By Sally O’Sullivan Bair
(February 18, 2013, Camp Ripley, MN) Camp Ripley and nature rolled out the red carpet to stage a truly winter warrior’s sled dog race. Twelve inches of new snow blanketed the mostly wooded trails along the Mississippi River in a winter wonderland of beauty for the thirty teams that entered to vie for the $1600+ in purse money. Camp Ripley lent its trail groomer and personnel to the superb weekend to make for a very successful event, which sported an 8-dog mid-distance class (37.1 miles), a 10-dog sprint class (10.2 miles), a 6-dog sprint class (5.7 miles), and the 4-dog sprint pro and recreational classes (4.0 miles), 1-dog skijoring, and 2- and 3-dog youth classes.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Saturday saw partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low teens. Sunday was warmer with temperatures in the upper 20’s but damper with a good breeze. The trails were well packed and harder on Sunday.
The longer trails had some challenging hills and curves as well as some interesting sights along the way, including tanks, helicopters, and even a practice Afghan “town” and prisoner of war camp used for military reservists’ weekend war games. Other reservists could be seen practicing their cross-country ski and snowshoe skills.
When all was said and done, Alex LaPlante of Esko, MN, took home the trophy in the mid-distance class with a total time for the two days of 7:20:40.36 (hours, minutes, seconds, hundredths), besting second place Tim Chisholm of North Branch, MN, whose time was 7:24:32.75. Linus Meyer of Melrose, MN, placed third with a time of 7:36:25.33.
In the 10-dog sprint class, event organizer Bob Bzdok of Rice, MN, copped the top honor with a total time of 1:13:40.00. Art Stoller from Bagley, MN, took second place with a total time of 1:14:48.03. Bzdok had a substantial lead after Saturday’s heat, but on Sunday his leader was reluctant to get started, costing him almost two minutes. Coreene Hanson, Stoller’s partner, took third place with a time of 1:25:23.42. Both Stoller and Hanson ran only eight dogs, the “puppy brigade,” as they referred to them.
A small contingent of teams came in from the East en route to the IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports) World Championships in North Pole, Alaska, to compete in the Winter Warrior’s limited classes. With crack teams ready to vie with the best in the world, they showed their stuff by impressive runs in the 6-dog and 4-dog classes. Grace Bailey of Stratford, NH, bagged first place in the 6-dog class with a total time of 45:29.40. Sherry Johnson of Fergus Falls, MN, carrying the Neal and Carolyn Johnson tradition of great teams, logged in a second place time of 49:37.90. She also gave a superb interview with a Brainerd television channel, there to record the events. Steve Peterson, Backus, MN, took third place with a time of 1:19:09.12. Mention should be made of competitor Allison Petell (Mazeppa, MN), whose kennel consists of rescue dogs. Although she was not in the money, mushers commend her for her efforts to rescue dogs suitable for the trails. Such an undertaking takes vim and vigor … and lots of patience!
Grace Bailey again took the top honor in the 4-dog pro class with a time of 19:29.21. Jordyn Bzdok of Rice, MN, turned a respectable second place time of 20:07.49, and Lyman Wolske, NSSDC president from Hudson, WI, placed third with a time of 20:55.77. In the 4-dog recreational class, Sherry Johnson was again on the awards podium in first place with a time of 26:06.60, and Camille Haglin of Brainerd, MN, clocked in a time of 27:06.80 to take second place. Brad LeBlanc from Little Falls, MN, took home the third place trophy with a time of 31:11.91.
Mike Schultenover of Excelsior, MN, won the 1-dog skijoring event, posting a time of 32:56.94. Nathalie Fortier of Loudon, NH, placed second, clocking 35:30.65.
The Bzdok kids from Rice, MN, stole the show in the youth classes. Jonathan ran the 2-dog, 4-mile trail in a total time of 27:20.62. Jaymie covered the distance with her three dogs in 25:38.24. They exhibited a friendly family rivalry as well as well wishes to each other. A gutsy seven-year-old, Jonathan fears little and stops short of nothing on the trails, but a howling wolf out on the trail will scare the devil out of him!
Rumors have circulated that Camp Ripley was already taking stock of the trail map on Sunday morning for 2014 in an effort to improve the layout and staging. They were very pleased with the event. Camp Ripley Post Commander Col. Scott St. Sauver and Sgt. Tim Krouth, who worked directly with North Star and Erin Lindquist and Bob Bzdok, paid their respects to the race. Over the weekend, Camp Ripley also hosted the Annual Norwegian Soldiers Exchange Program, and several participants came over the see the sled dog race.
North Star Sled Dog Club (NSSDC) extends its thanks to all the personnel at Camp Ripley, especially Sgt. Tim Krouth and the trail groomer, and to the many sponsors who contributed to the race. NSSDC also thanks the officials and assistants: event organizers Erin Linquist and Bob Bzdok, race marshal Sally O’Sullivan Bair, veterinarian Jerry Vanek, dog marker Jill Levene, timer Lynn Congdon, chute judge Mike Congdon, announcer Chris Meyer, and trail boss Brian Bzdok, and the myriad of other people who helped, among them the VFW of Little Falls, which supplied the concessions. Don Deckert, Melissa Bloom, and Stoffel Reitsma were available to give sled dog rides to anyone. Thanks!
Complete race results are available at: