Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mushing 20 - March 14, 09

The Chugiak Dog Mushers Association held there annual Mushing 36 race and this year added a Mushing 20 race. Around the third week of Feb, I started looking at the race calendar and thought about entering at least enter one team in the 20 mile race. Mary said she would like to try the 20 also. As long as my shoulder would holdout, we could give this a try.

In previous posts I was training 2 eight dog teams. Mary picked her team and I made one modification to help add a little more balance between the teams.

The race was scheduled to start at 6PM. This would allow for the temps to cool off.

Mary was still feeling sick from the day before. I left the decision to race upto her. When it came time to pack up and leave for the trails she said she wanted to give it a try.

This would be her first 20 mile race with a portion at night. She had done a 12mile race a couple of years ago, but the terrain was flat and all day light. The Chugiak trails have some hills to them and much better scenery.

My team consisted of Bear and Mae at lead, Amizette and Cyphers at swing, Alli and Tolby at team and Lasar and Hawkeye in wheel.

Mary's team consisted of Bogey and Luna at lead, Zia and Gabby at swing, Velma and Apollo at team and Thursby and Timber at wheel.

There were 6 mushers signed up for the 20. This consisted of 3 Siberian teams and 3 Alaskan teams. Two of the teams were juniors (under 18) running sprint teams and the third was a musher who has run some distance, but lately more of the sprint races. I drew bib #3 and Mary worked a deal to have bib #6. She likes to go last.

While getting the dogs ready before the drivers meeting I drank a great deal of water to help keep me hydrated. Little did I know this would come back to haunt me.

The way the 36 mile course was laid out, there would be potential for the 20 milers to do head-on passes with the 36 milers. It's a good thing we train for head-on passes at every opportunity.

The 36 milers left first and then the 20 milers. 2 miles into the race mybladder checked in. At about the 3 mile point, I caught and passed bib #2. About a mile or so later, bib #4 caught me and my team did a good job at staying with him, despite my best effort to slow them down. A couple of miles later bib #5 came up and I let him pass right after we got onto Clunie Lake. It was abeautiful sunset with the mountains and the moon coming up and I still have to pee. A little over half way Bib #2, who was pacing me after I passed him, decided he wanted to take a turn up front. I let him pass and rode my drag. It is easy to get lured into a false sense of speed when your team is chasing the team in front. When it's your turn up front your dogs settle into their pace. I figured I would ride the drag for awhile and let my team rest before passing. Just before getting off the lake, his team stopped. I thought he stopped to let me pass, but would find out later he stopped his team so one of his dogs could poop. Either way my leaders went by his team and we stayed in front for the restof the race. I never did see Mary enter the lake and this conerned me. Oh yeah, I still had to pee.

As we headed inbound, I saw a bald eagle fly across the trail and land in a swampy area. You could't see him unless you watched him land. When we went through the culverts I asked Greg Rhyne how Mary was doing and he said she is still racing and is fine. That's good news. I built up a little spacing between Bib #2 and myself, so I planted the hooks and went up to the front of the team and rubbed snow on them. As I finished with the wheel dogs and thinking about trying to pee, there was bib #2. I pulled the hooks and off we went. The little rest helped the dogs. After about a mile, we did our first head-on pass and it went smoothly.

We came out on the inlet and a great view of Denali (Mt. McKinley), Mt Foraker and Mt Hunter with a beautiful sunset to top it off. The moving water from the inlet didn't help my bladder situation. We did 2 more head-on passes before getting off the inlet. I wanted to build in a little more spacing so I can plan another quick rest with the dogs and try to relieve myself. About 15 miles into the race there is a spot with a hard left turn and a short climb. I had rested the team in past training runs and this would allow me to hear anyone making the turn and climbing the hill. I hadn't seen or heard bib #2 in awhile, so I amthinking this could work. I could cool down the dogs and releive my bladder. I get the hooks planted, rub snow on all the dogs and am almost at the point to take care of myself, when I heard a very loud Haw command followed by 2 more Haw commands. Oh well, zip up, jump on the runners and pull the hooks. If I could stay just enough in front of him where he can't see me, I could make this work.

After 2 miles, I am feeling good with the continued spacing that is being built in. As we descend a little hill and get ready to climb the next, standing broadside smack in the middle of the trail is one of those 4 letter words. That's right the moose magnet strikes again. This time it's a cow and of course she has a calf just off the trail about 10 feet. This being a race, I decided not to bring Uncle Ruger. With the trail support on snow machines and the rest of the mushers, am I really going to see a moose?

