{Tsuga Siberians}
January 16th, 2009 - "Copper Basin 300"

Mike & Wilson at the start, -50 F!
Wilson & Stump in lead.

Howdy. This doglog may take a bit, but I hope you’ll enjoy some of my thoughts and recollections on our past weekend at the “toughest 300 miles in Alaska.” Here goes…

Since the drive home from GinGin, we had been locked in the grip of a huge arctic high pressure that had temperatures hovering between -60 (in the valleys) and a couple warm days of -30. With that degree of cold, I had run only six teams in almost two weeks and the longest run was 36 miles. We kept packing booties, planning checkpoint bags, and even cutting and bagging meat snacks at -35, anticipating our run in the Copper Basin 300, a race I’ve wanted to run nearly as much as Quest. Not sure of our future plans, I didn’t want to miss out on this race this year. Every day as the race approached, we were watching weather forecasts and reports from on the trail of temps hanging near -60 in the Copper Basin. I had set a kind of cut-off of -40 for what I thought was reasonable for the safety of our team, myself, handler Sue, and truck included. We are riding a razor thin margin heading for Quest with only 15 dogs still in the pool for the big race. Logan had still not healed up from GinGin frostbite to the point I felt comfortable taking him on Copper Basin. Stump was doing much better and I decided I could bring him along since we had invested in some new dog coats that have additional protection for the boys’ parts. We spent all day Thursday filling up four checkpoints worth of drop bags and checking the Internet for up to date weather. It was still at least -40 both here and there. I don’t want to say I was scared, but I certainly was concerned and had my doubts if it was a good idea to follow through with the race plans. Even on Friday morning after the truck was fully loaded with gear and we were starting to load dogs, I was asking Sue and Bill if this was the right thing to be doing…

Like a ball already rolling downhill, we were too far along and momentum just kept us moving forward and out the driveway. Stress wasn’t exactly relieved as we drove towards North Pole through ice fog and -50 temperatures. After meeting with Allen Moore and Aliy Zirkle at a gas station and also headed to the race, we followed them through the ice fog and south to the Alaska Range. As we climbed out of the Tanana valley and the morning darkness, the fog dissipated and the mountains awed us again. So did the moose. We saw at least 25 moose along the roadside on the drive, luckily, none too close. With the winds as calm as we’ve seen them on our drives over the Richardson Highway, we could enjoy the view and we got through the mountains and down to Glennallen to register at race central and drop off my 12 checkpoint bags. One bag for dog food and a couple little things I need in the checkpoint right away (wrist wraps, Mtn. Ridge emu ointment, Jim’s shoulder vest, hand warmers and chore gloves). Number two bag holds my personal stuff, like extra clothes, hand warmers, my food, batteries, and some dog stuff like extra harnesses, dog coats, gangline sections, runner plastic, etc. The number three bag holds fuel for my cooker. At the registration we got to talk with Lance for a bit and also ran in to Normand Casavant who we’ve raced with back at Can-Am.

The temperature was right around -40 as we dropped dogs from the truck, at our hotel in Glennallen. Lots of other mushers were staying there, too and we got to talk for a bit with Brent Sass, who ran Quest the last couple of years and won the men’s GinGin this year. He’s got his own style of mushing and his enthusiasm for having fun and being as competitive as he can be is contagious. He’s a good guy to be around and I really enjoy his perspective and drive. The dogs all ate an early dinner and we headed a few miles down the road to the Brown Bear Rhodehouse for the drivers’ meeting. It’s a good old Alaskan place, full of character and characters, especially that night with 27 teams of some of the very best sled dog drivers in the world in the low slung, log room. Lance Mackey, along with his handler Braxton running the A-team, and Harry Alexie running his leased team, were there. Also racing were, Allen Moore who has won this race 3 of the last 4 years, 2000 Quest champ Aliy Zirkle, 3-time Quest champ Hans Gatt, and a bunch of other Iditarod and Quest finishers, many in the top ten! It’s still hard for me not to be completely intimidated sitting with folks I’ve considered my mushing heroes for years, but I did feel ready and confident in my team. My turn to draw my bib number came and I pulled #13, considered a lucky number in mushing circles. As usual at a drivers’ meeting, reports of the trail were all good. They never have anything bad to say about the trail at the start. Honest information would always be more helpful than wishful thinking, but positivism almost always overpowers honesty at the start. Normand was sitting next to us and he pulled #14. He is up here from Quebec and the northeast sled dog circuit and still needed to finish this race for his qualifier for this year’s Quest, where he’ll be an enthusiastic rookie. When he said, “My Quest starts tomorrow,” I replied, “Just stick with me,” with a wink, knowing he had a faster team than ours. (He has finished as high as third place in the Can-Am 250, back home.) I would have considered myself very lucky to be able to stay even close to his team.

