Saturday, April 13, 2013

IPSSSDR 2013: The Final Stretch

It was now time for the last stage of the IPSSSDR.  The stage would start in Mountain View, WY and finish in Utah, near Evanston, WY.  This stage would be all on wide groomed trail for 40 miles.  All the dogs were looking good and feeling very excited, so I decided to run 12 dogs.  At the last minute I decided to run 11, and leave Quil behind because he was a little sore in one of his shoulders when I checked everyone over before the race start.  My team would be Bella and McGee in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, Super Cub, DiNozzo, Khufu, Cessena, and Embry in team, and Kaycee and Ziva in wheel.  When we hooked the dogs up, they were pumped.  It is a good thing that I had Dad ride the sled and brake while I led the team up to the start because even he had a hard time stopping them.  I was excited that the dogs were so amped at the end of a long race like this, but also concerned about how much power I was going to have strapped in front of me.  3...2...1... and we were off, the last stretch of the IPSSSDR zipping by as the team thundered down the trail.

The trail was great, and we dropped in elevation a little bit out of the start before steadily climbing for a while.  It was great to do some climbing, which is what my team is great at.  I remember the team charging up one of these climbs with some other mushers around us having to pedal to keep moving steadily up the hill.  I remember when Bruce M. caught me at the top of one of these climbs after chasing me up the hill, and he told me jokingly to work a little harder because it was making him feel bad!  I didn't really need to though, the dogs were going faster than I could pedal and I don't usually pedal, so if I try, the jerkiness of it annoys them.  I can ski pole to help them, but I did not bring my pole with me, which was ok since I never needed it.

With all this climbing, we were eventually going to have to start going down.  I don't enjoy down hills that much because I have to ride the brake so much to keep the dogs at a safe speed.  We came to a section of trail with some down hill switch backs that one of the mushers had warned me about.  The dogs weren't tired at all and found the increase of "kill Jenny potential" even more exciting.  I made it around the first couple switch backs, but tipped the sled over on the next.  The trail was so hard and fast that the dogs kept going and sped around the next switch back with me holding onto the sled.  The sled and I swung out into the powder off the groomed trail on the outside of that switch back and the handle bar slipped out from under my hands.  It was the worst feeling in the world, and was like my hands just let go even though I was telling them to hold on.  I scrambled to my feet and chased after the sled as the dogs pulled it away down the trail.  I began running as the team disappered around the next switch back at a terrible velocity.  Nothing in the world is worse than being separtated from your team, there are no words to describe how scarred and empty I felt.  Fortunately, Warren Palfrey showed up soon behind me with his team and gave me a lift down the trail.  I was so releived to see that one of the snow hooks and set into the trail and the team was stopped.  I could see some of the dogs were tangled and ran up to make sure no one was tangled around the neck or something bad like that.  The dogs were all fine and Warren had stopped his team to wait for me to get the dogs going again.  I had to untangle the lines on the sled because they were all twisted from the sled rolling who knows how many times as the dogs pulled it down the trail before setting off again.  I am so grateful for what Warren did and grateful that I am in a sport where everyone would have done the same thing if they were in that position.  There was one last switch back to go around, and we made it around ok, though a little faster than I felt comfortable at that point.

The rest of the trail was downhill into the finish, but it was relatively straight, so the dogs were less excited and I was able to slow them down easier.  We came in across the finish line behind a group of teams, so I had to stop and wait, instead of just cruising in on to the truck.  When I got the dogs stopped they immediately began barking and lunging into their harnesses to go more, even though they had just gone 40 miles today and around 300 miles in the race leading up to this point!  We then moved along to the truck, where Dad, Sydney, and I cared for the team and fed them before putting them back in the trailer to rest.   I ended up placing just out of the top 10, in 11th place, but didn't mind at all since I had all my dogs safe with me at the finish.

Once all the teams were off the trail, we were going to do the Junior IPSSSDR.  Every year, elementary through middle school students are assigned to each IPSSSDR musher to run in the junior race at the end of the race.  Both the musher and their junior would run a team over a short course.  My junior musher Dani, was already experienced in mushing from previous years of doing the junior race, so I let her start out driving the team with me riding in the basket.  We ran Alice and Super Cub in lead, followed by Quil, Paul, and Ra.  About half way through our 3 mile course, I had Dani stop, and I rode on the runners with her so I could help steer the sled.  Once we got back to the truck, I showed her how we cared for the dogs after a run and let her give each of the dogs their cookies and do their tricks.  All my dogs do some combination of shaking your hand, sitting, laying down, or speaking before they can get their cookie.

After a long and hard day, we went to the finishing awards banquet.  I was feeling wiped out, but getting a good hot meal helped me wake up a little more... oh and that soda I had with the caffeine probably helped too.  The banquet cam and went as pictures were shown and the top 10 overall finishers were individually introduced on stage.  Even though I would have loved to place in the top 10, I was a little bit relieved that I didn't have to make a speech in front of the huge crowd that had gathered for the ceremony.  After all was done, we headed to our last host family to spend the night before driving back home.

After a long string of days, the race was over and it had all gone by so fast.  I had a great time and all the mushers were so nice and friendly.  It was also such a pleasure to visit all these small communities who come out and support the race and offer their hospitality to us mushers and our handlers.  And I have to admit, it was nice to do many miles on the back of the sled but still be able to sleep in a warm bed every night instead of in the sled!  I hope to do this race again, hopefully next year, as I had a wonderful time.  The dogs also had a blast, but none as much as Super Cub.  I couldn't post this update without mentioning Super Cub who was being insane the whole race.  He was convinced that we were going to race every day for the rest of his life, and he thought that was AWESOME! The only day he was not being a total spaz, was the Big Piney stage when I told him that he needed to take a day off even if he didn't feel like he needed to.  He was a little mad at me that day because he knew that a lot of the other dogs got to go and he didn't.  