I get the team stopped and very quickly take inventory of what I have to fight off a moose stomping. Hmmm, one headlamp and a leatherman and quite possibly a pair of soiled pants if I pee myself. So I said to myself "self, what would MacGyver do in a situation like this". Well no duck tape or paper clip, so I start yelling and screaming and stomping toward the moose like a raging lunatic. I figured one of 2 things will happen. The moose will want nothing to do with this and exit stage right or charge me and stop me into the ground. Although the second option wasn't a good one, it would give me the opportunity to pee. The moose selected the first option and walked off the trail. Meanwhile bib #2 caught up to me. I told him about the 2 moose. When they were far enough offthe trail, I told him I would start up the hill and if it were safe, I would wave him up. This worked out as the moose kept walking away from the trail. After the team kicked into a higher gear we soon lost bib #2. We shot down onto Beach Lake and I kept peddling. As we exited Beach Lake, bib #2 entered. We went up Heartbreak hill and peddaled are asses off to the finish. I thanked my team, watered them, gave them a snack and made a dash for the outhouse. All is good in the world.

My time was 2 hours, 27 minutes and 36 seconds. Not bad for 3 weeks of training. I did some math in public when we got home and the time was good enough to meet SDO time criteria.

Mary came in about a half hour later. She told me she got sick and her lead dogs came back to the sled to clean her face. She also waited for 3 teams to do their head-on passes with her and then she took off. She said she saw 2 wolves in the treeline while she was on the inlet. Her time was 3 hours 10 minutes 30seconds. Not bad for her first 20 mile race with the last 5 miles done at night with only her headlamp while being sick. When I get her account of the race, I will post it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Training Report - March 13, 09

The day before the Mushing 20.

Mary took the day off of work so she could get a training run in with her team before the race on Saturday. Up to this point, I have been training both teams.

The club needed help marking the trail and getting ready for the race. Mary and I volunteered to help as this would give Mary a look at the trail system and the benefit to ask questions. Prior to this time, she had only been on the 6 mile part of the trail. There is a part of the trail system where you can get turned around and head toward Ft. Richardson if you aren't paying attention. This section of trail isn't marked.

Mary rode with Bill Waddell on his snow machine. Bill is very active in the club and has been one of the main trail groomers for a very long time. I think she learned more about the trail in the few hours she spent with Bill than I have over the last 5 years training there.

After we finished marking the trail with Bill, Jackie and Lexi; Mary and I went home, loaded up the dogs and equipment and went out for a short training run. Now that she saw the inlet and the back side of the trails from the snow machine, it was time to take the dogs out and experience those parts of the trail on the back of a sled.

Her team took off first and we were soon to follow. We ran out the four mile loop and then took a Gee out to the inlet, then back around Beach Lake over toward Dee Lake and then back to Beach Lake, up heartbreak hill and then back to the truck. The run was 11 miles.

Little did I know that she was sick and actually left part of her lunch on the trail.

Race results from the Mushing 20 and Purebred Classic to follow.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Training Report - March 5 & 6

I was off Wed and Thrus (Mar 4 & 5) and these were regularly planned training
runs. On Wed, I attended a going away lunch for one of the folks I work with. This was over at 1:30 and then I met Mary for one of her hospital appts. We also had handling class at 8PM. Not a lot of time to get a quality training run in, let alone 2 runs. What a shame to only get 1 training run in this week and let this beautiful snow go to waste. I decided I to take a day of leave on Friday.

On Thursday, I ran both teams 7 miles. This would give me enough time to get
both teams out, back to the house and fed, equipment put up, showered and then
off to the Iditarod Musher's Banquet. Mary and I are taking care of Blake Matray's (Bib #9) dropped dogs and in thanks he gave us 2 tickets at his table. Blake has re-built his kennel of Siberians since his scratch in 2003. This will be his last shot at seeing Nome with his dogs.

Thursday it snowed and snowed and snowed some more. Before I could run onFriday I had to go to my physcial therapy appt, then come home and shovel the snow out of the driveway as well as dig the dog truck out.

