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 Meet Kirsten Ballard

First & only woman (to date) to skijor the Iditasport Extreme

Name:
Kennel:
Birthplace:
Home Town:
Occupation:
Kirsten Ballard
Kiana's Kennel
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Anchorage, Alaska
Environmental Specialist, Alaska's Spill Prevention and Response Division

ballard.jpg (13569 bytes)
just after the start of the 1999 Jor Rondy 40 K race

(Note: copyrights on all material on this page are owned by the photographers and author.)


My Experience
Suggestions for Long Distance Skijoring Preparation
Sponsorship Opportunities
Thanks to 1998 Sponsors


Sponsorship Opportunities

Be one of the few who are involved in the 2001 World Championships!

Kirsten Ballard has been selected for the U.S. Skijor Team by the United States Sled Dog Sport Federation (USSDSF). Her selection to represent the United States in the World Championships may provide a stepping stone for skijoring in the 2002 Olympics. This is the first year that skijoring has been included in the World Championships – a milestone event.

The opportunity to get involved at ground level is now, before the notoriety of the sport and sponsorship opportunities become inflated. Have your donations featured in places like this ad on the internet, or in magazine articles or other publications that will feature photos and bio’s of the races and racers. Kirsten’s received media exposure in Mushing Magazine, Alaska Airlines magazine, Anchorage Daily News, Fox Sports News (national broadcast), Sled Dog Central and the North American Skijor and Ski Pulk Association (NASSPA - Anchorage) and Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association (ASPA - Fairbanks) newsletters. Company logos or patches affixed to my clothing and on the gear I use will be in-place for photographs posted in prominent sports magazines, newspapers, news-media broadcasts and the internet.

Needs List:

New skis, boots, bindings and poles – provide Kirsten with a set of your finest to display on the podium. Your skis could be in photos that will receive extensive media exposure in mushing and skiing publications and on the internet.

Lodging in Fairbanks – A week in Fairbanks to race the races and stay for the ceremonies at the end.

Gas – dog trucks are not fuel efficient. Each trip to Fairbanks will cost approximately $175 in gasoline alone. A minimum of two trips are proposed. Gas for training runs is needed also.

Dog Food – the best are fueled by the best. Kirsten feeds Eukanuba Premium Performance and frozen beef (dog-quality).

 If you are interested in becoming involved in this unique adventure, please e-mail me at extremejor@yahoo.com for details and other ways to fulfill your sponsorship needs.


Iditasport Extreme

"Our toughest event, by far, is the Iditasport Extreme. 320 miles of extreme cold, extreme self sufficiency and extreme isolation with a one week time limit. Must we say more?

Both Human-Powered and Skijoring Class 1998 Iditasport Extreme is truly a unique race in that it bridges the long lasting gap between the dog mushing heritage of Alaska and human-powered athletics. We recognize that it is famous dog mushing trails that paved the way for the uniqueness of Iditasport's racing program. We have shared the trails for years and have learned trail ingenuity and etiquette from the mushers. We appreciate their spirit of adventurism, and have learned much from them. We recognize that joring (whether ski or bike) is not truly human-powered; but the extra duties of dog care and coordination and training, plus the regular napping and snacking the dogs demand create a debatable even playing field. Iditasport, Inc. does not care how much mental and physical abuse the human participants do to our bodies. In the joring class, careful scrutiny will be placed on dog care; hence, the additional page of rules for your division."

Thus said the web site about the Iditasport Extreme. I first heard about the race at the April 1997 meeting of the North American Skijor and Ski Pulk Association (NASSPA), where Bob Lor of Anchorage presented slides and photos of his adventure on the first running of this race in 1997. At first I gave only a passing thought to the idea of such a race, and proceeded with my usual routine of eeking out the last days of skijoring in April in Anchorage, then mountain biking through the summer with my dogs in Kincaid Park and in the Chugach National Forest. As the summer passed, I thought more and more about doing the race, since it had always been a fantasy to run the Iditarod to Nome someday. However, keeping a full kennel of dogs and raising the minimum of $20,000 to run that race always seemed out of reach for an unknown. What a great opportunity to be a part of the Iditarod, if only on the fringe. When my family indicated that they were willing to give me the time needed to train for the event, come October 1997 my dogs and I began training in earnest. It was the beginning of a very long trail...

I can easily say that the training was harder than the race. There were many setbacks - my pulk (gear sled) was not completely ready until February. I was sick for almost two weeks in December. I got food-poisoning one weekend in January when a big training run was planned. Thus, I went into the race with less conditioning for me and my dogs than I would have preferred. I realized after a training run in January that I would need a third dog, but, where to get one? I wound up leasing from Dianna Moroney. An old Iditarod veteran, Sundance ("Dancer"), and another dog Roofus, who had been dropped from Sam Maxwell’s Iditarod team with much regret when the dog was having trouble with hypoglycemia. Many thanks must go out to the people that gave me advice, loaned or manufactured gear, and monetary donations (see list at the end of this article).

All obstacles and setbacks aside, an almost sleepless weekend before the race as I sewed dog coats and many, many booties (and some curtains for my daughter’s room), race day finally came. Parental duties are foremost, and so we went to an ‘Apple Doll Tea’ at my son’s school at 1:30 on March 4. Race start time was at 5:00. We let the teacher know that we had to leave at 2:00 p.m., and there was more schedule juggling on her part. On the road finally, we arrived in Knik shortly after 3:00, and I began to set-up for the start of the race. Skijorers were to go out first at 2 minute intervals, which they decided to do alphabetically. Suddenly, I was told I had just 5 minutes to be the first to start the race. I kissed my kids, posed for a few last minute photos, stuffed the last items into my pockets, lifted the snow hook, and with the help of my musher friend Ray Dronenburg, was off like a shot across Knik Lake!

The dogs were fresh. It’d been 2 weeks since our last big trip of 88 miles in two days. (I’ll refer to the dogs and I as ‘we’ through much of this article, since the dogs are the power of the team, and deserve most of the credit.) We’d had some ‘small’ training runs of 10 or 20 miles here and there, but not many. Off like a shot, some thought I’d be just gliding along effortlessly behind the dogs for the trip. Boy, were they ever misguided. After about 10 minutes, Rick Haden and his team whizzed by at a sprinters pace. I thought about slowing my dogs, but, since we were only going 20 miles after such a long rest, I decided to enjoy the benefits of ‘the chase’ for a while, and let the dogs run behind Rick and his team for a while. We came into the checkpoint roughly 40 minutes behind Rick, who was the first one into the checkpoint, but who would later wind up scratching before reaching Skwentna.

The first checkpoint was an encampment at the Little Sustina river, approximately 20 miles from the start. I’d had a friend deliver some straw and some fuel for my alcohol stove. The dogs always come first, and so I set myself busy melting snow to heat their first meal on the trail. There was quite the party going on for the trail volunteers, who were there to ‘help us out’ by partying until almost 1am. Many racers went to bed early, although I doubt they slept much. The temperature dropped to approximately -20 F. I was plenty warm in my bivy and bag/pad combination, and the dogs in their straw beds and warm coats.

I was to leave at 8:40 a.m. Getting up early was easy. Lots of race jitters and activity early that morning. With the kind dog-handling help of Bill Merchant, another skijorer, we were off only a few minutes behind schedule. The trail continued with more moguls and ups and downs until Flathorn Lake. Although it added about a mile, I decided to take the turn onto the lake, rather than continue on the rollercoaster trail. We stopped and took a good break on the lake, and ran into Jim Lindau and Heather Moore who had signed up for the race, but who had decided not to. They were mushing their 4 dog teams on the race route as ‘bandits’. We would meet again in Yentna and Skwentna.

On the way to Yentna, on this approximately 40 mile stretch of trail, my leader, Dancer, had a confidence problem on the rivers, trying to turn around or run along the edge of the riverbank where there was only soft snow and no trail. I tried to put my female, Mikki, in double-lead with Roofus, but when he swayed one way or another, she was not strong enough to keep him going straight and true. There was lots of dog switching from the point we started on the Big Susitna River and the Yentna, until we came to the combination of single-lead of Mikki, with Roofus and Dancer in wheel. It did not seem to bode well for the Dancer’s commitment to lead for the rest of the race, and on only the second day!

