U.P. 200 Red Lantern Brightens Mushers Future
by Benjamin Youren
Freezing wind blasted Pat Moon’s face. Snow from the blizzard continued to pile up, causing him to break trail for the next 40 miles, his dogs tirelessly working for every inch. He hadn’t been inside or warm in hours, and it would be hours until he would be again.
“It was awful,” said Moon. “I just wanted it to be over with.”
In the end, he wouldn’t finish first. Or second. Or third. Or fourth.
Pat Moon finished dead last in the U.P 200 that year, earning the Red Lantern award.
And nobody represents the award better than Pat Moon.
The Red Lantern is one of five awards presented at the end of the U.P. 200 sled dog race. Unlike the other awards signifying excellence, good sportsmanship and compassion, the Red Lantern’s only condition is to finish in last place.
The Red Lantern originated as a joke in the Iditarod, eventually becoming a symbol of the hard work it takes to finish a sled dog race. The award is now presented in many sled dog races, including the Iditarod, the U.P. 200, the Yukon Quest International, and the White Oak Dog Sled Race.
Experienced musher and U.P. 200 board member Darlene Walch said the award represents the character and work ethic required to be a musher. “The Red Lantern honors and commemorates the musher finishing the entire course,” said Walch. In the past, a real lantern would be lit and left at the finish line for the final musher to retrieve, said Walch.
The award has become tradition in sled dog races around the world and has become more than just a joke.
It meant a lot to Moon, whose main goal was to qualify for and finish the Iditarod. “It’s a good example of stick-to-itiveness”, Moon said. “It’s a testament to all the hard work it takes to finish a race.”
Moon, a Chicago native, fell in love with mushing in 2006 when he won the honor to ride the first twelve miles as a guest in the Iditarod, under the Idita-Rider charity program. His immediate response? Vowing to one day complete the Iditarod, the Alaskan race widely regarded as the most difficult sled dog race in the world.
Diagnosed with the auto-immune disease ulcerative colitis at 15, Moon was forced to alter his lifestyle and diet by reducing stress and drinking plenty of fluids while avoiding caffeine. The disease also necessitates frequent bathroom breaks, making mushing a race considerably harder for him than the average person.
In February 2009, the same month he won the U.P. 200 Red Lantern, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Undeterred, he stuck to it and went on to qualify for and participate in the Iditarod in 2010.
Less than two days into the 2010 Iditarod, Moon’s sled struck a tree, knocking him unconscious. He was flown to Province Alaska Medical Center and treated.
Refusing to give up on his dream to finish the Iditarod, Moon continued to mush. In 2012 Moon won the International North Hope Invitational, the Russian version of and qualifier for the Iditarod.
Mushing can be a grueling and frustrating experience, said Walch. The Iditarod’s length of 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska can hold many obstacles for mushers and their team of dogs. Every year for the past five years, there have been at least 12 mushers unable to complete the race. Moon raced the 2012 Iditarod for six days, 14 hours and 18 minutes before he was ultimately forced to scratch.
After a last place finish in the U.P. 200 in 2009, and two failed bids at the Iditarod, most mushers would give up, close up shop and pick up a new hobby.
Not Pat Moon. His Red Lantern will light the way to success.
He will be competing in the Iditarod once again, in 2014, and has no plans on quitting his dream.
Mushers sleigh tricky traveling
By: Shaina James
When it comes to sled dog racing, people often focus on the race itself, but getting to the actual race with a team of dogs and all the gear can be challenging for many mushers.
Mushers have to take into consideration the dogs’ safety and health, weather hazards, the condition of the vehicle and other issues they might face on the long journey to the sled dog races.
“Two years ago my trailer broke down in Marquette on a Thursday night,” said Michael Bestgen, who will be racing in The Midnight Run this year. “I was racing Friday and had no way to transport the dogs or equipment. The Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association (UPSDA) started calling around for different options. My trailer was beyond repair.”
Bestgen from St. Cloud, Minn., who has been racing for 13 years, said he had two options. One was to buy or rent a larger trailer and put the broken one on top of the new trailer take that to the race and back to Minnesota. His other option was to find a musher that would lend him a trailer, but he would still have to haul that back to Minnesota and then back to the U.P. A U.P. native, Lyle Ross wound up lending Bestgen his trailer. Bestgen used the trailer for the race, to get back to Minnesota and for another race.
“In the spring when we were done we met halfway and Lyle picked it up,” Bestgen said. “The mushing community has a good group of people that are willing to go out of the way to help. If I didn’t have a way to transport the dogs I would have had to drop out of the race.”
Most mushers have a truck, often super duty and a long bed, which has an internal dog box built in the bed of the truck that the dogs stay in. However, some mushers, like Bestgen, have a trailer attached to the truck for the dog bed and then a camper on the bed of the truck.
Typically musher’s trucks have two feet by two feet boxes inside the large dog box with straw in each kennel for bedding. Depending on how many dogs are traveling for that race the boxes will be a single level or stacked on top of each other.
“I have friends that have dog boxes and when they need to drop a dog in the top box handlers or wives have trouble getting them out because it is so high up,” Bestgen said.
The dog sled is usually strapped on top of the dog box with the rest of the gear strapped with the sled or in the truck overhead. If there are empty kennels when traveling to a race, equipment will be kept there as well, Bestgen said.
