Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:33 PM on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Big names, new names in mushing hit Tustumena 200 trail this weekend

This year's T200 includes McNeil Canyon layover



 

Photo provided.

In the 2010, Rebekah Ruzicka, whose team included Cesar, left, and lead dog Daisy, took first place in the Junior Willow 100.

This weekend promises up-close views of the fast-paced, howling excitement of sled dog racing.

The Tustumena 200, a 200-mile race beginning and ending in Kasilof, has been altered so the 50-mile mark will be McNeil Canyon Elementary School. Once there, mushers and dog teams will take a mandatory two-hour layover before heading to the half-way mark and a six-hour layover at Freddie's Roadhouse in the Caribou Hills. In the final race for the finish line, the teams will again have a two-hour mandatory layover at McNeil Canyon.

The race roster includes seasoned mushers with Iditarod experience. For instance, there's Jessica Hendricks of Two Rivers, the first one to cross the starting line Saturday morning. She'll be followed by Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, who has finished as high as second place in two Iditarods. Then there's four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King and 29-year Iditarod veteran Dee Dee Jonrowe. In fact, of the 19 mushers signed up for this year's Tustumena 200, nine have Iditarod history.

Two mushers with southern peninsula connections also are in the line-up: Bill Pinkham of Colorado, who trains in the Homer area during the winters, and Rebekah Ruzicka of Anchor Point, who is making her debut as a Tustumena 200 entrant.

"I've bee on a sled since I was two and started racing when I was nine," said the 19-year-old Ruzicka.

She's raced in the Junior Iditarod four years, placing in second place twice, and in the 50-mile Junior Tustumena three years, taking first place in 2010.

From her 17-dog kennel, Ruzicka will be racing a team of 14 this weekend, with four-year-old Daisy in the lead.

"She just loves to go, she loves to run up there (in the lead)," Ruzicka said of Daisy. "She's a really good dog."

Training for Ruzicka begins in August. With her dogs harnessed to a three-wheeler, she works out on trails near her home near Nikolaevsk, east of Anchor Point.

This winter's winter weather on the southern Kenai Peninsula has made for cold and very windy conditions, but it hasn't slowed Ruzicka down.

Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race

Friday, 5 p.m.: Vet checks at the Aspen Hotel, Soldotna

Friday, 5:15 p.m.: Mandatory musher meeting, Aspen Hotel, Soldotna

Saturday, 9 a.m.: Start of the 50-mile Junior Tustumena, Mile 112 Sterling Highway near Kasilof

Saturday, 11 a.m.: Start of the Tustumena 200, Mile 112 Sterling Highway near Kasilof

Monday, 6 p.m.: Awards banquet, TBA, limited seating

For more information: Visit www.tustumena200.com.

Tustumena 200 history: The race was founded in the mid-1980s by Dean Osmar of Clam Gulch, the 1984 Iditarod champion. This year's race marshal, Kevin Fulton, was in that first race.

"We were out there for a good portion of it," she said of lengthy runs in preparation for this weekend's race. "We actually did an all-night run the other night, 12 hours."

Having not entered any events in 2011, Ruzicka said she's been missing the excitement of racing. This year's Tustumena 200 offers the challenge of an unfamiliar course.

"This is a new trail I've never been on so I'll have to pay attention and not get lost," she said. "It'll be interesting. It'll be fun."

When not training or on the trail, Ruzicka is "waiting for it to snow. This pretty much consumes most of my life," she said. "I love it. I can't imagine myself doing anything else."

Preparing the course for this weekend's race has been the focus of activity for Homer Snomads, an organization of more than 400 snowmachine and outdoor recreation enthusiasts on the southern Kenai Peninsula. A new groomer is being used to prepare the course. Club personnel also will provide volunteers to manage the McNeil Canyon checkpoint, help care for dogs and are hoping to have a bonfire going where spectators can warm up. A reciprocal agreement with the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers of Ninilchik extends the support further north.

"We're working on trails that connect from Ninilchik to here," said Scott Connelly, Snomads vice president. "Things are really coming together. ... It's pretty exciting because McNeil is a point where the public can access it."

This isn't Homer's first year to be part of the Tustumena 200 course. It was a stop when the race began in 1984, said race director Tami Murray. After that, the course was routed past Caribou Lake with Clam Gulch the half-way point.

"We wanted to get Homer back into the race. It's another spot that spectators can view the mushers," said Murray. "Caribou Lake was a little dangerous with overflow and spectators couldn't get out there unless you had a cabin or snowmachine."

The new course has brought a wave of welcomed volunteers.

"I'm super excited about the volunteer turnout in Homer," said Murray. "We've got more people wanting to help out with the race than the whole race combined. There are a ton of great volunteers, but the turnout for Homer alone is unbelievable. Lots of people wanted to step up and be part of it."


 

The Homer area connection also is represented in cover art for the race program. Among entries submitted by peninsula students for consideration, the illustration by Alintina Reutov, a sixth-grade student at Voznesenka School was selected. Alintina's prize is a pizza party at school from Starvin Marvin's. Other entries noted from the southern peninsula and winning gift cards from Starvin Marvin's were, in third place, Alexander Reutov, and in fourth place, Enya Martushev. Alexander and Enya also are sixth-grade students at Voznesenka. Jaedyn Gale, a sixth-grader from Cook Inlet Academy in Soldotna won second place and a gift card to Rock's Café.

Tustumena 200 race fans can keep a close eye on the progress of individual teams this year thanks to "spot tracking." Utilizing GPS, mushing enthusiasts can go to the race's website to find racers' locations.

"A lot of races are doing this and I'm really excited we're able to use it. It's a great way to watch the race and, if you want to go out and see them, you can see where they are," said Murray. "We encourage everyone to come out. You've got a couple of different changes to see (the teams). The best way to do that is follow them online."

For more information on the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, visit www.tustumena200.com.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

INFO BOX:

Friday, 5 p.m.: Vet checks at the Aspen Hotel, Soldotna

Friday, 5:15 p.m.: Mandatory musher meeting, Aspen Hotel, Soldotna

Saturday, 9 a.m.: Start of the 50-mile Junior Tustumena, Mile 112 Sterling Highway near Kasilof

Saturday, 11 a.m.: Start of the Tustumena 200, Mile 112 Sterling Highway near Kasilof

Monday, 6 p.m.: Awards banquet, TBA, limited seating

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