Bino is back.
After taking two years off from racing sled dogs, Sunriver’s Bino Fowler will make his return on the sled runners this weekend at the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon.
Fowler, 43, won the Eagle Cap’s eight-dog, 100-mile race in 2006 and 2011 but he took most of the past two years off from competing after starting up his own sled dog tour business. He also underwent knee surgery in 2013, which slowed his return to racing.
“It was nice to take the tool belt off and spend more time with the dogs,” says Fowler, an electrician by trade, who branched out into snow tours when the local housing market slumped. “(The year) 2011 was an exceptional race season for me, I was almost undefeated. But since then I’ve had to put my race aspirations aside and earn some dollars.”
Joining Fowler this weekend is his friend and fellow dog enthusiast James Martin, also of Sunriver, who will be making his racing debut at one of the bigger sled dog events in the Pacific Northwest. The Eagle Cap Extreme is the only qualifier for the world-class Iditarod and Yukon Quest races in the entire state.
“We’d hoped to get him in some club races before (Eagle Cap), but they’ve all been postponed (because of a lack of snow),” Fowler says about Martin, who will be competing with a team of Fowler’s dogs. “This is his first season where he’s really helped train up the (team), but he’s been around dogs his whole life. He’s earned a spot to stand on the runners and test himself.
With Fowler recovering from knee surgery last year, Martin, who is married to Fowler’s stepdaughter, began helping with the day-to-day chores of caring for the dogs.
“After doing that with him for a year and half, Bino thought, ‘Well, you might as well do a race,’” Martin explains.
A sportsman all his life, Martin, 40, says handling a dog team is unlike anything he has ever done.
“It’s just like no other sport,” Martin says about sled dog racing. “There’s so many variables with a lot of souls, a lot of emotions involved.
“For instance,” Martin continues, “if I run a certain dog in the front or the back, it makes a difference. It’s crazy how one change can be such a variable.”
Fowler, who in 17 years of racing has competed in everything from sprints of less than 20 miles to multiday contests of more than 300 miles, is excited to test his dogs at a solid middle distance, especially during the 10th anniversary of an event he has won twice before.
“We’ve got a couple of seasoned dog teams,” he says. “They’re split kind of down the middle. There’s not an A or B team. We’ll see what happens.
“The 100-miler is back to the basics for me,” Fowler adds. “I’ll always entertain (racing) that distance. At half of a long-distance race it’s more challenging (and) requires more preparation than a sprint.”
Fowler and Martin are two of 11 registered entrants for the Eagle Cap’s 100-mile face — the event includes 200- and 62-mile options — which starts Thursday at 1 p.m. at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area east of the town Joseph. Teams in the 100-mile race run along the Imnaha River to a 50-mile checkpoint, where they have a mandatory six-hour layover before returning to Ferguson Ridge. Winners in the 100-mile race typically finish in 16 to 18 hours, depending on weather conditions.
“I’m so excited to be done with tours for a bit and go have fun with the huskies,” Fowler says. “We get to test our homework against everybody else’s.”
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