A blast of Montana winter did its best to derail Jenny Greger’s quest Tuesday, but the teenager from Bozeman refused to let it.
Greger, from one of Montana mushing’s first families, won the 2014 Race to the Sky in her first stab at the 350-mile race after capturing two of the first four Junior 100s in Montana’s premier sled dog race.
The 18-year-old crossed under the arch at the finish line near Lincoln at 3:09 p.m. Laura Daugereau of Stockett was denied again, finishing second at 4 p.m., followed by Brett Bruggeman of Great Falls at 4:53 p.m.
Greger and Daugereau both crossed with nine of 12 dogs in harness. Bruggeman finished with 11 dogs. It was Daugereau’s third runner-up finish in the past four years in the Race to the Sky’s longest race. She was also second in the 200-mile race in 2009.
“I’m pretty tired but, you know, it’s just a feeling of everything that we put out on the trail was worth it,” Greger said shortly after putting to bed the dogs that carried her on the last, trying 74-mile struggle from Seeley Lake.
“I’m just happy not only to win but to have a really good performance and a good race. Even if we didn’t come in first I’d still be super happy, just because of the way the dogs did.”
She left the last checkpoint at Seeley Lake after a mandatory six-hour layoff at 4:42 a.m. – 50 minutes behind Daugereau and 25 minutes after Bruggeman.
Greger said she passed Bruggeman after about 18 miles, before snow started obliterating the trail. She caught Daugereau after daybreak 40 miles in as the blowing, drifting snow came down harder, leaving the dog team led by Alice and Bella to break trail.
“It kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper,” Greger said. “We got up to Huckleberry Pass (roughly 12 miles from the finish) and it was really deep there. We were crawling along, plowing through the snow and I was feeling like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have to do this the whole way.’ ”
At one point, she said she walked at the head of her team to find the trail, holding the harness of one dog to guide the rest.
“I can read the markers. They can’t,” said Greger, who estimated she led the team that way for 20 minutes or so.
She was rescued by the trail crew, who cut out a trail ahead with snowmobiles for the last several miles. The heavy snow slowed the race that at one point looked to have a winner before noon Tuesday for the second year in a row.
Greger, who plans to become a veterinarian, has grown up in the sled dog community. Her parents, Rob and Cara, have run Anduril Kennels east of Bozeman for more than 20 years. Rob, a professional dog trainer, competed in Race to the Sky six times during the 1990s, placing as high as second in 1996. He’s on the race’s board of directors and was race steward for several years until he stepped aside this winter to help his daughter prepare for her first Race to the Sky 350. Cara, a certified vet technician, is a longtime race volunteer also helps on her daughter’s team.
Jenny Greger recently finished the International Pedigree Stage Stop in Wyoming. Last year, she raced the Junior Iditarod in Alaska and won the John Beargrease Mid-Marathon in Minnesota.
She’s the sixth female and second straight teen to win the Race to the Sky’s longest competition. Last year 17-year-old Alea Robinson of Eagle River, Alaska, took the top prize in record time.
Bryce Mumford of Preston, Idaho, had the only other 350 team out on the trail. He arrived at Seeley Lake for his six-hour mandatory layover at 3:35 p.m. with 10 dogs.
Josi Thyr of Cataldo, Idaho, withdrew Monday night between the turnaround point at the Owl Creek Wilderness Checkpoint and Seeley Lake. Herb Brambly of Pennsylvania scratched at Seeley Lake on Monday, and Garrett Warren of Council, Idaho, called it a race at Owl Creek.
On Monday, Roy Etnire of Seeley Lake won his second straight Race to the Sky Adult 100, finishing at 8:05 a.m. Jean Wise of Sand Coulee took second at 9:11 a.m.
John Kunzler and Bob Shanahan both withdrew from the 100-miler, as did 12-year-old Spencer Bruggeman, the lone Junior 100 musher.
The Race to the Sky awards ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Explorationworks in Helena. Tickets are $15 for dinner, trail stories and fundraising for the U.S. War Dogs Association, Chapter 1. Part of the movie “Always Faithful” will be shown, documenting military dogs currently serving in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
For more information, visit racetothesky.org.