Although the dogs are used to the traveling, the mushers make sure the dogs are at the right temperature, are fed and let out to stretch and relieve themselves when needed, Bestgen said. The dogs comfort is the number one priority.
“The dogs travel with a partner, another dog they get along with really well,” said Tasha Stielstra, an experienced musher.
The dogs have partners for company. Usually in the dog box all the dogs can see each other too. According to Stielstra the dogs are used to the travel and even get excited when they see the truck.
“They are different than most pets,” Stielstra said. “They see the truck and they want to go places.”
Stielstra, whose husband Ed will be racing in the U.P. 200 this year, lives in McMillan, Mich. and travels every year to Alaska with Ed for the Iditarod. Stielstra said they feed and give their team of dogs water once in the morning and once at night when on the road. They stop to let the dogs out to go to the bathroom and play two hours after eating. The dogs can travel eight hours without stopping.
“Whenever we stop we make sure not to do it in a high trafficked area,” Stielstra said. “We hook them onto a cable on the truck so they aren’t running around free.”
Bestgen said that he has had a few encounters with people when stopping for gas on the way to a race.
“I have had people come over to me while filling up my gas,” Bestgen said. “People say the boxes are so small, that it’s mean to the dogs. One time a lady had a suburban and I said ‘Do you let your kids run around in the suburban while you’re driving or do you keep them in a carseat?’”
Stielstra said they try to make every trip as quick as possible.
“Most of the dogs are used to the traveling,” Stielstra said. “After three days though, they are ready to get out and run and they get sick of their partner like we would.”
Zoya Denure from Delta Junction, Alaska is traveling 3,500 miles with her team to race in this year’s U.P. 200. Her and her husband or handler will take turns driving when driving to races, so they can drive straight through. Sometimes they do stop and stay at a hotel over night or after a race, keeping the dogs in the dog box on the truck and letting them out when needed. The dogs sleep most of the time while on the road and really aren’t affected by the traveling, whether flying or driving.
“Driving is more interactive,” said Denure, who has been racing for six years. “But flying is easier and faster.”
Stielstra said she has experienced some horrible weather driving to Alaska for a race and sometimes in the U.P. between checkpoints.
“In the U.P. all the mushers and handlers caravan together,” Stielstra said. “It is nice, everyone is really willing to help each other out and you get to know everyone. It is usually easier to travel by mushing than by truck.”
According to UPSDA board President Pat Torreano, many mushers have a rough time getting to the race due to weather and other traveling inconveniences.
“A lot of mushers don’t have a lot of money and the best vehicles,” Torreano said. “They often have a breakdown and people of the U.P. are often very helpful with that.”
Denure said the worst thing that can happen when traveling to a race is having the truck break down or a dog getting loose and running off. In 2007 on their way to the Yukon Quest a little dog name Motta slipped out and wasn’t noticed missing for six hours, when they made their next stop.
“We turned around and headed back to the last rest stop area,” Denure said. “I let all the dogs back out, fed them and she came running as soon as she heard her team.”
Denure said she normally stops every five hours to let the dogs out and feed them. Her team, usually a handler or husband, drives straight through, taking turns driving so they do not have to stop overnight somewhere.
“Getting ready for a trip like this takes great planning and organizing,” Denure said. “There’s so much involved as far as logistics go. It’s fun, it’s challenging and you just hope everything goes smooth on the road.”
The Human Side
By: Kathryn Biang
Every day, Amanda Vogel feeds her dogs, which to the average person might not seem like a big deal. But to the Ray, Minn musher, feeding her dogs in a workout within itself. Her team consumes two buckets of food, each weighing 40 pounds, at each meal.
“The lifestyle is training.” Says Vogel “Just feeding the dogs is a workout; we have to axe and grind the meat. It is a very physically fit sport.”
Being a musher requires a lot of discipline. They must be able to work in extremely cold weather, keep their stamina, stay in tune with the needs of their own bodies, be physically as well as mentally fit, be able to work as a team, and do all of this while directing and caring for their dogs.
Many people think that mushing is just riding on the back of the sled, but actually that is not the case at all. The musher must constantly be in motion. Either off the sled running alongside their dogs directing and yelling instructions, or while they are on the sled they are “peddling,” which means they are pushing the sled forward with one foot, an action which helps the dogs.
“There is not tons of time to train,” Says Dr. Tim Hunt DVM “especially with a day job. Training with the dogs is training alone.”
Hunt is a musher from Skandia, Mich who is a veterinarian and has been racing sled dogs since 1994.
A lot of the physical training while in season comes from regularly practicing with the dogs. Running the dogs is a workout within itself, while cardio workouts help keep the mushers fit and prepared to race. Hunt also adds that practice and years of racing has prepared him for such a physically intense sport.
“Even staying on the sled is working your core.” Says Vogel.
Another thing to take into consideration is how long the race is and where the race is located. Hunt, who races in other continents such as Europe, explained that the courses are set in the mountains, which differs from those held in North America. Vogel, who no longer runs the short races, includes that she trains similarly for all.
“It depends on what kind of race you are running,” says Hunt “If it is in Europe, you are running up mountains, so it is nice to have some higher altitude training.”
Training in the off season is also important to keeping up with the sport. Mushers must find other ways to train both themselves and their dogs during times of the year when there is no snow. One way of doing this is cross training, which means that the athlete is training for one sport, by performing another. It allows for the musher to become more physically and mentally fit.
