Abby Sunshine

Duck Toller

3-19-09 Sure enough, Mackey won!

Next photo

photo taken in Nome, Alaska, 3-18-09

Lance Macky has now won three consecutive Iditarod races! That’s big stuff. I was reading his profile and my “luck o’ the Irish” entry wasn’t so far off. . .there seems to be a pattern in the Mackey family. Here is what it said:

“Lance Mackey, 38, was born and raised in Alaska. The back to back two time Iditarod champion and four time Yukon Quest champion (and current record holder) says he began mushing “at birth.” “I grew up around racing and the Iditarod. I was at the finish line in 1978 to see my father, Dick Mackey, win by one second. In 1983, my older brother, Rick, won. Both my father and brother won wearing bib #13 in their sixth Iditarod.” 2007 was Lance’s sixth Iditarod and he won wearing bib #13, just as he had planned. Lance is a member of the Board of Directors of the Yukon Quest and a member of P.R.I.D.E. His interests include “Dogs/Family/Dogs!” Lance and Tonya are the parents of Amanda, 20, Brittney, 18, Alanah, 17 and Cain, 16.”

Lance Mackey Congratulations, Lance and all you super dogs!

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3-17-09 St. Patty’s on the Iditarod

Here’s a bit o’ luck for the mushers on this St. Patrick’s Day.

green horseshoe
I’m sure as in any sport, there is a fair amount of luck and superstition that goes on with the mushers. I remember my sister-in-law, Susan, having her hair braided by the same person each year just before the Iditarod. That in mind, I’ve included this “Luck O’ The Irish” horseshoe and four leaf clover. Do you have a lucky charm? What is it? 
  leprecon hat animation 
I continue to read some of the dog profiles. The following is a dog whose team was in 15th place, last I read. 
Sled dog profile: Bear

Age: 4
Sex: Male
Weight:63.2 pounds
Breed: Alaskan Husky
Bloodlines: Gebhardt
Where does this dog run? Lead, swing
Race experience: Iditarod, Kuskokwim 300 and other mid-distance races.
What makes this dog special?
“He crossed the finish line on the 2nd place team in 2007 in the swing dog position, although he shared lead with Governor much of the race. One unique thing with Bear is that he does not like you to pet his head. He has a very interesting marking along his head that almost resembles a crown. You can rub his back and pet him anywhere else ’til the cows come home, but just stay away from the top of his head. He loves a good massage down the spine and will lean right into it.”
– from Paul Gebhardt’s web page

A couple of things that jump out at me. . . .First, the swing dog position. Often when we see a team of dogs, we think they are just a bunch of dogs pulling a sled, right? Much like a team of bicycle riders are just on their own trying to be faster than the next guy.

No, no, no. These teams are organized and each member has it’s job. We’ve all read so much about lead dogs, right? They are in the front, paving the trail (and often literally breaking trail).

Swing dogs or point dogs are directly behind the leader (one dog if the team is in single hitch). They swing the rest of the team behind them in turns or curves on the trail.

Second point. . .

Paul says Bear does not like you to pet his head. This is interesting about animals. If I were to think about Abby Sunshine relating to this, I’d say she would rather you didn’t pet her tail. She quickly moves and tries to get you to pet her somewhere else- or play a game of fetch!

Where does your dog like to be massaged?

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3-16-09 More Iditarod!

It is hard to write about anything else during this exciting Iditarod season! I’ve noticed that race coverage has improved significantly even as recently as this year. It is easy to find stats on mushers and teams, to see pictures and read profiles on the mushers and their dogs! Last night I even watched some very good televised coverage of the race. With it being so remote, in the past it was hard to get a good feel for it. Now with cameras being small and high-tech (mounted on sleds, etc. etc.) it has been fun to watch. The dogs look great!

I found this blog entry with some teams running down a hill. Teams are now entering some very cold conditions- I guess when you approach the Arctic Circle, the temperatures will be quite chilly. I even saw some musk oxen on the trail in a video clip! Those guys like it cold. I like the story this writer tells.

