As the all-volunteer staff of Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race readies the 2019 course, there’s already some good news for this year’s event.
As of Monday, 25 sled dog teams are registered for the 15th running of the Eagle Cap Extreme. That count includes seven competitors in the Iditarod-qualifying 200-mile race and another seven, including local veterinarian Jereld Rice, in the classic 100-mile race. It’s one of the largest fields to compete in race history.
Oregon Field Guide, one of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s premiere TV programs, will be here to film the race — for the second time. Oregon Field Guide covered the race in 2009 and they are back a decade later.
“The scale of the Eagle Cap Extreme is really unprecedented,” said Ian McCluskey, Oregon Field Guide producer. “It has really grown over the years. It has become an epic race in distance and landscape, the only sled dog race west of the Rockies that offers an Iditarod qualifier. It just felt like we needed to document it.”
McCluskey is bringing an unusually large team of two producers, an associate producer, two cameras and two cameramen to film the race. They will cover aspects of the event including the vet checks, race finishes and the awards banquet. Better technology and better cameras are part of the reason for returning, McCluskey said.
“We are interested in covering several stories in addition to the race as a whole,” he said. “They include the two, father-son teams of Brett Bruggeman and his son Spencer, and also the high percentage of women in the race. We tend to associate sled dog racing with hardy frontiersmen with beards. But there are a lot of up and coming, very capable young women athletes as well as more experienced women racers in the ECX. And there will be some unanticipated stories that we will find as well.”
Many of the racers are returning veterans, including crowd favorites Clayton Perry, Gabe Dunham and previous winner Brett Bruggeman in the 200-mile event. April Cox, Hugo Antonucci and Rex Mumford return for the 100-miler. Local favorites Morgan Anderson of Enterprise and George Garcia of LaGrande and last year’s winner Jane Devlin of Bend, will run the 2-day mid-distance race.
The dogs used in sled dog racing come in many varieties. Most teams consist of Alaskan Huskies—a mix of Siberian Husky, hounds, German shorthaired pointer, and other breeds that bring sight, stamina, speed and strength to the team. Alaskan Huskies are generally very good with other dogs and gentle with people. Musher David Hassilev’s team includes Chinook dogs — an American breed with Mastiff lineage. Connie Star will run her team of registered Siberian Huskies in the 2-day mid-distance race.
The Eagle Cap Extreme kicks off with an opportunity for the public to meet the mushers and their teams at the Vet Checks on Jan. 23, from 9-11 a.m. on Main Street in Joseph, and 1-3 p.m. on Main Street in Enterprise. There will also be a sled dog team or two at the vet check event in Wallowa from 9-11 a.m. At the vet checks, dogs are secured to the musher’s trucks or trailers, and undergo brief exams by a team of sled-dog specialty veterinarians led by Yukon Quest Head Veterinarian Kathleen McGill — to ensure that the dogs are in tip-top condition. Visitors can meet the canine athletes — and the equally friendly, enthusiastic mushers and veterinarians. More than 30 high school FFA members will be on hand to help at the vet checks.
At each vet check, a musher will provide a presentation about their dogs, sled, and dog sled racing to students and adult visitors. Schools, including Enterprise and Joseph Elementary, Cove, and La Grande schools, learn about the mushers and dogs in history and geography classes, then bring students to the vet check events. Elgin Elementary School often brings its 4th–grade students to meet and cheer on their favorite mushers and dogs at the race’s start.
The potluck dinner at the Joseph Community Center on Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. offers another opportunity to learn about the race if you can’t make it to the vet check (or even if you can.) This is where mushers draw their numbers and the race starting order is determined. It’s a great place to meet mushers, their families, and assistants. Kids’ artwork from around the county is on display. The event is free and open to the public. Please bring a potluck dish to share.
The race begins at noon on Jan. 24 at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area, Tucker Down Road, Joseph. If you plan to go, the ECX provides parking and beginning a shuttle service to the race start. It’s best to come an hour or so early. Each team gets an individual start, and you can wish your favorite racers well as they mush down the start chute. Racers will be starting until about 2 p.m.
Racers finish at varying times. The 22-mile junior race concludes late Thursday afternoon. The 100 mile winner generally crosses the finish line on Friday afternoon. The 200 mile winners arrive at the finish around midnight Friday or very early Saturday morning.
The ECX concludes at the Eagle Cap Extreme Awards Banquet, Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Joseph Community Center. Mushers tell their stories of the race and accept their awards, and there is an auction of art, memorabilia and other donated items. Tickets are available through the Eagle Cap Extreme website, https://www.eaglecapextreme.com and are $20 for the general public and $12 for volunteers. All funds from the banquet and auction support the all-volunteer Eagle Cap Extreme.