Quest gets interesting

“The weather is the boss” is a common saying around here.  The weather turned the Yukon Quest on its head today.  Wind and snow has made for difficult travel down the Yukon River.  Hugh Neff is still out front with a sizable lead, but if my calculations are correct a pack of pursuit mushers are gaining on him.  Hugh is breaking trail by himself while his pursuers have joined forces to take turns breaking trail.  The group is slowly gaining on him.  Too little too late?  I don’t know, but will be watching closely.  These next 24-48 hours should be very interesting.

Keep following on and click on their Facebook and Youtube links.  APRN (Alaska Public Radio Network) and KUAC (Fairbanks Public Radio) are running stories at least daily at and  Then of course lots of mushers have their own blogs and Facebook pages.  You can find links to those on the musher biography list.  Most importantly, keep watching the Spot race tracking.  Race dynamics and musher standings are changing by the hour.


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Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest is half over, but it’s not too late to enjoy the most fan friendly mushing event in the world.  The Quest travels between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse Yukon Territories alternating directions each year.  This year’s race started in the Yukon and is shaping up to be the fastest Quest ever.  Event organizers do an excellent job with their race.  In recent years they’ve added a number of fan friendly components.  Their website,, will keep both mushing enthusiast and new comers alike busy for hours.  Check out race standings or click on the GPS race tracking.  You can see (as long as the equipment is transmitting a signal) where each racer is and retrieve detailed data on their running and resting schedules.  There are also YouTube, Flicker and Facebook links.  They each give you exactly what you expect; regularly uploaded 2-3 minute video clips, wonderful pictures and current interactive race updates.  Finally, they’ve got lots of daily news updates and analysis by Gwen Holdman, former Quest racer and wife of current front-runner Ken Anderson.  The Yukon Quest has worked very hard to create an enjoyable experience for any fan with an internet connection.  They are creating a new standard for all world-class races to work toward.  It’s all free and loads of fun.  Check it out at


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Lilly Pond Derby

We all had a fun day at the Lilly Pond.  My friend organized a 6 mile 6 dog fun run.  Each musher received a latte gift certificate for entertaining the small crowd.  Anthony took a pretty good 6 dog team and finished with a bunch of other mushers.  I hooked 5 dogs in front of the big basket sled, and Alethia followed me on her sled pulled by Bernard and Lucy.  With temperatures in the mid-30’s and snow/rain falling all day, it was a soft soggy mess.  The trail was well marked and everyone had fun.  Posted some pictures below.

Anthony and his wife Erin

Alethia and I coming in.

Alethia and I at the finish line.  She was a little wet and cold.

Bing and Buddy

Luke and Juliette

Bernard and Lucy

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First impressions

Anthony has been running with me for over a week now.  We’ve logged almost 10 runs.  He’s a natural.  Because I’m so far removed from my first run, and Anthony is a thoughtful guy, I asked him to pen his impressions of his first run.  Was very pleased to read it and am happy Anthony decided to share it with all of us.

My first mushing Experience

On the night of January 5th, 2011, I was on my way to Kyle’s place, maybe a half mile down the icy road pondering how the evening might play out.  Being raised on a farm in Kansas, where 6 inches of snow was a good winter, I had zero idea of what dog sledding was all about.  I had not yet learned that there is something magnetically fascinating about this endeavor.

As I pulled into Kyle’s driveway, I became apprehensive and excited about the notion that I was going to try something entirely new challenging, and was entirely humbled by the fact that I was being afforded this opportunity.

After greeting Kyle and taking a few initial pointers on the procedures and attitude, lines and sleds were readied and positioned for the hook-up.  The first practical lesson of the night came when Kyle gathered and explained how to properly don a harness and attach a dog to the lines.  At first this seemed to be a very complicated process and I became nervous when it was my turn to try, but I steadfastly gathered the dog chosen t run on that team, followed the instructions of my teacher, and slipped him into a harness without much effort.  The dog, no stranger to the harness, was cooperative during my first tries  and generally stood erect allowing me to manipulate its limbs one direction then the next until I had everything figured out.  By the time I hooked up the fourth and final dog, the process made perfect sense and the gentle dogs seemed to slip effortlessly into harness.

