Fur flies at sled race

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Mushers, dog teams dash 10 miles in the last leg of 300-plus mile challenge

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Dog pokes its nose out of the truck
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Joe Loveless of Roy, Wash.,

PARK CITY – Whiner was limping. Hudson, Rose, Dale, Sara, Patch, Sugar and Tyson were lounging or rehydrating after a 10.2-mile race Saturday.

It was the end of the 11th annual International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race, which started Jan. 27 in Jackson, Wyo., and ended with a two-loop course here that one racer described as similar to getting a root canal.

"It was all right," countered Irvin Perry, an easygoing Canadian from Inuvik, Northwest Territory.
Whiner and friends pulled all 240 pounds of Perry and his roughly 35-pound aluminum sled for the last leg of a 300-plus mile, eight-stop Tour de France-style race for mushers.

At the start, Patch's barking and howling got his buddies excited while handlers for Perry could barely contain the team.

It was the same for about 20 teams that included the likes of Doug Swingley, a former Utahn and four-time winner of the Iditarod, a 1,100-mile sled dog race across Alaska.

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Wendy Davis' team came in fourth with a time of 24:57.

Swingley, from Lincoln, Mont., posted the best time Saturday with a 37-minute finish, mushing at top speeds of about 17 mph in front of about 300 spectators.

But it was Swingley's wife, Melanie Shirilla, who would become race champion with an overall time of 23 hours, 45 minutes. In 2002 she became the first woman to win the race, which this year carried a $50,000 overall purse — Shirilla's share was $10,000.

The race's top four included Shirilla, followed by Alaskan Jacques Philip (who just won a big race in Europe) at 24:39, Swingley, 24:56, and Wyoming resident Wendy Davis, 24:57.
Perry predicted before the race how well he would do.

"Not very," he said.

It's Perry's fourth year of racing mixed breeds of Alaskan husky, hound and German shorthair pointer dogs among the 50 he keeps at his kennel in Canada. These are lean dogs that eat raw beef, chicken and horse meat along with their kibble.

Breeds of dog and diets change from one racer to the next.

"Everyone has their own special recipe," said Darla Worden, spokeswoman for the race. "Each breeder has their own formula."

At the starting line, race director Frank Teasley encouraged the crowd to help in the final countdowns to send teams off, tearing into the snowy track in their individual time trials.

Joe Loveless' dogs were the first up. The team jumped around and let out muted, raspy sounding barks — in their hometown of Roy, Wash., their voices were "fixed" to comply with the city's noise rules.

"Three, two, one!" the crowd shouted, and the Loveless team was kicking up snow at a hair past noon.

By about 12:30 p.m., Perry was finishing his first loop to the shouts of Teasley over a megaphone, "Irvin Perry, lookin' good!"

Teasley later explained to spectators that sled dog racing is like a game of chess when all the pieces are moving at the same time — in the snow, of course.

Just before 1 p.m., teams began passing each other on the loop. Numbers 14, 11 and 5 were involved in a pile-up in one corner.

"We got gridlock up here," someone in the audience joked.

Some dogs went off course, which required humans to grab the lead dogs and steer the whole team back onto the groomed course that normally serves as a cross-country ski trail.

Tow lines that connect the teams got tangled. Mushers helped, using their own legs to push the sled while their dogs pulled.

Charlie Boulding, a 63-year-old Alaskan, landed face first in the snow when his sled tipped over in a turn. His thick gray beard had turned white as he righted the sled and continued on.

One by one they crossed the finish line with Perry, 34, finishing somewhere close to last place. About all that was left for him was a 3,000-mile drive back to his home where, in his other life, he is a carpenter.

When asked why, after losing so much, he likes to race, Perry took a long pause and answered, "It's kind of hard to put into words."

Source: Deseret News

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