Fall 2016

Another busy year is upon us- my, how time flies…  

We had a fantastic spring chasing Gwen to Iceland for two months while she worked on her Arctic Fulbright project.  We visited every single pool in Reykjavik and were fortunate to see a good portion of the country as a whole.  It is all it’s cracked up to be and I look forward to our return visit some day.  

On our way back from Iceland we spent 10 days in Minnesota catching up with family and enjoying the fourth of July festivities- fireworks, parades, fun on the lake, golf, and family gatherings.

When we got home I had to fly to Juneau to retrieve our boat and sail her the 600 miles across the Gulf of Alaska to her new home port in Valdez.  I had a sailing partner and he and I fought some rough 8-10 foot seas most of the entire way up the Gulf.  It’s great to finally have the boat within driving distance even though it’s 360 miles one way down to Valdez from home…

This year I’ve taken on another client (one a bit more capable than last year’s client- ahem..) named Brad Farquhar.  He’s a young guy who’s done a lot of cool things including climbing Mt. McKinley and doing a 150-mile running race through the Sahara desert.  His goal is to run qualifiers this year and Iditarod next year.  He’s taking to things well and has been a true joy to work with.  

This year I’m finally taking the plunge and organizing my own race.  It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time and having Brad here has been the catalyst to make it happen.  It’s a 300-mile Iditarod and Quest qualifying race held on our home trails between here and Eureka, starting December 17th.  We’re keeping it low-key with just space for 20 entrants for the first year.  We have a website called tolovana300.com as well as an event page on Facebook.  

I lucked out again with another great handler.  His name is Josh McNeal and he’s only 22 but quite possibly more mature than myself who’s (yes…) twice his age.  He’s balancing being a full-time petroleum engineering student at UAF and his duties around the kennel with the grace and efficiency of a polished CEO.  I’m super fortunate to have him here.  Thanks Josh!!

Fall training started in earnest mid-August.   This year I have a rock-solid team of 3-6 year olds with nearly every dog capable of solid leadership.  I think this will be my last Iditarod for the time being.  I want to start a tour business and actually make some money at this mushing thing.  With family and everything else going on, I won’t be able to start the business right if I’m focusing on racing as well.  It will be an exciting race for us this year.  I think we’ve paid our dues and now’s the time to make a big splash.

With the inclusion of our new race, we’ve finally updated our archaic website.  I am trying to make a big push with our dog sponsor program this year to help fund things.  We’ve had many return sponsors over the years (thanks so much!!), many of whom have probably amassed a fine collection of Iditarod videos and Iditarod prints that I get all the finishers of the race to sign in Nome.  This year along with the print and video I’ll also be sending out updates on the sponsored dog’s performance as the season progresses.  

Thanks for following our adventures and keep in touch,



It's been a very enjoyable spring......

We've been enjoying a relatively laid-back spring this year.  I forewent the Kobuk 440 for a fantastic snowmachine trip with my dad and brothers.  We've had an extremely mild season with high temps and little precipitation.  Mud season came and went fast.  The ice is off the Chena River and we've already been out in the boat. 

I've been pecking away at projects I wanted to finish up before we head off to Iceland - like finishing our Chena cabin and prepping it for this year's Airbnb guests, straightening out the dog yard, searching for new renters, tinkering in my man-cave with boat projects, and working deals with potential leasers/clients for next year's race season.  I do plan to race Iditarod again next year but I'm working deals for races pre-Iditarod.

The kids have been enjoying school and are looking forward to our trip to Iceland and spending lots of time on the water once we return in July.  Gwen has been a bit busiier than I - getting ready for the Iceland trip, trying to wrap up work details and a couple Master's classes she's taking, as well as dealing with her Fulbright project.  I don't know how she does it.......

The dogs have been enjoying the lazy days with loose romps around the kennel.  We are doing two breedings this year and we already got our first litter of pups from Jenna - a young star from my leader Regret and Jake Berkowitz's Solomon.  She had four boys and one girl.  We also bred Hannah and Top who were probably my two best leaders in Iditarod.

Gwen left for Iceland a few days ago and is getting a head start on things before I show up with the rugrats.  We rented part of a house that sits just off the ocean with a soccer field in front of it.  Gwen says it's relatively quiet and the view is impressive.  The kids and I will be spending lots of time exploring the countryside, journaling, biking and visiting as many hot springs and pools as possible.  We'll probably be weekend warriors while Gwen is at work but plan to spend the last two weeks traveling the island.  I'll miss the dogs, Alaska, and my man cave, but I'm looking forward to a really special adventure with the family.



