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Copper Basin 2021

In the days leading up to the race, we packed drop bags, got COVID tested, prepped race gear, and cut blocks of beef and chicken into power bars for the dogs. On Thursday, January 8th, we started our 265 mile journey south to Glennallen, AK. The dogs were being pulled behind the truck in our trailer that is outfitted with insulated individual dog boxes padded with straw. Halfway through our drive, in Delta Junction, we stopped in a parking lot and brought each dog out of the trailer to empty their bladder and bowels before continuing our journey.

We arrived in Glennallen around 1pm. Jeff checked in and filled out the necessary pre-race paperwork. Next, each dog was evaluated by a veterinarian and their team. Once the dogs passed their vet checks, we loaded them back into their boxes to go to our host’s house in Gakona, about 20 minutes away from Glennallen. Our friend, Joelle, moved to the Copper Basin region a year ago and graciously offered to host us during the race. It was the perfect set up. She had a guest bedroom, several dogs and a beautiful property with plenty of space for our crew. We dropped the dog trailer at Joelle’s place and headed to the musher/handler meeting at Lake Louise Lodge.

During the meeting the race marshal reviewed the rules, described trail conditions and mushers drew their bib numbers. Jeff drew bib #21. We were able to get a few beers and delicious burgers before heading back to Gakona to feed the pack and get some rest before the big day. We brought Brock and Buttercup inside to sleep, giving them some extra love for being our fearless leaders.

We woke up early the next morning to bring the dogs out of the trailer to get their morning stretch. We loaded them back up and went to park at the race start. Once we got there, we unloaded the dogs again and fed them meat stew with a little bit of kibble. We laid each dog’s booties and harness out and began donning their race gear. The excitement started to build as the dogs were now familiar with this process.

Photo by Willie Vernon

The race started at 10AM. Bib #1 was reserved for Jamey Kemp, who was a board member and trail boss for the last 7 years who passed away suddenly on December 8, 2020. Jamey spent countless hours making sure the trail was as best as it could be for each and every race. He did this on a volunteer basis. He leaves behind a wife and young daughter. If you are able, please consider donating to his families GoFundMe here.

The first dog team left the start chute at 10:02AM. We started putting the dogs on the gangline around 10:20AM. They banged in their harnesses as their excitement built. A side by side came around to guide the team to the start chute. We got to the start line and the team took off at exactly 10:38AM.

The first leg of the race was 70 miles long. About two miles into the race, the team realized that this section of the race was going to be extremely taxing due to the very punchy trails. Punchy trails occur when a snowstorm deposits denser snow over less dense snow, creating a thin crust over a weak base layer. As the dogs ran down the trail, their paws punched through the thin crust into a soft sand like base making for difficult traveling. About 20 miles in Stuart slow