Friday, February 29, 2008

Iditarod Preparation - The Night Before

It is 10 PM AST. The SP Kennel crew is out in the parking lot of the Hawthorn Suites here in Anchorage feeding and walking dogs while talking through final plans for tomorrow.

The dog trucks will depart the hotel at 8 AM AST tomorrow to assume their assigned spots along 4th Ave. The first team leaves the starting chute at 10 AM and the other teams follow at two minute intervals. Aliy, in starting position 17, will depart at 10:32 AM. Allen, in position 76, will depart at 12:30 PM. At this ceremonial start each team will be carrying an 'Iditarider' in their sled. Each Iditarider is the winner of an on line auction for the privilege of riding with an Iditarod racing team. Aliy's Iditarider will be an employee of Horizon Lines of Alaska. Allen's is Lynn Budzak, a dedicated SP Kennel supporter.

The starting teams have been finalized. Barring any last minute problems, here is the list of canine athletes participating in Iditarod 2008.

Aliy's Team: Biscuit, Bullet, Butterscotch, ChaCha, Heidi, JJ, Meg, Oddball, Petunia, Reeses, Rose, Skittles, Snickers, Teddy, Tony, Venus.

Allen's Team: Hoss, Heeler, Pingo, Manny, Spicy, Homey, Stormy, Dill, Larry, Garlic, Girlfriend, Roy, Tatfish, Mouse, Sparky, Chica.

After the ceremonial start tomorrow, we all head north to Willow for the 'real' start on Sunday afternoon at 2 PM AST. More later!!

Iditarod Preparation - 1 Day Out

The Iditarod Starting Banquet, last night, was full of enthusiasm, celebration, competition and friendship. It was also long! But so goes the Iditarod tradition.

At about 9 PM Aliy drew her starting number. She will go out in spot number 17. Allen drew his number at about 11 PM. He is starting number 76. For the full list of Iditarod starters and their starting numbers, log onto the Iditarod web site.

Needless to say, the SP Kennel crew arrived safely in Anchorage yesterday afternoon. Two dog trucks, loaded with 34 canine athletes and their racing gear, and one SUV, loaded with Sammy and his baby gear, convoyed south from Fairbanks yesterday. The Big Mountain, Denali, smiled on us throughout the trip. The weather was perfect, the views fantastic.

We are all enjoying the hospitality of Hawthorn Suites here in downtown Anchorage. The dog trucks are parked in a special secure zone in the parking lot adjacent to our hotel windows. While Aliy and Allen tried to sleep after the banquet, Bridgett, Marla and Janet fed and watered the dogs at intervals throughout the night and morning. The dogs are well. They are eager to run!

We'll be posting the final rosters for both Aliy's and Allen's teams before the day is out. Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Thom Swan is AWESOME!!! Thank you so much. is back up and working like a dream.

We will update you with the dogs that Aliy and Allen are taking on the trail as well as their start positions on Friday morning. Aliy and Allen headed down to Anchorage this afternoon. They have meetings all day tomorrow. Doug, Ray, Bridgett and Janet are driving the dogs down tomorrow morning. Mickey, Sammy and I (Kaz) will be heading down behind them.



We are currently having technical difficulties with We hope to have it back up this evening. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Iditarod Preparation - 4 Days Out

It is 11 AM AST. Aliy and Allen have taken the racing dogs on a final 20-mile training run , to stretch their legs and boost their enthusiasm. It is 5 degrees F above zero and the sun is dazzling. It is a spectacular day in Interior Alaska.

At 3 PM this afternoon, Aliy and Allen board an Alaska Airlines plane to Anchorage. Tonight they begin the whirlwind pre-race activities when they dine with representatives of Horizon Lines of Alaska, an SP Kennel major sponsor.

Tomorrow is devoted to Iditarod events….mushers’ meetings, lunch with each teams’ Iditariders, media sessions and, finally, the Starting Banquet when mushers draw their starting numbers.

Friday is sponsor day for the SP Kennel gang. Many thanks to these Anchorage area businesses for their support and hospitality. Any well wishers are welcome to ‘meet and greet’ Aliy, Allen and the dogs at the following venues on Friday evening:

Reilly’s Pub, on Fireweed 3:00 to 4:00 PM
Midnight Sun Brewery, on Arctic 4:30 to 6:00 PM
Hawthorne Suites, on 8th Ave 6:15 to 7:30 PM

News Flash: We are experimenting with posting podcasts on this blog. Click on the link to the right to see and hear Aliy answer questions about her goals for Iditarod 2008. Let us know what you think about this addition.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Iditarod Preparation – Ten Days Out

“The trick now is to keep the dogs in shape (just like us) but kind of protect them, so they don’t bump a toe, pull a muscle or get a belly ache,” says Aliy, 10 days before the start of Iditarod 2008.