“It is important to stay active even in the off-season,” Says Vogel who stays active by swimming, biking, running, a lot of cardio.
While physical fitness is often what is held to the highest importance, other ways of being fit should also be taken into consideration.
“I love this sport because it challenges me in so many ways,” says Vogel “physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It is all about overcoming any fear you have, there is always a moment when you think your head will get the better of you, if it does, that is the moment you are done.”
Staying calm and collected while racing not only affects the performance of the musher, but the dogs are very in tune with the mushers feelings as well. The dogs see the musher as their leader.
“The dogs are very receptive of you.” Says Vogel who goes on to state if something is wrong or the musher is uncertain, the dogs can tell.
Hunt explains that in his line of work he is dealing with a lot of life and death situations, so this has enabled him to keep calm in other situations, such as sled dog racing.
“I am constantly running through scenarios in my head, going over what could happen next.” Says Hunt.
While on the course and caring for dogs and their health and safety, it is also important to remember to hydrate and get nutrients. During the race the musher is burning calories constantly, so it is important to remember to replenish what they are losing.
“Eating and drinking is key,” Says Hunt “when you start to get dehydrated, that is when you make bad decisions. Everything is connected, when one thing goes wrong, everything starts going downhill.”
Protein bars, shakes and drinks are also important for the mushers to keep with them while racing. The problem with these is that the musher must find a good place to carry them so they do not freeze.
“You have to keep everything close to your body, everything freezes while you are out on the trail.” Says Vogel.
The lifestyle of a musher is certainly different than most. While they are constantly working with their dogs, the musher must also focus on themselves. Staying fit is just one very small, but very important aspect of this sport.
by Trent Podskalan
Lisa Dietzen is entering her fourth season of mushing, and has learned quite a bit in deciding where to place which dog in the line.
One of her best teachers is Sapphire, who is in her second season as one of Dietzen’s lead dogs.
“When Sapphire started leading, she had a very high prey drive. So every time we’d go down the trail, if she saw a squirrel, she would chase after it,” says Dietzen, of Marquette, Mich.. “She would take my team off the trail to go after this thing. But after working with her a lot, she’s probably become one of my best lead dogs.”
Just as a coach must know her player’s abilities and in which positions they will best benefit the team, mushers must do the same.
Darlene Walch, a Marquette, Mich. musher of 15 years, says she looks for physical characteristics—size, weight and strength—that exemplify athletic ability. Temperament also plays a vital role.
“Knowing the dogs’ personalities is important,” says Walch. “Sometimes a dog prefers to run on the left side of the gangline and putting two lefties side-by-side doesn’t work very well. Sometimes a dog doesn’t like running next to so-and-so; keeping them apart is good.”
There are four different line positions on a 12-dog sled team: the lead dogs, swing dogs, team dogs and wheel dogs.
Lead dogs are just that; they run at the front of the line, leading the team. Generally, the lead dogs are the smarter ones, the dogs who can take commands and listen, Dietzen says. They’re generally the fast learners.
“I want a dog that’s smart but not too smart because then they’ll think they know what’s going on,” says Walch. “You want dogs that aren’t too ditsy because if they get distracted too easily, they may slack off and stop doing their job.”
Full-time professional musher Zoya DeNure, of Delta Junction, Alaska, says lead dogs hold a large amount of responsibility.
“Lead dogs are responsible for taking their team down the trail, listening to their musher trail commands and overcome adverse conditions during training and/or racing by leading the team through, over or around: wind storms, open water, creek crossings, ice and overflows,” says DeNure.
Walch says she looks for a lead dog that’s not only smart but also listens.
“I’ve had a couple dogs—in fact I have some at my kennel right now—that can be very good lead dogs most of the time,” Walch says. “But then they have a day where they just start thinking too much and not listening anymore.”
Dietzen says she had to try a different approach when it came to disciplining her leader to listen.
“With Sapphire, because she was able to pull Onyx [the other lead dog] at times, I had to use another form of “discipline” which was to stop the team, walk up to my leaders and correct the behavior by guiding the dog back onto the trail (or in the correct direction),” says Dietzen.
Lead dogs can be broken down into two different types: main and secondary, Dietzen says. She says main leaders are usually consistent; and they can predict the musher’s next move and how they’re going to do it. Secondary leaders don’t necessarily need to know the “turn” commands, but they have that drive to go forward.
Swing dogs are the pair right behind the lead dogs. Walch says swing dogs also must know the musher’s commands, because they act as back-up leaders, and help turn the team (hence the name “swing dogs”). DeNure adds that they must have confidence up front as well due to their position behind the lead dogs.
“I generally put my “backup” leaders in [swing] so that if I have to switch out a lead dog, my new leader is right there and I don’t have to mess around with much time trying to move dogs around,” says Dietzen.
Team dogs are the three pairs of dogs that follow behind the swing dogs; they help propel the team forward. Walch says she looks for team dogs that are consistently hard pullers because they provide the team power.
Wheel dogs are positioned in the back of the line closest to the sled. Dietzen says wheel dogs vary depending on the type of team being put together. She says the biggest dogs will be in wheel when looking for a power team, but the smallest dogs will be banded together when looking for a speed team. It all depends on what type of team the musher is looking assemble. Snow conditions can have an effect on the type of team being put together.