IPSSSDR 2013: Big Piney and Kemmerer, WY

At the banquet in Big Piney, they told us that the trail here and in Kemmerer were going to be really tough and had a lot of drifting and deep snow.  I was actually glad to hear this because my dogs are used to tough trails and do really well in those types of conditions.  I knew that that they would be able to deal with these types of trails better than some of the faster teams.  Another good thing was that these to stages were both supposed to be around 50 miles long.  However, they ended up shortening both trails.

For this Big Piney stage, the course was now only 27 miles.  I was bummed to hear this since the fast teams would not loose as much time as they would have if the trail had been the original length, but I was looking forward to it anyway.  I ran 9 dogs: Bella and Alice in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, Cessena, Khufu, and DiNozzo in team, and Kaycee and Ra in wheel.  The dogs did awesome again and were just plowing through the deep snow and drifts like usual.  The trail was great and beautiful, it was refreshing to be on a trail that I didn't have to ride the brake a lot to keep the dogs slowed down.  9 teams left in front of me, and I passed all but 3 on the trail.  The run went by to fast, and I wish it would have been longer!  I ended up finishing in 9th place overall.

After feeding and checking over the team, we loaded up and headed to Kemmerer where we had another great meal.  We made sure to get to our host family early since we would have to get up extra early the next morning for the long drive to the trail head. 

This trail would be about 45 miles, and I would again be leaving in about the middle of the teams.  I ran 10 dogs again with Super Cub and McGee in lead, Bella and Alice in swing, Emmett, Jasper, Cessena, and Khufu in team, and Kaycee and Ra in wheel.  The first part of the trail was across rolling fields, and the wind was blowing extremely hard.  The wind had blown in the trail, so the first dog teams out had kind of made their own trail, which at times was very punchy.  The wind eventually subsided and the rest of the trail to the turnaround was in pretty good shape.  After turning around though, the wind picked up again with a vengeance and it began snowing.  At times I could not even see the front four dogs on the team, and I definitely couldn't see the trail.  I knew I could do nothing about it, so I just trusted the dogs to follow their noses and the trail.  Despite the bad weather and visibility, I was actually pretty happy.  I was a little worried about loosing the trail and getting lost, but I trusted fully in my dogs to get us back safely.  We made it back in 9th place overall, and all the dogs were feeling good.  We again loaded everyone up and headed down the road again.

Photos by: Chris Havener

IPSSSDR 2013: Pinedale and Lander, WY

The next stage would be a 45 miles, and I would again be one of the first teams out on the trail.  I had raced on part of this trail before in the Green River Classic races I had done, and knew the trail was mostly flat with a few short climbs in the middle.  The temperatures were a lot cooler than they had been, and the trail was set up perfectly.

I ran 10 dogs again: Otter and McGee in lead, DiNozzo and Super Cub in swing, Cessena, Khufu, Embry, and Ziva in team, and Kaycee and Ra in wheel.  The dogs did a lot better this day, and though we were still going slow, they seemed much more perky and excited.  All the dogs did really well, and I was feeling great.  About 6 miles from the finish, I could see that Embry was a little bit sore in her shoulder.  I stopped and checked her over and decided to load her into the sled since we weren't that far from the finish and she was my lightest dog.  She had never ridden in the sled, and at first was being wild and trying to get out.  She finally settled down and I zipped open the bag to check on her.  She was just laying there looking out the little window in the side of the sled bag, I could tell she was fascinated by the scenery.  She was still and quite the rest of the way into the finish that I almost forgot that she was riding along in the bag.

I finished second to last, but the quality of this run was way better than the first two, we were starting to make a comeback.  Embry was fine, and we were going to let her have a couple days off just to be safe.  All the other's ate and drank well before we loaded them into the trailer to head to yet another Wyoming town, Lander.  There was no banquet or host families in Lander, so we got McDonald's that was across from our hotel before crashing for the night.

The Lander stage was 42 miles long, and the trail was the fastest I have ever seen a trail.  There was not much snow, so the trail was hard packed and fast.  I ran 8 dogs for this stage since the trail was so perfect and the run was not that long.  I ran Bella and Alice in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, McGee and Super Cub in team, and Kaycee and Quil in wheel.  We were back and the dogs were fast and strong!  I passed the teams that started in front of me and came across the finish line first.  I ended up in 10th place overall, and was only 20 minutes behind the fastest team, even though I was the only one running only 8 dogs.

We took care of the dogs, feeding and checking them over, and they were all feeling great.  We loaded them into the trailer and headed to the next stop, Big Piney, WY.  There we had a great banquet of home-cooked food and a good night's sleep at our host family's place.

Photos by: Chris Havener

IPSSSDR 2013: West Yellowstone, MT to Ashton, ID and Alpine, WY

Saturday, we took off back to West Yellowstone where the first "real" stage of the race would begin the next morning.  This stage would be about 55 miles from the start to the finish in Ashton, ID.  The trail would climb up and over the Continental Divide, the border between Idaho and Montana.  I was very much looking forward to this stage, because I knew my distance-style dogs would do very well on this steep and long stage.  However, we went much, much slower than I ever thought.

