18 start the trip
Als dogs younger, faster
Saturday, February 23, 2002
Daily News Staff Writer
l Hardmans core team of dogs for the 2002 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is much younger and faster than his previous teams.
The 2000 team had Bullet as the old man of the team at age 8. The average age of the 16-dog team was 4.5.
In contrast, the 2002 team is made up of mostly 3-year-old dogs, and the oldest dog, Oscar, is 6. The average age of the 2002 team is 3.8.
Sackett, Titus, Sylas, Disco, Oscar and Olive return as Hardmans veterans. Two other dogs, Timex and Casio, were on Iditarod winner Doug Swingleys puppy team in 2000.
Hardman laughs as he talks about his team, and each dog with its own personality.
Whiskey is the big eater. Sackett runs on the right side of the trail, and is big enough to pull the rest of the team over there. Oscar is a great leader but stops to go to the bathroom, forcing the rest of the team to stop when hes in lead, so its unlikely that Oscar will ever lead the team from a checkpoint. He is much better as a leader if a change is necessary midway through a run. Timex and Casio are brothers, as are Titus and Sylas, and Neptune and Pluto.
Hardman maintains a small kennel, by Iditarod standards, keeping only about 35 dogs. Of those 35, two have risen to the top of his list.
Titus is probably my favorite, Sackett is second, although its almost a tie. Titus and Sackett led Hardman to the finish in 2000. Those two dogs led all the way along the Bering Sea coast from Unalakleet to Nome. They know the trail, he said.
Many of Hardmans dogs are leaders. Its something he feels is very important.
I spend more time on getting them to lead, some teams have only two or three leaders, he said.
One hurdle Hardman will have to face again this year will be keeping Olive his fastest leader healthy. The 5-year-old female often succumbs to diarrhea and Hardman has been watching her diet and medicating her to control the problem.
Hardman says of all his lead dogs, Olive is the fastest.
Olive had to be dropped at the Rohn checkpoint, 352 miles into the 2000 Iditarod, because she wouldnt eat and had a bad case of diarrhea.
You only go as fast as your leaders. Shell play a key role.
I Having leaders who perform well in different trail conditions helps a team compete in the long Iditarod. To have one or two leaders that would excel in a storm, on mountainous terrain or on the wide open expanse of the Yukon River would be rare. Hardman chooses to train several dogs and learn what they do best in order to prepare them for conditions that range from the high-rise buildings of downtown Anchorage to the rough and treacherous Dalzell Gorge.
Handler Rick Minard has been focused on taking the teams on long runs of 50 or more miles during the past two months. Between Hardman and Minards training runs the team has over 2,500 miles of training.
Hardman calls them quality miles.
Minards weeks have been spent mushing from Hardmans McMillan cabin, running a team of 10 dogs one day, a second team the next day, followed by a day of rest. Snow conditions have been much better in the Upper Peninsula allowing the team to train using the dog sled, rather than the all-terrain vehicles that are used early on in the training season.
Hardman traveled to his cabin early last week to winterize it while the team is in Alaska. This trip, different from others, was quiet since he didnt have the dogs with him and they werent at his cabin, howling upon the arrival of their musher.
Its a funny feeling going up to the cabin without them, he said from his car phone as he made the five-hour drive.
Handler Rick Minard, former college roommate Charlie Eshbach, and fellow musher Jim Warren have already left for Alaska with the team.
Hardman had last-minute thoughts about joining the trio and making the 3,900-mile drive with the team, but decided against it, choosing instead to rest and relax a little before the race.
They are in capable hands, Jim Warren used to drive rally cars, Charlie can scrounge up anything and Rick knows dogs, he said.
He made the final choice of which 18 dogs to send, but it wasnt easy. Hardman had been training 20 dogs, intending to cut two from the team before they packed up and headed north. Dayo and Brownie were left behind, heading to the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury for a few weeks to give rides to tourists, weather permitting.
It was a hard choice to leave Brownie behind. There was really nothing wrong with her. I took Polar instead because shes always pulled and eats like a horse, he said.
Dayo acted up on Hardmans last run, so that decision was easier.
Hardman thinks Swingleys chances are strong again this year. His teams finished first and second in the Wyoming Stage Stop Race.
So you know they have speed, he said, adding that an Alaskan musher would love to knock Swingley from his perch, stopping him from winning four in a row.
Hardman spoke to the men hauling the dogs to Alaska on Tuesday, they had crossed into Canada, and were near Edmonton, the only problem so far was they hit a deer in Minnesota.
Next up: Team Hardman regroups in the 49th state. Coverage from Alaska begins in the Ludington Daily News on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The race begins with a ceremonial start on Saturday, March 2 in Anchorage and the race starts on Sunday, March 3 in Wasilla (or Willow, depending on snow conditions).
Dogs headed to Alaska
Casio, 3, male, veteran, point.
Cricket, 3, female, rookie, point.
Disco, 4, male, veteran, team dog.
MoVaughn, 3, male, rookie, team dog.
Neptune, 3, male, rookie, team dog.
Olive, 5, female, veteran, leader