The Anderson boys go on a great trip!

Ken, his dad Henry, and his brothers Doug and Mike took a fabulous snowmachine trip into the White Mountains.  The weather and snow conditions were perfect!

The 2016 Iditarod Final Update

Post Iditarod


We're back home from another go at Iditarod.  Thanks to all for following our progress and thanks to Gwen and my mom for keeping you updated as much as possible.

All things considered, the race went well for me as a whole.  The first half was perfect, putting me in the top five with what I felt to be a well-rested team.  Once I got to Ruby. I was given a two-hour time penalty for an infraction that happened back at the starting line which completely threw me off.  It was a new rule put in place that stated we can't run more than two dogs abreast.  Typically, new rules are highlighted in the driver's meeting, but this one wasn't.  I do read the rules every year but somehow I missed this one.  For reasons I'm still trying to uncover, the race marshal and this three judge panel decided I should receive the maximum penalty (second to a disqualification) which is a two-hour time penalty.  Unfortunately, I wasn't notified of this until I reached the Yukon River where the penalty was to be served, which threw my race plan off a bit.  Although I clearly broke a rule (naively), I was unhappy with the severity at which I was penalized, which didn't help my mental state any.  This may come as a surprise to those of you who may have seen my respones onlne, but as usual, there is always more to the story than what's presented by the media.  I do plan to appeal the penalty.

We cobbled things together the last half but slipped to 16th place which, given the depth of competition, still wasn't too shabby.  I will say I was a bit disappointed and felt I let the team down.

I kept a very extensive voice recorder this year and was able to record with a surprising mental clarity I don't usually have.  Unfortunately, I sent the voice recorder through the washer and dryer the night I finished and destroyed all those recordings.  However, I'll try to sit down and do my best at writing a full race journal.

Spring has hit hard back home and it looks like it will be an early thaw.  I'm foregoing the Kobuk 440 this year to spend more time at home and take a snow machine trip with my dad and brothers out to the White Mountains (weather permitting..).

The Seavey's have set the bar super high the last few years, but I'm already looking forward to next year's race and thinking about how best to prepare the dogs.  I think I have a good plan.

All told, it's been an interesting year.  First with Wendy, then shifting gears to try to salvage this year's season, and having a great time with the Norwegian invasion to our place.  Gwen is up to her eyeballs in work as well as grad school classes in the evenings.  I've got a million projects on my list to get done before we head to Iceland in May.

Thanks for tuning in,



Iditarod Update # 7: Update from Nome

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I apologize for the long delay in writing another update; the kids and I have now relocated to Nome for the finish and I've been dealing with several logistic issues that have allowed few opportunities to sit in from of my computer to compose an update.  And a lot has happened since I last wrote. 

Ken received a two hour penalty in Ruby for leaving the starting line with 3 dogs abreast.  He called me from Ruby and was pretty bummed out about this, since he did not realize this was a rule and in the big scheme of things, seems like a fairly minor infraction.  (Rule 38 states no more than two dogs abreast).  A two-hour time penalty is fairly serious, especially since Ken couldn't really plan his schedule around this extended break.  Nonetheless, he had a good attitude about it as he realized there was nothing he could do to change this, and he needed to adjust his plan accordingly.   

He decided to switch at that point to a speed game, resting more in the middle of the race (which he did) in the hope of making a big push at the end and picking up a number of positions.  He told me when he called me from Ruby that this was probably better suited to his team anyhow, as his team likes to run fast and wasn't well set up for too many long marches.  After hopscotching down the Yukon and stopping at each checkpoint, he went through Kaltag yesterday and camped out at the Tripod cabin, setting himself up to go through Unalakleet and stop at another shelter cabin about 15 miles past Unalakleet just before noon today.  He should stay there until about 5:30pm, and then run straight through Shaktoolik to Koyuk.  He will probably take a 4-6 hour break there and then run through Elim and straight to White Mountain where he will take his mandatory 8 hour layover.  Clearly, Ken is not in contention to win at this point, but he still has a shot at a top 10 finish.