Start Images - by Jonathan Flamm
Mike Ellis - by Kimi Ross

After a pretty decent night’s sleep, we dropped and fed dogs, guessed at the temperature (-40? or colder?), and drove the 45 miles to Wolverine Lodge at Lake Louise where I ran the Taiga 300, my first Alaskan race, not even two years ago. It looked a lot different now at nearly -50 than it did two April’s ago when I had come here to qualify for last year’s Quest and I pondered how far my mushing has come in that time. Ice fog hovered on the lake and people moved about quickly, with purpose, around still running dog trucks. Folks parked in an offset manner to avoid blowing exhaust near others’ dogs. Most trucks wouldn’t start if shut off for even a short period of time in these temperatures and down on the frozen lake staging area, there is no way to plug in vehicles. We had Normand parked right in front of us, perennial Iditarod musher Jim Lanier to one side, and Lance and his entourage of three teams and the National Guard on the other side. The dogs got compliments on their feet and attitude at the vet check and eventually it was time to harness, bootie, and coat the dogs. The excitement at the start of sled dog race is amazing, even in bitter cold. I was ready to get going as the dogs.

Stump and Wilson, led by Sue, brought us up to the start line. The team waited patiently for the start chute to open, then they got a bit more excited in the chute, and once we were off, they were awesome. Mugs, Eliza, Gila, Reba, Trip, Lotus, Jim, Merlin, Hood, and Ambler followed the leaders out into in the ice fog. They moved like a well-oiled machine for a few miles across the lake and a couple little bays and swamps, before hitting a brick wall as we entered the woods. The trail went from a nice firm surface to 6-12 inches of sugar snow. Our speed immediately dropped to half. The dogs looked over their shoulders at me as to say, “Get off the brake, don’t you know this is a race.” The trail had been dragged and had a thin surface on the top, but that top layer wasn’t deep enough or firm enough to support the traffic passing it now. We slogged on, hoping that around a corner, the trail would improve. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw a team coming on, and could tell right away it was Lance. His team has a definite look to it, and it’s impressive. I stopped, told the dogs to “Take a break,” lifted my sled out of the trench of a trail, and without a word to his dogs, Lance cruised by saying to me, “I didn’t think there’d be this much soft trail anywhere in the state after this cold….” Even the lifelong Alaskan musher of the highest caliber was surprised by the soft, slow trail. And it had just begun.

I came along to Iris Sutton, whom you’ll remember I traveled with in my GinGin a couple weeks ago, and I got the team by when she made a stop. We plodded along within sight of each other for much of the 30 miles to Tolsona Lake, the first checkpoint, including getting passed by several more teams, all trying to be positive about the trail. At least it was warming up a little. After the sting of -50, -30 doesn’t feel so bad. Normally I like to pedal along the side of the sled to help the team along. In this snow however, I could not get off the sled. Nearly every footfall would punch through the snow and I’d sink to my knee, if not deeper. All I could do was stand on the runners. I was very grateful for Carl Brown’s new studded footboards as I think my feet would have been pushed off the runners in the deep snow many more times without them.