Some of the teams at the race, including mine, caught a little bit of a bug.  It wasn't anything major, it just seemed to slow the dogs way down.  After the first two miles down the trail, we slowed way down and did not speed up.  It was snowing pretty hard, but luckily cleared up a little after we crossed over the divide.  I just made my way down the trail.  The only team behind me passed me and I didn't think I would pass anyone.  About half way through the run, I did pass a team, which made me feel better, but I still knew it was a long ways to the finish.  We eventually made it to the finish, and I did feel better after getting there.  I wasn't as far behind as I thought I was going to be, and at least I wasn't last.  The dogs all ate and drank fine afterwards and were happy.  I was positive for the next stages, hoping that this was just a one-day funk.

I ran a 10 dog team, with Alice and Bella in lead, Jasper and Emmett in swing, DiNozzo, McGee, Khufu, and Super Cub in team, and Kaycee and Ziva in wheel.  The bright side was that all the dogs finished strong and no one had any injuries.  After we took care of the team and put them back in the trailer, we began driving to Alpine, WY, where the night's banquet would be and the next stage.  The drive was very long and hard because of the storm, but we made it to Alpine.  After a good meal, we went to our host family to spend the night.  Because the start order of each stage is the previous day's slowest to fastest teams, I was going to be second out.  This stage was going to be the longest of the whole race at 60 miles.

For this stage I was going to run a 10 dog team again, this time with the 6 dogs that didn't race the day before and 4 who did.  Khufu and Super Cub would be my leaders, Otter and Cessena would be in swing, Jasper, Emmett, Quil, and Embry in team, and Ra and Paul in wheel.  The weather was very nice for this leg, and the scenery was great.  The dogs were still very slow and flat, but we did pass one team, and were third from last (moving up!).  The trail was gentle rolling hills up to a turn around point where we headed back down the same trail.  After coming across the finish line, we fed and took care of the dogs before loading them into the trailer to head for the next town, Pinedale, WY.  On the drive there, as I was telling Dad and Sydney about my run, they told me that race director, Frank Teasley, had taken all the handlers to pizza for lunch while there mushers were battling it out on the trail!  At least I was hungry that night at the banquet in Pinedale, and afterwards, we went to our host family to rest up before the next stage. 

Photos by: Chris Havener

IPSSSDR 2013: Jackson, WY

This year I had the great opportunity to compete in the International Pedigree Stage Stip Sled Dog Race, the biggest race in the lower 48.  Mushers from around the country and around the world come to compete in this stage format race that goes through 4 states and 350 miles of trails in the Rocky Mountains.  There would be a total of 8 stages during this year's race and 21 mushers.  Dad and my cousin, Sydney, would be my handlers, and would take care of the dogs that were not racing when I was out on the trail and assist with taking care of all the dogs. 

The opening ceremonies kicked off on Friday night in the town of Jackson, Wyoming.  We started Friday with the vet check and the mandatory musher meeting and bib draw.  All 16 dogs passed their vet check with flying colors.  In this race you can have a pool of up to 16 dogs, and you can run up to 12 dogs each stage.  My 16 dogs were: Bella, Alice, Jasper, Emmett, Otter, Super Cub, Kaycee, Khufu, Cessena, McGee, DiNozzo, Ziva, Paul, Quil, Ra, and Embry.  After the vet check, we headed over to the location where the musher meeting would be.  All the mushers had to sign the race banners that were to be used at each stage, and there were a ton of them,  As I was signing the last couple of banners, I felt like my arm was going to fall off!  After all the musher and their handlers had filed into the room, the meaning started.  The rules were explained and questions were asked and answered.  Our starting order for the night's ceremonial leg was drawn, and then we were free till that night.


Of the whole entire race, this opening ceremony had me the most nervous.  The leg is only about 2 or 3 miles long, and the course starts in the town square and heads down the city streets to the ski resort.  Every year they truck in snow to put down on the streets.  They do the same thing for some other races, including the Iditarod.  I had never done such a thing, and did not know what to expect.  We were only allowed to run 6 dogs on this stage, so I ran Bella and Alice in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, and DiNozzo and McGee in wheel.  Though they are my 6 best behaved dogs, they also happen to be my 6 strongest and fastest dogs.  I didn't really want to run the "big guns" on this trail, but they are the best about being calm if I have to stop, which I would at the end of the trail because the dog teams would be arriving at this finish before their trucks and handlers could get over there.  I made sure to put some meat snacks in my sled so I could give them to the team after we got to the finish, which was in a playground at the bottom of the ski hills at the Snow King Resort.  I hoped this would convince the dogs that we were stopping for a while, even though we had only gone a very short ways.  We had to take the team about 1/4 of a mile from the truck to the starting line at the town square, so I led the leaders while dad stood on the sled and brake.  We got up to the start without a problem, and got into the starting shoot.  They were doing dual-starts for this leg, so I would be starting at the same time as Dennis Laboda from Minnesota.  I could see many people lined up and down the street and didn't really need my headlamp because of all the street lights.  At this point I started to feel a little more excited and less nervous.  The slowest team in this stage leaves first for the next stage, and the fastest team would leave last in the next stage.  My plan was to be one of the faster teams, so I could leave further towards the back for the next stage starting in West Yellowstone.  A lot of new snow was predicted for the night before the West Yellowstone stage, so I wanted to be starting as far back as I could so I wouldn't have to be breaking trail as much.  With this strategy in mind, I let the dogs take off like a bullet out of the start chute.  We made it out onto the trail before Dennis's team, and I tried to not ride the brake too much though it went against what I am used to doing.  We flew down the trail, it all went by so fast.  Before I knew it, we had arrived at the finish line.  I stopped for a second there, and one of the volunteers offered to lead my team into the playground.  I asked her to lead me up close to a sign post that I hooked with my snow hook.  I got the dogs stopped, but they were still barking and pulling, wanting to keep going.  I quickly got the snacks out of my sled and fed them to the dogs, and that helped as they decided that they must be in a checkpoint or something.  The area was filled with dogs barking and screaming to keep running.  At that point, looking around at all the teams being noisy and wild, I was glad that I had a distance team that was used to stopping at checkpoints.  A couple skiers came up and talked to me while I waited for Sydney and Dad to arrive with the truck.  They had to park a ways away, so we left Sydney with Bella, Alice, and the sled while Dad and I took Jasper, Emmett, McGee, and DiNozzo by the collars back to the truck.  We came back and Dad and Sydney led Bella and Alice to the truck and I rode the sled.  After getting the two girls unharnessed and put back in the trailer, we loaded the sled back unto the truck and went into one of the ski resort's buildings for the banquet.

