Right now, we have 20 dogs in training for the Iditarod—and 14 pups will enter the actual race. Allow me to introduce you to the BraverMountain Varsity Team.
We have many dogs who can lead the team, but our true Lead Dog — the pup who makes each run happen, who gets us through every storm — is Pepe. Pepe is smarter than all of us. She will run forever and keep running. She is basically everyone’s mother.
Pepe came to us from our good friends at @OtterRunKennel. Immediately after leading (and placing 5th) in the 440-mile Kobuk race last spring, she refused a ride back to our host family’s house and insisted on running the whole way.
Fun fact: If Pepe leads us the 1000 miles to Nome, her own mother (a legendary leader who retired to be a pet last year) will be waiting for her at the finish line.
2. Flame (age 5)
Flame is my souldog. She is desperately codependent and we are both happiest when we are in physical contact at all times. She is also, to my occasional surprise, a fantastic sled dog. She finished every one of my qualifiers with me and never seems to tire.
Fun fact: Flame is terrified of human babies but loves baby animals. She’s been an aunty to all our puppies and once accidentally adopted some chickens.
3. Jenga (age 8)
Flame’s half-sister Jenga is a Boss Bitch and she doesn’t suffer fools. She was my first leader and is the only dog mentioned in Ice Cube by name. I feel that Jenga and I understand each other, because we are both fearful creatures prone to fearless decisions.
Fun fact: Jenga carries the weight of the world in her chin and often rests her head on the dog next to her.
4. Grinch (age 6?)
Grinch has a heart of gold and a brain like a box of rocks. He is extremely strong, maybe our strongest dog, but is easily confused. He loves attention. He loves giving hugs. He has a significant overbite and his limbs are fitted together like off-brand LEGOs.
Fun fact: A chiropractor once called Grinch a “borderline trainwreck” and gave me some special stretches for him, which I’ve been doing.
Also, he only runs south.
5. Colbert (age 5)
Colbert is a big hunk of burning enthusiasm. At checkpoints, when it’s time to start running again, he’s always the first dog on his feet and he barks and jumps until the other dogs stand up. He usually runs in wheel, the position right in front of the sled.
Fun fact: Colbert is afraid of heights.
Also, Colbert is Catholic. The rest of our dogs are Jewish.
6. Kenai (age 4)
Kenai came to us from a good mushing friend because her pace is well-suited to long distances; she doesn’t like to run fast, but she likes to run forever. She had a difficult puppyhood and has trouble trusting people, but she loves exploring with other dogs.
7. Boudica (age 4)
Boudica is a lead dog with an obsession with gentle kisses. It’s very hard to be around her sometimes without having your face absolutely covered in sneaky licks. She is half-sister to Pepe and has extremely soft fur.
Boudica has the highest SDSI on the Varsity Team.
8. Helli (age almost 3)
Helli, previously nicknamed Hellbitch, is our latest addition to the team. She is skinny and suspicious and apparently hates men but seems to be getting along very nicely with us and the dogs. She’s also one of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever seen.
9. Ebony (age 2)
Ebony is a small and muscular pace-setting leader who loves every other dog except for her sister Lucy. She enjoys food, running really fast, and giving the other dogs haircuts by gnawing gently on their neck hairs.
Giving this thread an intermission because it’s dinner time at @AlpineCreekLdg. Bacon-wrapped ptarmigan. More later!
10. Lucy (age 2)
Lucy is a delicate thoughtful creature who looks awkward in pretty much every photo. She has short fur, so she stays warm by eating lots of seconds at dinner. She gets along with everyone except her sister Ebony and really likes it when you kiss her snoot.
Fun fact: Boo is in love with Lucy. You will meet Boo soon.
11. Wickson (age 1)
Wickson is the youngest dog on the Varsity Team. This is his first winter of training and he’s doing fantastic—as long as you rub his belly while you put on his harness and booties. He doesn’t know how to handle his own energy yet, but he’s learning fast.
We are happy to help him manage his hyperactivity with lullabies and cuddles. The soft attention seems to temporarily hypnotize him, and as soon as it ends he goes WILD again. He’s just learning to point all that energy in a single direction.
12. Spike (age 2)
Spike, son of Pepe, is the largest pup from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer litter. He was born with a head that was twice as large as his siblings’ heads and he’s just about grown into it.
Spike is very tender about about minor discomforts, like having goop wiped from his eyes. My theory is that this is because he was the biggest puppy, so he stepped on the other pups a lot but never got stepped on himself.
13. Clem (age 2)
Clem is a dashingly handsome late bloomer. He was sort of potato-like as a puppy and has grown into one of the chillest, strongest, friendliest and bravest sled dogs I’ve ever met. He‘s BFFs with his sister Anya, and often leads the team with his mom, Pepe.
Clem gives good life advice.
14. Anya (age 2)
Anya is best friends with her brother Clem. She’s quite petite and is a picky eater. Anya can lead, but she’s a delicate flower and can get nervous about weird surroundings, so she often runs in swing, the position behind the leaders. She likes to kill snakes.
15. Xander (age 2)
Xander is very social--his specialty is giving The Paw when he's very happy, which is often--but he can be timid around new people. He prefers to run in the middle of the team, and he gets along with everyone else, boys and girls alike.
Fun fact: Xander got tired during the Percy DeWolfe race so he hung out on my lap and learned to drive the sled.
16. Willow (age 2)
Willow's favorite food is ham. She used to be a picky eater but has developed a better appetite this winter, which will really help her in long-distance races. She's also very speedy, and can trot at 17mph. I think she'll be a great leader someday.
17. Jeff Sharlet (age 2)
We’ve reached the journalist pups. Jeff is a big-headed boy who likes to “talk” by moaning and trilling. He had tick paralysis and couldn’t run with the team last winter, but he’s doing much better now. He doesn’t like seeing anyone else get attention.
18. Talese (age 2)
Talese is the least neurotic of the journalist pups. He likes the good things in life, like massages and attention, and is chill in almost all situations. He has tremendous endurance and is learning focus. His puppy nickname was Little Red.
19. Hunter (age 2)
Hunter, named for Hunter S. Thompson, is Jenga's only daughter. She has no qualms about pushing around much bigger boys, and her small size means that she can run long distances without getting tired. She usually wants her ears scritched.
20. Boo (age 2)
The last dog on the varsity team is Boo, named for brilliant writer Katherine Boo. Boo is our tiniest and most expressive dog. He gets cold easily and wears a coat or blanket when it's chilly. He has huge ears, but he likes to fold them down.
Fun fact: Boo used to be named Hunter, and Hunter used to be named Boo, but we traded their names when they were 4 months old to better fit their personalities.
You can follow @BlairBraverman.