I managed to get the first team out and we had a very nice 14 mile run. Second team did good, but a little slower. Luna wasn't going very fast and the swing dogs kept catching up to her. She gave no indications of an injury. I decided to swap her with her sister, Zia. This worked out well. When I started the first run the temps were around 30 and dropped to 7F when I finished.

Mary was on her way home from work and stopped at the track to help me water and load dogs. This was a big help. My kindgom for a dedicated handler that can match my schedule.

Once we got back to the house, I off loaded the dogs and when it came time for Luna, we both noticed she was holding up her left rear leg and wouldn't put weight on it. She didn't do this during or after the run, or before she was loaded into the truck. Mary put Luna in the kitchen and put up a baby gate. After we got the rest of the crew put up, I checked out Luna's paw. Nothing appeared to be broken. Good range of motion. She would put weight on the bad paw when I checked the range of motion on the good paw. She didn't give an indication of being in pain. At this point we gave her an Arnica and put her into a crate and let her rest. After a couple of hours, she put a little weight on it. I will give her a week off and see how she does on Friday. If she is still sore, then we won't run her in the race on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Training Report - 1 March 09

On Saturday we received about a foot of fresh powder. Since the dogs aren't conditioned to break trail, we opted to stay in. This kept me from abusing my shoulder and gave Mary another day to get over her wicked cold. That's another story.

We loaded up 18 dogs and off to trails. For those with good memories, you will note previous training runs had 16 dogs. Today Terra, our old retired girl, and Boreas the puppy were going. We like to use Terra when we harness break the puppies. She knows her commands and is alot slower. It helps bring down the stress for the puppy.

Marti and Greg met us at the trail with Rufus and Cherona. I won't begin to claim that I know how to spell her name.

The trail has a 1/4 mile puppy loop which is great to harness break puppies and teach beginners without having to worry about turns and getting lost.

Mary had Luna and Terra in lead, then Boreas and Bogey at wheel.

Then it was Marti's turn. I beleive this was her first time on the runners by herself. She ran Terra and Bear at lead and Rufus and Zia at wheel. I had to tell Marti about Bear's bad habits and he was true to form.

Meanwhile Greg was taking pictures and helping out, but he had that "I want to play in your reindeer games look". Greg ran Terra and Luna at lead and Cherona and Timber at wheel.

All pups and Cherona looked good for their first time.

Now it was my turn. I ran the first team of 8 with Bear and Mae in lead, Amizette and Cyphers at swing, Tolby and Alli at team and Lasar and Hawkeye at wheel. We went 8.5 mile and it took us 55 minutes. Considering the soft trail conditions and the warmer temps, I was very proud of these guys.

The next team consisted of Luna and Zia in lead, Bogey and Gabby at swing, Velma and Apollo at team and Timber and Thursby at wheel. At the 2 mile part Luna took the Gee that I called, but Zia wanted to Haw. Luna managed to pull Zia with her to the right and after the turn, Zia dove in the snow. Since we can'thave that, I replaced Zia with Bogey. This worked out until about the 3 ad 1/2 mile part when Luna and Bogey were running slower than Gabby and Zia. At one point I had a 4 dog lead dog fan. Once again, this won't work. Since Luna hasb een running lead for most of the season, I decided to move her to swing and put Gabby up with Bogey. It's good to give the leaders a break. This combination worked well. We ran the same 8 and 1/2 mile course in about an hour and ten minutes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fresh Snow – Training Report 19 Feb 09

We woke to just above freezing temps and snow falling from the sky. I loaded up the 16 dogs, just like the day before and off to the trails. The plan was to do 8 miles with the same two 8 dog teams.

The first team had Luna and Gabby at lead, Bogey and Zia at swing, Velma and Apollo at team and Timber and Thursby at wheel. This was Gabby’s first time in lead from start to finish. The temps were warm and the snow was heavy and wet. I expected our run to be a little slower than normal. The first team broke trail for the entire run.

It was a little cooler for the second team. I had Mae and Bear at lead, Amizette and Cyphers at swing, Alli and Tolby at team and Lasar and Hawkeye at wheel. This team flew. We were about 15 minutes quicker than the first team.

The shoulder was a little soar when after I got home and everyone off-loaded. It’s doing a little better a few hours later.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Don't tell the Doctor or Physical Therpaist - 18 Feb 09

I got off work at 6:30 AM home at 7:15 AM and after a 5 hour nap, I loaded the truck, collared and watered the dogs. Loaded 16 dogs into the truck. The dog truck is configured for 20 dogs (5 boxes double stacked per side), with a possibility of 22.

