Monday, March 4, 2019

Flathead Classic Sled Dog Race 2019

They did it again! Completely amazed me with their speed! The fast four (Jig, Whip, Buck and Flier) have proven their name again and finished the Flathead Classic in 2nd place of the 8 teams entered!

We arrived at the race in Olney, MT on Friday evening (2/22) for the snacks and musher meeting. One of the things that amazes me about this race is the amount of sponsorships they obtain. As an organizer of our local races, I know how hard this can be. Our musher packets had a large amount of swag (O'Keefe's tough hands lotion and lip balm, a new pair of thermal work gloves, a race hat and more!!)

After the meeting we got settled in our tiny cabin at the Dog Creek Lodge and fed the dogs. We were all amped for the races to start in the morning.

The races only contained 6- & 4-dog sled teams this year. They needed another year to get things situated better for the big 8- & 12-dog teams. So, our team was set to leave fairly early at 9:18, the second 4-dog team out! Because we were staying at the race site, I actually didn't need to get up too early! Waking up at 7am was more than enough time to get all my gear set, the dogs dropped, watered and pottied. In no time, we were off!

It had snowed overnight a few inches so the trail was a little slower than I expected. They ran the course in reverse this year, as there are a lot of turns and meeting teams on a corner it is better for both teams to be turning right than left, to avoid obvious crossing problems. They were fairly quick through the first loop, I only need to run with them a few times up some small hills. We had caught the first team early on in the first loop and now were running in front on the course. When I came to the point where we were to start into the second loop the trail volunteers were blocking the trail, trying to send me the wrong way. I sat there for about 30 seconds arguing the course with them before they finally moved aside and we continued on our way.

After the first two loops (different loops, not the same done twice), the course brings you RIGHT back by the start/finish line and sends you out on the longest, hardest last loop. My team came blazing through the start area and out to the last loop super quick with no problems! And then we hit it....the killer climb!

I knew it was long and steep and hard but I didn't realize how long and steep and hard it really was. Last year, they sent us on this loop first when the dogs were still hot and fast from the start line. Now we were more than halfway through the race and the dogs were tired. I was sucking some SERIOUS wind by the top of the hill but we made it and it was nearly all downhill from there! Again the trail volunteers tried to send me the wrong way, to the 6-dog 18 mile course, but they were not blocking my turn and I just turned right, telling them the 4-dog teams were to follow the blue arrows and turn right. As we ran off, I heard a "oh yea!" The last portion of the trails had a good amount of technical turns, making it quite fun. We finished strong and I was super proud of them!

I felt the dogs had done well but I had NO idea where we'd be in the standing. I would not have been surprised if we had been in the back of the 8 racers or up front. When all racers were in, I was pleased to see we were in 3rd after day 1!

We watched the skijorers and fatbikers race the rest of the morning, enjoyed pizza with friends that evening and relaxed.

The next morning was COLD and we had no fresh snow so the trail had set nicely overnight and felt like it was going to be fast! They started us in reverse order, slowest to fastest, so we went out 6th. The trail was INDEED much faster. I did not need to help the dogs at all through the first loops. In fact, I barely held on ;)

This time I did not need to argue with trail help and we were cookin'. We came screaming around the corner at the start/finish out to the last loop. Here I started running with the team on the hills. We kept a good pace up the hills, it helped that we caught Butch Parr halfway up the hill, they knew the team was close and that kept them pushing. The killer climb felt much shorter this time, it really helped us all that the trail was firm, making the running easier! We passed the 2nd place team going backwards on the loop, which was a tad surprising but was no consequence to the dogs, they kept charging down the hill.

Buck not pleased to be wearing a Canadian harness. Kim Stanley let me try this Tough Skin Harness from Howling Dog Alaska on him. I'm considering getting the US version of this for him for canicross this spring.

In the end, we had moved into 2nd place and ran over 6 minutes faster on day two! AMAZING! I was quite pleased with the team and glad to end our snow racing season on two fantastic races!

