For Now, Summer

The days go by in whirling blur.  Outside, the fireweed blooms and it is a painful reminder that all too soon summer will be gone. Can it already be mid-July? We’ve stayed busy and when the day ends we are grateful for a moment of rest and solitude before waking to do it all again. It’s funny how we lose track of time completely. Often my internal clock puts me a full day ahead or behind schedule: it has led to confusion on more than one occurrence.

We find peace in the quiet moments, whenever those come but we seem to enjoy the chaos. We fill our days up so they pass by both slow, stuck in the moment, and fast, because you are always doing something. You wake to do it all over again.

Sunday night we went over to our friends house to relax and unwind. They cooked us some incredible steaks on an open fire. We cut the steaks up and made tacos — they were out of this world. My friend was saying how they always cook on an open flame because everything just tastes better cooked on a fire. That meal definitely spoke in favor of that lifestyle and there was something to be said too for the slow, methodical preparation that it took.

Last night, they came to visit us and we lit a big bonfire and stayed out late, watching the night slip slowly away while the big brush pile turned to smoldering embers. We sit around and talk of things to come and things that have passed until it seems that the night must surely be over — how can a day last so long?

Soon enough, the days will be shrinking: shorter and shorter and shorter.  The air will get a little colder, and the clear blue skies will darken as the rainy season of fall approaches. The trees will lose their leaves and night, barely present now, will grace us with her presence and we will begin the long, steady task of training dogs and traveling through the wilderness.

So for now, we enjoy the sunshine and the steady whir of life that keeps us ever-present in these long, warm days: the cold will be here soon enough.

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Signing Up For Iditarod 2015

Wow. The last month has been truly exhilarating. With Travis sick, I’ve spent a lot more time running dogs…mainly puppies. I have to say, its due to their enthusiasm and their talent that really encourage me to sign up for Iditarod.

Iditarod has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was 6 years old. I remember sitting on the couch watching Iron Will, sometimes on repeat. I don’t really know when it happened or when I first said it, but for as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a musher, run sled dogs, and of course, run Iditarod.

When you let passion by your guide it’s amazing the places it will take you. It brought me from Boston, MA to Seward, AK. It’s taken me from a place of being a humble employee to the co-owner of two growing businesses. It’s showed me that choosing to follow what you love can do big things and introduce you to some really incredible people.

On Saturday that love, enthusiasm, and passion woke me at 4:30am. Despite being sick for the last month, Travis somehow still couldn’t contain his excitement.

“Today is the day!” He chirped.

I wearily got out of bed and we began the long journey north to Iditarod Headquarters.  It’s a long drive but at least in Alaska it was already light out and it made rising early on my one day off in the last month a little more palatable.

We jam packed a couple of crates into the back of our CR-V. Maybe we were going to pick up some new dogs… Travis ran into town and got coffee and suddenly we were driving north.

Sarah Stokey Signing Up For the 2015 Iditarod

I couldn’t have slept on the drive  if I wanted to. The nervous excitement ran through me like an electrical current. Every few minutes my face would light up in a smile or my stomach would clench into a tight ball. Travis kept the conversation light hearted and we’d talked about the last month, with him being down-and-out. He was ready to get back to work. In the back of our mind we were both thinking: How on earth are we going to do it all?

Honestly, we still don’t exactly know. We’ve skated by the last two years on hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of faith that these two things will see us through. So far they have and we hope (pray?) that they continue to.

In the quiet moments of the ride, I filled out paperwork in the car. Could I really be doing this?

On more than one occasion I thought  as we drove Ok, this is it. Once I hand this in there is NO going back. $3,000 and 20 years of wanting, wishing, and working is way too much for a change of heart!

Yes. 20 years. I have wanted to run the Iditaord since I was 6 years old.

I talked about mushing non-stop and would write about my dog Samantha in class whenever we had writing assignments.  I was terrified of the dark and hated sleeping (still do!) and my parents often tricked me into going to bed by bringing Samantha in to my room and saying, “Sammy’s tired Sarah, it’s time for you to go to bed now.” More often than not she would lie next to my bed and I would bring my blanket down and sleep on the floor next to her. In the morning, my parents would come in to find the dog on my bed and me still sound asleep on the floor.

