Tuesday, January 23, 2007

K300 Conclusion

OK. Maybe I’m not quite done writing about dog mushing just yet. After a week of daily posting and very few comments, I had concluded that Tundra Medicine Dream readers were simply not too interested in the subject. I received a wonderful bolster of support from #1 Dinosaur at Musings of a Dinosaur this morning, and it was greatly appreciated. Dutch also pointed out, “blogs are for writing about whatever you want, and people can choose to read it or not. That’s the beauty of them.” I am still deeply involved in dog energy today, so here is the final wrap-up for a great K300.

As of this morning, there were still two mushers out on the trail, Ben Bruce and David Fitka. They were traveling together and taking long rests, which suggests pretty tired dogs. As long as they complete the course, they will receive prize money, as the K300 pays the first twenty mushers and this year’s race only had nineteen teams.

Most of the 17 mushers who finished the race before the banquet left Bethel on the early plane this morning, including Aliy. We were up at 4:30 am to load her dogs, the sled and the dog kennels into three trucks and deliver them to the airport by 6 am. I came home to a quiet house and a long snow trench empty of sled dogs. It felt a little like a whirlwind had just passed through. The Big Dog and the Little Dog both wonder where their new friends went to.

In the early afternoon, word came from race headquarters that Ben was expected at the finish line about 4 pm. Henry, Joan, Angela, Sean and I were down on the river to greet him.

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Ben runs his kennel in Bethel as an animal rescue operation. He takes pound dogs and tries to train them to be sled dogs. He manages to find homes for many of the dogs which don’t work out on the gangline. At the pre-race drawing for position, Ben brought one of the pups he is currently trying to place, and talked about his program. The pup was adorable, about 3 months old, and probably going to be quite a large dog if her feet and forelegs are any indication. I sat next to him at the meeting and handled her a bit. She is pretty serene for a puppy of that age, and paying attention to everything. It may be a case of puppy-love-at-first-sight. I’m planning to visit her at his kennel tomorrow; if Dutch likes her as much as I do, she may have a new home.

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Ben crossed the finish line at 4:15 pm with all 14 dogs on his gangline. He was the only musher who did not drop a single dog. His dogs looked tired but in good condition, and adequately rested. He looked very cold.


Our gentle temperatures of the weekend (+10 to +20F) came to an end yesterday. It was zero when we awoke, minus 10 by afternoon, and minus 20 by midnight. Today the thermometer here has stayed on minus 20 all day. That is pretty cold for an exhausted musher and dog team who have been on the trail for 4 days. Ben passed on my offer to load the team in my truck and drive them to his house; he pulled the hook and said “Let’s go, dogs, get up there, you’re almost home!” He mushed his dogs down the river in the direction of his dog yard.

That left one musher still on the trail, David Fitka, who would be the Red Lantern. He is a Native musher from the Yukon village of Marshall, and he ran the entire K300 with only ten dogs.


He arrived in Bethel with twelve dogs, but one died tragically the day before the race, and a second was found by the vets to be too far advanced in pregnancy to be safe to compete. This was the result of an unintended breeding, and David had not been aware of it.


The K300 is a long race to start with only ten dogs, but his team comes from very strong village stock, with powerful bodies and very thick fur, and he had confidence that they could do it. He dropped three dogs in the last 50 miles of the race; the seven who finished looked great, strong and vigorous.

David crossed the finish line at 6:52 pm this evening, officially ending the 2007 Kuskokwim 300. Not a single musher scratched this year, which is unusual. All the mushers agreed that this was one of the finest years for both weather and trail conditions in recent memory. Most of the mushers stated that they plan to be back next year. Dutch and I encouraged Aliy to consider bringing two teams next year so that both she and her husband Allen could run the race. She said she’d think about it.

So the exciting and energizing K300 Week draws to a close. This entire thing is a huge event in Bethel. It is a shot of adrenaline to the town, both economically and culturally. The dog energy around town is phenomenal; I estimated something in the neighborhood of 400 visiting sled dogs for these races. Lots of Bethel residents are volunteers (it takes an army!) and there is dog talk happening everywhere you go. For this week each year, Bethel is dog crazy.

Not only are there just lots of dogs, there are also a lot of famous mushers. The K300 roster each year reads like a “Who’s Who” of professional mushers. Kids run around at the banquet asking them to sign autographs on their sweatshirts.

The pros consistently say that the K300 is the best planned, best organized, best run mid-distance sled dog race in Alaska. It has the highest purse of any mid-distance race; only the Iditarod pays more. And one musher, who has run most (if not all) of the dozen or so other mid-distance races in the state, said that the K300 is also the hardest race of them all. Depending on the weather, it isn’t always fun; last year was brutally cold. This year everyone had a blast.





