June 21, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Alaska Range Rookies

As of Tuesday morning, three rookies, Tom Schonberger, Anja Radano and Jason Steward, are tackling Rainey Pass and the Alaska Range. The elevation is officially listed at 3,160 feet. From the highest point the mushers descend to the interior and spill out of the Dalzell Gorge near the Rohn Safety Cabin. Mushers and athletes cross the Dalzell River on ice bridges. Rumors of the challenging gorge cause much angst for some while others look forward to the challenge of maneuvering the sled through the descent and the technical twists and turns. Some choose to go at night using their headlamp to light the way. Others choose to do the run during the day. One rookie from a few years back said that after he crested the range trail and began the descent he kept waiting and waiting for the infamous Dalzell but suddenly found himself at the Rohn Cabin. It was nothing like he’d been expecting. His perception of the gorge was quite different than the reality.

Tom Schonberger of Chugiak, AK is on the trail with handsome Siberians. Tom was born in North Dakota but grew up in New Mexico. After earning a degree in Secondary Education and being commissioned in the Air Force as a second Lieutenant, Tom was stationed in Florida. He was transferred to Alaska in 2000. As a member of the Air National Guard, Tom and his wife Mary could call Alaska home. They are the proud owners of TouchMeNot Siberians, a small working and showing kennel. The “Pack” as they are sometimes called has received many awards. He began mushing shortly after establishing his kennel. In 2015 he began training in earnest for Iditarod. Tom is an Eagle Scout and shares the honor with his father and 2 brothers.

Anja Radano was born in Germany near Munich. She earned a degree in nursing a profession she followed for ten years. She came to Alaska as a tourist in 2003 and returned in 2004 to begin her mushing career. In 2008 she started her own kennel. Mid distance racing was her first passion but Iditarod was in her thoughts. Anja stayed with medicine and went to school to become a veterinary technician. Living in Talkeetna, she practices as a vet tech and enjoys hiking, camping and animals – especially horses.

While growing up, Jason Stewart visited Alaska to be with family during the summer. When he left, he always missed the beauty of the last frontier. Finally he left Maryland to make his permanent home is Alaska. It wasn’t long and Jason was handling dogs for a musher. When Jason met Melissa Owens, he became as serious about her as he was about sled dogs. Soon they were married. The Owens family has long been associated with mushing. Now Jason and Melissa own and operate Owl Creek Kennel. Stewart works as a Corrections Officer. He likes building dog sleds. The newest member of the Owens-Stewart family, Ellen Patricia, was born in August of 2017.

Tom, Anja and Jason will all breath a sigh of relief upon reaching Rohn. After resting, they’ll go through the Buffalo Tunnels, pass Egypt Mountain and cross the Farewell Burn to reach the checkpoint of Nikolai. It’s not always the case but this year the trail through the burn has ample snow with new snow falling. The front of the pack will reach McGrath around suppertime. Stay tuned for more rookie introductions.