Sarah's First Time Mushing

I got every dog mushing book I could find and read them. At one point, I even convinced some of my friends to pretend they were dogs and pull me on a sled. But I didn’t go mushing for the first time until  I was in the 4th grade. My aunt Betsy finally took pity on me and took me for a 3 day mushing adventure. I still remember gearing up for my first run, putting on the warm fuzzy mukluks and making sure I had all the proper gear. When we pulled hook for the first time and took off into the woods of Maine, I was instantly hooked.

When I returned home, much to the chagrin of my parents, I immediately began asking for a dog team. I am fairly certain I asked for a sled dog every birthday and Christmas. In the 5th grade I wrote Susan Butcher repeatedly and would write about how she was my biggest hero in my school assignments. I still have those journals.

So to finally be here, doing what I set out to do all these years ago, it’s exciting, it’s nerve wracking, and it’s joyful.  My grandmother, Edith Stokey, was also an avid dog lover and hung pictures of her old dogs and told stories of them at dinner when I was a kid. I’d like to think she would be proud of me, knowing that I fulfilled my dream. She passed away a week before I ran my first Iditarod qualifier, The Tustumena 200, in 2012. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me.

On Sunday, the day after signing up, an 87 year old woman named Margaret visited our kennel. “This was the highlight of my trip,” she told Travis and me, “I have wanted to do this all my life.” Seeing her big smile, her enthusiasm, and the joy our tour gave her, brought tears to my eyes – I felt like Margaret’s visit was a sign from my own grandma, her blessing on my endeavor.

So here we are Monday afternoon. We’ve stayed busy with tours and are hoping that trend continues. After all, we know we will have some major expenses this season! However it all works out, I know that both Travis and I will make it to the starting line with happy dogs and smiles on our faces.

Our goal for the 2014-2015 season is to provide continually updates about training and a more in-depth look at what goes on in our kennel. My goal is to write as much as I can about our training process. We’re also hoping to do a lot of audio and video updates but are looking for a tech savy person to help us out :) email us if you are interested: info@turningheadskennel.com

Thanks :)

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Spring is Here

The days go by one and then another in glorious sunshine. We spend our days outside, mostly, trying to clean up our yard and get ready for the oncoming tourist season. We’ve found new hobbies: Travis has been taking a part old sleds, sanding them, and re-staining the wood. I’ve been pretending to be a gardener. Our greenhouse is full of young plants that I still have nowhere to put. They ache for the sun.

Madison’s recovery is slow going. He keeps us full of laughter  The other day as I was coming in I got told, “Stay outside! I have to vaccuum up some maggots!” These are words no one wants to here. Apparently, Madison found a bone while out on a pee break and Travis let him bring it inside only to find that it was decomposing. The worms apparently got spread out all over our kitchen floor — but thankfully I never saw this.

We’ve been entertaining him with dog toys. His knew favorite is a pink hippo with a rubber kong inside of it. He parades it around proudly by its dangling streamers as if he found it. This is after the moose we got him — he accidentally tore that to shreds — and then was somewhat depressed that his “buddy” was gone. He is, for the most part, a good spirited happy dog who, I think, we have finally house-broken.

We haven’t run dogs much. They are recovering. This is their time off — between Iditarod and Summer — where they can rest and relax. We’ve been doing some of that too — though not much and have gone on a few runs with our pups. I forgot how wild puppies can be when they first start running. They are gawky, awkward athletes who often trip over the lines. They pull, they always pull, but they do the things a seasoned veteran doesn’t which is mostly get tangled, especially during hook up.

As the runs stack up, they learn to channel their energy better. They jump over lines less and don’t seem to get quite as tangled. But for now, they are a chaotic mess of limbs and high-pitched barks. The neighbors can hear us coming; these dogs like to bark and run which is unusual for us.

Our two youngest females are still running loose in the dog yard — Shark and Hoover — and it’s been fun watching how they play. Their brother, Mr. Clean, is tied up now but every day his sisters go to visit and play with him, usually for several hours.

Faraday, our wandering Siberian Husky, usually stays outside but has lately been seen crawling through our doggy door. While this is certainly allowed it always catches us off guard. Why, after two years, are you coming inside? We’ve been asking her. She never stays in long but occasionally finds a patch of rug to flop down on for an hour or two. When she’s outside, she plays with the pups — occasionally taking them on adventures they shouldn’t be having. Still, we are before the summer, before the tourists and what freedom we can give the dogs we will.

Our goal for the dog lot this year is to put in a big free run pen so we can let dogs loose to play on a regular basis. Unfortunately it will take a lot of work before we can get to this point — bringing gravel, buying fencing, putting it all in….I am excited for the end result, less excited for the work leading up to it.

We have a few small pens now and routinely put a few dogs in there to play. They enjoy being loose together and the more we loose run our dogs, the more we want to be able to do it on a routine basis. It’s good — not just for the puppies — who, if its not tourist season, run wild and free — but for the adults too.

Anyways, that’s where we are at. I’ll try to post more (I always say this) but I often find myself unsure of what to write. It’s easy during Iditarod, etc when we are constantly running the dogs and have “news” and although there are often things I want to write about, I wonder how relevant they are. I mainly try to keep our posts about our dogs, etc but have been wondering more and more if I should just write about the adventures we have both with dogs and without. Input here, from you readers, would most certainly be welcome

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Catching Up With Travis In Unalakleet

Unalakleet has been amazing so far. Flying in, I couldn’t believe how brown everything was. We flew over what must have been mud flats; land that’s supposed to be covered with snow was brown and barren with deep cracks running through it. The earth here looks like it is craving water.

Getting off the plane, I had no idea where I would go. The flight attendant gave me a hug and said “Welcome to Unalakleet.” I was nervous and began trying to figure out how to get to the actual checkpoint. A family, overhearing me asks for directions said, “it’s easy! Hop in Our Truck!” The hospitality of the people here reminds me why I love Alaska so much; everyone is full of smiles and is eager to lend a hand.

I throw my backpack in the bed of their pick up and we drive to the post-office where the checkpoint is located.

“Who’s your musher?” They ask on the short 2-minute drive.
I see a flash of blue and my heart stops. “HIM!” I say! I’d recognize that blue jack anywhere!

Travis is walking up the trail from the dog lot below. You can see him do a double take as we drive past.

“What the?’ He says, as I get out of the truck, and breaks into a grin as I walk over.

”Wow.” He says, still shaking his head. The family who drops me off is beaming as Travis’ continue to stare at me in disbelief. “I saw the backpack in the back of that truck,” he says “and then I saw the prettiest girl. And then I thought, HOLY SMOKES THAT’S SARAH.”

He hugs me and doesn’t let go. His eyes are a mile wide. “It’s good to see you,” I say.

“Better to see you,” he said. “Wow. Wow. Wow.”

He offers to take my backpack full of stuff but I won’t let him so he settles for holding the door open as we go into the checkpoint building. It’s filled with people – many are “tourists” like myself who are here checking out the race. He’s quick to introduce me to several of these people who have “shared” the checkpoints with him.

He’s still more or less speechless at my arrival but people are quick to talk to him.
Mostly, it seems like he is in good spirits as he recounts stories from his journey down the trail but there is a hint of frustration.

“My race was over in Rohn,” he admitted to me. “I lost my team going down the gorge. And I mean I lost my team. They were gone for 45 minutes and ended up missing the trail and shooting off a ravine. They were so far off the trail…I have not idea how I found them…” He trails off, visibly still shaken from the experience, “but we survived.”

“Are the dogs ok?”

“They are fine,” He says. “But after that they had a bunch of nicks and scrapes and sore muscles. They were in such a mess when I found them. It was bad. I’m grateful no one got seriously hurt.” He shakes his head and laughs because what else can you do about it at this point?

He continues, “I had to hike down this ravine way off the trail through a bunch of pine trees before I found the team. I think I had a guardian angel watching over me or something. I have no idea how I found them. And then, after that, I had ti tie off the dogs to trees, carry my sled up the ravine, and then carry the dogs.” He shakes his head, smiling. “Gosh it really sucked. What a low point.”

“But you know, I am not a quitter,” he says.

I nod. I’ve never met anyone more stubborn than Travis.

“And neither are the dogs,” he said. “We are here and we are eeking by. I think we are going to finish. I’m hoping we do. But man…this race has been such a let down.”

After his 24 he said the dogs started to get sick. He takes me into the yard to see them. They perk up a little, recognizing me, but not much. “They aren’t themselves still,” he admitted and I could see that too. They are usually very peppy dogs but there is something to them beyond the tiredness you would expect.

