International World Cup Sled Dog Race
300km, 8 dog Stage Race, Kamchatka Peninsula (Eastern
Siberia, Russia) March 25-28, 2004
...with special thanks to my family, and my friend and handler,
Joe Sesto. My thanks also goes out to Arleigh Reynolds, Phil Russell,
Bobby Lee, and Pete Sesto.
I can't say enough about how cool Kamchadal '04 was. In
fact, as capable as I am at blabbing, I really haven't written a word
about it... it just seems too big to recount in words and do it justice...
It was the best experience in my life, so far, and I couldn't recommend
it more. The best race overall that I've seen as a handler or racer. Coming
back to that massive throng of people, ...and
the flags, and the press.... people
giving you cookies, and
flowers ... and pictures of you leaving the shoot, and autographs....
it was too much. Then they had the awards ceremony right there... I was
rolling when Jacques and I saw that
Stanley Cup of a trophy they gave him....
...Then we did the
podium thing... a little tiny thing with your flags behind you and
you had to stand up there with your terrified leader and then they start
handing you russian certificates, and more flowers, a trophy for you,
one for the *sled*, a medal for your dog, more handshakes. The funniest
was Jacques, because everything we got, he got the bigger version, so
by the end, teetering on top of everything was him holding 50 pounds of
stuff and his dog....he was just overwhelmed with stuff... then they
wanted him to raise the massive trophy, which he did, god bless him,
with 1 arm over his head, and the crowd just erupted...
...then after a minute they wanted to him to do it again, so he rearranged
everything and hoisted that thing in the air again.... just then they
set off fireworks behind us, which just shattered the dogs who didn't
know what was going on and were considering going back on the trail by
that time... so dogs start leaping and trophies start crashing, I was
laughing so hard at poor Jacques, I was crying.... let me tell you, those
Russians are into the protocol.... I felt like we were in the Olympics.
But honestly, that was just a great ending of a great race. But there
was still 'after' the race to wind back down. We
all hired a helicopter to take us into the crater of a live volcano ...and then stop at a hot springs in the middle of nowhere... it was just outrageous.
The race itself was pretty tough, I think by all standards. I cracked
a bone in my hand going over the wildest pass ever in heat 2 THANKS TO
JACQUES AND MAGALI NOT GOING THE RIGHT WAY...hehehehe... I ended trying
to hook down going off the drift side of the mountain and doing nice big
circles out of control on the wind pack. Jaques and Magali actually crashed
into each other on the other side and their sleds got tangled together
and so they were all screwed up there too... (I tried to get them both
disqualified for running their 16 dog team, but Monique wouldn't concede...jk...hehheeheh)
and that adrenaline rush came after the biggest steady climb I've ever
done, in the heat of the day, with a soft trail... I have no idea what
it really was, but I'm think it was into 5000'+
range.... and I'll tell you one thing about Magali.... I saw her little
kid footprints in the snow THE WHOLE TIME up that hill.... tough driver,
that Magali, even if she looks 12:)... so finally, at the top, where I
think I'm going to get to see the best view in the World (which I did
for a second) I run into glare ice, lose the trail and missed the turn
that sidehilled the bowl we dropped into.
In heat 4 my brake ripped off at the first bridge, so I
drove the rest of that crazy night run (the fastest trail we had seen)
and the next two heats, with two prongs bailing wired together, and a
broken hand, that was even more swollen after I stabbed it at the previous
checkpoint, trying to cut the tape off my fingers, so I could get my hand
back my glove, before
the storm hit..... OOOOOOH, and the bridges!!... first they started
out little... the dogs didn't even know they were going over water until
they were on them.... then came what Jacques dubbed 'the
monkey bridge' ... between heats one and two, where you had to cross
a swinging bridge with your dogs one at time, or carrying them.... but
that's still nothing to compared to that night run in heat 4... I'm talking
2m wide by 25m long plank wood bridge, with no snow on it, or sides to
hold you in, over black, fast moving water... and you aren't even hitting
them head on, or even know they are coming, for that matter (but a little
word of advice, if you see warning markers, prepare yourself) all of a
sudden you hit a hard 90, do a whoop-de-do and BAM, you are looking at
a boardwalk and your sled is sideways, with the dogs at full bore. I'm
telling you, it was a heck of a race.... a heck of a race.