Arriving in Yentna mid-afternoon, it was time to give the dogs a good rest after their approximately 40 mile run. Straw left over from other teams was a welcome sight for my well-exercised dogs. Again, they came first, and it was much easier to feed them since the wonderful family had hot water on the wood stove for them. I had a chili burger, and planned on a nap until midnight or so. Weather outside was clear, calm and cold, about -20F again. The dogs, being used to the warm temperatures of Southcentral Alaska (Anchorage), seemed colder than they deserved to be. I put their coats on and tucked them in for the night. It was very noisy in the lodge, and I didn't get much sleep until after midnight when things finally quieted down. I decided to stay until morning since I didn't get much sleep the night before at the Little Su.

Waking at about 4:30 a.m., I began getting ready to go. It was a good thing I decided to stay, as my bivy and bag were pretty frosty from the Little Su. Nice and dry after a night on the railing near the wood stove. I finished going through my drop bag, gave the dogs their morning baited water and snack, and at 6:30 a.m. we left in the dark. Temperatures were even colder on the riverbed, and I donned my clear goggles, neck-gaiter over my face, and glanced at my pocket thermometer. I estimated that we were enjoying a wind chill of about -45 F. Once the sun rose, the temperature climbed above zero, and the trail was flat and steady. It took us roughly 6 hours to cover the 34 miles to Skwentna.

Once in Skwentna, I met Heather and Jim again. My dogs were ready for a break, and I was planning on staying about 4 hours. Roofus was never one who needed coaxing to eat, but Mikki and Dancer seemed too tired to do so. I rubbed some food on their gums and left it out for them to snack on if they wanted. After a hot bowl of stew from the Roadhouse, I took a short nap and decided to buy a shower since it was going to be a while before I got a chance to take one again. Unfortunately, the water heater had not recovered from some baths that someone had taken, and I was left with a warm shallow-bath where I prepped my legs in preparation to keep my left ankle taped up. I would wind up taping this ankle at every checkpoint as it just didn't seem to want to come along for the ride. I wound up using my vet-wrap from my first aid kit for the dogs all on my ankle, but never needed anything but booties and cautionary ointment for the dogs.

A good rest aside, we left Skwentna at about 5 p.m. My goal was to get about half way to Finger Lake and camp out. Once we left the Skwentna river at the site of the abandoned Old Skwentna Roadhouse, Dancer seemed to come alive. He picked up the pace and climbed up out of the river at a record pace. We cruised through the woods by moonlight for miles, passing the camp of the "Andy’s" from Great Britain and Matheu Bonnieu from France. After a time, we were looking and looking and looking for a campsite, wondering if we should perhaps go to Shell Lake Lodge, a total of 6 miles out of our way. We finally settled on a ‘pullout’ of a snowmachine trail out in the swamps, near some trees where I hoped it wouldn't get too cold. I cut spruce boughs for the dogs to sleep on with my hatchet - two pounds of gear well worth it. Clear, calm and cold again, with more moonlight than the night before. It was after midnight before I got into my bivy, and I was going to get up early in the morning, although not as early as I had hoped.

We finally got going again around 9:00, still ahead of a few of the racers. We arrived at Finger Lake in the early afternoon. Again, I rested and fed the dogs for a few hours. Hot food from the lodge, fresh clothes from my drop-bag, and a re-tape of the ankle, and we left about 5:30 that afternoon for what was supposed to be a difficult stretch of trail, which it was. After a time, Iditasport snowmachine support stopped to let me know it was ‘10 miles’ to Rainy Pass. This was ten miles farther than the dogs or I cared to go. We finally pitched camp at about 9:30 p.m., hoping to get an early start in the morning. I overslept again, and got on the trail about 8:30 or so.

The trail crews had posted signs for almost every downhill at this point, and I was wondering when I would ‘do the happy valley steps’, when I came upon the Rainy Pass checkpoint. It didn't seem so bad, but, the ‘butt-brake’ did get a workout, with new bruises to add to the collection.

Rainy Pass checkpoint was a wall tent. Boris Droste had arrived in the night, passing my camp. When we arrived around noon, The Andy’s were getting ready to leave. The Iditarod would be starting today, and they would soon be on our tails. A 2 hour rest for the dogs and I, snacks, another taping job for both ankle and the seat of my speed suit, and we began the climb to Rainy Pass. When passing the Iditarod checkpoint of the Rainy Pass lodge Dancer thought I was nuts to not check in.

The climb to Rainy Pass was uneventful in flat light. I passed the Andy’s at the last climb after the pass but before the gorge. I had not wanted to go down the famed ‘treacherous’ Dalzell Gorge in the dark, but a greater fear was to descend with the sled dogs that "don’t know ‘Whoa!’ " while fresh. So, with the sun setting, we began our decent into the gorge. The first introduction to the gorge was around a blind corner when the dogs tried to go around some open water, and the pulk jammed nose-first into shallow open water. I skied up next to it to free it enough for the dogs to pull, but, full on or off, they lunged and my knee went into the stream. I thought, what a great way to start our decent. I put the two sled dogs on neck-lines only, and let my pet Mikki run free. This was more than enough dog-power to descend the gorge on another beautiful moonlight night. I was lucky that Rich Crane, who had snowmachined from Knik to man the Rohn checkpoint had built six snow bridges. The glare ice and rocks in the dark were easily negotiated compared to unknowns in the dark waters below. Perhaps it was a good thing I went at night. When I saw some photos in the paper on my arrival in McGrath, who knows, I might not have crossed some of the snowbridges with such blatant confidence.

Puntilla Lake

Having completed the decent in the gorge, the world becomes somewhat blurry in my sleep-deprived state. There were some hills to climb yet, and the dogs were very tired and deserving some rest. The mushers were not far behind, and I wanted to get to Rohn. I re-hooked the tug-lines on the two sled dogs, let them rest and snack for about 20 minutes, and we were off again. We arrived at Rohn somewhere between midnight and 1 a.m., where a warm cook tent with water awaited. Rich’s camp was the best thing I ever saw. I tended to the dogs again, camping them under a spruce tree with boughs and coats, a hot meal for us all, and to bed in an extra tent Rich had set up. I slept through all four alarms on my watch that next morning.

I had hoped to get an early start, but instead was the second to last person out of Rohn. We got word that we had permission to stay at the Buffalo Hunters camp at Bear Creek, half way across the desolate Farewell burn. This was the goal, roughly 45 miles away. A quick stop for Dancer to check in at the Rohn Iditarod checkpoint, I found out that the mushers were still at Rainy Pass. Off we went with fresh fever. Around the corner, through the woods, when what should we spy? Pure ice and dirt. I’m told there were 8 miles of un-skiable terrain. I had bootied the dogs, only to rip them off on the Zambonied ice. I took off my skis and put them on again more times on this stretch of trail than some entire seasons. We ran up and down hills, with my heavy metal-edged skis on my shoulders. Then we came to the ‘brushed’ section. Bless their hearts, I know the trail breakers meant well, and they did a good job for a dogsled. But, pungee sticks and small tree stumps on the side of the trail are not the skijorer’s friend. I was guaranteed to fall when an edge caught on these, and nearly broke my thumb when I smacked it into a stump that should have been cut flush with the trail or just brushed/trimmed of branches. Once it got dark around 7 p.m., we had yet to arrive in the burn. I chose to carry my skis and ride my sled over the pungees rather than risk impaling myself. This is when sweet DeeDee Jonrowe came up behind me while coming down a hill. I hollered up for her to give me just a second to find a place to pull-over, and she and her team went by. About 20 minutes later, I saw her again setting up camp. I went down a gully on my sled, and when the dogs stopped on the uphill, I rolled off of it into the snow. DeeDee asked if I were all right (was I?), I commented that this was not what the sled was designed for, and went on. I had high hopes that she would win the race, fellow female dog-driver and all, besides her genuine compassion. Onward we skijored, the Northern Lights glimmering in ghostly curtains in the clear moonlight sky.

Here we were into the burn. On and on and on. With each small rise, I had hoped that we were going to arrive at the buffalo camp, only to see another rise. Finally, I smelled wood smoke, and pulled into the camp. The dogs were eager to rest, looking for a place to lie down. The guide let the Iditasporters have our own tent, when Boris showed up on his bike. He started the fire while I tended my dogs. Imagine Terry’s delight when he arrived to a warm tent also. We were given some water, which we eagerly began heating for our dinners. Dinner consumed, I passed out in my bag before the guys even went to bed. I didn't even bother to set my alarms this time. I had broken my sled while riding on it, and had my work cut out for me in the a.m.