“But they’re eating,” he continues, “and when I say go, they go. But they aren’t the team the usually are. Still, they want to keep at it.”

“It’s ok though. I’m just disappointed for them. They are a top caliber team… and everything that could go wrong, went wrong. But we’re still here. That’s something, isn’t it?”

“For sure,” I say. “I mean look at how many people have scratched!”

“Yeah. Sometimes I don’t know how I haven’t. This is the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”

‘Worse than last year?”

“By Far! My 3 main dogs are home this year. The trail has sucked. The dogs don’t have the pep in their step they usually do. I think there’s been 200 miles of snow this whole race. You know, some teams may be ok with that but…every time ours hits the dirt the dogs look back at me and I feel like they’re saying ‘Dad, what the hell! What is this!’”

He goes on, “I get its easier pulling, but… I don’t know… they perk up every time we are on snow, good snow… and every time we’re on dirt or ice they are sort of like ‘really, dad? Really? More of this shit?!’’”

He’s happy as he’s talking to me. He’s happy to share stories and there’s a visible air of optimism in him despite all this.

I talk about the dogs he dropped. He’s happy to learn they’ve made a full recovery. “I should have dropped Willie-Charlie sooner,” he admits. “I think he was the one who started not feeling well first. But WOAH is that dog good. He just kept going and going, I thought he was going to work through it. He didn’t want to be dropped and, honestly, I didn’t want to drop him…but he just wasn’t look right so finally I left him.”

“I thought you might have some problems with sick dogs,” I told him. “You were on the trail with Ramey a lot and in the same spots. When he scratched I really feared for you.”

“Yeah. I spent a lot of time with him. We were going to tare it up together. I parked next to him in McGrath for 6 hours during my 24 and then he moved on – I think to take his 24 in Takotna. I caught up with him later in Ophir and was like ‘RAMEY! LET’S GET THIS!’ and Ramey was like ‘Yeah man I think I’m in a world of trouble’ and then he scratched later on. And you know, the very next run was when these guys started having issues….I just camped and camped and camped….Gosh they picked at their food real, real slow, but they ate. When I asked them to go they all stood up and wagged their tales…but they weren’t right.”

I knew what he meant. Our dogs are usually leaping 3 feet off the ground to go. At the end of the Copper Basin this year every dog was on his feet, jumping and screaming ready to go further. Most mushers don’t have that peppiness; some actively try to discourage it. We love it.

“I thought about scratching, honestly. I thought about it a lot. But they always went,” he said. “I don’t have good leaders right now,” he said. “Fidget has been doing it mostly but she hates the glare ice so when we get there I have to get off the sled and run in front of the team. And man is that HARD to do! They’re fast and the ice is so slick… but she’s sort of got the hang of it now.”

“How far do you think you’ve run?” I ask.

“Maybe 75 miles?’ He said. “I mean, obviously not at once and sometimes I just run beside the sled. But I’m not afraid to be the lead dog. I knew that going in when I left Zema and Madori I might need to do this – and I have — and its been a good learning experience.’

“But you know, you just don’t want to have runs like this. It’s not fun. I mean, I am having a great time, but its frustrating. They’re pouring they’re hearts into it. They really are. They don’t want to throw the towel in and I don’t either. So we are doing it. But we are doing it on their terms, not mine. They need to stop a lot so we are stopping a lot. We’re taking our time. “

Still, when he thinks of where he is in the pack, he seemed frustrated. “They have so much potential. And For a lot of these dogs, this is their last run…I just wanted them to finish on a high note.”

I tell him its ok. It’s the journey that counts and to learn from it. He agrees, but when another musher comes in and teases him for where he is in the standings, Travis is visibly agitated and walks away from the conversation to works on drying his boots. I’m still stunned someone would actually say that.

He seems to take it in stride though. The whole time he’s beaming from ear to ear, “God Sarah, I need new boots.” He’s laughing, “we’re always like this aren’t we?”

“Yes,” I admit. We’ve both been without good, reliable boots for most of the winter at this point. Looking back, it seems stupid not to have invested in new a pair. “Sometimes,” I say laughing “I think we try to save money in all the wrong ways.”

“Yeah well next year we are buying like 10 pairs of boots each. I’m having a new set at each checkpoint cause these things are junk!” He asks the checkpoint staff if they have a dryer and they point him in the right direction. “I got to go dry this stuff out.”

