Nadezhda Hope Race 2014, Chukotka, Siberia/Russia
Just one and a half week after we returned from Nome after running our first Iditarod, we were already on our way back, although this time to go even further east. A team of nine Iditarod dogs joined us to Chukotka in Siberia, Russia to run the 2014 Nadezhda Hope International Sled dog race as guest musher for Team Racing Beringia.
The Nadezhda Hope International Sled dog race takes place in Chukotka where dogsledding began some 7-8000 years ago. Local hunters and their dogteams participate from various villages in Chukotka. This was the first year in the history of the race where, in addition to the overall competition, there was also a traditional competition specifically for mushers running the traditional Chukchi sled. Most Chukchi mushers are using the ancient kolyma-style sit-down sled which is favorable in regions with high winds like Chukotka. While all mushers compete for the Championship, only mushers that qualify for the traditional competition are in the race for the purse.
Team Racing Beringia coming from Alaska was: Mille Porsild from Denmark who made this adventure possible. Mille joined the race by snowmachine and took breathtaking pictures. Kenneth Dåbakk from Norway followed the race by snowmachine dragging the sled with the dropped dog box. Joar Leifset Ulsom from Norway ran his team of Alaskan huskies. Joar placed 4th in the 2014 Iditarod.
Timofei Gynuntegin from Lorino, Chukotka, ran Joar’s puppy team. Inupiaq Chuck Scheaffer, the first-ever native Alaskan musher to start in the Nadezhda Hope race, ran his team of Alaskan huskies. Chuck is a veteran of most all Alaskan races including the Iditarod. Miriam Osredkar from the US ran a team of Milles Polar Huskies together with lead dog Rips, an small AH female. Yvonne Dåbakk from Germany ran her team of Siberian Huskies. Yvonne is the first ever German to start in the Nadezhda Hope Race.
Sleds, equipment, snowmachine and five 9-dog teams we boarded two planes and we flew across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Chukotka. After our arrival at the airport in Provideniya we mushed the dogs across the bay into town, and a day of paperwork later we were finally ready to start on our 175km way north to the starting line in the town of Lorino – by dogteam of course.
The first day we ran 75km from Provideniya via the small town of Novo Chaplino to Mikhail Telpins hometown of Yanrakynnot. A long, warm day for the dogs on loose trails in breathtaking landscape. The next morning we continued another 100km from Yarakynnot to Lorino, Timofeis hometown, in strong winds. We were caught in a ground blizzard about half way through and had another tough, long day of running for both us and the dogs before we reached town in the evening. We had hoped to get a day of rest before the race start, but having spent one day in Nome delayed by weather and one in Provideniya delayed by customs paperwork we just had to get our BiB’s and start the race the following day. We got BIB # 26.
The race started at 8 AM, and the first race day took us 100km back to Yanrakynnot were we had just come from. The weather was nice, trails were good. I had decided that since this was the first race ever we entered with a team that all had race experience I would not limit them as much as we have done so far but see what they can do if we let them race.
The trail took us on a narrow stretch of land over a large bay past remainings of ancient housing, walrusbones, sticking out of the ground along the beach. The oldest remain of sled dog culture are found in this region of Eastern Beringia, dating more than 7000 years back. The Chukchi use and run their dogs much in the same way today as back then. It is believed the Chukchi dogs are one of the 8 basal breeds existing today.
Shortly after we climbed a hill and dropped on the sea ice. There was a large amount of snowmachine tracks and trail marking was sparse or absent, so taking the wrong trail was easy for a non-local team and we found ourselves following a team that took the wrong way leading us on a 30min detour. Fortunately, one of the snow machines that follow the race for safety reasons came to tell us we were way off, and pointed us in the right direction.
This was not the only time it was challenging to find the right trail throughout the race, but the longest detour we ended up taking. We traveled across sea ice on large bay and saw polar bear tracks before heading inland up and over hilly tundra terrain to avoid open water created by strong currents. About 15 km from the finish in Yanrakynnot we dropped back onto the sea ice.
We arrived in Yanrakynnot after 8h and 34 minutes, the 12th fastest running time of the 27 starting teams, despite our scenic detour. Winner of the first stage was Victor Achivantin from the community of Neskhan on the coast of the Arctic Ocean and his team of traditional Chukchi dogs. After having parked our team we started the process of preparing the dogs meal: chopping large chunks of frozen, fermented walrus, cutting the walrus slices in pieces and boiling meat and blubber together to a delicious, thick walrus soup.