We ate dinner and watched the firework display that was put on for the race.  While the fireworks were going off, Dad went to make sure the dogs were ok and not getting scared by the fireworks.  He came back and told me that they didn't even care about them.  We found out that Ryan Redington had the fastest time, and I had the second fastest time!  This meant that I would be leaving second to last Sunday morning in West Yellowstone.  Once all was said and done, we headed back to our friend's house where we would stay the night before driving to West on Saturday.     

Photos by: Chris Havener

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Load Up the Family and the Dogs, We're Going to the Darby Dog Derby!

I always enjoy coming to the Darby Dog Derby, a local Montana race that takes place south of Missoula, but this year was especially enjoyable because Sydney, Jaden, Erika, and Shelby competed in the race, their first sled dog race.  The three older girls entered in the 2-dog junior race, and Shelby entered in the peewee 1-dog 100 yard dash race.  I also was entered in the 8-dog event, but the highlight of the weekend was watching the girls race.

Jade with Super Cub and Cessena

 The older girls' race was 2 miles long each day, so a total of 4 miles over the two days.  They each ran two dogs on their teams.  Sydney had McGee and Otter, Jaden had Super Cub and Cessena, and Erika had Khufu and Piper.  I tried to split the teams up as even;y as I could and gave the heavier sleds to the faster dogs to even it out more.  It was up to the girls and I really had no idea who would be crossing the finish line first.  The first day all the girls did great and had a good time despite some tangles and confusion at the turn around.  It was incredibly nerve-racking for me to send the girls out on the trail and not be able to help them (now I know how my Dad feels...) but they handled the situation like pros and were able to sort out things themselves and get headed back down the trail.  After this first day, Sydney was in the lead followed by Erika and then Jaden.  There was about 3 minutes between each of their times, and it would be interesting to see how much time each of them could make up the next day.

With my race, I took it really slow and just let the dogs have a good relaxing run.  With IPSSSDR just around the corner, I didn't want to injure any dogs in this race.  The dogs did great, except they didn't want to cooperate with my slow and relaxing plan, so I got a thorough work out from riding the brake most of the way.  Bella and Emmett led for me, followed by: Alice, Jasper, Ra, DiNozzo, Embry, and Kaycee.  After the second day we were sitting in 2nd place with a huge gap between us and the first place team.  I was happy though, I had no hurt doggies and Sydney, Erika, and Jaden had all had good runs.
Syd with Otter and McGee
Before we headed back into town, Erika and I took the dogs that didn't race and the dogs that did the junior race for a training run on the 8-dog course.  With 11 dogs, we double sledded it and had a mostly good time.  I decided to run the race trail backwards, avoiding a section that was a little punchy, but I forgot about the switch backs that my change in course had us going down instead of up.  The first switch back sent poor Erika flying as her sled went into a roll.  I was able to stop the team, but it was hard to hold them back on the down hill even with both hooks set.  Like a champ, Erika got right back up and hopped back on the sled.  The next two switch backs were better, even though they were tighter.  I told Erika that I would do the braking and she just needed to concentrate on steering the sled around the corner, this helped since the first time she was thinking too much about using the brake and lost focus and her balance and steering.  The run was good though, and after we got back and took care of dogs, we were ready for some food and a pillow.  I want to thank our friends, Cathy and Jeff Lowe, who let us all stay at their place for the weekend.  In previous years, we have camped at the trail head, but it would have been difficult with eight people.  Plus, it is always nice to have a warm dry place to get ready for the next day of racing.
On the second day, the trails had set up well, so I was going to let my team go a little bit faster.  We were actually ten minutes faster than our time the first day and clocked in the fastest time of the day.  It was not enough time to move into first place, but we held onto our second place and had no injuries or tired doggies!  The girls had a better day of racing too, and didn't have any tangles at the turnaround.  They all held onto their placings from the first day, and Sydney actually doubled her lead.  I can't be more proud of them, they all did great and were great sports.  I was able to get video of their finishes on the second day too!
Erika with Khufu and Piper
Shelby's race went really well too, she ran McGee 100 yards down the trail and back and had a great time.  She did great and ended up placing 5th out of a big group of 15.  She was a little bummed her and McGee didn't win, but was excited that she had gotten to run her favorite dog, even though I told her that she would maybe have to run someone else if McGee was too tired after racing with Sydney.
Patrick Chaplin took great photos of the weekend, and you can see them HERE.

First Race of the New Year: 2013 West Yellowstone Fun Run

New this year, was the West Yellowstone Fun Run.  It was a one-day, 35 mile, 10-dog team race that was run on the Madison Arm trail in West, which is totally flat and regularly groomed.  Many teams that were entered in IPSSSDR had already arrived in West a couple weeks prior to acclimate their dogs and themselves to higher elevations that would also be seen in the IPSSSDR.  The Fun Run was a race that these teams could enter in as a little bit of a IPSSSDR warm-up so they could see how their teams were doing in training compared to other IPSSSDR competitors.  I figured Dad and I would enter with two teams and just run it for fun, since I didn't expect us to be very competitive against stage stop teams on such a flat and short trail, but I didn't expect what would happen next.

coming across the finish

That morning it was a typical freezing cold West Yellowstone day at 38 degrees bellow zero.  We had driven down the night before and stayed in the hotel right next to the trail head, so we quickly gave the dogs their pre-race meal and ran back into the hotel to warm back up.  Maybe about 45 minutes later, we met at the trail head again for the pre-race meeting to receive our bibs.  I was to be the first team, Dad second, and four others behind us who were all stage stop mushers, including multiple IPSSSDR champion Bud Streeper and Bud's second team being run by Swedish musher Lars Lindh.  The other two teams were stage stop veteran Jake Golton, and a sprint mushing pro from Alaska, Jeff Conn.  Considering the line up, I was going to be happy with our teams placing last and second to last.  We had been training on this trail and I knew that my team was fast, but I didn't think they were fast enough to beat teams that have been trained specifically for speed their whole careers.  But, like I said, the dogs were ready to be unexpected.

It was still REALLY cold, so every one agreed to push back the start time by one hour to let the sun come out and warm up a bit.  When it got close to start time, Dad and I set up our sleds and got our teams out to harness and boot.  I was going to run the best team, and Dad would take more of the puppies.  Ziva would have been on my team, but she hurt her foot running in the yard at home before the race, so she was going to have to sit this race out and I would take Ra in my team and leave Dad with 9 dogs.  This was the team breakdown:
Jenny's Team
Bella - Jasper
Emmett - Alice
Khufu - Super Cub
DiNozzo - McGee
Kaycee - Ra

Rob's Team
Cessena - Otter
Tut - Embry
Leah - Paul
Quil - Seth

heading back to the truck

All the dogs were harnessed and had their booties on, so it was time to race.  Because Dad was leaving right after me, we hooked up our teams at the same time.  With two teams of excited dogs hooked in front of it, the truck and trailer were rocking back and forth to the point of making me a little concerned that the dogs might start pulling it down the trail.  With all the dogs hooked up and ready to go, I hoped on the sled and pulled the release.  We shot off down the trail as I tried to control the speed and excitement by putting both feet on the brake with all my weight.  After about 100 yards the dogs calmed down a little bit so that I only had to have one foot totally on the brake.  Though it was a little cold for me, this was perfect temperatures for the dogs and they were blazing down the trail.  I kept their speed down for the first 5 miles, and them let them go at the speed they wanted to.  Since we had been training longer distances, I knew they would be able to keep a fast pace for this comparatively short 35 mile run.  The dogs were doing very well and kept up this very fast pace through the whole course.  I kept expecting the other teams to pass me, especially Buddy, but no one ever did!  About half way through the course was a straight section that I could see at least one mile behind me, and I didn't see anybody.  I was first across the finish line with a time of two and a half hours, no one had passed me.  I got in and pulled off the dogs' booties and gave them fresh water to drink before feeding them a good meal.  The rest of the teams came across the finish line while I was taking care of my dogs, and with looking at my watch and doing times in my head I was sure I had beat most of them, but knew that Buddy and Lars's times would be close to mine and wasn't sure who had the faster time.  Dad arrived last across the line, about half an hour behind me which was about the same time difference between our teams that we had been having in training.  He was very happy with his run which was a good thing and was excited to tell me that he had kept up with Buddy for a little while after he had passed Dad.  Dad took the boots of his dogs and gave them fresh water as I unharnessed my dogs and put them back in the trailer.  I then went and fed the dogs in Dad's team their meals and helped him put them in the trailer.

With all the dogs put away, we got the official results from race organizer/timer/trail boss/do-er of everything, Charlotte.  I had placed second and less than 2 minutes behind Bud Streeper!  Lars was only 30 seconds behind me in 3rd, followed by Jake, Jeff, and then Dad.  I was amazed at how well my distance team had done against these fast stage teams in a one-day sprint race.  Dad did awesome with his team too, only having the 9 slower dogs and being 100 pounds more than me, but still being only 30 minutes behind my time with the "A Team".  Here are the official race results:
Race start moved to 11:00am due to cold (-38F at 8:00am),
 -6*F at race start, groomed trails
35.2 miles
 Place Name Total Time
1 Buddy Streeper 2:28:56
2 Jenny Greger 2:30:40
3 Lars Lindh 2:31:08
4 Jake Golton 2:33:30
5 Jeff Conn 2:37:31
6 Rob Greger 3:02:18
me and Bud

 I think everyone had a great time, and it was especially exciting for Dad and I since my Mom, Cara, was able to come with us for this race.  She was going to drive back home with her car after the race was over though, and Dad and I were going to stay and do another training run the next day.  Fortunately, it was much warmer the next day so the long 50 mile run we did was not miserable for us humans.  It was a good run, and mostly fast except the 5 miles of trail that no one had been on that we had to break out.  This was slow going for a while, but it was good for the dogs to have some variety and work their low-end power muscles that haven't been worked for a while because of the speed training we had been doing.  After this run, we packed up and headed home, a two  and a half hour drive that we have become very acquainted with since West Yellowstone is the closest place for us to do training runs.  Mill Creek is only one hour away, but we can only do an 18 mile run there.

evening shot from our training run

Saturday, March 23, 2013

2012 Rodeo Run

Originally, I had planned on both Dad and I running the 12-dog, 30 mile class at West Yellowstone this year since we had enough dogs to run two teams in the bigger class.  I was also hoping to have the dogs at that mileage, but due to the lack of snow, we ended up running the 8-dog, 20 mile class as usual.  In fact, the race was almost cancelled because there wasn't enough snow!  The last few years our trails near the Bozeman area haven't had enough snow at the time they usually do, but West Yellowstone usually has a lot more than us and has it a lot sooner.  I don't think I have ever seen so little snow in West until this year.  Fortunately, about a week before the race, we had a big snow storm that put a nice base on the race trail.

