Thursday, January 5, 2012
Sheep Mountain 150 Part 3
Those rookie demons are still haunting me. In the Sheep Mountain Race we use the same parking spots for both checkpoint layovers. You put out most of the straw the first time, saving a little because the second time you will park in the opposite direction. That means your sled is where your wheel dogs used to be and your leaders are where the sled was parked. So you have some straw for the leaders and to freshen the other piles. This time the wind has blown most of the straw to Siberia. Everyone has to share the little bit we have left. It is a psychological boost, but offers no real warmth.
With the howling wind and blowing snow, I put the coats back on the dogs, grateful I brought them in spite of the warm forecast. Booties are off and the dogs curl up while I get hot water for dinner. Bad news. The dogs are in survival mode and only Frodo and Z-2 really eat. Dukat picks at it and everyone else refuses to even raise a head. Dang. I dump it on the snow to encourage eating, knowing I probably shouldn’t, but only a couple more touch any. Let’s get some breakfast and rest. Maybe it will look better later.
Lexi talks me into fixing them some broth but they still don’t move. Scratching runs though my head. I walk away hoping they will eat the broth in my absence, enviously watching another team barking to go as they are being hooked up.
Oh well, it is about 5 miles to Martin Road. If they still look this poor when we get there I can go straight to Sheep Mountain Lodge and scratch. I take off their coats and start to hook them up. About half way through the team they come to life and start to bark. The change is incredible. This poor, tired, worn out, dog team that didn’t want to move is screaming to go again.
This sport is so mental, for both the dogs and the musher. We hadn’t raced for two years and the dogs forgot what a checkpoint looked like and what they were supposed to do there. We hadn’t raced for two years and I lost faith in my team when I saw that behavior. Message to self – never give up!
The dogs take off stronger than at the beginning of the race. Storm or no storm we are having fun. There is some blown in trail getting to Martin Rd but the dogs plough right through it. The climb up Belanger Pass is long and steep in parts. We stop to rest several times, but there was no thought of turning back. I rest the team less than a minute, until a couple of dogs bark to go (typically Mocha and Ginger), and we are off again.
The backside of Syncline Mountain is protected from the storm, and after the pass we gain ground on the team following us. I still have Klinger and Dash in lead. Remember that stream that Rosemary and Pilfer balked at on the first run. We approach it and I get ready to stop on a dime and avoid the tangle, but Klinger and Dash jump over the creek without pausing and everyone else has to follow. What great leaders!
The further we get into the run the stronger the dogs get. We pass one team as we round the bend onto Squaw Creek and charge back to Martin Rd. As we get closer to Martin Rd the dogs got more and more excited. Going down the road to the turn to Gunsight Mountain I could hardly hold them back. We turn off the road onto the trail and the reason becomes obvious – there is a team ahead of us. I am supposed to be training slow and steady for the Quest, but what the heck – this is a race. I let the dogs go. They settled into a ground eating trot, not a lope (all my training was paying off!). Slowly we gain ground and then suddenly pass the other team. But the dogs don’t settle down. Sure enough another team is ahead of us. We catch and pass them only to see another team in the distance. Altogether we caught and passed 4 teams from Martin Rd to the finish line. Man that feels good!
The race finishes at the East end of the Lodge parking lot. Most teams with handlers have moved their dog trucks to the parking lot to make loading the dogs easier after the race. My truck was still at the airport, across the parking lot and down a side road beside the lodge. I ask for help to lead Klinger and Dash to the side road, but Klinger wants no part of it. He starts to the line of trucks to the left looking for our truck. “Gee.” He goes to the right side line of trucks. “Haw” he comes back to the middle still heading across the lot.
There is a car coming out of the road to the airport. They stop, but their headlights almost blind us in the dark. “Gee.” Klinger swings right around the car, sees the road and follows it to the dog truck. I almost fall off the sled. Open field gee/haw is very advanced leader work. I’d been training for it, but never thought they were this good. Wow!
We wind up 30th out of 44 finishers and 46 starters, the first time I’m not dead last in this race. The first and third loops in this race are the same, just run in opposite directions. We ran the third loop 15 minutes faster than we ran the second loop. Exactly the type of performance I wanted. This reminds me of a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte "The art of choosing men is not nearly so difficult as the art of enabling those one has chosen to attain their full worth." – works for dogs too and that is the thrill of sled dog racing!
As for my momentary lack of faith at Eureka Lodge, I need to remember “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” - Calvin Coolidge
Keep the faith and
Keep ‘em Northbound