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