The 28th running of the Tustumena 200 sled dog race should provide a challenge for newcomers and oldtimers alike.
“It’s a whole new trail from Caribou Lake to Homer,” said Race Director Tammi Murray.
The 200-mile race starts at 11 a.m. Saturday at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway.
The new route runs from Kasilof to Homer and back.
There are two two-hour stops in Homer, at McNeil Canyon Elementary School out East End Road, on the way in and out of that segment of trail. The mid-point of the race is at Freddie’s Roadhouse in the Caribou Hills, where mushers and their dogs will get a mandatory six hours of rest.
Murray said the route change actually returns the race to its original destination. The first T200, in 1984, went to Homer.
“We thought we’d try it again this year,” Murray said.
The change also makes it easier to accommodate all 20 competitors at the six-hour layover. The Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch, a former rest site, is no longer open, so it wouldn’t work for a musher rest stop, Murray said. The race would still like to return to that community another year, she said.
The field of 20 competitors includes some new faces — and some old ones.
“We have a really good field of mushers this year,” Murray said.
A handful of competitors have won the race in the past. Willow musher Deedee Jonrowe took the 2011 title, Denali’s Jeff King won in 2010, 2000 and 2001, Big Lake’s Cim Smyth took the title in 2009 and 2004, Two Rivers musher Jessica Hendricks won in 2005 and 2006, and Kasilof’s Paul Gebhardt won in 1996 and 1997. Murray said she also expects Paxson musher Zoya Denure and Chatanika mushers Jodi Bailey and Dan Kaduce to add to the competition.
“It should be a really good race, we’ll have a pack of leaders there that should stay together for most of the day,” Murray said.
Murray said she is also excited to see Rebekah Ruzicka, a competitor in many junior races in the past, sign-on for her first T200 this year.
Ruzicka, a 19-year-old from Anchor Point, has been racing for years. Her parents had a dog team before they had her, she said.
“I’m done with junior racing and we have a pretty good team so I thought well, might as well run in the big one,” Ruzicka said.
Ruzicka said she’s familiar with the first 40 miles of trail, but the rest of it will be mostly new territory. She’s looking forward to the whole race, she said.
“It’s always a really fun trail,” she said.
Murray said the trail, which receives a reputation for being well-marked, is ready to go. The Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers and the Snomad Club have provided a lot of help with laying and grooming the trail, she said. This week, groomers are still working on touch-ups to the snow.
The course is just one of a few changes in this year’s race.
“It’s kind of a rebuilding year for us,” Murray said.
The 2012 purse is down from last year’s $20,000 — this year’s purse is at $10,000.
The top five mushers will receive a payout, Murray said. The next 10 — places six through 15 — will each receive a $100 gas card.
“For mushers, that’s a nice little bonus,” she said.
The other change is a new race tracker. Every musher will have a GPS on, and their location information will be visible online.
“There’ll be a link on our website,” Murray said. “It’s a really fun way to watch.”
Murray said that people will have a better idea of when to go to a checkpoint to cheer for a musher by watching them online. It also provides spectators with a better idea of when the race will finish, she said.
The public is invited to meet the teams at vet checks on Friday, Murray said. Those are from noon to 5 p.m. at the Aspen Hotel in Soldotna.
The community is also welcome at the race start Saturday morning. The junior race hits the trail at 9 a.m., before the full race. There is no 100-mile event this year.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.