The inaugural McCall Ultra Sled Dog Challenge, which ended with an awards banquet on January 31st, is quickly becoming memory. But what an exciting collection of sights and sounds, dogs and mushers, volunteers and crowds, to reflect upon and anticipate watching again next year!
McCall Digest caught up with some key race staff at the awards banquet and asked for their impressions of the event.
Andy, Angstman, Race Marshal
“I’ve never been to a race with this much enthusiasm, and I’ve probably been to hundreds of races.” Angstman, of Anchorage, was born in Bethel, Alaska and comes from a mushing family. The Angstmans were involved in founding and organizing the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race, which Angstman raced three times. Angstman also raced the Kobuk 440 and the 2007 Iditarod as well as many shorter races. He has acted as race judge in both the Kushkokwim 300 and the Iditarod, so he arrived well-prepared for his duties as race marshal at the inaugural McCall Ultra Sled Dog Challenge. “I’m totally thrilled with the local participation; the enthusiasm is overwhelming,” says Angstman. “You need the support of the local communities to be successful. I hope the race continues for years, and I’m excited to be a part of year one. I will be back.” Angstman noted that for the mushers, the trails in the hills were challenging, and it was difficult logistically to mark Forest Service terrain in Idaho’s backcountry. Mushers were given laminated maps with intersections marked, but as Angstman said, when they become sleep-deprived and its dark, it can be easy to miss a turn. “We had a post-race meeting with the mushers, and even though several lost the trail at some point, there was no anger or ill will, just suggestions for next year.”
Phil Morgan, Race Judge
Morgan filled in last-minute when two other Alaskan race judges became ill and couldn’t make it to McCall. Morgan – an Alaska Airlines pilot – raced the Iditarod in 2005, winning the Red Lantern award. Morgan has flown for the Iditarod Air Force since 1995 and is the IAF Assistant Chief Pilot. When asked for his overall impression of this first-year event in McCall, Morgan said, “It was managed chaos that went extremely well. Hundreds of volunteers went above and beyond to make it a success. The hospitality was incredible. My intention at this point is to return every year.”
Rhonda Aliah, Head Veterinarian
Aliah came to McCall Ultra Sled Dog Challenge with lots of race experience, including Idaho and Wyoming races as well as working seven years as race vet for the Iditarod. In addition to working as a relief vet in Idaho Falls (she sold her practice there in 2010, after 30 years) Aliah has been staff veterinarian for Idaho Falls Zoo for the past 27 years. When asked for her impressions of this new race, Aliah said, “It was a very good first race, exciting, with outstanding volunteers. The mushers were nice and understanding, because there were some hiccups, but they handled them well.” Aliah noted that among the four race vets – the other three are from Boise – all have Iditarod experience, roughly fifteen years altogether. When asked if she’d like to participate in this event again, Aliah smiled and said, “I’ll be back next year if they’ll let me!”
Scenes from the Awards Banquet
All of the mushers attended the awards banquet held Wednesday evening, where after listening to an entertaining presentation by retired NASA astronaut Dr. John Herrington, they received finisher certificates, prize money, and awards.
Monte Abraham received the Rookie of the Year award for his second-place finish despite being new the sport.
Trevor Warren received the honor of being chosen to receive the Sportsmanship Award, voted on by his fellow mushers. When announcing the award, it was noted that mushers are a small group, a community that has to get along to have a good time, that being good sports makes racing possible. There was no race sweep to follow the last-place team over the course this year, but Warren often acted as unofficial sweep when new teams missed turns and ended up following him onto the correct route, and when there was a stalled team on the trail, his team came up behind them, encouraging the other team to start moving again. Accepting his award, Trevor said, “We are friends, a tight knit community. We help each other. My mom and I have been mushing more than eight years; we never expected to see a race locally, especially a distance race. Thank you, everyone who made it happen. The hospitality, enthusiasm, food was all great. I could get used to people making me sandwiches!”
That award was followed by presentation of the Warren Brown Summit Award for Dog Care Excellence, voted on by all of the race veterinarians. In introducing the award, Dr. Aliah explained that the vets are looking at how mushers handle their dogs’ booties, feeding, medication, massaging, etc. over the course of the race. The award is given to one of the top five finishers, because as Dr. Aliah noted, they’re pushing harder so it takes more effort by the musher to keep the dogs in good condition. While Dr. Aliah admitted the decision was close, saying “I was impressed with how cared-for the dogs were, better than how the mushers care for themselves,” the vets selected Laurie Warren (Trevor’s mother) to receive the recognition. Diane Brown DeBoer and her husband Judd DeBoer presented the trophy – a wood carving – to Warren. Diane’s father, Warren Brown, was born in McCall in 1912, worked in the family sawmill, as a logger, was a state senator and primary founder of Brundage Ski Resort. He and his dog team were immortalized in the movie Northwest Passage as they moved through Ponderosa State Park with a Hollywood actress in the sled. “I’m very humbled to present this award,” Diane told the Digest earlier in the evening. “Daddy would be, too. He would think this race is fabulous. He was just 13 when he won a sled dog race in Ashton, Idaho. I’m proud of him, and of this award in his honor.”
A Final Word from Jerry Wortley – Race Creator and Director – on This Year’s Race and 2019
When one considers that it was only a period of months – less than a year – between deciding to bring sled dog racing back to McCall and pulling off the inaugural event (read an earlier McCall Digest article about the race’s development here), it’s truly amazing what Wortley accomplished. “It went very well,” says Wortley the day after the even concluded, still a bit sleep-deprived. “Any new event like this, there are lessons learned that you take forward. Everyone worked well together. Anytime there was an unexpected problem, we could quickly solve it. The amazing volunteers picked up the ball and ran with it, allowing the race to succeed. I’m very pleased overall.” Wortley is putting together a list of all the people, groups and organizations deserving thanks for helping make this year’s race a success and will publish that shortly.
Wortley says he’s not shocked or surprised by the outpouring of community support. “They saw the thrill of a new event,” he explains, “and bringing history back. One thing I found really gratifying was the enthusiasm of the crowds – so many people – and their excitement.”
Wortley says everyone involved has been very complimentary of the event. The mushers were pleased and loved the course. “Jessie Royer, who has run the Iditarod several times [and won the McCall race] told me the course was challenging, which is what’s needed, and that the community energy was more than she’s seen anywhere else.”
Worley is already looking toward next year, incorporating lessons learned this year to make the race even better. “This event will grow bigger,” Worley says. “This first year was the test bed. We kept it simple and contained.” Plans for next year include expanding the field of mushers, and perhaps creating a 300-mile route so that it can be an Iditarod qualifier for that longer distance. Wortley may also add a 100-mile race and perhaps a junior/kid’s race of 25-30 miles. Input from this year’s mushers, staff and volunteers will be taken into account as planning for 2019 begins.
When asked for his best memory of the 2018 race, Wortley chuckled and said it involves musher Miriam Osredkar at Platt Warming Hut in the nighttime hours. “I happened to be walking by the bathroom when she came out and exuberantly shouted with arms raised in the air, ‘There’s heat in the outhouse!’”
Official Race Results:1st: Jessie Royer 2nd: Monte Abraham 3rd: Brett Bruggeman 4th: Laurie Warren 5th: Madeline Rubida 6th: Josi Thyr (bib #2) 7th: Trevor Warren 8th: Dylan Harris 9th: Spencer Bruggeman 10th: Miriam Osredkor [Cover photo: Sled dog team heading out into the night. Photo by Melissa Shelby. Race result profile photos courtesy of McCall Ultra Sled Dog Challenge.]