Northern Blast Sled Dogs

Carol & Alan Pepsick

STORY TIME


INTRODUCTION: Story Time page is where I get to share my writing's, mostly stories, of our times on the trail. View the STORY LIST below. Some are written about our training days while others are about the races we have been in. There is humor, seriousness, and some questionable moments; but hopefully you'll find them informative as well. Stories are arranged in the order they were posted with the most recent one first. The Story List gives a brief description of each story as well as the number of written pages and whether there are pictures. You can click on whichever one you want to read but if you want to read the stories from the beginning, start with the last one at the bottom of the page, titled: My First Race and work your way back up. Use your end button to get to it and give it a click if you liked any of the stories. For longer pieces it may be easier to print it and read it off paper. I have not included pictures on most of the longer ones to allow for printing. I hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as we enjoyed creating the memories.

Story List


You Call This Fun?
: I wrote this on my blog in January 2013 regarding a very memorable training run we had been on just prior. 3 pages.

Getting To Know Po: (Dec, 2012) A trip back in time, when we picked up our second dog, Po. He has given us a lot of memories, this one was the scariest. 2 pages, 1 picture.

Toughing It At The Cascade Quest, 2011: Taken from my blog postings and altered into a story, this is our second time at the Cascade Quest. 7 pages of writing plus pictures.

Return To Eagle Cap, 2011: Taken from my blog postings, this is our second time on the Eagle Cap race trail. 6 pages of writing plus pictures.

Behind The Scenes Of Our 2009/2010 Year
: Our first mid distance year, in review. 10 pgs.

Racing Cascade Quest Style
: Our first time at the Cascade Quest race, 2010. 11 pgs.

You Should Assume...: Not a story, but a short amusing list of expectations, if you get into mushing.

My Eagle Cap Adventure
: Our first time on the Eagle Cap trail, 2010. 10 pgs.

The Day Of 10 Mistakes
: No one is perfect, this should make all other mushers feel better about themselves! A training run of 4 mushers and 26 dogs! 5 pgs.

Mid Distance Training: Our First Year
: Switching to mid distance meant buying new equipment and training differently. We figured it out as we went along. 3 pgs and pics.

Hit And Run
: Strange and funny things can happen when you are training dogs. Here's one of the best. Sorry Alan! 1.5 pgs and 1 picture.

A Day of Training
: The blood, sweat and tears of a single training run. 2pgs.

My First Race
: This is more about what led up to my first race, my only sprint race. 4 pgs and 1 picture. _________________________________________________________________________


 

You Call This Fun?

 

The Sunday before Christmas we headed to Frog Lake for our first sled runs of the season. Snow had been falling daily for over a week and word was that all trails were adequately covered and plenty of snow to hook down. Our drive up was in the rain until around 3000 feet when it switched to snow and at 4000 feet the snow park was thickly covered in snow with more continuing to fall. I have no pictures of this day because I didn’t want to get my camera wet.


As usual, I first went to the take-off area to check out the trail conditions and they looked pretty good. They hadn’t been groomed yet but there was plenty of snowmobile traffic that had packed the snow down. I got my first team ready which included Drew and Eagle in lead, then Ana and Joy, Spirit and Looker (who was in season), Rosie, and Orbit and Apache. This would be Ana’s and Apache’s very first sled run. The dogs were going crazy as we were hooking them up and Orbit and Apache switched places so many times, I gave up trying to correct them.


With Orbit and Apache on the same side of the gangline we took off well although I immediately realized I left my goggles in the truck and the snow was still pouring down. The trail felt about as good as it looked. Within a minute of departure I spotted another team heading towards us. This is why Drew and Eagle were up front. I felt that they would be my best passers at this point since we have not trained with any other teams this year. The pass wasn’t great but it will do, no tangles! The other team had two mushers riding on the runners together, with the second musher hunched over and holding on. We exchanged a quick greeting as we passed and I gave a quizzical look. Generally, if two people are on the runners together it means something happened, something bad.


At the one mile mark we were approaching our right hand turn, heading towards the quarry. My plan was just to do the 4 mile loop allowing the dogs to get their snow legs. Now if you have ever read what I have written about this turn in the past, you know this can be a real pain. With practice however, as long as the intersection is groomed, I have learned to maneuver a 12-dog team through here without any mishaps. But without the grooming, it didn’t matter that I was only driving a 9-dog team. The trail into the quarry had little snowmobile traffic on it compared to the main trail, just a single snowmobile track. What’s difficult about this corner is the deep ditch on the right side and unfortunately, the snowmobile track hugged the turn, right on the edge of the ditch. I was already bracing for impact. By the time me, the sled, and the wheel dogs caught up to the turn, we were plowing through the ditch which was filled so deeply with snow it stopped us dead like hitting freshly poured cement, and threw the sled on its side. I hate this corner!


I stepped off my drag mat and sunk to my hip in snow and like quicksand, I was stuck. I grabbed my snowhook and threw it in as far as I could get it towards the trail. It sunk about halfway down. It would have to do. With the sled buried on its side and over 70 pounds of weight inside it, I wasn’t too concerned of the dogs taking off. Using a lot of leg strength I was eventually able to get myself out and to the side of the sled and pulled hard to upright it. The dogs still weren’t able to move so they stayed put giving me time to move back to the end of the sled and pull the hook. I pushed and they pulled finally getting out of that corner. During the next mile, heading towards the turn-around point, I could already feel my left triceps aching.


The situation at the 4-dog turn-around was just as terrible. Just a single track on the left that seemed to go straight up about 10 feet to get up the ramp. I gave the haw command several times, but the dogs wouldn’t take it. I had to hook down into too deep of snow, wade through the snow, grab my leaders and walk them over to the track. By the time I waded back to the sled, the leaders had already moved back to where they were. Arg!!! I got back on the sled, pulled the hook, and tried commanding them again. We moved forward a bit and it looked like they were going to take the turn, but didn’t. I hooked back down, waded back over to the leaders, moved them to the ramp again and this time they stayed as I got on the sled. We began to move forward but then they swung back down to the position they preferred.


I tried commanding them again, we moved a little bit then it looked like they were about to turn back into the team. I shouted no, and once again went up and moved them back onto the ramp. When I returned to the sled I realized my leaders were right next to me as they had followed me back and they and the rest of the team proceeded to get into a huge tangle. I spent the next several minutes, in deep snow, trying to unravel the team. When this was complete I moved the leaders back up the ramp but as I looked back I realized that we had inched forward enough each time that we were no longer in line with the track. I would have to plow the weighted sled through the deep snow, up the ramp. There was no way that was going to happen. But a little bit further down, the ramp had more use so the snow was beaten down a bit better but it was coming from the opposite direction. Our option at this point would be to try to get up that but it would be a hard sharp left turn up the ramp but first we would have to move a little further down the trail before we could try this. I walked the leaders back to where they wanted to be and sat down.


I was starting to overheat and was tired from all the trudging around in the deep snow and needed a rest first. I remember taking my hat off at this point but I don’t remember putting it in the sled, although we found it there later. I looked over my team and considered making a leader change. Looker is certainly one of my best leaders except when she is in season so that would be a bad idea. She was next to Spirit, one of my old leaders but if I switched Spirit with Eagle then he would be next to Looker, who’s in season. I looked at Joy and she looked at me like “What are you looking at me for?” She has only been in lead once, briefly, in the last couple of years due to her health condition. She was next to Ana who is far too inexperienced, I wouldn’t do that to her. Rosie, another of my older leaders and who I used recently but I wasn’t sure how she would do with this and I would have to make a second switch so Eagle wouldn’t be right behind Looker. Orbit wouldn’t be any more useful than Eagle and I wouldn’t put Apache up for the same reason as Ana. I decided to leave the team alone and got up to walk back to the sled but stopped at Orbit. Sometime during all of this he shredded his harness. It was hanging off of his right side between him and Apache. I hung my head in defeat. Normally on our long training runs I carry extra harnesses. This was only supposed to be a quick and easy 4 mile run, not the day adventure it was turning out to be. I had no extra harnesses so there was nothing I could do. I got back on the runners, pulled the hook and let the team move forward.


But even with all my weight on the brake, I couldn’t get them to stop soon enough as the brake wasn’t grabbing in the thick soft snow and we went a few feet too far. Now the turn was practically back over my left shoulder. I looked at the turn, then looked forward, looked back at the turn, and looked forward again, weighing my choices. If I could just get them up the ramp, it would only be 2 miles back to the truck. Going forward is the easiest choice and that’s what the dogs want to do but that will add an extra 1.5 miles to the run and we will have to go up a hill that I would rather not with the amount of weight I had in the sled in the conditions we were in as snow continued to fall. I took a deep breath and decided we will never get up the ramp, and since we had just had a rest I allowed them to move forward onto the 6-dog loop.


The approach to the trail in the open area was a bit of a mess but once we were back in the trees the trail was much the same as before, a single snowmobile track. As we approached the 6-dog/8-dog split I got a little nervous. Often this time of year, the 8-dog hasn’t been used yet and dogs will automatically take the used 6-dog track. But on this run both trails had a track which made a perfect “Y”. If I can’t get this team to turn left onto the 6-dog, this run will be even longer. I gave the haw command then held my breath as I watched them take the left. Whew! But then we had to begin the winding uphill climb that comes with this loop. About half way back I saw something green lying right in the middle of the trail. With all the trees and branches that had come down during the recent storms I figured it was pine boughs. It was hard to tell as the snow was still coming down and was covering it up. The dogs sniffed at it but on-byed as asked. It wasn’t until I was right next to it that I realized it was something else and by the time we stopped we were about 10 feet past it. I still wasn’t sure what it was, I thought maybe a sled bag although there seemed to be two parts. I hoped there wasn’t a person under it. I had to make another choice. Should I try hooking down and running back to retrieve it? On a normal day I would have no problem with this but after what we had been through I didn’t really want to take that chance. I didn’t know if the snowhooks would hold and I didn’t want to add any more weight to the sled, I just wanted to keep moving and finish this. I considered the other team we had passed and thought maybe one of them lost a team and what I am seeing is what fell out of the sled. This would explain why they rode back together and would mean there was a loose team somewhere. I decided to leave it behind and we moved on.


I kept my eye on Apache. The poor guy! His first sled run, and in the most physically demanding position, wheel, and he was practically doing all the work himself while his father’s harness hung mostly useless next to him. I was impressed with his strength and quite proud of him but I felt bad for him as I knew he would probably be sore the next day. I also felt bad for Ana. What a terrible first run for these two youngsters and I had three more waiting back at the truck along with the others who haven’t gone yet. By this time I was also starting to feel my left bicep, shoulder and quadriceps and had already decided I would not be taking the second team out. I was not about to go through all that again.


We finally reached the main road with the better trail and headed back to the parking lot. When we were almost there a snowmobile approached from behind and then passed us. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was one of the mushers we passed. As we approached the parking lot Alan met us and grabbed the leaders as usual. I hooked down and shook my head while giving him that “you wouldn’t believe what we just went through” look and announced that I wasn’t taking the second team out. I don’t think he quite believed me. When we got all the dogs back to the truck he asked “So you are NOT going back out?” I said no but before I could explain why he said “good, cause look what happened to me.” He showed me his hand wrapped in blood soaked gauze. He said when the other team got in they requested his help to unhook dogs. The second dog Alan grabbed began gnawing at his hand leaving Alan with several serious puncture wounds. It seems that they had their own rough time. They didn’t have a team missing but they were supposed to take out a second team as well and decided not to, after all one of them came back a bit cold and without his snow pants which is what was left out on the 6-dog loop and why he passed me on a snowmobile, to retrieve them. If you come back without your pants then something happened, something bad, but that’s their story. Rubbing my triceps, looking at Alan’s hand and thinking about our run I thought “what are we doing out here?” Frog Lake is usually a simple trail but that day it was eating teams up and spitting them out.


The falling snow never let up and continued to come down as we pulled out of the parking lot. I was surprised to see that it was 12:30. We left the house at 8:15 that morning. How long was I out on that trail trying to do that short run? Alan said he was starting to get concerned and figured at one point that I must have decided to do the 6-dog loop rather than the 4-dog. It felt good driving down the mountain happy to leave the snow behind. But before that happened, a car swerved from the opposite lane just ahead of us, crossed the road and landed in the ditch. We stopped as well as some others to see if they were ok. They were and sent us on our way. As we continued back down in elevation and was back to pavement and a lack of white, several emergency vehicles passed us from the opposite direction to go help at the accident. We just made it out of there. We got home to rest, eat, take care of Alan’s hand and look out over our green yard, when it started snowing. Oh no! We just couldn’t get away from the snow. As far as Frog Lake, I don’t plan to return until it has been groomed, then we CAN actually have some fun.


 

Getting To Know Po




It was Lee Hills who informed us of another Siberian husky that was available, a young boy being held at a dog rescue in the Blue Mountains of western Oregon. We made the 5 hour drive over to pick him up and fell in love with his personality on the drive back home. His name was Polaris and we called him Po for short.

Alan made arrangements for Po to take a beginning obedience class, taught by a talented dog trainer who was also a previous co-worker of Alan’s. Since Alan took our first dog to his obedience class it was my turn to take Po. So three weeks later, on a very windy day, I pulled my Escort into the parking lot of Misty Mountain Kennels with Po in the back seat. Class was to start in just a few minutes and all the other participants were already inside the training building.

I quickly designed a plan in my head. I didn’t want to have anything on me or in my hand to deal with other than Po. So I slipped my car key in my pocket and decided I would throw my ditty bag in the trunk and then grab Po and go inside. I popped the trunk with the button on my key ring and as I got out of the car a gust of wind came along and blew the trunk lid up. The suddenly flying lid frightened Po and he leapt over the seat and out my opened door right in front of me and attempted to scurry underneath the door. I lunged for his disappearing body and got a hold of his back legs while the rest of his body was on the other side of the door, the door that was smashed against my face. I was stuck and could do nothing. I could not get him back to my side of the door and with the door in my face I had no leverage.

I was also concerned of him getting hurt so I had to let him go and hoped for the best. But he is a Siberian and he was free. He took off. Now I should explain that Misty Mountain is located on many acres of mostly farm land and this was early April. I watched as Po ran as fast as he could across a freshly plowed field of mud. Calling his name did no good. We had only been together for 3 weeks; we had no rapport with each other. I took off after him in the soft muddy soil, both of us kicking up mud as we went.

Part way across the field I realized Po was getting further and further away from me and heading straight for the busy highway, so I turned around and ran back to my car. I drove in pursuit of Po to where I felt he would end up but when I got there he wasn’t around. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t believe I lost this dog. What will everyone think of me when I come home without him? I drove up and down all the roads of where he should have been with my window down yelling his name. I drove out on to the main highway scared I was going to find him lying on the side of the road but thankfully he wasn’t there either. One more drive back down the road that leads to the kennel and there he was heading down the road as well. I pulled along aside him, opened my door and patted my lap and said “Po, come on” without really expecting this dog to listen to me. To my surprise he jumped in with his filthy body and landed on my lap. I moved him over to my poor soft covered passenger seat where he continued to grind mud into it, and quickly shut my door. I got him back! Whew. 

Now, do we really go to class? I was completely flustered and we were about 10 minutes late at that point and I hated the thought of showing up late. Plus we were both totally covered in mud and everyone is bound to stare as we make our late grand entrance. Going home, getting cleaned up and counting my blessings is what I really wanted to do but then what would everyone think if I didn’t show up for this class? I decided we would go. Surely the instructor would take one look at us and ask what happened. This would give me a chance to explain myself and maybe he would send us home.

We entered the building and class was already in full swing as all the participants were standing in a circle with their dogs. The instructor turned to me and said “Oh good, you two stand right there” and pointed to an open spot in the circle. As if nothing had ever happened, as if my heart wasn’t still racing and that I wasn’t practically trembling, and that my mind wasn’t spinning, suddenly we were listening and following instructions along with the rest of the group and I wondered how many people were trying not to stare at us and what must everyone be thinking and did the instructor even notice the condition we were in? Then…plop……plop, plop. Yes that was the sound of mud sliding off both of our bodies and landing on the floor. Oh the humiliation.

Then the instructor had us begin walking our dogs in a circle. I wondered what everyone thought as they came across all the mud in the spot we were standing in. I hoped no one would slip and fall. I watched the clock that entire class, praying that it would end soon. Somehow we survived it and neither the instructor nor any of the other participants ever asked me what had happened. They were probably too scared to approach us. But I did still have to explain the scary event to Alan. Luckily the part about the mud plops lightened the mood a bit so he wasn’t too upset after hearing of our entire ordeal.

Eight weeks later Po and I graduated that class. Po was definitely a stubborn student but I think it was mostly because we didn’t know each other long enough as he probably wondered who am I to give him commands which he became much better with in time. The scariest class was when we had to command our dog to sit, drop their lead, turn our back and walk away from them about ten steps, turn back around and call them to us. Already traumatized from watching Po run away from me that first day, I lacked the confidence in this drill. I could imagine Po not only taking off but running around the classroom disrupting everyone else. And although he wasn’t an ‘A’ student with this exercise, he also didn’t fulfill my nightmare.

Now, nearly 9 years later, Po has turned out to be such a good boy. He never tried running away again and he was the life of the kennel for several years and the fastest dog on our recreational team. Kind of a clown with an easy-going personality, everyone, human and canine, has always liked Po. He became a surrogate father to our first litter of pups as he was the dog I trusted the most to introduce the pups to and since he had a thing for their mother, they became a cute little family. He’s retired from running now and moves a bit slower, but he is still the dog everyone likes and he follows all his commands.  

 

 

 

Toughing It At The Cascade Quest, 2011

(6/18/11) Taken from my bog postings and altered into this story format, my team and I returned to the Cascade Quest race in January 2011, this time in a different class; and we left with new lessons learned:

 
We were traveling east on highway 2 on our way towards Lake Wenatchee when my phone started ringing. It was Karen Yeargain calling to touch base. She was traveling to Lake Wenatchee as well but coming from the opposite direction. Soon we would be meeting up at Wenatchee Recreation Club’s parking lot. After a six hour drive we pulled

in about an hour ahead of her and Tom Porter, whom I raced against last year, assigned us our parking spot, Tom didn’t race this year. We dropped our dogs and vets appeared immediately and started checking on them. It happened so fast I barely had time to capture a few pictures during Faith's and Rosie's turns. Even Eagle tried to get in on this even though he wouldn't be racing.

 

All the dogs checked out well. The vet really liked their feet and she left all ten members with a hot pink line down the middle of their forehead indicating they were a racing dog. It keeps mushers from trying to swap out dogs later on.

It was great catching up with everyone who generally attends this race, both mushers and staff. Many I had kept in some contact with over the year so seeing them again was like greeting old friends.

When our vet checks were complete Karen showed up with a large group of dogs. Her and her students were running three teams out of her truck on the 75 mile race that I did last year so I would see her from time to time but we wouldn't be racing against each other. This year I signed up for the newly formed 8-12 dog class, a 100 mile race over three days with the same overnight at Trinity.

I fed the dogs their first meal of the day and then we headed to our "cabin" to check in.

More like a trailer it was kind of cute! Incredibly it can sleep 6. The very tiny bunk room and bathroom reminded me of one my uncle's boats. This wasn’t our first choice to stay at this year but I am glad we ended up there. More on this situation later. We settled in quickly and prepared to head back to the race headquarters, just a ¼ mile away, for the musher's meeting. The snow conditions were becoming poor and I was sure there would probably be a change in plans for the race. This year the parking lot was nearly bare and where it wasn't bare it was icy.

As predicted, plans were changed for the race trail to accommodate the poor conditions. I was a little nervous about controlling a 10-dog team by what was described. We were also told that setting a hook and/or undoing the hook may be difficult. We drew our numbers but they changed this system and I was a bit confused. My bib number was 21 but the number I drew was 2, meaning I was the second one out. I would be leaving the starting line at 9:02am. Because of the trail changes, the course on the first day was lengthened from 30 miles to 33.

The first day of racing turned out to be difficult for us. A little on the warm side my team took off down the airstrip as fast as they could. A few lop-sided spots along the way proved to be a bit of a challenge. Ducking into the woods past the windsock, the quick winding trail snaking around large trees was also challenging with a 10 dog team, and we cut it close a few times. Unfortunately the surface of the snow was about four inches of sugar. Hard to run in and can be tough on the dogs feet but Fish Lake sure was beautiful!. 

After the tight turns in the woods we got into some long hills with drop-offs on one side or the other. Getting in the higher elevations gave us better trail conditions but we picked up warm air. The smell brought back old memories of Topanga Blvd in southern California. Then it started to rain which we didn't like.

Around 60-90 minutes into the run Rosie's tugline started to go slack. Then, prior to the 2 hour mark she started using a funny gait on the downhill sections. At first I couldn't figure out what she was doing, but then it appeared as if she was scared to go downhill, back-pedaling. Obviously, she was having a problem. I planned to stop the dogs for a break at two and a half hours but at the two hour mark Rosie stopped the team by trying to sit and when I stopped the dogs, she laid down. I offered her water which she took, that was a good sign. I decided to take our break then and offered the rest of the team water and gave everyone their snack which Rosie took as well. I then checked her feet and fixed her booties.

When Bounder started banging in his harness, it was time to go, and Rosie did, but I watched her. If she started to do the same thing I would have to put her in the sled. She didn't help the team out a whole lot but she stayed on her feet the rest of the run, though we had to go a bit slower for her. I just thought she lacked the conditioning compared to the rest of the team and got tired fast, with the trail conditions and weather playing a big part in this. Joy also lacked some of the conditioning of the rest of the team but her light racy build allows her to move fairly effortlessly and she kept up well. The week prior we had increased Joy’s dosage of medications for her seizures and so far this hadn’t seemed to be an issue and in fact she had become quite spunky.

As I knew would happen, all the other 12 dog teams passed us early on. Then a few 6 dog teams caught up to us just prior to the split where they go in one direction and we go in the other. From there I was on my own until the finish. At one point we came to a couple of intersections of groomed trail that wasn't marked which way to go. My leaders Kwyta and Drew looked in both directions and made the choice themselves. I hoped they were right because I had no idea. No confidence markers to let us know if we were correct. When I finally saw some markers I wasn't sure if we were just making big loops and had already been through that section. The trail was crusty and it was hard to tell if others had passed through. I started calculating in my head how much food and water I had on the sled in case we ended up lost and having to stay a while. 

When markers finally appeared again a snowmobile also showed up, an official from the race, assuring me we were heading the right way with only 7 miles to go to the finish line. Whew! Good going Kwyta and Drew! Then Tundra started to slack a little which was a surprise to me. His partner Bounder seemed concerned for him too, but he made it back. Also during the last few miles Spirit looked like she was starting to get tired too and her line started to slack. I started to have my doubts about continuing this race. Finally making it back to the truck everyone checked out fine but they were very tired. Lots of long faces and just about everyone had lain down. They sure seemed a lot happier after 100 miles on the Eagle Cap trail. They all ate well except for Faith which was unexpected since she showed no trouble during the run.

Soup and stew was being served so we got a quick bite to eat just before they closed up, since we were the last team in. Then we headed back to the cabin where a long shower was called for. In the evening a dinner was held at a huge barn just down the road. Spaghetti from my favorite local restaurant, the 59er Diner. It was a great way to sit with other mushers and catch up. I found out from the race official that the trail volunteers started to pull trail markers before my team came through, that's why a couple intersections weren't marked for us and confidence markers were missing. This was a little disturbing to hear but luckily my smart leaders made good decisions. Nickolai Buser, once again, was the race marshal and this year his brother Rhon tagged along. They got up and shared a few stories of their young life, time with their dad, training dogs, and running races in Alaska. When the festivities concluded we headed back to the cabin, fed the dogs again and gave Rosie and Tundra massages, before heading off to bed.

The next morning the rain continued to pelt the trails and I wondered if they would cancel the rest of the race. After dropping the dogs to pee, we went to the 59er for breakfast and they remembered us there from last year! Some of the other race classes scheduled to start up that morning were delayed due to some mushers that hadn’t shown yet. Our start time was 4:00pm for a 35 mile run up to the Trinity checkpoint for an overnight. The race then restarts at 8:00am the next morning departing Trinity and concluding at the finish line at the parking lot. I figured we would get to Trinity around 9:00pm depending on the weather and my team. I decided to leave Rosie behind. It would be better for her plus the team would be able to move a little better but first I would need to asses if I even had a team.

Overnight At Trinity

I have been in this situation before with weather conditions and they have worked out in the past so I decided to continue on. First I dropped Rosie from the team and am so glad I did. I bet she was glad too as I later learned that she was limping with sore wrists and after all the rain we had, the trail conditions weren't any better; as it had turned into wet sugar. In the future I will need to remember not to run my team at all under such conditions, in training or a race.

We started off ok as I kept them a little slower. We got much further down the trail before all the other teams in my class passed us and rode off into the mist. The last team was Louisy Thompson and we stuck with her for several miles before she started to pull away. The hard going started to affect Spirit as she began to show the same signs as Rosie did the day before. I knew she was starting to slack at the end of day 1, but we had had 26 hours of down time and I was hoping she would be ok. She was not. She started having problems on the downhills and I would have to keep the team real slow for her to keep up. So the same as the day before, I gave them a break earlier than planned hoping this would help her out. Although she took water and the snack provided she still had difficulty when we started back up.

This route is the same as the 25 mile run we did last year to Trinity with an additional 10 mile loop that goes into some of the higher elevations that we hit the day before making the run a bit more challenging as well as longer. When we finally reached the road sign that indicates Trintiy is still 14 miles further I decided Spirit had had enough. She was trying her best but we had to go so slow I felt we would never get there. I put her in the sled for the rest of the run. She cried for the first several miles hating that she was pulled off the gangline. To make matters worse, it was dark, we were alone, and it started to rain. It rained all the way to Trinity soaking the dogs, me and even the inside of the sled and its contents since the flap was open for Spirit to stick her head out.

I was hoping to arrive at Trinity by 9:00pm but it was about 9:45 by the time we got there. After we were parked I requested a vet to look at Spirit. This is when I discovered I forgot my third snowhook so two would have to do. The team was pretty tired so I hoped they would stay put. I had to do some quick switching however with Spirit and Looker in season. No breeding allowed! I also wanted to have Joy's vitals checked as she was concerning me a little. A couple of times it looked like she was struggling but seemed to recover. I wanted to make sure she wasn't being pushed too hard resulting in a seizure. Faith seemed to struggle once or twice too, but again nothing severe. I was still a little concerned with Tundra from the day before so I didn't even have him in wheel. Then there is Bounder with his track record. Sick at the Eagle Cap this year and sick at the Cascade Quest last year. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop on him. I was spreading out their wood chips when the vet came by to check Sprit. During this time I noticed Kwyta laid down and curled up into a tight ball. I was surprised as this is not normal for her. Sitting up very alert and looking around is more her style so I didn't know if I should be concerned. Her and Drew had done so well n lead iup to this point and neither showed any issues. I didn't want her quitting on me. I was hoping she was just maturing to the checkpoint routine.

I explained to the vet that Spirit had tight wrists at the Eagle Cap three weeks earlier. He agreed that her wrists were tender and stated that her difficulty on the downhills is usually related to wrist issues. Once again, I massaged and wrapped them for the night. Joy's vitals checked out fine and she was already back to a good resting heart rate. Since there are more downhill sections than uphill on the way back I told the vet I wanted to drop Spirit. This is when I learned that it is not an option. I didn't realize this. I told him if I had to haul Spirit back then I would scratch and just run the team the 25 miles back to the parking lot, leaving out the strenuous extra 10 miles. I was thinking scratching may be our best option regardless. He said the race marshal has the final say on dog drops and that he would ask Nickolai and then he left. Next thing I knew Nickolai approached me stating he would have no problem picking Spirit up in the morning and taking her back and that I should just let them know in the morning. Great!

I finished spreading out the wood chips for everyone which was a long and slow process. This is usually Lizzy’s favorite part but when she saw that it was wood chips instead of straw she looked at me like "What's this?" She seemed very disappointed and it looked like she was going to cry. She just stood there with her head hanging low so I helped her settle in. I said "Oh yea, you weren't here last year. Welcome to Trinity Liz!" Then I realized I had several dogs that hadn't been to Trinity since last year I only had a 6 dog team. We are always gaining new experiences. (By morning, as pictured, enough snow fell to cover most of the chips.)

As I looked around the checkpoint I realized I was parked right next to Louisy. She and I were the only ones still awake although she was getting ready to crash real soon. She pulled in at my target time of 9:00pm. I went over to the old homes that make up the ghost town of Trinity, to use the bathroom and fill my bucket with hot water. By the time I had the meal prepared for the dogs they were sleeping but all sat up eagerly for a large warm meal. No eating issues from any of them. Then the rain turned to snow.

I returned to one of the homes for what was left of some beef stew. Last again, I got the bottom of the almost cold pot. I quickly ate and was back with the dogs. All was quiet with teams spread out everywhere. I had no idea who was who. It took a bit of time to prepare a spot for myself setting up my bivi and sleeping bag. Wiggling in wasn't easy as everything I was wearing was wet. I pulled off my watch to set my alarm and was surprised to see that it was 12:30! I fell to sleep thinking about the day, thinking about my team, thinking about the next day and what my options were.

4:00am and I had to pee. Only when you are camping! I tried to ignore it but it only got worse. I knew I was most likely dehydrated, so how could I have to pee? By 4:30 I found myself unzipping my soaking wet cocoon and finding everything covered in a fresh new blanket of white. Wiggling out, putting my boots back on, hiking over to the houses, then reversing all this took energy and focus. I returned to 2 more hours of sleep, then repeated this process at 6:00am finding even more snow had fallen. This year we were socked in. Still a nice setting, but those that hadn't been there before missed the magnificent view of the surrounding mountains.

While I was retrieving hot water, I ran into the vet. He said he would come by to check on Sprit. I left Alan's contact information so they could reach him to let him know about Spirit coming in early and that we would probably be in earlier than expected as I had decided that scratching would probably be in our best interest. I had never seen my team with so many issues at the same time.

Trotting Spirit around a bit showed she had a slight limp to her gait. I definitely would not be running her but I also learned I would not be able to drop her either. Another dog with urgent health issues was being dropped and needed the ride back down and they only had room for one dog. So I scratched, and requested to go out last in my class instead of first, so the other teams wouldn't have to pass us. As the other 12 dog teams were getting ready to depart Trinity, I loaded Spirit back into the sled, and off we went for the 25 mile run back to the parking lot. I felt bad for Spirit for having to ride in the sled again and for the team for having to haul her a total of 39 race miles. At least the last day was better trail conditions. With the added snow and colder temperatures, a groomer made it through during the night. It certainly wasn't perfect but definitely the nicest of the three days. The only thing Spirit could do was watch...

...the rest of her team take her home.

With only five miles left to the parking lot, the race official stopped me on the trail and stated that he could take Spirit and hold her there until Nickolai could come and pick her up and then we could continue on with the 12-dog race as this is where the two classes split. I looked down at Spirit who was resting comfortably in the sled, at least she was with her team. We had not been in race mode for the last 20 miles not to mention we forfeited our departure time for a latter one. I didn’t feel comfortable just dumping Spirit there, plus she was in season and this information would have to be passed along from person to person. I was also still concerned about the rest of the team. Hauling Spirit only added to the beating they had already taken and making them do those additional 10 strenuous miles didn’t make much sense; and if I couldn’t drop Spirit at the checkpoint, how is leaving her on the side of the trail ok? Nothing about this idea sat well with me so I declined the offer and headed my team down the last five miles to the truck.

As we approached the parking lot I hoped Alan would be there. Luckily he showed up a bit early because he never got my message and didn't realize we were coming in until just a couple of minutes before we arrived. Whew, that was close! Once again, the team looked down but everyone still ate well. We unpacked the sled, and reloaded the truck with all my wet gear. Baked potatoes were available for purchase but I find when I do these events I need something hardy that I might not normally eat, preferably something with meat. So off we drove for some burgers and fries. Then we went back to the cabin so I could change out of my wet clothes, my feet were two frozen blocks, and hung all the wet stuff up to start the drying process. Feeling a little better we drove back to race central for the awards presentation mid afternoon. Strangely, many people told us they were informed that we had left for home and the atmosphere towards us appeared a bit odd. We never talked to anyone prior to pulling out of the parking lot so I am not sure where any of this came from. Perhaps we broke some unwritten protocol by leaving but we had hours before the awards giving us plenty of time to address my needs and issues. After the awards we decided to stay an extra night to unwind a bit before the long drive home. We both took Monday off work in advance, so we returned to the cabin for one last evening, and long discussions about the 3-day event.

Monday morning at 6:00am, it was time to get up and drop the dogs. I fed and watered them 9 hours prior so I knew they would have to pee but getting them out of their boxes was quite difficult. Nobody was very willing and when we finally did get them out most were either limping around or holding a foot up including Lizzy who was also sick with diarrhea and vomiting. The stress of the three days was probably too much for her and this is how her system handles it. Seeing all this, I was glad I didn't ask for those extra 10 miles from them.

We got packed up and had one last task before hitting the road. We had to stop at the hotel we stayed at last year and where we initially made reservations this year. See, this whole trip was challenging before we even left the house. Three weeks before the race two issues threw off our plans. 1. The family that normally takes in Buster, our 15 year shitzu, was not able to during the race and we couldn't make last minute plans for this 90 year old dog so he had to come with us. He ended up being no trouble really as he just slept the whole time. 2. Our hotel called and said we were overbooked and didn't have a room available. Working quickly and with some help from Washington musher Tim McElravy, we ended up in the cute little cabin but the hotel promised to compensate some of the difference after a few tense conversations. So I wasn’t expecting this to lean in our favor but surprisingly they did give us some compensation without any discussion or eye contact for that matter. It was definitely time to get home.

Back at home Monday evening with the wood burning stove going creating a cozy place to think, my mind was still on the race we had just come off of. I was surprised by the amount of injuries that my team took. We had no injuries all season which would have made more sense. We continued to massage muscles and joints and apply ointment as needed. Looker, who did well all three days, was one of the most affected for several days and was very upset that she was injured. Normally the party girl, she would only come out of her kennel for a minute before asking to return as it was too uncomfortable for her to move around. Bounder and Faith were limping due to abrasions on their paws. Lizzy also had a very sore right foot and 3-legged it for 5 days. I was relieved when she was finally started trotting around on all fours and playing. If it had gone on another day, I would have taken her to see the vet to see if she had broken something. Kwyta and Drew did great in lead and were moving around in the yard the best. Most of the members of the team completed 93 miles which Drew can also make claims to for her longest lead; as well as Kwyta who accumulated a total of 193 race miles in lead this year.

I learned a lot during this trip, about my dogs, about trail conditions, about myself, about people, and about this race. This was not a great time for us but all those new experiences will contribute to decisions that we will make regarding next year's training and racing. It was the dogs who emerged as hero’s.

For more pictures go to the Cascade Quest 2011 Photo Album.

For additional pictures on this race go to the Cascade Quest 2010 Photo Album.






Return To Eagle Cap, 2011

(3/19/11) Taken directly from my blog postings and edited from present time information to a story from the past, here's how me and my team did on our second trip to the Eagle Cap Extreme race, January 2011: 


We arrived at our hotel in Joseph, OR around 8:30pm Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 safe and sound, although the roads were a bit icy the last couple of hours of driving. While we were traveling on I84 prior to LaGrande, a State Trooper passed us and a truck that was traveling in front of us. We got in behind the trooper and passed the truck as well and we both traveled like this for several miles as the left lane was less icy. When the right lane cleared we both moved over, then the trooper turned on his right turn signal to take the exit. He pulled into the exit and then pulled right back onto the freeway. We both thought "Uh-Oh", and sure enough his lights came on and he pulled us over. Unbelievable!!! Why this day of all days? As it turned out he was very nice and just felt our lights were too bright. When he saw that Alan did not have his bright lights on he said we weren't in violation, never asked for a driver license and told us to drive safe. Whew! Thankfully it was simple but what a way to start our trip!

On Wednesday morning we arrived for our 9:00 vet checks which the Eagle Cap runs in a very unique way. Closing down a couple of blocks in downtown Joseph, dog trucks line the streets and we drop our dogs for the vets to check over. Also, bus loads of elementary school children show up and walk from truck to truck with their teachers watching the vets, petting the dogs and asking questions. Most of the dogs love the attention. Looker is just a little too high strung for such a disruption during all the excitement so she didn't stick around for much. I had the vet, Rene Fleming, double check Spirit since she had never done anything like this before. All the dogs checked out to be in good shape so this was my planned line up: Kwyta & Looker in lead, Lizzy & Drew in swing, Spirit & Faith in team, and Bounder & Tundra in wheel. Rosie was the alternate if something should have happened before the race start. Joy came along because she is part of the team even though she would not be allowed to run this race due to her new seizure disorder. Young Eagle and Orbit were also along just learning how to be on a road trip and to take in the chaotic racing scene. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was great reconnecting with the Eagle Cap staff and mushers. Everyone seemed pleased to see this team of dogs back to run the race again since we were a last minute entry. Lacking the training this year I wasn’t sure about our chances but everyone felt they would do well. I hoped we would prove them right. I knew the experience of these now veteran dogs would be in our favor but I was really hoping to do better this year. I felt with enough training we should be able to take 3 hours off last year’s time and if we are doing really well, possibly 4. As for the dogs, they were totally jazzed. They seemed to know where we were going about halfway into the drive the day before and were very excited to be there.

After the vet checks, Alan and I went to a great little place for brunch then headed back to our hotel to check in. Just a quarter mile up the road from where we stayed last year, this place was just as nice surrounded by wonderful views.

 

Mt. Hood musher and friends Tim Curley and his wife Julie, and also fellow musher Dee Ogden also stayed at the same place. We got to know Dee last year as we stayed at the same place then as well. One more dog truck was due in that afternoon, a little late from a break-down on their long trip from Perryvale, Alberta Canada, Karen Ramstead and her handlers Richard and Helen pulled the famous North Wapiti truck into the parking lot. This was almost too much for me. I had known for a month she had this race on her list but I didn't want to accept her and I being there at the same time until it actually happened. I had no idea she was staying at the same hotel as us, that was a bonus. 

They pulled in with 24 of her dogs, dogs I have looked at over and over on her website and her DVD and now they were here, live, for the next several days. Karen would be running one 12 dog team while Richard ran the other and Helen would stay back at the truck to take care of dogs that might get dropped. She also looked after Bet who I was surprised to see. Karen's famous puppy herding dog. For those that don't know, Karen is not only one of the premier dog drivers out there but she is one of the best known Siberian Husky mushers around. She has ran the Iditarod 9 times and I have looked up to her for some time and had written her several times throughout the last couple of years with questions on training. I was just one of thousands of fans who write to her but she was always gracious enough to answer me back. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that she came down to our little race, the same one I signed up for, but she was as down to earth as you would expect her to be. Many of our dogs are related in some way to Karen's and as much as I have always wanted to meet her, I just never thought it would actually happen. We also had some great conversations with Helen and it was also nice to meet and speak with Richard. (After their truck pulled in, I was too stunned to take a picture. )

That afternoon I packed my drop bag and we went down to race central in the early evening for the mushers meeting, dinner, and drawing of our bib numbers. This year the meeting didn't freak me out and I understood what they were talking about even during the area's that weren't explained well. Then the town put together a pot luck dinner for everyone followed by the drawing of numbers. As predicted, I just got what was left since I was the last to sign up, which was number 7, hmmm. It was great spending time with all the familiar faces from last year from mushers, to staff, to volunteers. They all made me feel like an old friend. At the end of the evening I left my drop bag with all the others before we headed back to the hotel.

The hotel was a parking lot of dropped dogs so they could eat, drink, stretch, and take care of business, then back into their boxes. The next day was race day.

A couple of days before leaving for this trip, a young, over-excited Orbit bothered one of our older recreational dogs just enough to find out that a bothered dog can bite. His lip was swollen by the next morning but came down quite a bit by evening, then we left for Joseph the next day, not overly concerned.

During the vet checks, veterinarian Randy Greenshields took a look at his lip and said to contact him if it starts to worsen but I wasn't expecting it to. Unfortunately that evening it did swell up some more and the next morning, the day of the race, it started oozing. So we headed out for breakfast and also race central to look for Randy. Making it to race central first, Randy was contacted by radio and we were told he would be there in an hour. Just our luck, they were serving the best biscuits and gravy right there, and fried eggs if you wanted them for free! Can't beat that. We stayed and ate and then Randy showed up, started Orbit on antibiotics and said he would be by later to drain it. At least the dog having a health issue wasn’t on the race team and Randy didn’t think twice about treating him as if he were. Have I mentioned how much I love this race?

Then we were off to the starting line. After we parked and dropped the dogs, I started getting my sled ready when a lady came by and introduced herself as a writer for Mushing Magazine! An article will appear in the March/April issue. She spent about 15 minutes with me as well as many other mushers. Can't wait to see what Mushing has to say about the Eagle Cap Extreme.

 

With my sled packed and attached to a quad, which controls our speed to the starting line, and several handlers including Alan to control the dogs, we made our way to the red line. They went with three minute intervals this year instead of two which I think helped keep us better separated on our way up Fergi ski hill. We had a clean escape this year on a better marked trail to the top of the hill. Once on top I checked my watch and an hour later we were in salt creek. That was a fast clip for us.

 

Steve Mullen, Bino Fowler and Tim passed me in the first 5 miles. I never saw another musher on the trail after that. We did the last 95 miles alone.

It really warmed up for the race start and as we were going up that darn hill I was thinking the sled was too heavy. After Salt Creek we hit a punchy section that went on for miles. You couldn't help the dogs by kicking or running because your feet would sink and I felt bad about this on the uphill sections. I would wince every time I would see a dogs foot bust through and hoped they didn't twist an ankle. By the 15 mile mark, something was wrong with Bounder, his tug started to go slack and he was having diarrhea, so I switched him and Faith taking the harder position away from him and putting it on Faith. By 20 miles Bounder couldn't pull any more. I think he worked himself into a frenzy prior to the race, then lugged that heavy sled up that steep hill in the blazing sun followed by the poor snow conditions we had just gone through. I think he just overdid it and made himself sick. Sure the whole team was there to help him pull the sled but he really takes pulling seriously. I stopped the team realizing I was going to have to haul this ox of a dog in the sled. I opened up my sled bag and just stared for about 2 minutes wondering how I was going to do that. I don't know how comfortable of a ride it was to be laying on my cooker, but he was agreeable as I tucked his tail and fur in and zipped him up leaving his head sticking out. He seemed to appreciate this and didn't try to escape. His ballerina-like sister Faith on the other hand didn't seem to appreciate taking over his role in wheel, the most physically challenging position, but she was my best option and she has had her share in wheel before!

We still had 30 miles to go to the checkpoint and I thought if we had to carry Bounder the whole way, the rest of the team would get worn out going up those long intense hills and I will have to scratch. Then we came to the first bridge. The bridge is not the issue but on the other side is a short steep hill maybe 10 feet high and then the trail makes a sharp left. Well, my leader Kwyta is always trying to find ways to shave off seconds. Her favorite way is to cut corners which is exactly what she did after we crossed the bridge and buried the sled in about three feet of snow stuck on the steep hill. It was like we hit a brick wall.

Trying to work together, I yelled "Let's go!" as I tried to push. Like trying to move through drying cement, we didn't budge an inch. I had to pull Bounder out of the sled and temporarily hook him to the gangline as we spent probably 10 minutes getting the sled unstuck and back on the trail, then stuffing Bounder back into the sled. A couple of miles later Bounder started to whine and then jumped out of the sled. He seemed like he wanted back on the gangline so I hooked him back up next to his mother Spirit keeping Faith in his wheel position. We were able to maintain this way for the next 25 miles to the checkpoint with Bounder pulling moderately. This is generally considered a no-no so I watched him closely. I am glad he decided to run again as we hit a very extreme uphill section that I just didn't remember from last year. Funny how the mind forgets certain things so you will return to the race! Finally I saw a distant light off to the right in the woods. The dogs also became aware of it and picked up a little speed as we took all the appropriate turns and cruised into the Ollokot check point. I later heard that race marshal Terry Hinesly felt we were one of the best looking teams to come in (not to mention last). I had to laugh.

Organized as well as last year, we did our gear check first, moved to the drop bags and picked ours up, then pulled on in to our campsite, parking right next to Karen whose dogs were already up and ready to head back out onto the trail. The vets showed up at our site just as Karen was leaving and my dogs started screaming and banging in their harnesses, after 50 miles! Randy said "I think if you would have pulled the hook, they would have followed that team right back out onto the trail." No one was more surprised by their behavior than me. I had the vets look at Bounder first of course but also Spirit as this was her first race and she had just performed the longest distance she had ever gone. I put straw down for the dogs to lay on which Lizzy just loves and nests right in. The vets informed me that Bounder checked out just fine, the little devil, but Spirit had tight wrists. I massaged them with oil and then wrapped them for the duration of our 6 hour layover. Tundra also had a sore wrist so he received the same treatment and Faith had an abrasion just starting on one paw. So she received a foot ointment mixture that Alan and I put together, and she will wear booties when we head back out on the trail.

 

The rest of the team had no issues. I started my cooker then trudged down to the river for a bucket of water. I decided to take advantage of the stream this year instead of melting snow. This came at a small risk but saved me time (which was part of the reason I left the checkpoint late last year). Contracting Lepto is a possibility but my team is protected against two types from their vaccination. Then there is Lizzy, the reason I didn’t use stream water last year. She has a stronger potential of becoming sick but she had been doing so well for nearly a year, that after a lot of thought prior to the race I decided to try the stream water to save time and effort, and see what happens. Also, Lizzy had been taking Pepsid for one week prior to the race; she never showed any signs of GI upset. I dished out a hot meat soup and kibble to the dogs. Everyone ate well. Then it was my turn to take care of me. Bathroom first, followed by hot soup in the hospitality tent, then one hour of sleep right next to the dogs. I woke up 2 hours before our departure time to make another light meat soup for the dogs to hydrate them prior to the run, and repacked my sled and drop bag. I put as many things as I could in the drop bag that I didn't think I would need to lighten our load a bit. This year we left Ollokot on time and with all 8 dogs.

After 5 miles, Bounder, who remained out of wheel position, stopped the team and vomited on the trail and I wondered whether I should have dropped him at Ollokot. Obviously he still wasn’t feeling well but kept going anyhow and even kept his line tight. I stopped watching Spirit since she was doing an incredible job and watched him instead. The team moved a lot slower on this second half, the same as they did last year.

I gave them two short breaks on the way back. The second one was around the 85 mile mark. Bounder immediately laid down (or did he fall down?) in Spirit's spot with two of his legs resting on the gangline. He was feeling too poorly to care and stayed like that until we were ready to move again but he popped right onto his feet when it was time to go. What a trooper.

 

Everyone else was doing fine, just looking a little sleepy, although Faith was awake enough to figure out how to remove her booties just before we were ready to go. I was feeling sleepy too and kept catching myself nodding off a little bit and having 2 second dreams. I had to force myself to stay awake so I wouldn’t miss a turn off.

 

 

5 miles later we were back at Salt Creek. I stopped just to fix the sock that had fallen down into my boot and was driving me crazy the last couple of miles, this never happens in training! Then we were off for the last 9.5 miles. Not as fast on this section as last year as it was high noon and the sun was beaming again but at least we would finish in the day light this year. They also fixed the trail design after leaving Salt Creek so we didn't get lost this time and there was no drifted snow before Salt Creek to get the dogs frustrated. I had to break up a fight there last year so this was all a breeze in comparison.

As we approached the top of Fergi, I stopped the team this year to better prepare for the ride from hell! I unclipped Tundra's and Faith's tug lines so I wouldn't have as much pulling power. I shortened my trekking pole and  tucked it into the sled and out of my way. I brought my drag mat down and was ready to jump on the brake and hoped the leaders would stay on the improved trail this year. We made it down the first shoot as I yelled "Easy!" standing on the mat and brake. The dogs stayed on the trail until we reached about the same point last year where I ran into trouble with Kwyta. Again this year, she turned towards the edge and I yelled "No!" As before she wanted to take the team over the edge which in her mind is shorter then going in a semi circle around the perimeter, her and her short cuts! But she stopped at my command and looked at me. Then Looker also turned and looked at me and I asked her to gee over and go straight ahead. Looker did as I asked and Kwyta played along this year as we took the screamer of a ride down and around the steep hill. At the bottom the finish line was in site. The girls were starting to understand how to move along orange fencing and when I said 'let’s go to the truck', they took off staying perfectly lined up with the finish line this year, and crossed it between the fencing going so fast I couldn't slow  them down fast enough and Terry had to grab the sled. I was told later by many, that they looked good at the finish.

After my last gear check at the finish line I walked the team to congratulate them. Poor Faith did 85 miles in wheel and was a bit grumpy about it later. Tundra was a rock like normal. Bounder, still not feeling well, would check out fine again later by the vets, he would eat well and start to perk up by the evening; and Spirit did a wonderful job. I think there was a glow about her later. When I got to Drew and Lizzy to pet them and to tell them how great they were, Lizzy pressed her little body up against my leg and made sounds I never heard from her or any other dog before. Like a squealing little piggy she was thrilled with her performance. Her excited sounds made the whole trip worth it. The leaders couldn't wait any longer for their attention and turned around and came to me for their pets as well. This was a true test for Kwyta and Looker. Bored with the training trails at home prior to the race they started goofing off and making poor decisions so Drew and Bounder picked up the slack for them. I was hoping that the Eagle Cap trail would pick Kwyta and Looker back up so I gave them the whole race if they wanted it and they did. They did a 100 mile lead!!! At last year’s race I had to switch all these young leaders several times. This year these two girls really impressed me.

Here are our accomplishments this year: Remember, I knew we could take 3 hours off our time from last year but was hoping for 4; well we took 5.5 hours off and finished in under a day, which I didn’t even want to think of as a possibility for us. Drew is now a 100 mile finisher since she was dropped at Ollokot check point last year, as well as Spirit who is also officially a racing dog now. As already mentioned coming down in the daylight and with all 8 dogs was also great. The team, to my surprise, did well. I am always learning, and now I can see what experienced dogs are capable of. Imagine if we had better conditioning. I also personally felt fine after this race, not at all the zombie I was last year, and was quite energetic the next day. Eagle and Orbit now have their first road trip behind them. Eagle was a little upset the night that the team and I were gone, waking Alan up several times even though there were 3 other teammates still at the truck with him, but both did well with everything else which will help next year.

We had the rest of that day plus the morning and afternoon of the next day before the evening banquet. We went back to the starting line in the morning to see the 200 milers finish. Steve Madsen won just 7 minutes ahead of the other two teams. Karen's and Richard's teams came in together with Richard finishing 1 second ahead.

At the banquet that evening I accepted our last place finish receiving the red lantern award. By looking at the numbers and placements it would appear last year was a better year for us but this is not at all true. We made significant improvements this year. I am so proud of my team.

Not only am I glad that we decided to do the race but if we hadn’t we also would have missed out on being a part of the community for 5 days. It is such an incredible place, spectacular views, a cute little town and wonderful people who are so welcoming. They love this race and they show it. All of that is a part of going to the Eagle Cap Extreme race.

Once we were home I think the dogs were glad to be back but also missed Joseph and the trail a little bit. I am sure their memories are just as vivid for them as they are for me. All showed full recovery as they chased each other around the yard. Orbit completed his antibiotics and his lip returned to normal. As we continued to move forward with this season my thoughts were already ahead to next season wondering “What could we do differently next year to improve our time some more?” It's a crazy disease!

One last shot of my team on the Eagle Cap trail:

 

For more pictures, and in full size, CLICK HERE to view my  Eagle Cap Extreme 2011 photo album. For a different collection of pictures, CLICK HERE to view the 2010 photo album. Additionally more pictures and videos of the race can be viewed at www.eaglecapextreme.com. For vet checks there are two sections, we attended the one held in Joseph and a large majority of the pictures are of us. Be sure to click through all the other albums as well, as we are in plenty. Also, view the great video's and you can check the final race results too.

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Behind The Scenes Of Our 2009/2010 Year

Written in September, 2010, this is my review on our 2009/2010 year. It wasn't just about mid distance training and racing which was new for us, but also all the things that happened in between. All of it unexpected, much of which I would not want to repeat, but all of it added to our experiences. It was quite a year!

 

As our 2009/10 year has come to a close, I would like to take a look back at the events that shaped our first year in mid distance training. You may have read all about our races and the training it took to get there, but there was more taking place outside all that. This is a behind the scenes look.

I put together our training schedule at the beginning of summer and planned to follow it as much as possible. With no previous mid distance training and the majority of the team was still yearlings, I knew we would have to figure out some things along the way. But we were hit with many unexpected issues that became a part of the challenge for the year as well.

The month’s of June and July was a time for ordering gear we needed including a new mid distance sled. With phone calls and check off lists being completed,  the following  stores and supply companies were a part of our travels on the trails: Cabela’s, REI, Mountain Ridge, 10 Squared, Kim Tinkers Skijour Outfitters, Rick Katuki’s  Porter’s Original Dog Booties, Adanac, Campmor, and  Maine Made Sleds. We also used these months to scout out new training areas near our home, recording mileage and usable parking areas.

The plan was to start training in August, a month earlier than normal. And when the first weekend came we were miserably caught in the middle of an awful heat wave. We held off training until the following weekend. With temperatures just cool enough, especially at 4:00am, we did get in our first training run.

A few days later, something was wrong with Lizzy. I got home from work to find her lethargic and vomiting. I was concerned she swallowed a rock. I found one on top of her dog house a few days earlier that she had become friends with. I considered removing it but felt it was too big for her to actually swallow so I left it, now I was regretting that decision especially when it came up missing later.  I made an after-hours phone call to our vet who was more than willing to meet us at her office. Our small town veterinarians are very accommodating. So at 8:30pm I was at the vet with Lizzy assisting Dr. Edwards with a blood draw and x-rays which showed Lizzy indeed swallowed a rock and it was stuck in her small intestine and she needed immediate surgery. The rock, however, did not appear to be the big one that was on her dog house but I would have to wait and see.

Dr. Edwards called in a vet tech and while we were waiting for her to arrive I helped Dr. Edwards set an IV line on Liz and then she started her on meds. Within minutes Lizzy passed out and the vet tech arrived and started shaving her belly. She was then wheeled off to the surgery room and they allowed me to stay in the prep area which had windows to the surgery room. I watched the whole surgery. The most unusual thing I saw was they attached her pulse/ox to her tongue which was hanging about 5 inches out of her mouth. For humans the pulse/ox sticks on your finger to monitor your pulse and oxygen levels. On a dog the tongue is the only fleshy place to attach it and it clips on like a chip clip.

When Dr. Edwards finally had Lizzy’s intestine in her hand she analyzed it forward and back. It didn’t look good. She called me to the door and I poked my head in. She said she wouldn’t be able to save the section that had the rock and would have to resection the area, meaning she completely removed the section of intestine that the rock was in, and then sowed the two intestine ends back together. This would mean a longer recovery for Liz.

At 11:30pm, after finishing off the surgery with 15 staples, Dr. Edwards came out and showed me the rock and it wasn’t that big one from her dog house but obviously she can’t be trusted around rocks. She said that Lizzy was doing fine and they would keep her overnight. Before picking her up the next day we had to Siberian proof the house. Lizzy would live in the house for 12 days! At least of all our dogs, Lizzy is the best one in the house. She mostly left the cats and parrots alone, then slept in bed with us at night. She was on all sorts of medications and a bland diet which included cooked chicken and rice which Alan was making for her constantly.

While all this was happening Alan filed for Workman’s Comp for a back injury that occurred at work. This would continue to be a long process, and they started off by putting him on the day shift for light duty. We had to figure out what to do with Liz. My sister agreed to help out so every morning I would drop Liz off at her house on my way to work and every afternoon Alan would pick her up on his way home from work. This was like having a kid in daycare. We also put our training on hold.

Lizzy did well during recovery but just prior to getting her staples out on day 12, Rosie got her nail caught on the fencing in her kennel, and her nail was extended abnormally with cracks on either side. So when we took Lizzy in for her surgery follow up we brought Rosie along to have her nail looked at. This time it was Dr. Hoeff who decided the best thing would be to remove her nail so we left Rosie there for a couple of hours and brought Lizzy home. When I picked Rosie up later that day she came out all smiles with a big blue bandage on her foot which she was walking on. They said she was a real pleasure to work with and Rosie gave them all kisses before she left with me. I walked out with a bag full of meds for her, and we had just finished up the ones with Liz. Never ending!

We decided we had enough of a Siberian in the house and that Rosie wasn’t severe enough to have to stay indoors so we kept her in her kennel except when she needed her foot baths twice a day plus meds, she would come in for those. When Rosie’s local wore off that evening, her foot went up and she refused to put weight on it so we pulled out the pain meds for her. Removing her bandage for her first foot bath revealed a toe with no nail but an open, red, meaty area instead. With all that I see in the medical field seeing this still made me shiver and swallow hard. No wonder why she was in pain. I began to wonder if we had made a mistake having it removed. 5 days later she still was holding her foot up and needed a refill on her pain meds. The meaty toe was supposed to form a hard cover over it but that wasn’t happening. A phone call to Dr. Hoeff and we decided the foot baths was preventing this and so we discontinued them.

With Lizzy still recovering as well we weren’t doing any training during this time. A couple days later Rosie started walking on her foot, a week later she was fine and that cover started to form, then next a tiny little edge of a new nail was born. We picked back up with training in September with Rosie wearing a booty on her healing foot. She did just fine and if it wasn’t for Lizzy’s hairless pink belly, you would never know she had been through a major surgery. She ran without missing a step. Only 1.5 years old, she bounced back quickly. We did have to watch her now with rocks, which is exactly what we train on. This forced us to change our routine a bit. After parking, Lizzy would be dropped from her box long enough to pee, then she goes right back in until it is time to hook her up to the gangline and we wouldn’t harness her until this time as well. I felt she might have gotten the rock while waiting on the drop chain at the truck, on the gravel road.

I started off September by having to take Faith to the vet. She and Looker got into a bad fight the day prior and Faith had a huge gouge under her right eye. I cleaned it out immediately and later would find she had several other nicks as well. I wanted to get her on antibiotics which they did plus daily irrigations. Dr. Edwards saw her and said she would have a scar but I knew better with these dogs and today you can’t even tell. At least none of this interfered with training.

Also in September I started a new work schedule. I requested to work four 10’s instead of the five 8’s I had been on for years and they agreed. I requested Tuesday’s off because it was one of Alan’s original days off, that way we could train together but with him working days, Monday through Friday, that was all messed up. Also in August I was suppose to learn how to do the whole training set up and routine alone so I could train on Saturday morning’s while Alan was at work. This would involve loading our huge quad onto our tiny trailer, and taking it back off at the site, something I was not looking forward to. With Alan’s new schedule it would mean he could help me on Saturday’s, but now Tuesdays I would be alone and would have to do everything myself that day instead. The problem was, we didn’t train in August so other than a few practice loads in the driveway, which is only a small portion of what we do, I didn’t get to solo the routine.  

So I didn’t do any training on Tuesdays for the month of September losing more training hours. We also had some more very warm days in September keeping us off the trail losing more precious training miles. My written schedule was designed to accumulate 1500 miles by January, it included several overnights both on dirt and snow, and finishing with back-to-back 50 mile runs. I knew we would not be able to do all this exactly but at the rate we were going I wasn’t sure if we would have enough training to race.  I did use September to practice our whole routine, so I could go solo on Tuesday’s in October.

We got hit with an early snow at the beginning of October, which proved to be more of an inconvenience rather than the start of accumulation. We did get to train though. Then I performed my first solo day. My sister and her husband came out just in case I felt like I needed help but all went well. However I would not need to solo again as Alan’s work pulled him off of light duty and he wasn’t working at all. Then we had our first big training weekend planned; three training runs plus an overnight. This all went well. We started with a regular training run Saturday morning, then we went home to pack. We went back out for a late afternoon run, then made camp at a single wilderness site. My team slept out still attached to the gangline for the first time, all part of the training. Then we did another run in the morning. This was a great experience for them plus they collected some extra miles. They got Monday off and then we ran again on Tuesday.

Lizzy didn’t appear to recover from this very well. She seemed tired and was quiet. Thought she might be sore so she received a massage which she liked but continued to spiral. Next she started vomiting fluids but was still eating well so I took her to the vet for another after hours visit with Dr. Hoeff. This time the x-ray showed she did not have an obstruction. We took her home and kept an eye on her. The next day was Saturday, another training day. I met up with another musher and we trained together. Lizzy came but stayed in the truck with Alan so she lost some training time. Then she stopped eating. Bad sign. After we got home I called Dr. Hoeff who recommended I take her to a larger animal hospital where they can perform an ultrasound. When we arrived they said they don’t have an ultrasound tech on the weekends so she wouldn’t be able to have one until Monday, if needed. They performed another x-ray which was still clear but Liz was still vomiting everywhere. They kept her overnight, put her on IV fluids, blood tests were performed, and stool samples were taken. I brought her home late the next day. She was improved but definitely had GI issues, possibly gastro enteritis or a stomach bug. She was back in the house and back on meds and a bland diet. Her new best friend would be pepsid. She lost a lot of weight and we lost some more training time.

The following weekend we were back on the trail but without Liz as she continued to recover. During the next week we got hit with another snow storm. Not enough to pull out the sled, and too much to run the quad. We lost another training day then went into the next big event. The kennel erupted with an unusual sound one day. Alan went outside expecting to see a deer in the yard but they quieted down and he didn’t see anything. A few minutes later they started up again. We both went out and searched the kennel and found Mackenzie, Alan’s leader on his req team, having some problems. He was vomiting and making unusual movements. His rib cage appeared expanded and just touching his stomach brought a scream from him. Another late night call to the vet, but Dr. Edwards was ill and referred us to the larger animal hospital again where they performed an expensive emergency surgery for bloat. Here we go again.

Now Mackenzie had 28 staples, was on a variety of medications and a bland diet. He would have to live in the house for 12 days and this was not a good dog for this. Mack didn’t keep us from training the race team however, but he did have to come with us so he could be monitored. Lizzy joined the team but wasn’t able to put in the same amount of miles as the rest. With every passing week I could see our race plans getting further and further away, but we continued to train as if it would all work out and we would still race.

We made it into November very far behind schedule. Lizzy still wasn’t quite back to the team’s mileage but was improving. Joy started to show her ability to take commands just as Looker was starting to and Bounder had stepped up to lead as well. Now I was gaining lots of leaders but I wasn’t sure if we were going anywhere. Faith come up with a sore shoulder during a run and needed a week of rest but was back to normal. We were also able to pick up more miles, part of my original plan, by picking up another half day of training. I used my sick time at work to take off Thursday afternoons. With Alan’s old schedule he would normally get home early afternoon and we planned to meet to train shorter runs in the afternoon, which we did except now Alan was home all day. I would be on the trail by bout 4:00pm and soon we would be in total darkness. This was good training for us as well, we would be doing plenty of racing at night.

With Alan being out of work this worked to our advantage. He was able to get things ready sooner on Thursday’s. It also gave him time to make endless meat snacks for the dogs for out on the trail. Mid November we hit our first 20 mile run. This had been a dream of mine for years. It had been a goal every year; we just never made it that far. The following week we finally had enough snow to try out the new sled. That was one of the nicest rides I had ever been on. I could actually steer the darn thing. At the end of the month we had another campout scheduled. Alan put in a lot of work ahead of time preparing a wilderness site for us to use but when we got there it was taken. I hope they enjoyed the site. So I just ran the dogs and then we went home and did the campout right in the dog yard. The dogs did much better this time.

At the end of the November, Karen Yeargain, the breeder we work with, informed us that she did another breeding with Ernie, the father of our pups. When she told me the mother was Ella, a female I really liked, I told her I had to have a pup. One male please.

The snow didn’t last long as we were back to training on the dirt in December which really shredded the dogs feet, something I wasn’t expecting. I had no idea I would need so many booties and found myself ordering them from everywhere nearly every week! We got some good training experience in with some pretty windy days, followed by some really cold days. It actually got as cold as 14 degrees, which is very unusual around here but the dogs loved it and they really excelled on the trail. Unfortunately the cold, hard-packed  gravel road made their feet worse. We had a few days that we couldn’t train at all due to odd weather and everything started to take its toll.

One week into the month Kwyta cashed in on a sick day, which actually meant the whole team didn’t train and she got to spend about 5 hours in the house. Then her appetite returned, she perked up and was put back in her kennel. Don’t know what that was all about and glad it was short and didn’t require any special care.  One day Looker had a sore shoulder after a training day but responded to massage and recovered. Next Drew had a sore shoulder while Faith had a sore wrist, both were limping and then Tundra started limping as well. Sometimes Tundra and Faith were sore if they were in wheel position. By now we were up to 38 mile runs on hard ground. The whole dog yard smelled like a doggy massage parlor after our runs. I really needed to get them on snow but it wasn’t available. Many other local mushers were traveling 5 hours away just to train on snow.

5 weeks before the first race I only had 500 miles on the dogs. I figured if we could do 100 miles a week for the next 5 weeks, we would hit 1000 miles by race day and I could accept that. By the end of December the snow came back for just a bit and we got in only 2 more sled rides. A huge tree fell across the 14 mile loop and it was quite a process getting the dogs and sled across it. I would repeat this loop several times and each loop we would have to negotiate that tree.

By the end of December our longest run was 40.5 miles, so we never made it to 50 mile runs. So of course we also never did back-to-back 50 mile runs. We also never did a snow campout. I was still doing well working towards completing that 1000 miles when winter turned into spring! The snow melted up high so we couldn’t use the sled. It was too warm below to train with the quad and the dogs nearly overheated. Two weeks before the race and we were hardly training at all, eventually finishing with 850 miles, just shy of our mileage goal. Coupled with the fact that we didn’t reach all our other training goals either, I really debated whether to do the race. Unfortunately payment for it was due mid December so I sent mine in anyhow, figuring I could always cancel if need be.

The warm weather and lack of training in January was a real downer. It gave me plenty of time to pack though. My first race I had planned was a local 70 mile race 1 week into January but that race was cancelled due to the lack of snow. Next scheduled was the 100 mile Eagle Cap Extreme race. After all the hard work, time and effort I decided to proceed, knowing we could still pull out or perhaps the dogs won’t be approved by the vets. Either way, we had a cabin rented and the time off. We could at least get a vacation out of it.

We had one glitch in the plans. A dog food order we placed back in December was late coming in. Not only were we running out of food at the house, but I didn’t know if I would have any in time for the race. Panic and frustration set in. Not only did I need food in time, but I had to put together several pre weighed packages for the race. I did not want to be working on this last minute or worse yet, having to switch to a different food just before the race. That would be a bad thing to do to the dogs and would probably backfire on us on the race trail. So Karen Yeargain met Alan on the mountain, delivering him some bags of food to get us through.

I also started to get a toothache during this time but had no time to deal with it. I hoped that it wouldn’t interfere too terribly with all our plans and kept the ibuprofens nearby. Some days were worse than others but I just needed to hold on until our racing was over.

The day we had planned long ago to leave for the Eagle Cap race, was the date Alan landed for his court case for Workman’s Comp with Safeway. So we left late that evening after the hearing arriving in Joseph, OR early in the morning of the next day. It would be a couple of weeks before Alan would know if he had won so we moved on and tried to forget about it.

Arriving at the race we continued with what was expected of us, still knowing we could pull out at any time. The vet checks went well. All the dogs were approved although Spirit did have a sore wrist. I also went through the musher’s meeting and bib number drawing that evening. The next day was race day and we continued through the motions of preparing for the race. If we start the race and it seems beyond us, I could always turn the team around and go back to the truck. Or if need be, we could always scratch at the check point. Well, none of these things happened. We finished that 100 mile race although I did drop Drew at the check point for a sore wrist. I found the whole experience overwhelming and shocking, but what a big pay-off in experience for us. My toothache was bad on the drive to Joseph but luckily I had no issues on the actual race trail. For all the details, be sure to read my story titled My Eagle Cap Adventure.

After returning home, we had 10 days to prepare for the next race, the Cascade Quest in Washington. The day before we left, I received a phone call from a freelance writer for the Oregonian, the big paper out of Portland. She saw an article that the Oregonian did during the Eagle Cap race that I was mentioned in with a quote and my dogs were pictured. She asked if she could do an article on me. We set up a time to talk for when we got back from the race.

We only got one run in prior to the second race, but it was warm again so the run was short. We completed the 75 mile Cascade Quest despite the lack of training, the very warm weather, and my two poor wheel dogs, Tundra and Bounder, who didn’t fare too well in the heat and excitement of the race and both became ill. Both proceeded to finish the race anyhow, they were real troopers.  This was also good experience for me. I’ve never dealt with sick dogs on the trail before. For all the details on this race, read my story titled Racing, Cascade Quest Style.

During this race, Ella had her puppies!

The day we got home, February 1st, Tundra was holding up one of his paws by the evening. The next morning was more of the same so Alan took him into the vet. They found he had a yeast infection in between his toes so they put him on medications and it was back to doing foot baths again. He did real well with all of this and recovered quickly.

Also after this race my tooth pain went away. I had a cleaning already scheduled for April so I decided to wait until then to deal with it since the pain was gone.

We also learned that Alan did win his case, still out of work he received back pay followed by disability checks.

Two days after Tundra’s vet visit one of the req dogs, Keeper, wasn’t looking too good. By the next morning he had labored breathing and wasn’t moving around much. Alan took him to the vet and Dr. Hoeff started him on IV therapy and kept him overnight while she ran several tests and took x-rays. The next day she called stating that at first he had improvement but then his symptoms turned bad again and his heart rate was really elevated. The x-ray showed he had fluid around his lungs and heart. She said there was nothing more they could do for him. We could try taking him to the larger hospital where they could start him on blood transfusions and maybe take an ultrasound for better imaging, but there were no guarantees. Blood transfusions! That is pretty serious and I knew the ultrasound tech would not be there for another 2 days! Keeper was 9 years old. We started taking care of him at the age of 4. He arrived at Lee’s kennel as a very abused, overweight, unhappy, scared, and shy dog. He was supposed to be rehabilitated and then a new home would be found for him. It never worked out that way. He was a real mess. It took Alan and I a long time to gain his trust. He eventually became a part of the pack and then best friends with Ahhsoo. When we bought our new house and moved our dogs off of Lee’s property, he came too. He was introduced to running on the gangline and did well. He found something he liked and looked forward to and this past year he moved into lead position filling in for Mackenzie while he was recovering from his surgery. We did the best we could with Keeper and I think we made him a happy dog but we felt we had done all that we could. We let him go that day. How unexpected.

A week later the photographer for that article came out to the house. She probably spent about 90 minutes taking hundreds of pictures. A week after that the writer came out. There we sat in two lawn chairs perched on a little hill next to our house overlooking the dog yard and our incredible view. With her pen in hand and tape recorder going we spent 2.5 hours talking dogs. She was surprised at how much there was to this and we could have easily gone on for another 2.5 hours but she wasn’t expecting to be there as long as she was so we wrapped the interview up.

By the end of February we still hadn’t done any training although we had every intention to but it was still so darn warm. Then Lizzy wasn’t feeling very good again. She was having very familiar symptoms so back to the vet she went. Based on her history we just started with the x-ray and it showed she swallowed 3 rocks this time! Back into surgery she went, we also decided to have her spayed at the same time. One rock was in her stomach, one was in her intestine, and one was in the colon ready to come out. Dr. Edwards was able to pull the one out of the rectum first then proceeded to cut Liz open again. The one in her stomach was huge, it was going nowhere, but Dr. Edwards couldn’t find the one in her intestine. So she performed the spaying then went back searching for the one in the intestine but still couldn’t find it. So she checked the stool she had pulled out of her and found that other rock. In the time it took for Lizzy’s turn for surgery and prep, probably a couple of hours since this was during regular business hours this time, Liz passed that second stone.  

15 more staples and 12 more days in the house. Since Alan was home we didn’t have to make arrangements for her this time. She had the couch, her own personal chef as she was put back on a bland diet with boiled chicken and rice as her main food, and after she started feeling better, Alan rented Snow Dogs for her. She really liked this movie. She watched with excitement and wooed through all the sledding scenes. She was never going to want to leave the house!

In March the article for the Oregonian came out and we received an unexpected response from it. The woman that wrote the article put me in contact with another woman who was in charge of organizing a dog walk at the beginning of a parade held at the Clalckamas County Pioneer Family Festival. She asked if we could be the grand marshal. I agreed to do it, the parade would be in May. I hoped it wouldn’t be too warm and that we would get some more training in before then because we still hadn’t been back on the trail with all the health issues with the dogs; and once again, Lizzy recovered amazingly well. I was also contacted by a 10 year old girl who was working on an end of the year school project, a little newsletter she was putting together on dog mushing and asked if she could interview me for the main article. I agreed to this as well but wouldn’t see her until nearly the end of the school year.  I was also contacted by a producer of a local cable show.  We had a long phone conversation. He asked if he could put together a program on us similar to OPB and sent us a couple of DVD’s showing us his work. It would take place over a long period of time. I agreed but a little nervous about this one.

Soon after all this we had plans to visit Karen Yeargain and her then 6 week old puppies but we had to postpone this as Lizzy became sick again. It couldn’t possibly be another rock as we rock proofed her kennel with plywood. Off to the vet again and x-rays showed no rocks! But she was put back on a bland diet and meds. This was the least serious of all her recent visits. Dr. Hoeff felt she might not be able to handle the diet we have her on which includes raw meat. Once again we slowly got her back to her normal kibble. Since we weren’t running, we pulled all the dogs off the raw meat. We will have to see how Liz does in the fall.

The following week we went out to Karen’s to visit Ella’s 7 week old puppies, paying special attention to the two boys because one of them was going to be ours in 3 weeks. We brought Lizzy and Kwyta with us so we could keep an eye on Liz. While we were there, Karen mentioned that Twinka, Ella’s sister, was pregnant and due in April. On the way home I got to thinking that I only need one more dog for a 12 dog team, I really love Twinka, and the father, Weaver, is one of Karen’s best young leaders. I decided I needed one of these pups as well, another boy. When I asked Karen about this she suggested that I instead take a pup from another litter she had that was only 2.5 weeks younger than Ella’s litter. But I had my heart set on Twinka’s puppies.

Meanwhile, Alan was still out of work and we still hadn’t run the dogs. Then Alan broke out in shingles all over his face! Most likely brought on by the stress of being out of work and the whole workman’s comp case. His doctor put him on very strong medications and a few days later he became allergic to the medications! It was a no win situation, he needed those meds. So he took them at a slightly lower dose coupled with Benadryl. This would go on for a month.

In mid April we loaded Bounder and Joy into the truck and went back to Karen’s to pick up our new pup. She had several people there all picking up pups from both litters. It was a great day as we all sat on the lawn with 9 puppies trying to decide which ones we wanted. I brought Joy out on a lead and she was really good. I was glad she got to meet all the puppies before we brought one home. We picked out the one I had my eye on first and Joy fell in love with him. She took care of him as if he were her own. We would put her in his kennel with him and she would babysit. She was great and it was nice to see her behave this way. The rest of the kennel erupted with his arrival and it took longer to introduce him to them. Joy’s sibling’s, now 2 year olds, had never been near puppies so this was a slow process. The older generation was overjoyed to see a puppy again and Spirit and Rosie got into their first fight as each felt he was theirs.

While we were at Karen’s, she informed us that Twinka’s x-ray, who was due in just a few days, only showed one pup. There was a possibility of 2. I felt all my dreams disappear and started kicking myself over letting a pup from the other litter slip through my hands as they were all spoken for by then. A few days later Twinka had her litter, one boy and one girl. Karen spoke with me on the phone and agreed to let me have the boy. I was very surprised by this as she always keeps one boy and one girl from each litter.

Two days after we got back from Karen’s I felt a cold just starting to come on. I quickly took my Echinacea as I always do. This usually stops it before it starts but it didn’t work this time. Then I developed a bad cough. I had never had such a cough before with severe coughing fits. This lasted for 3 weeks!

April went by without any training again and now we were raising a puppy. Eagle, who I named after the Eagle Cap race, did well being separated from his puppy pack and fit right in with the dogs here. Raising one puppy was so simple compared to raising a whole litter. Eagle made it easy.

Before we got to the end of the month and my teeth cleaning appointment, my toothache reactivated even worse this time. I made an appointment and found out I needed a root canal. Oh, I just love this procedure. To make matters worse, it was a tooth that is also part of a 25 year old bridge, so the bridge had to be removed first to start on the fun root canal. Just before the dentist removed the bridge he says, “It shouldn’t hurt but it will be startling.” Perfect choice of words. I can’t describe it any other way and would really rather not go through that again.

Inspired by all the events that happened to us up to this point in less than a year, I started a website on our kennel. There was too much here to keep to ourselves and thought others might enjoy our adventures and misadventures. This will turn out to be an ongoing project.

In mid May it was time for the parade. We got in a 3 mile training run on the Tuesday before. This was our first training run since the Cascade Quest race. It was like there was no time off. The dogs did great and it felt good to be back on the trail if only for that short time. I had them practice walking a short distance, which was not easy.

Just weeks before the parade I realized that Alan and I were not going to be able to handle the parade alone. When we were originally invited, we were supposed to start and end at the park. Just prior to the parade we found out that it would start in town and end at the park. We would need to park and set up; I was taking all 10 dogs. Then after we took off, Alan would have to drive the truck to the park to meet us there but I had planned on him walking beside the team. So I recruited 8 other people to help us, friends and mushers, all were willing to play along.

Parade day was a bit disorganized when it came to our role. There was miscommunication and confusion on where we were to park. Once this was cleared up our part of the parade, leading out the dog walk, went great. Just after 10:00am, it wasn’t too warm yet. The dogs marched down the main road with no issues. This was their first time on cement; they had to pass tons of people and pets on both sides of the road and go under two overpasses. There was lots of noise, distractions, and food around but my team just ignored everything and followed my commands as normal. Several of my helpers walked alongside the dogs making sure they did what they were supposed to and gave them water on one of our breaks and scooped poop as needed. The hard part was keeping them at a slow pace. We had to stop often to let the others catch up. A little over a mile later we arrived at the park and Alan barely had enough time to set up. We hooked the dogs to the truck and stayed there 2 hours while tons of people came by to meet and pet them. There was a carnival at the park so it was total chaos and even noisier with loud speakers going and lots of vehicle traffic passing us as well. All the dogs behaved so wonderfully, I was proud of them again. They were being good sports through all this and gained some valuable experience.

That evening was the end-of-the-year banquet for the Cascade Sled Dog Club. Alan and I attended and I received the Musher Of The Year award. I was completely caught off guard. I suppose for the club members who chose me they don’t often see a musher take on a 100 mile race after only competing in one other race, just an 8 mile, but for me this was a reward for the whole team of dogs, Alan, and I for making it through such a tremendous year with difficult and unexpected events and still succeeded in completing our race goals anyhow. For a moment it helped, this was a good day.

A week after the parade we went on another visit to Karen’s. Our next new pup, Orbit we would name later, was 5 weeks old. He was very plump and a little more stand offish compared to his sister; very stout with some attitude. I didn’t know what to make of this little guy yet. Certainly too young to tell.

5 days after we got back from Karen’s I felt another cold coming on and I thought “Oh no, not again!” I started the Echinacea again but this turned out to be a total repeat of the time before. The cold symptoms came on followed by the terrible cough. In each case the cold symptoms only last for a week but it is the cough that lingers and I would find this time this cough would never completely go away (at least as of this writing).

At the end of the month we got back in touch with the 10 year old girl and arranged a day for her and her mother to come out to the kennel. I think she may have been a bit overwhelmed. She had a list of questions but wasn’t sure how to ask them so her mother helped her along. We gave them a tour of the kennel and as much information as we could regarding training, racing, and raising dogs.

June brings us full circle to our year. The little girl who visited with her mom sent me a copy of her homework. She actually put together an entire newsletter with ads I recognize and some fictional stories. The story on us was real and was the cover story. It came out pretty good and I was surprised at the amount of work that she put into it. Alan, still out of work and still collecting disability was approved for physical therapy so he started treatment. I became tired of my lingering cough and a little concerned so I went to the doctors. He felt it is allergies and I tried many different medications none of which really worked too well.

We also returned to Karen’s at the end of the month to pick up Orbit. He was like a completely different dog. Now he was slim, leggy, and very friendly. We helped Karen give all the puppies she had, from 3 different litters, injections. Orbit got his last romps in with his sister. I felt bad for taking him away from her and his mother Twinka and she wasn’t happy about him leaving even though he was 10 weeks old and well past weaning.

Eagle really broke the ice for Orbit. He was immediately accepted in to the kennel even from those that had a harder time with Eagle at first, and Eagle was happy to have a young buddy. We started puppy training all over again and Orbit turned out to be a completely different dog from Eagle. It was exciting to see the completion of my 12 dog team, and looking forward to see how they train and integrate into the team.

It was an amazing year of new experiences and now we start over again. Here’s hoping we have less equipment to purchase and that it will be a healthier year with less trips to the vet. Here are a couple of sneak previews already: paying off all those vet bills sure feels good as the summer comes to an end. We have already had a few health issues with Kwyta coming down with a bad cough – possibly an allergy – that looks like is going to be corrected, and Joy possibly having a seizure. So far, neither of these has had the sizable impact that many of the events did last year. We would like to keep it that way. We are also still in the dark as to how Alan’s work injury, our future, will end up, so to be continued on that one. Training has changed with the two youngsters joining the group as they cannot put on the same amount of miles as the adults so this is a bit of a challenge. Lastly I have some larger goals for racing this year so I have to get the miles on the dogs to ready us for longer distances and a 10 dog race team. Stay tuned.

 

For further reading on this year, see my additional stories:

Mid Distance Training: Our First Year

My Eagle Cap Adventure

Racing, Cascade Quest Style

You Don't Have To Live In Snow Country To Be Deep Into Mushing: (from my Links page) written by Linda Vogt for the Oregonian newspaper in 2010.




Racing, Cascade Quest Style

Written in July, 2010, the following story is about our time at the Cascade Quest race in January, 2010. Cascade Quest pictures can be seen in my Photo Gallery which you may want to review after reading the story. Also, I make many comparisons to the Eagle Cap 2010 race so I suggest reading the story titled My Eagle Cap Adventure, first.

 

The Cascade Quest Sled Dog Race held near Leavenworth, WA, was our second and final mid distance race of the 2010 season. This was a completely different race than the Eagle Cap Extreme but I knew this going into it. Some noted differences was a smaller team, less race miles but covering more days, no drop bag allowed and the overnight was twice as long and with hot water available. It would take a little bit different thinking. Also the race organization was not as detailed, with a more laid back attitude. Like the Eagle Cap I wrote e-mails with questions about the race and those answers were long in coming, in fact I almost missed the deadline to send in my entry fee because of it. I was a bit concerned going into this race but there were no other options available to us for the type of racing we were looking to do for a smaller team. So we pushed on and hoped it would all work out.

One person that was helpful to me was musher Frank Caccavo. He had run this race plenty of times and answered all my questions plus gave me some great advice. I was so grateful as it helped tremendously. As for the race, the lack of detail and more nonchalant attitude would continue throughout but it was good to be exposed to a different side of the race scene and some mushers actually preferred it that way. I think because we were race trained by the Eagle Cap it took us until the last day to get into the Cascade Quest Groove.

Packing for this race was certainly easier now that we had been through it once and most of our equipment bags were prepacked from the Eagle Cap.  Vet checks and mushers meeting and dinner were scheduled for Thursday. Our race would take place over 3 days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Knowing it would take about 6 hours to get there and vet checks would start at 12:00, we decided to leave the day before so we wouldn’t be rushed or missed anything. This was our first mistake. Arriving on Wednesday around 3:30pm, we checked into our hotel located right on the main highway. It was nice enough but it sure wasn’t the cute and quiet cabin in the woods complete with a kitchenette that we had at the Eagle Cap and we had the rest of the day to kill.

After dropping the dogs to pee, we headed 4 miles up the highway to the Lake Wenatchee Rec Club, which was race headquarters. Here we figured we could go in and see who was there, look at schedules and pictures that would probably be posted on the wall,  get our questions answered, and meet any mushers we didn’t already know, always picturing the last race in my head. After getting a little lost on the simple drive there we arrived to find there was no one there and the doors were locked. I was a little surprised by this. Disappointed, we drove back to our hotel. The highlight of the evening was local musher Tim McElravy drove up. He saw our truck from down the highway and pulled in to say hello. It was great to finally meet him. We had been in contact prior to the race through e-mails and a phone call. He was also someone who turned out to be a great resource for us. 

That evening we ordered a pizza at the restaurant that was part of the hotel. That was one of the worst pizza's we ever had and they charged quite a bit for it too. We still had hours to go as the rest of the evening dragged on. We were off to a rough start. The vet checks didn’t start until noon the next day so we didn’t even have to get up early but we did anyhow and went out for breakfast at a different restaurant just down the road. Ahh, this was much better and worth mentioning as it became our little hangout. The 59er Diner, an unforgettable place with a 50’s theme complete with a real juke box and old 45’s stuck to the walls. Serving old fashioned burgers and shakes, it’s worth the stop if you are ever in the area. The staff was great including the owner who sat himself down at our table one day and asked us all about mushing while we ate! He also showed up at the awards ceremony at the end of the race.

When we were done eating we figured that the club house would have to be open now and headed back there to see what was going on. Nothing! Still no one was there and the doors were still locked. By this time I was starting to wonder if there really was a race! We were the only mushers at our hotel and we saw no other dog trucks around. We went back to the hotel to waste some more hours. It felt like we had been there forever and we hadn’t done anything but eat and watch tv. I felt very restless.

At 11:30am, we decided to head back to the clubhouse. I think I held my breath the whole way. Finally there were a couple of cars in the parking lot and the building was open, there was nothing in it but at least it was open. We were the first mushers there of course and the officials in the parking lot had the task of parking us but they weren’t sure as to how to do this. First they had us park one way, then parked us another. Then Jay, the big guy in charge, showed up and parked us for a third time in our original position. We got out of the truck and Tim showed up and parked next to us. At least I knew there would be two of us in the race.

The vet team showed up next. This was only a 6 dog race so I only had 8 dogs with me this time instead of 10. Spirit and Rosie stayed home as I knew I would not need them at all and I didn’t want Alan to have too many dogs to take care of while we were on the trail. This time the vets only checked the dogs I would take which I had picked out in my mind for some time: Kwyta, Looker, Joy, Drew, Tundra, and Bounder. I brought Faith as the alternate but since the other 6 checked out fine, she did not need a vet check and she would not be racing. I also brought Lizzy mainly because she would have been the only dog left in her section of kennels at home. I didn’t want her to be upset by this and cry the whole time so she got to come on the trip. She did not need a vet check. These vet checks were also not as extensive so they were done with my team in half the time compared to Eagle Cap which would mean we would have about 4.5 hours until dinner.

I asked the head vet Shaun where the rest of the mushers were at since vet checks were at noon. She said vet checks go from noon until dinner at 5:00. Most mushers would be driving that day pulling in mid afternoon for their vet check just prior to dinner. This information was not stated on the schedule and as a newbie it is not something that I would know. It reminds me of that situation we have all had where you are the only one that understands something one way while everyone else understood it differently, like an assignment in school. I had that sinking singled out feeling of being the idiot of the group. Lesson learned. If I ever repeat this race, I will knock off a whole day by driving in the day of vet checks.