>I've noticed in these pictures of the race that
some of the teams seemed to be running fairly large, heavy boned dogs.
yeah, there were some tough old school dogs there for sure... but their
were also Redington lines and I think some Arleigh Renolds stuff.... the
guy behind me was running Alaskans and had a some hounds in his kennel
and drove a Danler, so there were all kinds of dogs there. I bred Mugsy
and Bear (my wheel dogs) to two, smaller, females that were village dogs,
so they now they have some Canadian sprint lines in the mix now too. Personally,
I don't think it was the dogs, because looking around before the race,
I was nervous... I think it was the training..... I don't think those
guys put the miles on those dogs, but I think they know that now too,
so I expect them to double their efforts next year.
>Also, what were the trails like? Hilly? Flat?
Lots of trees?
Well, it was varied... but basically, while we were waiting in AK, the
trail was leveled by 3-4' of snow and 40mph winds... the race was then
rerouted to bypass an avalance danger... so the trail was put in front
of us, as we went. That's why I think of this more as a distance race
than a 'stage race'.... coming from a sprint background and moving into
middistance, I'm used to either groomed trail or catted super-highway,
in either case, I'm used to a trail with a base... even if it snows 10",
we still have a base... here it was the opposite.... packed surface on
top of sugar snow, but what else can you do with such volitile weather?
My dogs had trouble punching through, so it was frustrating at times to
hold them back for stretches when you knew they were conditioned enough
to run it. Magali and Jacques had smaller, 45lb-50lb dogs, and maybe they
run smoother too... they had some difficulty but I dont think like me.
Maybe being third through, the trail deteriorated some too, once the crust
was broken.... had I known that then, I surely would have made my move
to pass them:)
>Did you have to do any trail breaking yourself
or were the trails packed fairly well?
Jacques did most of the real breaking... he had some good leaders that
could find the blown over trail.
>Were the trails marked well (you mentioned Magali
and Jacques getting lost)?
yes, the trails were very well marked and reflective.... plus, once we
got into it, it was pretty much just the race trail, so the problem wasn't
getting lost because you were confused which trail to take, but lost because
you were in ground storms... but even then, the open spots were marked
enough to get you through. I thought they did a great job here too.
Oh, they werent 'lost'.... once you hit the glare ice on top, the trail
went away... the dogs just kept going straight when in fact the trail
turned hard right and sidehilled.... of course the dogs didnt see that.
I think Jacques' actually did do it but it was magali that dropped over
first.... then their tangle happened after she caught back up to him....
but they didnt get lost.
>What was the temperature like during racing?
pretty pleasant, in the 20s(?).... good thing too because we had some
pretty serious wind... first time ever I looked down my team and all their
tails and ears were standing out straight sideways to the left. Right
after we got back their was a cyclone (called a hurricane in our hemisphere)....
and that was something.... never seen anything like that... we kenneled
the dogs in the crates outside until they covered over with snow but then,
as it blew harder, they started actually getting filled up with snow to
the point that we had to evac them into little sheds and old cabins until
it blew over. Like I said, I've never seen anything like it... It was
difficult to move in and the ice from the ground stung your face......
what can I say? to be called a cyclone it has to blow 70mph....
you know, I don't want to make this out to be something
it isn't... we had some nice runs and good trail and weather too. Part
of it is, I've never seen anything like this, so it was a real eye opener
to see a trail like that and race the way we did... those of you who have
seen the coast in the artic have undoubably seen worse. I could easily
imagine worse weather, but I have to admit I was hoping for fast and hard.