Iditarod Update # 6 - Halfway Through

11:30 am Alsaka Time March 10  I apologize for not writing an update earlier today, but things are quite busy on all fronts (as usual).  As i write this, Ken is making good time approaching the halfway point at Cripple.  I expect he will arive in ninth place, about 1/2 hour behind Brent Sass.  It is great to see him hanging with the top of the field at this point in the race, although the number of mushers still in contention at this point is quite large.  By my estimate however, Ken is very much stilll in the mix and will probably leave Cripple at about the same time as Dallas Seavey.  I estimate he is right about even with the true race leaders, who right now I am going to go out on a limb and say are Mitch Seavey and Pete Kaiser.  They are both still playing the speed card so I expect them to continue to be a bit conservative, but both teams are smoking down the trail.  Pete is now posting an average moving speed from the start at 8.9 mph.  That is really quite remarkable.

Ken did call and leave a message from a satellite phone during his 24 hour layover.  It was great to hear his voice, but I was bummed out that I missed picking up the phone since there was no way to call back.  The two dogs he dropped were Standard and Kenji, which is too bad because they aer both very key dogs.  He didn't provide any detail on why he dropped them, but from his voice he Tidn't seem too concerned.  thanks to Julie and Todd for taking care of these guys when they get back to Anchorage.

Ken said he was planning an interesting strategy for his next couple of runs, which the more I think about it, I really like.  The mushers are required to take a mandatory break of 8 hours somewhere on the Yukon River, between the checkpoints of Ruby and Kaltag.  Most teams will probably run straight from Cripple to Ruby, which took Jeff King 10 hours, and take their 8 hour break there.  Ken said he plans to stop short of Ruby, and essentially break the run between Cripple and Galena (the checkpoint after Ruby) into two equal - 8 hour legs.  Or possibly 7 and 9, and then take his 8 hour layover in Galena.  The main advantage here is twofold - slightly shorter runs to preserve speed, and he completely avoids running through the middle of the afternoon, which front teams taking their layover in Ruby will need to do.  In fact, I suspect others will think of this as well and will employ it, so don't be surprised to see some more leapfrogging.

7:30pm Alaska Time.  It appears I forgot to send out the update (above) I wrote earlier today, so I will add an addendum.  Ken left Cripple a couple hours ago after 5 hours of rest, and is currently headed down the trail sandwiched between the two Seaveys.  Not a bad place to be just past the halfway point.  I am sure he is getting a good adrenalin kick out of it.  And I just took my second screenshot of the race showing Ken in fourth place.  Looking Good!



Iditarod Update # 5 - Chilling out on the mandatory 24 hour layover

10:30 am March 9 Alaska

It looks like most of the teams are taking their 24 hour layover, with a few very notable exceptions such as Dallas Seavey.  Dallas took a short 3 hour break in McGrath, and then ran about 6 hours to a comping spot about 10 miles past Ophir.  He stayed there several hours, which may be setting him up to take his 24 hour layover past Cripple - possibly Ruby.  If Dallas does decide to do his layover in Cripple, I estimate that he and Ken would be on par and leave at the same time late tomorrow afternoon, but I don't expect Dallas to do this.

Ken has positioned himself nicely.  I took a screenshot of him in fourth place early this morning when he arrived in Ophir!  Of course, it doesn't mean he is ACTUALLY in fourth place, since several teams stopped for their 24 hour layover in Takotna or earlier.  But I do think he has clawed his way into the top 10, although the composition of this group is so fluid and the race is so competitive, this doesn't mean much right now.  All I can say is he is well positioned to finish strong this year, if everything continues to go well for him.  I don't expect him to be able to call from Ophir - this is an old mining town without any permanent residents.  There are some privately owned cabins in resonably good shape and one of them serves as the checkpoint.  But communications are likely to be fairly minimal, and Ken will have a nice quiet spot to rest, with minimal spectators or press around.

Looking down the trail, there are basically two main strategies for the route between Ophir and Ruby (through Cripple).  This is the most remote stretch of the race.  Mushers typically either break it up into 2 long 8 1/2 and 9 hour runs, or 3 shorter - 6 hour segments.  Ken hadn't decided which strategy to use before the race start - it all depends on how his dogs are set up.  He is down to 14 dogs, so two of his guys are headed back to Anchorage where our friend Julie Estey will be watching them until the finish.  I don't know who they are yet. 

That's all for now.  I'll probably send the next update tomorrow after Ken departs from Ophir.  I estimate his departure time to be 3:30am tomorrow morning.