Into Tolsona

Sue was waiting at Tolsona where they had a chute set up, as spectators watched teams come and go. With a quick check of my mandatory gear and a couple initials next to my times, we were off on to much better trail. I got out of sight of the checkpoint, but not off the lake, and stopped to snack my team. They were pulling well and had picked up coming out of the checkpoint, the only one I didn’t plan to stop at. We had 20-30 more miles to Glennallen, the first real checkpoint. After only a few miles of good trail, we turned gee on to a 25-foot wide, straight-as-an-arrow cut through the taiga forest. The trail was the worst yet, nearly bottomless sugar snow that the sled plowed through instead of sliding over. For the dogs, it was like walking in deep sand, and I do mean walking. Any running, even on downhills, was a dream. It was a plod. The only solace was that some very good teams caught and passed us, but they took a long time to gain on us and even longer to pull away. We were slow, but everyone was slow. When Aliy Zirkle came by after it had gotten dark, she said, “Is that Mike?” I think she was pretty surprised to still see us on her tail after close to an hour. I guess they aren’t doing so badly after all, I thought. A team came up from behind and followed us the last several miles in to Glennallen after the trail got better when we came out on to a plowed road along the trans-Alaskan pipeline and then followed the highway ditch across driveways and in to the checkpoint behind a gas station at the corner of the highways. Sue had picked a good parking spot at the back of the holding area, hidden behind an excavator covered in snow. I set immediately to my routine that has become second nature for me. The steps get shuffled around sometimes as priorities change, but the chores are the same and all must get done efficiently and as quickly as possible. The dogs ate well, had no injuries, and were resting in their straw within 30 minutes of my arrival. I heated another batch of water in my cooker, made myself a meal, and thawed some drinks while Sue sat next to me in the snow at a balmy -27 degrees. She can’t help with any chores, or touch the dogs, but having her there to bounce ideas off of is priceless to me. I was bummed by the very slow pace we had made over the first leg and told Sue I was going to take six hours rest here instead of the four I had planned on. The lack of any long runs in the last two weeks because of the bitter cold was showing in the team. Finally finished at the sled, I went in try to dry my gear and get a few minutes of sleep on the floor of the roadside visitors’ center. I woke up from an hour’s nap and as many other mushers were leaving. Not wanting to fall too far behind too early, I decided to stick with my original plan and go after 4 hours rest. The dogs didn’t disappoint me and devoured their snacks and were ready to head off into the moonlit night.

With Stump and now Reba in lead, we followed a couple of teams out of the checkpoint and hit the trail along the side of the highway, across many driveways, headed for Chistochina, the next checkpoint. The two teams that were ahead of us pulled away fairly quickly and we continued along our way, alone. After all the passing of the first run, it was nice to be able to relax a bit more. Much of this trail was near the highway with occasional trips off into the bush, under a bridge and up a river, or along a power line. The moon was so bright I didn’t need my headlamp except to check up and down the team every once in a while. After 45 miles or so, the trail was very windblown and we ran over solid drifts interspersed with gravel and dirt. We also entered bunny alley. At first I didn’t know what the dogs got all excited about, but I nearly lost the sled as they surged forward in unison. Fearing a moose nearby, I flipped on my light and scanned for trouble lurking in the willows. Then I saw the first one, a snowshoe hare darting up the trail in front of us. The dogs had a ball chasing those bunnies the rest of the way to Chistochina and our average speed went up drastically. We crossed the road and checked in with 12 solid, happy, healthy dogs just after 5am.