“If you have a well packed trail, fast teams prosper,” says Dietzen. “If you have deep snow and a lot of hills, a powerful team is beneficial.”
Building bonds with the dogs allows mushers to bring out qualities that can help the dogs excel on the team.
Dietzen says she rotates bringing dogs from the kennel to her Marquette home and she has noticed that not only does it build a bond with the dogs, but it has brought out some of her stronger leaders as well.
“Sapphire wasn’t a confident leader until I took her home with me and she spent the whole summer with me and never left my side, and now she is a fabulous leader because we have that bond and she loves to please me,” says Dietzen.
But not everything always goes according to plan as much as the musher would like it to; but both Walch and Dietzen say staying calm when things go wrong it’s one of the hardest things to do.
“Sled dogs are intuitive to how the musher is feeling,” says Dietzen. The dogs know when she is pleased because she’ll speak to them in a happy voice—and they know when she’s mad if they took the wrong way. “When you do get frustrated, you have to try and do it calmly.”
Dietzen says, in her experience, if the musher does not stay calm, the dogs can get nervous, anxious, or intimidated. She says it’s the last thing a musher, at least the last thing she wants her team to be feeling. There needs to be a level of trust between both the musher and the dogs, says Dietzen.
The same way mushers look for dogs to determine if the dogs will be good on their team or not, mushers know when a dogs racing days have come to an end.
Mushers have different ways of determining how they will replace a dog on the line. DeNure, for example, trains around 30 dogs each season for the races. When she brings in a new dog, she matches similar speed, stamina and endurance against the rest of the dogs to see if he would fit in with the team or not. While Walch says if a musher acquires a new dog, they often look for a dog that can “play” more than one position.
Dietzen says sled dogs are like any athlete—they have good days and bad days—and putting together a good team requires effort.
“It’s just a lot of trial and error,” she says. “There’s no math equation or anything for it like that.”
Hats, Dancing, Mom and Gratitude: How Mushers Prepare
By: Mackenzie Myers
Musher Ryan Redington wears a lot of hats.
Not so much in the figurative sense—he’s a full-time musher, so he only has one job to do. The hats Redington wears are chicken hats, hats with crazy hair, frog hats and whatever else he has in his bag. He is among several U.P. 200, Jackpine 30 and Midnight Run mushers who have quirky rituals before every sled dog race. He keeps roughly a dozen hats in a bag and selects one moments before hooking up his sled.
“I don’t take them out until right before, and I just go by the vibe,” says the Wasilla, Ala. musher. “I just pick out a crazy hat.”
Redington has been racing since age 5—his grandfather, Joe Redington, is one of the Iditarod founders—but the hat tradition has only been going on for about 12 years.
“I’ve been doing hats since I was about 17 or 18,” Redington says. “My first hat was just real tall. It had yellow hair, standing straight up, you know. My next hat was similar but in different colors.”
However he does have a hat for when things get serious. While he usually chooses a hat to wear at random before a race, one is luckier than the rest.
“I have a frog hat that looks sort of like Kermit […] I think that’s my luckiest hat. I seem to do better when I wear that one.”
The frog hat works its magic by giving his team better checkpoint times, Redington says.
“Last time I wore the green hat, I won a small heat and the time before that I was second place in a three-day race in Minnesota, in Grand Portage. If I’m up for challenging different competitors, I’ll probably wear the frog hat [in the U.P. 200],” he says, laughing.
Another UP 200 racer whose routine focuses on fun is Zoya DeNure of Delta Junction, Ala. She describes herself as “very high energy, naturally athletic and very much into music and dancing.”
The night before a race is when DeNure prepares. “[I] turn on the music as loud as I can and dance for 20 minutes as hard as I can get away with—or plug in ear buds so I don’t disturb my family—and run outside one to two miles.”
“Growing up, I listened to a lot of music,” she says. “I didn’t do much sitting or watching TV. Dancing and running are a great release.” After releasing all the pent-up energy, she meditates for 20 minutes, picturing the outcome she wants from a particular race.
Another musher with a pre-race ritual—though it’s not as silly as Redingtons’s or jazzy as DeNure’s—is Darlene Walch who is also the Dean of Academic Information Services at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich.
Walch says she used to keep a picture of her mom, Dottie Lown, in her coat pocket while she raced. In 1995, Lown flew out from Los Angeles, Calif. to help Walch with the races after visiting for the holidays and getting stuck in Marquette due to inclement weather.
“She stayed for the races that year, had never seen them before and got really enamored with them,” Walch says.
Walch’s mother acted as her handler, watching the dogs that didn’t run in the races and made an annual event of flying out to see the races and help care for the dogs. When she died in 2004, Walch started keeping a picture of her in her pocket.
“It was so important to have my mom there,” she says. “She was so supportive.”
After a few years, though, the picture began to get wrinkled, so Walch stopped carrying it. Now, Walch talks to her mother before every race.
“I usually just say, ‘Okay Mom, here we go again!’ or ‘This looks like it’ll be an easy one, cause it’s a nice day,’ or ‘This one looks like it’ll be challenging because it’s really crappy.’”
“I know that if she were still around, she’d be here if she could be. So it’s a casual comment acknowledging her support. […] I read somewhere, not too long ago, that you never actually lose your mom. Your mom’s always with you, no matter what.”
