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  • Writer's pictureEmily Ford

Kobuk 440 and Breakup

Anna officially became an Iditarod finisher in March and soon after we prepared for the Kobuk 440 (K440)!

As adventurers, we tell stories of hopping from trip to trip and never taking a break in between. During the race season, we do just that. It all starts with the ACE race in December, then onto the Knik 200, the Copper Basin 300, Quest 300, Two Rivers 200, Iditarod, and finally Kobuk 440. In between each race, we train for hundreds of miles through the flats and mountains of Alaska. We want the dogs to be ready for miles and miles while still having fun. We want them to know that they can do anything and they are amazing.

They are amazing.

I felt so honored to have one final hurrah with the dogs. Here is how it went!

We learned a lot about transporting dogs by cargo! We flew the dogs from Anchorage up to Kotzebue, Alaska, a small village off the road system on the edge of the Chucki Sea. I had not ever been to the Arctic, but I was very excited to be there. I could feel it in my body that I was meant to be there. I arrived the day before the dogs did and was introduced to our host family. The race is quite expensive, so they put racers and handlers up with host families. I built a dog yard in their side yard and eagerly awaited the dogs' arrival.

Anna and the team arrived and we set a training schedule for the dogs to run days before the race. Breakup was coming quickly in Willow and we couldn't run dogs back home. We didn't want the team laying around before they ran over 400 miles. As normal, the weather had other plans and we experienced a whole day of classic Kotzebue ground storms. Our host family obliged my plea for the dogs to go for a run and led us via smowmachine through the ground storm for 10 miles so the dogs could stretch their legs.

The start of the K440 is unique as it is a mass start. All of the racers eagerly awaited the drop of a hat and then we were all off. My goal for this race was just to finish. I always call myself a slow musher. I'm rarely in it for the racing aspect but for more of the adventure aspect. This race travels through several remote villages. Kotzebue -> Noorvik -> Selawick -> Ambler -> Shungnak -> Kobuk -> Sungnak -> Ambler -> Kiana -> Noorvik -> Kotzebue. We camped in between long runs and enjoyed the 16 hours of daylight.

Most of the race was on flat ground with one day in the foothills of the Brooks Range. This was a great race to let the dogs know that flat and "boring" runs are worthwhile. As always, my team was pretty young and they needed to learn that they can do anything and anything is possible because they are amazing. Next year, the Luxury Car litter will be 3 years old!

The last 20 miles of the race took a turn. Most of the run was hot and sunny, but the last 20 miles were windy and cold. Very windy. The closer we got to Kotzebue the worse the ground storm became. I had young Porsche in lead and she was doing her best, but the wind was too much for her. She stopped and didn't want to go on any further. She was tired and didn't want to lead the team through the wind. I tried several other potential leaders, but Porsche's doubt spread to the whole team. With wind gusts of 40 mph, I camped the dogs out on the trail. I grabbed their coats, covered them with blankets, blocked the wind with my sled, and laid down with them. Race rules state that if you accept outside help, you are disqualified from the race. I turned down one snowmachiner and messaged Anna via Garmin inReach to let her know I was ok. She said to just be patient and reminded me that I knew what to do. In moments like this, I love that Anna knows me and trusts me to let me figure things out.

After 30 more minutes, I decided to try to get the dogs moving. After several failed attempts I found that one of the dogs that caused me a fair bit of trouble the entire race was a great bad-weather leader. Laurakins (the oldest dog on the team) and Rolls (one of the youngest on the team) got the whole team moving forward and didn't stop until we were at the finish line. It was fun to watch the younger dogs realize that the storm wasn't as scary as it felt and that they could do anything.

We crossed the finish line and found Anna with our host family. That's when the dogs realized that it was all worth it. They were so excited to see Anna. That meant that they could get a full night's rest.

After the race, Anna and I hopped back on a plane, the dogs did as well. We parted ways in Anchorage. Anna went back to Willow and I went to Minnesota.

Breakup is happening in Alaska now. The dog yard is muddy and the rivers are opening up. Anna is cleaning and packing our last things before she comes back to Minnesota.

We never love this time of year. When we are forced not to have an adventure on the near horizon. We both slow down in a way and go back to work. It's easy for the post-adventure blues to sneak in. We do our best to be gentle on ourselves and let grief hang around. Soon we will have four dogs in a canoe in the BWCA, filling our summer with fun adventures Then we will have 16 dogs on a gangline in the snow.

We have one more season planned in Alaska. More of that to come.


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