Christochina Checkpoint
Booting up

I was sure it must have warmed up to around zero, but was told it was holding around -30. I really need to get a thermometer on my sled. The dogs again ate very well and I found no problems as I worked through their feet and legs. The nice pace (almost 10mph), especially at the end of the last run had me in my best spirits of the race, so far. Sue and I got to have some breakfast together before I took a nap on the in a cold corner of community center floor. I say a nap, but the constant slamming of the front door across the room didn’t allow for more than a few winks of sleep. I should have investigated the other cabin I heard was available for sleeping, but my gear was all spread out around a heater and I didn’t really want to gather it all up to move to another building. Unable to sleep, I just rested my legs, and thought about the leg coming up which has the reputation as the hardest of the race, not to mention it’s the longest at 70 miles that I was told is more like 80. The plan was to take 6 hours rest here and I stuck with the plan. About an hour before I was to leave, I got up, had some soup and biscuits, watered the team with a meaty broth, and booted up the team. I made the mistake of leaving the dogs’ coats on them. Mugs and Reba were in lead, but neither of them was very crazy about doing that job right now. They barely got out of the checkpoint and then crawled down the trail as they peed, pooped, and plodded. Sometimes it takes a few miles for them to get going and I was patient, but discouraged. After a couple of miles without improvement, Stump went back up front to replace Mugs’ slack tugline in lead. With all 12 tugs tight again, our pace increased not at all. I considered turning back and scratching. I stopped again and tried to perk them up with some ear and back rubs. It made no difference. After an hour or so of fairly good trail, I doubt we had covered 6 miles. I couldn’t believe how slow they were going. It was daylight and sunny in some places and I hadn’t taken their coats off to allow them to cool down. Big mistake. Just as I was thinking about stopping to take the coats off, Jim Lanier came along and I pulled right over to let him by. I hoped that we could follow along behind him and the dogs would chase, picking up our pace. Well that’s exactly what happened and our speed increased by probably a mile or two per hour. Now I didn’t want to stop and loose sight of Jim so we pushed on. Eventually I couldn’t stay with him and we dropped back to a painful pace, painful for me, not the dogs. They can go along at a pace like that for a very long time, which was a good thing because we had a long ways yet to go. After a few hours of pretty slow going, Michelle Phillips came along from behind. I asked her to tell Sue when she got to Paxson that we were going to be later than planned. She said ok, and quickly was gone. Chad Linder came along not too much later and he too passed and pulled away pretty quickly. Then the hills started. I could see it coming as we were in a valley with nowhere to go but up. The trail climbs a summit above treeline, drops into a little valley and then makes another big climb to a view with the Alaska Range to the north, the foothills we’d been climbing through all around, and the whole Copper basin and Wrangell Mountains to the south. It was an amazing view as darkness fell. I felt very small and insignificant. The trail then had nowhere to go but down, and what a down it was. For several miles we slid through a trenched-in, rut of a trail. The dogs had broken out of their slump as darkness came and the temperature cooled a bit. The terrain was interesting to the dogs and they wanted to see what was around the next corner again. I had a few moments of being insanely grateful that the weather was good, as I can’t really imagine traveling over some of this trail in poor visibility or heavy wind. The “interesting” trail kept up most of the way to Paxson and included a crazy lake crossing where the trail serpentined around bad ice and made me feel like I was going in circles, a section along the trans-Alaskan pipeline where there were no markers at several intersections, a lake (Summit Lake) where there were rock hard drifts alternating with soft broken trail, and a climb off Summit Lake that is the steepest hill I’ve ever taken a dog team up. While traveling across the lake, I had watched a team ahead of me obviously struggle getting up that hill, but when we got there, they had just cleared the hill and Stump and Wilson took the team right up without hesitation. A few miles down the Denali Highway right behind Chad Linder’s team and we were in to Paxson. Sue, expecting me much later after getting the message from Michelle, was not around to help me park, but another handler ran to find her and I got the team settled in.