Next up! DRYLAND! The Spring Fling in Cle Elum. April 20th & 21st!

Good puppas!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Priest Lake Sled Dog Race 2019

Last weekend was the Priest Lake Sled Dog Race. It is a long running race, having run its first 50 years ago. This is our favorite race. The course is a blast, the accommodations are splendid (Elkins Resort), the lake is beautiful, and the club/race officials are so relaxed and friendly. Unfortunately this year, my family could not come with me (which we usually treat as a family vacation). Fortunately for me, my friends Valentina and Stefano came with!

Things did not look promising when it began raining at Sandpoint, Idaho and only got heavier the closer we got to Priest Lake. It poured all night, huge puddles around the cabin and wet dogs every time we dropped them. Our cabin-mate, fellow Siberian musher Kim Stanley and I were beginning to doubt our decisions to attend the race. Moods were definitely improved when we ate the wonderful dinner Valentina and Stefano made us. A rich pasta dish (can’t remember the name) along with pork chops (cooked to perfection) and potatoes.

By the next morning, the rain had stopped and we all were ready to race. Valentina and Stefano were volunteering, they were going to post up on the first turn, making sure the teams made the gee turn. This year we were entered in the 4-dog sprint, 2 days of 4.7 miles each. I was running Jig and Whip in lead and Flier and Buck in wheel. There were 6 fellow competitors, of which Kim was one. The day was warm, the snow was soggy (but not too bad, given the amount of rain overnight. As the day progressed more and more spectators arrived. Each time I dropped dogs, a large semicircle of people formed to ask questions and pet the dogs. How could they not, our Sibes are beautiful, if I may say so myself. In fact, I had the friendliest spectators parked right next to me. They traveled 1.5 hrs to come watch the races. They basically tail-gated the dog sled race (awesome!). On the tailgate of their pickup truck they had campstoves with gumbo and chili and they also had pie, rice crispy treats, chips, and beer. They were having a great time and asked a lot of great questions. They offered me food before my race but I declined as I planned on running A LOT with my team. But as soon as I was back to the truck and had water to my dogs, they came over with all sorts of food for me!

Finally our race time came. The dogs were lined out, led to the chute (where Jig about peed her pants due to the number of spectators) and we wert off. They were fast and ready to run.


About 1.5 miles down the trail we caught Kim and Nonna’s teams. It was narrow but we passed. They hung tight to us for another two miles where my team had to stop multiple times for bathroom breaks. We were passed, then we re-passed but Nonna’s team finally passed us again and I decided to hold the team back and follow into the finish. Once the times were posted I was surprised to find we were in 2nd!!!! One minute 8 seconds behind Dan Hanks’ hound team (very big deal). Especially given the warm temperatures, that was an amazing run for my team.

That evening we had dinner with the race organizers at the Elkins restaurant and had a great time sharing stories and laughs. The next morning, I managed to stay calm and focused. We had a good lead on 3rd place so as long as we had a clean, smooth run, we should be able to hang on to 2nd. Day 2 was cooler and, Superbowl Sunday, so we did not expect as many spectators but I still decided to switch Jig out of lead for Buck, give her a break from the major stress and let her just run. This was a hood decision as the team ran faster. They started us in order of fastest to slowest and we did not encounter anyone on the trail for day 2. After two days of racing the team finished in 2nd running the combined 9.4 miles in under 1 hr (52 min 22 sec).

Super impressed with these dogs. We had so much fun!

The drive back was stressful as a large storm system had moved in. By Thompson Falls, the temperature was 20F with strong winds. All the wet gear and trailer parts had frozen. It took us 20 minutes to free the dogs from their boxes, after breaking and cutting away ice. I am very thankful to Valentina and Stefano for accompanying me. It made a very stressful drive easier and more entertaining, especially our 2 hilarious and fun hours of playing 20 questions.