't enough snow to safely hold the race this year and it was cancelled.
The twins spent the second half of December on training runs around their respective kennels, celebrating the holidays, and ringing in the new year. We hope this time was also enjoyed by all of our fans, no matter where you were or how you chose to celebrate!!
The first race on the calendar for the twins in the new year was the Knik 200 on January 5th. Alas, this race was also cancelled due to unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of snow. At this point, if weather and trail conditions hold, Anna and Kristy have a few events on the horizon:
Kuskokwim 300: Starts at 6:30pm Alaska time on Friday, Jan. 18th in Bethel, Alaska. Kristy is one of 28 total mushers currently registered in the race.
Tustumena 200: Starts at 11:00am Alaska time on Saturday, Feb. 2nd in Kasilof, Alaska. Kristy will be starting in 2nd position and Anna will be running in 23rd position for Dean Osmar's kennel, in a field of 29 total.
Denali Doubles: Anna will be teaming up with friend of the kennel and fellow musher Scott Janssen for their first attempt at the Denali Doubles Sled Dog Race. The race is run Feb. 7 - 9 and starts in Cantwell, Alaska.
We'll do our best to post updates on these races to the site.
Even though snow conditions have limited competitive race miles so far this season, the training miles continue to rack up. Both twins have packed up the dogs and gear when necessary and driven several hours away from their homes in Kasilof to find trails suitable to run on.
And don't forget ~ the 41st running of the Iditarod will be here before we know it! We're pleased to post that both Kristy and Anna's Iditarider auctions were quickly closed. Anna's sled was purchased by Peter Stephens from The Lotus Group out of the UK and Kristy's sled was again purchased by Halliburton. Proceeds from the Iditarider auction benefit the Iditarod Trail race organization and help make the race possible, so thank you for supporting an event that we love.
There's more info turning up on line from this past weekend's T200. You can find some quotes from Anna in this article in the Peninsula Clarion. There have also been some neat photos published from the Homer checkpoint (nice shot of the dog teams bedded down, below). You can find the link to more pictures on the Tustumena 200's race site. You can also find short video clips of the race start by searching on YouTube.
Congrats to Anna and her young team of dogs for successfully finishing the Tustumena 200 this past weekend. Anna secured an 8th place finish in 28 hours and 27 minutes (total race time not including the mandatory rest time) with 10 of the starting 14 dogs in harness. Anna was also the recipient of the Humanitarian Award! The 4 dogs that were dropped at various points suffered from nothing more severe than sore wrists or yearling attitudes. There were 21 mushers initially registered to compete with 5 scratching before the race start and another 5 scratching during the race.
There are some neat photos turning up online
Trail Map: http://www.tustumena200.com/trail.html
To track race-provided SPOT GPS: http://trackleaders.com/tustumena
And a few recent articles: