Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jr. Race to the Sky

This year's Jr. Race to the Sky was quite the experience!  This was my third year running the race and it was by far the most memorable.  This year there were 5 junior mushers along with an additional adult 100 mile, 8-dog class.  Three of us juniors were also going to compete in the Junior Iditarod later that month.

The race started out fairly normal.  My handlers; Gary, Spencer, and Erika; got me out onto the trail Sunday afternoon and met me at the Whitetail checkpoint after my team and I traveled the first leg of the race which included charging up Huckleberry pass.

Once into the checkpoint, which I was the first 8-dog team in to, I began working on getting the dogs settled into their 6 hour mandatory layover.  My handlers Erika and Spencer had all my equipment ready there at the checkpoint, so I was able to quickly get my team fed, jacketed, massaged, and bedded down.  I then headed into the lodge to get some food and sleep for myself and check on what time I could leave the checkpoint.  This is the point I realized that this race was going to get interesting.  Alea, Bailey, and I were scheduled to leave all around the same time for a mad-dash to the finish line.

Because the first 7 miles out of Whitetail were going to be on the icy and gravelly road, I decided to change-up my team line-up.  I started out the race with Bella and Alice in lead, my most driven and focused leaders, with Emmett and Jasper in swing, Khufu and Cessena in team, and Ra and Kaycee in wheel.  However, Bella had a little bit of and issue with coming to a complete halt when she needs to take a dump.  What follows after her sudden stop somewhat resembles and accordion and requires good snow-pack for me to set an anchor hook into to get off the sled and untangle the mess.  To solve this problem, I switched around Khufu and Bella.  Even though Khufu is sometimes a little unfocused, he was on fire and driving super hard.  Bailey's team and I were leapfrogging back and forth down this road as we chased after Alea.  After 7 miles on this road, we got back up on the snowmobile trail and were all three in a row.  I was able to stay in the front of our little procession for most of the run, at times being able to break away from the others, but only for a brief amount of time.  Mine and Bailey's team also did a lot of time running side by side down the trail while we carried on a conversation.  Though we were all very competitive and the race was really tight, it almost felt just like 3 friends going out on a fun run with their sled dog teams.  Because I was very familiar with the trail, I was running that last leg of the race with my headlamp off pretty much the whole time.  The dogs didn't need it to see, and we all knew where the trail was.  I did this so that Alea and Bailey behind me would hopefully have a harder time following me and keeping their teams right on my heels.  It's also nice to just run by moonlight too though (:  When we got to the last 10 miles of the race, I was finally able to put some distance between myself and Bailey and Alea.  I knew it was a slim lead though so I was spending more time looking over my shoulder than down the trail.  I took this opportunity to put Bella back in lead since I now needed my reliable girls up front.  We raced closer and closer to the finish and I was still maintaining my lead though I would occasionally catch the glimpse of a headlamp behind me just as I rounded a corner.  I made another stop just before the trail opened up next to a lake.  Here I turned of the red pulsating  light on Alice's collar and my headlamp, for this part of the trail was open enough to be able to see a mile down it and I didn't want Bailey and Alea to know just how close they were to me.  I was only about a mile in front of them when I could see their headlamps beaming down the trail towards me and I crouched down as my team silently raced through the darkness.  We made it back into the trees and bends without being spotted and ran into the early morning fog of Seeley Lake.  This forced me to turn on my headlamp and the red light on Alice again.  Passing the end of the Seeley Airport runway I could stop holding my breath because the finish line was just seconds away and there were no headlamps behind me.  It was a close race, but I crossed the finish line first at 6:20am on Monday, winning my second Jr. Race to the Sky.  Alea finished 3 minutes behind me, and Bailey came in third only 2 minutes behind Alea.  Aiyana finished in 4th, finishing before the first place adult team even though the adults started the race before the juniors.  All my dogs did awesome and were looking good at the finish.  The physical part of the race was no big deal for them, but to have 2 teams drafting of them for 50 miles was quite the workout, but they did it.  I knew they were ready for the Jr. Iditarod. 

Photos from the race can be viewed HERE.


Catching Up

It has been a long time since I have sat down and done one of these, and so much has happened in the meantime.  So, I am going to try and catch everyone up on what's been going on.

Here are some pictures of puppy training runs with the 8 puppies, who will all be turning one year old this summer.
Seth and Quil

For more pictures, please click HERE.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Another 2 Down, 2 More to Go!

It has been a while since my last blog post, and so much has happened!

After the Flathead Dog Days race, we began going to West Yellowstone to train so we could get longer training runs.  We head down an train one day, spend the night, and train another day before coming home.  In West, we train on a trail that is pretty much flat.  Since the Jr. Iditarod is all flat, we want the dogs to be working on the flat trails instead of the mountainous trails they are used to.

