T-200 off and running

Posted: Sunday, February 01, 2004

Bedlam: A word that barely captures the wild and mad uproar that was the start of this year's Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race in Kasilof.

The timekeeper was barely audible over the cacophony of barking dogs and the horde of cheering fans as he shouted "One minute!" to Robert Bundtzen of Anchorage.

Several volunteers planted their feet in the snow in an attempt to hold Bundtzen's sled steady against the raw power of 14 jumping, pulling and all-around excited dogs.

"GO!" sounded the timekeeper.

 

Zach races toward the finish line with a 350-pound sled in tow during trials for the State Championshiop Dog Weight Pull. The competitors are timed as they pull loads of increasing weight.

Photo by Mark Harrison

Heads down, muscles rippling, the team of canines dug in with their claws athletes each and everyone of them and they were off.

Mere seconds later, Bundtzen and his team were up the trail and out of sight. He was but the first of 23 mushers.

They were a diverse bunch from near and far. Some, like Brennan Norden of Kasilof, were wide-eyed rookies anxious for a quick, clean start to qualm their jittery nerves.

"This is my first mid-distance race and I just want to get on the trail and try to keep up with all of these guys. There's some really good mushers here, and I'm thrilled to be running with them," Norden said.

 

Carol Lewando carves the finishing touches into her and her husband's entry in the ice sculpting competition. The monstrous figures are characters from the classic children's book "Where the Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak.

Photo by Mark Harrison

Ed Pearson, also of Kasilof, was equally excited to be in the race, despite listing on his sign-up statistics that his lead dog was "I wish I had one!"

Pearson put that down with tongue in cheek but admitted, "Some days it's funny, some days it's not."

Many other mushers were seasoned professionals running the T-200 as a stepping stone on the way to yet another Iditarod.

Kasilof's Paul Gebhardt was as cool and collected at the start line. Even when the timekeeper shouted "30 seconds," Gebhardt continued to casually stroll up and down his team, patting each dog on the head and whispering words of encouragement to them.

 

Jacob Kooly winds up for the Frozen Salmon Toss. The 8-year-old chucked the frozen fish 25 feet.

Photo by Mark Harrison

Ninilchik musher Tim Osmar was equally calm. While rearranging his sled basket, a curious spectator inquired what he was doing with the ski pole inside.

Although many mushers use a pole to increase their speed during the race, Osmar joked, "I use it in case anyone tries to pass me," which got a hardy round of laughs from everyone within earshot.

DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow had her game face on, despite a string of bad luck that followed her down to the Kenai Peninsula.

On the drive from Willow, her vehicle got a flat tire and her lug wrench didn't fit her wheel's lug nuts. Hours later she resolved the issue and made it into town with just enough time to catch the tail end of the mandatory musher meeting.

 

Head race veterinarian Tim Bowser of Soldotna performs a prerace physical on Shakespeare on Saturday outside the Soldotna Sports Center. The dog's owner is Sue Johnson of Ester, who is racing in the 100-mile Little T.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

However, on race day as she was preparing to leave for the ceremonial start, she discovered another flat tire on a different wheel.

"It's frustrating, but I won't let it get in the way, though," Jonrowe said. "I'm better with dogs than I am mechanical equipment, so I'm ready to get on the trail with my team that's where I'm in my element."

Kasilof musher Lance Mackey looked in his element on the back of the sled, rather than in the basket, which is where he was earlier in the morning.

During the ceremonial start, Mackey had switched places with his young rider, Lyne Buning, allowing her to drive the team.

Many of the mushers said they enjoyed meeting the poster contest winners and special needs children at the start in Kenai.

Musher Jeff King called in sick with the flu, which initially disappointed his young rider, but Mitch Seavey of Sterling stepped in. He, along with a few others, took two children to make up for mushers who were expected but didn't show up.

 

Two of Kasilof musher Lance Mackey's dogs are raring to go at the start of the race later in Kasilof.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Fairbanks musher Ken Anderson said he enjoyed the ceremonial start.

"It's relaxing, kind of a calm before the storm, to get the dogs into the groove of things," he said.

The T-200's defending champion, Ramey Smyth, couldn't make it this year, but his brother Cim Smyth came to compete.

Although numerous people asked him if he felt he had big shoes to fill, Smyth said he wasn't there to prove anything.

"I've got a good team, and I'm just excited to get them on the trail," he said.

The winner of this year's race will take home a guaranteed purse of $10,000, evidence of how far the race has come since its inception, when the winner took home $25 and a case of beer.

This year's race was dedicated to the memory of Ed Borden, a Kasilof musher who ran in the first T-200 and recently died of cancer. Many of the mushers in this year's race were Borden's friends. The race program stated, "The legacy left by Ed should be inspiration to us all."

Mushers should begin to arrive back at the finish line as early as late today, depending on weather conditions.

Those interested in the latest musher standings can go online to www.tustumena200.com or call race central at 260-5630.



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