Posts Tagged ‘Alaska’

Snowhook Update


January 23rd, 2016 Posted 8:12 am

As some of you know, this blog – and an enthusiastic sub-group called the Plunderers – are big supporters of Snowhook, a wonderful and humane dog-sled racing kennel up in Willow, Alaska. The Iditarod is the big race, of course, but there’s way more to it than that. Here’s an update from Rebecca, Snowhook CEO. (AJ’s the musher.)

“If I’m not mistaken there are some key sporting events this weekend—the Broncos and the Patriots battle for the Super Bowl among them. For us at Snowhook, it’s a little closer to home.

Snowhook found the starting line of the first mid-distance race of the season on Friday. AJ left the start of the Northern Lights 300 relaxed and calm (such is the nature of my particular musher even when facing competition). However, there may be an added reason for his laid back approach to this race, make that two reasons.

One, he’s not racing to compete. That’s right, AJ is racing to not race. There is no purse, no monetary difference for coming in first or last place or any of the positions in between. For AJ, it will a fun run. This brings us to the second reason we can expect to see AJ hold back on his competitive spirit. The second reason is bib #12, a bib number belonging to a musher who left the starting line a little less calm and not quite as relaxed as AJ. And, for good reason. He’s a rookie.

Joe has his sights set on running the Iditarod next year. To do that, he must qualify—much like the Broncos and the Pats must qualify to play in the Super Bowl—by completing at least two 300 mile races and one 200 mile race. Once a musher crosses the finish line in Nome, he or she does not need to re-qualify to race again in the Iditarod. With the burled arch in Nome in mind, he approached Snowhook last fall to achieve this goal. Since that fall day, Joe has given this goal his full commitment.

As a veteran of the Iditarod, AJ does not need this race, but Joe does. Veteran mushers have all been rookies, including AJ. The learning curve for mushing is steep, and the learning curve in racing was straight up for us.

In Snowhook’s first race, we did a lot of guessing on how to prepare, what to include in drop bags, and how to plan a run/rest schedule. And, our learning the hard way continued on the trail. Once AJ reached the layover checkpoint of his first race, he searched to find his race routine. As he tended to his dogs, a young racer approached him for a favor. The favor?—He quietly asked AJ if he could undo the knots on his bib for him. “My mom tied double knots and I can’t get into my pockets. Mushers keep everything from booties to ointments for the dogs and snacks in their pockets. Pockets are important—lesson noted and learned.

In that same race many years ago, another rookie lit the sleeve of his parka on fire while showing off. Believing that going up in flames is a poor race strategy, AJ advised this musher to stick his arm in the snow—near disaster averted. Once the band of race rookies–their numbers around AJ growing— finished their chores, one asked AJ what they should do next. His response was simple: I have no idea.

Success for AJ in this race is seeing Joe complete the first of three qualifiers.

Thank you to the Plunderers for making this and many of AJs starting lines possible.”


Big Rivers (Iditarod 2)


March 11th, 2015 Posted 8:43 am

Here’s a very interesting overnight report from Rebecca (CEO of Snowhook Kennel) on yesterday’s portion of the race. Below (thanks Barb B.) – Rebecca and AJ with teammates Chet and Bernie (yes!). Just because we like it so much.


The race to this point is quite different than this point in last year’s race, a night and day kind of difference. Rather than running excited teams down an unrunnable trail, teams will spend ample time running on the river. The idea of flat mile after flat mile may seem easy and preferable. However, river travel can be boring for both dogs and musher. Boredom is a short journey to becoming demoralized.

AJ and the team will say good-bye to the Tanana River before running several miles on the mighty Yukon River. And, mighty is right. Both the Tanana and Yukon are massive rivers. The first time I saw the Tanana River, I remember thinking how very small in the world I felt compared to its size. The distance from shore to shore on these rivers leaves teams exposed to elements.

With the exception of brief overland trails, most of the race will be run on the river until teams reach the coast of Alaska. On the longer runs between checkpoints like the run between Tanana and Ruby, AJ will camp the team on the trail. AJ will likely haul a bale of straw out of the Tanana checkpoint for camping on the trail. Straw has a hollow core and provides a bed of insulation for the dogs. Straw combined with a putting dog jackets on the dogs and then covering them with fleece blankets can give the team extra warmth.

The name of the game for Snowhook’s musher and mutts especially on these long river miles is simple: Run. Rest. Repeat.


On the Iditarod Trail (More)


March 8th, 2014 Posted 8:50 am

Why are we so enthusiastic about Snowhook, our team in the Iditarod? Just read Rebecca’s overnight race report and you’ll know.

The team has arrived safely in Ruby, the first checkpoint on the mighty Yukon, and the second of our dropped dogs are now home. I picked up Natty, a lead dog today. She is currently on the loveseat and snoring.

The team made quick work of the run from Cripple to Ruby which is no surprise on the hard and fast trail. I expect him to rest the team for several hours before continuing down the Yukon River onto Galena. Pacing the team does not merely mean riding the brake to keep the team at a steady gait rather than running too fast. Pacing is also about what AJ does when he’s off the trail.

Whether he’s camping on the trail or resting the team at a checkpoint, AJ will tend to the dogs quickly so the dogs can get as much rest as possible. He will give each dog straw to communicate to the dogs that resting is the name of the game. While snow melts in his cooker and he prepares a meal of kibble and meat, AJ will remove booties from the dogs’ feet and examine each member of the team. He will rub their muscles and paws with ointments, and cover them with dog jackets and blankets. This routine is all about efficiency. The quicker he tends to the dogs, the more they are able to rest. When his chores are complete, he will tend to his own stomach, any equipment repairs, and eventually, his own heavy eyelids. Depending on how long he intends to rest the team, AJ’s work will begin again in a few short hours as he prepares another meal for the dogs, re-examines each dog, and puts booties on 64 paws.


Melanie remains in our hearts.

And, thanks to ML, more of what it looks like up there:



On the Iditarod Trail (More)


March 7th, 2014 Posted 7:36 am

Here, from Rebecca (CEO of Snowhook, our team in the race), is her brave overnight report, for which we’re very grateful:

The team is currently on the trail to Cripple, yet will likely have arrived by the time many of the Plunderers read this post. It is a long haul.

Because of my recent health concerns, AJ received permission from the race marshal for me to send updates about my health status to AJ during the race. AJ insisted these updates occur at each and every checkpoint along the trail. Is AJ overprotective?—-Yep.

Doing as I was instructed, I provided my standard issue ‘I’m fine,’ and ‘all is well,’’ email when the team reached Ophir. Shortly after, I received an email from a volunteer at the checkpoint. The short, clipped sentences informed me that AJ’s ribs are hurting and that he loves me. That’s it. Nothing more. It is likely his body was more than jostled as he hit and hammered the trees along the trail from the Steps, through the Gorge and onto the Burn. However, the trail reports for the interior of the race are that it is hard and fast. Despite the much improved trail conditions, AJ plans to pace the team. It won’t be too long before the team drops onto the mighty Yukon.

AJ dropped Natty, a dependable lead dog before the trek to Ophir. She will be welcomed home in the near future as Orion was on Thursday night. At this point of the race, when dogs are dropped for injury or illness, they are shipped to Anchorage. From there they will be sent to the women’s correctional facility where they will receive great care before they can be picked up and brought home. The dogs are treated like celebrities. It is a wonderful program for women who may have been estranged from family and friends to care for members of the nation within the nation. Dogs—they offer support without judgment.

While my mind may be on the trail and the race, my heart is with Melanie. We are honored to consider her a friend of Snowhook Kennel.

And, to set the scene, this photo courtesy of ML:



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