Since I can’t lift anything over my head for fear of regressing my shoulder that cuts out the top boxes. Now I have to fit 16 dogs into 10 boxes. The first 2 boxes on both sides of the truck are doubles. I was able to load the 4 that normally go into those boxes and add a smaller female per box. Then the remaining 3 boxes on each side got a dog. Ok, that leaves 4 left. Those 4 rode in the cab of the truck. It’s a good thing it’s a crew cab and the trails are only 10 minutes from the house.

I was at the track at 3:15 PM and had the first team out a few minutes after 4 PM. I ran two teams of 8 dogs on the toboggan sled for 8 miles. The toboggan sled is older and a little heavier than my other sleds, which makes it a great training sled. The secret to steering the toboggan is to have some weight in the sled.

The first team I had Mae and Bear in lead, Amizette and Cyphers in swing, Alli and Tolby at Team 1 and Hawkeye and Lasar at wheel. I want to take advantage of the shorter runs to see what leader potential may have developed over the last few months.

Halfway through the run I moved Cyphers up and put Mae back at swing. Mae did great at lead. Cyphers was a little unsure at first as he remained a nose length behind Bear, but then he caught on and kept pace with Bear.

The second team consisted of Bogey and Luna at lead, Velma and Gabby at swing, Apollo and Zia at team 1 and Timber and Thursby at wheel.

I used the same approach and halfway through I moved Gabby at lead and Bogey to swing. I moved Zia up to swing and Velma back to team 1 with Apollo. Velma wasn’t focused at swing. Gabby did a great job. On tomorrow’s run, I am going to start Gabby at lead and see how that transpires.

Shoulder update: The shoulder is still a little soar. The physical therapist tech found a knot in the tendon during my deep tissue massage last Thursday. Monday morning (after a night shift), she went to work again. She couldn’t find the knot, but said the tendon felt “ropey”. The good news is she did find a knot.

Editor’s note: We won’t tell the doctor or physical therapist that I took the dogs out for a run. They might threaten to cut off my muscle relaxers.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Back on the Runners - 15 Feb 09

Mary and I were able to load up the pups and head down to thetrails. It was around 37 degrees when we arrived at 2PM and keptgetting warmer. Mary hasn't been on the runners in about 2 years, so we decided we would each take a small team 6 miles and then shewould take the third team of five out by herself.

Mary's first team consisted of Bogey and Zia in lead, Gabby in Swing and Alli and Tolby in wheel. After 3 miles she wanted to give Gabby some lead time, so she made the swap.

I had Bear and Mae in lead, Amizette and Cyphers at swing and Hawkeyeand Apollo in wheel. We caught Mary after 2 miles and stayed behind her for another 2 miles. We made several stops to let the dogs divein the snow and cool down. Bear was ready to do some passing andtook the team on the right side of Mary and on past. Not a bad run.

The last team consisted of Luna and Lasar in lead, Velma in swing and Timber and Thursby in wheel. They came in very strong. She said they flew even when she tried to stop and let them cool down, they just wanted to keep running.

The dogs had lost a great deal of conditioning, but were happy to getout and stretch their legs.

As for my shoulder, it is doing a little better. I didn't do a great deal of lifting, so there was little stress on it.

Training Report - 29 Jan 09

Wed night we received a couple of inches of snow. I was off onThursday, so we decided to get the team out for a short run. My shoulder was feeling pretty good with some minor pain. Mary's help was appreciated and without her, this run would not have happened.

We ran 2 teams of 8 with the 4 wheeler for a 9 mile run. This permitted me to get the 3, which recovered from previous injuries,back in the team.

We were the first ones at the trails so there wasn't an opportunityfor the snow to get packed down on the ice.

Everyone was excited to get back in harness and they performedadmirably. I kept them at a trot so they wouldn't risk a shoulderinjury by sliding on the snow that hadn't stuck to the ice.

I chose the 4 wheeler, since the 2 inches of snow wouldn't createenough base on top of the ice to hold a hook. This would give memore control over the dogs if I had to stop and not jeapordizehurting my shoulder anymore.

