Monday, 28 February 2005

February 28, 2005 A Memory Made

As planned yesterday, Mark, myself and our friend, Donna Quante headed into Anchorage to watch the final day of the Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Races. We had a blast!

The teams start on 4th Ave, just like the Iditarod – however, unlike us – the clock is ticking the whole time on them.

We walked down the Avenue and found JP Norris and Bob Chlupach, both driving Siberian teams, to wish them luck and then walked down to the turn onto Cordova street to watch the teams blast by. We cheered for everyone, but saved out loudest cheers for the Siberian teams and fellow Iditarod veterans, Frank Sihler and Ken Anderson.

It usually takes the teams about 90 – 110 minutes to negotiate the 25-mile course (yes, this is as close to flying with a dog team as you can get), so we slipped into a Mexican restaurant for a bite to eat before wandering down to Cordova Hill (aka Heartbreak or Heart Attack Hill) to watch them come home.

As all the teams start in ‘reverse order’ on Sunday (slowest goes out first, fastest last) there was lots of action and passing occurring on the Hill. Second team to leave and second on the way home was Bob, which meant he had a good run. Less then two minutes behind was JP. Both the Siberian teams looked strong, despite really, really warm weather. I think they did the breed proud this weekend.

The highlight of the whole day though was watching eventual winner, Egil Ellis’s team come up that hill. After about 23 miles of hard racing those dogs DROVE up that hill, pounding and pulling into their harnesses for all they were worth. It was incredible. Egil was pleased too and his grin kept getting bigger and bigger the closer to the top of the hill he got. At the top, he pumped his fist in the air as he headed to the finish line.

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(Screen capture of coverage &
pdf archive of race coverage)

As a fan of the entire sport of dog racing, I was glad to be there to watch that- the memory will stick with me for a long time.

(Note: Race results can be viewed at along with a nice gallery of photos from both Day 1 & 2 of the race).

We did also swing by Iditarod headquarters on the way into town to pick up the results of the blood testing that was done on the dogs earlier in the week. The results were great. One value that Iditarod mushers watch really closely is the Hematocrit. This “is a measure of the red blood cell concentration in circulating blood. The purpose of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to the other cells in the body. “ Dogs with higher HCT levels will recover faster and be able to work harder. I have watched mushers pick dog teams, or at least eliminate dogs from their final 16, just because of a ‘low normal’ HCT value. The acceptable range on this test is 38 – 54. Well-conditioned sled dogs should be well over 40. I believe the average pre race value on all dogs finishing the Iditarod last year was 46 (the vets study these kinds of statistics constantly). Our team has traditionally ranged from about 43 up to 51 or so. This year though, on the 19 dogs left in contention the low was Hilda at 44.3, the high was Sprite and Dasher, both at 53.3 and the average a whooping 49.9. Science is confirming what we already suspected – this team is ready to rock! I credit this to a top notch feeding program and a well-executed training program. Mark says it’s about time I figured all that out!

Well, this week will definitely be a busy one, as we take care of all the last minute tasks that need to be done before Sunday, squeeze some mandatory social engagements into our schedule and still have some short, attitude building runs to put in on the dogs, but I will try to get a few more diary entries in in the coming days.

All for today though!


Saturday, 26 February 2005

February 26, 2005 And Then There Was 19

Well, actually and then there were 25… Confused?? Well, I am a little too, but I’ll do my best to explain.

This past Wednesday and Thursday Mark and I headed out to Skwentna for a final long run on the dogs prior to Iditarod. Wednesday morning as we were loading the dogs into the truck, I noticed Olena’s breakfast was sitting pretty low and heavy in her belly. I chided her for being a little pig and off we went. Somewhere around the junction of the Big Su and Yentna Rivers I was up praising my leaders (Olena and Grover) and Ollie still had that belly. “You know, she almost looks pregnant”, I thought. I mentioned it to Mark and he agreed that he had noticed the same thing. We discussed the fact that there was really no way she could be pregnant and on we went.

Yesterday morning we headed into see Dr. Humbach at the Big Lake Clinic. Dogs occasionally have ‘false’ pregnancies, where they think they are pregnant, but they are not – and that is what I figured it was. Ollie loved being a Mom this summer, and I thought this was all just wistful thinking on her part – after all, we were with her throughout her whole heat cycle and she never got bred.

Ollie hopped onto the scale and was 4 or 5 lbs over her normal 39 lbs. “Fluid retention”, I explained away to myself. I was, however, at a loss to explain the 4 puppies that clearly showed up on the x-ray. Olena is indeed pregnant.
Who, when and how, you ask??? Me too. We have gone over this a thousands times now and the best we can figure out is that on ‘that tangle’ that I wrote about in the Copper Basin journal one of the boys managed to get close enough to Olena to ‘get the job done’ but without ‘tying’ her. It is the only explanation that makes any sense and even then I’m stretching things. In the dog yard, Olena is in a back corner. There are some loose dogs in the neighborhood, but all are females or neutered males and any stray dog would have to get past all my other dogs to get to Ollie – not likely and we definitely would have heard the commotion out there.

