'My luck doesn't normally run in threes, but I'll do my best.'
-- Jessica Hendricks, Two Rivers
In less than 24 hours, scores of mushers will head for the high country of the Caribou Hills in dogged pursuit of their share of the $25,000 purse in the 23rd running of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.
“It’s shaping up to be a good race,” said Todd Stone, T-200 race association president.
In the last few years the race course has run on minimal snow, often packed so hard and icy that mushers said riding their brakes on steep downhills and across frozen snowless Caribou Lake was both death-defying and deafening to their ears.
This year’s snow accumulation couldn’t have been much better, according to Stone.
“We’ve got all the snow we need for good race trails. There’s several feet of it in the high country. Many mushers have said the conditions are the best they’ve seen in years,” he said.
But a storm Thursday was threatening those pristine conditions.
With such heavy snow accumulation earlier in the month, though, organizers decided to extend the sign-up period beyond the Jan. 19 deadline.
“It’ll be a little more work for us, but I think it’ll be worth it,” Stone said.
Mushers can now sign up for the T-200 until noon today, but will have to pay an additional $50 for their late registration. There are no additional charges for the T-100 or Junior T races.
According to Stone, the deadline was originally set in order to ensure an equal ratio of mushers to children for rides at the ceremonial start, and enough bales of straw for all teams at the checkpoints, and so all mushers made it into the race program.
“It allowed us to prepare for the race better, but a lot of races allow mushers to sign up at the last minute, and the mushers seem to prefer it that way, so we wanted to try and accommodate them,” Stone said.
Whether this extended deadline will be a one-time deal or an annual occurrence remains to be determined by the race association and board, Stone said.
Those who signed up, before and after Jan. 19, represent a diverse group of experience levels, with mushers from across the state and beyond.
“We’ve got a good group this year, some past winners of the race and some mushers who’ve won other races around the state,” Stone said.
As of Thursday, 17 mushers were signed up, including Mitch Seavey and Dean Osmar, both past Iditarod champions; Aliy Zirkle and Ramy Brooks, both past Yukon Quest champions; Allen Moore, this year’s Copper Basin 300 champion; Ramey Smyth, a three-time T-200 champion; and Jessica Hendricks, the winner of the T-200 for the last two years.
On Wednesday Hendricks was squeezing in one last training run in Knik while en route to the Kenai Peninsula. She said she is looking forward to competing in this year’s race. She said she is not certain she can make it three in a row, but she is hopeful.
The first route of the Tustumena 200 went from the Decanter Inn to Homer and back.
“My luck doesn’t normally run in threes, but I’ll do my best,” she said.
Hendricks said she has been plagued with problems this season, including a four-wheeler that broke down during fall training, minimal snow conditions around her Two Rivers home for most of the winter and a new dog truck that blew out its engine on the way to the peninsula.
Despite these setbacks, she said her dogs are feeling fit and ready to race.
“They’re looking good, eating well and happy,” she said.
In addition to the T-200 mushers, Stone said the T-100 also is filling up fast. As of Thursday, nine mushers were signed up for this race, including many from the Kenai Peninsula.
“We’re also pretty excited about the Junior T,” Stone said.
This is a race for mushers under 18. It is a 50 mile, out-and-back course with a three hour break between the two legs. The winner of the race will receive three credits of college tuition paid for by the Soldotna Rotary. Participants also will receive a gift certificate to Sweeney’s and a sweatshirt from Kenai Peninsula College.
As of Thursday, two youngsters were signed up for the Junior T, both of which Merissa and Daniel Osmar are the offspring of Tim Osmar, the musher with the most T-200 wins.
“We wanted more kids to sign up, but this being the first year of the race, the word may not have gotten out in time,” Stone said.
This year’s T-200 begins Saturday, with the ceremonial start at 10 a.m. at the Kenai Chrysler Center, followed by the official race start at 2 p.m. at Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof.
The T-100 and Junior T mushers begin 30 minutes after the last T-200 musher.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@ peninsulaclarion.com.
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