So we decided to go to lunch. On our way out of the parking lot we passed another dog truck coming in. That makes 3 of us. We went back to the Diner, then to the hotel for some more unneeded rest. This same lag time also existed at the Eagle Cap but we got in so late the night before we used this time for a brunch, cabin check in, a nap, drop bag prep and fed the dogs. The timing here was just different.

We returned to the club house at 5:00 for a scheduled dinner. Here’s where I preferred the set up of the Eagle Cap. Instead of preparing a meal, dinner was boxes of pizza. That’s ok, I like pizza, as long as it wasn’t from the hotel restaurant but it was too early for me to eat anyhow. Still full from lunch I only had one piece and it was good. Mushers meeting followed at 6:00 and to me this was an issue. At the Eagle Cap the mushers meeting was first and was only opened to mushers and handlers. This made for a private and quiet reading of the rules and race map. Doors were then open to all others afterwords for a prepared meal and drawing of bib numbers. At the Quest with everyone there for dinner first, then going right into the meeting, I felt it was loud and distracting. There were too many people that did not need to be there. Again, I didn’t understand some things that were discussed regarding the route so I hoped it would make sense when I got there. We drew our bib numbers, this time I drew # 12.

We went back to the hotel around 8:00 but now I was hungry, this is when I normally eat so we got a take-out order. The race wouldn’t start until 10:00 the next morning giving us plenty of time to get there.

RACE DAY

We arrived at the club parking lot around 8:00am. The race start is the wide, long air strip that starts at the edge of the parking lot. Dog trucks were parked in rows facing the airstrip. We were in the front row just off center of the starting point at the center of the air strip. This was great for us. We could anchor the sled right off the front of the truck and easily make it to the starting line. We held off dropping the dogs right away so I started working on my sled. It would be a lighter load on the first day since we were only doing a 25mile day run, no overnight. So I didn’t need any of my sleeping gear. Once again people there to watch the race would come by and ask questions about the gear being packed. Mushers were going to each others sleds to look at the different styles and of course to test the weight load. When the dogs came out, so did more people with more questions.

Then race marshal Nikolai Buser made his way over to our truck to do a gear check with me. This was definitely one of the highlights of this race. It wasn’t hard to pick Nikolai out as he looks so much like his father Martin, plus he wore a pair of bright sky blue ski pants making him visible from across the parking lot. Nice young guy, what else would you expect? For those that don’t know who his father Martin Buser is, he has run the Iditarod 27 times, is a four time champion and still holds the fastest time for the race. He’s a big crowd pleaser, always has a good attitude with a smile on his face and usually found whistling a tune. We have a signed poster from him that hangs in our shop, handed down to us by Lee Hills. Since he lives in Alaska I wouldn’t hold my breath as to whether we will ever get to meet him or see him in action in person, so meeting Nikolai was about the next best thing. I asked Nikolai if he was training a team and he said he was finishing school at what sounded like the University of Washington and then plans on training again in the fall. It will be interesting to see what he ends up doing next winter. This winter, he looked like he was having fun zooming around on a snowmobile in the parking lot and later on the race trail.

The Race Finally Begins

Once again I was assigned 3 helpers to get me and my team to the starting line and for this race they all stayed and helped all the way through the countdown. We didn’t want the dogs to be in their harnesses too soon before the start but we didn’t time this out too well. When it was my turn to approach the line I was still harnessing dogs. Thankfully there was only six. We made a last minute grand entrance getting to the line with only 40 seconds to spare! Whew! Pointed down the center of the airstrip with tall flags placed about every 20 feet in two neat rows about 10 feet apart creating a nice aisle for mushers to go down. And everyone ahead of us did. The airstrip was about a quarter mile long and you could see several other teams still making their way down. When our countdown was completed we took off with Kwyta and Looker in lead, and after the first 10 feet, those girls cut between the flags and headed diagonally to the tree line on the right. Once there they followed the tree line to the end of the strip. I guess they didn’t know how to run down the white openness, they need their trees. As far as I know we were the only ones to do this.

At the end of the air strip is a wind sock where we all turned right into the woods. Let the fun begin. Back on a winding, twisting trail, similar to the Canal Rd at the Eagle Cap except we weren’t perched high up on a cliff. Still had to work the sled hard though. Before we slipped into the woods I saw one musher, Dominic, who I met last year at the Frog Lake 2 race, over at the flags still in the center of the airstrip. Looked like he was having trouble convincing his team, another team of Sibes, to take the right. I was glad my team decided to follow the tree line or we might have had the same troubles. It also meant that we passed him, but that wouldn’t last long. Soon he would pass us back.

I think the dogs loved that winding road except it was just a bit warm out. We passed another musher, Tom, and I was thinking this was unbelievable. Definitely a better start than the Eagle Cap. Tom had a daughter, Ema, who was also in the race so he was holding back a bit so she could catch up and they could travel together. I found that my team matched the speed of their teams and we ended up traveling together quite a bit throughout the 3 days. It was nice to see my young team was able to keep up with others, they belonged there. What hurt us however is I felt it was only fair to keep them on their run/rest routine from our training. Those breaks hurt our time a bit as I don’t think any of the other teams were taking breaks. It was 25 miles, they were running them straight through and although I think my dogs could probably have done that too, I wasn’t going to test that. Plus the heat of the day worked against us as well so I played it sure and safe and kept them hydrated.

After the twists and turns the trail was a bit unusual. Running the team through a wooded residential area was new for us. At one point a homeowner’s dog was standing loose on the trail. My team ran right past him, within 5 feet and hardly gave him a glance. Very impressive! I was braced for a dog fight or a chase but my team was all business and the loose dog smartly decided to stay put.

Next we went through a gate and followed beautiful Fish Lake. Pretty scenery. We passed right through some kind of camp where there were cabins, bathrooms and signs. How odd! The trail also made many road crossings. At one point we were put on a bypass, this turned out to be one of the things discussed at the meeting that I didn’t understand. Simply, instead of turning onto this road immediately, they had us bypass a section, perhaps due to a lack of snow. We crossed the road and headed into the woods on the other side following a very narrow snowmobile trail that sharply wound around bushes and trees. Wow, this was crazy! Perhaps a half mile or more later we reconnected with the road, this time turning onto it.

The thing I most disliked about this race was how the direction changes were performed. The Eagle Cap’s was excellent. Out in the extreme wilderness alone I was able to determine where to go because of the excellent signs. A single turning arrow 150 feet before the turn; double turning arrows at the turn; one confidence marker after the turn is completed. I was able to find my way through 100 miles of thick forest and my dogs took the turns on the fly. The Cascade Quest didn’t spend time on making as many signs but instead gathered many volunteers. One sign before the turn let you know it was coming up and a ton of volunteers at each turn waving you in. We may have been in the woods but not the remote wilderness and all the people made it feel more populated. The worst part was the behavior of the volunteers. I know they were trying to be helpful but they really didn’t understand the best way to go about this. My team became confused at each and every turn; many times tried to go the wrong way based on the actions of the volunteers; and often I had to stop, get off the sled, and redirect them. Some volunteers waved their arms wildly completely confusing the dogs. Some would confuse the dog’s first then start to yell commands at them because the dogs were taking the turn incorrectly. One volunteer got down on his knee. Do you know what a dog does when you get down on your knee 10 feet in front of it? This might have been helpful if that was the right direction but it wasn’t. Another volunteer waited for the dogs to get to the turn then started walking in the opposite direction and of course they followed her. Then at another junction several snowmobiles and their drivers blocked off one direction and they sat and watched the show. Watched as my dogs went right up to them. Here I got off to redirect them. In doing so, my two swing dogs switched places which didn’t matter so I hopped on the sled and took off trying to waste as little time as possible. We started moving and one of the volunteers started shouting something to me. I couldn’t hear him so I had to stop and ask him what he said. He was informing me that “those 2 dogs are in the wrong spot”. I was furious! He made me stop to point out the obvious as if I didn’t see that. I know he thought he was saving my day but I really wish that they would have gone through some sort of volunteer training. I found this very frustrating..

We were traveling for a long time up a really steep incline so I stopped to give my guy’s a break. That’s when Tom and Ema caught up to us and passed but later we passed them back. We continued like this for a while until we just ended up traveling together and talking with each other. Completely different atmosphere than the Eagle Cap. Seemed more like a tour or expedition we were all on together rather than a race. Finally on my last break with my team they continued on ahead and I didn’t see them again until after the finish line of this leg.

Traveling alone again we saw a snowmobile rider up ahead who started heading towards us. Then, as if finally spotting us, he quickly turned around and headed back to where he was. I could see all this because the trail was heading around a field and I was watching him across the field. When we made it around the corner and started heading towards him, I could see he was a photographer and was taking a bunch of pictures of us. There was another corner where he was parked that we took to the left and sitting there, out in the middle of nowhere, was a huge crane. It was as if the world had come to an end and this was what was left standing. I don’t know why it was there or where it came from. All the dogs stared up at it with wonder as we passed by.

Shortly after, we came upon some more volunteers at another junction. I recognized one who helped me get the team to the starting line just a few hours earlier. As I gave her a friendly “Hi” I missed what we were supposed to be doing, or maybe they just never said. The dogs continued straight into a field. I looked around not seeing an actual trail or markers. I looked back and asked where we were supposed to be. She pointed to the edge of the field where there were hay bales lining the way. I thought “Oh great! I’ll never get them back over there.” But I have a real smart girl up front and when I asked Looker to turn right, even though we were out in the middle of a field, she turned and headed right for the trail. When she got there, before I could say anything they both swung left onto the trail. They seemed to know where they were going. After a couple of hundred yards, skirting the field along the hay bales we came to a Y and a single volunteer who directed us towards the left and the girls immediately took this like they knew where they were going again. About 100 yards later we passed in between 2 hay bales under a little arch and suddenly Alan was there. “Are we done?” He said the girl’s names and their ears went back and their tails started wagging. He grabbed their neckline and directed them to the truck.

We were at the Stonewater Ranch.  The odor of horse was very strong. We have horses that live behind our house that come up to the fence all the time but wow, this ranch was strong. We had never started a run at one place and ended at another before. I know the team was surprised but happy to see Alan. That was another new and good experience for us. It was about 2:00pm and it had become pretty warm. It was good that the first day of racing ended then. Back at the truck I checked the team over, and Alan helped remove harnesses and any booties. Shaun the vet asked how they were and I told her they seemed fine. Then I fed them but everything wasn’t fine. The girls ate great but my two wheel boys, the ones performing the most physical work, were not eating. Eventually Bounder ate some, but not Tundra. I had Shaun look at Tundra and she found that he had a sore lower back. So I pulled out the doggie massage oil and began massaging him. She commented that he really seemed to like it but he still didn’t eat.

Over in a barn they had some hot food going for us so we went over and grabbed some chicken noodle stew and ate amongst horses peaking over their stalls. Across from the barn was a pole barn with a fire going where you could stand and be warm while you ate. When the 12 dog teams arrive, they would actually stay there. What a truly unique checkpoint. When we were finished we packed up and headed back to the hotel. The next day’s race wouldn’t start until 4:00pm. We had another 24 hours of wait time!

Now there were other mushers at the hotel at least. One was a 16 year old girl, Josi, who was there with her father, and whom I had just raced against. She was very mature for her age and did very well running Seppla Siberian’s. She also had two pure white 6 week old pups with her so we had some good entertainment at the hotel now. There would be a couple of additional races starting the next day so those mushers were showing up as well. We met one who was also staying at the hotel, Kim, from Washington, also running Siberians. We discussed the bloodlines of our dogs and other Siberian mushers that we knew. We seemed to hit it off with her, would speak often throughout the race and would stay in touch long after the race was over.

That evening I gave the dogs another feeding, a little extra to Tundra, and this time he ate everything. Bounder, and the girls, ate well also. But the next morning Bounder had blood in his stool. We dealt with this on the Eagle Cap race as well, but not until after the race was over. I didn’t like seeing this so soon with two more days of racing to go. Tundra appeared down or tired, maybe both. I was concerned. I wouldn’t continue the race without them and I certainly won’t continue if they aren’t doing well. I kept a close eye on them throughout the day. We arrived at the race start a couple hours early. It was even warmer than the day before. The parking lot was starting to turn from a slushy mess into a lake! This made me even more concerned for my boys. Tundra seemed to be doing better but I didn’t want to push him so I would give him a break from wheel position. Bounder acted normal so I talked to Shaun about him. I was a minute away from scratching for the safety of my dogs. Also, if either of those boys get sick along the way they would have to ride in the sled both reducing the amount of pulling power and adding more weight to the sled making it harder on the rest of the team; and those boys were my heaviest dogs. Shaun evaluated Bounder and didn’t say he should stay behind. She loaded us up on anti-diarrhea meds and we also gave him Lizzy’s Pepsid. I waited a bit then made a last minute decision to stay in the race.

DAY TWO RACE

We were ready on time this time and no gear check was performed. Bounder was screaming to go in wheel position while I gave Tundra a break and put him in swing. The order of the teams out was based on the finishing times of the day before, slowest to fastest, so I was the third team out. Taking off from the airstrip again, this time they arranged the aisle of poles to go on a diagonal towards the treeline and follow that in, just like my team did the day before, and this time my team ran straight down the strip. Go figure.

Dodging back into the woods for the same winding trail start, I caught up to the two teams ahead of us and passed them. Now, for the first time ever, we were physically leading the race. I say physically because by times, we were still way behind. I expected the next team to catch me at any moment however. We continued through the woods as I continued to look over my shoulder. We went through the residential area but there was no loose dog to pass this time. We went through the gate and along the lake still looking for the next musher but saw no one. We passed through the camp and up the hill where a faster team could easily pass us but there was no one behind us. We came to the road by-pass moving along the narrow winding snowmobile trail by ourselves. We merged back onto the main road and continued along. It’s about now that I started to wonder if I was doing this right, was I going the right way, surely something must have happened behind me to keep all the other teams so far back. We came to the turn-off on the road where several snowmobile riders sit and block the wrong way. The day before they blocked the left. This was where one was trying to tell me that two of my dogs switched places. This time they were blocking the right. I asked them if I was going the right way and they stated I was and that from there it is a straight shot to Trinity, only 20 miles to go. That means I had gone 5 miles! Another look over my shoulder and still no one was there.

The rest of the trail would have no more signs or markers, it wasn’t necessary. The road was wide and would prove to be a bit boring for about the next 15 miles. A bit further along from the snowmobiles and still looking over my shoulder I finally saw another musher approaching a ways back. I was relieved. It didn’t take long before others started to appear as well and soon they passed me. Then Bounder started to vomit intensely without ever missing a step. It was awful, creating a long brown stream that he projected off to the side. I couldn’t believe what I just saw and wasn’t even sure if that was what had really happened. He kept moving without complaint and a few minutes later he did it again. I had never had a dog vomit on the trail before. I stopped the team to make sure he was ok and offer him some water. I was concerned about him becoming dehydrated. He rolled in the snow almost happily and ate a bit of it but wouldn’t take any water even with my magic sprinkles in it.

Another musher approached and stopped and asked if we were OK. I told him no and explained what happened. He said he had a dog vomiting just prior to the start so he left her behind. He said she was diagnosed as going into kidney failure. Great! Not what I wanted to hear. I could only hope this wasn’t that serious. Then Ema approached and she stopped as well. Roles reversed from yesterday, this time she was taking it easy hoping her father would catch up. The other musher took off getting himself back in the race. Ema said she would be happy to travel with me and if I needed to stop anytime she would wait since she was waiting for her father to catch up anyhow and she preferred not to travel alone. The mushers in this race were really great, definitely the best part. I moved Bounder into swing with Tundra so he wouldn’t have to work as hard and he started banging and screaming to go. What a dog. That meant Kwyta would have to take over wheel. She had only been in that position one other time. I don’t think she appreciated it but honored the position just fine.

Shortly after we started moving again, Bounder had an episode of diarrhea. Now I was really concerned about dehydration and Kwyta hated her position even more. But that was the end of it. No more vomiting or diarrhea and darkness fell upon us. The temperature dropped and the trail firmed up a bit and the dogs started moving better and seemed pretty solid. Emma and I traveled by ourselves as teams from behind caught up and passed us. Our teams were well matched and I was pretty proud of my guys. After being on the trail for what felt like a long time we passed a road sign that said Trinity 14 miles. Both our hearts sank. It sure felt like we had traveled much further.

Ema’s dad Tom finally came up behind me and placed his team between ours and the three of us traveled together much like we did the day prior. After about 8 miles Tom’s team started falling behind so we would stop and wait for his team to catch up. I could have continued on, it was a race after all, but I waited with Ema. She committed to me at the beginning it was the least I could do in return.

At about the 20 mile mark the road narrowed bringing the woods closer in and a cliff wall formed on the right looking like it could avalanche at any time! The trail became more interesting and hilly, going up and down like a roller-coaster. The waiting times for Tom’s team became longer and longer. Eventually Ema gave up. I think she reached a point where she just wanted to get to the checkpoint, so did I. So at about 3 miles out we traveled on ahead of Tom and pulled into the checkpoint at about 8:00pm.

Once again, this was a whole different ball game than the checkpoint at Eagle Cap. They timed me as I passed by without any instructions. I continued on and was stopped by one person who happened to be part of the vet team. Ema was still getting parked so he had me wait there. He asked if I had any problems and I told him about Bounder. He said he would stop in later and check on him. I told him I plan to let him settle a bit before attempting to give him food, thinking about what happened the day before. He felt this was sound. After what seemed like a long wait I informed him that Tom would be arriving any minute. He yelled up to Steve, who was parking Ema, to hurry it up a bit.

With Ema quickly parked I pulled ahead and the guy named Steve asked if he could take my dogs. I agreed and he asked who I was. Then he realized it was me and I realized Steve wasn’t a race official but one of the two mushers of the 12 dog teams, who also raced at Eagle Cap. I found out later that he had always wanted the opportunity to park the teams. And who better to do this than someone who has run the Iditarod several times. After I was parked, Tom pulled in followed a bit later by the last two teams, one of which was Tim. All was quiet and Steve made an announcement to all of us parked there, “This is exactly what it looks like at Skwentna”. How cool is that? For those unfamiliar, Skwentna is one of the many checkpoints on the Iditarod. I’ve seen it on video and I have pictured it in my head, but this brought it a little bit closer.

I realized I didn’t know quite where to start. No instructions were given to me and I could see several buildings. I knew there was suppose to be food available and hot water which I was counting on. A bale of wood chips was waiting at each site but first I had to rearrange the dogs on the gangline. Drew, who was in lead and had a longer line, was also in heat, and she could easily reach Bounder, who was very interested, and Tundra. Rearranging them was not easy, and I came up with two shorter lines to attach the leaders to. Finally situated, I spread out the chips for them. 

I talked to the musher who first stopped earlier that day to see if we were all right when Bounder was vomiting. He explained the buildings to me. I asked Tom if he would keep an eye on my dogs and I grabbed a bucket and headed over. This area was not arranged campsites in the woods, but an open field with an awesome back drop but I would have to wait until morning to really see it. The mushers were lined up in neat rows and we could all see each other. Some mushers set up small tents that they brought with them. It reminded me more of mountaineering and this was base camp. It was just as cool.

Over at the buildings I found the hot water and brought it back to the site and prepared a large meal for the dogs. It only took about 5 minutes for the meat to thaw. Much faster than melting snow like I did on the Eagle Cap. I planned on skipping Bounder for a while but when he saw everyone else getting food dished out, he asked for his as well. I placed his bowl in front of him and he ate it down. Then the vet showed up and was happy he ate. He took his vitals and said they were normal and he said he was hydrated. I was surprised to hear this but very glad. He seemed to be acting just fine. The dog is just incredible.

When the dogs were done eating they snuggled in to sleep except Kwyta who played watch dog for a while. I went up to one of the buildings for some food. Only one option: chili and cornbread. I hate chili, always have. I do love cornbread though but it was a bit dry, as most cornbread is, for a thirsty musher. I had a couple mouthfuls of the chili and tried not to taste it. I thought a chocolate chip cookie would help but it didn't. I really struck out on the food so I headed back to my sled for some jerky and Reces’ Pieces. Not too frozen and pretty good.

Departure wouldn’t be until 8:00am, putting us there a full 12 hours! They arranged it as a restart in the morning after sunup so everyone would have a chance to enjoy the awesome view. So I decided to set up my bivi since I would be there so much longer and glad I did as temperatures dropped even lower overnight, but I never became cold.

At about 2:00am a dog started barking and I realized it was Looker. I tried shushing her several times but she wasn’t getting the message. At the Eagle Cap I slept right next to her but this time I stomped out a flat area next to the sled and put myself there. There wasn’t room in the deep snow next to her but I wish there had been. That meant I had to squeeze out of my tight sleeping bag which was stuffed in my tight bivi that doesn’t have a side opening, a flaw in the design. It must have looked like the set up was giving birth to me. Once out I had to get my boots on in the dark on lumpy snow without getting my socks wet which I had doubled for sleeping so cramming my thick feet in my stiff boots was a real chore, and the whole time Looker was still barking. I couldn’t work fast enough. I didn’t bother to lace my boots. When I got to her the first thing I did was grab her mouth. Her ears went back and her eyes got big, bigger than normal. She was sitting up and wasn’t taking my whispered ‘down’ command so I laid her on her side and spent the next 10 minutes giving her a belly rub to quiet her down. She’s got me trained but it worked. Now I had to stuff myself back into my doubled wall cocoon.

I set my watch alarm to go off early enough to eat breakfast-another meal prepared in one of the buildings, hydrate the dogs-I decided not to feed them just like on a training run, and pack the sled. I wandered down for some breakfast and couldn’t believe that at 6:30am they hadn’t even started on it. I was a little upset and felt they were cutting it close for us to eat and get ready so I skipped the breakfast. I headed back to the sled and started work on repacking it while I nibbled some more on the food I brought. Looking around, the scenery was spectacular! Situated in a bowl we were surrounded by a wall of snow-capped jagged peaks. Several of us were snapping picture’s, mine would later appear on my website. It was nice to be able to see and enjoy this. Now I could see why they set up this race the way they did, so we could appreciate this. Again, it didn’t feel as much as a race as it did a trip that we were all taking together. As a local, Tim had been there many times and shared some of his stories with me that morning. 

