LINCOLN — Speed, strength and skill were all celebrated in Lincoln Tuesday, as organizers of Montana’s Race to the Sky sled dog race handed out awards for the 300-mile journey at the Hi-Country Trading Post.
Eight mushers and their dogs finished the run, which took them from Lincoln to Seeley Lake to Owl Creek near Condon, then back again.
Jessie Royer, of Seeley Lake, was the first to cross the finish line Monday, just after 6:30 p.m. It wasn’t unexpected, as she’s won the race five times before – including in 2020, the last time it was held before being canceled last year due to the pandemic.
Royer said the conditions were tricky this year.
“The weather was really hot for the dogs,” she said. “I’d have to say they like temperatures below zero, not 30 or 40 above, but considering it was really warm for them, they did do well.”
With warm days and freezing nights, the trail surface was often hard ice, making it tough on the dogs.
“Imagine running on pavement or concrete; it just gets to your joints after a while,” Royer said. “So the biggest thing in this race was we just had to keep them very slow.”
Race to the Sky is a qualifier for the Iditarod in Alaska. Royer has competed in that race almost 20 times, but said she’s not participating this year.
The second-place finisher was Josi Thyr, from Olney. It was her best finish at Race to the Sky – where she started running dogs years ago, in a junior race.
“That kind of fueled, like, ‘Hey, this is fun! I want to do more of this and be more sleep deprived!’” she said.
Thyr, who currently has 19 dogs, traveled to the race with more than just her current team. Among the dogs she brought was Lollipop, who isn’t running long-distance races now, but is the mother of three puppies she used in this race.
“Mushing is really about knowing your dogs and knowing what they’re capable of and knowing what they need and trying to read them,” said Thyr. “That’s a challenge, and it makes it rewarding when you do place well or even just have good runs. Having the dogs coming in, wagging tails and happy, barking to go again, that is pretty special.”
The third-place finisher was Cindy Gallea, a 70-year-old musher from Wykoff, Minnesota. She said this is going to be her last Race to the Sky, after 35 years in the sport. She also won an award for having the “best cared-for” dog team.
Fourth-place finisher Clayton Perry, from Power, received a special award for being the most successful across three sled dog races in the West: Race to the Sky, the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race in Wallowa County, Oregon; and the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge in McCall, Idaho. Perry and Jed Stephenson, of Sand Coulee, were the only mushers to finish the longest race at all three events.
Stephenson also received a sportsmanship award for helping catch another competitor’s dogs after she lost her team.
The full results for the 300-mile race were:
- Jessie Royer, Seeley Lake
- Josi Thyr, Olney
- Cindy Gallea, Wykoff, Minnesota
- Clayton Perry, Power
- Bailey Vitello, Milan, New Hampshire
- Bryce Mumford, Preston, Idaho
- Jed Stephenson, Sand Coulee
- Jesse Flory, Hesperus, Colorado
Four mushers – Rex Mumford of Huntsville, Utah; Morgan Anderson of Enterprise, Oregon; Bino Fowler of Bend, Oregon and Wade Donaldson of Coalville, Utah – had to withdraw from the race.
Race to the Sky also holds a 100-mile race, which ended on Sunday afternoon. You can find results from that race here.
Despite the tough conditions, mushers and organizers were excited to be back after the year off.
“Thanks to everybody who helped put on the race,” said Royer. “There’s so many volunteers that make the race possible, so thanks to all of them for letting us run our dogs and have fun.”
You can find more information about Race to the Sky on their website.