Iditarod Update # 4:  Teams set a blistering pace to McGrath

6:15pm, March 8, Alaska Time:  WOW I just counted 30 teams on the trail between Nikolai and McGrath, all of whom are still very much in contention for a top finish.  It is amazing to have so many teams so close to the leaders just over 1/4 of the way through the race, and speaks of the depth in this year's field.  For the most part, they are moving very swiftly at close to 10 mph which means the trail is still hard packed and fast.  In fact, Ken has actually gotten faster over the last 100 miles, which is pretty impressive.  His average speed while moving is now 8.5 mph; in comparision, the fastest team is still Pete Kaiser, who is burning up the trail at 8.8 mph in fourth place.

Based on the lack of out times on the Iditarod site, it appears the tiny community of Nikolai has had a difficuilt time tracking all the action, especially since teams are only required to sign in, and don't need to notify anyone when they leave.  Ken is one of the teams that is not showing as departed, but based on his GPS tracker it looks like he left around 4:45 pm, after resting for exactly 4 hours.  He is still following his pre-race plan precisely, and now plans to run through McGrath and Takotna before declaring his 24-hour layover in Ophir.  Ken will need to take a bit of a break in McGrath as he sent out his backup sled with some gear in it, which means he will need to locate it and arrange to ship it back home (assuming he does not need it).   If he hsn't already, this may also be where he leaves behind his trailer sled.   There haven't been any pictures or videos posted of Ken, so I don't know if he still has it or not.  However, several of the other teams are still pulling one and Dallas had 4 dogs loaded and resting coming into Nikolai.  With the easy pulling, hard-packed trail, it isn't toomuch of a burden to tow some extra weight.  That might change as the hills become more of a factor between Ophir and Ruby.

Ken is lucking out on the time of day his runs are falling - he was able to rest through the hottest part of the afternoon today, and if all goes well should pull into Ophir in the early hours of the morning - giving him an early morning start time coming off his layover.  I am sure this will play into his decision on where to pull over.  Ken knows he has to make a strategic move at some point, especially with such a wide-open race.  He should have one of the best rested teams on the trail to this point, that can handle this sort of an extended push into their long mandatory rest.

Time will tell!  Gwen


Iditarod Update # 3: Marching Toward Nikolai


Ken stopped at Tin Creek as he planned, after passing through Rohn at 11:08 pm, still apparently with all 16 of his dogs.  He pulled over for a 5 hour rest at 1:35am, sharing the spot with Dallas and Mitch Seavey for awhile until they each moved down the trail after 3 and 3 1/2 hours of rest respectively.  This means his total run time from Rainy Pass was 7 hours - a little longer than he might have liked, but he is maintaining a very solid and consistant average moving speed of 8.4 mph.  The fasted moving averages in the top teams include Pete Kaiser, at 8.8 mph, and Robert Sorlie and Lance Mackey at 8.7 mph each.  Ken is about 21-25 miles or 3 hours behind these 3 speedsters, but when you take into account the starting time differentials, Ken is about an hour behind Peter, 2 hours behind Robert, and slightly over 2 hours behind Lance right now.  That's not bad at this point in the race.  Of course, each of these teams is running a relatively conservative strategy trying to maintain their speed advantage.  Other teams are resting less, and running slower - basically employing a marching strategy that can work well on an easy, hard packed trail like this year's course appears to be. 

I thought I would share some information about the dogs in Ken's team in this update:

Regret - A veteran 7 year old female who has been nursing a bit of a sore wrist all year.  She is in great shape.  Likes to play tricks in lead, especially with an inexperienced musher but is a solid go-to leader when she can smell the finish line, or is otherwise in the limelight.  Her nickname is "Princess" so I guess that says it all!

Standard - 8 year old male, also a go-to leader who finished the Iditarod in lead last year.  He seems to get tougher and better the further in the race he gets.  He's finished every race he's ever started, and ran his first iditarod at age 2.

Ninja - 6 year old female.  What she lacks in brains she more than makes up in heart and has finished every race she has run and has energed as a solid, hard-driving leader.  She is an unassuming sweetheart of a dog and Ken really loves her.

Geisha - 5 year old pretty black and white female who can be a bit of a stinker that can pull Regret-like tricks in lead but is very steady, and has also finished every 1000-mile race she has run.  She and her 4 siblings that follow are 1/8th German Shorthair Pointer.