In the midst of these 40-50 mile runs we've been doing in West, we headed over to Darby, MT, for the Darby Dog Derby.  It was a two day, 8-dog race, with two 20 mile runs.  Since we've been running longer miles, this race was just going to be a fun, short race for the dogs.  We were competing against 5 other mushers, all of which were 18 years old and under except one (though people who know that one might say he is still young at heart [: ).  We ended up placing second, even with just taking it easy!  Dad also raced.  He ran the 6-dog, 7 mile sprint and came in 5th place.  He also received the Sportsmanship Award for helping one of his competitors, who was a junior musher, on the trail when she ran into a little bit of a problem.  Spencer and Gary also came, and Spencer ran in the 4-dog, 4 mile class and got 3rd place.  This was his first race too!  He has some of our dogs: Lori, Robin, Piper, and Gandalf.    We had a fun time at the race and camped out at the race site in the dog trailer with the dogs.  Steve Peterson, Bailey Vitello, and Gregg Vitello were also camping out there too, so we had some good conversations with them over a nice fire.

After the race we went back down to West for more training, but this time it was a little different.  Since it was the weeks before the big Stage Stop race in Wyoming, almost all the stage teams were down there training, including the 2-time defending champ Buddy Streeper.  It was so cool to be training on the trail and seeing other teams, especially teams of this caliber!  When these fast stage teams would pass us, we actually kept up with them for a little while.  This was pretty good since I was doing 50 mile runs, and they were doing 35 mile runs!

Soon we were off to the first distance race of the year in North East Oregon!  This race, the Eagle Cap Extreme, was an 8-dog, 100 mile continuous race.  The race started by going up a ski slope and to the Ollokot checkpoint, where we would have a mandatory 6 hour rest.  After our rest, we would head back and finish by coming down the ski slope!  The checkpoint could only be reached by dog team or snow machine, and it was unassisted.  Unassisted means that I could not have any handler help and would have to take care of the dogs all on my own.  We sent up a drop bag before the race to the the checkpoint that contained supplies I would need at the checkpoint like dog jackets, writs wraps, dog food, people food, water, and more.  The checkpoint was in an awesome location and organized very well.  All the volunteers, race officials, and veterinarians at the check point were very helpful!  We were the first team into Ollokot due to passing all the 12-dog teams and one 8-dog team ahead of me.  Because of this, I think I got the best parking spot in the checkpoint since I was closest to the bathrooms, drop bags, hospitality tent, and exit.  Once I got in, I mixed up a meal for the dogs and fed them.  After they all finished eating, I put dog jackets on them and layed out hay for them to sleep on.  The vets then came to do a mandatory check-up on all the dogs, and they were all looking awesome!  I then put wrist wraps on all the dogs and let them sleep.  While the dogs slept, I ate some food myself and went to check what time I could leave.  I had come in at 6:20pm and could leave at 12:32am when my mandatory rest was up.  I then layed down in my sled with my sleeping bag until 10:30pm, 2 hours before my departure, to feed the dogs again.  This meal was to be just water and meat since the goal for this feeding was to get the dogs really hydrated before the run.  Once everyone was finished eating, I started cleaning up so I would be ready to go when the time came.  When midnight came about, I started really getting ready to go.  I took wrist wraps off and put booties on everyone.  I then took all their dog jackets off and put them away.  At this point they are still calm and just hanging out, but then when I started hooking there harnesses to the tug lines, they started freaking out and getting excited to go!  Once everyone was hooked up, we took off towards the exit where the race officials did a quick bag check and signed me out.  Off we went towards the finish, and we were currently in first place with the second place team 40 minutes behind!

So that was my account of the checkpoint, now it is time to tell you about the actual running of the trail.  This was the most mountainous trail we have ever done in a race, and we LOVED it!  The dogs were super amped because they had been training on flat trails lately and were ready for some climbs.  I was very happy because going up the hills gives me a rest from riding the brake the rest of the time.  This is also a reason my dogs like the hilly trails better too because they know I will let them go as fast as they want up the hills.  To them, I am a party pooper the rest of the time and ride the brake.  Little do they know that I am keeping them slowed down for their own well being.  The dogs were just doing awesome the whole time and I was keeping slowed down since they wanted to go really fast.  9 miles from the finish, I decided to let them go so they would maybe be a little tired before having to plunge down the ski slope.  They didn't get tired.  In fact, they were never tired, not even at the end.  We really did come screaming down that hill too, though it didn't help that the dogs were chasing 2 snow machines down it.  We had been catching these two snow machiners (who were race crew marking the trail) about every 5 miles the whole run from Ollokot to the finish.  When we'd catch them, I'd talk to the dogs and say "get 'em" and make a game out of chasing the machines.  The machines were waiting at the top of the ski hill to ensure that there was a good path down for me, but Alice and Bella were determined to "get" those machines this time, so they were charging down the hill after them.  We made it to the bottom all safe, but I know have a new appreciation of steep trails.  We also crossed the finish line in first place, 45 minutes in front of the second place team!  We also set some records!  I became the first female to win the race and the youngest to win the race, and we had the second fastest race time in the history of the race!  The dogs did awesome and were ready to do another 50 at the finish, which is what we want since they'll be doing another 50 miles in the Jr. Iditarod.