Mike Ellis comes up and starts talking. “I think we should do this first part of the run together,” he tells Travis. “There aren’t any trail markers.” They’ve been travelling on and off it seems down the trail. I don’t Mike but his easy-does-it attitude is contagious. He’s someone I’d want to be around a race in too

Apparently the trail markers blew away or were marked down after the front runners went through; they haven’t had anything marking the trail in over a day. It doesn’t seem to phase either of them – though they sound wary of the idea of an unmarked trail — but other mushers are quick to vocalize their frustration later on. “You’ve known for a day there aren’t any trail markers out there! Why haven’t you gone out and put new ones up!” There are exasperated sighs, as if this is what mushers have now come to expect with this race.

We leave before the arguments heat up – they were headed in that direction it seemed so he could boot his dogs. He works through the team bootying the dogs, they stand and wag their tales. “Good dogs, good dogs,” he tells them.

Mike is hooking up his team next to Travis, singing to them. I can’t help but think if I had to travel down the trail with any musher besides Travis, it would probably be Mike. He just radiates happiness.

Before you know it, all the dogs are on their feet. Monroe, who I was so sure would be the weak link in the team, is standing in wheel howling with delight. Soon the whole team is singing.

“I love you,” he tells me as he grabs his hook.

“I’ll see you in Nome,” I tell him.

His smile lights up his face. “I can’t wait,” he says. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

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Hopefully I’ll Get To Unalakleet In Time

I’ve heard Travis is on the move again, but accessing the tracker from a cellphone is hard. From what I was told, it sounds like he and I will arrive at roughly the same time.

Assuming I can correctly navigate Unalakleet and find the checkpoint, I may even get to watch the team come in. If I’m lucky, the team is traveling fast and he will beat me. Part of me thinks if I’m REALLY lucky he won’t stop and will just keep traveling down the trail. Maybe I’ll see him, maybe I won’t. It’s the effort, after all…

Regardless, I’m happy. I’ve been to one other Iditarod checkpoint – Skwentna, the very first stop on the trail. I went last year via snowmachine with my cousin Andy and it was the coolest experience watching so many teams coming and going.

700 miles into this thing its going to be different. Teams will show a little more wear. Mushers will be tired. I’ll likely be seeing other friends too and can give them an encouraging word and a hug before they continue down the trail.

I have no idea what sort of cell service I’ll have when I get there, but if I can I’ll post some pictures if I get any. I have a laptop so if I can score wi-fi anywhere, you’ll definitely get something…but chances are slim.

I’m still in shock that this all came together last minute, that I scored a plane ticket, and that I had friends and family who said “SWEET! We’ll take care of things here!” Thanks to everyone who is helping out back home in Seward and here in Anchorage…

Here we go….it’s lift off time.

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I’m Heading to Unalakleet…

Scored a cheap last minute flight… on my way to Unalakleet I’ll be in there tomorrow at 2:00pm. The timing is going to be real real close… but, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to cheer on Travis!

***

it’s 6:15 am and Travis is at mile 679. His tracker hasn’t updated so I assume he is resting; the trackers, apparently, stop updating when there is no movement…. Looks like he has been there for about 4 hours. This is the spot of a popular shelter cabin called, old woman cabin. He may stay here a little longer or he may get going soon… either way, it’s another 36 miles to Unalakleet. Or about 4-5 hours.

If he leaves now, he’ll get in to Unalakleet sometime between 10-11am. Assuming he stays another hour, he won’t get there until 12pm. He will almost certainly rest in Unalakleet…. so I’m hoping the timing all works out on this.

***

I’ve heard Travis is on the move again, but accessing the tracker from a cellphone is hard. From what I was told, it sounds like he and I will arrive at roughly the same time.

Assuming I can correctly navigate Unalakleet and find the checkpoint, I may even get to watch the team come in. If I’m lucky, the team is traveling fast and he will beat me. Part of me thinks if I’m REALLY lucky he won’t stop and will just keep traveling down the trail. Maybe I’ll see him, maybe I won’t. It’s the effort, after all…

Regardless, I’m happy. I’ve been to one other Iditarod checkpoint – Skwentna, the very first stop on the trail. I went last year via snowmachine with my cousin Andy and it was the coolest experience watching so many teams coming and going.