I woke and had breakfast, breaking camp ever so slowly. Powered on Ibuprofen, my hopes of leaving at noon were dashed when I remembered I had to fix my sled. While I was re-forging my antennae piece, musher after musher went by. John Baker and Raymie Reddington stopped by for a bit to rest their dogs. John had a lot of confidence in winning the race, and I wished him the best. He took a nap in the tent for all of about 15 minutes, and was kind enough to give me his discarded QCR plastic and some electrical tape. He was gone before I was finished. It was almost 4 p.m. before I finally hit the trail, having dismantled my sled almost completely, dried and warmed it in the tent to apply tape and the QCR runners. This was the best I could do in this remote place, and I prayed the sled would hold together until Nikolai.

The last rise out of the Bear Creek drainage revealed the famous desolation of the Farewell burn. It seemed to go on forever. Mogul after mogul after mogul, we skied on the grass-tufted moguls of this trail all the way to Nikolai, 45 miles or more. I wondered where all the mushers were, hoping they would pass me and give me the chase. I saw no one except a couple of snowmachiners until just outside of Nikolai, when I think Joy passed me in the dark. I was so surprised to look down and back and see a dog team, I startled and fell over! She was so sweet to her dogs, and had to help them pass this strange site of the skijorer and her dogs. Off we went in the chase, with what energy the dogs and I had left to arrive at Nikolai just before midnight. An eight hour run (there were breaks) didn't seem so bad. I would be able to rustle up some duct tape and use the runners from John Baker to limp my sled into McGrath, instead of scooping snow (there was about 20 pounds of snow in the sled when I arrived here).

After sleeping through all 4 alarms again, I woke just before sunrise. I gave the dogs their morning snack and water, ate something myself, and went in search of duct tape. Candice, the wonderfully friendly Iditarod checker sent someone to get me some duct tape. I set to work fixing my sled. Again, the hatchet comes in handy while chopping the QCR from John Baker. Many, many yards of duct tape later, I have something that should manage to hold together,

Leaving Nikolai around noon, it was the hottest part of the day in the 20's. We couldn't wait until later, we had to reach McGrath tonight. The dogs needed to stop and roll in the snow every 20 minutes at times to cool off, which became quite time consuming. More Iditarod teams passed us. We’d get the chase for a while, but,they were soon out of sight and we could only average about 5 mph. Bruce Moroney in his plane, with Jeff Schultz, photographer, stopped to take pictures and chat for a while. Since it was so hot, nobody minded the break, including me. This would not last, however, once the sun set. How I wished to be passed by an Iditarod team towards the end. There’s a light near McGrath, that you can see for miles. It never seems to get any closer, and yet you ski for it. Then you ski to the right, then the left, wondering if you’ll ever get there. This was our longest 50 miles, taking 10 hours of ski time to arrive at 11 p.m. at the finish line. Iditarod photographers flashed bulbs in our eyes as we barely managed the climb up the last hill up out of the river. Dancer kept looking for his straw bed, and didn't much want to go past the Iditarod checkpoint. We got directions to Peter’s place where the Iditasport finish line had been moved to. The racers there all met the last racer in with a cheer, some straw for the dogs which they immediately bedded down on, a hot bowl of stew and hot water to make the dog’s dinners. All dogs except Roofus were too tired to eat. Finished at last, it didn't seem like such a big deal to have just finished the longest skijor race in the world for the first woman to skijor it.

Asked if I would do it again that night, I probably said no. In retrospect, yes I would. But, I would do it with skijor trained dogs, as opposed to sled dogs. There are subtle differences in the finesse and relationship between the skijorer and the dogs vs. the musher and their dogs. While we’re all friends, the skijor dog must be prepared to slow the pace when so ordered, stop immediately when the skier falls, and not lunge or go before the skier is absolutely ready to go. All other factors the same (pulling up hills, pulling all the time, gee and haw), these are the qualities that the skijorer looks for in their dogs. I wanted to do this race, and didn't have time to pick and choose and re-train sled dogs. The sled dogs I got from Dianna Moroney did the job, but, skijoring with them was brutal at best at times. Knee pads were a welcome addition to my equipment list, not just for crashes, but for warmth and kneeling in the snow. I would also want to do this race with more sponsorship, since I've taken a fairly heavy financial hit in supplying much of the gear and equipment, etc. needed. But, I am also told that I raced with some of the best racers in the world, and while I don’t think I’ll ever think so, I’m told I’m a professional skijor racer now.


Distance Skijoring Training:

The distances experienced on the race definitely have to be worked up to. What follows is a recommended schedule for training, and a gear list. All of the following assumes that you have some skijoring ability, and your dogs have been trained to manage the short outings at the beginning, and the progressively longer outings that are recommended. These are incorporated into the distance training schedule, and other long-distance training runs are done in-between the overnighters. If you want more information on winter camping, I suggest you visit your local library, sporting goods store or book-mart.

The first place to camp is your ‘back yard.’ Close to home, front porch, neighborhood park, mom’s house, wherever, is where all gear should be tested first. This is so you can bail-out quickly if it doesn't’t work. Start in the early season with gradually colder temperatures, testing every bit of gear you think you might use. Start with small goals each night, such as boiling a pot of water with your stove. Work up to the entire camp out. This includes packing and unpacking it in the cold and snow and wind. Also include a session where you’ve skijored and are hot and sweaty when you stop. Even better, get the right gear and learn how to ventilate properly so you never get sweaty (during the entire 350 miles of the Extreme race, I don’t think I broke a sweat once - not because I wasn't working hard, but because I was properly and generously ventilated at all times). You also want to pare your gear down to the absolute minimum, especially if you’re preparing for a race. It’s easy to make your load too heavy. Get used to sleeping with your water bottles and boots. You MUST sleep with your boots in the bag. Frozen boots mean frozen feet - they will not warm up enough when you get going. Same with the water, or you won’t have any seed water in the morning when you wake. They also make nice sleeping-bag heaters (hot water bottles).

Make your dogs part of the back-yard experience. Get used to tending to them and having them sleep outside. Practice putting their booties on in the cold too. For serious winter outings and races, the dogs should be kept outside all the time. This allows their coats and metabolisms to acclimate to the winter experience. It’s kinder to keep the dogs outside all the time, not just during the day and in at night.

Most important, make sure you can start your stove in sub-zero weather, with the wind blowing and your gloves on. Know how long it takes to melt snow for water, and add it to your ‘camp’ times. Never run out of ‘seed’ water - always carry at least a cup to get things started. I carried two quarts between checkpoints, plus the water in my ‘arctic vest’ (drinking water bladder). Simple is best, and I recommend an alcohol stove. Other types need pre-heating paste, priming, pumping, and spare parts. The more complicated, the harder it is to do in the cold, and the more time you waste fiddling with it. The dogs always come first, and the sooner you can feed them after you stop, the better.

Before you begin your outings, you will need to determine the type of pulk (or gear sled) that you will use, how you and the dogs will be configured (some prefer the pulk in the middle, some prefer the skier in the middle - I prefer the pulk in the middle). Start with the sled almost empty, with just enough weight in it to keep it steady in the snow. Keep the training experience positive and short at first. Remember, you want the dogs to WANT to pull this contraption behind them. Progress up the weights as you train to prepare for your first overnighter. You should be able to comfortably skijor with your pulk and dogs perhaps twice the distance you plan for your first outing before you actually go. Arriving at your campsite exhausted and too tired to tend to your dogs and then yourself and gear could be potentially life-threatening.

Once you’ve passed the back-yard test and have your dogs pulk trained, you’re ready for a short outing. Consider some area close to home where you can still skijor back to the car and drive home if needed. If you’re training for a distance race, pick a weekend with nasty weather, or, simply don’t let the weather stop you if that’s the weekend you dedicated to the outing. Distance to cover is up to you, but, it should be close enough so you can get back to your car in a hour or less, depending on your comfort level and winter camping experience. Please remember not to camp in the middle of the trail, find a ‘pull-out.’ Since you’ve practiced in your yard, camping should be easy now. But, where do the dogs sleep? Some like sharing their tent. Others cut spruce branches for the dogs to nestle on. Others carry straw, the truly hardy interior dogs sleep right in the snow. You know your dogs and what they’re used to, and what you can provide. It’s paramount that they are adequately rested, since they are the power to the team.

Continue to work up to longer distances, with progressively longer outings. Know the race or course you plan to run to decide how much distance you need to cover in a day. This is the minimum size of some of your larger training runs. Always give yourself and the dogs approximately 10 days to two weeks rest (no ‘intense’ workouts) after really long (40+ mile days, two in a row) runs. When on the trail, be ready for bad weather days when you may not be able to cover any distance at all. Make sure you are confident before you take on the next step, and you should do fine.

