Northern Wilds Magazine
The scenery during the Two Rivers race, held near Fairbanks, was outstanding. | MATT SCHMIDT
Dog Blog

Dog Blog: I’m Feeling Lucky

I left off my Dog Blog a month ago at a particularly unlucky time. Matt and Josh were on their way north mid-January with 20 dogs, thousands of pounds of meat and kibble, dog gear and sleds, and a broken trailer in British Columbia that resulted in a very expensive repair and a two-day delay on the road. They made it to Alaska, Josh flew home and the next day Matt called me at work.

“I need help navigating to a repair shop. The truck is spewing diesel and my phone has no data to use the GPS,” he told me.

I suggested that perhaps he just stop and call AAA (I was actually yelling and he said, “Stop yelling, you’re supposed to be the calm one here,” but this sounded like a scary situation). I pulled up a map on the computer and together we found him a place in Wasilla that was able to fix the problem in 10 minutes for free.

A couple days later, Matt called and said he was about to leave on a training trip with mushing legend Jim Lanier and former Duluth mayor and also musher Gunnar Johnson—“talk to you in a few days sweetie…” Then an hour later, he called and said it all fell apart; he wasn’t going.

Turns out he tried to hook up an 18-dog team to go up a river and couldn’t get the rope untied from the truck (that is a lot of dogs pulling), so he cut the line. Then, the dogs turned the wrong direction and he couldn’t stop the sled, so Lanier jumped on (he is in his 80s now) but they both couldn’t stop the team. Matt fell off, then Jim fell off, and the team was barreling toward a steep embankment that dropped down to the river, at which point they would have been long gone. Thankfully, the sled overturned and they bunched up and stopped—that’s when Matt bailed on the whole trip.

The Two Rivers race had three checkpoints with a combined total of 10 hours of mandatory rest. I ended up taking closer to 13 hours rest. | MATT SCHMIDT

At this point, I really started to dread Matt’s phone calls.

A few days after this, Matt packed up and left for Fairbanks with 14 dogs for the Yukon Quest 300. The forecast was for absolute frigid temps, -30 to -50F from start to finish. But Matt said he was mentally prepared and ready. He had drop bags packed and we flew in our friend Phil to Fairbanks to drive the truck to the checkpoints. Phil would stay for two weeks and train dogs with Matt after this. At the vet check however, Matt was told our vaccines were not on par with what the rules required.

Another phone call. We were both crushed. We didn’t care about racing, we just wanted the training miles. But there was nothing to be done. Neither of us had read the rules closely enough and the vaccine rules are different in Alaska from the races we run in the lower 48. So, Matt left Fairbanks and signed up for the Goosebay 150 the following weekend.

Mid-week the truck started gushing power steering fluid and Matt thought maybe he’d need to have it towed somewhere, but they figured out how to get it to Wasilla. Our kennel host was able to get our two teams to the Goose Bay race with her team on a very large dog trailer, so the broken truck didn’t completely stall out the plan there.

I told Matt that if he didn’t start the race for some reason, not to call me. After the race started and he was on his way, he started texting me. Things were fine. Instead of 30 below it was 30 above. They would run almost 80 miles to a checkpoint, take a long rest and run the 80 back. The GPS trackers didn’t work at all and it turned out that Matt’s was the only one that would never work, which in the second half of the race lead us all to believe that he never started the second half of the race, and I started thinking the worst—that for sure something terrible happened and he now wouldn’t even call me because it was that bad. But he was fine. When he got to the finish, no one was there because it was the final quarter of the Super Bowl and everyone was inside the bar watching.

The first task in Alaska was to finalize the drop bags for the Iditarod checkpoints. Over 1,200 pounds of dog food and a little human food were sent to 20 checkpoints. | PHILLIP HASS

I flew up the next day. We scrambled to finish my drop bags and get them to Anchorage on deadline. The truck was fixed and we packed it up and headed north again for a race near Fairbanks called the Two Rivers 200. I would run one team in the race. Matt would drive the truck.

I imagined this race to run along the rivers, mostly flat and rolling. I was the first musher out and the first thing we did was climb a huge mountain and I thought, this isn’t quite what I was expecting. The scenery was outstanding. We traveled along mountain ridges, made huge climbs and big descents. There were many trail intersections and toward the end of the first leg my team, in a split second, took a wrong turn. I noticed right away, but still we were a team length into the wrong trail and I had to fold them back on themselves to turn them the right way and make a 180-degree turn down onto the right trail, but the back half of the team kept getting necklined into the trees and the long sled that I was running was incredibly difficult to turn.

Eventually, two other mushers stopped to help me and once the sled finally broke free, I jumped on. Then it flipped and I got dragged sideways down the trail—down, down—and I got my leg caught in some rope. Finally, we came to a stop. Someone in the woods kept yelling “Musher, are you okay?” No was the obvious answer here. But I wasn’t seriously injured. I couldn’t get up because my leg was pinned. “I just need a minute!” I kept telling her. Finally, I was able to get a snow hook in, my leg extricated, and get things upright and continue on. After that I cried a little and realized I didn’t need to race, so I took extra rest at the checkpoints; and we were all better off.

On the next leg, the dogs did it again. This time, it wasn’t even a trail intersection, they just veered onto someone’s driveway from the plowed road we were on before I even realized what had happened—and we had to do the whole thing again. Only this time, I didn’t get dragged anywhere.

There were really cold miles traveled along the Chena River and an insanely huge mountain we climbed in the last leg with switchbacks. At one point, around dusk, we were traveling through an open area, mountains all around, and the John Dunbar theme came on my music mix. If you can imagine anything more romantic than traveling through the mountains of Alaska behind a beautiful team of dogs with the John Dunbar theme in the background, I’d like to know. I felt really lucky.

Perhaps we can turn our luck around now. I do know I am very fortunate to be here. The mountains are calling. The dogs are strong and ready. The big race starts March 3. Please follow along at, or search Sawtooth Racing on Facebook.

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