Mid-distance dog driver Jodi Bailey, 40, may not be a household name in the world of mushing, yet. But rest assured, she’s a threat that should not be overlooked.Bailey has been running dogs for more than a decade but over the past couple of years has begun to stretch her competitive legs. And biding her time on the race scene has paid off. This year she won the Solstice 100 in Two Rivers and took top spot in the Gin Gin 200 in December for the second consecutive year. December’s Gin Gin was especially grueling for all racers with gale-force winds on the Denali Highway and 50-below temperatures on the 100-mile stretch of the race.Bailey, an instructor for the Interior Aleutians Campus of UAF, shares a kennel of about 50 dogs with partner Dan Kaduce, a perennial mid-distance and Yukon Quest contender. She works during the winter though most of the teaching is done from Fairbanks via phone or Internet to remote locales, so Bailey has time to train and can even teach when she’s handling for Kaduce on the Quest.Bailey grew up on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and was always interested in animals, getting her start riding horses.“I was always animal crazy,” Bailey laughed over the phone from Fort Yukon. “It was always a joke in my family that I would grow up to be a penniless horse trainer but I one-upped them and became a penniless dog trainer.”She came to Alaska in her sophomore year of college in 1989 to study Athabascan storytelling in Fairbanks for her degree in theater studies and anthropology.“My first summer here, I really felt like Alaska was where I needed to be,” Bailey said. “I was always a little out of place where I grew up.”She graduated in 1991, moved to Alaska and has been here since.“I was living in Goldstream Valley and so I was exposed to dog mushing a lot. Someone talked me into taking a dog and anyone who gets one sled dog knows what happens.”But Bailey, who started skijoring after acquiring a few huskies never thought she’d be a musher. Until she met Kaduce. He also had a few dogs and was skijoring at the time and combined, they had enough for a small team.“We got a used sled and that was the beginning of the end,” Bailey said.Always the athletic competitor, Kaduce started racing first. He handled for Tim ‘Mowth’ Mowrey on the Yukon Quest in the mid-90s and decided that distance racing was where he wanted to set his focus for he and Bailey’s kennel.Around that time, Bailey started racing in smaller, fun events like the Two Rivers Tune-up and the Denali Dash.“Obviously, Dan got serious about racing first and he’s very good at it,” Bailey said. “Our kennel changed from a recreational kennel to a racing kennel and we really started to focus on nutrition, conditioning and handling various situations on the trail.“ In the last two years, I decided that I was going to be competitive and really race.”It was about that time two years ago, that Bailey gave up drinking, started running and dropped 60 pounds. She completed her first marathon in the fall of 2008.“I knew I wanted a better life,” she said. “Sled dog racing was part of that decision, but I also wanted to be healthy. I started running and realized that the ideas of conditioning and stamina and training for a distance race can be related directly to dog training. Mentally and physically, you understand the training process better when you put yourself through it.”Like a team of race dogs in training, Bailey learned her limitations but also learned how to push herself and test those limitations. She researched distance runners’ plans on interval training, cross training and various other methods and incorporated them into her dog team.Needless to say, her fall training was very different this year. Without wanting to give too many secrets away, Bailey noted that adding elements to the race team like speed, distance and hill training was done separately and methodically this fall, while in the past, these elements were combined at once.“You choose what you add and when you add it based on what your final goal is,” she explained.Though she may not be a household name for mushing fans yet, she’s been behind the scenes for years, so none of this is new for her and, she said, she hopes people aren’t surprised to see her out there and doing well. And, she noted, even with her successes, she still gets very nervous before a race.“But with each race, I also get more confident, especially in a race like the Gin Gin,” she said. “There are definitely mushers I gravitate to at races because of their positive attitudes, racers like Aliy Zirkle and Michelle Phillips. They are both so strong and calm and that’s something I aspire to be.”“I’ve realized that you can only drive the team you have in front of you and that you need to set goals for yourself that aren’t contingent on other people. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but in the end, the race is long and you’re only in it with yourself,” Bailey added, reciting a quote she heard in a song and applied to her own life.Bailey and Kaduce’s dogs are now mostly their own breedings with just one race dog in the team that wasn’t born on their property. They started their breeding program with Joee Redington dogs and their most recent litter of Redington huskies are an exceptional brood. All five lead, Bailey said, and have been in every race they’ve done including champions on the Solstice, the Gin Gin and twice on Kaduce’s winning Taiga 300 teams.“They’re honest dogs and very focused. They got me through the wind on the Gin Gin with no mutinies and stayed very business like.”Breeding their own dogs and raising them from pups has been a huge key in their continued success, Bailey said, adding that they do a lot of free running before, during and after harness-breaking at about nine to 12 months.“When you live with dogs, you life is a constant conversation with them, whether you realize it or not,” she said. “They’re watching you and communicating with you even if you don’t know it. You establish habits and behaviors that they’ll learn to read in the yard or out on the trail.”It was perhaps that communication aspect that helped Kaduce and Bailey save their 52 adult dogs and two litters in the summer of 2004 when their property became engulfed in flames during that infamous forest fire season near Fairbanks. Kaduce and Bailey acted quickly and saved all their dogs and pups before the wall of flames destroyed most everything on their lot at 42-mile Steese Highway.“That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but one that I’m most proud of,” she said.Bailey was quick to admit that she doesn’t believe she has all the answers when it comes to dogs or races. “After all,” she said, “there are a million ways to skin a cat.” But what she and Kaduce are doing seems to be working well for them and they never discount the element of luck in a dog race.“After you pull the hook at the start line, there are so many things that are out of your control,” she said. “Success comes with knowing how to react and deal with those situations, but there are absolutely no guarantees.” ●


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