When Josi Thyr was 9, she wanted a pony, as many children do.
Her dad said no, and instead she got a Siberian husky, which she named Nakota.
"We kind of laughed about it because my dad said, 'No horses, they're too expensive.' So I got sled dogs instead," Thyr says with a laugh. "I think they're a lot more expensive than a pony would've been."
Soon she and her brother had Nakota pulling them while they wore roller blades, and when the snow came, they turned to a sled.
These days, 15 years into her sled dog racing career, Thyr works with a few more dogs, racing 12-dog teams on courses that range around 200 to 300 miles over a few days.
Now based in Olney, Thyr was one of two finishers in the February Idaho Sled Dog Challenge's 300-mile race in McCall, alongside Jessie Royer of Seeley Lake.
Since 17, she's been racing seriously, when she started helping Iditarod racer Aaron Burmeister in Alaska. Then she returned to the Pacific Northwest, where she completed her own Iditarod qualifiers.
She recalls starting out in the sled dog racing scene, when she'd felt content doing sprint races with her manageable four-dog team, and the support she received from other racers that helped her grow.
"There's not a lot of kids involved, so a lot of mushers are very supportive of the younger people getting into it, so they're like, 'Oh, you need a dog? Borrow my dog.' I was going to stay small and just have four dogs, and I went to Seeley Lake with a bunch of dog mushers and they were like, 'Oh you can't run four dogs. Just train a little more and we'll let you borrow some dogs,'" she says. "I never really went back to sprint racing. I liked the distance running. You do all this training and you may as well get to race a little longer."
There's a lot of logistics in a 300-mile race.
For one, there's the training, which starts in the summer with the dogs pulling a four-wheeler for 3 to 5 miles at a time. By November, they're going for 30 miles, and if there's snow, they're pulling a sled.
And by race time, the whole team is ready for grueling days, she says. In something like a 200-miler she did earlier in the season, the trip was split up into 50 miles of racing, four to six hours of sleep, 50 more miles, rest and a final 100-mile push to finish the trip out.
In a 300-mile race, there's longer periods of racing followed by longer rest periods as well, and even after months of training and preparation, a lot can go wrong, she says.
"I also enjoy the challenge of it. You could have the best trained dog team, but you could go out there and they could get a flu bug. You might have to take a step back and take care of your dogs and maybe rest more. You're still trying to race, but you've got that added challenge," she says.
Her favorite part of the sport is the bond she gets to make with her team.
"Having raced a lot of my own dogs, I love watching the puppies. They fit in your hand when they're born, and then watching them grow up -- you train them and you build that bond with those dogs. Then you get to watch them perform, and they blow your mind away by doing more than what you ask. That's really special to me," she says.
"They're my buddies, they'll go to the end of the earth for me. It's a team effort out there," she added.
While she hasn't yet competed in the famous, 1,000-mile Iditarod race, she says it's on her radar, though maybe a few years out still.
The race requires a lot of logistics and funding -- she estimates it costs between $30,000 and $50,000 to get all the supplies and preparation ready to compete -- and there's a big difference between 300 miles and a race more than three times that.
"I've got a pretty young team and a lot of pretty nice young dogs, but they don't have race experience yet. It's important not just for me to be qualified, but I want the dogs to have quite a few long distance race experiences before I go send them out on 1,000 miles," she says.
In the meantime, she's content racing around Montana and other western states. Between races, she spends her winters taking people on sled dog tours in Seeley Lake, and in the summers she's either sledding in Alaska or training dogs in Montana.
It's a demanding passion, she says, but one that's hard to resist.
"I don't really see myself doing anything else," she says. "It's pretty all-consuming, when you get into the dogs, and it's very addicting. Every year you finish the season and you're like, 'Well, next year I've got these pups coming up, or next year I'm going to try this in training, or I'm going to build a new sled and try out this.' There's so many variables and things you can improve that every year you're already planning for the next year."
Plus, she adds, racing means she's outside, which she loves.
Being on the sled provides a unique, meaningful experience that few other things can replicate.
"You get to see so many things, wildlife and views you may not see by snowmobile -- you may be going too fast to see a moose. I've seen a cougar on the trail, I've seen elk running by me on the stream. You just get all those little moments and it adds up," she says. "I just love it, it's spending time with my best friends."