As the famed Iditarod sled dog race wrapped up in Alaska this week, many Langlade County mushers may have looked outside their windows and wondered What has happened here?
They are referring to the severely limited winter sled dog season. Like so many others who enjoy outdoor winter sports activities it was over before it barely began.
Although there was a full slate of sprint sled dog races scheduled for Wisconsin and other Midwest states only three actually happened, in Merrill, Land O’Lakes and Kalkaska, Mich. Those events involved rescheduling, dedication and hard work on the part of trail preparation crews and the willingness of the mushers to race on shortened or less than top quality trails.
Langlade County Sled Dog Club members did have better-than-adequate training thanks to the privilege of using Langlade County Forestry Department trails. The snow was sparse for the beginning of the sled training season. However, experienced club members were prompt and diligent about utilizing what snow there was for trail base preparation. Eventually it paid off and by mid-season the Langlade County training trails were in excellent condition.
Not only did local mushers use the trails but sled dog teams from other parts of Wisconsin and the Midwest came to enjoy the trails, Ken Castaldi of Elton, one of the local groomers, said. For me that’s what makes the hard work worth it.
Local mushers did have a satisfactory season except that it was too short.
Kim Scharmer-Ruhl raced to first place at each event she entered. She fields teams in the four-dog and six-dog registered breed classes. Scharmer-Ruhl and her husband Phil own Howlin’ Spirit Kennel in Bryant. Their kennel features a carefully bred athletic line of the traditionally known sled dogs - the Siberian huskies. Phil has many years of experience with sled dog teams racing in the mid-distance arena. He now enjoys using that experience to help Kim with sprint racing.
Steve and DeDe Wilcenski of Always Winter Kennel in Bryant also saw a successful racing season. Steve raced in the very competitive 10-dog class placing third at both races in Wisconsin and fourth at Kalkaska.
I couldn’t be prouder of my dogs, Steve said. Most of them are young and handled the challenges of racing with confidence. I am definitely looking forward to next year.
This year DeDe moved from previously racing in the four-dog class to the six-dog class. With her team of young dogs, she moved up in the standings as the season progressed. First race 10th, second race fifth and third race fourth.
My goal was to place in the top five this year", DeDe said.
A third kennel achieving racing success was Ken and Beth Castaldi from Elton.
With great training trails and fast experienced dogs, I had high expectations again this year, Ken said. My goal is to always finish on the podium, be one of the top three teams in every race. We came close, but not quite. Two out of three. I enjoy my dogs immensely!
Beth came out of retirement as she did not race last year. Her idea was to simply have fun on the trail with older reliable dogs in the four-dog class. The dogs had a different thought. They finished with two thirds and a sixth.
I did have fun and give all the credit to the dogs. They gave 100 percent, Beth said. No doubt there are younger faster teams but I believe my dogs used their mental toughness and know how especially with this year’s challenging conditions. They pulled together and got the job done.
To add a fourth race to their season two local racers did make a long trek to Halliburton, Ontario. Joey Carey lives in Stratford but calls Langlade County his home training trails. His teams did an outstanding job in Ontario. He won first place in six-dog and fourth place in four-dog. Joey’s dad Tim did the driving and said, glad we made the decision to go. We had a great time and finished the season on a high note.
The Ruhls also drove to Ontario where Kim repeated her first places.
Not only was the sled dog racing season a short one so was the all-important after the season opportunity to get young dogs in harness for the first time, try new leaders and just plan have fun with the dogs, fellow mushers and newcomers to the sport.
We had just one weekend after the last race before the complete and decisive melt down LeRoy Schoenrock from Elcho said. Fortunately we were able to get the word out for a hastily pulled together fun day. It even brought some new mushers to our area. They felt welcomed, liked what they saw and joined our club.
Members of the Langlade County Club Sled Dog Club are committed to an Antigo sled dog race in 2017.
Safety and logistics are prime considerations for a race trail, Club President Beth Castaldi said. We are pleased that community leaders have assured us they will help find a race site. Past cooperation and support from many sources are appreciated. We look forward to bringing the benefits and fun of future races to our area.