There are about 80 calories in 28 g of walrus meat and blubber. After the dogs were fed we went to eat delicious food at Misha’s place. His wife Soya is a fantastic cook and hostess! In the evening we went to the school were Nadezhda Hope, dogs and racers, were celebrated with traditional storytelling and dancing.
The race route was changed for the next day. Originally, the plan was for us to go to Novo Chaplino (50km), stay for the night and then head to Provideniya (25km), giving us two days with short lags. However, due to weather reports we were sent directly to Provideniya (73km).
It was yet again a beautiful day. Joar, Timofei, Chuck, Miriam and I started last of all teams. We used about 30km running on sea ice to get passed the 22 Chukchi teams. Passing in Chukotka is a lot of fun – the teams speed up once you try to pass, cheered on by their musher.
You can easily find yourself spending minutes and miles trying to pass one team, and might just as well be sandwiched inbetween two or three teams running parallel. Passing and running with the other teams was no issue at all, we had a great time being social.
After passing Novo Chaplino the trail climbes up a long hill for a short run through rolling terrain before we dropped out on the bay of Provideniya.
We arrived in Provideniya after 5h 40 minutes, the third fastest running time and 28 seconds slower than Timofei who was in second place. This placed us 4th in the overall competition!
The dogs were doing great on this lag. We were served warm chai on the ice upon arrival, parked and made a fire on the beach, chopped and cut walrus and prepared walrus soup while locals performed a dance on the ice.
Race day 3 took us 75km back to Yanrakynnot. Our team was in great shape, and we yet again had the overall third fastest running time.
Krutt showed signs of a sore shoulder at the end of the run and I decided to drop him in Yanrakynnot considering the next day would be a tough, long lag via Lorino to Lavrentiya (130km). Kenneth pulled a sled with a wooden box with his snow machine to transport dropped dogs along the trail, and it was in this box that Krutt was going to enjoy riding in for the rest of the race.
Since day 4 was the longest lag going from Yanrakynnot past Lorino (100km) and all the way to Lavrentiya (130km) we were supposed to start at 4 am instead of 8 am as usual. This is a very challenging leg of the race regardless of weather conditions as the long trail presents both rolling tundra, long flat streches of glare sea ice as well as hill climbing and areas without snow.
After about 60km Mini was tired. He had not managed to take in enough energy due to the sudden change of diet and activity level, and had lost more weight than the others. I put him in the sled and carried him to Lorino, where I decided to drop both him and his brother Jesper who showed similar signs, before we continued with a team of 6 the final 30km to Lavrentiya.
We had fun trying to find the right and shortest trail but managed ok and only took some minor detours. We arrived in Lavrentiya yet again with the overall third fastest time and had now passed Chuck running in 3rd place! Both Mini and Jesper put on weight quickly over the next days riding together with their brother Krutt in the dropped dog box along the trail and having a walrus soup feast twice daily.
Day 5 took us from Lavrentiya 100km to Uelen. Our team was doing great and seemed to get better and better. We had the 2nd fastest running time, 40 minutes faster than Timofei and Chuck.
Uelen is the easternmost community on Earth, the place where every new day begins. It is a community of about 400 people located on a very narrow spit of land with a lagoon on one side and the beach of the Arctic Ocean on the other. A large crowd waited for us at the finish line, we were served chai and a snack.
The kids had already started bonfires for us to cook walrus soup on, and we even got pre-chopped walrus from the locals. The kids were helping chopping even more walrus as we finally had a day off the following day, kept bonfires alive all day and until late evening to cook walrus soup on and cuddled dogs of all teams.
Uelen is famous for some of the world’s most outstanding traditional carving culture and history. We used parts of our day off to visit the most spectacular Museum of Arts in Uelen with its collection of carving. Simply stunning! We also got to visit Uelen’s unique carving school where even children as young as 10 years old can begin to learn the art of skills to become carvers.
The carving master and teacher showed us around and demonstrated the use of modern tools used today together with old techniques used to carve most incredible pieces of art in walrus tusk. Chukotka carving is unique, highly detailed and precisely carved. In addition, colored scrapings on the bone tell stories. In the evening we headed to the culture house for traditional dance. We were all dressed up and got to show our dance moves as well!
After our day off race day 7 took us 30 km to the community of Inchoun. A race for kids took place on the same trail staring an hour ahead of us, and boy were they running! Our team of six was getting better and better every day. The dogs flew on this short lag, and we finished as overall winners of this lag, 57 seconds faster than Joar. We were now 3 minutes behind Timofei, who was in overall 2nd place, The kids run times were only minutes slower than Joar and mine…
Inchoun was a wonderful small community. As in Uelen there was a crowd welcoming us, and bonfires were set up to prepare the meal for the dogs, kids were running around inbetween teams and village dogs were making sure no food was going to waste.
