Jan 4, 2011
No, this post is not about Sarah Palin. This post is about genuine Alaskan rogues who make up the family of misfit dogs called Rogues Gallery Kennel located in Kasilof, Alaska.
You may have noticed them on our blogroll. You will definitely notice them after reading Joseph’s post reprinted here with permission. While the owners Colleen and Joseph Robertia did not establish their kennel in the wilds of the Alaska tundra or on the Arctic ice floes, I am convinced that they could have had they felt so inclined. They moved to the Kenai Peninsula years ago after making a leap of faith in coming to Alaska to follow their hearts. They settled in the middle of a mushing Mecca, which provided some unique opportunities to reconnect with their love of animals and experience working with unusual ones.
Joseph writes the blog posts, while Colleen (Cole) races to win. I have never found a blog more honest, more intense, more humorous, more educational, more full of heart than theirs. Many of their resident dogs were previously abandoned or physically challenged for various reasons. I decided it’s time that more people get to know Rogues Gallery Kennel now that racing season is upon us. Everyone hears about the Iditarod, and maybe even the Yukon Quest races. There are many sprint, mid & long distance races that make up the rest of the season, so sit back and enjoy a tale from the Gin Gin 200 held in late December. Do YOU know where your mittens are?
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By Joseph Robertia
Wahoo! We did it. For those who haven’t heard yet, Cole was the women’s division and overall race winner in the 2010 Gin Gin 200. She was also honored to receive the Humanitarian Award at the finishing banquet. Decided by the race veterinarians this prestigious award goes to the musher who took the best care of their team during the race. I (Joseph) also placed 6th, getting nine of the 10 dogs (mostly two year olds) I started with to the finish line.
The race was an adventure from beginning to end. As we packed for the race the night before we left, I noticed my racing sled not only had a broken runner, but the foot pad was also about to fall off. We stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to make last minute repairs: one worked, one didn’t.
Up in Paxson, where the race started, the temperature was minus 35, but the dogs didn’t seem to mind. They were lunging and howling like we had never seen before. We had made some major changes to our training regime this year, that we hopd would pay off, and it was already looking like it could.
Apparently we had a different time on our watch than the official time keeper’s watch, so Cole almost missed going out on schedule. We got her out of the chute with about 2 seconds to spare. I turned my attention to keeping my team for tearing loose after they saw her go out. I wasn’t slated to leave for another 30 minutes. They had other plans.
While a camera man squatted in front of my team to film how nuts they were going, the guys pulled my tie-off knot and off they went with no one on board. Led by Metoo and Brick, they barreled over the camera man and trampled him good. I made a dive for the sled and was luckily able to get them stopped. There is a video clip of the fiasco floating around the internet, for those interested in getting a good laugh.
After that minor mess-up I left without incident. The first 50 mile leg went great for Cole, She had the fastest time of the whole race field and couldn’t believe it. She came to find me and said “I’m leading and don’t know how. I’m the most conservative musher I know and I’m rating them down on the down hills.”
Meanwhile about 20 miles into my run, the foot pad we had “fixed” flew off the sled, so for the reaming 30 miles of the rough mountain run, plus the other 150 miles of the race, I was slipping and sliding to try to keep my footing on the icy runner. I had several crashes just from slipped off the runner so I felt a little worse for wear at the first checkpoint.
For the second leg of the race, the course follows an always cold 110-mile run down two rivers. It is a long, long night run and the mercury plummeted to minus 40 for most of the trip. These are tough temps to endure even briefly, but spending 14 hours in them is brutal when standing still on a sled. Thankfully there was a spectacular northern lights show going on overhead, so it kept us from focusing on our cold fingers, toes and in my case nose. It got a little frost-burned from the cold during the night.
The cold helped on one occasion though. I had drank at least a gallon of water before the run since I knew whatever I carried would freeze along the way, so about halfway through the run my teeth starting floating to put it mildly. In minus 40 I had to be quick, so I took off my mittens and let them hang by lanyards (long ropes that keep them from falling off), then I unzipped my gear and tried to pee as quickly as possible.
Not wanting to stop, I was peeing off the sled, and watching the dogs still through the narrow beam of my headlamp. I looked down once just to be sure I was getting any of my gear and that’s when I noticed I was peeing directly into my dangling mitten! Luckily in that cold I just let it freeze up, which happened within a few minutes, and then I knocked out the icy urine-cicles to have a mitten as good as new.
The dogs did great on the long run, even the young guys. Two year old Buliwyf, along with our bionic dog Wolf (who had a rebuilt and fused ankle after being hit by a car) led more than 100 miles of this leg and never flinched while facing overflow and other obstacles. My plan was to camp for two hours, but they looked too strong to quit, so I only I stopped once for about 45 minutes and rubbed them all down and changed out all their booties and fox tails (the furry belts the males wear in front of their genitals when it below minus 20 to protect them from getting frost bite.) They were very tired by the end, but they learned that after hard work comes hard rest, which is an important concept to teach a racing sled dog.
On the third leg of the race, the last hilly 42 miles to the finish, Cole continued to stretch her lead and again had the fastest run time of any of the racers. Over the course of the race pint-sized Penny led most of the way, along with Zoom, Keno and even Quigley, the only 2 year old strong enough to make her race team. She came into the finish line with the dogs still raring to go. I came in a few hours later in sixth place. I had everyone I started with except for Metoo.
She had gotten a sore wrist after the second leg. I had massaged it and put some healing ointments on it while she rested, and it got a little better, but didn’t have the heart to ask her to run without feeling 100 percent.
The vets took her into the lodge after I told them she was our house dog and wouldn’t understand being tied out like the others waiting transport by snowmachine back to the finish. Apparently Metoo worked her charm while there because after the race everyone who met her came over to tell me what a sweet dog she was, what a crack up shewas, and many other pleasantries.
At the finishing banquet Cole was also given the Humantiarian award. This is always real honor whenever it is received, but it is extremely rare to get it as a race winner. Sometimes to win a race, dogs are run hard, so they don’t look and feel as good as teams just a few spots behind the winners. We know since we are often in those spots behind the winners because we are so conservative with how we run our guys. But to win and get the award, it really speaks to how well cared for the dogs were before and during the race. Since we’re always trying to foster the message of taking the bets care of your dogs that you can, it was a great feeling to be recognized for this devotion.
On the way home the adventure continued. Just after midnight,on a icy, dark and isolated stretch of road we were cruising along at about 70 mph when suddenly the headlights lit something directly in front of us. I slammed on the breaks and swerved, but with all the weight of the truck dog box, gear and twenty 50-pound dogs, there’s no stopping swiftly. We skidded sideways and ran over the object which made a horrible noise as it went under the truck.
We barely managed not to lose control of the truck or flip off the road. When we finally came to a halt, we got out to see what it was and the object we hit was a $4,000 sled from our nextdoor neighbor. It had flown off their truck after a bungee broke in the minus 40 temperatures. Following several late night calls, we tracked them down and they came back to get the sled. Then after a mild blizzard in the mountain passes we made it home. Another Alaskan adventure in the bag.
This wasn’t out only luck though, we heard from the race marshal that the day after the race, the river we had all parked on during the rest-stops had overflowed hours after all the teams had left. Had it happened during the race who knows what would have happened the danger of having icy water flood and flow over the resting teams.
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