We did lose some conditioning, but not as much as I thought. Once weget back on sleds, I will be in a better position to assess theirconditioning and re-evaluate the rest of the race year.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Knik 200 - Return Trip

We move slowly down the Yentna and I put Lasar up front with Bear. I have used Lasar a few times in training up front. Although he doesn’t know his commands he runs forward. This gives Luna a break and keeps the team moving. Lasar keeps drifting off the hard pack trail away from the trail markers and Bear’s letting him go. We get back to the Susitna and in cell coverage around 2 AM. I call Mary and tell her about my decision and ask her to call the Knik Bar and inform the race rep that I am scratching. The team and I are ok and I will drive the team to Burma Rd. I ask Mary to pick us up.

We are still having issues with Bear and Lasar, so I put Luna up with Lasar and that seems to help. We make it off the Susitna River, through Dismal swamp and Flathorn Lake. I decide to snack the team on the far side of Flathorn Lake and that’s when Luna decided she wanted to rest more. I give them a little break and then I move Thursby up front and we were off. Now I have 2 wheel dogs leading the team. This worked for a little bit until Thursby was getting irritated when the swing dogs moved next to him. I try a few other dogs up front and they would either lead for a little bit or just not go at all.

I let the team rest and this gives me time to figure out what to do next. There is only one dog left that I haven’t tried up front and he is much like Bear when Bear was younger. Bear has the puppy version of ADD and only 2 brain cells. Bear doesn’t always bring both brain cells with him. He is afraid he is going to lose one of them. So, I am looking at Hawkeye and finally decide to give him a chance up front. He is the only one I haven’t tried, but he can be a knucklhead sometimes. He loves to run forward and at this point that’s all I need. Lasar is doing ok at taking commands and I can take the time to train them as long as we can keep moving. This combination is working and we are off. I know these two get along since they have been running wheel together for quite awhile. I am really surprised that Hawkeye is moving forward and not trying to stop and mark everything.

We get to the Nome Sign and I decide to stop and snack one last time. This is when everyone lays down to rest and they are out. Then my bulb in my headlamp blew and I replace it, then the batteries are weak and I replace them. I let the team rest for about half an hour and then roust them and off we go.

The last few miles weren’t too bad and the team did great. We made it to Burma Road and the truck was waiting for us. Mary moves the front end off the trail and we load dogs in the boxes and off to the house.

It took us 9 hours to get back to the truck. There were a lot of other issues we had to work through which contributed to the time it took to get back to the truck.

On the way home, I chatted with Mary for a little bit, but sleep deprivation took over and I slept all the way back to the house. It took a while for the buttons on my sweater to defrost enough so I could actually get undressed. The dogs went to their kennels and went to sleep.

I took a hot shower, poured a scotch, crawled under the covers, positioned a pillow under my very painful shoulder in hopes of keeping pressure off of it and fell asleep to a football game. Mary crawled into bed shortly after me. I forgot how little sleep she has had as she helped with drop bags, getting the team ready and then having to come pick us up.

Mary went to feed the dogs about 6 hours later and they are bouncing around as if they had been locked up all night. This was good to see and told me that it was the conditioning plan that needed adjustment, but then again I have known and stated this since late Sept/early Oct.

The dogs did great and I am very proud of them.

Let it be stated, that I didn't scratch because of the cold temps orbecause of my shoulder, but due to the lack of conditioning of myteam and that is my responsibility.

Knik 200 - Start

I completed my last night shift and was off work at 6:30 AM Monday morning (Dec 29) and back on the 12 hour day shift at 6 AM Wed and Thurs morning. This didn’t help my circadian rhythm at all. I didn’t sleep very well Thursday and Friday night, mostly pre-race jitters and worrying if I have all of my equipment and am I ready for this event. Since the entry fee was paid and non-refundable, we might as well go.

We went to the driver’s meeting on Friday night and I drew bib #9. This meant I had 31 mushers behind me, either professional or really experienced mushers.

Saturday morning rolls around and it was a very cold -12 when Mary was up at 5 AM to feed and water dogs. She let me sleep until 6 AM. I packed the last of the frozen snacks in the sled and we loaded it into the dog truck. We got the dogs loaded and off to the Knik Bar to get set-up. As I load Timber into his top box, I felt an excruciating pain and no strength in my left shoulder to push Timber into his box. Timber had to push off my shoulder to get into his box. It felt like someone jabbed a knife in the shoulder socket. I thought this wasn’t good, but then quickly forgot about this issue as I didn’t have to lift anything else over my head.