Soon it was time to hydrate the dogs then get them ready. I started this process as the time approached 8:00am but it didn’t appear as though the rest of the mushers were this far along in getting ready. Confused I went and talked to the same musher who explained the buildings to me and asked if there was a change in the schedule. Now he was confused and as we talked further and compared times I realized my watch was about 40 minutes fast! Now I was mad at myself. I could have slept longer and had breakfast. Another lesson learned.

TAKE OFF TIME, DAY 3

Time to head back down the trail that we came up the night before to complete this race, finishing at the parking lot. The two 12 dog teams of Steve and Steve departed first since they had so many more miles to cover that day. Then my group left in the opposite order of when we arrived the night before so I was 4th out. The trail was so much nicer with the colder temperatures overnight. It took me longer to overtake the two teams I passed the day before.

Ema caught up to us and eventually we caught up to her dad. Traveling for a short time together this time before I stopped for a break and they continued on. Every so often a team or two would approach from behind and we would travel with them for a while before they eventually pulled away or we had to stop for something. It was interesting watching the other teams. For the most part I didn’t feel my team was too far off of their speeds with the exception of one, Wendy. She zoomed by as if we were standing still and went on to win the race. The first 5 miles, the narrow wooded hilly section was beautiful in the morning sun. When the road widened we hit groomed trail! The groomer made it out in the middle of the night, excellent! The road was fairly flat and fast for the next 15 miles. Looker, who was in back in wheel position, started to get into the racing spirit and every time that a team would approach she started lunging for them even if it meant crossing in front of her partner, who was her uncle Tundra. He was doing much better and won wheel position back. Now Looker has never done this before or else I would have problems with her in lead. I really think she was just being rowdy and mouthy as we finished off this race. I eventually found that as I heard a team approach I would warn her first and she would hold her ground.

During this stretch I was passed by the other Siberian team, musher Dominic. We traveled back and forth of each other for a while, passing and passing back. Along the way he snapped a picture of my team which he later sent to me. It is the only picture of my team that I have and have included it on my website.

Eventually there was no one left to pass us as we made it into the last 5 miles. On a long straight away I could see other teams ahead entering the woods as they left the main road. I knew Dominic was up there and could only make a guess at who the other teams were. When it was our turn to turn into the woods my team sped up and soon I was catching glimpses of the other teams through the woods. We started to approach several teams all together but I was a bit confused at what I was seeing. A 4-dog team and a 1-dog skijourer? Then I remembered way back to the mushers meeting that we were warned that finishing on Sunday we would probably run into some of the other teams who were running the shorter distance races. For some reason I became nervous on these passes but the skijourer smartly reeled her dog in so there was no problem there as we passed and my team just flew past the 4-dog team, followed by another team a little further up.

Winding through the last stretch of woods before popping out onto the airstrip we caught up to Dominic’s team! Directly ahead of him were Tom and Ema. Wow, my guys were flying! It would have been too difficult to attempt to pass these teams here and they sure weren’t going to slow down for me so we traveled like this for probably less than a mile before Ema took the left turn onto the airstrip, followed by the rest of us. 4 teams for the big finish. This time they utilized the airstrip right along the tree line with the finish line next to the trees as well. All 3 teams ahead of me turned the corner and hugged the tree line maintaining their order. My team, for some reason, led by Joy and Drew, came wide around that turn and immediately passed Dominic’s team. I guess they had enough of them. Next, still traveling on the outside of the other teams we started to approach and pass Tom. I looked towards the end of the runway and tried to judge the distance to the parking lot and decided I am going to give them their final command. “Let’s go to the truck!” I shouted. Tom thought I was talking to him and asked ‘What’ but I was focused on my team because all 12 eyes were staring at me in disbelief. “Did you just say what it sounded like you said?” they seemed to ask with surprise. So I reassured them, “Let’s go to the truck.” Joy turned her head back and launched the team into the next gear as we passed Tom and moved ahead.

Suddenly Bounder had to pee and he stopped the whole team to do it. “Oh no” I thought as I watched Tom pass us. “Bounder let’s go” I shouted, “you can pee at the truck”. My team took off again and passed Tom again and then Bounder decided to pee again and stopped the team once more. “Bounder, no! Let’s go.” My team took off again. “Let’s go to the truck” I shouted again and I could feel them dig in but the snow on the airstrip was soft under the blazing late morning sun. We finally left Tom behind and approached Ema. My team was even with her sled when she crossed the finish line just ahead of us. And now these 6 dogs had a completely different understanding as to why we practiced ‘Let’s go to the truck’. I think they had fun and sure made a good showing. It was definitely a crowd pleaser to have 4 teams racing at the finish line even though time wise there was no way we were going to truly beat Ema.

Alan was waiting at the finish line and grabbed the leaders and led them to the truck. The parking lot was full of people and Alan had picked up an older couple who followed us to the truck. They watched our routine of unhooking the dogs and attaching them to the drop chains on the truck. We pulled out water and bowls and I proceeded to water and feed them. The whole time they watched with great interest asking questions along the way. They were amazed at the amount of food I was dishing up for the dogs.

Now the temperature soared into the 50’s and the parking lot was nearly impossible to get through without getting soaked. Luckily the temperature out on the trail that morning was cool enough, all the dogs seemed to be doing well.

When all the teams were in, we waited an extra couple of hours for the 12 dog teams to finish. Steve’s dogs headed right for me allowing me to take a great picture of them and then I led them to his truck. Awards ceremony started right after. First we had to vote for two mushers for the Sportsmanship award and I chose Tom and Ema, Ema won it. My team came in 10th out of 13 mushers, finishing behind Ema and ahead of Tom, receiving a bag of coffee beans. That was a good comeback for us considering Tom beat us on day 1 and all the troubles I had with my dogs. We also won the Best Kept Team award! What a surprise and honor this was. Out of 13 teams the vets chose me for this and I won a tackle box loaded with first aid and emergency supplies. When I was called up I didn’t even say anything, I didn’t know what to say, I was completely speechless. Shocked, I spoke with Shaun about this afterwords and she stated that it was a unanimous decision amongst her crew. I was probably the only musher that gave her dog a butt massage!

The race was over. We decided to spend another night rather than doing the long drive home that evening. The next morning we said our good-bye’s to those still at the hotel. This delayed us a bit in our departure which actually worked to our advantage. About 5 miles down the road a bobcat was standing on the side of the highway and we were the only ones there to see it and we would have missed it had we left on time. Awesome!

The race was a good learning experience for us. I now know more about my dogs, their capabilities, and their tolerance levels. We met up with new friends from the last race and made some more new ones whom we would stay in contact with. I think the dogs enjoyed the trails, although a bit unusual at times, but they were new and we actually got on snow; that in itself was worth the cost. I was still not fond of the six dog team however and will not be repeating this class in this race. I did however plan to return to attempt the 150 mile race with my 10 dog team but as I write this I have learned that although they will have the larger teams race, it won’t be quite as long. Still, I plan to correct all the mistakes that we made and will pray for colder temperatures. If all works out, this will be the first time I will get to race with my 10 dog team. Believe it or not, I am looking forward to returning to the Cascade Quest.

Click here to view pictures from this race.

You Should Assume...

I wrote this for the Cascade Sled Dog Club's newsletter in 2009. It's short and not really a story. I wrote it with new mushers in mind. However, it should be an amusing read for anyone and the sad part is, it's based on truth.

 

Dog mushing WILL change your life. It’s the one thing you can count on. Whether those changes are for the better or worse, well that’s something all of us mushers are always trying to figure out. We will continue to mush on for years still trying to figure it out.

If you go on to Sled Dog Central’s website there is a category that says “Beginner’s start here”. After you click on that, one of the first things it says is “DON’T DO IT!” Well, if you know about Sled Dog Central, then it’s already too late.

For those of you who have been around for a while the following list should sound very familiar. For those of you just starting out, these are some things that you should assume:

No matter how much time and research you put into picking out your sled, you should assume that you will be buying another one in just a few years (or less).

If your vehicle doesn’t allow for you to build a dog box on it, you should assume you will be buying a new truck, or trailer, or both!

You may have started all this with your energetic house dogs “just to have fun” but you can assume that you will be buying more dogs and will probably spend more on them than you ever thought possible, or possibly worse yet you might even start your own breeding program.

If your home does not accommodate more than 4 dogs, you should assume that you will be moving.

So you thought you could get away with your normal grocery store dog food. Just assume that soon your dogs will be eating better than you and your new dog food will be difficult to obtain.

If you thought the scooter or cart you own is all you would need to keep you happy through fall training, guess again. Just assume you will be buying a quad.

You may have figured that mushing in the winter still allows you to take your normal vacations and trips in the summer –HA! Just assume that soon all your vacation time will be used for training and racing.

And if you thought that you are only interested as a recreational musher, you should really assume that one day you will be bit hard by the racing bug.

Do you still think of your dogs as just dogs? Then assume that one day you will swear that they are the only creatures on this planet that actually understand you and you realize there is much more to this.

You should just assume that all your friends and family outside of mushing will start to think that you have lost it or at least that you are too consumed, and actually they would be right.

You should assume that you are going to spend at least one night out in your kennel.

Lastly you should assume that you are going to make a ton of mistakes and that dog mushing is a never ending learning experience. That’s probably why we keep on doing it.

Have fun out there! (You can assume that you will have at least one unforgettable awesome ride. Be careful – that perfect ride is addictive.)

 

My Eagle Cap Adventure

I wrote the following story in June, 2010, regarding the Eagle Cap Extreme Race in January, 2010. This adventure story is about our first mid-distance race. My other story titled Mid-Distance Training: Our First Year, would be a good introduction to read prior.


My living room floor was cluttered with gear and various colored stuff sacks filled with items such as first aid supplies, emergency supplies, food, booties and so on, as well as a couple of check off lists lying around. More pre bagged items of frozen meat and kibble were located in the freezer and storage barrel out in the shop. Printed and written notes were taped all over the house and shop so the lifesavers who agreed to take care of those left behind would remember what to do. It took me 3 days to get to this point. The truck was cleaned out and it was time to start packing it.

Alan and I had not been on a vacation in nearly 5 years and this was as close as we were going to get to one. After all, for 5 days we would be staying in a rented cabin in the mountains near a beautiful lake but our agenda would be intense. We were all rookies in this new adventure. The dogs have never traveled quite as far as we were going and most of them had never spent a night in their dog box. So, new for us right from the start was when to stop and drop the dogs, how do we feed them while traveling and keep them as close to their routine as possible and how are they going to do living from dog box to drop chain over and over again for 5 days? We could only play this by ear and soon the dogs learned that when they saw the golden arches it was time to stop and pee.

The Eagle Cap Extreme 100 mile race was amazing. First was a very unusual vet check process. Barricading off 2 blocks in downtown Joseph, OR, mushers parked their trucks, dropped their dogs, and vets did their rounds. Guess who was first? Yep, me! And getting in late the night before we had only about 4 hours of sleep prior. As Randy Greenshields, a great local vet whom I had already been in contact with by e-mail during the summer, started with my dogs, loads of buses pulled up and dropped off classrooms of kids with their teachers who walked as groups from truck to truck to stop and ask questions and pet the dogs. They were on a field trip but suddenly I was back to my Outdoor Education days feeling like I was doing a program. Luckily I had this experience to draw on to keep me from getting nervous with this being my first race.

During the vet check Randy found that Spirit had a sore wrist although stated she could probably run if I wanted her on the team. Actually I still needed to eliminate 2 so I quickly decided Spirit was off. That made that decision a little easier but once again Spirit wouldn’t get to race. I still had one more to eliminate and just like last year, that wasn’t going to be an easy decision.

I spotted Race Marshal Terry Hinesley walking up the street towards our truck. This was the first time we would meet although we had e-mailed each other a couple of times with my many race questions during the summer. Excited to finally see him I introduced myself and asked him if he recognized any of my dogs.  He immediately pointed out Tundra and when I told him he was Indy’s son, Terry thought I was mistaken. Indy was Terry’s lead dog for the Iditarod back in 1990 and he passed away in the later 90’s. How could I have a four year old of his? I explained about the frozen semen we had. He was aware of course about the semen but I don’t think he realized that some of it was recently used. I also introduced him to Rosie and Spirit, Indy’s daughters and further explained that all but 1 of the remaining dogs at the truck were Indy’s grandkids. We immediately hit it off, although with Terry that isn’t too difficult. His very friendly personality makes you feel like you have known him forever.

This was a very professionally run race. With Iditarod finisher Terry Hinesley as the Race Marshall, Vern Starks as Chief Vet who has not only worked on the Iditarod but was also Head Vet for the Yukon Quest and is on a number of our DVD’s, and President and Marketer Clyde Raymer who also has 16 years experience on the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, this race was a high caliber production and I didn’t realize how much so until the mushers meeting, which was that evening. This was the first time where I felt that maybe I got in over my head. Now I was nervous as I was surrounded by Iditarod finishers and very strong mid distance racers most of whom had done this race before. Everyone seemed to understand the map of the race trail but me. What was I thinking?

After the meeting they provided dinner for us and anyone else who wanted to join. Then all us mushers drew our bib numbers in front of a large crowd. I drew number 11. I figured I would be leaving the starting line around 1:50pm.

I put together my drop bag in between the vet checks and the musher meeting and brought it with us. We were supposed to leave it there that evening but at the meeting they decided we could drop it off in the morning instead so it doesn’t sit outside exposed to animals. So it went back to the cabin with us and I repacked the meat back into the freezer. That night I laid in bed thinking about the team and who I should eliminate. I decided to make the opposite choice that I made last year. This time I would run Lizzy and Rosie would stay behind with Spirit.

The next morning was race day and Lizzy had stress diarrhea. Now I couldn’t say my decision to take her was final. We went out for a muffin and dropped my drop bag back off at race central. The race would start later at Fergison Ski Resort at 1:30pm.

We pulled into the race start 2 hours early, everyone else was already there. I requested to see a vet and then got right to work packing my sled after we dropped the dogs. Terry suggested putting the mandatory gear close together so it can easily be checked when the officials came around. I did the best I could with that and he commented that I had a well packed sled, especially for a rookie. This was a little confidence boost. Perhaps all my years of packing a backpack paid off. People were everywhere all stopping in to ask questions about my gear, the race, and wanting to pet the dogs and take pictures. A woman came by to put a banner on my sled. She told me she was my sponsor; I didn’t know I had one. They attached the banner to my sled then took a picture. The banner went on the race with me, I would later sign it and my sponsor would hang it in her shop in Coos Bay.

Randy came by and I explained what was going on with Lizzy. With most of my other dogs I wouldn’t be too concerned but Lizzy is a different story. Just 5 months prior she had been through emergency surgery for a small intestine resection after swallowing a rock. Two months later she was back in the hospital and placed on IV therapy for a stomach illness. Both incidents also created a loss of training time. As a precaution, a suggestion received pre race via e-mail by Vern Starks, we started Lizzy on a week of Pepsid prior to the race to prevent any stomach issues if she ended up running. Randy took Lizzy’s vitals and said they were fine. She also acted normal. He gave me anti-diarrhea medications to start her on and a few more for the trail if she goes.

Then Terry came by and explained to me that The Oregonian newspaper is doing an article on the Russians that were there observing the race. Terry has been traveling back and forth to Russia to work with them on racing and is responsible for bringing them over to see this race; there was a write up on it in Mushing Magazine last year. Terry said the Oregonian wanted to take pictures and he felt what better dogs to use than my Siberian’s. I had the only Siberian team there. So I agreed and they spoke with me as well. The article later appeared with a picture of the Russians giving some pets to my dogs Spirit and Lizzy, and a quote from me. Little did I know that these tiny few minutes spent with them would catapult into so many more things down the road, but that’s another story.

Then it was time to harness the dogs and hook them to the gangline so I needed to make a final decision on the team roster. I went over and talked with Lizzy. I asked her how she was feeling and she appeared very excited. I asked her if she was sure she could do this. She pulled her ears back, gave me a grin, danced on her drop chain, and then gave me her famous ‘woo-woo’. I decided to take her. I went over to the other side of the truck where Rosie was hooked up and practically cried on her shoulder as I gave her a hug. She poured her heart out for me during training and we were best friends but she would not be able to race this year. I only had one other race planned and it was for even a smaller team so Rosie wouldn’t be on it. It was hard to leave her behind. My team consisted of Kwyta, Looker, Joy, Drew, Faith, Lizzy, Tundra, and Bounder.

When it was time to leave the parking lot, I was more than happy to go. They used 4 wheelers attached to our sleds to control our teams to the starting line. I was assigned 3 helpers plus Alan to also help control the team. After a normal race procession we finally reached the point where only one team was left in front of us. The helper I had holding my wheel dogs Tundra and Bounder suddenly decided to leave without a word just as it was time for me to pull forward but now my two anxious boys were tangled and no one could understand why I wasn’t moving or that my helper had left. The dogs were loud and the announcer on the loud speaker was booming. No one could hear what I was saying. But Terry was there and probably from years of reading lips from far away because of screaming dogs, he figured out what I was saying and he personally corrected my dogs. We then approached the starting line with under a minute to spare and then we were off, running past a line of cheering people.

Unfortunately our first battle was right from the start. It was a gentle incline getting up to the trees where we made a haw turn. Then we had to make a steep ascent up the downhill ski run and it was bright and warm that day. This was madness. By the time I got to this point it was difficult to know where to go as all the previous mushers knocked down the little flags. I ended up tangling with others teams several times, wallowing in hip deep snow to break up a 16 dog tangle, and getting caught on the wrong side of the plastic fencing higher up on the ski hill. This meant I had to turn the team around, go part way back down the steep hill, and redirect the dogs to the other side of the fence. It was hot, I was stripped down to just a long sleeve shirt, I was getting a headache, I had been on the trail about 45 minutes already, and was still only about 500 yards from the truck with 100 miles still to go! When I turned the team around, which wasn’t easy to do, I considered just taking them back down to the truck and calling it. But instead I decided I would at least give this one try. I unhooked the wheel dog’s tugs first to reduce some of the fresh power the team had and with some patience, heavy breaking, shouting, and several redirects we finally got onto the trail on the correct side of the fence. Just then a race official appeared driving a cat, lending me some encouragement and telling me I was almost on the road system. That’s when the fun really started and I had 100 miles to think about having to go back down that ski hill at the end of the race. Just great!

The Canal Road: this is what the cat driver referred to as a road? My driveway is wider and a heck of a lot less dangerous. We were in the mountains but we weren’t going up and then down them. This section of road was perched up high, who knows how many thousands of feet up, and zigzagged around them like Mulhuland Drive. I was on a narrow passage, with old slippery snow, very thin and down to dirt in a few spots, driving a sled with 8 anxious dogs, for the ext 9 miles! I didn’t just stand on the runners and hold on. This wasn’t a quick fun run on the local 4-dog loop. This was work: leaning, steering, breaking and shifting all to keep the sled on the trail and I almost didn’t once. It was intense and tiring and I now have sled driving skills I have never had before. I was thankful when night came and I could no longer see what we could fall off of. Funny that this road appeared much wider to me at the end of the race.

I stuck to our exact training routine hoping this would keep the dogs going since it was something they trusted, and would give us an advantage as we traveled into the unknown. So every hour I offered them water. My magic sprinkles on top assured me they would drink at every stop so they stayed well hydrated. I felt this was key. Every other stop I also gave them a snack and checked their feet. On the first snack break I realized I never packed their frozen meat snacks. They were still in the freezer and Alan spent so much time making them. I knew I packed them in the drop bag but we wouldn’t be able to use them until the return trip after the check point. I had a few commercial dog treats but these wouldn’t give them energy. We were required to carry a pound of food per dog and I wasn’t planning on using any of it since I wouldn’t feed them until we got to the checkpoint where I had more food waiting. So I broke into the food and gave them a ½ cup every two hours. I felt bad and thought how boring for them but they eagerly devoured every offering and we kept moving.

Over the first 50 miles, we were so far behind the rest of the pack due to our problems on the ski hill that I saw no one in front of me but knew the one team we tangled with was still behind me. I really hoped not to see her again but soon she caught up, attempted to pass us and tangled again. We would continue to run into this team and with each passing her young dogs, though a bit older than mine, would tangle with my dogs. This was becoming frustrating and time consuming. I started to hold my team back just to avoid another tangle. Although unfair to my dogs, it was a better option.

At about 20 miles I lost my trekking pole. I was disappointed that I would not be able to help out the team as well without it. I would have to kick for 80 miles. Very tiring.

When we passed the 40 mile mark I knew we were entering new territory. I was not able to train the dogs beyond this point with so many obstacles that got in our way during the fall. In fact I wasn’t sure if we should have even attempted the race but I felt they would probably at least get to the Ollokot checkpoint at the halfway point 50 miles in. We took one last snack break before attempting these last 10 miles. We were actually ahead of the other team but our break was long and she caught up and passed us staying just ahead.

After a few miles I saw bright lights heading towards us and was confused as to what I was seeing. Alone, a little panic creeps in, “Am I heading the right way?” I realized it was a huge groomer. We passed him and the dogs were happy to be on a wonderfully hard packed fast trail. This was not discussed at the mushers meeting and again panic crept in “Is this right?”

A few miles later signs from the race appeared, telling us to turn right. This was the first time I received resistance from my leaders on commands. They didn’t want to leave the beautifully groomed trail and probably thought I was insane for asking them to turn. I had to get off the sled and redirect them and with a little self doubt double checked the signs making sure that the dogs weren’t right and that we truly were suppose to turn. Dog tracks went to the right so that was a good sign. We weren’t on this for too long though when we finally approached Ollokot checkpoint. We did it! It was around 11:30PM. Waiting at the entrance of the campground was Randy, Terry, and plenty of others. Randy said the dogs looked good coming in; in fact I received this comment from many others later. We had to wait for the other Musher to finish her gear check who was ahead of me about 50 feet so Terry stood on the break and told me to go and congratulate my dogs while we were waiting. I was so pleased with them.

