I tried to sit down and write an all-inclusive story of our race. However, there are just too many great little anecdotes that were being glossed over. Instead, I decided to write about each event as its own short story. The stories are completely out of order. Here is part #1.
SHORT STORIES OF THE 2014 QUEST 300- Part #1
Back Home Thoughts
As I put the dogs back at their individual houses after their first ever 300 miles of rugged wilderness, mountain peaks, ponds of overflow, winding rivers, and city streets, I couldn’t help but wonder... what are they thinking?
Rucu (laying in his straw in the dark silent dog yard whispering to Supai): “Hey brother... bro... are you awake?”
Supai (grunting): “What.”
Rucu: “Dude, what just happened?”
Supai (yawning): “I don’t know, bro, but I’m pretty sure Fez thinks I’m hot now.”
Rucu (still pondering): “We just went so far...”
Supai: “Yeah man, I’m sure Fez saw. Every time we stopped, I pissed real high and macho, so I’m like the top dog of....Alaska.”
The Start- The Real Answers to the Two Most Common Questions
The day of the race, I was asked two main questions:
Question #1. “Are you ready?”
Generic answer: “Ready as I’ll ever be! Let’s do this!”
The truck was packed and loaded. My mind went in a circular loop, checking off the essentials: sled, gangline, harnesses, dogs, parka...check. Yep ok...no wait... I should check again. Sled, gangline, harnesses, dogs, parka...ok. I’d left a long list of dog care information for Bree, my friend watching all the pups left at home. I tossed extra bundles of rope and leashes into the back of the truck. You never know when you can use rope. If I forgot my gangline, I could fashion one with the rope. Or if I forgot my straw tiedown on the sled, I could quickly make one. Yeah, I’ll bring extra. And more trash bags. You never know when you could use a trash bag. And I’ll grab one more harness, just in case I miscounted. Ok. I’m ready.
Question #2: “Are you excited?”
Generic answer: “Yes! We can’t wait!”
The Quest 300 was the race we had prepared for all season. All the late night runs after work, all the six a.m. runs before class, it was in preparation for this race. The Quest 300 was our vacation. I couldn’t wait to break through the starting shoot and escape into our three days of adventure. For three days, I could let go of every worry about the future, of every looming deadline and obligation. I couldn’t wait to just focus on the dogs and live not by the human clock, but by the musher’s cycle of run-rest-run. I couldn’t wait to explore some of the most beautiful country Alaska has to offer from the back of a dog sled. Was I excited? Hell yes.
About 80 miles into the race, we encountered our first major climb: Rosebud Summit. This section will forever be on my internal highlight reel of life. The dogs were jazzed after a peaceful campout about 10 miles past the Two Rivers checkpoint. Due to the immaturity of the team, I had opted to camp away from checkpoints at the beginning thinking the pups would rest better away from the hustle and bustle of the race. Plus, with temperatures hovering comfortably around zero, I enjoyed a short nap too.
Winding our way up, the trees began to shrink and warp until we finally reached treeline. A low, shifting fog stubbornly hung around us, lifting in little patches to reveal a world of treeless, rounded peaks and ridges. We were even welcomed by an explosion of ptarmigan swirling around the team. As we climbed higher, the trail steepened significantly. Prior to this, I had climbed a few steep trails with a dog team, but this was by far the steepest. I found myself out of breath, walk/dragging behind the sled with the handlebar above my head. Yes, it was that steep. And I was that out of shape.
At one point, the sled stuck on a patch of rock and teetered with the center of gravity weighing it back downhill. We were briefly at a standstill. To cue the dogs to lunge in unison, I hollered “Ready.....” then “Hike!” However, not everyone was on the same page. Supai, in all his excitement, threw his whole body into the task just a half second too soon. With our harness set up, the dogs do not wear necklines. Therefore, when Supai hit the end of his tugline, expecting the sled to move with the combined effort of the team, the sled didn’t budge. But Supai did. I looked up at the last moment to see Supai attempt to recover from his poor timing with an extremely uncoordinated, flailing backflip. He landed with his back in the snow, where he proceeded to kick his legs like an upside-down beetle. When he managed to right himself, he quickly looked around as if to say- no one saw that right? The image kept me laughing all day long.
Ham- Ham was one of the most enthusiastic dogs on the team. He led the bulk of the race and was unfazed by overflow or steep terrain, dragging the whole team behind him. At only two years old, this guy has a blindingly bright future.
Neptune- Neptune, who joined the team from Riley Dyche’s kennel, is Ham’s sister. She’s a female version of Ham and led the team often.
Dingle- Dingle, from SP Kennel, was the man. With multiple 1000-mile races under his belt, he brought much needed maturity to the team. His Gee/Haw response was instant, unless of course I was wrong and then he’d correct me.
Cartel- Cartel was a cheerleader. She led one leg of the race with Dingle but prefers to be in swing. Her high-pitched ra-ra-ra-ra gets the whole team excited.
Lester- I need to preface Lester, from SP Kennel, briefly: Three years ago, I ran with Lester in the Quest 300. He was two years old, and it ended up being the first mid-distance race he finished. I remember wrapping both his wrists, putting hand warmers in a shoulder jacket to keep him loose, and placing multiple blankets and a dog jacket on him at rests. He wasn’t injured or even sore, I just didn’t want to give him any reason to quit. Lester just didn’t consider himself a tough sled dog yet, and honestly, I wasn’t convinced either. Oh how he has changed. Since that race, Lester has gone on to finish two Iditarods and multiple mid-distance races. He’s a confident dog with a can-do attitude. His calm demeanor and trail savvy were a great influence on the youngsters.
Kindi- Kindi was sassy. All the yearlings did exceptional, but she was probably the MVY (most valuable yearling) of the race. Every time we stopped, she’d be screaming to go. There is never a bad day in the life of Kindi.
Rucu- Rucu was one of the hardest pullers on the team. He ate well, slept well, and was a powerhouse. On the final run into Central when the team sped up, he was one of the main drivers. I can’t wait to see him mature.
Supai- Supai was rock solid. He always had a tight tugline and was completely focused. I was surprised he stayed so energized because he refused to rest at the first two campouts.
Fez- Fez was the little energizer bunny. She has a fast paced trot that was smooth and mesmerizing to watch. Fez doesn’t show much emotion, but she’s always ready to go.
Brie- Brie was the cheerleader. After every break, she was the first to start barking. She and Fez ran in wheel together.
Katy- Katy was dropped at the Two Rivers checkpoint. About 5 miles from the checkpoint, she had developed some stiffness in her shoulder. It appeared to be just a cramp, but since I wasn’t stopping at the checkpoint, I couldn’t take the gamble and bring her down the trail. I was pretty disappointed because Katy has been one of the strongest yearlings in training.
Derby- Derby improved with every run. Coming into Mile 101, Derby appeared a little tired, but after that run, she became a new dog. She was always slamming her harness to go.