Hannah - Geisha's sister, also a leader and has finished a number of 1000-mile races.  She is less of a punk and more of a pleaser than Geisha.  She started in lead from Willow.

Kenji - Hannah and Geisha's brother and Ken's current rock-star leader.  Strikingly athletic, Kenji is a big, black, smooth-coated male with a sweet disposition who likes to please.  He'll probably run in lead the most, and left the start line up fromt with his sister.

Guru - Another littermate, he is also a very good leader.  Guru is not as fast as his siblings, but often winds up in lead at the end, and finished last year's Iditarod in lead with Standard.

Bonzai - Another littermate who also leads, Bonzai is a goofy, unassuming male who sometime seems like a real space cadet in lead, and then suprises you when the chips are down.  When it matters, he suddenly pays attention and metamorphoses into a great gee-haw leader.

Top - a 5 year old male we purchased from Kevin Cook 2 years ago.  Top is a super hard-driving leader and finished the Iditarod last year, but barely because he works so hard.  Ken thinks he could be a key contributor to the speed factor in this year's race, since he drives so hard.

Fuzz - a 4 year old male we also purchased from the Cooks.  Fuzz is not a pretty dog to look at, but has emerged as a top leader after Ken tried to sell him for the last 2 years without success.  He seemed to have a hard time finishing races because he worked too hard, but he finished Iditarod last year and Ken has a lot of hope for him in teaming up with his buddy Top as Ken's speed leader combo team.

Percy - A 4 year old male who is kind of a drama king (he squeals when you put booties on!), but when it comes to his job he takes it very seriously - especially late in the race.  He is a rare leader in that even when he is tired, he drives a hard pace and kicks the team up a gear when he is up front.

Scruff - a 3 year old shy male with a big heart.  He is the best eater in the team (Ken has to watch him to make sure he doesn't get too fat).  He is a strict wheel dog, who is basically blind due to juvenile onset cataracts he has probably dealt with his whole life.  According to our vet, he can probably only see shadows but is incredibly agile for a wheel dog.  He is the biggest dog in the team and can jump over towlines very well.  He is also the most outspoken dog in the team, a great cheerleader from behind.  Ken's heart goes out to him, and he hopes he finishes.  Ken thinks he will do great.

Emil - A 3 year old male named after our son Leif's middle name, and Gwen's grandfather.  He is a strikingly handsome black male with an esy gait and a great attitude.  He seems to win the hearts of all the ladies, since he is a real lover with lots of personality.

Jerry - One of three 2 year old brothers in the race, Jerry is a happy sweet little energizer bunny that never seems to get tired.  He is an easy keeper, with incredible recovery time.  He can run anywhere but lead, mostly runs toward the back of the team.

Junior - Brother to Jerry, Junior is a hard pulling bruiser of a dog with a beautiful trot.  He is the growliest dog in the whole team and most likely to pick a fight, so Ken will be keeping a close eye on him.

Jack - another brother to Jerry and Junior, Jack is a medium sized grey male and one of the most beautifully built dogs Ken has ever seen.  He is strikingly balanced and has a real presence about him that grabs other musher's attention.  He is very powerful, loves to go, has great recovery time, a smooth gait, and loves the taste of necklines!

That's Ken's team!!!   Gwen


Iditarod Update # 2 - Across the Alaska Range

It looks like Ken is running exactly the race he has planned - as I write this, he is partway between Rainy Pass and Rohn just before the top of the Dalzell Gorge, stopped at what looks like the near side of a creek crossing with Kat Keith, Allen Moore and Mike Williams Jr., as well as a few other teams.  I imagine they will figure out a strategy to cross soon enough, but given that there are also teams comping on the far side, it might be one that is going to require getting a bit wet in splashing across to the other side.  (Pam Verfaille, one of our family friends from Valdez called after I wrote this post and shared a Facebook post passing on information from one of the Iditarod videographers, who said this was an open water creek called the Happy River, about knee deep and 30-40 feet across). 

Last night, the northern lights were absolutely spectacular here in Fairnbanks, and I am sure the mushers had quite a show out on the trail.  Tonight should be another cool, clear evening and I think the dogs will be relieved to have a reprieve from the heat of the day.

