Photo by: Julien Schroder, Arctic Mood
“What made you choose this career?” is a question Shaynee is routinely asked. First, Shaynee must explain that having forty “children” to love and care for every single day of her life is NOT a career...it is simply a lifestyle that encompasses every minute and every emotion. Secondly, and with a chuckle, Shaynee will say she must be crazy to choose this life! To most people, owning forty dogs and putting nearly every dime earned into the furry creatures IS crazy. But to Shaynee and Jeremy, this is the most fulfilling lifestyle they could ever be blessed with.
When Shaynee was nine years old, her aunt and uncle visited Alaska and met Iditarod-founder, Joe Redington. Coming home and telling stories of sled dogs and teams that raced across the wild vastness of Alaska, Shaynee fell in love with the idea of a simple life lived with dogs. Shaynee already had a great love for the outdoors and, being a loner even from a young age, loved exploring the wilderness with her pet dogs. She told her parents, Scott and Toni Seipke, she wanted to get a team of sled dogs and race the Iditarod. Her parents would tell her, “someday when you have your own home, you can have as many dogs as you want!”. Shaynee would not settle for that answer. She prayed every night that someday she could have sled dogs and run the Iditarod. Finally, the young dreamer convinced her parents to take her to watch the UP200, an Iditarod-qualifying race in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
And a few years later, Shaynee, Scott, and Toni, took a trip to northern Michigan and “happened” upon top sprint mushers, Ken and Lori Chezik. Within a couple months, Shaynee's prayers were answered and she had her first team of sled dogs at age fourteen.
From the beginning, Scott and Toni told Shaynee she would be totally responsible for the dogs. Shaynee cared for the dogs before and after school, morning and night, regardless of weather. It didn't take long, though, for everyone to realize this was going to be a family affair. The dogs had to run and there wasn't enough space around the kennel, so the team had to be loaded in the truck and driven to country roads where Shaynee could hook them up and run. Toni would drive her car in front of the team to warn any oncoming traffic. Scott would drive his truck behind the team to warn cars from behind. Miles and miles around the same country roads so Shaynee could train her dogs to run four, then thirty, then ninety mile races. Work and school during the day, running dogs-come sun or rain or snow-by night.
Shaynee fell more and more in love with the sport. Finding herself falling further away from the “normal” life of a high school student, Shaynee would often find herself frustrated while in school and dreaming of being in the wilderness with her best friends, the dogs. In 2007, she was granted special permission to graduate four months early from high school so she could train for the Midnight Run, a 90-mile race in Northern Michigan. Being under the age of 18, she also needed permission to run the race (as the rules stated, the racers had to be at least 18)...which she was granted! Shaynee completed the race in the middle of the pack.
After spending the rainy summer in Juneau, Shaynee and the team were to head further north for the winter. Not having a definite place to live for the winter, Shaynee ended up on the Kenai Peninsula living in a small room she was renting from another musher while her dogs lived on the truck. Day in and day out, Shaynee would train her team of 24 dogs (one dog had passed away in Juneau after the trip north) and raise a litter of four pups that had been born while in Juneau. In addition, she would also have to “drop”, or let the dogs out of the truck, multiple times a day to go to the bathroom and to be fed and watered...all by herself. This continued for a month before she realized it just wasn't working. It was time to venture even further north.
Once again, Shaynee packed up the dog truck -nevermind it's mechanical issues- with all her belongings, 28 dogs, a U-Haul trailer carrying her four-wheeler for training, and a goal to find a permanent “home”. Shaynee headed solo, in early November on ice and snow covered roads, for Two Rivers, Alaska...some 540 miles away. And home she did find...
Living in a small one-room cabin without running water that winter taught Shaynee how at 50 degrees below zero, you use the outhouse fast! With minimal snow in early November, Shaynee continued training the dogs on the four-wheeler. Slowly learning the local trails little by little as she would explore on the quad by herself at -20. Once the snow started to pile up, she would try and be the first one out on the trails after a fresh snowfall so she could take the team down new trails and find her way back by following her path if she got lost.
