The Quest is around the cornerThe Yukon Quest is around the corner. I signed up last minute. So much for retirement from racing. It had been in the back of my mind for a while, but for most of the fall and early winter, things really did not go smooth. Finding dog handlers is always a challenge, but this winter Jessie and I ended up with the worst people ever. I could write a book about that alone. I might one day. I am sure a few other mushers can add some fun chapters to that too. Finally at the beginning of January after getting rid of everyone, things turned around and we had some good people show up, who were actually interested in helping and who actually had some knowledge to bring to the table. For all future handlers: The ownership of a pet dog and the fact that you have dreamt about working with sled dogs does not qualify you for the job, it rather disqualifies you. If you have a technical background, are a mechanic or carpenter, can use a chainsaw and fix a snowmachine and are used to physical work, well than I might be interested in talking to you. On the dog front things were also very challenging this winter. We had a lot of young dogs to train but as it looks I will have to rely on most of my same old dogs once again. Many of the others this winter did not hold up. I have never had more dog issues and dropped more dogs in races than this winter. I simply could not get the new dogs to eat during the mid distance races. Each race I pretty much entered with a different group of dogs and each race the only ones left standing were my old veterans. This is the final 15 dogs for the Quest: Skunk, Tetsa, Finn ,Maggot, Inuk, Ruger, Grisman, Vasser, Govenor, Muncho, Toad, Saffron, Austin, Diesel, Gas. Average age is 8. On the reserve bench are: Spinner, Todd, Moss. They will for sure run in the Quest 300 as between Jessie, Nathan and Rolf we have 3 teams running in there, On the upside, despite all the trouble this winter, I managed to enter all the races I had wanted, not necessary in the finishing places I had hoped. But each race had some valuable learning lessons. We had 4 teams in the Sheep Mountain and ran a race under perfect conditions and with perfect organization. Anjanette and Zack sure know how to put on a top notch event. Next came the Gin Gin 200, also with near perfect conditions and very well organized. Here I carried Maggot for 40 miles of the 110 Mile Loop. What possessed me to run the first 70 miles of that loop with 11 mph average is still beyond me. Specially with me never training that fast. I can tell you with having 75 lbs Maggot dog in the sled I had plenty of time to think about that mistake, specially while running uphill. We entered 2 teams in the Copper Basin, by the way Andy where are your race reports?. The promised dry trail was wet not even 10 miles into it, but heck it would not be the Copper Basin if it would not be a challenge. The Copper Basin is a great 300 mile race, and because I like it so much I ran the Copper Basin 320, missing a turn leaving Glennallen. Trail Markers are highly over rated. Next on the schedule was the Kusko 300. Somehow we managed to squeeze 1 Yukon Quest and three Quest 300 food drops in between and a stomach bug with wiped me out for a few days. Arriving in Bethel, I was ready for a vacation. Mike and Nena are a great host family and I did get nearly 4 really quite down days to recharge. Bethel tends to be a windy place, and this year was no exception. The team was tucked away under the “ Brickers “ porch but the porch had to be reinforced with a wind break each day a bit more. 3 Airline Kennels were lost to the wind gods. The wind would peak at about 50 mph right when we finished back in Bethel. I was 12 hrs faster than last time but a whole bunch of places lower than last time, 12th place. That shows the quality of teams in the race. The residents of Bethel put on a great event and I truly enjoy going out there, despite the logistical challenges of flying out. Now I am back in Paxson for a few days, doing some last fun runs with the dogs. I just got in from double sledding with 17 dogs. They were amped up and I had to ride the brake the whole way around. Otherwise the time is dominated by packing. Somehow this whole winter has been packing….. This time packing to go to Whitehorse, vet check, meet the mushers night, mushers meeting and than finally on Feb 5th, time to hit the trail. Enjoy the ride, www.yukonquest.com.