Back when I started running dogs, I thought the Iditarod would be fun to do but only ran 6-dog mid-distance races - always unable to get enough mileage on my Seppala Siberian's to run any longer races. Looking back, every year that I'd start out with a 12-dog team on the 4-wheeler and end up with 6-8 dogs raceable had a little note of disappointment to them - although I've learned a lot each year and enjoyed every team.
Then, in 2009, I was given my first real leader - Cricket - who has since passed away at the ripe old age of 13. He was old, but would do anything you asked.
Cricket - I will always miss you!
That was a turning point in my career. I wasn't able to field a 12-dog team, but I was able to participate in the Cascade Quest 75 mile stage race - which included an overnight camping trip. Sleeping under the stars with the dogs is something very special, even if I did get woken by all the teams howling together at midnight!
During the few years prior, I'd not considered the Iditarod as a possibility, but after that camping trip I really wanted to do longer distance racing. Somehow I forgot the comment I'd made to my mom the spring of 2009 - that if I ever had another younger sibling I'd get out of dogs...
Spring 2010, because of the success I'd had with the three Alaskan Huskies on my team, I chose to take the opportunity to buy more Alaskans from Katie Davis and get out of Seppala's, retaining only Quest - my first sled dog.
Katie had just run the Yukon Quest, and my interest in doing a longer distance race was only heightened as I was able to field a team in 12-dog races during the 2011 season, including finishing the Jr Race to the Sky - a 100 mile continuous race. All summer I was dreaming of the next season, even acquiring another dog with Iditarod experience.
During my dog mushing experience, there have been moments that I've considered getting out of dogs. There are things like college and a job that require attention, and the dogs are a huge undertaking - something I could never do without the support of my amazing family. However, God has continued to open doors within the world of dog mushing and it has been a priviledge to continue doing something I love so much.
So, as I drew close to graduation and the upcoming season loomed before me, I was thinking about options. I'd orginially planned to take the winter off (of school), to focus on training a team - I had sixteen nice dogs ready to train. However, I'd thought a lot and talked to several mushers as I tried to acquire the knowledge I knew I'd need to undertake a 200 or 350 mile race, and the best way to learn seemed to be to handle for an Iditarod musher - if I was serious about attempting that race (or the Yukon Quest).
Talking it over with my family, the door was opened to come up to Alaska to handle for Aaron Burmeister, who placed 9th in the 2009 Iditarod and is fairly well-known in the mushing community up here - on the board of directors for the Iditarod. He was highly recommended by another musher, from whom I'd acquired dogs that traced back to his kennel - one of them, Cougar, I was really, really impressed by during the 2011 season.
Everything worked out - I think it was God opening the doors again! I didn't have to come until October (other positions wanted a handler beginning in August or September) and I'd get to work with Aaron and another accomplished Iditarod veteran, Scott. I would know what went into running the Iditarod by the end of the season - whether I decided I'd want to do it in the end or not - and I'd get to train yearlings and puppies (always fun!) and do a 200 mile race, which was the length of the race I was going to attempt at home.
So, here I am...thousands of miles from home in 60 below weather! If I never run either of the 1,000 mile races, the knowledge I've gained here will assist me in any mushing venue.