Team work. I’m really lucky to have found a strong mushing partner in Will when we were just kids with big dreams and a decade later able to put those dreams into action. It took us longer to get back into dogs than we thought it would. I remember when Will said to me, “Bren I’m going to keep going to school and get my masters in engineering to support the life we want with dogs.” Wow. Commitment. I’d grown up watching my parents struggle with making ends meet and really needing dad’s next race paycheck to survive. Operating a kennel today costs about 3 times as much as it did back then. Another decade later and we’ve finally finished paying off our student loans, such a shackle, if you’ve ever had them you know it’s like an extra mortgage every month. No matter that we were both working through school and raising Iz we needed the loans to get by. It took a lot of patience and hard work to build our kennel.
5 years back into racing and another great racing season behind us we’re already looking forward to fall. We had to put away our sleds this weekend because our out trail access goes onto a road which is now down to dirt. Yesterday we ran dogs on the ATV, cause we just can’t get enough of developing our 16 pups. This is more pups than we’ve ever went into summer with, more leader starts, and the same speed, drive, and toughness we expect to see in our dogs. I had a specific type of dog I wanted when we started breeding and we got lucky, because that’s exactly the type of bloodlines we’ve developed and sustained from generation 1 through now. Our race team this year consisted of over half a team of dogs we’d never raced before.
Season Wrap Up: 3 firsts, 2 seconds, and a 5th with the puppy team. We had a lot of fun racing this year because we reconnected with new friends and some of my childhood icons now dedicated to helping make these races possible through their leadership and volunteer efforts.
The Knik 200. This was my first Knik 200 and I loved it. I really enjoy doing long straight runs with very little rest at a high speed so this suited me well and our dogs were faster on the 2nd run than the first, which is typical for us. Will raced in the previous two Knik 200’s winning by over an hour his first time and taking 2nd to Nic Petit last year. I took 2nd to Nic again this year making up 13 minutes on him in the last leg and finishing just 7 minutes behind a team we feel is undeniably the best in the sport at the moment. This was the first Knik 200 in which handlers could help. This wasn’t announced until the number draw, but I appreciated the help. My parents and brother had come along to watch the race and it made for fun all around. This was the first race for 2 year olds Monarch and Brave and they did it with ease.
The Two Rivers 200- When people ask us if our dogs are tough or just fast? There is no “just fast” when you have a distance team. Going faster is tougher. Go walk a mile or run a mile and ask yourself which is tougher. Running on a bottomless trail with deep snow, wallowing with no footing, that is the toughest kind of race trail, no doubt. Nevertheless it takes a much more athletic and harder to come by sled dog for running at faster speeds. Running this race was a last minute decision as we contemplated running in the Tustamena 200. Logistically the Tust was very close to the Willow 300 and with Will’s full time job and Isabel’s school schedule trying to squeeze everything in wasn’t something we wanted to do. The plan was to get a training run before our next race, but being highly competitive people we always aim for doing our best. This was a fun race because uncle Lance and crew were in 2nd most of the way. Traveling together and joking around made for good times. My dad helped me handle, our friend Juliah stayed with us and took 4th in the 100 mile event. It was a tough race with big summits and lots of trail breaking as we continued to get mounds of fresh snow. Will finished with all 12 dogs barking at the finish line and did so at a record pace, breaking his own previous record time on this course. Dog races and breaking records is somewhat of a meaningless concept because no two given race trails over the same course are ever the same. One year it might be a fast trail with no obstacles and another year deep snow and whiteout conditions. This was such a tough race with Will leading and breaking trail that it’s worth mentioning. The last 15 miles of this race wrap around by our kennel and it takes a tough team to go by their kennel at the end of a long hard run. The last leg of this race is by far the most difficult. This was the first race 2 year olds Spark and Pharoah had raced in and they did so with flying colors.
The Willow 300- We both really wanted to run this race. I loved it last year and though the course was different this year I wanted Will to experience this one. His first 300 last year was the CB 300. He got rookie of the year and wanted to do another 300. This is a handler assisted race, the first of it’s kind in AK. I have to say I worked harder in this race than I have personally worked racing myself, but Will did the same for me last year and we both recognize this race, like our life, is a huge team effort. Handler assisted races in AK are a new thing and at first mushers up here weren’t receptive to the concept, the feeling being “that’s not tough enough”. There’s a much better understanding of that format up here now, mushers like it and it makes for even better dog care. Will took 2nd to Quick Nic and overtook Travis in the last leg making for a really exciting race finish.
The Nenana Ice Classic Tripod Race- After the 300 we worked to get the dogs geared up for speed runs planning for this race and the AlaskaX (which was canceled) This is a two day race of varying mileage. This year it was a 41 mile course. My dad really wanted to run this race, but didn’t have his own team trained up for it. For 2 weeks he asked to run our team. It was something I’d thought about long before he asked. I knew he’d had have fun and a really strong race if he ran our team. On our way home from the Willow 300 we stopped in at my parents and bought Pasha back from my dad, he’d bought her as a 10 month old. Her 2 year old siblings had such an incredible season I wanted her back. I hadn’t seen my dad in person since we’d picked her up so I hadn’t paid for her yet. He offered her to us in exchange for running our team. I wanted him to run them anyway but this was an offer I couldn’t pass up. We recently sold Pasha and she just became a champion in her 2nd race. I could see she’d be ideally suited for a very fast loping team and she is. Dad won the race with a good size lead. The first day of the race was slower in white out conditions and soft fresh snow on the river. The next day was clear and the trail had set up a bit more.