All went well finding our parking spot and getting set up. Mary helped get the dogs dropped and started preparing their water. Jill showed up and was a tremendous help throughout. Karl made it and was good at watching our dogs in close proximity to the dogs parked next to us. During the Fairbanks dog show we met Ken, who owns and runs a small team of Siberians. Ken recently moved from Fairbanks to Knik and showed up for the start. He also volunteered to help us out.

This was a great crew and took care of everything. This allowed me to focus on my sled and making sure I had everything. I didn’t worry about a thing.

The time came to harness and booty and get the dogs to the line. Jill held the leaders and Mary double checked harnesses and booties. The race marshal waved us to the line and all went well. I noticed there were people on both side of the chute and further down taking pictures and video. Since the team has never experienced this, it should prove interesting. I get the team to the line and hook down. I chat with the race marshal and then the timer calls 1 minute. I ask Ken to stand on the brake and don’t trust anything. I go up to the front and talk to my lead dogs, Bear and Luna, and make my way back petting each of the dogs. I get back to the sled and the timer calls 15 seconds. At 5 seconds the race marshal moves his foot from the hook and I pull it at 2 seconds and we are off. The first few steps were a bit odd as Bear and Luna noticed all of the spectators. They pulled the team together and we looked really good going out, especially in time for the photographs. I had both feet on the drag in hopes to keep them slow, but that didn’t work so well. Surprisingly I wasn’t nervous.

Knowing the team was under conditioned and we lost some training days between Christmas and the start, the plan was to run a very conservative and slow race to Luce’s where we would feed and camp for about 4 hours. Luce’s was about the halfway point between the start and Skwentna. Skwentna was the halfway point with a mandatory 6 hour rest. I would use the same strategy on the way home.

Going up 3 mile hill, I noticed a sled dog with booties and a harness following us. It looked like he may have chewed through his tug line and got loose from one of the earlier teams. I attempted to call Mary and had her relay to the race marshal the loose dog, but only heard voice mail and I left a message. I noticed another musher coming up from behind me and the loose dog was playing with his leaders. I planted my hook and let him pass and the loose dog went with him. He was not amused by this loose dog. I was glad it went with him as I won’t have to deal with this.

Going up 9 mile hill the loose dog is there to greet us. He is friendly with the dogs, but is moving between the leaders and the team dogs and this is throwing off their pace, not to mention really annoying me. Then he gets ahead of us and runs faster causing the team to go into chase mode expending valuable energy when I want them to go slow.

Just before the turn for the Burma Rd crossing the loose dog goes straight and Bear and Luna taking the Haw command and the loose dog saga is now behind us and somebody else’s problem.

At the 10 mile point, the trail guard has traffic stopped and waves us across. As we cross the road we are surprised to see Mary, Jill and Karl. The dogs did great not stopping to see their Mommy and kept going.

The next 6 or so miles were uneventful with teams passing us. This was predicted and the passes went great. Then one of my snow shoes fell off the sled. Now I take the time to tie the team off to a tree as I am not willing to trust both snow hooks, not to mention there is another team getting closer. The last thing I want is for a team to go by and then the dogs pop the hook and I am walking. We have lived this scenario before and it’s not good for anyone. While I am reclaiming my snowshoe, Bear and Luna turn the team to follow me. At least I don’t have to worry about them leaving me. I get them turned back around and get the couple of tangles undone and noticed the snap on Tolby’s tug line has broken. In my six years of mushing, I have never seen or heard of a brass snap breaking at the bend. No worries, I retrieve my sled repair kit and fix the brass snap. Then I noticed the s-hook that holds the brass snap from the cable neckline to the dogs collar is bent and now the brass snap is hanging from Tolby’s collar and the neckline is dangling near the ground. I pull out the spare brass snap and go to work on Tolby’s tugline. As Tolby is hanging out with me, almost getting in the way of my repair, I realize something is not right and he shouldn’t be this close to me. Then it hits me, there is nothing holding Tolby to the gangline. He just wandered over to me and hung out. I get him hooked up to the tug line and put a quick-link between the cable neckline and the brass snap, hook Tolby’s neckline to his collar, untangle the team, remove and stow the rope and we are off again.