The dogs are in top shape right now. Refer back to our January 3rd blog, ‘SP Kennel Training Goals’. In the paragraph titled ‘Supporting a Positive Mental Outlook’ we wrote, “ With their bodies in prime condition, our dogs are empowered with extra energy. Lots of extra energy! They feel fantastic.” That is an exact description of the SP Kennel racing dogs today. And it is Aliy’s and Allen’s job to keep them in top physical and mental condition until the race begins.

To that end, Aliy, Allen and Bridgett will be doing a series of 5 to 6 hour training runs in the week ahead, paying close attention to each dog's performance and attitude. Interspersed with the runs will be the pre-race vet checks and a kennel visit by the Discovery Channel which will be tracking Aliy’s race progress. Our mushers must also exercise themselves, pack race gear, finalize logistics, communicate with sponsors and sleep well at night.

Before the start, there is only one ‘day of rest’ for Aliy and Allen to nourish body and spirit and focus in earnest on the days ahead. They are then expected in Anchorage next Wednesday to meet with sponsors and fulfill their Iditarod public relations duties.

But the dogs are first priority! Here is a video of Allen departing SP Kennel on a training run last Sunday.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Iditarod Preparation - Two Weeks Out

Iditarod 2008 starts in downtown Anchorage on March 1, two weeks from today. The crew at SP Kennel is well into final race preparations.

‘Drop bags’ for both Aliy's and Allen's teams were delivered to Iditarod race officials on Monday. These bags, each filled with 50 to 60 pounds of extra supplies, are shipped to checkpoints prior to the race. Two bags per team are shipped to most checkpoints. Three bags per team go to major resupply stops along the trail. The heaviest items in the bags are special-formula dog kibble and dog snacks of salmon, lamb, turkey, fat balls etc. The remaining items include human food, dog booties, dog blankets and wind breakers, extra clothes and footwear for the musher, chemical hand and foot warmers, supplemental medical supplies, personal care products, extra sled runners and more! Each SP Kennel team will have 1500 to 1600 pounds of supplies along the trail when the race begins.

Aliy is ready to pack 'fat balls', a favorite dog snack, into drop bags.

Last week, mandatory blood tests and EKG’s were run on all of this year’s potential Iditarod racing dogs. In the coming week, all dogs must be wormed as specified by Iditarod’s Chief Veterinarian. Then, Jean Battig DVM, an SP Kennel major sponsor, will complete a pre-race vet check of each racing dog.

Jean Battig DVM performs a pre-race exam on Hoss.

The dogs are muscled, enthusiastic and healthy! But what about our mushers? Allen is steadily recovering from his Yukon Quest flu and bronchitis. Aliy is trying to stay healthy and well rested.

A bit of good news: Temperatures in Interior Alaska have moderated. The near future holds no more 50 degrees F below zero temperatures. Temps should range between 20 degrees F above zero and 20 degrees F below zero for the next week. That’s much better for final training runs, race prep and just staying healthy.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

YQ300 Update, 02-10-08 11:30AST

Change of Plans

Allen was released from the hospital and arrived back home at about 4am this morning. He was diagnosed with a severe case of bronchitis and will be on medications and bed rest for several days. As we said earlier, and is now Aliy’s mantra, “This race really wasn’t meant to be.”

Road conditions over Eagle Summit on the Steese Highway are miserable! The road has been closed all night, yet another stumbling block for this year’s Quests. Our handlers, Mark and Lance, will head out to Central and Circle as soon as the road opens to pick up the drop bags for Aliy, Allen and Randy.

One of the things that came out of this crazy Yukon Quest 300 run is the strength of the Two Rivers community. Aliy and Allen had run to our community store Pleasant Valley, which had opened up their space for the Quest mushers and handlers to warm up and get some sleep on their trek out to Chena Hot Springs. That is when Aliy discovered Allen’s state. Fred Lee, our neighbor and friend, just happened to walk in right when they decided the hospital was necessary. Fred swept Allen up immediately and headed for Fairbanks. Jason, a local musher who used to work with Aliy at Two Rivers Lodge, volunteered to help Aliy get the two teams home. During this time, Susan Holly headed over to the kennel to prepare for the dogs coming home and another friend, Thom Swan, got in touch with me so I could contact the handlers and other important people. Frankie at Pleasant Valley worked so hard to keep me information about what was going on.


