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Mush a rush despite brush with slush
Svalbard's first sled dog race has a few ruff spots, but has participants begging to return
dogsled
Janne Søreide mushes her dogs through the starting gate of the Trappers' Trail sled dog race on the morning of May 9 at The University Centre In Svalbard. Søreide, a post-doctoral marine biology/ecology student at UNIS, won what is believed to be Svalbard's first-ever sled dog race with a time of 4 hours 30 minutes over the two-day course from Longyearbyen to Bikkjebu and back. Eleven teams participated in the race.

Sled dog racing started in Svalbard not with a bang or much ballyhoo, but plenty of barks.

There was no group countdown, bullhorn or much else leading up to the moment when Harvey Goodwin spurred his two dogs through the starting gate of the Trappers' Trail race at about 11 a.m. May 9 at The University Centre In Svalbard. A modest cheer rose from the crowd, mostly other racers and support staff, as his dogs almost immediately did a haw of their own making and veered outside the course markers.

Goodwin set things right within a few hundred meters and vanished from sight shortly after as he began the journey to Bikkjebu. It's not like it was a race where anyone would blink at a few unscripted moments – just the fact he was in the race was testament to that.

He and teammate Marzena Kaczmarska entered after the "official" deadline and in their own category outside the "official" rules. There was a category for a lone skier to guide one to three dogs on the first part of the two-day course, but team "Tractor" decided to do the whole thing.

"We both wanted to race," Kaczmarska explained.

Keeping things loose meant keeping things fun-spirited, as the winner wasn't going to get much reward beyond a lower bar bill at the post-race party. A couple of the 11 teams had racing experience, but most were just dog lovers interested in the experience.

The most important thing to bring on the trail, according to Team Tractor?

"GPS," Kaczmarska said.

"Dog treats," Goodwin countered.

dogskier
Harvey Goodwin guides the first dog team along the Trappers' Trail race course. He and teammate Marzena Kaczmarska were the lone skier/dog entry in the race.

The race, organized by the Longyearbyen Hundeklubb, consisted of a 40-kilometer mush to the overnight checkpoint at Bikkjebu and a 30-kilometer return journey across a more challenging route. Janne Søreide, who took the first large team of dogs (seven or more) out of the starting gate five minutes after Goodwin, was also the overall winner with a total time of 4 hours 30 minutes. Linn Novis and Emilie Guegan won the small team category (four to six dogs) with a time of 5:35:26. Kaczmarska and Goodwin, the only team on skis, completed the course in 7:39:32, ahead of two teams with sleds.

Another unique team of eight dogs was led by Tommy Jordbrudal, using the only Greenlandic "fan hitch" where each dog has an individual tether. He also got off to a wayward start just past the gate.

"I guess it's good we didn't start in town," said Sébastien Barrault, one of the Trappers' Trail organizers.

The largely vacant field behind UNIS allowed Jordbrudal to get back on course within a couple of minutes and he did fine with the team from there with a second-overall finish at 4:57:44.

Warm weather and the lateness of the season meant slushy conditions in some areas. Barrault said he would like next year's race to be earlier – which would also allow commercial kennels to participate since demand for tours then is lower – and would like to start in the center of town if mushers feel comfortable guiding teams there.

But he doesn't want things to get too formal.

"Next year we would like to invite the losing team from Finnmarksløpet " he said, even though "the winner would just blast the race."

Full results from the race are available at http://trapperstrail.blogspot.com.


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