Photo by Nicole Lombardi

Many mushers that were signed up originally for the 20 mile class ended up switching to the 10 mile class at the pre-race check-in.  We were not the only one's who were experiencing an absence of snow.  In training thus far, we had only gone 20 miles once, so I was a little unsure of how the puppies would do in not only their first race, but their first time doing back-to-back 20 miles.  I was confident the adults would do well, since they all had at least one year of racing and conditioning prior to this season.  My worries were quick to dissipate, as the puppies did super.  If you didn't know better, you would have guessed them to be seasoned adults.

Photo by Nicole Lombardi

I took the strongest team, and Dad to the "B" team which had all of the puppies except DiNozzo and McGee who had made the cut for my team.  Dad's strategy was to take it nice and easy and make sure the puppies all had a good experience for their first race.  My strategy was to be fairly conservative the first day, but to let the dogs go at the end of the run.  The second day I would let them go sooner and try to possibly make up time on other teams.  The dogs did great with this plan, and were 7.5 minutes faster on the second day.  Dad's team was about 1.5 minutes faster on the second day.

8 dog (22 miles)
1 Kate St. Onge 1:39:38 1:30:25 3:10:03
2 Charlotte Mooney 1:39:56 1:32:38 3:12:34
3 Jenny Greger 1:46:39 1:39:06 3:25:45
4 Rick St. Onge 1:49:15 1:46:10 3:35:25
5 Michael Paul 1:49:21 1:47:12 3:36:33
6 Butch Parr 2:00:15 1:59:30 3:59:45
7 Rob Greger 2:02:58 2:01:28 4:04:26
8 Bret Bruggeman 2:29:03 2:19:07 4:48:10
9 Richie Camden 2:48:30 2:58:45 5:47:15
10 April Cox 2:43:56 3:27:48 6:11:44
11 Alisha Morse 3:16:39 3:31:38 6:48:17
12 Neal Bowlen 4:04:00 3:33:38 7:37:38
Jon Bunderson 2:16:29 Scratch
Phillip McEwen 2:17:49 Scratch
Hugo Antonucci 2:21:42 Scratch
 Race Results

In my team, I had: Bella and Alice in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, DiNozzo and McGee in team, and Kaycee and Super Cub in wheel.  Dad ran Khufu and Cessena in lead, Leah and Paul in swing, Ziva and Embry in team, and Seth and Quil in wheel. 

It was a great race to start off the season and give the young pups a taste of what was to come.  All the pups did great, especially the two black boys who made my team and kept right up with the adult dogs.  Overall, I placed 3rd and Dad placed in 7th.  Next up would be the new Fun Run on another trail in West Yellowstone, a 35 mile one day sprint with a 10 dog limit. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

2012 Jr. Iditarod

After the great run we had at Jr. Race to the Sky, I was really looking forward to a super run at the 2012 Jr. Iditarod.  However, there are many curve balls in the sport of dog mushing. 

Because my family is so involved with the Race to the Sky, I had to stick around till the end of the 350 mile race instead of leaving right after the finish of the 100.  Unfortunately, while we were hanging out there helping and watching the 350 mile teams, my dogs picked up a bug that was going through the teams.  A number of the 350 mile teams had to scratch from the race because of this bug and I guess we had just stuck around long enough at the checkpoints to catch it too.  I was able to get assistance from the race vets, and the whole team was started on antibiotics.  Emmett also received IV fluids since his lack of appetite had caused him to start getting very dehydrated. 

After the awards banquet Wednesday night, we traveled home Thursday morning to get ready and pack for the trip to Alaska.  Our original plan was to then leave on Friday, but we decided to delay our trip till Saturday in hopes that the dogs would start feeling better and start eating. When it was time to head north on Saturday, the dogs still were not eating well and still feeling sick.  I had picked up a bunch of veterinary diet canned food from my wonderful vet, Dr. Sue Geske, and the dogs were at least eating that so I was able to keep them hydrated.  We started our trip north and hoped the 5 days of rest and relaxation while traveling would help the dogs to feel better.  Everybody was eating the canned food mixed with water, which was keeping everyone really hydrated; however, they still did not feel like eating much kibble.  When we got to Alaska the dogs were starting to feel better and we were going to take them on a short training run to see how they would do running.

Dad and I took the dogs to the Aurora Dog Musher's trail in Big Lake to run on the 10 mile loop.  We double sledded with the 10 dogs since usually after traveling for days they are fired up to run again.  It was not so this time.  The dogs started out really well, but slowed down a lot and were just flat.  It is probably one of the worst training runs I have ever had.  They had no problem going, but were just very slow.  At this point we weren't even sure if I was going to be able to run the race or if I should withdraw my entry.  We decided we would keep running the dogs every day and see if they worked out of this funk.  At this point they were happy and feeling better and were eating pretty well.  Each training run we did was a little bit better and we decided that they would be ready for the race, and that hopefully they would be able to work out of the last bits of the bug during the start of the race.  The only dog that was going to be questionable was Otter, but she had been having a bit of a hard time all year keeping up with the team since her C-section in August.

