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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Rest in Peace Noon

We lost our beloved cat, Noon (pictured on the right) this morning. For anyone who has ever visited our kennel, you’ll remember that she was the sweetest, most affectionate cat. She loved children and didn’t care if they held her up by her tale. She never bit or scratched. She was simply a good cat. We adopted her after Iditarod last year to keep our other cat, Midnight, company.

Noon was never my cat. From the moment she came home, she was Travis’. She came when he called, curled up in his lap, and often slept on his chest at night. We knew something was wrong with Noon early last week. She stopped eating and had lost weight. Our local vet has been out of town for some time and after consulting with another vet we started her on some treatment. Her health continued to decline.

On Friday, when we left for the ceremonial start of Iditarod in Anchorage, Travis and I agreed that she needed to come with us. We spent Friday night before the race, typically a time when mushers are trying to stock up on sleep, in the vets office trying to get her better. We didn’t leave til about 2:00am. The vet was flummoxed by her symptoms and having worked with so many animals, Travis and I knew that the prognosis was not good. On Monday morning, I received a phone call from the vet. Test results were back and it looked like she had cancer.

I have spent the last few nights sleeping by her side trying to make her comfortable. But I’m the consolation prize — she wanted Travis. Cats don’t understand Iditarod and I know she wanted her dad, meowing to look for him. She slept on one of his old shirts last night and it immediately brought her visible comfort as she closed her eyes and rested.

This morning, shortly before she passed, our 3 inside dogs, Archie, Betty and Perry as well as our other cat, Midnight, all walked in and gathered around where I was holding Noon. They each took a turn nuzzling her. Midnight licked her ears and put his paw on her forward. I am amazed by the compassion and friendship animals show one another in times of need.

She crossed over surrounded by her friends and family. I am certain that wherever Travis is on the trail, her spirit is flying towards him, and in the moment where they meet, I am sure that her arrival there will lift his spirits.

Watch over us, sweet Noon. You will forever be in our hearts!

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Day One of Iditarod 42

It’s 8:00am on the first morning of Iditarod 42 and we are beginning to see different strategies once again emerge. I still haven’t been able to get my insider subscription to work so I’m currently relying on just the standings published by ITC at this time.

Martin Buser, Nicolas Petite, Mike Williams Jr. all currently sit in Rainy Pass this morning. I imagine they will rest here a few hours and then head out on the trail. It seems these mushers are doing an adaptation of Martin’s strategy last year of “rush to the front” but are choosing to add a little more rest.

Kelly Maxiner has currently pushed out of Rainy Pass and is en route to Rohn. He may opt to 24 there, once he gets there before trekking over “The Burn” but I imagine he will continue further along. Like Travis, Nick Petite, and Jeff King, Kelly Maxiner has a sled caboose (like Travis). It’s been reported that he has only been running 12 of his 16 dogs due to the hard fast conditions so even though he has rested little, his dogs have been getting rest.

The hard trail allows those traveling with dogs in their sled to maintain good, fast speeds despite having fewer dogs in the line. Petite, who probably has at least 1 or 2 dogs in his trailer was only a minute slower than Buser. Buser, who does not have a caboose, may have still had a dog in the sled – it just is a much tighter fit.

Unlike Petite, Buser, and Maxiner, Travis is running a more traditional schedule. We knew going into this race that the danger of this hard, fast trail would be that it is very tempting to go too fast and run too far. Combined with the warm weather, this can really sap a lot out of a dog team. But that energy drain, if it is seen, won’t be seen until several days into the race

Martin has definitely learned from last year. His team has performed consistently winning every mid-distance race they have been entered in. Translating that into an Iditarod win, however, presents its own unique challenges. Still Martin has the knowledge, skill, and talent as a dog man. I am not sure what to expect of him this year. His 17th place finish last year did not surprise me; I would be equally surprised if he hadn’t learned from it and refined his strategy.

Petite, who (I believe) only has 7 returning veterans from last years 6th place team, has had the consistent training. This guy was always out on the trail. Talking to Petite early in the season, he had a unique race strategy lined out for Iditarod 42. I’ll be interested to see how and if he chooses to execute it – but I wouldn’t be surprised. He likes to shake things up. He has one of the dogs we bred and raised, Levi, running on his team this year. His brother Wrangler, is running with Travis. Both are probably the youngest dogs on these mushers team, a nod to their talent.

So what is Travis doing?. He is taking his time, building up rest. This is going to be a trail that wears dogs down. The hard fast icy trail combined with the long stretches of snowless trail predicted later on in the race are going to be rough on teams. Wrist injuries will take lots of dogs out of the race. Taking extra rest now will pay off later. It is a tried and true method that has been proven year after year to yield good, reliable results…however only time will tell!

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Chesney Goes Ice Skating

Last weekend, I spent Sunday afternoon ice-skating with a friend out at Tern Lake. It’s a fun little spot where the Seward Highway & Sterling Highway meet and is usually one of the first places to freeze. I admit that I have never skated out there before and am not actually much of a skater.

Still, I used this as an opportunity to introduce one of our shier pups and to get him more familiar with me. We were really hard to socialize are dogs and it is important that lots of socialization occur at a young age. We try our best to work with dogs that show early signs of being shy by working with them more frequently. We often try to do plenty of 1-on-1 time.

Chesney was born this summer. He is the son of Fidget and Copper, both finishers from last year’s Iditarod team, both incredibly eager dogs, and both a little reserved when it comes to social interaction. I expected several dogs from this litter to show more signs of being shy. Fortunately, they are all very friendly dogs.

Here is a video of Chesney following along on the ice:

PS sorry…my voice over came out really loud, you might want to turn your volume DOWN.

In the last week after this video was shot, Chesney has been really friendly and out going — all very positive signs.

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