The Yukon Wind




“Blessed by beautiful weather this trip, today was are first real blast of cold air. The Yukon River forms a tunnel of cold wind that is unbelievably cold. Brrr, I shiver just thinking about my time on it today. These mushers shot down the hill on to the Yukon River got me thinking about wind.
If you take 2 young trees and plant one inside, the other outside in the wind the one that is in the wind grows agile and able withstand strong winds. The tree planted inside grows but if it [were] transplanted outdoors a strong wind would break it. Same goes with our lives. We are constantly challenged with small thing and we grow agile and strong so big problem do not break us. If we are never tested we can never withstand harder times without breaking.
Moral of the story is… Trees on the Yukon river are really strong. 
The mushers in these pictures are Deedee Jonrowe, Martin Buser and Rick Swenson.”
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3-14-09 Book Recommendation


by Susan Butcher and David Monson

illustrated by Sarah Douglas

Today I am recommending the book, Granite, as a wonderful story about a dog, the “runt” of the litter, who becomes a hero! Stories like this are always exciting. Not only does this make for an interesting read, it is actually based on a real dog named Granite. I was lucky enough to meet Granite on more than one occasion because he belonged to famous Iditarod Champion, Susan Butcher(my sister-in-law) and David Monson (my brother). Granite was a very special dog to Susan, and was actually a ring bearer in their wedding in 1985! Sadly, Susan passed away in 2006, before the book was published. Her story lives on in many ways, including this book.


Susan Butcher was a four-time champion of the Iditarod Trail sled dog race. Granite was her greatest lead dog. He didn’t start that way, though. He was a shy, scraggly pup that the others pushed around, but Susan saw his potential. Together they worked until he became leader of the team. 
        While they were training for the Iditarod, Granite became deathly ill. The veterinarians said he would never be strong enough to run the race. Granite refused to accept this, and slowly he started to recover. By the time of the race he was strong enough to start, but Susan wondered if he could finish the entire thousand-mile race. Confidently Granite guided the team into the lead of the race, when suddenly they were caught in a raging arctic blizzard. Now Susan and the whole team depended on Granite to get them through the storm. He had to call on all his inner strength and courage to save them if he could.

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3-13-09 Grandpa Nord’s Birthday

My dad never got to meet Abby Sunshine, but I think he would have liked her. Today he would have turned 89.

In an attempt to tie Abby Sunshine, the Iditarod Race, and my dad into this entry, I’ve come up with the following. 

In 1980, my dad and Uncle Ole traveled to Alaska to watch the start of the Iditarod sled dog race. With a farming background, and familiarity with animals, they fit right in working on sleds and caring for the animals. The climate was no bother, as they had experienced many a cold winter in Northeastern South Dakota. They got to watch my brother and (future) sister-in-law start the race.

They met a young musher, who was selling handmade fur hats. My dad was quite taken by the quality and warmth of these hand-sewn pieces. He bought one for $250! Wow, he must have liked it. This musher, trying to save and earn money for her racing endeavors, turned out to be the first woman to win the Iditarod, Libby Riddles!


It looks a lot like this. 


I now have this hat, and keenly refer to it as my “below zero” hat. It is warm (and I think stylish, though not everyone agrees).

How does Abby fit into this entry today? Well, I’m not sure. Actually, she may not be keen on the idea of a fur hat. However, since she’s a dog, so she may not pay attention to it. She also does not need to wear such a thing, as we’ve previously mentioned the warmth of her own luxury fur. I guess she fits in because it’s her blog!

What do you think?

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3-12-09 Those dogs keep running!


Iditarod 2009

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3-11-09 Iditarod Course, of course

The Iditarod race course is unique in that it changes slightly from year to year, as well as planned changes for even and odd years. This deviation makes the actual mileage change, too. This year, the route is 1131 miles. The race is considered “1049” miles because it’s over 1000 miles, and Alaska is the 49th state. 

I read about checkpoints and imagine taking off, for example leaving Kaltag and heading toward Unalakleet. This is one of the longest checkpoint spans- you are out in the wild with your team for 90 miles before finding the next checkpoint! Wow, that’s not like walking a dog around the block. There are mountain ranges, wild animals, and extreme weather conditions.

abby1 or  

Which of these photos best describes Abby Sunshine’s attitude toward sled dog racing?

Would you like to be out in the Alaskan elements for this race? Would your dog?

2009 Race Route

The Official Map of the Iditarod: Southern Route (Odd Years)

Checkpoints Distance between Checkpoints Distance from Anchorage Distance to Nome
Total Distance 1131
Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip 20 20 1131
Campbel Airstrip to Willow 29 49 1082
Willow to Yentna Station 52 115 1016
Yentna Station to Skwentna 34 149 982
Skwentna to Finger Lake 45 194 937
Finger Lake to Rainy Pass 30 224 907
Rainy Pass to Rohn 48 272 859
Rohn to Nikolai 75 347 784
Nikolai to McGrath 54 401 730
McGrath to Takotna 18 419 712
Takotna to Ophir 25 444 687
Ophir to Iditarod 90 534 597
Iditarod to Shageluk 65 599 532
Shageluk to Anvik 25 624 507
Anvik to Grayling 18 642 489
Grayling to Eagle Island 60 702 429
Eagle Island to Kaltag 70 772 359
Kaltag to Unalakleet 90 862 269
Unalakleet to Shaktoolik 40 902 229
Shaktoolik to Koyuk 58 960 171
Koyuk to Elim 48 1008 123
Elim to Golovin 28 1036 95
Golovin to White Mountain 18 1054 77
White Mountain to Safety 55 1109 22
Safety to Nome 22 1131 0

3-10-09 Another Mushing Dog

I was impressed to read some profiles of Alaskan mushing dogs during this Iditarod racing season. Let’s meet our next athlete.