By January, Shaynee and the Howling Ridge team was ready to take on their first Alaska race, the Solstice 100. Shaynee was excited to compete against top distance racers, Aliy Zirkle and Jodi Bailey. The team was the first out of the chute, leading the rest of the competitors down the trail. Not three miles into the race, the team took a wrong turn after a split in the trail had not been marked. Losing quite a bit of time and wondering what the heck she was doing thinking she could race in Alaska, Shaynee was finally able to get the fired up team back on the right trail. At the halfway point, the team rested and Shaynee's story of the wrong turn had already made it's way to the checkpoint. Shaynee was known as “the girl who got lost” thereafter. The second leg of the race, the team ran beautifully through the night and Shaynee was beyond surprised to find she had the fastest time for the run from the checkpoint to the finish! The team ended up in fourth place overall, not bad for their first showing in Alaska.
Since their first winter in Alaska, Howling Ridge has continued to grow and improve. Jeremy and Shaynee were married in the fall of 2014 and continue to spend their winters in beautiful Two Rivers, Alaska. Summers are spent on the Mendenhall Glacier in the icefield above Juneau. The couple lives in wall tents with propane heaters for warmth and no electricity. Outside, over 280 dogs from multiple kennels enjoy the summer snow while giving rides to tourists from all over the world. Shaynee qualified to race in the Yukon Quest in 2015 and qualified for the Iditarod in 2016. With the goal of racing a team in Iditarod that she and Jeremy have raised and trained, have put the money and effort into, have done the work all themselves, Shaynee finally completed the Iditarod in 2018...after almost twenty years of dreaming. She has completed some of the toughest mid-distance races out there, such as the Copper Basin 300 and the Yukon Quest 300...traversing Rosebud and Eagle Summits, both feared in dogsled racing. Jeremy completed his first qualifier this winter, finishing the Two Rivers 200 in fifth place AND receiving the Vet's Choice Award (sound familiar?). More puppies have been born, and old dear buddies have been lost. The kennel currently consists of 43 healthy, happy sled dogs...or “kids” as Jeremy and Shaynee lovingly refer to them as.
Shaynee is very much an advocate of following your dreams. God has given each of us a desire to do something great for Him, she believes, and nothing should hold us back from chasing that. Life is too short to be doing something that one doesn't enjoy. And Shaynee knows she is beyond blessed to literally be living her dream. To spend her days soaking in all of God's amazing creation on the back of a sled, behind a team of loyal, happy, loving, furry, awesome friends. Howling Ridge Kennel hopes everyone chases their dream!
The year 2009 saw the birth of Howling Ridge's very first litter of puppies. A breeding out of two dogs Shaynee had originally gotten from other kennels and raised. To this day, four of those pups are still with Shaynee. That winter, she left her dogs at home with her parents and spent the winter working for an Iditarod champion in Alaska. Training an Iditarod team, Shaynee concluded that she did still want to pursue distance mushing and came home in the spring trying to figure out a way to move herself and the dogs north. In 2010, a second litter was born...and that litter is the core of Shaynee's team in Alaska today.
Finally in 2012, Howling Ridge found a way to head north. Shaynee was offered a job in Juneau, Alaska giving dogsled tours to cruise ship passengers. Loading up 25 dogs, sleds, gear, and a heart full of dreams, Shaynee began the nine-day drive northwest along with her dad. Scott drove with Shaynee to Montana where she met up with two friends also traveling with dogs to Alaska. Hitting the Alaska highway, the caravan of sled dogs drove all day and camped with the dogs on the trucks at night. Shaynee finally made it to Alaska with her very own athletes and began yet another adventure of learning and exploring in new wilderness.
In late January, Jeremy Traska came to visit Shaynee and help train dogs. He had given summer tours with the dogs for a few years, but had never driven a sled in the snow. He was a natural! Shaynee was so thankful to have his help as they trained for the Two Rivers 200, an Iditarod qualifying race the team would run in March. Jeremy was a perfect fit to join the team with his patience, love of the dogs, and awesome training skills. Shaynee finally found someone who not only liked her and her crazy lifestyle, but also loved each one of the 28 dogs.
Jeremy returned to Juneau where he was living in February and Shaynee continued training for the 200. Scott flew up to handle for
her during the race and also got to return to the runners, mushing his team on a training run or two. Shaynee entered the Two Rivers 200, the team's longest race ever, with twelve strong dogs and competed against mushing greats, such as five-time Iditarod champ, Rick Swenson. Shaynee would finish the race in fourth place out of sixteen teams with dogs that had been born and raised in Michigan at Howling Ridge Kennel. The most rewarding accomplishment of the race, was Shaynee receiving the Vet's Choice Award given to the musher who demonstrates the best dog care.