The Final Stretch – Magali Phillip & Rick & Kelly Swenson

The one thing Stage Stop has brought to our lives is friendships.  After 3 years at the stage stop many of the regulars start to feel like friends from years back and after you endure a stage stop like the one this year you find that it brings all of you closer together.  Jacque and Magali are two of those friends that we’ve come to know through stage stop and, therefore, we felt we couldn’t drive through Nenana without stopping by for a quick hello.  Unfortunately, Jacque was on the glacier and so we missed him, but Magali was at home; her favorite place to be.   We laughed out loud as we pulled up to her gate and saw the infamous sign, “Trespassers will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again”  If you know Magali, you know this is right up her alley and probably more truth than fiction!
Magali was outside just getting ready to give her beloved poodle, Keops a summer shave when we pulled in and rescued him for a few hours.  Magali graciously showed us her kennel and talked dogs with us for a while until we had to cut the things short to get back on the road because we had another stop that evening before we hit the road for home.  Despite how short the visit, it was great to see Magali and we hope that her and Jacque will come Stage Racing in 2009.
JR had been trying to get a hold of Rick and Kelly Swenson since before we left and we finally connected after we had arrived in Alaska and we are able to arrange to make them our last stop before we left.  The Swenson’s graciously invited us all to dinner on our way out of Alaska to spend a few hours to eat and chat.  JR was looking forward to this since he had handled for Rick back in the late 90’s and has fond memories of his year in Alaska with the Swenson’s.
Here was another example of a top kennel that was immaculate and was extremely organized.  Like Joee’s kennel, Rick’s dogs were all housed in barrels.  The majority of them were on platforms as his dirt was very rocky.  He had some beautiful outbuildings all built of logs and a very orderly garage.  This fit right in to how JR described Rick’s program.  He is meticulous and it shows throughout his kennel. 
Rick is a very laid back and personable guy that enjoys a good laugh.  He is not at all similar to how he has been depicted in the media.  Kelly is very friendly and high energy.  She pulled out all stops for dinner and had a spread of grilled burgers, baked beans, chips, a couple different salads and a wonderful blueberry cobbler.  It was delicious and all the more enjoyable as we talked dogs and mushing with the two of them.  They had some fun observations of the Sweepstakes and the Iditarod and we got immersed in the conversation wishing we had more time to stay and socialize.
At 10:00PM Friday evening we said our goodbyes to Rick and Kelly and headed back out on the highway for home.  JR and Anna got home Monday night and Bruce and I got home Tuesday night.
This was a grueling trip; 9400 miles in 12 days, but well worth it.  We learned so much and cannot say enough about how friendly and gracious everyone was to us.  We are in awe having had the opportunity to talk dogs and learn from the best.  Alaska is truly the core of the mushing sport and it makes you realize how far we have to come out here in the mid-west.  We now have lists of things to do to improve our kennels that should keep us busy for the next couple years.

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