Monticello, MN, February 17, 2014 – Again nature rolled out the white carpet this year for Camp Ripley’s 2nd Winter Warriors Sled Dog Race February 15-16, 2014. Weather couldn’t have been more perfect – with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the high teens and low twenties. The trails were well packed, wide, and gorgeous.
Thirty-eight teams vied for a purse of over $2500. When all was said and done, it was Charlie Laboda (Hoveland, MN) who took home the top honor in the 10-dog mid-distance, 45-mile event with a total time of 8:00:54.18, followed by Jamie Nelson (Togo, MN) in second with a total time of 8:29:17.88 and nineteen-year-old Saul Ellering – yes, son of distance musher and wrestler “Precious Paul” – taking the third place trophy. Laboda and his father Dennis had just returned from the Wyoming Stage Stop race, so their dogs were in top condition partly owing to the higher altitude of Wyoming. But Nelson is no slouch either. She is a veteran musher with over 40 years of experience, and Laboda, the senior, recalled when he was but a teen competing against Nelson. Nelson had a dog on the second day that was exhibiting some difficulties, and she ended up loading it periodically.
Dennis Laboda carried home the top prize in the 6-dog mid-distance, 25-mile class with a total time of 4:14:48.01 for the two days. The teams of Art Stoller and Coreene Hanson (Bagley, MN) placed second and third, respectively. Stoller’s total time was 4:21:02.76. He and Hanson had worked out a slick strategy for beating Laboda, but because of the superior condition of Laboda’s team, it didn’t gain traction. Stoller also mused about having competed against a teenaged Laboda many years ago.
In the 10-dog sprint class, race coordinator Bob Bzdok (Rice, MN) successfully defended his 2013 title, posting a total time for the 10.2-mile trail of 1:08:56.54. He was followed a little over four minutes later by teenager Sherry Johnson (Fergus Falls, MN), daughter of former musher and champ Neal Johnson and champ and veterinarian Carolyn Johnson. Tim Wallace (Zim, MN) took home the prize for third place.
Ken Davis (Saginaw, MN) peddled to first in the 6-dog sprint class with a total time of 50:02.80 for the 7.2-mile trail. Tim Wallace (Zim, MN) was second, and Dean Bonati (Hillman, MN) was third. In the 4-dog sprint class, young Jordyn Bzdok garnered first place with a total time for the 4.0-mile trail of 24:42.51, besting Ken Davis by a mere 26 seconds. Lyman Wolske, North Star Sled Dog Club’s president, grabbed the trophy for third place. Sherry Johnson (Fergus Falls, MN) again took the podium in the 4-dog rec class. She posted a total time of 32:12.75 for the 4.0-mile trail. She was followed in second place by Brad Rasmussen (Hutchinson, MN) and Emily Kowalke (St. Cloud, MN) in third.
Allison Petell (Mazeppa, MN) took home the trophy in the skijoring class, a 4.0-mile trail. Despite there being many skijorers in Minnesota, no others showed up for the competition, and Allison, being the sole spokesperson for skijorers, was inundated with questions from spectators, expressing an interest in this form of winter activity.
Eight-year-old John Bzdok (Rice, MN) again stole the show this year in the youth classes, placing first in both the 3-dog, 4.0-mile trail and the 2-dog, 2.8-mile trail. Running her first race, nine-year-old Taylor DeBoer (Grand Marais, MN), was second in the 2 dog event, and Andrea Jendro (Kimball, MN), also running her first race, was third.
Many of the trails were not only challenging with curves and hills, but showcased some interesting sights, including army tanks, helicopters, and even a practice Afghan “village” and prisoner of war camp used for military reservists’ weekend war games. Many mushers also experienced the wonder of “rendezvous road,” where teams from various classes merged and negotiated passing head-on as well as from behind. There was not a mishap, though, and everyone came through all the richer for the experience.
In accepting their awards, both Jamie Nelson and Dennis Laboda stated that they each had covered many thousands of miles of sled dog trails but the trails at Camp Ripley were by far best any they had been on. They praised the race crews and event organizers, and Nelson expressed her prediction as to the tremendous potential for this race. With 53,000 acres of land, this piece of real estate of rolling hills, beautiful woodlands and prairie along the Mississippi River, all courtesy and property of our US government, begs to be utilized for programs like this race that outreach to the larger community, outreach being one of Camp Ripley’s missions.
North Star Sled Dog Club is grateful to the people at Camp Ripley for rolling out the red carpet for this race. North Star also extends its thanks to the Bzdok families for their hard work in staging such a prestigious event and the many supporters and sponsors for their contributions that made the race possible. Neil Andersen and Sgt. Tony Housey, grandson of former musher Betty Housey, graciously contributed their photographic talents to taking some great pictures.
Mark your calendars for February 14-15, 2015, for the 3rd Camp Ripley Winter Warriors Sled Dog Race!