While I watched Kyle assemble his team, I realized that there was great skill and technique to be learned about just hooking up the dogs.  Had I gotten in over my head on this one?  It was dark.  I did not have a super idea of the trail layout or snow conditions, but I knew to trust the animals, hang on, and follow Kyle.  Before I knew it, and while I pondered what might happen in my very near future, Kyle was hooked up and ready to go.  I received a few final pointers regarding the trail conditions and special areas the went to stand on my sled.  As I stood, dogs totally erect in anticipation of the run, I donned my gloves, looked over each dogs’ harness and line, went through the various details of my education so far and gave Kyle the signal that I was ready.  I felt as though I was a cowboy setting atop a giant bull nervously signaling the chute operator to open the gate and let loose the incredible power of nature that I had decided to tinker with.

As I watched Kyle’s team dart off as fast as rabbits and snap around the corner and onto the trail, I knew that it was now time for the anticipation to end.  I pulled the quick release snap that was tied to my anchor line, preventing the dogs from running.  In a nanosecond my sled was on the move and I was zipping right along with it.  The shear speed and force by which the sled moved was immediately addictive.  It was a rush that I would liken to an astronaut setting at the tip of a rocket when the words…3…2…1…launch…are heard.

I knew about a sharp incline int he trial that followed the turn I had jus seen kyle pass.  As I approached th hill, moving faster than I expected, I gently stepped on the tread and coasted effortlessly behind the dogs who by this time were in full swing and clearly in their element.  Following our arrival at the bottom of the incline, I hollered Gee Gee Gee, which I was told is the command for turn right.  Immediately the lead dogs darted exactly where they needed to and continued to pull with incredible drive.

The initial shock of what had happened only wore off about 5 minutes after we had left eh starting position.  It was then that I broke my intense concentration of holding onto the sled for dear life and watching ever move of every dog.  It was not a particularly bright night, but there was light enough to see basic shapes like trees and dogs.  The night sky was partially clouded but stars still shone and the air was crisp and fresh.  It was under this backdrop that I began to listen.  What I heard was almost indescribably peaceful, almost spiritual.  It was the sound of an amazing new natural engine that I had never hear before running full out on all cylinders.  However, unlike the brute force and toxic smells that my snow machine belches out power under, this engine made no noise, no smell, the air flowed naturally over you.  It didn’t jerk and clink with strain as metal ground here and there on other pieces of metal.  Literally the only sound, sight, or other sense to be detected was the swoosh of my sled and the little pitter patter of the teams feet as they darted forward behind Kyle at an astonishing pace.  This tranquility remained with me for the rest of the experience.

By the time we had returned home I was in such a relaxed and peaceful stet that I hardly remember returning the dogs to their homes with warm hay and food, content that they had run, played and lived.

Perhaps the most surprising issue of the night is the lasting impression it made on me.  I have found myself attempting to clear out the clutter in my mind only to have it come back to the experiences of that night.  The hardships, training, and other variables which inevitably present obstacles to mushing must be worth it.  Right?  I now understand why one would want to take on such a pursuit.  Like surfing, hang gliding, etc. it is truly and indescribably experience.  The connection between rider, the serenity of nature and the traditional instincts that are harder to describe are undoubtedly a reality that some may not escape, myself included.

Anthony Schneider

Sure you’ll be hearing form Anthony again.  He’s hooked.


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Significant 3.5 miles

Went out with two teams of four late last night.  The run was short but significant.  Every now and again you get a “milestone” run where lots of hard work finally yields fruit.  This run yielded three pieces of noteworthy fruit.

1.  Buddy was quiet!  YAHOO!  I mean, shhhh.  yahoo.  Buddy is a great dog and belongs on a postcard with his perfect husky features.  He has always pulled well, but he has always made lots of noise doing it.  As soon as he was clipped into the line he jumped, screamed, whined and just wouldn’t keep quiet.  Last night, for the first time, I put Buddy’s harness on and headed back for another dog.  After two steps I stopped, something was wrong.  I turned around and Buddy was laying down, calmly thumping his tail on the snow.  Perfect.  I know he’ll go back to jumping and screaming from time to time, but last night he didn’t.  He was calm and patient.  I know he CAN do it and feel that all those minutes (easily totally hours) of waiting to pull the hook until Buddy finally quieted down was time well spent.

2.  Bernard leads, at least he did last night.  There is not a harder working dog on the planet than Bernard, but he’s never lead for me before.  He’s been leading Alethia’s team for about a month now.  I saw his work in front of Alethia’s sled more as following me than leading her.  Appears I was wrong.  Running in front of Alethia’s sled allowed him to develop his natural leadership abilities.  His brothers, and a couple sisters, are outstanding leaders.  I’ll keep him in front all winter and hopefully he’ll learn the commands.  Most likely he already knows them.  A new leader!  How exciting!  Couldn’t have happened to a nicer dog.

3.  Juliette has been doing well in lead all winter.  Last night, as they loped across open country over a hard snow pack, I saw her responding to my commands.  She was running next to her uncle Luke who is easily 25 pounds heavier than her so she couldn’t exactly go where ever she wanted.  When I said gee, Luke didn’t have to shove her over.  She started heading right on her own, same with haw.  I’m confident that she will be a finished leader by the end of the winter.  Last night was note worthy for young Juliette as, for the first time, she started working with me instead of just running like crazy.  She’s a very mature 2 year old.

Short run with many accomplishments.  Going again tomorrow night and then again this weekend.  Hopefully more great updates to come.


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Non-motorized winter moose hunt

We had family here for a week during Christmas.  We added two adults and two kids to our little house.  The result was a lack of space, but lots of fun.  We mushed, sledded, cooked, steamed and ate…and ate and ate and ate.

Johanna’s brother-in-law Shannon and I took two days to look for moose in the final week of the winter season.  We went out on skis the first day skiing down a dense creek bottom, but the sign was very old.  Next we skied up Snake Lake Road.  The road is not maintained and becomes a snow machine trail in the winter.  It’s eight miles long and leads to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.  The lake empties into Nushagak Bay via Snake River.  Trails shoot off the road in different directions leading up valleys, down creeks and to distant hills and mountains.

Shannon (The Flash) Baker standing tall on his skis.

Shannon brought a couple pairs of army surplus skis with cable bindings.  They worked well allowing us to wear our pack boots.  Our feet were pretty beat up when we were done – because we wore our pack boots.   It was glorious – clear skies, light breeze, 15 degrees.  Perfect day to be outside.

We saw a big group of moose a couple of miles up the road.  6 or 7 dashed out of a stand of willow bushes as we approached.  None of them had antlers however and were soon out of sight.  We didn’t see them again.

The author wearing his beautiful Scandinavian sweater. Nice to have a mother who knits.

After a nice lunch of fresh rolls, cookies and coffee, we looked around a bit more.  Plenty of fresh tracks, but no moose standing in those tracks.  We returned home before dark to a big dinner and a hot steam.  The way every day should end.

With all the fresh sign, we returned two days later with the dogs.  We ran 10 dogs, in front of one sled and two people.  One rode in the basket while the other stood on the runners.

As the previous post mentioned, my dogs are not as well conditioned as I’d like.  We went slow and took plenty of breaks to look around.  The dogs did very well and only got tired right before coming home.

Breaking trail

We pushed to the end of the road and took a look at the lake to start the day.  As we began to descend the mountain into the valley we rounded a corner to a large brown blur of commotion complete with flying snow.  The cow and calf made a quick about face and fled down the trail ahead of us.  With a few two year old dogs in the line, our own decent sped up considerably as the young dogs desperately gave chase.  The older dogs have seen plenty of moose and don’t worry about them much.  For a young dog the sight of a fleeing ungulate evokes a clear response – ATTACK!  With both feet on the bar break, the moose were quickly out of sight and the younger dogs lost hope of a flying neck attack on the half ton animal.  Those were the only moose we say with the dogs.  We also mushed into Big Valley and down to Land Otter Creek.  We saw Uncle Bobby in Big Valley, but nothing in Land Otter Creek.

Shannon on the runners

Again we made it home in time for dinner and a steam.  The dogs traveled roughly 25 miles hauling hundreds of pounds of out of shape mushers around the Snake Lake area.  Everyone did well and they loved seeing the country.