700 miles into this thing its going to be different. Teams will show a little more wear. Mushers will be tired. I’ll likely be seeing other friends too and can give them an encouraging word and a hug before they continue down the trail.

I have no idea what sort of cell service I’ll have when I get there, but if I can I’ll post some pictures if I get any. I have a laptop so if I can score wi-fi anywhere, you’ll definitely get something…but chances are slim.

I’m still in shock that this all came together last minute, that I scored a plane ticket, and that I had friends and family who said “SWEET! We’ll take care of things here!” Thanks to everyone who is helping out back home in Seward and here in Anchorage…

Here we go….it’s lift off time.

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Dropped Dog: Willie Charlie

I got word last night about the 6th dropped dog of Travis. It was Willie-Charlie, as I was sort of expecting.

We got Willie-Charlie 3 years ago, about 6 months after Travis and I started dating, he was 7 months old at the time. He was always shy. Back then we actually just called him Willie. He was a skittish dog who didn’t like people. He’s still wary around Travis and I and almost always dartsaway from strangers or lies down flat on the ground. Although he’s a bit of a spook, he is really well behaved and we’ve never had issues loose dropping him or letting him go on dog walks. He’s a happy, excite dog as soon as he is in the team, usually jumping 3 or 4 feet in the air…unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a good picture of him to post

That summer when we got Willie-Charlie, Travis worked for Dallas Seavey up in Anchorage. While almost all the dogs stayed in Seward, Travis chose to bring up Willie. “This is going to be a great dog,” he said. “I need him to like me.” So Willie got loaded in a dog box and headed to Anchorage. When Travis was free, he’d take Willie on walks – if they could be called that – because Willie was stubborn; it took him forever to get used to the leash so for a long time, Travis and Willie simply did a lot of sitting around together.

About the same time, there was a video floating around on youtube. You’ve probably seen it. It got to Alaska a little bit later than other parts of the world, but it has two young british kids sitting together. In it, the older boy puts his fingers in the younger boy’s mouth and gets bit. He laughs. “Ouch Charlie! Charlie bit me!”

Well, long story short, one day when Travis was getting ready to load Willie into the dog truck to head back to Seward, a nearby car backfired. Scared, Willie bit Travis on the tip of his finger as he was getting loaded into the box. “Ouch Willie! Willie Bit me!”

We’ve called him Willie-Charlie ever since…

Two weeks ago when Travis went to vet-checks before the race to do his bloodwork and EKGS, the crew there asked him what Willie Charlie’s name was as they begin filling out paper work.

“It’s Willie-Charlie,” Travis said.
They stared at Travis for a minute. “So is it Willie? Or is it Charlie?”
“Uhhh, It’s Willie-Charlie,” he told them.
Silence. Then: “So would you prefer us to call him Willie? Or Charlie? Which one?”
“Both. It’s Willie-Charlie!”
They looked at him perplexed but wrote it down nonetheless…

If he drops another dog, I’m almost positive it will be Monroe. Monroe was dropped in Kaltag last year – which is now where Travis is. I’m hoping Monroe has improved over last year and continues down the trail…we’ll know in a few more hours as he seems to be playing things pretty conservatively. Keep sending the positive energy his way!

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On the Other Side of Iditarod

My life these days goes like this:

I wake up and check the standings or the Iditarod tracker, whichever I can get to load first. Then there is one of three inevitable reactions: relief, worry or certainty.

R E L I E F
Relief happens when I see Travis makes it to the checkpoint and his run time looks good. It happened a lot in the first part of the race. Mostly, I worried about our friends. Honestly I never really worried about Travis’ ability to get through on dirt or ice or non-existent trail.

Our first time hanging out Travis put me in the basket of his sled and proceeded to mush down the road in his neighborhood. We skated along on ice and gravel for a quarter mile before he told the dogs to “Gee” and we seamlessly hopped a snow bank that was taller than me. For the next hour I saw lead dogs do things I never even thought were possible.

In the fall of 2011 we went out on a dog run on the four wheeler only to have a river we cross rapidly rise during the time we’d been out on the trail camping. I had no idea what we would do. He looked at it for a minute. We considered other options: there were none. We doggy paddled across. I had no idea sled dogs could even do things like this. He never even batted an eye. He’s got an unbelievable gift with dogs. When he says jump, they say how high.