Though pre-race rituals are as unique as the mushers who practice them, there is one common thread: love for the dogs.
“I thank them for their hard work, and—[for] a few of them—remind them that they’re supposed to behave,” Walch says with a laugh.
DeNure says that expressing gratitude for her dogs is the most important part of her ritual. “I go outside and hang solo with my dogs in the dog yard or in the dog truck, thanking each dog for their hard work and team contributions.” She says thanking the dogs stems from a deep belief in being grateful for the help and blessings she’s received in life. “I’m really very thankful to them. They are wonderful animals who bring me so much happiness, pleasure and adventure [in] racing.”
In addition to donning a hat, Redington also thanks and encourages all of his dogs but speaks to one in particular: his lead dog, Lacey.
“She’s been my main leader for the last three or four years,” he says. “I’ll always tell her about the race, whether it’s fast-paced or slower. Kinda what we’re going to expect.”
“I love the dogs,” Redington says. “They’re so much fun, and all have different personalities. Some are outgoing and some are shy, more reserved. But when you hook them up, put them on a team, they all get super excited and super eager.”
From Sled Dogs to Snow Birds
By Lydia Kauppi
Residents of Malvern, Ark., awoke last Christmas Day to a rare dumping of eight inches of snow that toppled trees and left them without power. Luckily for neighbors of Krout’s Over The Hill Hideaway, their friendly neighborhood dogsled team was there to lend a helping hand.
“I hooked four of them up in their harnesses and we pulled three trees out of the way that were blocking the roadway,” said owner and resident dog-mom, Opal Krout. “Of course, when I hooked them up to the tree, they gave me that look that said, ‘Mom, this is the strangest looking sled we have ever seen!’” But to the amazement of onlookers, they quickly went to work clearing fallen trees from the blocked road.
Life at Krout’s Over The Hill Hideaway Kennel paints a stark contrast to the grueling career of a typical sled dog. Unless they are romping in nearby Lake Catherine, the Arkansas heat usually drives them indoors to their air conditioned crates in Opal’s home, or as she refers to it, “the den.” After all, when you live with 14 huskies and one Olde English Bulldogge that runs the whole show, you generally find yourself outnumbered. But as Opal puts it, there are a lot of perks- for instance, four dogs in a bed radiates a lot of free heat.
Yooper, Burt, Ben, Whistle, Oopsie Daisy, Nikishka Blue, Sebastion, and Lucas were all adopted from Mcmillan, Mich., where they originally resided at Nature’s Kennel, owned by Ed and Tasha Steilstra. Not only do Ed and Tasha race professionally, including multiple runs on the U.P. 200 and the Iditarod, and host guided tours at their kennel, they also find homes for their dogs who have fulfilled their duties on the trail and are ready for a relaxing retirement.
“Dogs usually start racing around the age of two and go until they’re eight,” explained Tasha. After that, some go on to work on the tour service for a couple more years, but most are ready to get off the trail professionally by the time they are 10. “Some people are looking for an older dog,” said Tasha. “If you look at our website, you can see that we place them all over the country.”
How does a person from Arkansas end up adopting retired dogs from Michigan? Opal Krout took a cruise to Alaska and fell so madly in love with the state that she headed to the internet and immediately bought property on the Kenai Peninsula. A lifelong Iditarod fan, she found that the internet made it possible for her to indulge her fascination with the sport and follow the race more closely. A random search on Ebay for dogsled-related Christmas gifts led her to discover Nature’s Kennel, who were offering overnight tour packages. Opal met her fate when she wandered onto the Steilstra’s “For Sale” page, and as they say, the rest is history. Eight dogs later, Opal is now a great friend of the Steilstras and is now one of their preferred locations to place retired dogs. When Opal adopted Lucas, Ed Steilstra wasn’t quite ready to let him go, but he changed his mind when he found out where Lucas was going.
“[Tasha] told him that I was taking him and he said, ‘Oh, well that’s different!'” said Opal.
Opal not only takes in retired dogs, but puppies that are the result of unplanned breeding and dogs who have been placed elsewhere but have encountered behavioral problems. As a result, several of her “kids” from Nature’s Kennel are related and according to her, they “maintain a close family bond.”
“My vet is totally amazed by my dogs and how they behave when it comes to their yearly shots and physicals,” said Opal. According to her, after one particularly well-behaved incident involving Yooper and some rigorous bloodwork, her vet mused, “You’ve got the best dogs I’ve ever seen or been around. They don’t have a mean bone in their body!” If something called a Dog Whisperer exists, Opal Krout most certainly is it.
Her love for her adopted children is more than apparent when she speaks of the life and times on the grounds of Krout’s Over The Hill Hideaway. In fact, when Lucas unexpectedly passed away just two months after he was adopted, Opal had him cremated and plans to send the ashes to Ed Stielstra, who will spread them along the Iditarod trail when he leaves Anchorage, Alaska, on March 17. Such a touching send-off was the only appropriate one for such as fantastic dog as Lucas, who as Ed put it, was a “go-to dog.”
“He had my heart wrapped around his paws the first day I brought him home and saw how happy Yooper and Boom were to have him here. They stood side by side watching for squirrels and rabbits off my deck,” said Opal. “I framed his collar with a photo and kept a small amount of his ashes to be mixed with my ashes when I die.”
