My first experience with sled dogs

On Friday we drove into Missoula. We hung out with Mike for a bit, then went over to Liz and Tommy’s for delicious and amazing homemade pizza. Tommy is a butcher at the best grocery store in the world and made pizza with homemade chorizo and an awesome pepperoni (who am I and what have I done with my former taste buds?!). We all stuffed ourselves silly while Aspen tried to drink our beers.

Our plan for Saturday was to head to Lincoln, to help Doug and Aiyana with the Jr. Race to the Sky, around noon. Since we had stayed up late the night before and had to finish drying Daryl’s sleeping bag before he left for Alaska, we didn’t get on the road until 1:45 or so. We then got stopped by an accident, so turned around and went back to Mike’s.

While we were stuck in Missoula, Aiyana was being awesome and getting ready to head off on her 100-mile race.
Seriously, this girl is amazing. She’s 14 and takes care of 20 plus Alaskan Huskies every single day. She’s been racing sled dogs for the past five years (yes, she started when she was nine! [She’s the one in the center.]). Two years ago she was given special permission to run the Jr. Race to the Sky at age 12!

We got to the midway point (White Tail Ranch) not long after dark and helped Doug prepare for Aiyana’s arrival.

Go Aiyana! She and the dogs ran the first leg of the race (50 miles) in 5 hours, 3 minutes. 10 miles an hour!

Aiyana’s dogs are so great. Daryl and I have only been here a week or so and they are already okay with us helping Aiyana and Doug with the various chores.

[The problem with layers? I look like an oompaloompa.]

Doug and Aiyana discussing the first half of the race.

Aiyana and Bailey, another of the junior mushers.

After Aiyana finished taking care of her dogs (which are truly all her dogs – she is a first generation musher and she only races her own dogs. No leased dogs here!), we sent her in to eat food and get some sleep during her 6 hour lay over at the ranch.

I was SO, SO, SO impressed by Aiyana’s dogs during the layover. Nearly all of the other teams were barking and howling for most of the time we were there. Doug and Aiyana make a habit of “camping” the dogs on their training runs – instead of running the dogs out and back to the truck and then resting, they run out to a halfway point and then feed and rest the dogs on hay before running back to the truck. It was obvious that Aiyana’s dogs were used to taking a break NOT at the truck. I could not believe how quiet they were! All of the other dogs were going crazy and most of Aiyana’s were sleeping through it!

We let Aiyana sleep until about 1:45am, then we started the process of getting the dogs ready to run again. We took their coats off, re-bootied them, re-attached their harnesses, then got Aiyana set in her sled. Daryl took Dingo by the lead, I had Kymani, and Doug had Rainbow by his harness while we ran the dogs to the starting line. Oh my gosh, that was fun! Those dogs are STRONG! After we got her to the starting line, she did bag check, and off she was! Well, almost. Daryl didn’t know he should unhook the leash during bag check, so after we set her off, he was still fiddling with the leash. Now he knows for Alaska though!

After she left, the rest of us were left to clean up the hay and get everything back to the truck. The first seven miles of the second half of the race were on the road, so we ended up passing three or four different teams on the road. I felt so badly – we were leading a caravan of four or five trucks and the poor mushers and dogs had to deal with us.

We got to the finish area and waited. And waited. I totally fell asleep, which was great because it was late. Early. Late. Early? It was 4:30am.
The mushers started coming in around 6am. Aiyana came in 4th, which, while we would’ve loved for her to come in first, was still great.  She ran the second leg in 5 hours, 6 minutes – which is awesome because her dogs kept the same pace for all 100 miles.  Her dogs were in great shape after the race, which is definitely more important than winning this race, since she still has the 160-mile Jr. Iditarod to run on February 25th.

Doug and Aiyana after the race.

We took the harnesses off the dogs, de-bootied them, fed them, then loaded up to head to the community center for the awards. We got there, ate food, and waited for the shindig to start.

Moments after finishing some free breakfast, I fell asleep. I slept on the table for a bit, then followed the lead of one of the adult mushers and slept on the floor for a bit. Daryl laughed at me, but he was jealous.

Before they gave out awards, the junior mushers were given shwag.

Jen and Aiyana. Kai and Noah are secretly monkeys.

After all the awards were given out, we started getting the truck ready to head to Alaska. I’m a wonderful, amazing person and gave Daryl the go ahead to travel up with Doug and Aiyana, though I cried a lot while making the decision. I have literally spent my entire life wishing to get back to Alaska. My first memories are on Kodiak when I was 3 and 4. I have two decades worth of wanting to get back to Alaska. But I knew it was such a great opportunity for Daryl and I knew Doug needed him. I miss him lots.

I cannot say enough how impressed I’ve been by Aiyana in the past few weeks, and I’m even more so now having seen her dogs around other sled dogs. Aiyana is amazing and I know she’s going to do SO, SO, SO WELL at the Jr. Iditarod!

If you have a few extra pennies to spare, please think about donating and becoming a sponsor. This girl, and the entire family, work so hard taking care of these dogs and it’s a LOT of work, and a huge financial undertaking.


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