We’ve also been running on junk gear for so long that stuff breaking is actually expected and doesn’t phase us. or a long time we were completely unprepared and never even carried a repair kit. Quick fixes became our specialty! No drag mat? Grab some spruce boughs! Stanchion breaks? Get some alders or a trail marker. Oh? The runner became disconnected from the sled?…hmmm well….I’ve got this extra tug line and a zip tie? You think we can tie it through the bolt hole and limp it in? … Shoot… this isn’t working Sarah….Oh…Lets add a couple more tugs… Yeah, Yeah. This will do….

Still, It’s almost impossible not to worry about someone who is 500 miles in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold….

W O R R Y
I worry when he sits for too long or the tracker doesn’t update right. His tracker seems to have had issues, frustrating for those watching it closely waiting for it to scoot forward a millimeter at a time. Sometimes it seems to register slow movement that may or may not be forward progress. When I see this I think, “Has he had to load a dog?” or “Is the tracker not working?” I usually go with the tracker and am proven right when he doesn’t drop a dog at the next checkpoint.

It’s hard to worry too much about Travis. I find I worry mostly about how feels he is doing. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to do well because he knows what his team is capable of and what he is capable. I know, with certain fact, that he will win this race one day. Not this go round, and probably not the next either, but it’s coming somewhere down the line. Iditarod is a tricky puzzle to figure out; we’re still learning what all the pieces even are.

Still, as much as I say I don’t worry, I find myself living on his schedule. I watch the #48 tracker move down the trail, trying to keep my eyes open just a little longer. Sometimes he stops and rests, sometimes he keeps going.

Before he left he gave me a roadmap to understand all of his stops — a basic outline of his run/rest schedule. I haven’t looked at it since Sunday right before he left. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t either.

“Just run them!” I told him. “Run when you should run. Rest when you should rest.” Still, schedules can help tired mushers make better decisions later in the race… Unfortunately, we aren’t really schedule people. Just ask our families… we’re always showing up to late!

C E R T A I N T Y
Certainty is what I feel most of the time. Anyone who knows Travis or has spent much time with him would understand this. There is, quite frankly, no one I’m more confident in out there. Travis shines with dogs. He excels outdoors. He is eternally optimistic. And his faith in himself and his dogs never seems to waiver. He is the poster-child for a can-do attitude. On the trail, as in life, that’s a major assist — when your tired, it’s easy to get down on yourself out there. If you get down, your dogs get down. Confidence is key.

More importantly, Travis really believes he was born to do this. He likes to tell the story of how he used to push a laundry basket around the house when he was a kid yelling “hike! Hike! Hike!” and pretending to be an Iditarod musher. When he was a young kid Martin Buser came to Seward and stayed at his friends B&B. Travis went to his friends and kept Buser up til midnight asking questions about the Iditarod, dogs, and training before Martin finally said he had to go to bed. This year, before the start, it was Martin asking Travis questions:

“Any problems you can think of with driving a trailer sled?” Buser said.
“No, drives great.” Travis responded.
“Think about it…” Buser replied.
Travis couldn’t come up with anything.
“Side hills,” Buser pointed out. Side hills are exactly what they sound like. It’s when the trail goes on the side of hill and the trail isn’t level. I hate them; they can sometimes be very tricky to negotiate and sometimes your sled will tip over. When you’re lucky you only roll once. Buser then kindly took another few minutes to talk with Travis about how he might overcome this problem –- Buser, I’m pretty sure, is always in teaching mode.

Because Travis has confidence in himself, his dogs have confidence in him. In the Copper Basin 300 this year he did two back to back 80 mile runs on 3 hours of rest. They got to the end of the race, and the team was lunging to keep going. Believe me, they turned heads. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a similar move at some point.

Regardless of where the team finishes this year, it’s a huge accomplishment, especially on a year where we’ve taken on a lot and had a lot to overcome.

I don’t find myself asking “where will he finish?” instead I find myself asking “I wonder what has he learned?”


- Sarah

p.s. Travis left Galena at 4:30pm. It’s about a 6 hour run to Nulato which he will almost certainly do straight through….

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March 8 Iditarod Update

Travis left Galena at 4:30pm today after a 6 hour restand will be on his way to Nulato in 36th place. He still has 10 dogs and was the last second to last one to leave in the group of mushers he’s been sharing the trail with. They all left within about 40 minutes of each other so expect to see some leap frogging. So far, Travis’ runstimes have been pretty consistent — a great thing.