“My dogs are my kids.”
Dog Welfare: The Highest Priority
By: Victoria Nault
Each winter races like the U.P. 200 capture the romance of mushing. Twelve-dog teams leap in their harnesses and yelp in anticipation. Excitedly they bolt from the starting chute one after another, slicing through the snow and chill air to the cheers of hundreds of spectators before disappearing into a wintry landscape of snow-capped trees and frozen lakes.
But animal welfare advocates say there’s another side to the sport that’s rarely visible to the public: dog injury, exhaustion and, in some cases, death.
Animal welfare advocates have long been critical of sled dog races, especially the Iditarod, and point to dog death and injuries to validate their concerns that the sport is inhumane. Organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been very vocal in their protest of the sport in general, whereas other organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States and the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC), oppose the Iditarod specifically because of the high number of dog fatalities that have occurred over the years.
But dog deaths are rare in the U.P. 200 according to Green Bay, Wis. Veterinarian Nick Vukich. According to Vukich, the last dog fatality that occurred in the U.P. 200—which actually traverses 240 miles—was over 10 years ago of cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and fails to work as it should.
Vukich has been involved with sled dogs since the 1970s and has been a long-time trail veterinarian in races such as the U.P. 200, the 1,112-mile Iditarod, and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, as well as many others. A member of the International Sled Dog Association, Vukich speaks to the high standards of the U.P. 200.
“The UP 200 is known as one of the better races because of how heavily vetted it is,” he said. “The vet-to-dog ratio is probably higher than any race I have worked.”
The U.P. 200 has a total of 14 trail veterinarians and eight technicians along the trail who work to care for the welfare of the sled dogs. There are also complete facilities at each checkpoint along the trail that exists to monitor and care for any dogs that may become injured or exhausted, according to Pat Torreano, board president for the U.P. Sled Dog Association.
“If a dog needs to be hydrated, the facilities allow for the dog to be hydrated instantly in warm conditions so they are not stressed,” said Torreano.
There is also a dog trailer that follows the trail and can pick up any dogs that must be pulled from the race in the event of injury or exhaustion, she said.
According to Vukich, instances of abuse are also rarely seen in this sport, especially in the U.P. 200, because of the requirements it takes for a team to actually get to the race, including intensive vet checks and vaccinations.
“I have not seen any instance of abuse and you see it very rarely in this sport because of the mentality of the dogs. When you pull out the harness they get excited, they’re ready to go. If you are abusive, your dog isn’t going to perform for you.”
Margery Glickman who is the founder of the SDAC, an all-volunteer group working to better the conditions for Iditarod dogs, points to a long list of injuries and deaths that dogs face by being made to race. Glickman expresses concern for the overcrowding of kennels and the use of methods such as culling (killing unwanted dogs) associated with the sport.
Vukich concedes that some cause for concern exists in smaller races due mostly to a lack of education on the part of novice or intermediate mushers on issues such as basic nutrition. However, there are organizations that exist to address these sorts of problems, he said.
One of these organizations, Mush with P.R.I.D.E (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment), a network of vets and mushers out of Alaska, allows for people involved in the sport of mushing to inspect each other’s kennels and provide resources if a musher is doing something wrong or needs to be educated on caring for their dogs.
According to Torreano, you don’t need to look any further than the bond between the musher and the team to see that they love their dogs.
“The mushers talk to the lead dogs like they are human, and if something happens to the musher, the dogs won’t leave that trail without them,” she said.
“If I believed the sport was inhumane, I wouldn’t be involved in the organization.”
by Robin Romero
The U.P. 200 Sled Dog Race has evolved into one of the premier events in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The race itself involves the Mushers and their dogs, the people and teams of dogs that pull the sleds are the participants and competitors and are the main focus of the race. But it is not a matter of lining them up and saying on your mark, get set, go. Then turning them loose to see who shows up first at the finish line. There is a small army of supporters who come together to take on a considerable list of duties and tasks to make it the sporting event it has become. “There is something magical when it all comes together,” Said Anna Sanford, U.P. 200 volunteer coordinator.
Like most sporting events there are rules and regulations that must be followed to assure the success of the event. The list of duties involves many areas of behind the scenes functions that range from fund raising to administrative duties and a number of coordinators orchestrating the people supporting the race. An essential part of the race is officiating, the people who monitor the conduct of the race and enforce the rules. These officials spread throughout the course of the race from start to finish and checkpoints in between, record information and send it to the main terminus located at the race headquarters. Various statistics and times are fed into the system and into the hands of the timekeepers. “The information must come to a central location because the people at the checkpoints don’t know,” Said Dick Balding, a past head timekeeper. The timekeepers are the people who handle the information that determines the validity of the winner of the race.
The timekeepers, not to be confused with the timers located at the checkpoints, track vital statistics such as rest times, “mushers have their own strategies of when and how to rest their dogs, so they must receive their times to calculate rest strategies,” Said Balding. Other statistics such as the numbers of dogs that arrive at each checkpoint are tracked. He remembered once when a young musher turned over an injured dog to his support handlers at a road crossing and not at a checkpoint where it should be done, and was disqualified. The U.P. 200 is a qualifier for the premier event for dog sled racing the Iditarod. So it is essential that timekeepers are as accurate as possible.