I had been looking forward to having a quiet, warm room to sleep in and a heater to dry gear for the whole run here. Mushers are allowed to get a room in the lodge since it is available to all mushers. This was to be my oasis of the race. I had also told myself that the team would get a full ten hours of rest here to make up for the long, slow run to get here. This was all about Quest training and I didn’t want to plod out of this checkpoint the way I did the last. I was more than a little bothered when Sue told me the lodge had no heat or hot water. This was not the news I needed. The recent cold snap had frozen pipes and the circulating pump at the lodge. The generator that supplies their power was also having trouble, although the power was back on by the time I got there. I spread out my gear around a small electric heater in the room and a big blast heater in the lobby the were using to keep the place marginally warm. Then I went to the bar to have a Paxson burger and an Alaskan Amber. Yummmmm. I had to get my sleeping bag to stay warm in the room, but I did get about 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep that felt like heaven before heading back out to the team to feed again and get ready for the next leg.

With Stump and Trip in lead, the team let out a good howl as I walked back down to them after prepping to go before going up to sign out. The long rest had done them good, and it had done me good too. I had sent a complete change of clothes to Paxson in my drop bags and was glad to have some lighter outerwear, as it was 40 degrees warmer than at the start. My heavy suit is great when I need it, but the rest of time it’s just too much to allow me to work at all on the sled without sweating myself up. The team took off nicely out of the checkpoint and we headed for the long Paxson Lake. Colleen Robertia and Normand Casavant were both hooking up to go as I left and I thought I’d see them soon. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see their headlamps in the distance on the lake, several miles behind. The trail got slow in between Paxson and Meiers Lakes. It was light by now and I saw two moose headed down a hillside, straight for the trail. The dogs hadn’t seen them yet, but I could tell we were headed for a bad scene ahead if something didn’t change. I started hollering at the moose and they stopped in their tracks, but the dogs got excited as they finally could see the moose and surged ahead. Luckily, the moose thought better of the encounter and headed back from where they’d come. The trail was far too entrenched in soft snow for the dogs to even think about chasing them, and we moved on down the valley. Coming off the south end of the much smaller Meiers Lake, we immediately began to climb. The trail stayed good though and I enjoyed every part of this part of the run, except the dark clouds and obvious snow to the south. I kept expecting to see a team closing in behind me, but we crested the mountain, snacked right on top with an incredible view, and headed down the other side to a rude awakening of more deep, soft, sugar-snow trail with falling snow on top of it. Our speed dropped in half. I tried hard to not let the soft trail get to me this time and just stayed happy and upbeat with the situation. The dogs weren’t so sure, but despite being slow, they were still all working well and eating well when I offered them snacks. After crossing a bunch of “glaciers” (ice boils from overflow that has frozen) along an active trapline we crossed another lake and Colleen caught us and with a smile and a wave was gone. We followed her tracks through the fresh snow and the dogs were glad to have something to chase after going along for quite a while through fresh snow, getting first tracks in a couple inches of powder. We popped out on to the trans-Alaskan pipeline again and flew down a plowed road on the fresh cushion of powder.

Arriving at Sourdough
Eliza getting stitched up.