A lot of people have asked about whether or not this concerns me — it does not. The strongest dogs in Travis’ team remain in his team. I’m still waiting to learn who the 6th dog is… but I am thinking it may be Monroe. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.

Honestly, I was more concerned at the start of Iditarod by the fact that Zema and Madori couldn’t go. They are huge team players. That’s like the Patriots going to the Super Bowl and learning that Tom Brady has to sit out and so does his replacement. Travis started with his 3rd stringers up front.

I imagine Travis is now using these runs to work on building up new leaders for future Iditarods. . I would say there are 3-4 dogs who are potentially nearing retirement and may not make the team next year: Copper (who was dropped), Boston, Kermit, & Ray are all getting older. It wouldn’t surprise me if these dogs ran Iditarod again next year with some of our puppies and with me or Travis, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if some of them continued on the A-team.

Many of our other main dogs will just be hitting their prime which is approximately 3-7 years old: Zema, Madori, Mary, Weiser, Wrangler, Fidget, Willie-Charlie, Goblin, Gremlin, Cuervo, Madison, and Star all fall perfectly in to that age range. Pinky, who did not make the team this year, will now be 2 years old. She’s got incredible talent but as a young, houndier (is that a word?) dog she has had trouble keeping weight and we made the decision to drop her out of serious contention for the team in mid December. Maturity will help her with that problem.

So who is Travis running up front?
My bet is Wrangler (who’s brother Levi is a wheel dog in Nic Petit’s team). Wrangler has been showing incredible drive up front in training. He’s without a doubt one of the friendliest dogs in our yard. Travis has been running him in single lead a lot since Zema & Madori got hurt but due to his young age, he can’t be up there too much. Being the lead dog is a lot of pressure…you have to find the trail, follow the trail, listen to directions, and not let the dogs behind you run you over… for a young guy that can be tough work so I imagine he’s doing stints on and off up front. Two other dogs who may be rising to the challenge are his mom, Fidget, and his uncle, Willie-Charlie. They’re both quirky little dogs who love to run. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Willie was the mysterious 6th dog who got dropped..

Madison, who broke his leg last year, is also, I’m sure, doing plenty of time up front, as is Boston. Boston ran the last 77 miles from White Mountain into Nome last year in single lead and helped give Travis a great deal of speed. Cuervo, who joined our kennel recently, is probably also seeing time up front….

The dogs I brought home yesterday are in top notch shape. Everybody is doing great… none of them look like they should be sitting in the dog yard  I had a fun drive picking the dogs up with my friend Jamie. They were all happy to see me. Goblin started barking as soon as she saw me. They were even happier to get back to the yard and see their friends…

Anyways that’s where we’re at now. I’ll do my best to update again later tonight at some point about where he’s at, as well as the general state of Iditarod. Sonny Lindner just posted an incredibly fast run in to Unalakleet, averaging 8.84mph. This is pretty fast this late in the rest. Zirkel and Buser had longer times but may have rested on the trail…more to come later…

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Iditarod 2014 Thursday March 6

As of 9:30 this morning Travis was through the checkpoint of Ophir in 29th place. He posted a strong run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes. He stayed In Ophir for 35 minutes probably to feed his dogs and give them a short break.

He is now on the trail heading towards Cripple. I imagine he will rest somewhere on the trail between Cripple and Ruby, probably during the heat of the day from about 11-4 or something like that as it is a longer run.

Without his 3 main leaders — Zema, Madori, and Mary — in the team I’m sure Travis is being more cautious as to when he starts really pushing the team.

Remember, last year Travis’ team didn’t start peaking until Kaltag about 630 miles in to the race. By Koyuk, 200 miles later, they were absolutely flying. These are dogs that generally get stronger the further they go down the trail and Travis is playing off of that. He moved up approximately 10 positions in the last two runs of 2013, passing the last team as he came onto Front Street in Nome.

Currently, only 4 hours separates 30th place from 19th place. And 6 hours separates 30th from 13th place. Two things lead to this: (1) the front of the pack is running faster (2) the back is resting longer. In reality it is some combination of the two.

Travis rested a little more earlier in the race with hopes that it will pay off later. Regardless, this is a very competitive field with a whole lot of race left… it will be interesting to see who moves up and who moves down in the standings as the mushers continue down the trail!

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