Well, it was time for the vet checks and I was a little bit concerned since the dogs had lost weight when they were sick.  However, the vets said they looked great and were in great weight.  I guess they were in good enough condition before the bug hit us, that they were still in good healthy weight even after going off their food.  The dogs were feeling and happy and I could tell they were excited for the race.  That night at the musher's meeting, I drew bib number 8, which I was happy with since it was pretty close to the middle.

The next morning the dogs drank their morning water and meal like champions, they had their appetites back and were feeling good.  Instead of taking the normal meat with me to feed at the checkpoint, I took the canned dog food that they had been eating well.  I of course had my normal beef patties as trail snacks to feed them, but wanted to make sure I had something they would eat at Yentna.  The race started out really well, the dogs were feeling normal again after a couple of miles and I was thinking they had worked through the little bit of bug that was left over, but at about the 40 mile mark, my hopes were squashed.  I could kind of see that we had hit the wall, and the dogs slowed way down and were flat again.  I had to stop and put Otter in the sled bag, but when I did that everybody was still happy, so that made me feel better.  At that point I knew we weren't going to be pushing for 1st place, so I focused on having a good, happy run and maybe the dogs would be feeling better after our 10 hour rest at Yentna. 

I carried Otter in the bag the next 10 or so miles, which slowed down our speed even more.  She was fine and was winning because she wanted to run.  I had decided to bag her because she was just having a hard time keeping pace with the rest of the team, and I was going to drop her at the Eagle Song checkpoint, something that I knew before the race I might have to do.  When we stopped at Eagle Song the dogs were all barking and wanting to keep going, so that made me feel better even though we were still going slow.  I dropped Otter there and it is one of the hardest things I've had to do during a race.  Otter always was with me from the start to finish of every race, she was my first lead dog, and she taught me so much the first couple years I was learning how to do longer races.  She had a motherly personality and felt that she was responsible for keeping me and the rest of the team safe, but I knew dropping her was what was best for her even though she would never stop trying to keep up down the trail.

We continued on towards Yentna Station, I knew it was a short and easy 20 miles, but I still felt that a part of our team was missing.  I trusted that the crew at Eagle Song would be taking good care of Otter and the vet there had taking a special liking to her anyways.  Once we got into Yentna, I was sitting in 7th place, which is not to shabby considering how slow we had been going.  I got the team situated in our parking spot and began taking care of the dogs.  I started the ice and snow melting in my alcohol  cooker for water and began taking booties off the dogs and putting their dog jackets on to keep their muscles warm.  Once the snow and ice had melted into hot water, I mixed up there canned food and a little bit of kibble.  They all at really well, so I fed them all a couple beef patties out of my drop bag.  I then started to melt ice and snow so it would be ready for my second feeding.  I left the cooker to do its thing and layed out straw for the dogs and set to work on massaging with Algyval and putting wrist wraps on everyone.  After all the dogs were massaged and sleeping, I made sure to eat and drink as much as I could, something that is a challenge with a belly full of nerves.

At this point, it began to snow.  It wasn't a heavy snow like I've experienced in Montana that just pounds you to the ground, but it kept coming down in huge, heavy flakes.  After only a couple of minutes many inches had already collected on the ground!  I made sure to put all my supplies underneath the sled so I would be able to find it if we got a lot of snow over night.  We got more than a little bit of snow, I had to get out my rain gear and put it on because it was so heavy and wet.  There were feet of fresh snow on the ground and we were only 1/2 way through our rest!  At this point Kaycee had woke up and was being a wild woman like usual.  Everyone else was sound asleep, including Ra and Cessena who were snuggled up next to each other under the branches of a pine tree we were parked next to.  I was keeping a close eye on Kaycee as she was running in circles and squeaking to make sure she didn't decide to start chewing on her neck line or the gangline.  Instead of chewing one of the lines, she decided to grab one of the snow laden pine branches that was hanging over the team and began yanking and growling, shaking the whole tree.  This tree had collected tons of snow since the storm had started, and being disturbed by Kaycee's antics, it dumped its whole load right on top of Ra and Cessena who were peacefully sleeping bellow.  THUMP!!! Ra and Cessena flew out from under the tree covered in snow, and their expressions showed that they were clearly very ticked off at Kaycee.  Kaycee's expression was of complete wow, and I could just hear her thinking, "Did I do that?"  As I held back a chuckle, all three finally curled back up and went to sleep.

 This is a video of a run I did after the race
Bella and Alice are in lead
Emmett and Jasper in swing
Khufu and Super Cub in team
Cessena and Otter in team
Kaycee and Ra in wheel

It was now 2 hours before I needed to leave the checkpoint, so I got out of my sleeping bag and sled and went to mix up a meal for the dogs.  Everyone woke up and ate well again.  Once all were finished, I started to clean up all the supplies I had used and get them ready to load back into the sled.  The snow was still coming down just as heavy as when it had started.  I had pulled my outer layer of clothing off and placed it into a garbage bag when the snow first started falling, but I wasn't sure how long they would remain dry if the snow kept up at this rate during the run to the finish.  I was also concerned that it would be like typical Montana weather: where dawn would come an end to the storm and a sudden drop in temperatures, freezing my wet clothing.  Fortunately, we were in Alaska and this wet storm that came in off the sea was just spinning around on top of us dumping snow by the bucket loads with warm, wet temperatures.  I made sure to pack all of the beef patties from my drop bags so that I would have lot's of snacks for a tough run to the finish with a hungry team of dogs that have just regained their appetite.

