IDITAROD CHAMPION: ROBERT SORLIERobert was recently the Keynote speaker at an international symposium in Fairbanks, Alaska coinciding with the naming ceremony of Ingstad Mountain. We had a chance to sit down and ask him about the Team Norway strategy, and the logistics of taking the team to Alaska each year.MM: The ceremony for naming Ingstad Mountain in Alaska must be exciting for you.RS: Yes, in Norway, Ingstad is a famous explorer. (Editors note: see story in this issue about Helge and Benedicte Ingstad.)MM: You borrowed dogs early on from Benedicte and Helge Ingstad, how did that help you in mushing?RS: Yes, yes. If it had not been for the Ingstads I would not have been a dog musher. When I was 8 years old I started borrowing a Siberian Husky from a neighbor, and that dog’s owner was Benedicte Ingstad. When I was 11 I got a puppy from that dog, and it was called Storm. I started mushing with that dog. I read books from Helge, and I think he was the biggest influence for me. It was because of him that I dog mush.MM: What do you currently do in the summer with your dogs?RS: Normally I train a little bit, if the temperature allows it. I train normally in the mountains with a 4 wheeler.MM: What do you think about Jeff King swimming his dogs in the summer?RS: The Iditarod is not a swimming race. I hope I don’t have to swim to make it to Nome. But seriously, it is good that he is doing something with his dogs and doing something different.MM: What happened with Bjonar in the Iditarod last year? RS: Bjonar was in love. That is what happened. MM: Is that what happened?RS: Yes. He is married now. Actually, he did a very good job to be in 6th position. It was very good for him. To win the Iditarod you have to take some chances. He took no chances. He followed his schedule all the time. I think if he had taken some chances, I don’t think he would have won. I don’t think he had a good enough team to win. It was great that he was in the top ten. That is my opinion.MM: At the beginning of the race, what happened there?RS: Yes, at first he went the wrong way in Finger Lake, I think. That is not good in the beginning of the race, not good for the head. But that is the race. There is always something happening like that in a race like the Iditarod. Always, something will happen. He lost the track of the markers. MM: You are running the race next year. Was that the original plan?RS: No. The plan was that Kjetil Backen would do the race in 2007. He asked me to do the 2007 race as he has small children and he asked for one more year off. He will race in 2008. Normally I would do it in 2008.MM: How many dogs have you got in training now? (editors note: Robert has 35 dogs total).RS: I have just 18 dogs in training right now. Kjetil trains 16 and Bjonar trains 16. In December I will choose one team from these two teams. I will train this new team for two months. If I need dogs from those two teams, I can get them. I have a handler who helps, as it takes so much time to train two teams. I can train one team myself, but it is better when you can train two teams at the same time. If I am training new leaders, I need to use a smaller team. MM: Do the three of you have three different training methods with Team Norway, or are you all training the same ways?RS: We have all the same philosophy. I can take dogs from Bjonar or Kjetil. We are on the same training schedule.MM: In your training, are you going to be aiming for the long runs and short rests again?RS: Normally at home I don’t do very long runs. Maybe once a week or so for around 120 km, something like that: 60 km away and 60km back home. MM: On average how many kilometers do you have on your dogs before you start the Iditarod?RS: Normally between 5000 and 6000 km. MM: Is your racing strategy still going to be the longer runs, longer than 4-6 hours?RS: That depends on the team, how they feel. Last time, there was a problem with the trail. I broke the trail and the other teams used that to their advantage. I had to do a run of 19 hours or more. I had to do that to win the race. The pace was slow, and I didn’t have to stop, I just kept going. MM: What are you doing to stay in shape, do you still have a personal trainer?RS: I meet with a trainer between 7 and 14 hours a week. I have training with my job as a firefighter, I also have really nice trails to run on at home.MM: Do you find being fit yourself in the Iditarod helps you and helps the dogs?RS: Yes of course. I help the dogs if I can.MM: Has the Lufthansa schedule changed your flight to Alaska?RS: Yes. I am not sure how I will get my dogs to Alaska. I will fly with another Iditarod competitor, Bernhard Schuchert, he is going to arrange the flight. It will be cheaper if we can get another cargo plane. MM: Who are your major sponsors that help you fly here?RS: Eukanuba.MM: How much does it cost to fly your team from Norway?RS: $60,000. That includesd a handler, and accommodations here and getting a car to use while here. Wife, not so much fun and expensive. The first time I raced I had to mortgage the house. I paid it back with the prize money. I had my wife sign it. At first she didn’t want to, and finally she signed it. MM: So if you didn’t win, the bank would have taken your house?RS: Yes, or the wife.MM: You really need to be in the top 5 to pay your expenses.RS: Yes.MM: Is Sigrid Ekran a new recruit to Team Norway?RS: Yes, she is part of the team as she has done everything for the team here in Alaska. Sigrid is making the food drops. I have to trust Sigrid.MM: Maybe she will slip you some bad food?RS: Yes, maybe. If something happens on the trail, I will talk to Sigrid. MM: Has Team Norway’s success in the Iditarod changed the way you are perceived back home?RS: It has changed Norwegian sled dog sports across the country. MM: Has it changed the way that you train and the way that you live?RS: No, I don’t think so. I train the same way and I enter all the dog races. I am more routine based now than I was before, the same km runs when training. My weakness is racing in the hills. I have adjusted to working the dogs more in the hills.MM: How have you done that?RS: I train with more weight. The dogs are pulling a heavier load. Early on I train for muscle and then later on I train for the distance and the endurance and speed. MM: How many kilometers are you doing right now with your dogs?RS: About 20 km. We train at around 5 or 6 km/hr up the hills and faster down the hills. This is in gear on the 4-wheeler. MM: How have you seen the Iditarod change in your career?RS: I think the race changed. People are doing longer runs now, and the training of the dogs has changed a lot. I think people are training more now. There could be 100 mushers training their dogs the same, but in the end there is only one winner. That could go the other way too, you can train to much. You have to know what to do. A couple of years ago I trained too much. I trained 3 days in a row and gave 2 days off. The dogs would not get out of their houses. Now I rest more and I always have happier dogs. I am not afraid to take 3 days off, sometimes 4 days. In Norway, a lot of the area where I live is covered in ice and I have to travel to train. When I travel I train a lot, and then I come back and rest a lot. When I won in 2003 I did that, and I think that made it better. Last year, I think Bjonar trained too much. The dogs were flat. Before the Iditarod, we did a race in Norway, the Femundlopet. The race changed last year. It was longer and much harder. MM: Are there any other races you will do in the lead up to the Iditarod?RS: Shorter races, between 150 km and 190 km. MM: Who are your main dogs?RS: I have a problem now. Three of the best dogs are gone from the team. Blue and Socks have finished 4 Iditarods and are now retired. I will take Otelo, the same name as Sigrid’s dog. That will be one of my leaders, another of my main dogs will be Boogie.MM: How many dogs will you bring over for the Iditarod?RS: Oh, about 17 or 18. MM: Most people here would take 20 dogs for the vet check and choose from that pool. RS: I take just 18 to the medical test.MM: I heard a rumor that you are planning to do the Yukon Quest in 2008. Is that true?RS: No, probably not in 2008 as that year Kjetil will be running the Iditarod and will have the best team. There is a possibility that I might do it in 2009, though I am not 20 or 30 anymore. I may be retired by then.MM: Jeff King won at age 50, why will you not be running?RS: I work as a firefighter and my health and fitness has to come first. Jeff’s job is running the Iditarod, I have a job to support me and the family.———————————————————————————- On this trip, Robert also visited the kennel of fellow Norwegian musher, and new recruit to Team Norway, Sigrid Ekran. Sigrid Ekran is signed up as a rookie in the 2007 Iditarod. She was recently in Fairbanks after a summer working on Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska for Alaska Icefield Expeditions. Sigrid is preparing to move her team from Fairbanks to Kotzebue to train for the upcoming racing season.MM: How did you get started with your team?SE: When Bjornar finished the Iditarod in 4th place, we were walking around in Nome and he asked me if I wanted to start my own team, I said yes it was my big dream, and that is when he gave me a good female leader, Sabena. She finished with Bjonar in 4th place and in Norway she finished a lot of races. She is now 7 and has a lot of good puppies at home. I hung out at Roberts place for about a week and he said that since Bjonar left me two dogs, I can pick two out of his yearlings. They are now two years old. Robert has the siblings on his team that he is now training. We have a bit of a name confusion. One of my yearlings from Robert has the same name as one of his because I thought I took Otello, and Robert has Otello at home. Another confusion is that I took Sabena and Robert has a puppy out of Sabena at home named Sabena. I will be moving to Kotzebue in just a few days, and I have to do all of my training there on the ice and in the bad weather. MM: What are your plans for the lead up to the race?SE: I plan to do a 150 mile race early and then maybe the Kuskokwim race and then hopefully afterwards I will try to do the Kobuk 440.MM: Do you think you will plan to do the Sweepstakes in 2008?SE: I would love to.
Dog scootering involves having your dog(s) pull you on a wheeled scooter whilst attached via