You can visit the Official Tustumena 200 Website by clicking here.
Before the Peninsula Winter Games start in earnest, the Soldotna Sports Center will be filled with athletes this afternoon.
The athletes are dogs and mushers getting ready for the Tustumena Sled Dog Race, which starts on Saturday morning. Today the dogs are getting checked by vets to make sure that they're fit to run. The public is also welcome to come meet the dogs and mushers at the event, said race director Tami Murray.
"It's a fun way for people to meet the mushers," Murray said.
The event runs from noon to 5 p.m., and most teams will be there -- it's the best chance to see the teams before the race starts on saturday, because there's no pre-race banquet this year.
Not having a pre-race banquet this year isn't the only change.
The biggest is that mushers won't have to cross the road with their dogs, Murray said. At the half-way point in Clam Gulch, there will be a supervised dog lot alongside the highway. Mushers can choose to stay in tents near their dogs, or they can cross the road alone for a meal and rest at the Clam Shell Lodge during their mandatory eight-hour rest.
Murray said mushers' decisions would depend on if they have someone else to hang out with their dogs.
"If they don't have a handler, they probably will stay with their dogs," she said.
There's also a change for mushers taking a shot at the Tustumena 100, the sibling race that's half the length. Instead of running their dogs 50 miles out and turning around, they'll go all the way to Clam Shell Lodge and finish there, Murray said.
"That way they're not running the same course twice."
The field this year is a little smaller than in the past. On Thursday morning, the website reported that 16 mushers were registered for the 200, with a few hours left for potential racers to sign up. The field includes a handful of locals, and mushers from other areas that have a history with the race.
"If they can, they'll come back," Murray said. "They love our race."
Returning mushers to the T-200 include Colleen Robertia, Kristy Berington, Brennan Norden, all from Kasilof, and Kevin Neher, DeeDee Jonrowe and Cim Smyth from the Matanuska-Susitna area. Smyth and Jonrowe finished second and third last year, respectively. Clam Gulch musher Gary Van Loo is also racing this year having done the shorter T-100 previously.
Murray said mushers like the race because the course is similar to the terrain in the Iditarod.
"They get the hills and they get the flats," in a much shorter distance, she said.
Of course, the warm spell means that race organizers are just hoping the course stays the way they want it. One creek that is "threatening to open up" according to their Facebook page caused organizers to change the race course slightly. Murray said they'd likely do some grooming at the end of the week to make sure everything was set to go.
Local mushers and race organizers aren't the only people in the community involved in the Tustamena races this year.
Harley Dunn, a fifth-grader at Cook Inlet Academy, designed the program.
Murray said they have an art contest for the race program each year.
"We get lots and lots of entries," she said. The race solicits entries from local elementary schools and home-schoolers.
Dunn's was outstanding, and she was the clear winner, Murray said. Her prize is a pizza party for her class.
The program will be available at the vet checks on Friday.
Anyone interested can cheer for mushers and their teams at the start and finish of the race.
The 200-mile race takes off from Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Murray expected the finishers to start arriving Sunday afternoon.
"People can definitely follow it online," she said, adding that the website and Facebook page would be up-to-date.
The shorter 100-mile race starts right after the 200, and will finish late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. The junior race takes off at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
The public is also invited to the post-race banquet on Monday night at the sports center. Tickets are $20 at the door, and the festivities begin at 6 p.m.
"It's a really fun time 'cause you get to hear the stories from the trail," Murray said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.
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