The information that is collected by the timers is put on a sheet and faxed to race headquarters where it gets in the hands of the timekeepers. They then use a spreadsheet to track each musher. “It’s not too glamorous,” said Balding. He has been retired as a timekeeper more than five years now, but was one of the original timekeepers from the very inception of the race more than twenty years ago. “There were two time keepers back then, me and Tom Seeke from the high school, (Marquette Senior High) both math teachers.” He first got involved in the U.P. 200 through his wife Lou Ann, the first race director. A Gladstone native, he was familiar with mushing, as his son was a musher.
“One of the most important functions of the timekeeper is to contact the checkpoint that has the mandatory eight hour rest period to pass along the release time for each musher. They must all have the same allotted rest time, but since it happens at any checkpoint along the route of the mushers choosing the only way checkpoint officials can know this is when it is relayed to them by the timekeepers,” said Balding. It is how the mushers are kept in a fair and timely order to maintain fairness in the competition.
Now the duties of timekeeper have passed to Carol Bell, also a math teacher, but she insists that it isn’t a requirement for the job, just a coincidence. “There is a need to understand military times, which really isn’t hard but some people just don’t do it,” said Bell. The only time during the race when the frontrunner can be determined is at the turn around point of the race in Grand Marais. “But the winner is the first team to cross the finish line, which is actually one of the funny things because you would think it was whoever had the fastest time, so sometimes the fastest time doesn’t coincide with who crosses the finish line first. It’s all about getting to the finish line first, being the first one to do that. I think the mushers who participate year after year; they have their own strategies for how they are going to break up that rest time.” Sometimes it is the snow conditions and how the dogs are handling the course that determines these decisions by the mushers.
The race is now done on an excel spreadsheet, one of the upgrades done since the earlier days of the U.P. 200, but the cards are still faxed into headquarters, the mushers signature on the card being the validation for the race. Though she is not familiar with the methods that the timers use at the check points she is pretty that there is some official clock that is used. Without the timekeeper the race would not have the official outcome needed. Like most sports when the officials do a good job they go unnoticed but when they fail it becomes front and center, since most people you ask aren’t even aware of the position it must be a sign that they have been doing a good job for more than 20 years of the U.P.200.
The Mush Bus
By Kaitlyn Richmond
While U.P. 200 mushers and their dogs ride the trails, the “bussers” will hit the road to cheer on the racers in an extensive tour aboard the Mush Bus. It’s the first time the bus-offered last year as a thank you to race sponsors- is available to anyone with $25 who wants to ride. The 38 passenger bus, which has reached full capacity, departs Marquette Saturday morning and travels a 206-mile circuit that will give riders two mid-race opportunities to view the teams.
The Mush Bus is the brainchild of Pat Torreano, president of the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association, which sponsors the U.P. 200. It stemmed from an idea that had long been brewing in the back of her mind.
“[The Mush Bus] grew out of a plan to thank sponsors, but there was always this idea of perhaps having a bus where anyone in town or out of town can sit back, relax, and watch the race,” she says.
Torreano says she anticipates that many of this year’s bussers will be local Marquette residents who have never followed the race before. “It will give them a terrific overview of exactly how our race works,” she says.
The U.P. 200 attracts thousands of people each year who line up along Washington Street in Marquette to cheer on the dog teams at the start and finish lines. They watch on Friday evening as each team of eager dogs and musher runs down the street and out of sight, disappearing into the darkness, and return Sunday afternoon to see the teams reappear down the same stretch after their 240 mile journey.
“Often people don’t see what happens in between the race, they only see the beginning and the end,” says Torreano.
The Mush Bus departs Marquette at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16th. Its route includes stops at the Munising checkpoint, 52 miles into the race, and also at the halfway checkpoint in Grand Marais. Bussers will have the chance to take photos and watch the mushers interacting with their dogs at the checkpoints. The bus will return to Marquette at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday night. It may be a long bus ride from Marquette to Grand Marais, but there will be little chance of becoming bored along the way. The Mush Bus is equipped with its own tour guide, Marquette Mayor Johnny DePetro, who grew up in the Central U.P. area where the race takes place.
“He’s a very fun person, tells wonderful stories I understand,” Torreano says of Mayor DePetro.
Mayor DePetro also promises a great time aboard the Mush Bus.
“I have been a fan of the U.P. 200 dog sledding the past 24 years,” says DePetro. “I look forward to the Mush Bus tour, as many people who will be on the bus, noticed, I will be participating as the tour guide and they know how much fun everyone will have.”
There will also be plenty of activities, fanfare, and food to enjoy during the stops at the Munising and Grand Marais checkpoints, in-between watching the mushers and their dogs. The bus will arrive at the Munising checkpoint around 10:30 a.m. where the fastest U.P. 200 teams will be coming through around 11 a.m. The Bus will then depart for Grand Marais, arriving at 1 p.m., where bussers can enjoy two hours of viewing the stars of the race in the dog lot, talking with mushers and dog handlers, checking out the silent auction, and browsing U.P. 200 merchandise. There will be lunch available at the Grand Marais checkpoint headquarters, an array of 13 homemade soups and sandwiches.
“I believe the Mush Bus is a great idea,” says DePetro “to be part of the race as it continues to travel into other parts of the communities.”