In addition to first place, I received the Best Cared for Team award from the vet team!  This was truly an honor since all the mushers take great care of their teams.  This is WAY more important to me than the first place trophy since I am always taking the best care of my pups as I can.  This isn't an award you try to win, like how you try to win the race, it is an award that recognizes your effort to care for your dogs everyday.  This is my 5th Best Cared for Team award that I have received in the past 3 racing seasons!

My dogs are quite the characters.  At the Eagle Cap they really got me and some other people laughing.  First, some back ground knowledge for you all.  Last year, in the Conconully Super Mush and Cascade Quest, Bino Fowler was the only team that my team did not pass or did not pass and pull away from.  We did a lot of running side by side in the Cascade Quest too.  My dogs know that it is good to pass teams, so they are always wanting to pass all the teams in front of them and leave them in the dust.  So, at the start of the Eagle Cap this year, when Bino started hooking up his dogs, my dogs started barking at them.  This was not the usual, "Hey, those dogs are going, we want to go too!" bark, it was a straight up smack talk bark.  They have never done this to another team before either!  Then, once we passed Bino's team on the trail (he was running in the 200 mile race), the dogs got fired up and zoomed away from him and were so happy that they finally got to pass him!  The third encounter was at the Ollokot checkpoint.  We were in the middle of the vet check, and teams were coming in to the checkpoint and picking up their drop bags right next to where I was parked.  The dogs were paying no attention to ANY of the teams until Bino's team pulled up.  They all stood up all tall and mighty and were growling and barking at Bino's dogs!  Again, never had they done this to another dog team before!  So, that is proof that the dogs are just as competitive as the mushers are at times!

After we returned from the race, we started training back in West and preparing for the last two races of the year, Jr. Race to the Sky and Jr. Iditarod.

Some of my fans at the start :)

Doing the bag check at the finish

The start, Kaycee really wants everyone to go faster!

Emmett and Jasper rolling in the snow at the finish

Monday, January 9, 2012

Flathead Sled Dog Days

We just got back late last night from my second race of the winter in Whitefish, MT.  It was an 8-dog, 50 mile race.  On Saturday, the teams ran 25 miles, and on Sunday, the teams ran the same trail.  I drew bib number 21 at the Musher Meeting on Friday night, which was second out of the 8-dog teams.  On Saturday, I left 2nd of the 8-dog teams, but passed the team in front of me on the trail and was the first team to return.  We had a really good run and the dogs were very fast going up the hills.  Our time put us in 6th place out of 14 other mushers.  The second day, the team was even faster even though the trail conditions were slower!  We didn't quite make up enough time to move up a position, but we closed the gap!  The first day we had the 6th fastest time, but the second day we had the 4th fastest time!  Here are the times of the 8-dog class:
The trail was very icy the first 2 miles where logging trucks have been using it.  The next 5 miles were fairly icy and hard packed as well.  Luckilly, when Bella stopped to poop in the first mile, I was able to hook into some snow on the edge of the trail to untangle the team.  It was so icy that the rest of the team and the sled kept going when Bella stopped.  After the first 7 miles, the trail had quite a bit of snow and had a bunch of moguls from snow machines (which the dogs thought were a blast)   Since it was icy coming in to the finish, we came flying across the finish line even though I was riding the brake as much as I could.  The problem was that I had to get off the brake to maneuver the sled around the tight turn just before the finish, and as soon as I let off the brake the dogs hit mach 10!

I ran Bella and Alice in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, Khufu and Super Cub in team, and Ra and Kaycee in wheel.  Bella definitely got the MVP award, but Emmett would have gotten it if Bella didn't have the extra responsibility of being a leader.  Emmett did really, really good and was charging up the hills like crazy!

We also took along the 8 puppies, Otter, Cessena, and my 2 little cousins, Sydney and Erika.  This was the puppies' first trip and they all had a blast!  On Saturday after all the teams had returned, we took the puppies out for their first run with the team ever!  Dad drove the sled and I rode in the basket, and we only did about one mile or more.  The first team we had Otter and Cessena in lead with Embry and Ziva in swing and Paul and Seth in wheel.  They all did awesome!  Ziva did the best out of all teh puppies, and we would have put her in lead with ehr mom on the way back if the trail wasn't as icy as it was.  Embry did awesome too, her only mess-up was wanting to visit other dog teams we were passing.  Paul and Seth did good too, and Paul kept barking to go faster.  The second team we had Otter and Cessena in lead again with DiNozzo and McGee in swing and Leah and Quil in wheel.  They did really well too for their first time.  It took a while for Quil and Leah to figure out that the needed to go straight down the trail rather than try to go across the trail.  DiNozzo and McGee were looking back at me a little in the beginning, but then they started charging down the trail!  None of the puppies tried to chew on their harnesses or the gang line, which is a huge positive too!  After that, every time we got them out they wanted to run again!  Syd and Erika had fun too! They helped with the dogs and were running around looking at all the other teams and dogs.  They got to ride in my sled on the way from the truck to the start line to help keep the team slowed down.

There are some pictures other people took from the race on my Facebook page!