A few more miles and we were checking in to the Sourdough checkpoint at a small group of cabins off the highway. Sue was right there to help park the team and with 12 healthy dogs and a smile on my face, I set to my last checkpoint chore routine. Leader hook and snacks. Booties and tuglines off. Coats on. Dog dinner soaking. Straw to dogs. Ointment on dogs’ feet, wrists, and ankles. Dogs fed. And as I was finishing with some extra massage, it happened. I heard a growl and a snarl and a snap. Joseph Robertia, who was standing near the front of my team, hollered and I jumped up with a holler. Eliza and Wilson had a three second dogfight up in the front of the team. As they were lying down, Wilson had wrapped his leg in Eliza’s neckline. When she went to lie down, it tightened on his leg and hurt. He snapped at her since she was the closest thing to snap at. She snapped back. Inspecting them, I found an inch long gash in Eliza’s shoulder and a small puncture under Wilson’s eye. I looked up to see a Vet standing right there and motioned for him to come over. Inspecting the wound, I knew she was out of the race. Karsten, the Vet who was there, agreed that she should have stitches to close the wound. I removed her harness and shoulder vest and carried her to waiting arms that took her inside for care while I finished with the dogs that were still in the race. I was sad and had to bite my lip to keep from screaming. I had brought my whole team around this loop and was expecting to be finishing with my full team, every mushers’ goal, though seldom attainable in a race this tough and long. My team had been the only one to leave Paxson with a full 12. My emotions calmed enough as I finished with the dogs to the point that I could go inside and see how Eliza was making out. They had already shaved around the wound, knocked her out, and sewn her up when I came in to the little log cabin with a woodstove, a bunch of warm beds, and some moose stew in a crockpot. Eliza was going to be fine, although she’ll need at least 10 days off before running again. That made me feel some better, but I still was very disappointed to have lost her for the race. She had been is swing (just behind the leaders) since we left the start and does a great job up there with her effortless trot and enthusiastic spirit. Colleen, Normand, and I all came in within a pretty short period of time and we all wondered when the others were leaving. The last run had been ok, but not great. I attributed much of that to it being mostly in the daylight when the dogs are at their slowest. We were getting some information that it had taken the front runners around 7 and a half hours to complete this last leg coming up as news came over the radio that Lance had won the race, followed by Hans Gatt and Brent Sass. With that information, I figured I could expect the last leg to take us upwards of nine hours. I decided on a 6-hour break and went upstairs to try to sleep. I did get a wink or two, but was soon enough back outside watering dogs and prepping for the last run. Colleen and Normand had both started getting ready before me and were seemingly much closer to departure than me. Thinking I’d probably be a bit slower than either of them, I hurried along to get out of the checkpoint. About 20 minutes before I’d planned on, I called to Stump and Wilson, “Ready?”

They were, in fact, ready and marched us smartly, if not terribly quickly, out of Sourdough ahead of both other mushers. After a little tangle at a wrong turn leaving, we got rolling along a river and under a bridge that supported the pipeline. Trail was soft, but several teams had been out since the afternoon’s snow and we weren’t exactly breaking trail anymore. After just about an hour and a half, I looked back to see a light closing on us so quickly I thought it was a snowmachine at first. It was just Colleen and her team that had a fire lit under it. Almost before I could pull the snowhook from stopping to let her by, she was gone. It made me smile to think of how much fun she must be having, moving along at such a nice pace. We weren’t crawling, but we weren’t doing anything like what her team was. It was impressive at that point in the race. That excitement out of the way, we settled back in to our steady pace under a big moon slightly dimmed by high clouds. It was light enough to run without a headlamp again and I took advantage of being able to see more than the tunnel of light the lamp creates. I only had Crosswind Lake as a reference point for distance on this run and it was 25 miles from the finish. We went a long ways with me looking over my shoulder for Normand. The dogs were on cruise control now and the trail was fairly easy and mostly flat. I knew it had to be Crosswind when we got there. A sign said it was 21 miles to Lake Louise and then it’s 4 miles across that lake to Wolverine Lodge and the finish. “We’re going home boys and girls!” The dogs jerked around to look at me as they know just what that means and it was the first time they’d heard it on the whole race. They picked up the pace to a lope, and we cruised up the next few hills.

Just a mile past Crosswind, we came around a corner and I could see a parked dogteam ahead. I flipped on my headlamp and called to the leaders to go on by. The parked team was spread across the trail and the snow was deep off the side, so my team stopped. I walked to the leaders and began to take them by when the other musher walked back from his dogs to talk to me. He started to ask for some Heet, the fuel for our cookers, and I asked if he could help lead my dogs by, then I’d stop and we could talk. It was Chad Linder and his team had stopped on him. He was short on fuel and food. I gave him all my extra fuel, a bag of kibble, a bag of meat snacks, some cookies, but I think the thing that brightened his eyes the most was the Gatorade I offered. I asked if he needed anything else and if he was warm enough. He assured me he was ok, and I had no reason to doubt him. I called the leaders up quickly, not wanting my guys to get any ideas, and bid Chad goodnight. I definitely felt sorry for him having dogs that didn’t want to go so close to the end. I was glad we were back moving for the finish. On a couple very long, straight sections of trail, I could see back at least two miles and no headlamp was in sight. As Lake Louise appeared out ahead in the dark, I knew Normand wasn’t going to catch up. Four miles more across the lake and we could see the lights at the finish chute, where we had started almost three days ago.