I noticed the team starting to lose a little bit of steam and I predicted this. Instead of making it to Luce’s in 6 hours it looked like it might be 7 hours. No worries as I planned 7 hour runs between stops. As we drop onto Flathorn Lake, there is a nice view of Mt. Susitna. It takes a little longer than I expected to get off of Flathorn Lake and through Dismal Swamp. The swamp is about 3 miles long. Other than the close up view of Mt. Susitna and Denali (Mt. McKinley) in the background the swamp is not very exciting. The sun is pretty much down and there is still enough light to see without a headlamp. As I look at the clear sky I know it’s going to get colder really soon.

We drop onto the Susitna River and make the run toward the Yentna River and we are slowing down. I noticed I had cell coverage and call Mary to let her know we are moving really slow and I may not push the team to Skewntna, but not to worry. We make the turn onto the Yentna and start running to Luce’s. Luce’s is about 9 miles from us. I look at my watch and we have been running for about 7 hours. This isn’t good as we left the chute at 11:18 AM. At 7 PM, we still aren’t at Luce’s and I don’t have any idea how far up the river it is. I make the decision that we will stop and camp at 8 PM no matter what. If we haven’t reached Luce’s then the writing may very well be on the wall.

At 8 PM, we sill aren’t at Luce’s and the dogs have been running for about 8 hours and 40 minutes. I think I see a Neon light around the next bend, but told myself I was sticking firm to my decision and won’t play the “it’s just around the bend”game with my dogs. I want to get them fed and let them rest.

Before I can get their coats on them, all but Lasar has laid down and have settled in. I get the cooker going and start prepping food. Nine of the 12 dogs eat and are still hungry, so I give them so more food. I try to coax the other 3 into eating, but they just want to sleep.

I attempted to feed myself and get organized. I then decide to look at my thermometer and it registered in at -34 degrees Fahrenheit (yes that’s a minus). Still packed in my sled were my Northern Outfitter’s wind garments, which will make me 10 degrees warmer, my second set of heavy poly’s and a pair of windshear fleece pants. I put on my Cabela’s insulator jacket to do my chores and then when I stopped to eat, I put my parka back on and was pleasantly warm. Hand warmers were of course present and kept my hands warm while doing chores. I was still warm and not miserable just worried about the team.

About 11:30 PM, I see a headlamp bouncing down the Yentna River coming at us. It’s a dog team and as they get closer, I can see a race bib. The musher has a concerned look on her face and keeps driving the team. I tried to say something, but she is focused on keeping her team moving. I know they didn’t make Skwentna as they would have had to do the mandatory rest, so she most likely is scratching for one reason or another.

As I watch the team, they are resting and look really tired. I realize the right answer is to take the team home and get them back to the house. I am a little frustrated and depressed at my decision to scratch, but realize it’s the best thing for the health of the team. They are a young team and I want to end on a happy note. They experienced a great deal that we can’t duplicate on the trails at home and we can build on this for the future. As they rest I reviewed the valuable lessons I learned and re-learned.
After 4 hours, I remove coats and have the sled packed up. I then booty and turn the team around and off we go.

Knik 200 - Pre-Race Notes

Our first attempt at a qualifier is the Knik 200 starting on Jan 3.
This is a 200 mile race from the Knik bar out to Skwentna Roadhouse for
a 6 hour mandatory lay-over and then back to the Knik bar.

The team is looking good, but we are not as conditioned as I would like
to be. There are several reasons for this. 1. The dog truck took some
extra attention in Sept. 2. I have several rookies, so we stayed at
smaller teams for awhile in order to teach everyone how to run together
and what they are supposed to do. This required some extra attention.

The plan is to run a very conservative race, with the goal of finishing
and hopefully within qualifying time.

We will run about half way out and camp for 4 hours and then run the
other have into Skwentna for the mandatory 6 hour rest. Then do the
exact same thing on the way back. I plan to carry straw on the way out
for the 4 hour break and use the same straw on the return trip. This
way the straw is already spread out and can be used a second time
without having to carry more straw.

The team will be: Bear, Luna, Gabby, Amizette, Timber, Zia, Hawkeye,
Lasar, Thursby, Chypers, Tolby and Mae. Velma will be an alternate if
someone gets injured in the next week. The race rules state you can run
a max of 16 dogs, but for my first distance race in a couple of years, I
will stick to 12. I have been running 14 dogs on sleds.

Apollo is still out with a shoulder injury. Bogey is back from his
shoulder injury, but only up to 15 mile runs and Alli just hurt hershoulder/back in the Chugiak 50 Race we just ran this weekend.