They trotted around their posts when we got back, happy to have been gone and happy to be home for a big helping of dog pot.


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Fresh start

I’m not a big New Year’s Resolution guy.  I’ve never wanted to loose ten pounds, give up chocolate or what ever else people resolve to do in the new year.  Last year was tough though and for the first time in a long time, I need to make a change.  The change is to get back on the runners and mush the way I used to.  I want to get out more often.  I want to spend more time in the dog yard.  I want to share it with my family.  I want to pass through God’s own creation more than once or twice per week.

It hasn’t just been tough for me, our entire family had a rough go of it for about a year.  We started the fall of 2009 with an illness and wrapped up fall 2010 with a funeral.  Through faith in God, and each other, we kept it together.  Each of us had our most challenging moments, but we always stayed close.  Johanna and I are probably closer now than we were a year ago.  We have chosen to come closer in difficult times instead of farther apart.  I recommend the strategy.  It works well.

With so many important family issues taking center stage, the dogs became less and less of a priority.  They always had good food to eat and a dry warm place to sleep, but they didn’t get out as much as they always have.  Not only did their number of outings decrease, my interest and passion for them and what they do was at its lowest point.  I was very close to parting with the gang all together this fall.  After so many months of worrying, fretting, crying, consoling, counseling and praying I was tired and wanted to rest instead of mush.

Problem is that resting would likely become malaise and perhaps depression.  The dogs have always picked me up and brought me closer to my center.  They brought me to His creation and showed it to me quietly.  Always my peace.  Always my calm.  Giving up my dogs now would be terrible at a time when I so desperately need peace, calm and Him.

Instead of giving up on the dogs I’m getting into the dogs.  There is more talent in my yard than ever before.  Bing, Luke, Bernard and Lucy are in their prime.  There is an outstanding crop of two year olds with more than one potential leader.  Right behind the two year olds are some of the finest yearlings I’ve ever put a harness on – certainly more leaders in that group too.  Alethia mushes her own team behind mine regularly now.  I also found an athletic fella my age very excited to get out on the runners.  The dogs and I have been treading water long enough.  Tomorrow we climb the high dive, take a big leap and hope for a graceful entry.  Actually, even a belly flop would be fine.  At least we’re getting back to it.

Plan is to get the dogs out 4 or 5 days per week – not just on the weekends.  We’ll be hauling wood, entering local races, going camping, training leaders, maybe looking for caribou later this spring.  Miles will increase as the winter progresses.  No big trips or races planned, most dogs are too young for big stuff this winter.

What can we do with all this talent and how far can they go?  Where will this team, and each individual dog, be in April?  What might they be ready for next winter?  I can’t wait to find out.


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Learning to handle a load

Mushing at 20 miles per hour with a 20 pound sled requires considerable skill.  Likewise, driving a heavily loaded sled through a dense spruce forest also requires skill and takes practice.  Dogs and musher must together bring the load around tight corners, and over deadfall running, pushing, and leaning hard the whole time.  Keeping the load moving forward and not tipping the sled over is the goal, but we all tip over more often than we like to admit.

Alethia was able to practice driving a small team with her little sled hauling firewood during a family outing today.  I stayed in front and walked (sometimes ran) with the dogs to keep everything safe and under control.  She fell over many times, was hit by branches, even got the wind knocked out of her once, but she didn’t quit and hauled out an entire truck load.  She was a better dog driver when we finished than when we began.

Very proud of my baby girl today.  You can see Alethia and the dogs bringing out the last load in the video clip below.  Johanna provided the fancy camera work.


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Jake the musher

Jake, Alethia and I took the dogs out with two sleds.  Both kids took a turn driving their small sled with two dogs.  Thought I took some nice footage of Alethia driving, but it wasn’t on the camera when I got home.  Jakes short video clip was there though.

Some people say kids growing up in Rural Alaska are missing out.  They wish they had more opportunities.  I say those people are full of s*%t.  Our children are rich in experience and opportunity.  This is what growing up well is all about.


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First mush on snow

Alethia and I took advantage of our new snow and punched out a 5 mile trail last Saturday.  We put Bing in the lead.  He had a great time pushing through the fresh snow.  We took a couple video clips while we were out there.
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