Here is a rundown of what Ken has been up to since the start:

1) He loaded 4 digs shortly out of the start in his trailer sled (youneed to leave with all 16 in harness, but he is still experimenting with giving dogs extra rest, switching them around after 2 1/2 hours).  From the start, he ran a total of 5 hours before stopping for 2 hours on the river, just past Yentna checkpoint.

2) He then ran another 5 hours to halfway between the checkpoints of Skwentna and Finger Lake, again hauling dogs and rotating them halfway through the run.  This run brought him to the vicinity of Shell Lake, where he camped for another 3 1/2 hours.

3) He ran from this point through Finger Lake, all the way to Rainy Pass, which was a atotal of about 5 1/2 hours.  Depending on the trail and how the dogs are handling the extra weight, he will drop his trailer sled at some point between Finger Lake and further down the trail in Nikolai.

4) He rested just under 4 hours at Rainy Pass, and is now headed to Rohn where he will likely not stop for long, instead electing to travel another 1 1/2 hours or so down the trail to the Tin Creek area.  Lance Mackey is camped in the location now.

As you can see, Ken is trying to keep his runs shorter than 6 hours to preserve his speed, but is also keeping his rests shorter than he has in the past.  This strategy seems to be positioning him nicely not too far from the leaders, and he still has a full team of 16 dogs in harness.

He plan from his next stop at Tin Creek is to run the approximately 6 hours to Nikolai without stopping, take a 4 hour rest there and then do his first long run through McGrath and Takotna, before taking his 24 hour layover in Ophir.  At least, that is his "A" plan - we will see what happens.

This is definitely an exciting time to be in mushing because there are so many different strategies, which we can clearly see starting to emerge.  For a good narrative describing some fo these, check out this article by former musher Jake Berkowitz: http://www.adn.com/article/20160304/here-are-five-iditarod-musher-strategies-watch-early-raceIn this era of free-for-all.

With all this innovation going on, it's impossible to make early predications because so much is still in motion, and how certain strategies play out depends on a wide range of factors - many of which are not under the control of any individual musher.  Nonetheless, some basic laws of doggie-dome still apply.  The primary law: dogs still need a minimum amount of rest. Period. Bionic dogs don't compete in this race, and resting at the right timems is a key ingredient to a successful strategy.  When and where this rest is best applied depends on the individual team, their makeup, and their training leading up to this race.  Ken's mantra (clearly not shared by all the mushers) is to rest early or suffer consequences later.  He believes there is plenty of time to cut rest later.  His early strategy is to run fast, run short, and rest short.  This is all obviously relative - he wants to stay within striking distance of the lead pack. but right now he is probably focusing most on his team and what they need to move as quickly as possible down the trail.  Where he is in the standing is not a significant concern for him at this point.

I quizzed Ken vefore the race on how his training plays into his race strategy this year, and how it compares to past years.  He told me that in the last few years, he feels he has geared down his dogs too low with too many long runs in training.  This year, his default speed is fast - 10mph (which we can see now with his average running speed of 9.3 mph according to his GPS tracker).  In the past, his default speed has been slower since he trained them to run longer, and thus slower.  This year he has a really good base on his team, but also has had lots of rest between training runs.  He has built up mileage very slowly, but has also tested his team - both in the 300 mile Kusko race, and a more recent 200 mile training run, which he completed in a total of four 6-hour segments with short rests in between.     

Overall, I think he is doing well and I suspect Ken is pleased with how his race is unfolding.  The next stretch will be interesting, as mushers begin to play some of their hidden cards- such as where they take their 24 hour layover, and how they set themselves up before and after this mandatory rest.  Once the teams pull over for this break, we will begin to have a better feel for their relative positions. With Ken's late starting time, he will have one of the shortest 24-hour layovers, as the start time differential is added to this rest.  In other words, Ken will be resting for just a few minutes over 24 hours, while the teams with lower numbers will have to rest 26 or more hours.  So Ken will probably gain a few positions once he completes this break.

That's all for tonight - I'll write another update sometime tomorrow.  Thanks for following Ken, and stay tuned!

Until tomorrow, Gwen


Iditarod Update #1: Get Ready,Set,Go!

Ken and I are writing this update together as we drive up to Willow for the re-start.  This will be Ken's sixteenth Iditarod Race, and he is REALLY looking forward to getting this show on the road.  After reflecting on this a bit, Ken told me there are two reasons for this.  First, he feels very confident about his dog team and the condition they are in.  Second, this year it has been incredibly difficult to even get to the starting line.  Throughout the season, Ken has had to deal with a number of hurdles and setbacks, and it seems like during the past few weeks the craziness has amped up an additional notch.  We have had 7 wonderful and very professional Norwegians staying with us, representing 4 teams of iditarod and Quest mushers along with their 50 dogs.  It's been great having them around, but right when we needed electric power the most to cut meat, access the internet, have lights and change batteries, our power system (we live off the electric grid) chose to go on the fritz.  Our diesel first started having issues when Ken was on the Kusko race in January, but luckily we had good wind power at the time.  It was mainly an issue because everyone wanted to cut meat with the meat saw for food drops, which requires 3 phase power that only the generator can supply.  Ultimately, to make a long story short, we cuycled through 4 generators in about 2 weeks and Ken eventually had to tear apart and rebuild our main Northern Lights generator.   All in all, it cost him quite a bit of precious time in a key moment, and left everyone in the dark (literally) for a few nights.  On top of allthis, we've had a handler transition as we said goodbye to Craig and welcomed Tavina, and a Parvovirus scare that resulted in all of Ken's dogs having to test negative 2 days before the race or he would not be allowed to race (fortunately, they did).  It also probably hasn't helped that I've been quite busy with work and have been traveling a lot.

Ken has made quite a few changes this year, both in his training regime and gear.  To start with, Ken built a new sled from the ground up.  Earlier this fall, he bought several runner forms and random odds and ends from a local sled master carpenter, Ray Mackler, who had just turned 94.  Ray actually built my first Yukon Quest sled almost 20 years ago.  After modifying the forms a bit, Ken built a set of laminated wood runners out of white ash with fiberglass reinforcement.  He used a high quality marine-grade epoxy to laminate the layers together to create a flexible but very tough and cambered runner base that hugs the trail very nicely.  The bed is made out of Kevlar fabric, and the sled is engineered such that there are no hard triangles anywhere that would create stiff, hard joints which might lend themselves to cracking under stress.  I had the chance to drive his sled yesterday during the cerimonial start, and I was impressed with how steerable and flexible it was.

Ken also ditched his on-the-go cooker which he spent a lot of time last year perfecting, because it was too heavy and cumbersome and not necessay since he is not planning a non-stop running strategy.  He is using the same trailer sled that he built last year, at least for the first stage of the race.  He can haul 4 dogs at a time in this sled, which will allow him to keep dogs rested in the early part where is doesn't need all the power he has.  He originally hoped to rebuild this sled to make it a bit smaller and lower profile, but he ran out of time before the race.  As a result, he probably has the longest sled train - so long that Ray Redinton joked that Ken needed a CDL to drive it!  With what is supposed to be a hard and fast trail, Ken is planning to rotate 4 dogs in and out of his trailer at least until hitting the hilly country outside of Skwentna.  After this, he will play it by ear according to trail conditions, and how the team is handling the extra weight.

Also, Ken finally fully committed to the Seavey gnagline and harness system this year, which he feels has afforded him the extra power he needs for hauling dogs (he has dabbled with versions of it in the past).   This is a modified harness system patterned after an age-old concept typically used in draft horses, which involves using a spreader bar to keep weight off the hips and all of the tension in a straight line.  He is also using toggles instead of snaps, and bungee-filled necklines to give the dogs extra lateral mobility.

In terms of strategy, Ken told me he "wants to focus on racing with his heart instead of his head, and see where the chips fall".  In the past, he feels he has tried to overthink his strategy and be too regimented in his run/rest pattern.  The problem is that the race is so complex with so many variables at play, thinking things out too far doesn't really work well since everything is constantly in flux.  He is excited about the field being so competitive, and he is eager to see how he and his team stack up against such stiff competition.   Ken feels like he is flying under the radar this year since no one has really picked him for a top finish or is paying all that much attention to him; so he doesn't feel like he is under a lot of pressure to prove himself, either to himself nor anyone else.

That's all for now; I will talk a bit about his strategy in the next update, but given his late start time and plan to be a bit conservative early in the race, I don't expect to see him pushing the leaders too soon.  He took his first rest right on schedule, 5 hours out of the gate and is planning his second stop halfway between Skwentna and Rainy Pass.  But more on that later - suffice it to say Ken is confident and ready and his team looks exactly the same.

More later, Gwen