Next it was our turn to check in. Randy tried to explain the process to me but it was dark, I was still focused on the dogs and a bit tired. And since this was all new for me I wasn’t catching all that he was saying. After he finished his long explanation I asked “What do I do next?” He laughed and told me to pull forward to the checker, since the other musher was gone now. There I would get my gear checked and she would explain the next part. 

The checkpoint was awesome and truly the highlight of this race. It was everything I could have imagined or hoped it to be. How awesome, after hours in the wilderness, mostly alone, to come upon this little compound of people waiting for you. And because of its remoteness the only people there were race officials and volunteers. It was well organized and very accommodating and my leaders ran that checkpoint as if they do that every day, which really surprised me. How they seemed to know what they were doing, I don’t know but they sure looked great. Perhaps the straw bale was calling their names because after the gear check they drove me to the flashing light to pick up my drop bag, then they perfectly parked in our spot which took several turn commands from me, where our straw bale was waiting for us. I hooked down the dogs and spread out the straw and they dove right in. Lizzy was the most delighted about this and made a bed and was resting comfortably, if not asleep, in seconds.

Then I started the cooker for their meal. There was a stream available to get water from but because of Lizzy and her stomach issues I decided to melt snow instead. This would take longer so prior to the race another musher suggested that I take an extra gallon of water to get the water going faster. So that’s what I did but it meant carrying an extra 10 pounds.  While my cooker was going both Vern and Randy came over to check the dogs. Randy asked me about Lizzy and I informed him that her diarrhea went away as soon as we started the trail. She did not need any more medications. Vern found that Drew had a sore wrist. She was in lead the last ten miles or so and I had not noticed anything different about her gait. I massaged and then wrapped her wrist. Then I checked everyone’s feet and applied ointment as needed. When I finally had some hot water I fed them a larger than normal meal and they all ate well and then bedded back down for some much deserved sleep. Kwyta, always my curious girl, sat and played watch dog for a while longer before finally bedding down.

Ollokot is a summer campground complete with pit toilets, bonus! Hoping the dogs would stay quiet while I left I headed back to the front of the campground to use the facilities and then into the hospitality tent. They had 3 canvas tents set up, 2 for mushers to sleep in and one had several crockpots going with hot food. A huge bonfire was roaring in front of the tents for those waiting around for mushers coming and going. I headed for the food and was hit in the face with unexpected heat as they had a wood burning stove set up in the tent. After a plate of hamburger stroganoff I headed back to my team to sleep with the dogs.

I set up my sleeping pad and bag next to Looker who was being a bit mouthy. We were the last team in, there for just a 6 hour layover; so many of the teams were leaving already. Every time one pulled out you could hear how excited they were to go and Looker or sometimes Bounder was sure to give them a verbal send off. I had to keep shushing her. Allowing myself an hour and 40 minutes to prepare for our departure, including time to boil more water, I set my alarm only giving myself 90 minutes to sleep.

When my alarm went off I kept quiet so the dogs would continue to sleep while I repacked, heated water and prepared their energy drink. This time I had no extra water to start with so I had to melt a lot of snow which took longer than I expected so we ran over our time. When we were just about ready to go I had Randy check Drew again and we found that her wrist was worse, she couldn’t put weight on it so I had to drop her which meant I had to go through this process before we could leave and I had trouble finding the drop chain I brought just in case. We were finally ready to go after a 7½ hour rest, and now for the true test. I asked the dogs to get ready and they all stood up and when I told them to go they pulled strongly and eagerly across the campground. Good start. We stopped to drop our drop bag back off, then again at the hospitality tent for another gear check before exiting the checkpoint.

As we pulled out of the campground I looked over my now 7 dog team. 6 yearlings, all littermates, and their Uncle Tundra, all 7 dogs born into my hands. I hoped we could do the next 50 miles. The first 15 was a long sustained unrelenting incline. As we neared the end we passed the team we had been trading back and forth with the day prior. They were on a break. Sticking to my schedule we went another mile or two further before stopping for our break.

Her team caught up but this time she decided to hold them back as she realized the troubles her team was having. She had also dropped a dog at the checkpoint and now one was already in the sled and the rest appeared tired or scared. My team on the other hand was very active and mouthy towards them. We exchanged a few words. She complimented my dogs and asked about my sled. I then explained my schedule and told her when I would be stopping next in case she wanted to join us again. Then we left but we would never see them again.

At about the 20 mile mark we came upon the other puppy team resting on the trail. That surprised me as we hadn’t seen them at all the day before except at the ski hill and the checkpoint. He had older experienced leaders but his youngsters all needed a long rest. We exchanged a few words as we passed. He said he saw a snowmobiler who told him he was going the wrong away. I disagreed and felt fairly confident that we had both chosen the correct paths. We continued on our way and would not see them again for the remainder of the race. We traveled the last 30 miles alone.

Just prior to arriving at the Salt Creek checkpoint, 9 miles before the finish, we ran into a very windy section of trail. It drifted the snow across the trail and my young leaders were having a hard time figuring out where to go. They kept going off into the deep snow that had ice crusted over the top. I kept dragging them back until I decided to switch leaders. In a half hour I switched leaders about 4 times and we only moved about 200 yards. They were getting frustrated then 2 of them got into a fight leaving little wounds on their noses that I couldn’t deal with right then. We needed to get out of the wind and onto some decent trail. Finally I found the leader combination to get us to the checkpoint where I gave them a snack, checked their feet and switched them around. People at the checkpoint stood around and stared as I completed our routine.

We departed for our last crazy 9 miles back on the Canal Road. I was hoping to finish before nightfall. That wasn’t going to happen. Just after leaving the checkpoint an arrow directed us into a right turn which we took. Later I learned another arrow was supposed to immediately direct us to the left. That arrow was blown away so we continued down the road to the right. Heading downhill soon the snow gave way to ice. I thought maybe that the wind was blowing so hard that it just blew the snow off the surface. Then a pick up truck approached and I thought ‘well this doesn’t seem right’. I figured he must be part of the race but when I stopped the driver and asked if we were going the right way he didn’t know what I was referring to. When I explained the race he said that some people were further down at an intersection. I hoped that was good and continued on. Soon I ran out of ice and we were on asphalt. I knew this was wrong and wished the truck driver would have mentioned the lack of snow since I was driving a sled.

Now I had to turn the team around and head back up the icy hill. The dogs were already tired and cranky and this was the last thing that I wanted to do to them and our little detour added about 2 miles round trip to their race. After getting them turned, luckily they were tired so I was able to do this; another truck was heading down to us. This time they were from the race and told us they saw us head the wrong way. They escorted us back up the hill, it took a while to find the right trail but we finally got onto it but by then it was dark. Now 9 miles of the twisting turning road but it seemed different, wider and not as threatening, the dogs seemed to pick up speed even going uphill. The people in the truck knew I was frustrated and tried to encourage me saying that everyone else did the last part in an hour. I explained those were stronger teams and that it will probably take us twice as long. But now that we were flying down this trail I was starting to think that we would get there faster than what I thought but was nervous about having to do the ski hill, especially at night.

We passed danger signs and I became very alert. I didn’t recall seeing those on the way out and couldn’t figure out what they would be referring to. The dogs popped out on top of a hill and when I got there I realized it wasn’t any hill, it was the ski hill, so we were almost done! I only got to see the lights below for just a second when I noticed the trail turned into what seemed like a pretty vertical, possibly 25 foot shoot that curved to the right. It looked like a luge run and the dogs were taking it! Suddenly I knew what the danger signs were for and with one foot on the break and the other on the drag mat; I yelled “EASY” over and over again until we were down it. We didn’t tip! I sure don’t remember it being that steep when we went up that.

Now we were on the top of the ski runs and still had to get down. My main leader Kwyta wanted to follow the fall line, we were supposed to follow the tree line in an arc. The guy in the cat showed up again and parked near the trail hoping the dogs would go in that direction, Kwyta wouldn’t. My other leader, Looker, kept looking at me though. I had a feeling she knew what I wanted but it was out of her paws. I have run her in single lead before for the very same reason and luckily I had an open spot on the line. So I moved the troublemaker back and asked Looker to go “straight ahead” and that’s what she did exactly until she picked up the trail and turned haw onto it. What a girl! We performed the arc; well most of it, and now it was time to go screaming down the rest of the hill. I did it the same way as the shoot, one foot on the break, the other on the drag mat and screaming “EASY”. At the bottom the run ‘Y’s’, Looker chose the left but I wasn’t sure about that. The guy in the cat came up and said either way is fine but the way she is going is probably better. “OK Looker lets go”. She got us down on to the flats and out of the trees. Now we could see the finish line and the few people still there waiting. Looker could too and started veering away from them. I tried several times to verbally redirect her but she wasn’t listening this time. 100 feet from the finish line I had to hook down and redirect her. I whispered to her to head for the noise then got back on my sled. We took off, this time heading for the finish line but Looker stopped just 1 foot in front of it. Terry was there and yells to me that we need to cross it. This I know but I think Looker was a little freaked out. She finally stepped across and Alan grabbed her leading the rest of the team across. My clock stops. Just like at Ollokot Terry allowed me to talk to the dogs first then I had to come back to the sled for one final gear check and the race was over for us. It was around 6:30pm.

Once we got the dogs hooked up to the truck and fed, I told Alan I need 3 things: to pee, to eat and to sleep. I hadn’t done either in 11 hours or more! The dogs received some well deserved praise. I was especially proud of Liz. She completed the 100 miles without one single issue. She was the underdog of the team but she did awesome. I was glad I gave her the opportunity to prove herself. Alan reported that Drew was completely fine. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, she never limped. I had a long talk with her after I heard that. We loaded the dogs into their boxes. I unpacked the sled and we loaded all the gear into the truck and put the sled back on top. First I used the outhouse then we drove into town where I picked up a frozen pizza from the grocery store. Then back to the cabin for some food, drink and rest.

The whole time right after the race I believe I was in shock. People felt I must have had the time of my life on the trail and asked if I would be back next year and were surprised by my zombie like answer of ‘no, not really’. I woke up the next day only feeling marginally better. Sleep was great but I was still in shock. The trail was difficult. Every one warned me about the hills but that was fine for us. It was all the unexpected and new experiences all rolled into a day excursion but mostly I hated the Furgison ski hill in both directions. I knew I never wanted to do that again. The constant tangles didn’t help. The wind was fine but we weren’t expecting it to drift the snow and cause us problems and then there was getting lost. I think I felt fortunate that we made it back in fair condition, now just move on, no need to push our luck.

Alan and I went out for brunch that next day. While sitting in our booth Billy Snodgrass showed up and sat nearby. We didn’t know each other but Billy had just completed the 200 mile race and seemed fresh and happy as if he hadn’t even been out there. I felt worse knowing he was back so soon and looking so good when he went twice the distance as us and I could barely function. At least it was good to know that he pulled in 10 hours ahead of his nearest competitor. He definitely had an Iditarod ready team.

The banquet was that evening.  All of us mushers signed several things that would go out to fans. This was a big event. Sponsors, fans and everyone involved with the race was there. The theme of the banquet was ‘The Spirit of the Sled Dog’ and they had a Native American playing native flute as background music. Several flutes would be given out later to the top mushers. All of our bios with pictures were on the walls. Our race results were also posted along with previous races. What a thrill it was for me to see my results and then see Liz Parrish or John Barron’s names on previous races and know I just ran the same trails. Mushers were treated like celebrities and I was confused. Other mushers approached me and complimented me on our finish and felt we were a bit crazy for taking on this race considering our only other race experience was an 8 dog, 8 mile sprint race. Going into this that didn’t mean anything to me but after the race I was starting to see the reality of what they were saying. I was not interested in the non-continuous 20-30 mile sprint style races but I could see now that the experience probably would have been helpful.

They sat us at certain tables, with our sponsors not with other mushers, so we could tell our tales during dinner and I had tales to tell! Afterwards was the awards ceremony. Alan went out to the truck to check on the dogs just prior so he missed me getting mine. We placed 6th out of 9 mushers. One musher had to scratch at the halfway point due to an injury along the trail. The musher I kept tangling with scratched at Salt Creek, 9 miles from the finish. I heard her team had deteriorated even further with several more dogs in the sled and that she was on the verge of hypothermia due to using her outerwear and clothes to wrap her dogs in. I felt bad for her dogs but it made me feel better as a dog driver. That I kept my team together, improvised successfully, kept them fairly happy and in good health. We finished – what a huge accomplishment but it took me a few more days to realize this. One musher finished behind me, the second one I passed on the trail. I just edged him out of the higher paying spot which was another surprise.

When Terry called me up for my award and check, he first talked about my dogs, who they were to him and how great it was for him to see them here doing this race. It was very touching. Alan and I were able to speak with Terry that evening. He shared stories about his Iditarod days and training. He told me the one thing to keep in mind about the Siberian’s is they will always hold back at least 10%. So when I don’t think they can give any more, think again. I was just starting to understand that. In fact I would bet they were holding 20-25% back on this race.

When we got home I left everything packed in their little bags and put them in a pile on the living room floor. There they would wait until the next race, the Cascade Quest, which we would be leaving for about 10 days later. This would make packing for that race a little easier. The day before we left for that race the phone rang. It was a freelance writer for the Oregonian who saw the article about the Russians and wanted to do a story on me. This was an unexpected surprise and part of a different chapter. We scheduled to meet after we returned from the race.

The effects of the Eagle Cap Extreme sled dog race has been staggering to me. It has continued to change my life daily in so many ways. I was able to finally get my wits about me a few days after returning home. It took only a few weeks more before the bad stuff starting falling out of my memory and the need for improvement took its place. I have decided to run the Eagle Cap Extreme in 2011. Looking back, I am amazed at what we accomplished. I am so proud of the dogs and pleased that the training program we came up with worked out. I can see where we can make some improvements however and also a few changes I would like to try. Now with an experienced and more mature team I can’t wait to see what we can do next year.

Click here to view pictures from this race.


  

The Day Of 10 Mistakes

I wrote the following story in March, 2009:


It was another training day, but one that will never be forgotten. 26 dogs, most of who are related to each other, and 4 musher’s, got together for an innocent little training run. It is amazing what can happen in 6 short miles and fortunately we all made it back safe and sound. Any training day is a good day just because I love it so but I’ll admit that this day was really pushing the limit.

The trail conditions at Frog Lake were poor, especially the first mile. By this time in the season, the trails were no longer being groomed. What was left was chewed up snow with ruts and bumps. The dogs didn’t care about this however.

The goal for this training wasn’t about putting on miles, but to practice passing and getting the dogs use to traveling close with other teams. We split the dogs up into 2 teams of 7 and two teams of 6. Karen Yeargain was the cruise director on this outing; and Alan, Shay Miller and I were the chosen ones for this adventure.

Mistake # 1: Alan asks to borrow one of the many sprint sleds that Karen brought with her and she agrees. Alan normally drives his big, old barge-like toboggan sled. Heavy, low to the ground and no flexibility are some of its qualities. Boarding the runners of Karen’s sled, his hips went in one direction and the handle bar went in the other. He thought the sled was broken.

Mistake # 2: Alan usually drives our 7 semi-retired recreational dogs who are never in a hurry to do anything. On this training he had the following 6 dogs: in lead was Fisbo, one of Karen’s top leaders. He’s huge, super strong and powerful. Fisbo’s partner was our female Drew, who we actually got from Karen in the fall. She’s not even half the size of Fisbo but she is all business. She loves to pull hard. In wheel was one of our crazy one-year old pups, Bounder. We usually hook him up last because of how hard he bangs in his harness while waiting to go, during which he is screaming his head off and flipping over and under his poor partner. His partner for this run was his father Ernie. Ernie is Karen’s dog (now Jill Wilson’s) and now we know where Bounder gets his behavior from because Ernie acts the same way. We thought those two were going to kill each other while waiting to go. I felt sorry for the tree that the sled was hooked to. In swing was another of our pups Faith. She is solid. You usually forget about her because she goes about her business quietly and never causes a problem on the line. She is a great asset to the team. Next to her was her Aunt Rosie. A heftier four year old from our first litter and one of my original leaders, I expected the pups to outrun her this year. Instead, Rosie showed that if she is on a team that wants to hit it hard, as long as she doesn’t have to lead, then she is up to the physical challenge. She both surprised me and made me proud. That was Alan’s crazy strong team hooked up to a “broken sled”.

We hooked up the 26 dogs to the four sleds then we all boarded our runners. The sound of all the dogs was deafening, we couldn’t even talk to each other. The ganglines were all being tested as they were being stretched and snapped by the anxious dogs and this was only suppose to be a slow and controlled run but the dogs didn’t know that.

Shay left first, smoothly maneuvering her team ahead. Then next to leave was Alan.

Mistake # 3: See mistake #’s 1 & 2. Alan went down immediately but managed to grab his snub line which he was able to wrap his foot around while the circulation in his hand was being cut off from the wrap he had on it. I watched his team pull him up to the top of the hill, while lying on his back, feet first with the one foot still wrapped around the rope and his hands still hanging on. He looked like a water skier trying to stand up but not making it. I wanted to yell, “Keep your tips up!” Oh, wrong sport. I watched as Karen then took off up the hill after him.

I could just barely make out what was happening and decided not to get my dogs mixed up in the chaos just yet. Luckily Alan was able to keep his team down to a slow dragging pace so that Karen was able to catch up and help out. They got his team hooked down so that he could unwind the rope from his body.

Mistake # 4: wrong snow hook! When they were ready to go again Alan couldn’t reach his snow hook. The snow hook he was using belongs to Karen’s toboggan sled so the line was too long and the hook was sunk too far behind him. So Karen had to help out by pulling the hook for him.

Mistake # 5: But then Karen’s team took off and down she went. Her moments gliding along the snow were short though as she quickly got herself back on the runners and I watched her and Alan disappear the rest of the way over the hill. I decided it was safe to take off now.

Mistake # 6: I pulled my snub, it unwound several inches, the sled moved forward and then we quickly stopped. The snub, wrapped around the bar on the Frog Lake sign, wedged itself tight up against the board and could not continue to unwind. I was too far away from it to reach it and my dogs were so excited I didn’t think I could get snow hooks in strong enough that would hold them while I went back to undo the rope, if I could even get it undone as it had so much tension on it.

The dogs were rocking on the line and I realized that this was actually helping the snub loosen so I helped them and suddenly we sprang forward. That’s when I realized how awful the trail was. I expected to go down any second as I don’t think I ever had both runners on the ground at the same time for the first 100 feet!

Finally catching my balance I caught up to the rest of the teams and finally the real training began. We passed each other back and forth, weaving in and out of positions. Sometimes we would run our dogs side by side keeping it all at a medium pace. Karen’s dogs are use to this kind of training but I am sure my dogs were confused. I know they just wanted to run like we had been doing all winter but I think they were amused enough to play along and actually did quite well. Until we reached the right-hand turn that leads to the quarry.

Mistake # 7: I was the last one in line for this turn so I knew exactly what to expect and braced myself for the ditch and the fall that was about to come. As predicted that is exactly what happened but it was something I had been through plenty of times this year so at least I had practice. The bad part was that the ditch was deeper and so was the soft snow once we hit it. My dogs were eager to catch up with the other teams so they pulled me through that stuff but when they got to good footing on the other side and I was still fumbling in the soft snow, my feet couldn’t catch up and I got dragged going down the hill and hitting the left hand curve.

Normally I am standing on the break through here. Hanging onto the handle bar I was able to pull my knees up and almost had them on the runners when the sled shifted and I was back to being dragged. I made another attempt at pulling my knees up knowing my abs were going to be killing me the next day, when I got my left knee on the runner and my right knee landed on the break and we stopped! Now I can add a bruise on my right knee to the next day’s problem list.

I stood up but wasn’t in this position for too long before hitting more uneven snow and I was back to being dragged again so I repeated the above process. The knee on the break maneuver was working great but starting to become painful. By the time I caught back up to the group they were stopped, waiting for me I guess. I was glad to take a break because I was pooped. They had no idea what I had just endured however and waved me ahead. Reluctantly I moved forward to the front of the line and we all continued on. At one point Karen and I got further ahead of the others so we stopped and waited. Then we heard shouting.

Mistake # 8: We both looked just as we saw Alan grabbing a hold of Shay’s run-away team. We hooked down and ran back to help when Shay caught up on foot. Luckily this is the worse this incident became. Alan was definitely going to be sore the next day.

As Karen and I got back to our sleds she walked ahead to my leaders and removed their neckline and put it in her pocket. She never explained this to me at the time. I had one of her top leaders Twinka working with one of my puppy leader’s, Kwyta just like Alan had Fisbo training Drew. Later she explained that this was to create more independent thinking from the leaders. I don’t know…

We continued on with the passing drills and then on up the 6-dog loop. After we came out onto the main road and made our way back down a bit, Karen stopped to talk to me. Everyone else stopped too. Karen explained we will return down the quarry road this time taking the 4-dog loop with 2 teams ahead and 2 teams holding back a bit so we can practice head on passing. This is what my dogs really need work on so I was excited about the plan.

Karen pulled ahead to explain the plan to Shay who was parked a bit in front of me. That left Alan about 15 feet behind me asking what was going on. By then the anxious dogs were back to barking their heads off since we were stopped for more than 10 seconds. So I turned to shout the plan to Alan.

Mistake # 9: My right foot was on the break but when I turned to yell I was only holding on with one hand and my breaking foot must not have been holding as tight. The dogs took advantage and pulled the sled right out from under me and left me standing there. I thought for sure Karen was going to grab them on their way by just like Alan did earlier for Shay but instead, not realizing I wasn’t on the back, she kind of moved out of their way and in disbelief, I watched my team head on down the road alone. This has never happened to me before.

Shay took off after them and Karen had me jump on her runners with her and we all followed the red sled with no musher and 7 dogs having the time of their lives. When Karen’s team started to slow I stepped off and got on the back of Alan’s runners. Immediately he says “don’t shift your weight in any direction or we are gong to go down with this sled”. I didn’t even breathe.