After the dogs had been taken care of we went to celebrate the junior mushers and were treated with traditional and modern dance and storytelling before we were invited for chai. We stayed in the small house of a young couple who cooked delicious dinner for us.
There was no doubt in our mind that we would be able to run the remaining 3 minutes faster than Timofei and his team on the final 100km back to Lavrentiya and finish second, and we were ready to race.
Our team had become better and better and was running faster than Timofeis for the past lags. It was therefore tremendously disappointing when Timofei was too sick to race the final lag and had to scratch in Inchoun. Joar took Timofei’s 6 dogs into his team, racing the last lag with 14 instead of 8 dogs.
It was yet another beautiful morning, and in order for everyone to make the banquet in Lavrentiya we once again started at 4 am. For a long time I wasn’t sure if I was on the right trail. There were no markers at all, just some snowmachine tracks. I was running in lead and could not see Chuck behind me. After about 2 hours I heard a snowmachine and though: Oh great, either they’re coming to tell you that you have to turn around or it is the snowmachine with race marshall Nikolay that will be in lead. Fortunately, it was Nikolay.
It was a beautiful morning, but over the course of the day we got flat light and it became cloudy. I could not see the trail further ahead than my lead dogs (in a 6 dog team…) and there was no way either I could see bumps in the trail or tell if we were going up or down. I was therefore surprised when we reached the decent to the sea ice and saw Lavrentiya, as I had thought we were running slow and just did not notice we were going up all those hills leading to the final drop already.
We had another fantastic lag running alone in front all the way with no team in sight. Joar and his team of 14 were only 7 minutes faster than our team of 6 on the final 100km to the finish line! Joar thereby became Champion of the 2014 International Nadezhda Hope Sled Dog Race, and we finished in second place 2h 30 behind him. We are so proud of our team! Chuck finished in third place 2h 15 behind us.
In the evening it was time for the finishers Banquet.
Chukchi musher Victor Achivantin (Ачивантин Виктор Сергеевич) of Inchoun is the winner of the traditional competition. The defending 2013 Champion of the race Peter Poyagirgin (Поягиргин Петр Юрьевич) placed 2nd in the traditional competition and 5th in the overall competition.
Third in the traditional competition and 6th overall was Egor Atchitagin (Атчитагин Егор Анатольевич). All the top three mushers in the traditional competition were from the small community of Inchoun on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, known for its nearby huge walrus rookery. Maybe their dominance comes from their Inchoun dogs running hard-core miles as they head out walrus hunting…?
Miriam and her team Polar Huskies, the tanks, had the slowest total run time for the race of those 16 teams that finished — but they had strong stages along the way and Miriam was all smiles! They’ve won a lot of hearts a long the way, too, and got to run a lot with the Chukchi teams. Tyneskitegin, Тынескитегин б/и б/о, from Neskan was with his 77 years the oldest musher in this years race.
We rested the teams a day before we started on our 205 km back to Provideniya and the airport. On our way back, we stopped one night in Lorino where we said goodbye to Timofei before we continued towards Yanrakynnot.
We stayed another night at Misha’s place where Soya spoiled us with a dinner as usual. On the third day we went on to Provideniya, and reached town in the evening. The following day we ran the dogs across the bay to the airport and boarded the two planes that had come to fly us back to Nome, Alaska.
It was Friday when we left Russia, and having to cross the date border again we joked that we were looking forward to eating pizza in Nome yesterday –as it would only be Thursday when we landed.
What an adventure we had! When asked about the most memorable about this race Chuck replied: “the wonderful people of this place!” We could not agree more. People were so friendly, helpful and welcoming.
We were absolutely dazzled by the endurance, speed and diversity of the beautiful Chukchi dogs, the very ancestors of our own dogs. It really made it obvious to us why they must have been popular to bring to Alaska as fast racing dogs in the early 1900. These dogs are still used much the same way today as back then. The Chukchi dogs work extremely hard and well, are fast and have great endurance, throw themselves over food, have a very good and healthy language and are well adapted to their harsh, Arctic climate.
Some are huge, others small, some are more square, others have long legs. Some have very long coats, others shorter, they come in all colors and with a huge variety of markings. They are all equally accepted, as they most importantly all have two things in common which ultimately determine their appearance and nature: they are shaped by and adapted to the work they are bred and selected to do in the harsh Arctic environment they live in. These are the two governing factors determining how they look and are. No more is needed.
Please find Mille Porsild/Racing Beringia’s fantastic pictures for each race day here: