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.