We continued the chase until Karen had a minor problem with her team and had to stop for a moment and Alan stopped behind her. I later found out she had removed the neckline off his leaders as well and they were trying to each go on either side of her. All I could think about was my run-away team and why did Alan stop? Full of angst I jumped off the runners and began to run.

Mistake # 10: With the uneven snow and my big heavy boots, it only took about 20 steps before I realized “this was stupid”.

I got back onto Alan’s runners and we continued on until his team slowed and then I switched back to Karen’s sled. My team was far ahead by now just still barely catching sight of them on the straight stretches. Shay was in hot pursuit but her team was carrying her putting them at a disadvantage. Karen said “They will just head to the parking lot and go to the truck”. This really didn’t make me feel any better and I pointed out to her that one of each of our dogs is leading that team and asked “When deciding which truck to go to, who do you think will win?” Our trucks were not parked next to each other.

When we got to one of the large open fields we passed a group of four wheeler’s parked in the middle of the road whom we had to maneuver around. We asked if they saw my run away team and they said “Oh yes, they headed that way” and pointed on down the road. Gee, thanks! (This could probably be considered Mistake # 11).

Meanwhile, near the campground turn-off, the mother of the pups in my team, Spirit, decided she needed to take a break and roll in the snow. Since most of my team was made up of her kids they stopped and waited for her. She proceeded to get tangled. Not in any way that caused her injury but enough to keep the team from moving forward. This was the best mistake of the day because Shay caught up and hooked them down. Whew! We figure they ran about 2.5mi on their own and the sled never tipped.

With only a half mile back to the parking lot and well past the quarry turn-off, and after all that fretting we called it a day. Unfortunately we didn’t get to work on the head-on passing. Maybe next time, well…maybe not!

Thanks Karen for such a lovely training day! Actually there was a lot to be gained by both what was working and what didn’t work so well. Nobody got hurt or lost although Alan and I were pretty sore the next day. But we learned and experienced quite a bit in more ways than one.

As we were unclipping the dogs and walking them back to their trucks, Bounder and his just as crazy sister Looker started banging in their harnesses and screaming their heads off. They weren’t done yet. I have to admire their enthusiasm but “Sorry kids, we’re done for the day!” Somebody explain to me why I am so severely addicted to this sport!

Mid Distance Training: Our First Year

I wrote the following story in January, 2010:


I had been looking forward to this year for several years now. I finally had a large enough team with racing bloodlines; I couldn’t wait to get started on our first mid distance year. But this wasn’t for recreational sledding; we were going to attempt racing. With my backpacking and mountaineering background, the type of races I was interested in was continuous racing.

I was looking forward to packing the sled, camping with the dogs, and preparing meals in the snow. I figured the races might actually be the easy and fun part; it would be getting there that would be difficult. Well that was putting it mildly.

I thought I had it planned out so well. I wrote up our fall training schedule at the beginning of summer. Throughout the summer I researched and purchased items I knew I would need and wouldn’t want to be dealing with during the intense fall training. I researched the races I wanted to do, their rules, the requirements, and wrote to the races and just about everyone else with questions, asking advice and so on. I wanted to be as prepared as possible.

First, a number of unforeseen things happened that has nothing to do with mid distance training. It just served to make what we were trying to do that much more difficult. By the end of October we had all we could take of vet visits (many were after hours), in office procedures, surgeries, overnight stays and IV therapy. We no longer had a savings account. I just basically signed my paycheck over to the credit card company every month. Add to this a spouse/handler who is out of work due to a work related injury that had become a case to be handled by a lawyer. These weren't the new experiences we were looking for.

In fact, so many things had happened to us, it started to become laughable. There was no sense in stressing over any of it, what good would that do? And although training was starting to look bleak we decided it would be best to try to push on, play it day by day and hope it all works out in the end. So that’s what we did.

BOOTIES, BOOTIES, BOOTIES. That became the theme for fall training. In the past, running Siberians on distances of 15 miles or less, I rarely had to use booties. If I did, it would be just a single booty on a single dog because of a grounded down toenail. Something very minor that would be corrected by that same evening. What happened this fall was unexpected.

It didn’t occur to me that I would be putting in the amount of mileage that I had on gravel and how much this would affect their feet. Suddenly we were wrapped up in the booty game. I was buying up booties left and right. Finding booties on the trail was like finding gold. The dogs would wear out one side, and I would flip them over and they would wear out the other. I was stopping frequently on runs to check their feet. At home, a mound of used booties started to form in the yard which we referred to as the booty graveyard. One desperate night I sifted through all of them to see if I could at least come up with a couple of salvageable booties. I became the expert I never thought I would be at placing booties. What started off as a clumsy frustrating act soon became second nature, even applying them with gloves on.

We needed to get on snow, BAD, and get off the booty runs. The lack of snow also forced me to be creative on the road we were training on, running loops and circles and adding new sections of road, and then repeating, all to get the miles on the dogs, hoping they were willing to play along. Sometimes they weren’t, especially on a third pass.

Up until now one thing I always found frustrating was getting dogs to follow commands. I’ve been told repetition is the best thing but this never worked out for me much on a couple of 4 mile runs in a week. However, putting 100 miles on them in a week certainly did the trick. Over 800 miles of commands in 4 months and these dogs were starting to take commands as if they had been doing it for 10 years. They even took on a few complicated commands that I never pictured my dogs performing. I had no idea I could get my team to pull off to the side of the trail (road) and park as easily as you would a car. That turned out to be one of the benefits to mid distance training.

Dog food became another fall experiment. There never seemed to be enough of it. Again, I did expect the amount of food they would consume to go up but I would never have guessed the amount that it did. My big strong wheel dog who normally ate about 1.25 cups of food per day (remember, these are Sibes) got as high as 4.5 cups per day plus meat, energy drinks and snacks and sometimes you could still see his ribs! The world turned upside down for me. Seemed we were hitting the bottom of the barrel all the time.

I also needed to learn how to snack my dogs out on long runs. I decided to snack them every two hours just because this sounded reasonable. How other teams handle this, I have no idea. I also wanted their snacks to be useful and healthy. So we followed an old meat snack supplement recipe actually designed to put weight on underweight dogs. This seemed to be perfect. The dogs loved it and I could give them more or less as needed. The bad part was we had to hand mix, separate, and freeze this concoction. The at home handler situation worked out well for this as Alan was able to mix up new batches weekly.

New for us was training the dogs how to campout, race style. This means keeping them connected to the gangline, feeding them and then bedding them down on straw. On the first attempt most of the dogs didn’t understand why they were still hooked to the gangline nor what to do with the straw. I had to help them make little beds. This didn’t mean they would lie down. The experience was too new and exciting so they would sit and watch my every movement until their tired little heads would start to droop, and then they would catch themselves, lift their heads and continue the watching game again. When they finally settled in, and we went to sleep as well, Lizzy let us know her disapproval periodically with little barks, howls and whines. By the time we got to the second campout, with a lot more training miles and other new experiences behind them, they bedded right down after they ate and went to sleep. That’s growth and good to see.

Eventually the days became long leaving no time to do anything else. I was sure glad I handled as many details as I had during the summer and early fall because there was no time later to deal with them. When the snow finally came we were up and leaving the house at dark. Over an hour of driving to Frog, hydrate the dogs and set everything up, out 7 hours on a run, return and feed the dogs and put all the equipment back, leave at dusk and arrive home at dark, dead tired, where the remainder of our dogs would expect their share of attention. I had no problems falling asleep. Training like this while maintaining a full work schedule is intense. I don’t know how those training for long distance do it.

I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and being out with the dogs. Longer runs were always my preference with as many dogs as we could handle. I never understood the reasoning behind sprint mushing. But I understand it all too well now. Lower in cost in many ways, more manageable, easier to get training runs in with a good portion of your day left over. It is more sensible and reasonable. I have a lot more respect for this style of mushing but for me, for now, I’ll stick to what I am doing. Unfortunately for our bank account, the challenge just grabs me. Besides, we have some races coming up. The last few weeks leading into these races has been poor training conditions so we are not getting the amount of training I had planned. Even so, we are continuing along with our original thought: to play it out the best we can and see where it takes us. So, more later on how this all works out when our races are finished.

Hit And Run

 
I wrote the following story in March, 2009:
 

                My team parked at Frog.

 

There was no time to say “Whoa”. I bet Alan wished there was.

It was just another training day. After Frog 2, our dogs got a break the following weekend since Alan wasn’t feeling well. So by the time we hit the trail the next weekend the dogs were charged up.

I was having trouble with one of my young leaders with “On-by’s”, so on this day I gave her a break and put her sister in lead. I was not expecting the same problem from her. Alan, on the other hand, must not have been so sure.

We hooked up my 10 dog team, 6 of whom are over confident yearlings.  Alan held out my leaders while I made my way to the sled. I pulled the hook first then looked up at my team before pulling the snub. This is when I noticed Debbie and Tim pulling in cleanly from their runs, on the opposite side of the trail. After a quick assessment I felt this wasn’t going to be an issue. My team wanted to get down the trail. Alan must have felt differently.

After a quick meeting of our eyes I pulled the snub. Alan released my leaders and stepped … to the inside of the trail, with his back to me as he watched my dogs go past. He always steps to the outside. Later he claimed that he was putting himself between mine and Tim’s team just in case. We always take off from the left side of the trail as we did that day, and my dogs always veer diagonally to the right side of the trail, as they did that day, where Alan was standing.

He never heard me shout his name. He never heard Tim yelling to him to get out of the way either. BAM!, my team slammed into him. I think it was a neckline that caught him right at the calf. Like a cartoon his feet went straight up and he came down on his backside.

That’s when I realized the next awful thing. I was going to run him over. My right runner cruised right over his shoulder. Luckily I missed his head. He was hoping I wasn’t stepping on the break. Since he didn’t have any saber-toothed tiger looking wounds later, I must not have been.

Tim and Debbie ran to his rescue. “Tell her to keep going” Alan said to Tim. Tim looked down the trail and said “She’s gone”. I never even looked back. I was concentrating on my dogs. It didn’t even occur to me that he could be seriously hurt until about 3 miles down the trail. We both had a walkie-talkie on us. I never called and soon forgot about it.

14 miles later I pulled back into the parking lot. I received a hardy “Thanks” from Alan. A little confused at first then it all came back to me. Luckily he was fine. He suffered a bruise across his calf and a swollen triceps which he had to ice in the middle of the night that night.

They say musher’s are sometimes like bull riders, I don’t think this is what they meant.  I don’t see this ever happening to us again. Huge lesson learned here.

Thanks to Tim and Debbie for taking care of Alan. Sorry you had to be witness to such a bizarre scene, Alan’s probably more sorry than me. And sorry Alan for running you over that day but you kind of got in the way of our training, honey.

Look out everybody…coming through!

 

 

A Day Of Training

I wrote the following story in March, 2009:

 

I’m pretty sure that “Whoa-Damn it-Whoa” was the exact words I used. Multiple times. over and over and over.

So a quick back up to how I got into this predicament is simple really. It was getting out of it that was difficult. I was training for the Frog 2 race. It was early February and we had gone through a long dry spell with no new snow. But we had lots of sun. Sun that would slick up the trail during the day, then it would harden at night, and it did this for several days.

That’s when I hit the trail of course, behind 10 anxious dogs. I might as well have been on a frozen lake. I pulled the snub and they took off like a rocket from the parking lot and I found out immediately my break was useless.  Then we hit that first right hand curve, it’s just a curve. A curve with a bump in the middle. My right runner hit the bump and I had one long second to predict the future…

…I’m going for my first drag of the year. Down I went as the sled flipped on its side. Whoever said a sled on its side will slow a team down must have only intended these words for rookies to give them hope. My team was clueless to what was happening behind them. They must have thought I was screaming out of delight.

I held on as my body turned into a toboggan. The snow hook was bouncing along two inches in front of my nose. This had gone on for quite some time and I started to feel every muscle in my back and arms. I was  hoping I wouldn’t lose my grip and I started to wonder why I didn’t work harder on training them the “STOP” command and why do I have and 11 month old puppy leading this team, when finally the team slowed down to a stop.

Before I could act upon this pause in the action they started right back up again. The dragging and screaming continued too. The bouncing snow hook continued to threaten my face. My teasing team would slow down to pause for a moment only to take off again. This must have gone on for about a quarter of a mile and by then I was aching. Most of my dogs usually look like they are smiling but I am pretty sure by that time I could hear them laughing.

Then suddenly the sled came to a quick dead stop. I wondered what happened. It didn’t sound or feel like we had crashed into a tree. That’s when I noticed the snow hook, still in front of my face, had caught barely by 1 tooth. I glanced at my dogs and they were all glaring at me. Now it was my turn to laugh. I gingerly stood up and stomped the hell out of that hook. Then I placed my second hook as well.

Whew! I needed to catch my breath and shake the cramps out of my hands. When we finally got going again my feet and hands were glued to the sled and somehow, with a useless break and running at top speed, if not out of control speed, I stayed upright. Never mind the bark we stripped off that tree at the 8-dog turnaround.

Closing in on the end of this adventure I was sure glad to see the parking lot over the hill until I realized another mistake in our command training and again I wondered, why do I have an 11 month old puppy leading this team? Anyhow, I always use the command “lets go to the truck” at the end of a run to get the extra burst of speed “to the finish line”. I used that command that day more out of habit, besides by this time they had slowed a little and after all we were training for the race.

Well, my team took me literally. I could not slow them down for nothing. Up and over the berm they went and across the one inch of glare ice on the parking lot, right to the truck and I had no one to help me. Me and the sled had tipped again, and were barely clinging to the top of the berm which was kind of like a shoot. I couldn’t stand up nor place a hook. My dogs were already working on getting tangled and I have a few girls who can get a little snippy with each other. Sisters!

So I did the only thing I could think of so that I wouldn’t lose my team, a team that had exhausted me by that point. I loudly, if not a bit desperately, convinced a couple of snowmobile drivers to grab my dogs. A little confused at first but they did help me out. I don’t know how they didn’t understand that all my shouting was a sign of distress. Perhaps they didn’t want to embarrass me so they actually ignored me at first. I was sure grateful when they finally grabbed my dogs because another second longer and the end of this story would have been different, but it ended safely and I had all my little monsters hooked back up to their drop chains.

If you want a full body workout, this is a great routine. I was sore for three days after that.


 

My First Race

I wrote the following story in April, 2009:

 

 First place finishers Lizzy with her large running partner Comet and junior musher Krista Smith.

 

After five years of running dogs, I finally entered my first race this year. I was asked to write what the experience was like for me. I was up for this and as I began to write I realized it was more about all the time and training leading up to the race. The race was just the last day of a one year plan.

In March of 2008 we had a litter of puppies, also well planned far in advance. We jumped through many hoops to make this breeding happen. When 6 pups were born the wheels were already turning. I picked Frog Lake 2 as my target race, the only one I planned to run for the 2009 season. The pups would be just shy of a year old.

Mid distance is my true interest but I felt it would be unfair to ask 6 yearlings to participate in a mid distance race so soon, even the14 mile race at Frog. Not enough time to strengthen their young muscles and minds and hope that at least one of them could lead. I wanted to give them a positive experience and to give all of us, me included, that race experience. So I signed up for the 8 dog sprint. This also allowed me to race a little larger team which is what I will need to know how to do.

This gave them a shorter, more manageable running distance plus I could include two of my better adults to help them. But as this was a sprint race it also meant they would have to train to run very fast. I didn’t know if we could do that.

As fall training began we ran into our share of pitfalls. With everything we had to do to prepare and build and purchase with the arrival of these pups we started fall training a month late. Born were 5 girls and 1 boy. By 4 months of age some of the sisters weren’t getting along. One girl, Looker, hated having a collar or harness placed over her head. What a great sled dog she’ll turn out to be, huh? Another girl, Joy, hated to be hooked to the drop chain. She became scary when hooked up, not good. Another girl, Lizzy, barely grew a set of legs. Oh no, how could this be? These were all unexpected things that we had to deal with. Also with so many new dogs and new equipment, new dog box, new training methods, and new trails, the first couple of times out were completely disorganized.

We lost another 3 weeks of training in winter with all the crazy storms. Up until 2 weeks before the race, I still wasn’t sure if we were going to do it. I wished I had a little more time with them.

Eventually there were some shining moments and many of our issues resolved themselves. Four weeks into fall training one of the girls, Kwyta, convinced me she belongs up front. Wow, did she ever. A natural leader, somehow she knew all the commands. And, unlike my older leaders Spirit and Rosie, she could lead and run fast! Bonus!

The little girl with no legs, Lizzy, turned out to be an excellent runner with a fast trot. I really don’t know how she does it. The girl who didn’t like to have her collar and harness put on, Looker, turned out to be a strong natural puller. I think she hated to admit that she really loves the sport and knew what needed to be done to perform her job. So now she will tilt her nose up allowing you to slip her gear on. And you would never know that the one that didn’t like being hooked to a drop chain, Joy, ever had an issue.

The girls that didn’t always get along in the yard seemed to be ok on the gangline with the exception of one incident. But I was always cautious and alert. I didn’t want to put them in a situation where they could act out on their teenage emotions. And as I write this they are now getting along better in the yard too.

We also took on a new dog just prior to fall training, Drew, as if we didn’t have enough dogs! This was not part of the plan! Cousin to the puppies and a bit older it wasn’t long before she started to show that she wanted to be a leader as well. Now I had a strong leading pair. Ok, we’ll keep her.

And this fall we switched from cart to quad training. What a difference. I feel this catapulted our conditioning, speed and command training to a higher level. I also love the control it gives. Of course we had to get use to hauling a trailer around but it made for extra room to hook up the dogs. Eventually we got into a routine only to change it again when we switched to sled. Then we had to be creative when hooking up 17 dogs to just the truck while keeping dogs from fighting or breeding.

I was putting as many miles on the dogs as I could. Sometimes working their speed, sometimes working on a steady trot. We did this until 4 weeks before the race where by now we were on sled. Here we switched completely to speed training. I ran them 3 days a week on what I thought was the 8-dog course, so they would know it real well. I was running my 10 best dogs knowing I would have to eliminate 2 before the race.

7-10 days later I eliminated the pups mother, Spirit. Her heart just didn’t seem to be into it and she couldn’t keep up with her speedy kids. The remaining 9 were well matched. It was going to be a tough choice.

Two weeks before the race I switched to running only 8 dog teams. With fewer positions to work with I didn’t have as many buffers but this is how it would be at the race so it was time to get use to it. I would switch it up each time but had to be careful with which dog I could place with who, where they would be on the gangline and how did they work together and which one wouldn’t run on the team for that training run. Always looking for what would be the winning combination.

One week before the race I chose to eliminate Lizzy. Although she moved well, she also tangled the most. Everyone had their share of tangles; she just seemed to have more of them. I brought her and Spirit with us to the race though so they could at least experience the race atmosphere. After all, the main reason for us at the race was exposure. This is really just training for next year. I did however, wanted to make sure that this team belonged there. I didn’t care if we came in last but I did want us to have a competitive race time.

Previously I went on to the website and checked all the times from past races and decided on a time that I wanted to work towards for this team. I just wasn’t sure if I was being realistic or not. The weekend before the race we accomplished this goal and I was thrilled. I was happy to show ourselves at the race, nothing else mattered now.

Race day: very nervous. I know I had the deer in the headlights look all day. Our dogs were being exposed to something that probably seemed incredible to them. The parking lot was a sea of dog trucks with the commotion of dogs being pulled out of their boxes and dogs being placed back in. The air was filled with the noise of many anxious and excited dogs. Ours included.

Our dogs didn’t know what was going on as our normal routine of parking and immediately readying them for a run didn’t happen. When we finally were able to ready them for their race we joined the tail end of a wagon train of dog teams slowly making our way to the starting line, two minutes at a time. Being held down by helpers the dogs were definitely confused and working themselves into a frenzy. When we finally made it to the starting line we had to wait another 2 minutes of course. All of this was the training we were here for. Finally I was able to give them the commands they have become familiar with and we were off. As I was racing down the trail people were saying my name and wishing me luck. I didn’t know so many people knew me. I had no idea who they all were and generally acknowledged them far too late. I was too focused on the 8 butts in front of me.

I did experience tangles on both days of the race and had to stop and work these out. Not exactly desirable on a sprint race. That’s one reason why I am looking forward to mid distance.

After the turnaround in the 8-dog course the return route was different. I was unaware that this is how the run is performed. We had been practicing it incorrectly. This route is actually about a mile longer. As it turned out my team made their fastest time anyhow. Incredible! They did this both days. I didn’t care we were in last place. I was so happy with them. The youngsters did well and I was also pleased with the ones on the team from our first litter. Though they had no race experience either, their maturity and reliability showed through.

Another musher and the breeder we worked with, Karen, was also at the race and decided to utilize Lizzy on one of her junior teams. 2 dogs, 2 miles with a young girl who had never rode a sled before. I was a bit scared. Lizzy would have to run in lead, so to speak, which she hadn’t gotten the hang of yet. It didn’t matter, they won! I waited at the finish line with all the other mom’s for her to come in. Maybe I pulled the wrong dog off the team.

Back home in the dog yard afterwords she seemed to know she was first. I was also proud of how she handled herself at the race. At such a young age she was pulled away from her pack and hooked to an unfamiliar truck, whisked away by a stranger and hooked to a huge dog she might have seen once. He was her great uncle. I don’t know if she knew this but she did respect him and did as he directed her. Although all of these things may have been unfamiliar to her, when the countdown ended at the starting line she did what she had been training to do. She ran. What a girl!

With Saturday under my belt, I was a bit more relaxed on Sunday. All the hard work was coming to an end. On the other hand, this race is actually the beginning of the next chapter for my team. The wheels are always turning.

Everyone at the race was so helpful and encouraging. For this I am grateful because I was mostly stunned, especially on Saturday. 

This turned out to be a great experience. What a wonderful ending to a year of planning. Now we begin our mid distance training. The plans are even bigger.

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