I recommend a minimum of three dogs for distance ‘joring, two of them need to be reliable leaders. The dogs sometimes just need a mental break from the front of the line - they get tired of working. The longer the trip, the more you need to practice your dogs in different configurations. A 4 dog gangline provides you with the maximum number of possible configurations possible.

Downhills: I used the ‘butt-brake’, and wish I’d had a padded suit for it. I think the modified dog-sled might be best - runners are cut off and a hand brake is on the handle. For extended and steep downhills, consider putting the dogs on neck-lines only and let gravity do most of the work. When I went down the Dalzell Gorge, I put the two sled dogs on neck line, and let my pet run behind us. Other options are to let the dogs go free, but, this is not always possible, especially when racing around lots of other teams. If your sled is sturdy enough, you might try riding down on top of it, using your ski boots as brakes. If it’s not sturdy enough, this is a good way to break it (now you get out the duct tape)! Hopefully, downhill technique has been worked out ahead of time during the training runs.

Uphills: Your dogs must not balk on the hills. The brake design I had on my sled allowed for a ‘self deployment’ if the sled slid backwards. You must be ready to double-pole for all your worth on some hills. On others, you just have to take the skis off and hike up. It all depends on trail conditions, your double poling strength and the strength and pull of your dogs.

Gear and Food:
Dog Food This is the most important thing to pack. High in fat and protein, meat snacks, fats, and a limited amount of kibble should be taken. If your dogs eat like sled dogs, you may not need to worry about variety, however, I found that even my sled dogs tired of the ‘same old thing’ on the long race, but would gobble up a change in the menu readily. Be sure the dogs are used to EVERYTHING you plan to feed them on the journey, to avoid diarrhea and other digestive problems. There’s a lot of research and information on this subject, and this article does not presume to cover all the bases here. Food types and combinations also needs to be added to the early season training plan.

People food:
Eat what you like. I normally don’t eat freeze-dried food, so I don’t pack it. Ramen noodles are great. They fix up fast, lots of carbos, and use the water you’ve melted. I like to add sausage to the pot, maybe some dried veggies. This adds some fat and protein. For the long races, you might want to skip the veggies - you’re not going to need fiber!

Gear:
Some of this is personal, some is universal. You may find some things useless, others are mandatory (like your sleeping bag). All should be tried out in the back yard.

Pulk & gear
Sleeping bag(s)
Ground Pad
Bivy sack or Tent
Dog coats
hatchet or small axe
water bottles
expedition wt. Long johns
light or mid-weight LJ’s
socks & sock liners
stove & pots (one for melting snow & keeping clean, one for cooking food)
fuel
spoon
small cooler (for mixing dog food)
dog pans (plastic that won’t shatter in the cold is recommended)
cable tie-outs for the dogs
booties (8 per dog)
extra line, fid & extra snaps

First Aid Kit:

vet wrap
vet bond and/or suture kit
scissors
athletic tape
diarrhea meds (Immodium AD works for you and the dogs - I prefer activated charcoal)
paw ointment (antibiotic-type works for other things as well)

Other gear I consider optional for racing:

shovel
cook-pad (peg-board with blue insul-foam - always a handy stand for the cooker in the snow)

Most of all, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Most outdoors-types are more than interested in sharing their experiences, and the more ideas you get, the more you can tailor them to your style and needs.


Thanks to Sponsors:

A sincere thanks to my sponsors from the 1998 race. You helped make it possible:

Ted Moore Who fabricated and constructed my pulk – I couldn’t have done it without his help.
Throckmorton Chiropractic For the kind donation of cash, nutritional supplements, and the help from the staff.
Jim Lindau For all the advice and support.
Michelle The fantastic massage therapist from Throckmorton who kept my legs working and who provided me with a generous cash donation.
Sand Lake Animal Hospital Dr. Mulchaney’s kind donation of the pre-race vet check and medical supplies.
Eileen Olson and Alan Hoffman Who tried so hard to get their plane into McGrath to take me and the dogs back home.
Jill Hannan The musher from Lake Minchumina who took Dianna Moroney’s dogs from McGrath. It helped her out to have more dogs, it helped me out in saving on shipping them, and it helped Dianna out so that they got a few more miles of work into them.
Dianna Moroney For the use of her dogs, and a sled on a training run.
Ray Dronenburg Who hooked me up with Dianna.
My Family For all their understanding and support while I was away from home training for the race and running it.

And to all the others too numerous to list – thanks for everything!


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