YQ300 Update, 02-10-08 6AM AST

"A Race that Wasn't Meant to Be" - Aliy Zirkle

About 50 miles into the YQ 300, Allen became quite sick and was driven to the hospital emergency room in Fairbanks. Fortunately, Allen and Aliy had been running together at the time. When they stopped to rest at Valley Center, about 5 miles from their home, it was obvious that Allen should not continue.

Aliy felt that she needed to stay in communication, not out in the wilds, until Allen's health status was known. She also stopped racing.

As of 3 AM AST, medical tests showed that Allen had no major medical problems. He probably developed a severe flu. The best we can guess is that the prevalent and virulent flu bug, that prevented Randy from racing, also caught up with Allen.

Aliy has since managed to get both teams of dogs home and she was awaiting more detailed information on Allen.

Our diligent dog handlers, who were awaiting SP teams at Chena Hot Springs, report that it is about -30 degrees F with winds of about 30 mph. Pretty nasty stuff. Two YQ300 teams had made it in to Chena Hot Springs by 5AM AST.

More later!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

YQ300 Update, 02-09-08 10:30PM AST

Through North Pole Dog Drop

Both Aliy and Allen have passed through the North Pole Dog Drop, 33 miles down the trail from Fairbanks. I didn’t get an exact time that they went through, however it was right around 8:40pm. All of the teams passed through the checkpoint within a 20 minute window. Although Allen left 14 minutes after Aliy from the start line, he had passed her before reaching the dog drop. They were running together with Allen slightly in the lead. The temperature at the checkpoint was -35 degrees below zero. It will likely get colder than that during the night. Neither had to drop any dogs.

The next Checkpoint is Chena Hot Springs, about 66 miles. Aliy and Allen will be running on very familiar trails during this section of the race. They will pass within a mile of the kennel. The first year Aliy ran the Yukon Quest (1998), the trail passed so close that the dogs could see their dog houses.

The teams:
Aliy is running with ChaCha, Butterscotch, Oddball, Skittles, Teddy, Mouse, Pingo, Dill, Spot, JJ, Spicy and Stormy.

Allen has Girlfriend, her pups Hoss, KitKat, Reeses and Snickers as well as Petunia, Betsy, Larry, Homey, Sparky, Manny and Betty.

Musher Bib #3 has withdrawn from the race at North Pole, but I don’t know who that musher is. It is either Alyssa Quaile or Jocelyne LeBlanc. She sited the cold weather as her reason for scratching. I hope to have a list of the musher’s numbers soon. The Quest 300 website has not been updated yet.

The Nelson Family was kind enough to volunteer to be SP Kennel’s handlers for the race. Mark, Lance, Bob and Jane will also be keeping us up to date with what is going on along the trail. We sent them out with a satellite phone so we should be able to keep everyone up to date with the Quest 300.

YQ300 Update, 02-09-08 6:00 PM AST


The Yukon Quest 300 started on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks one hour ago. Aliy departed in the first position at 5 PM AST. Allen followed, in 7th position, 12 minutes later. A total of 9 teams started the race under crystal clear skies with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees F below zero.

Their first checkpoint is Chena Hot Springs, 99 miles from the start. We expect Aliy and Allen at this checkpoint sometime early Sunday morning. The following are new guidelines issued by the race marshalls just before the YQ300 start. All teams will now take a mandatory 4 hour rest at Chena Hot Springs and have 8 hours to transport their teams, by truck, to the Mile 101 checkpoint.

For the Yukon Quest’s official comments on last minute trail changes go to

Thanks to Kaz, Ray and Sammy for this report directly from the YQ300 starting line. Stay tuned for race updates as we receive information from our dedicated dog handlers on the Yukon Quest 300 trail.

YQ 300 Update, 02-09-08 1:00 PM AST


The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race began this morning, leaving Fairbanks at a pleasant -25 degrees below zero, on a 1000 mile trek through the mail trails of Gold Rush Alaska and Yukon Territory to finish in Whitehorse, Canada. Twenty four teams will be competing in this 25th anniversary running of the race. Top contenders are 3 time champion Lance Mackey and Iditarod musher Ken Anderson.

Tonight at 5pm the Yukon Quest 300 heads off on the same trail. Both Aliy and Allen will be running teams. Randy Chappel was originally slated to run a team, but he had to pull out yesterday due to sickness. Luckily, Allen was able to step in as the driver of Randy’s team.
The Yukon Quest 300 is a race in fluid motion right now. Temperatures in the area have been reaching as cold as -65 below zero. Although it has warmed up today, cold weather is still in the forecast. Due to the extreme cold, several mushers have withdrawn from the race. As of last night, 9 mushers will be competing in the YQ300, but others were contemplating not running.