As for Torreano, she is happy to see that her idea being put to action. “It’s an ample opportunity for people to sit back, relax, and have fun,” she says. “The Mush Bus is a total success.”
Being a Judge
(by Dustin Anand)
Several years ago, board members and judges of the U.P. 200 had to make a crucial decision to stop the race due to inclement weather and be cautious for the safety of the mushers to continue on the race. This shows the importance of the judges have in a race and the amount of authority they present through the competition. The Board of Directors of the U.P. 200 chooses four judges who have a significant amount of experience in mushing, and have notable history of dog sled racing. Before a race is to begin, the judges are required to inform mushers about the necessary precautions of safety regulations, fines, disqualifications, and the right to appeal.
Four judges are in head of this year’s U.P. 200; their objective is to ensure that the race is running smoothly and appropriately. By doing this, it is essential for a judge to go through protocol and check in with mushers and their dogs, update themselves on weather conditions, and that mushers have all necessary equipment during the race. There are several checkpoints along the 240 mile race where staff members are present and observe the race and update judges on a consistent basis. Each of the four judge’s travel to different check points at different times to get reports from each staff member.
“We all knew what was going on through the entire race,” Former judge, Joe Runyan said. “We all communicate with our cell phones to different judges to see how the race is coming along and if we needed to be notified of anything. “It ran pretty smoothly.”
Runyan judged the 2012 U.P. 200; he has raced for 13 years and lived in Alaska where he owned his own dog kennel. He has competed in races in North America, South America, and Europe and now resides in New Mexico.
Before the U.P. 200 race, judges are required to do a routine check on mushers and their dogs. They’ll need to inspect the dogs and make sure their safe and check with the veterinarians if they qualify to continue on. Certain checks would be if the dog has eaten properly, is in top notch condition to race, and if mushers have the required supplies for his dogs and him/herself to race.
“I am excited for this year; it’s my second year doing it,” second time U.P. 200 judge, Lyle Ross said. “I raced dogs for 15 years and I knew everybody that was racing last year and I know the rules.”
Ross has competed in the U.P. 200 and the Midnight Run for 15 consecutive years and now is starting his second year as a judge for the race.
“The big role of judging is to keep the race going smoothly and interpret the rules.” “The mushers competing are good people.” “Were not the police, we just want to ensure everyone is doing everything correctly.”
One check that needs to be done by a judge is to ensure that every musher has the appropriate mandatory equipment kit, he’ll check for extra set of boots for each dog, two working head lamps, snow shoes, sleeping bag, food for all dogs and musher, dog dishes, cooker, something to warm up water for dog food, first aid kit and cable cutters for dogs getting caught in any given situation. This check is before the race and during the race where members are present at checkpoints.
On top of all the safety guidelines a musher and their sled dogs must endure, there are restrictions for mushers that a judge can penalize him for. For example, if a musher leaves his trash on the trails, he’ll be fined. If a musher goes off course, he’ll be disqualified. This has not happened in the past few years.
“You have to be strict on the rules, your decisions as a judge is determined off your own philosophy of racing.” Runyan said. “As a race marshal, you tell the participants that you enforce the rules and that you are more than welcome to appeal a decision a judge may call.”
Mushers can appeal a call that a judge makes whether the judge feels that the musher’s dogs are not healthy enough to race, the musher doesn’t have the mandatory equipment, If a judge is notified that a Musher has gone off course, leaves trash on the trails, and if the musher is significantly behind in the race, he can be disqualified if other mushers have already finished.
“You need to have the ability to talk to mushers,” Runyan said. “If the judge and the vet decide that the dog have worked too hard and has gone over the limit of their ability, then the musher has to drop out of the race, before we have to enforce them to step down.”
Runyan found it important that if any musher disagrees with a call from a judge, they have the right to appeal a judge’s decision.
“I made one suggestion for the U.P. 200; it was to remind that we need an appeal board.” “For mushers who disagree with my decision, they can appeal.”
The musher can appeal by himself or tag with other mushers and converse with the board of directors of the decision being called. Any type of call can be made whether it has to do with safety hazards of the dogs and the musher, or any other particular reason why the judge may feel that the musher must not continue.
An important asset of being a judge is making the decision of the weather is promising or not. Several years ago, the U.P.200 had to be stopped due to inclement weather. Heavy snow was the judges’ concern for the safety of the mushers and their dogs to continue on. The snow had made it hard to see. They had to continue the race and finish in Grand Marie and didn’t return back. A concern was if the race should be continued in Marquette due to weather patterns. Starting in Marquette is a ceremonial start to the race. From then on, President of the board members, Pat Torreano, planned a contiguous plan to reconfigure the race if events like this happened again and to alter the route.
“It’s my job to talk to the musher emotionally, that they are not allowed to finish the race and for them to listen to all the rationalizations,” Runyan said. “That is the hardest part about being a judge.”
Runyan enjoyed his time being a part of the U.P. 200 and having an important role in the race; he enjoys the history of the race and likes the establishment it has made over the years. The U.P. 200 will be underway on Thursday, Feb. 14, starting in Marquette, Mich.
“The U.P. 200 is so well established,” Runyan said. “The infrastructure of it, the organizational part of putting in the trails and making sure there are guards on the trails. The whole race is just very well-orchestrated; my enjoyable part is to be an observer.”