The Valley Funale – This is a fun local event put on by the Two Rivers Dog Mushers Association. Will was asked to present the kid’s awards and so we decided to opt out of our annual end of the season trip into the White Mountains to partake in this event. The plan was to race our yearling team. Our yearlings train with our adult veterans until mid-Novmeber getting a great foundation and around 1000 miles. While the adults go on to get around 3500 miles. The adults can jump longer miles much faster than first season pups our focus and priority becomes the race team. This wasn’t the case in our first 2 seasons back into racing in 2014/2015 because all we had to race were pups and they exceeded our early racing goals. The yearlings had pretty much sat for 3 months and we started running them with the little pups on their first runs. Will decided we should put a yearling team together for the VF 20. I wasn’t sure we could get them ready, strong ready, not just do it, to do it ready, in 2.5 weeks. We quickly switched them onto the race team’s diet and began to jump them up in distance. They handled it no problem. The night before the race I asked my dad if he’d like to race again with the puppy team while Will ran the adults. He was excited to race again and had a lot of fun. Despite throwing a tire into the sled bag for weight because he’d never been on the sled before, feeling he needed extra weight he came in just 35 seconds outside of 3rd place and 2 seconds out of 4th. It was basically a sprint race with Will taking first 2 minutes ahead of Dave Turner after what he described as the “worst tangle of my life” when a gal’s runner went over and then under his drag matt, locking them together to drag down the trail a ways. Racing! Always some kind of adventure even in a short race. Yearling Lusa led my dad in her first race along side old pro Fender. He said he felt like he was driving a Streeper team they were so fast. I’m glad he got a good ride. I had a lot of fun preparing this team before hand and I sure didn’t run them without weight either, way too strong! Our friend Juliah came up and raced her all Mackey team taking 6th in the 20 mile division.
New Additions. I’m a breeder, not a buyer. Some mushers prefer to buy dogs to quickly jump into racing and some need to buy dogs in order to get their kennel started, to sustain their team or because they want to add different genetics. I’m very satisfied with what we have and having bought many dogs in our first couple of years (and quickly resold for the most part) decided breeding just works better for us. We did get very lucky during two kennel sell outs this year and quite unexpectedly brought in 5 new top quality dogs.
In October my uncle Jason decided to hang up his harnesses and sell out. It was a good opportunity for us to add 4 more dogs to our kennel. Yearling brothers Ap (now Apollo) and Thor. Thor moved on to Germany and Ap had a stellar first year as an upcoming leader and swing dog. Brave (formerly Dave) caught my eye during a family get together in August. My cousin Pat got him from uncle Lance as a little pup and proclaimed him to be his favorite dog. I’m not one to look on at other people’s dogs with the thought I wish that dog was mine, but for the first time I thought that when I saw Brave trotting quickly around in their dog yard. He’s a looker, no doubt about it. Being the first to arrive literally the morning after Jason decided to sell out we were able to get our pick of the dogs. Passing on his main leaders and dogs more suited for distance only speeds we got luckier than we knew at the time. We bought 4 yr old Sophie in this group as a solid race veteran. She’d been put in a group of Iditarod veterans for Joar to take. I really liked her fast smooth trotting gait and though obviously out of shape I saw her potential and offered him enough money to get her. Once home it took me a long time to feel she’d be a fit in our team. We had to completely retrain her for speed and strength, because uncle Jason kept his team at 8-9mph which isn’t uncommon in distance mushing, but isn’t fast enough for competitive mid-distance racing traveling at 11-14 mph speeds. It’s a vast difference. Sophie and Brave exceeded all of our expectations. Brave was so green when we got him as a 2 year old that he appeared to have not been harnessed and certainly not had a bootie on. This dog is a super beast Zorro grandson. He is what any top racer would want in a distance dog. He finished all 5 of his first races competing at the top level this season and did so screaming and leaping for more at the finish line, making it look easy. Our friend Mike Williams Jr. took Sophie on his Iditarod team and she finished in lead for him. He said she was just as I described her- never tired, always ravenous, extremely durable, and a fast trotter. We are looking forward to litters of pups from each of these dogs this summer. Then our friend Domink Alber had to sell out and asked for my help moving his dogs. I was nervous to add 9 more dogs into our larger than ever kennel (we typically house 40-45 dogs and jumped to 70 with his) but found the right homes for 7 and decided to keep 2 young leaders, Luke and Zeus. I really didn’t want more dogs. I had many people drag their feet and talk more than act about buying them and I lost interest in dealing with selling them. Then Will decided no way were we selling Zeus and I began really training and looking at Luke. He may not be our trademark Black & Tan, but he is exactly that being bred from our lines mixed with a Jay Cadzow female I sold to Dom as a yearling. He has our lines trademark powerful trotting gait, an endless desire to eat, the right type of head, and strong stamina. It’s funny how things work out. Had I sold them I’d never known what we were missing. I’m always grateful when people pass on dogs we decide we’d better keep. These 2 boys finished their first race with the 7 yearlings and have a bright future ahead!