We got out of the checkpoint on time and the dogs were feeling good as they set out down the trail.  There was tons of snow on the trail, we had received 6 feet of fresh snow fall in the 10 hours resting at Yentna, and it was still snowing.  At this point, it didn't matter that we were going slow because there was no way we could go any faster in these conditions.  Leaving Yentna, there was a team about 100 yards in front of me, and the snow was already covering up their tracks.  It was just starting to get light out when I went through Eagle Song, and I could see Otter camped with the other drop dogs watching us mush on through.  I was glad to see that she was doing well, but I could feel her sad eyes following us down the trail as we left without her. 

We continued s-l-o-w-l-y down the trail, swimming through all the fresh snow.  It seemed that the snow had let up a little bit and a dim glow of sun was working its way through the clouds.  Snow machines were coming up behind me and going off the trail to get around the dogs only to totally sink into the fresh snow.  The trail was only as wide as the dog teams, so the only way for the machines to get around was to brave the sea of white.  Very few made it around without getting totally submerged, and though we were going slow, I was glad I was on a dog sled and not a snow machine.  It's pretty hard to get a dog team stuck, even in very deep snow conditions.  Every one was doing well except Alice, who had stepped in a moose hole and hurt her shoulder.  I ended up having to put her in the sled bag for the last 10 miles and put Khufu in lead with Bella.  Khufu did great in lead until we caught up with Bailey V. and his team.  I tried to pass him but Khufu was far more interested with the girl dog Bailey had in his sled bag.  It was going to be difficult to pass anyway since the only way to get around the team was to go off into the deep snow.  After some failed attempts with Khufu stopping every time to visit with Bailey's dog, I finally put Super Cub in lead who immediately took off into the deep snow and drug the whole team around Bailey.  The snow was so deep that literally all I could see of Super Cub in front of the team was his little black-tipped ears sticking up out of the swirl of white.

It was a long and miserable run.  What should have taken about 7 or 8 hours took 14 hours.  I was soaking wet through every layer of my clothing and my sled bag had given up on repelling the snow and water.  I was starting to grow concerned because my dogs had never in their life run for so many hours.  I was stopping every hour to give them beef patty snacks instead of my typical every 2 or 2.5 snacking schedule, but I was starting to run low on snacks.  It was a good thing I took all the snacks I had, and fortunately I did not run out.  We finally made it to the finish, and came across the line in 5th place.  I was surprised at how well we finished, but with the all the snow on the last run, even the fast teams were going slow.  When we stopped under the finish banner, the dogs started to bark and jump like they were ready to keep going.  It made me so happy that even though I certainly did not want to go any further, they were still happy and having fun.  I was so proud of them, not only were they recovering from being sick, but they also had to run through conditions that not even some Iditarod mushers have been through.    Dad lead the team to the truck and I pulled Alice out of the bag and attached her back to the gangline while we gave the team all they wanted to eat and drink.  We then loaded back into their boxes in the trailer and they were soon fast asleep. 

Because the race took longer than expected, I had to go in for the finish banquet right after taking care of the dogs and wasn't able to change out of my wet clothes.  It was obvious sitting next to my fellow junior mushers that everyone was beat.  It was good to have a hot meal and relax while awards were being handed out.  When it was my turn to accept my 5th place trophy and prizes and thanked race organizers and all my sponsors, hoping I didn't sound as tired and exhausted as I felt.  I returned to me seat and the race vet came up to present the Humanitarian Award.  I was honored to hear that I was chosen by the race vets to receive this honor.  I was so happy that I had been chosen, but more happy for how happy my team was at the finish line even though it was a tough run into the finish.  Super Cub also received the Blue Harness Lead Dog Award, which was voted on by the other mushers.  Even though he only led the last little bit into the finish, if it wasn't for him it would have taken a lot longer to get pass Bailey's team and on down the trail.  After the banquet, we took care of dogs again for the night and I slept, it didn't take hardly any time for me to fall asleep and I didn't even dream.

We rested for the next couple of days and then took the dogs out training a couple times just for fun.  At this point they were fully recovered and back to their normal, speedy selves.  I wish they had fully recovered before the race, but I could not be more proud of how my team did in the race.  Something was still not right, because Otter had still not been flown back from Eagle Song.  I was so worried for her, and every day we called to see if they had been able to fly the planes out yet.  Because of the snow, all the dogs and volunteers that were at the two checkpoints could not get out by plane or snow machine.  It wasn't until Thursday, four days after the finish of the race, that they were able to get planes in and out of the checkpoint.  We drove to the Willow airport and waited for the plane that would have Otter.  A couple planes flew in with supplies, people, and other dogs, but still no Otter.  The minutes were ticking by slowly, but finally the last plane flew in and landed.  There were a lot of dogs in this tiny plane and we started helping unload all the dogs.  The last one out was Otter and she didn't recognize us at first, she just had this kind of sad expression on because she thought I had left her forever.  Then, she looked up at me and the light bulb went on and she started howling and screaming and jumping all over dad and I.  She was so happy to see us and the pilot came up and told us that she was the best dog he has ever flown in all of his years of volunteering for the Junior Iditarod and Iditarod.  I took Otter back to the truck, and let her ride in the front seat curled up on my lap.

We stayed to watch the ceremonial start of the Iditarod on Saturday in Anchorage.  Sunday, for the official re-start, we were going to take the dog team out on the river and watch the teams go by like we did last year, but I got a stomach flu.  The dogs had had their little bug, and now it was my turn.  Instead of going out on the river, I stayed in bed all day sick as a dog (no pun intended).  The next morning we started home, and I was still sick.  By the time we were back home I had begun to feel better and was able to keep food down.  I was happy to be home, and of course mom was very happy to see us home.  I was hoping to still be able to run dogs after we got home, but almost all our snow had melted and spring had begun.  That is when I started thinking about coming and doing the Junior Iditarod one last time the next year...