So my best guess is that it is Hector, Herman, Loki or Odie, as they are the dogs I remember being close to her at that water crossing. That is where we will begin DNA testing anyway. Things are going to get expensive if I am wrong. Nice that the technology is there though, so we will be able to determine the sire and register the pups.

This does, however mean that Olena is off the Iditarod team, as she should be whelping pups when the team is somewhere around Kaltag or Unalakleet.
I’m disappointed, but there is nothing to be done about it. I hope they are nice puppies Ollie.

Those of you following last year may remember that we had an ‘opps’ with Olena on the dog truck on the way to Alaska last year, but we were able to halt the pregnancy with a series of shots. As Kim and Kelly Berg said to me last night in an email “Olena is making a name for herself with the boys in the kennel.” And she is. * sigh *

Other then that, our river run out to Skwentna and back was great fun. The dogs traveled well, despite some NASTY heat and I am no closer to making my final 3 cuts then I was on Tuesday. Surge and Draco were driving me a little insane with their unwillingness to pull well most of the way out, but both of them did a fair amount of leading and pushed the pace nicely while they were in front. Mark maintains that they have a ‘been there, done that’ attitude and that training bores them. It does seem like it takes them a hundred miles or so to ‘warm up’. Surge has always been a dog that gets better and better the longer we are on the trail. I think both of them will have a place in the final 16. Looking good in Skwentna doesn’t count for near as much as looking good and driving hard in Elim.

We did encounter a large number of moose on our journey. Leaving the truck Mark said he felt like he was in a combination of the movies Iron Will and Rambo as both of us had guns within easy reach on our sleds. We saw 6 moose in our first hour. Two were really close, but both got out of the way quickly. We ran into the dumbest moose on the planet about 10 miles out of Skwentna. He was poking around on the other side of the river when he spotted us and got spooked. He tossed his head in the air and proceeded to parallel us for a good mile or so before deciding he needed to be on the same side of the river as we were. 

Chasing Moose

I could see him coming across, sinking to his belly with every step and managed to hold the team to give him time to cross and get out of our way. He vanished into the willows on the riverbank and I thought it was safe to proceed. Not so, he was in the willows trying to scale a cliff up into the woods. He kept ‘crawling’ part way up and then sliding down – over and over again. We passed maybe 20 or 30 feet from him as he was doing this. Lucky both Mark and I had solid leaders up front that went by without incident.

Stupid Moose trying to scale the river bank
Leaving Skwentna on Thursday morning we chased one down the trail for a ½ mile or so. The teams were fresh and clawing at the ground to try to catch him, but we stood on our brakes for all we were worth and when we hit the river, he turned right and we turned left.

The total count for the two days was 17 moose – most close enough to toss a stick at.

We are getting into the final crunch – a week today is the re-start. The dogs are down to short, easy runs now – with a few days off tucked in there too. Mark and I are hoping to sneak into Anchorage tomorrow to watch the Fur Rendezvous. (The racing is from noon until 5PM at 4th & D Street. You might be able to see some glimpses of the action via the RondyWebCam).
Those big teams of sprint dogs just barrel down 4th Ave at a wild pace. Very cool. We also want to cheer on the TWO Siberian teams entered this year – JP Norris (Anadyr Team from Howling Dog Farm) and Bob Chlupach (who insisted we add Moses to our team). A photo of  Bob is on the SledDogCentral site.

It has been a long time since any Siberian teams were entered in this race, let alone two. The breed is lucky to have these two quality teams representing it at this premier event. Go Sibes! (Radio station KRUA has archived coverage available online in case you missed it while it was Live).
All for this morning!

Sunset on the Yentna

Karen's Team

Time for a Break

Rolly Creek Trail

Willow Swamp

Mark's team loping on the way home

Mark enjoying the warm weather

Mark's Team
Mark's Team

Karen's Team

Group Howl on the

Mark's Team

Mark's Team

Friday, 25 February 2005

February 25, 2005 The Knik 200 (2005) Results

Position/Musher  Hours Minutes Seconds
1. Tom Lesatz 22 42 26
2. Phil Morgan 24 07 54
3. Jesse Bebee 24 30 28
4. DoDo Perr 25 20 28
5. Jerome Longo 25 48 05
6. Karen Ramstead 27 09 32
7. John Hessert 29 19 20
8. Lynda Plettner 31 07 43
9. Katrina Palacyzak 32 04 42
10. Gabrielle Dunham 32 28 00
11. Dallas Seavey In Monday at 10:40:00 a.m.
12. Rick Castillo In Monday at 10:40:16 a.m.

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

February 22, 2005 EKG Photos

Here are some miscellaneous photos from the pre-race vet checks. Once again, our thanks to June Price for her time and efforts to share the experience with the rest of us. Details/captions on each to be posted as received and as time allows :)

You can read more about the behavior of these Tough Sled Dogs in an earlier entry (in case you missed it).

Just a little over one week until Iditarod 2005, stay tuned!!! 


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