We did it! The yearlings and I finished our first race in the morning hours on Saturday. Again I'd like to thank all the Ryno kennel sponsors as well as Alaska Icefield Expeditions because without them we most likely wouldn't have been in this race. Also, a huge shout-out to Liz Schell, my handler for the race (Ryne's other handler). I know handling isn't the most fun thing in the word, especially when you have to stand outside in the cold for multiple hours throughout the night, but I couldn't have done the race without you behind the scenes so thank you very much!!!! As for the race itself, it went as smooth as it could've for the team and I.
At the start of the race, the team immediately had the poise and calmness of an experienced team. As we waited for our start time, the dogs sat calmly by the truck, not even a little bit phased by the new experience of being in a new location with hundreds of other barking dogs in sight. It wasn't until we started hooking up, that they couldn't hold they're excitement anymore. We left Chatanika Lodge around 12:40 pm on Friday and immediately started hill climbing. The first hill took all of us (especially me) by surprise, it was a big hill that we all worked hard to climb. Once we finally got to the top, we had a nice view of some teams climbing the second hill, and we over took them soon after. We passed three teams in the first hour and a half, and all but one went smooth. The weather was beautiful with a little, light snow. Unfortunately, the trail in the hills was soft and punchy (in certain sections) which meant we could not go as fast as we would've liked. There was a nasty down hill section with a bunch of "s" turns that had the inside corners washed out with 3ft drops. The dogs handled it well with the exception of Flash. Flash ended up, hitting all 3 washed out sections, and I definitely thought she'd have a wrist/shoulder injury after that. I stopped as soon as I could and checked Flash out. Not only was she completely fine, she was smiling, screaming, waging her tail and harness banging. After the hills, we dropped down into the valley and shortly after ran into my only negative situation of the race. We then hit a section of trail that had brush hanging over on all sides. When I was maneuvering around a tree stump, I ended up getting a stick lodged between my sled and brake bar that ended up snapping off the right side mount of the brake bar. The stick basically ended up acting as a pry bar, and before I could do anything my brake broke. At the point of the incident, I had about 2 hrs to go to the lodge, so I had to come up with some kind of fix. I ended up lashing the brake back to where it was originally mounted with some Paracord, and my fix held up for most of the leg.
When I ended up getting to the checkpoint (about 630 pm), I decided that my brake could not be repaired and ended up having to replace my sled, which gave me an hour time penalty. The time penalty did not matter to much to me because the whole goal of the race was to get the youngsters some valuable race experience, and our finish time did not really matter. At the checkpoint, everyone looked great, and I didn't see any injurys. Everyone ate their food and got some rest; how much rest I'm not exactly sure but Liz watched the team while I rested and said she was surprised at how well they did! I ended up not getting any rest myself because I was too excited about how everyone was doing. The game plan for the team was equal run equal rest; it took me 5.5 hours to run to the lodge, so we then rested 5.5 hours there and left the lodge at midnight. It started as a nice peaceful run, but I knew I really had to pay attention because now we were in Two Rivers and getting lost would be fairly easy. After about an hour of running, I ended up having a head on pass with another racer. That was not supposed to happen. At first I thought it might not be a racer and just someone out on the trails but after another 10 minutes, I saw another headlamp and dogs coming down the trail ahead of me. We ended up stopping about 20ft from each other, and we met in the middle to talk. He was a fellow racer who was lost and said there was something funny with the trail markers ahead. After about 5 minutes of talking another racer ended up coming down trail in the wrong direction and we ended talking and got everyone headed down the right trail. After that, it was smooth sailing, the team was fast on the local flat, fast trails, and we cruised into the finish around 530am. Everyone again looked great and I was actually on my brake the last 10 miles because our guys were cruising. Our team did amazing and they had such a fun time!!! I'm so proud of these guys and can't wait to see how they do in the race pool next year!!!
Niagra and Ham (lead)
Niagra and Ham ran lead the entire race and unfortunately they did have some hiccups. As I said earlier, our second pass didn't go smooth and that's because Niagra and Ham didn't want to pass for whatever reason that is. The fellow musher ended up having to help assist us pass. Also we ran into some unexpected overflow when we dropped into the valley. Again Niagra and Ham didn't feel comfortable crossing and we ended up getting in a little bit of a tangle. I can't be too upset there because I myself would feel a little uncomfortable leading a team across unknown water depths. After this little hiccup, Niagra and Ham were flawless and proved they were the veterans of the team.
Cooke is the all star of the youngsters and ran in swing the entire race. He usually runs lead on our training runs and listens/responds very well to commands. After my overflow incident I mentioned above, I considered putting Cooke up in lead but after I broke my brake, I decided to leave Cooke in swing just for the sake of keeping things the same. Cooke looped most of the race and ate all his snacks as fast as he could. He performed just as I imagined, flawlessly. I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but Cooke is definitely my favorite!!!
Nile ran in swing the entire time with Cooke as well. Nile also occasionally runs lead and has a great drive. He, just like most the other yearlings, performs amazing day in and day out. In the race, he was great, he did nothing to make him stand out (which is a good thing). He ate and did everything with a huge smile on his face!
So these four guys and girls all ran in team. These guys did most the hard work and didn't miss a beat. The tugs were tight the entire race and the all ate very well (minus Elmer with our first snack). These guys were our power, and they were dogs that really didn’t need much supervision. They were all dogs that didn't do anything spectacular or new, but dogs that put their heads down, pulled, and didn't get in any trouble. I was extremely happy with all four of these guys.
CJ was the only dog in team that was not a yearling. I haven't ran CJ much this year, so I can't say too much but she performed great. She was another one of those dogs that I did not notice much, which is a good thing. CJ ran the first 50 miles by herself and then the last 50 miles with Badger.
Louie is another one of the all stars of the team. He has a lot of miles in lead already and responds to commands fairly quickly. I put Louie in wheel for the race to help with hills and to let him relax for these runs. Louie did exactly what I asked of him and used his power to help up the bigger hills. As expected and like the other dogs, Louie did phenomenal and performed like a veteran.
Flash is one of my favorite yearlings but before this race, I definitely considered her the weakest link. She is real ditzy and clumsy but is always excited and vocal. This race she proved how unbelievably tough she is!! As I mentioned before, there was a downhill section where she got tossed around. I was 100% expecting some kind of injury to her, but to my amazement she was ready to go with a smile on her face! She ate well on the race which can be a little bit of an issue for her at the kennel. She also surprised me at the end of the race, the last 10 miles of the race we ended up passing 3 other teams. Each time we caught a team, Flash would get real excited and start barking which got everyone else jacked up!!! It acted as a morale booster and it was a pleasant surprise to see Flash help out the team that way!