Weather there is unpredictable... I think we hit it at one point, but
it could have easily hot and slushy or anything in between... if you go,
be prepared for anything and personally I would bring dogs light on their
Overall, I thought me and the dogs were way better off for it.... these
conditions were our worst case senario and all 9 of us came back in fine
I don't know if they are going to make this an Iditarod Qualifier, but
even if they dont, I'd take my young dogs there at the end of the season
to see how they hold up... I was especially pleased with how my leaders
grew from the experience.
As far as what happened in the race itself, with respect
to us the drivers, I can only tell you a little about what happened to
Second out of the shoot, we quickly caught Sergey P..... he was supposed
to lead us out of town, so I held the team back by making them trot through
what had to have been the softest trail of the race ... the dogs were
just killing themselves to run through it, and it scared me... I knew
once we hit the main trail it would get better, so I backed off... I cant
remember the order of the people passing me but I think it was Sergey
F that passed me first... then I remember I tried to let magali pass by
pulling the sled to one side and my leg punched through and I face planted
in the soft snow beside the trail.... she of course politely asked if
I was ok as she passed, which besides feeling like an idiot, I was. Then
Jaques passed with his quiet 'thank you'... and that was the last I would
see of those two.
Then we hit the main trail about 5 miles in... it was dark by then and
the wind had picked up and the trail was slowly blowing over.... and the
city lights were behind us and a big black Siberian frontier and 180miles
of trail was ahead of us.... and there I was, hunkered down behind my
sled to get out of the wind... and I was scared:) Here I am, thousands
of miles from home, wind blowing like hell, passed by 3 teams, and looking
out of my hood at 2 huge volcanoes on my right.... we weren't in Kansas
anymore:) But I decided the day or so before that I was going to take
it easy that first heat, run my own race, keep my mouth shut, and make
sure I finished what I started (and paid for.) About 10 miles down the
trail I heard dogs barking... which was a little unnerving, but when we
came around the corner the two Sergeys were there.... maybe they had a
tangle? I passed both, then they faded back and that was the last I saw
of them.... in fact that was the last time I saw another team the entire
That was a weird heat for us... the trail was full of whoop-de-dos and
when I train and we hit that stuff, I hold them back to prevent injuries...
well, they held back. The other thing is we had trained on that trail
once and turned the dogs around 10 miles out.... so we had to pass that
turn around and go another 35 miles... my dogs thought at some point they
would have to turn around, so they were taking their time. One of my biggest
failings was not taking them on any one way trips ever... we always come
back, so they weren't ready for that heat. I also stopped 2X and pet them
because I could feel they were worried too. In the end I lost 41 minutes
to Jacques that day in a 72km heat. I lost another ~42+ minutes in heats
2-6 combined, never losing by more than ~11+ mins after we got back on
our feet. There were times when we were running very strong but in every
case there was something that caused a slowdown.... for example, I think
we made some time on the big mountain... my dogs have done hundreds of
tours, so tour gear kicked in and we just powered up it.... but then after
we got ourselves straightened out (after the pass incident) we punched
through all the way to camp, which was exceptionally frustrating... I
lost 11 mins in that heat. I think our strongest heats were 4 and 5, but
by heat 4 I knew I wasn’t going to catch them unless they screwed
up (which I wasn't counting on) and I wasn’t going to get caught
unless I screwed up (which was more likely) so I just kept us all together
and ran without worrying about racing, if you get me, which was a good
thing and just allowed me to focus on what we were doing.
Anyway, that was about I know about what happened between racers.
Quicktime 5 Videos
The main kennel
Night before the race
Camp #2 - Nalychevo Camp - nice
camp and facilities, plus hot springs.
Camp #3 - Tent Camp - got in
late at night, ground storm all night.
Tent Checkpoint - between heats
5 and 6 on the last day..... check out the wind
Finish Line - standing in the
Volcano #1 - flying over the
In the Crater - hanging out in
Volcano Steam Vent - intense
leaving Utah (Phil in background)
transportation from airport in russia to kennel
Awards - 3rd Place
Back at Kennel
Random shots in city
Helicopter to visit volcanoes
Anchorage Ground Crew: Joe Sesto, Bobby Lee, Pete Sesto