Photos by The Tundra PA. Finish Line awaits the Red Lantern at 6 pm. Ben Bruce and puppy at the pre-race drawing. Ben crossing the Finish Line. Cold Ben. David Fitka at the pre-race drawing. Unfortunately, the Finish Line photos of David were too dark and blurry to post.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Maggie said...

Many thanks for your wonderful descriptions of sled dog racing. It's something I've never really thought about before - my only experience of Alaska is "Northern Exposure"! ;-) Been reading your blog for a while now, it's so different from my life over here in UK! Thanks again, Maggie

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 1:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I've been reading your dog mushing blog entries with great interest--just haven't commented. Keep writing, it makes great reading! Also, I love the pictures that go with it. Like a lot of your readers, I think we just don't have time to write! Back to it--

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 5:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a lurker but no longer! You are a very gifted writer. I could feel the energy from your sledding stories right through my computer. Your passion for sledding and all it entails is evident. I will continue to read anything you write! My husband has traveled several times on business to Bethel so when I read excerpts from your blog to him he recalls the sights and sounds associated with Bethel.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 7:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Sharon from NY said...

I have only commented a couple of times here....I guess I should do it more often! I enjoy all of your blogging entries, but your portrayls of daily life there are just fabulous and I really enoy your dog sledding entries. I have been interested in it for some time, but am only able to follow it from afar. With your first-hand posts...it feels much more "real" to me all the way over here in NY. You are a very talented writer and I, for one, am glad that you decided to write in a public venue! And Dutch is right... this is YOUR space, WE are the visitors.... if we don't care for what you are writing... we can go elsewhere! Thanks again for the great photos, also.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm another lurker who greatly enjoys reading about Alaska and the dog races. It's a whole new outlook. Thank you for telling us about it.
Clare

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 1:16:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I've been reading them too, but given that I don't know the first thing about dog mushing I haven't had anything to add. I'm sure it would be a mistake to interpret the low volume of comments as a sign of disinterest from your readers. That puppy is incredibly cute, by the way!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 2:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Louise said...

I've enjoyed the dog mushing posts too. They're a window on a way of life I know nothing about - so thank you, please keep posting them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 2:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Stacey Voigt said...

Another lurker checking in - please keep the dog stories coming! I'm fascinated by all aspects of life in the North and have been really enjoying reading backwards through your blog since discovering it a week ago. I live in southern CA with three rescued dogs of my own and really get a thrill hearing about dogs doing what they've been bred to do and love to do; plus the human aspect and the challenges involved are mind-boggling to this warm-weather girl. Thanks, too, for the glimpse into the sometimes harsh realities of life beyond roads - it's a good reality check for me since I tend to romanticize the "frontier life" a little too often.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 5:41:00 PM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments, and the encouragement. Thanks especially to the de-lurkers--I love hearing from you! There will probably be more dog and mushing stuff coming, as it is a big part of my life all winter long.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 7:59:00 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thank you so much for your writeup of the K300. We are Aliy fans/ friends in Wisconsin. We love to 'watch' her races and it was great that you kept us updated, with photos! Your writeups are great! (I just figured out how to post here :)

Julie in Wisconsin

Thursday, January 25, 2007 2:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can you tell that your "puppy-love-at-first-sight"

won't grow up to be a good sled dog? She is so cute, made me want to rush right out and get one, but my two others wouldn't be appreciative.

Love your blog, and saw that they were advertising for more PAs in your area. Northern Michigan is cold enough for now, though, although I wouldn't rule it out forever.

Thursday, January 25, 2007 9:55:00 AM  
Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...

Another lurker - I love your dog posts as much as the others, but never have anything to contribute other than woo, happy dogs pretty. (The puppy, incidentally, made my voice go all squeaky from the cuteness)

I love your non-dog posts too, but know even less about medicine than dogs.

Thursday, January 25, 2007 2:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your mushing posts were great. In Virginia there is absolutely no coverage of the dog races in Alaska. Even the Iditarod get a mere mention. I enjoyed your posts since they were from a dog lovers, and mushers friend, perspective.

Your blog gives me a taste of Alaska that I cannot find on the local Chamber of Commerce site.

So, keep up the good work!. I look forward to other mushing posts and lots of interesting reading!

Now, winter is more interesting because of K300, Super Bowl, Iditarod, and the Daytona 500.

Thursday, January 25, 2007 2:59:00 PM  
Blogger Wil said...

I have been without an internet connection for two weeks and it's taking me a long time to work through some 5000 entries... Just wanted you to know you've done a great job with your race entries. Sorry I wasn't around to comment in a timely manner. I look forward to next year and your reportage.

Thursday, February 01, 2007 8:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Christian said...

Thank you for sharing your adventures/stories with all of us! I really enjoy them!

Monday, March 05, 2007 7:23:00 PM  

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