The last two days have been a whirlwind of preparation for the races, which start tomorrow. Aliy’s dogs are comfortable in their spot. They howl a short song every now and then, but mostly are quiet. She feeds them a meaty soup every twelve hours and gives them a small frozen fish or meat snack a few times in between; they also get a warm meat broth for hydration.
The other end of the feeding process requires attention too. Each dog poops three or four times daily, so regular rounds with the shovel are required to keep their area cleaned up.
These canine athletes also get regular massage and joint stretching, ointment rubbed into their pads, vitamin supplements, and play time where two or three at a time get to run loose out on the tundra while Aliy walks with them. They are all healthy and fit, and very friendly and happy dogs.
Yesterday morning the vet team stopped at our house to do the pre-race inspection. The team of four veterinarians examines each dog on each team prior to the race to certify that all dogs are in good condition. They talk to the mushers about any problems, make recommendations, and check the rabies vaccination certificates. The vets stayed for about a half hour, and confirmed that Aliy’s team looks very good.
In the afternoon, Aliy and I went over to Henry’s for a visit. Aliy wanted to take a look at his dogs, and to see the new sled he has built in the last two weeks for Angela to use in the Bogus 150. It is a beautiful small racing sled, very light and hopefully very fast. When we returned home, one of the local mushers who is also running the K300 stopped by to look at Aliy’s dogs and to talk race strategy; he wanted her to come and look at his dogs also, so they went over to his yard for more dog talk.
Soon after, more visitors stopped by to bring some lovely covered hot dishes to help out with the musher-hosting effort. Dr. H is one of the physicians I tremendously enjoy working with; his wife and two young daughters had visited last year when Aliy was here, and their four-year-old fell in love with her. She was excited that Aliy was back and couldn’t wait to come over to see the dogs. Dr. and Mrs. H spent their day off cooking and brought over a bounty to help feed the musher. (Thanks, you two! It's fabulous!)
In the evening there was a benefit concert at the cultural center to raise money for the big fireworks display, which will happen right after the last two mushers leave the start line. The concert is pretty much of a local talent show, with singers, skits, and comedy routines. For a small town, Bethel has a nice range of performers who put on an enjoyable evening of entertainment.
The first task on today’s list was to get Aliy’s food drops delivered to the small charter plane company that will fly them to the checkpoints. She had about 65 pounds of dog food and spare gear for each of the three checkpoints all bagged up, complete with return postage attached on the inside for mailing the gear back to her.
At 4 pm there was a mandatory meeting of all the mushers to go over details about the trail, the trail markers, the availability of hot water in the upriver villages for cooking dog food, and general race rules. Many of the top professional mushers are here for the K300; they all know each other, since sled dog racing is a pretty small world. Of the nineteen who are registered to race tomorrow, Aliy is the only woman.
Following the mushers’ meeting, everyone trooped over to the local TV station for the televised drawing of starting positions. It is actually not so much a drawing as a choosing. In the order in which they signed up for the race, each musher went on camera for a brief interview, and then picked the starting position he or she preferred. Both long races have a timed start: the teams go out two at a time, every two minutes, until all teams have left. The number of minutes each team starts before the last team is added to that team’s required rest time later in the race, so there is no time benefit to starting early. Some mushers like to go out early, others prefer to start late. With nineteen teams racing the K300, starting two at a time every two minutes means it will take forty minutes for all teams to get started; so the first two teams will have a forty minute longer rest at the six-hour layover than the last team to go out. Aliy likes to start early to give her dogs the additional rest at the layover; she chose position number four, and will be leaving the start line with Jeff King (winner of eight K300s and three Iditarods).
Aliy is a very competitive dog musher, but her goal for this race is not so much to win as to give her young team some needed experience for the Iditarod. She is driving the “junior varsity” squad of her kennel. Her husband, Allen Moore, just completed another mid-distance race last weekend, the Copper Basin 300. He was driving the varsity squad, and they won the race! Yee haw! Aliy was quite excited about it. Those twelve dogs will be the nucleus of her Iditarod team in March, along with the best four performers from this race. For even more sled dog stuff (can you stand any more?) visit the website for the Copper Basin, www.cb300.com. There is a nice photo of Allen, and if you scroll down the front page of the website, there is a great photo of a dog team running directly at the camera. I love that photo.
Tomorrow should be a pretty leisurely day. There are no commitments or requirements prior to loading the dogs in the truck to drive down to the river for the race start at 6:30 pm. Plenty of time to sleep in, eat well, and get ready to race.
Photos by The Tundra PA. Aliy and dogs; Aliy chooses starting position. For more photos and info, go to the race's website at www.k300.org.
Labels: Dog Mushing