The sound of dogs barking could be heard for miles around the Hams Fork Trailhead on Feb. 1. A line of trailers, trucks and other equipment made its way around Lake Viva Naughton to the starting line. Once they arrived, mushers checked their dogs and got ready to race.
“Working with animals is great,” J.R. Anderson, 17-year Pedigree Stage Stop race veteran, said. “They are pure, and their love is unconditional.” Coming from Minnesota, Anderson grew up with sled dogs and racing. His family was part of the sled dog lifestyle. He started racing in 1987 and hasn’t stopped since.
“I’ve been all across North America, including the U.S., Canada and, of course, Alaska,” Anderson said.
The first year Chris Adkins participated, he used it as training for the Iditarod.
“[The Iditarod] was awesome,” Adkins said. “It was the coolest thing I have ever done. It is the only sport where you are on a team, but also solo.”
The Montana native has been racing for 48 years, seven of which he has been to the Stage Stop race. Adkins loves the fast and exciting nature of the Wyoming race.
“All mushers are adrenaline junkies, or at least thrill seekers,” Adkins said.
Blayne Streeper, a British Columbia native, has been sled dog racing his entire life.
“My father had dogs,” Streeper said. “The development of the dog and building the relationship is the best part. You are their first human interaction after they are born. The saying ‘man’s best friend’ is really true.”
Streeper has competed almost every year in the Stage Stop race since 2004. He has also raced in all the northern states and in Europe.
Anny Malo, a Quebec resident and 2021 Pedigree Stage Stop winner, started racing when she met her husband when she was 25.
“I was studying biology when we met,” Malo said. “A guy and dogs? The year after that it was all over.”
Malo and her husband are both mushers, but they also handle dogs as well. In 1995 and 1998 they were the handlers at the Iditarod.
Both Malo and her husband have raced in Wyoming for three years. Malo has won all three years she has competed.
This is the sixth time Wyoming native Alix Crittenden has competed in the Stage Stop race. Originally from North Carolina, Crittenden has lived in Bondurant for a few years. Crittenden became interested in racing after taking a winter position at a dog kennel.
“It’s really addictive,” Crittenden said. “It’s worse than drugs.”
The Pedigree Stage Stop race continues to draw in mushers every year. All of the mushers said they loved the format of the race.
“It is a unique race format,” Streeper said “You get to see multiple trails throughout Wyoming.”
Another thing every racer mentioned was the family created throughout the race. It’s multiple days of traveling and racing with the same people, Malo said.
“It’s funny to see the line of trucks following each other to the next stop,” Malo said.
Although this year was different because of COVID-19, racers still enjoyed their time and can’t wait for things to get back to normal next year.
“We love to go into the schools with the kids and teach,” Malo said. “This race makes us feel like rockstar people.”