Along with the cold temperatures, the Quest is dealing with other hazardous trail conditions. The section run between Chena Hot Springs and Mile 101 lacked snow cover. Rosebud Mountain, difficult even under good conditions, has large sections with no snow and exposed rocks. It was decided that the trail was too dangerous to use. The races, the 1000 and 300 milers, will run from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs where they will have a mandatory stop - 6 hours Aliy and Allen. After the stop, the mushers will load their teams into their dog trucks and drive 4 hours around to the Mile 101 Dog Drop. The race will begin again there, five hours after the end of each musher’s mandatory rest.

The finish of the Quest 300 is normally in the village of Circle, but because of the trail change, it is not clear exactly where the race will be finishing this year. The plan right now is that the mushers will run from Mile 101 to Central (this section is over the infamous Eagle Summit) and then to Circle. From that point, the trail will head out and loop back around to Circle before returning for a finish at Central. If this is the final route, the 300 mile race will be 335 miles. If the finish is at Circle where it normally is, the 300 mile race will be 175 miles. We will let you know as we find out the final details.

Aliy will be leaving the start line at 5pm in the first position and Allen will be leaving 14 minutes later in the seventh slot.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Deep Freeze Hits Interior Alaska

With the Yukon Quest and the Yukon Quest 300 in the immediate future, Two Rivers and Interior Alaska plunges into a week of 40 to 50 below temperatures. Reports from near Circle and Central, Alaska (checkpoints on both races) are -65 below zero on the river. Randy Chappel arrived in Two Rivers on Sunday night, leaving Dallas, TX at 65 degrees and arriving in Fairbanks at -42 below zero. Nothing like a shock to the system! The forecast is showing continuing cold weather into the weekend, warming only slightly over the next few days.

While the temperatures limit outdoor activities, SP Kennel is moving at a crazy pace. Aliy and Allen are working on their Iditarod food drops which are due Monday, Feb. 11. They will be shipping out between 1200 and 1500 lbs a piece for the upcoming 1000 miles race. The Quest 300 will still be underway, so everything must be done before start time, Saturday’s 5pm.

Presently, SP Kennel has reduced its number of teams in the Quest 300 to two. Allen will not be running in this race due to a few minor dog injuries. The kennel’s ultimate goal for the season is the Iditarod and these dogs have to have some time off to be ready.

Musher meetings and the start banquet for the Quest 300 are Thursday and Friday. Further updates to come.

Monday, February 4, 2008


This season, Bridgett Moore Watkins, Allen’s daughter, has become an indispensable member of the SP Kennel team. Bridgett grew up in Fairbanks, went to Arkansas to become an R.N., then returned to Alaska in late 2006. Bridgett and her husband, Scotty, settled in Nome, Alaska, on the Bering Sea. She works nights at the Norton Sound Regional Hospital and he is a personal banker with Wells Fargo Bank. Nome has become their home! However, since serious dog training began in September, Bridgett has been traveling to Two Rivers about every 3 to 4 weeks to assume dog care and training responsibilities for several days. To schedule this, she usually works 7 to 10 nights straight at the hospital. Yes, she is young and durable. At SP Kennel, Bridgett feeds dogs and cleans the dog yard. She helps with vaccinations, wormings and other vet care. She gathers, cleans and tests racing equipment. She exercises the puppies and takes senior racing dogs on long training runs. When it’s time to sleep, you can find her curled up in bed with Girlfriend and Stella. In mid January, Bridgett was Allen’s dog handler during the Copper Basin Sled Dog Race. For three days, she followed the race trail in 30 below zero temps, cleaning up at check points, caring for dropped dogs, updating the blog writers, cheering Allen and Aliy and dozing infrequently in the SP Kennel Ford F-350's front seat. Her support was a big part of Allen’s Copper Basin win! On January 27 Bridgett got a ‘reward’ for all the hard work. She raced an SP Kennel team in the Tustumena 100! As a youngster she sprint raced in Fairbanks, but this was her very first distance race. We knew she would excel and she did. Bridgett finished 4th out of 16 teams. The following is a short photo essay of Bridgett’s activities during January 2008.

Come on, Bisquit! Time to get your booties on.

Do I have enough bowls to feed all these dogs?

Scoop that poop!

A little nervous, but ready to start the Tustumena 100.

I did it. Fourth place in the Tustumena 100!!