I was glad to be back. The officials were very interested in reports about Chad as they were worried for his safety, but were relieved to hear he had what he needed and was doing fine. After getting the sledbag check done and thanking the dogs, we pulled over to the truck for a post-race meal and love. The dogs had done a great job. Not always the fastest team, or even as fast as we expect them to be, but they were solid and strong the whole way. I should have had all twelve in harness at the end but for that fluke thing at Sourdough. I couldn’t complain. Stump had ended up leading 298 of the 300 miles and continues to amaze me. He wants to be no where else but in the front and can make any other dog running next to him look like a pro. Some of our other leaders are very good, but Stump is one of a kind. Special mention also has to go to my dog Jim. At over ten years old he finished another tough race in great shape and still pulling hard. He’s the father of more than half my team and still is the spirit and soul of Tsuga Siberians. The team got some very nice compliments at the truck and I think I was probably glowing with pride for my happy, healthy team. Being the only team of Siberian huskies in the race certainly makes us stand out, and while that’s not ever our goal, sometimes it’s a nice benefit. With the dogs cared for it was time for a couple of burgers and beers at 6:30am. Then it was time for some sleep.

The Finish Banquet was that night at Wolverine Lodge. We’d spent most of the afternoon sitting around the lodge talking with other mushers and handlers, especially Colleen and Joseph Robertia. They are great folks and great animal people. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know them a bit. I got to talk with Lance a little about the race and the news that he is not going to defend his title in the Quest this year. He’s got a lot on his plate and with Quest having trail and purse problems, he had decided to focus on his team and his leased team’s preparations for Iditarod. I certainly don’t blame him, but I sure will miss having him around at Quest this year. Rumor has it a bunch more teams are planning to drop out of Quest before the January 23 deadline. We’ll see what happens. Back at the Copper Basin awards banquet, some guy from New Hampshire, driving Siberians, was deeply honored to win the Humanitarian Award in a room full of his mushing heroes! I can’t tell you how proud I am of this award, especially in this field of competitors with their level of experience and expertise. To stand out in that crowd is truly an honor I will cherish for the rest of my life. My dogs make me look good and I am grateful for their loyalty and friendship. It’s a privilege to be on their team.

The excitement for the weekend was not quite over yet. We woke Wednesday morning to news of very bad weather to the south. 75-100 mile per hour winds along with freezing rain were making roads impassable down around Anchorage. We gave out what extra dog food we had to those teams that knew they weren’t going to get home that day and were running short of food, and we headed north in a futile attempt to stay ahead of the storm. Snow covered, icy roads greeted us all the way to Paxson where the mountains get serious. Fifteen miles past the lodge we met the first truck coming towards us in over 50 miles. We stopped and he told us of completely iced roads ahead. “If you don’t have chains, don’t go.” We turned around and reluctantly settled back in to Paxson Lodge for the night. Finally, on Thursday, we made the remaining miles “home” to Two Rivers and 45-degree temperatures. It had warmed up 100 degrees since we were last here! Just another week in Alaska, the land of extremes...

With just two weeks left until drop bags for Quest are due, we have our work cut out for us. We’ll need to pack close to 2000 pounds of dog food, gear, clothes, and supplies in around 40 bags for delivery to Quest organization on January 31. We’re also doing snow dances as the recent heat wave has made trails skating rinks. After three days with temps approaching 50 above, the snow has condensed and now refrozen. The kennel and trails are a mess. The only thing that will help is snow. Thankfully, as I finish this up, the temperature has dropped to around 20 and it’s snowing!! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!!

Thanks for checking in.
Take care – Mike.



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