Sled dog profile: Crackle

Crackle runs for Ryan Redington of Knik, Alaska


Age: 4 years
Sex: Female
Weight: 50 pounds
Breed: Alaskan husky
General bloodlines: Redington
Where does the dog run?: Leader
Race experience: Sheep mtn., Knik 200 champion, Tustumena 200, Goose Bay 120. This will be her first Iditarod.
What makes this dog special?
“She is the smoothest trotting dog [on the trail.] She is a very good leader, excellent gee-haw and keeps the team moving at a good pace. Lots of drive.”
– Ryan Redington

First of all, I love her pose! I can see Abby sitting just like that. I think her expression is similar to that of Max on the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas cartoon. At a glance, this dog seems like she must have a good disposition. I realize I’m only reading a photograph, but she does look modest, smart and attentive.

OK, remember, you are thinking about your pet when you read about Crackle. 

Let’s compare her to Abby while you’re thinking about it.

Abby is only a bit younger, at 2 1/2 years. Crackle may have more maturity than Abby Sunshine. They are both females. Crackle is bigger than Abby. I’m guessing she’s taller. Crackle is an Alaskan Husky, from the Redington bloodline- Joe Reddington was a famous musher known as the “Father of the Iditarod.” He was instrumental in getting the Iditarod race started, also creating a revival in the sport of mushing dogs. Abby Sunshine is from the bloodline of some show winning Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. Her parents were excellent hunters and show dogs. 

I love reading about Crackle’s smooth trotting. I can see her running along, smooth! Abby’s running strength is her sprint, I’m not so sure how smooth she would be considered. She is definitely a sprinting athlete. Also, I’m reminded of how these sledding dogs know the command for Gee (turn right) and Haw (turn left). That’s impressive to see. I wonder if Abby could learn this? Of course, she could. However, I wonder what context would work for her to learn it. If she is out fetching a ball, what would be the motivation to turn left? or turn right? When you are with a team on a trail, I can see how it makes sense to the dogs that this is useful and important.

Finally, Crackle has “lots of drive.” So does Abby Sunshine!

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3-9-09 Abby Sunshine and the Iditarod

The Iditarod, the most famous sled dog race in Alaska, has begun! Many of Abby’s hard-working “cousins” are hitting the trail hard. Mushers and dog teams will be racing for the next two weeks. 

In attending some sled dog races, what I’ve found to be intense is watching the dogs leave a check-point, heading out into the wintry darkness, into nowhere. . . just the black shadows and trees. . . exactly the place most of us would avoid at night. . . finding their way. Their schedule does not necessarily mean they sleep at night. These mushers schedule their race in a way that works for them. This often means mushing throughout the night! When many of us would rather hunker down with a blankie and some hot chocolate, these teams are waving good-bye and with a flash of light from their headlamps, I’ve watched them move quickly into the dark woods.

I found a dog profile of one of the Iditarod racers that you may find interesting. What traits does your pet have in common with Bugs? What is different?

Sled dog profile: Bugs


Age: 5
Weight: 55 pounds
Breed: Husky/Dalmation
Where does the dog run?Lead
Race experience: Kusko 300, Kobuk 440, Iditarod. Finished all three races last two years in lead.
What makes this dog special?
“Bugs is my ‘Go to’ man in tough conditions. He’ll break deep trail until you tell him to stop. He will swim a team across deep overflow in lead, or drive over glare ice and into head winds. He’s a pleaser.”
– Ed Iten

How is Abby Sunshine like Bugs? How is she different?

Here are my conclusions. She is half the age of Bugs. She is female, not male. She weighs 20 pounds less. She is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. I bet she would want to be a leader! She, however, has NO race experience, so it’s hard to know. I think Abby also is a “go to” girl. I think they have that in common. I guess I’m not so sure if she would like to break deep trail. I’ve even written about Abby choosing paths, rather than making her own, oh dear, that doesn’t seem great for a lead dog on a racing team. Let’s see, oh, yes, Abby loves to swim, so maybe she could make up for it in this category. She’s also good on ice. I think she, too, is a pleaser.

There’s nothing in Bugs’ profile about fetching. I’ve noticed that huskies aren’t crazy about fetching. In fact, I’ve watched them ignore a tossed stick. I think we all know Abby is into fetching; that might not win her any sled dog races, though.

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