Once Cim Smyth figured out a way to win the battle of the sexes, he found a way to come from behind, beat Jeff King and claim the title of the Tustumena 200 sled dog race Sunday on the Kenai Peninsula.
Forced to serve as referee between a female leader in heat and a male leader in lust, Smyth got a break when Alpha, the male, developed a sore wrist, clearing the way for Jane, the female, to take over as the lone leader.
With a pack of males giving chase behind her, Jane picked up the pace and powered Smyth past King, the four-time Iditarod champion bidding for his second win since his return to competitive mushing this winter after a one-year retirement.
Up north in the Susitna Valley, Anjanette Steer won a different kind of battles of the sexes. Steer held off Ray Redington by 12 minutes to win the inaugural Northern Lights 300, which goes from Big Lake to Finger Lake and back.
Both races produced drama outside the confines of the competition -- an unhappy beginning for a Northern Lights 300 musher and a very happy ending for a Tustumena 200 musher and her dog.
Ramey Smyth, Cim's brother who raced the Northern Lights 300, hit a moose while driving to the start line on Friday. He and his dogs are fine, but the truck is in bad shape, Cim said.
And Ophelia, the dog that got loose from DeeDee Jonrowe's Tustumena team somewhere near Clam Gulch on Saturday, was found and reunited with her team.
In the Tustumena, Smyth and King were running neckline-to-neckline Sunday afternoon when they left Oilwell Pad, the final checkpoint before the finish line in Kasilof, 25 miles away.
"Things just came together," Smyth said by phone. "I was actually having some struggles with my leaders most of the race. I had a female that was in heat and the other leader was a male and I couldn't put them together, so I had her back.
"Then the male got a sore wrist and I had to drop him, so I had a spot to put her by herself in the front and she just motored. The boys chased her, and it worked out."
The Big Lake musher, who finished with 11 dogs, started the race Saturday with six males and eight females in harness. Six of the females were in heat.
"It was just a catastrophe," Smyth said. "But there's nothing you can do about it. Your good dogs are your good dogs and you gotta bring 'em -- if you're gonna win."
King reached the final checkpoint with a three-minute lead over Smyth. Smyth didn't stop when he reached the Oilwell Pad chcekpoint and King hit the trail alongside him at 1:56 p.m. Sunday afternoon, the finish line just 25 miles away.
Smyth finished with a total time of 22 hours, 26 minutes. King clocked 22:33, Dan Kaduce was third in 23:45 and Colleen Robertia fourth in 25:30.
"Everybody thought my team was totally fresh because they were all out there playing, but they were all crazy about the females in heat," he said.
In the Valley, Steer led the Northern Lights 300 for much of the way, although Redington was never far behind.
Steer reached the finish line at Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennel with 13 dogs in harness at 12:50 p.m., 12 minutes ahead of Redington, who was running 10 dogs.
Steer, who owns the Sheep Mountain Lodge with her husband Zack, led the field out of Yentna on the outbound trail, forging a 15-minute lead over Redington one-third of the way into the race.
By the time the leaders reached the halfway point 73 miles later at Finger Lake, Redington had cut Steer's lead to six minutes.
But Steer gained seven minutes on the run back to Yentna and Redington was able to cut only one minute off her lead in the final 47-mile run to Big Lake.
Travis Beals, who had a wickedly fast run between Finger Lake and Yentna on the inbound trail, grabbed third place, 67 minutes behind Steer.
Mushers faced temperatures in the minus-20 and minus-30 range in the Susitna Valley. It was closer to zero in Kasilof for the finish of the Tustumena.
Jonrowe entered the Tustumena as the defending champion but her race ended early when she scratched after Ophelia's escape.
The dog's safe return several hours later was the result of old-school media and social media working together.
Race organizers posted news of the missing dog on Facebook. Radio stations in the area picked up the news. Brian and Robin Moore, recent arrivals to Alaska from Tennessee, heard the reports on the radio and were out with their kids when they spotted a pink-collared sled dog running loose on Coho Road.
Ophelia was too skittish for the Moores to catch, so they posted news of the sighting on the race's Facebook site.
"She had been running for seven hours and she was still running," said Johna Beech, a board member for the race. "DeeDee was able to talk to her and calm her down enough to catch her. DeeDee said the dog was fine, just really, really hungry."
After the race posted news on Facebook of Ophelia's capture, Brian Moore responded.
"We're just thankful we were able to keep up with her. Man that dog can move!"
Northern Lights 300
Finishers as of 8 p.m. Sunday
1) Anjanette Steer 49 hours, 52 minutes; 2) Ray Redington 50:04, 3) Travis Beals 50:59, 4) Nicolas Petit 51:43, 5) Kelly Maixner 52:28, 6) Jim Lanier 52:44, 7) Mitch Seavey 52:45, 8) Mike Santos 52:57, 9) Mari Troshynski 54:50.
Finishers as of 8 p.m. Sunday
1) Cim Smyth 22 hours, 26 minutes, 2) Jeff King 22:33, 3) Dan Kaduce 23:45, 4) Colleen Robertia, 5) Paul Gebhardt 26:15.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News