By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Seeley Lake Musher Readies for Second Iditarod Run

Heading for Nome

 

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Seeley Lake Musher Martin Koenig offering each of his 16 dogs a fillet of king salmon after finishing a 40 mile training run. They were going to rest for a few hours and run the 40-mile return trip.

SEELEY LAKE – After trading horses for sled dogs in 1992, Seeley Lake musher Martin Koenig has enjoyed a "hard core" racing career including spirit, stage, mid-distance and distance racing. Even though he retired from racing two years ago, he still mushes recreationally. He is headed back to Alaska to run his second Iditarod, a 1,000-mile sled dog race from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome starting March 5, calling it a "camping trip with his dogs."

Koenig was born and raised in Switzerland. He moved to the United States in 1973 and became a US citizen in 1978. Koenig has been a self-employed machinist for 45 years to support his mushing.

Koenig settled in Montana in 1980 after arriving in Ennis on horseback with his dog from Steamboat, Colo. His goal was to make it to Canada but when his horse cut its leg open on some shale piles his trip ended.

Koenig found a machinist job in Belgrade, Mont. After a few years of continuing to ride his horse, he sold his horse. In 1990, he started working with Jim Orvis out of Bozeman, Mont. racing dogs.

"I always wanted to do it but I never had a place to do it. Dogs are much more fun than horses," said Koenig who started purchasing dogs from Orvis. "[Orvis] was a walking encyclopedia about sprint racing."

In 1993 Koenig decided that he enjoyed driving dogs more than his truck so he switched from sprint racing to mid-distance. He would work all week and then drive to Seeley Lake to train with his team running more than 200 miles on the weekends.


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Koenig moved to Seeley Lake in 1995. His only two requirements for the place he bought were the ability to have dogs on the property and run his team from the property.

Koenig loved travelling with the dogs. He raced across the West and Midwest United States as well as Canada and Northwest Territories. "I saw places I would never go without a dog race," said Koenig.

Koenig last raced the Iditarod in 2008. He along with two other Seeley Lake mushers Kirk Barnum and Cindy Gallea headed to Alaska.

"It was supposed to be a one-time shot," said Koenig.

He spent nearly $15,000 to prepare for the race including travel, food for him and his dogs, and all the gear he needed to compete.

With less than 250 miles left on the trail, Koenig said he got very sick. He made a 90-mile stretch; typical runs were 40-50 miles, to make it to the hospital in Unalakleet, Alaska with a temperature of 104 and pneumonia.

Before he got sick, Koenig was on schedule to make the Saturday night banquet. The illness changed his goal to simply finishing the race.

"The doc was from Livingston, Montana," said Koenig. "I told him it took me two years to get here and I wasn't going to quit. He shot me up with all kinds of good stuff."

The village children took care of Koenig's dogs while he slept for 18 hours. Then he got back on the trail.

Koenig was so sick and full of medication that he missed his next checkpoint. Normally he would have had to turn around and go back the 50 miles to check in. However, the race marshal said not to send him back.

Koenig finished in 76th place in 14 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes and 53 seconds.

Koenig quit the racing circuit two years ago. He said it was getting so expensive and he had had enough of the hectic lifestyle and competition. However, he missed traveling with the dogs and running new trails.

He still had 12 dogs in his kennel so he decided to do two breedings. He now has 28 dogs in his kennel. He took 14 dogs of his own and two from Seeley Lake musher Roy Etnire to Alaska.

"I decided it was time for another trip to Alaska and to take the dogs to Nome," said Koenig. "They are all rookies except one [who has been to Nome]. My goal is to get to Nome and spend two weeks camping with my dogs along the way. I still like doing this but it is strictly recreational."


Koenig started training 20 dogs in mid-August behind his four-wheeler. They would go out for 20-mile training runs. They are the first dogs that Koenig has trained strictly for distance and endurance. When he was spirit racing, his dogs were trained for speed and he would have to ride the brake to slow them down so they could last for a long race.


"We go 8-10 miles per hour which is easy all day long," said Koenig. "That's what you need to do in the Iditarod."

In his last week of training, Koenig ran 16 dogs on 40-50 mile routes, camping out several times to prepare for the Iditarod. He estimates he has put on 1,200 miles training for the race.

Friends that hosted Koenig, during the 2008 Iditarod, Peter Petrinc and his girlfriend Verena Hauser will help Koenig with his dogs before and after the race. Hauser also purchased the opportunity to ride in Koenig's sled during the ceremonial ride through Anchorage for $1,900.

Koenig expects to do better than he did in 2008 and make it to the awards banquet Sunday, March 20. He said he has better dogs, is more prepared, has had better training and his dogs, even though they are young, are trained for distance.

"If you look for me start in the back," said Koenig. "I'll be in the back somewhere."

Musher Cindy Gallea, formally from Seeley Lake, will also be running the Iditarod again this year for her 13th time. Follow Koenig and Gallea with the Iditarod's GPS tracker by logging onto http://iditarod.com/gps/

Martin Koenig feeds his dogs a premium dog food developed by a Wyoming musher called Billie Food. "It's a good distance food and the dogs like it," said Koenig. During the Iditarod, Koenig feeds his dogs four times per day. Hydration is his main concern. His dogs weigh between 50-60 pounds each and will burn 8,000-10,000 calories per day.

 

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