3-2-1 Go, As the dogs surge out of the start shoot, What a relief. For me and to most dog mushers getting to the start line is always a huge ordeal, but once all of that is over and we are croozing down the trail that pressure is off and we settle into our comfort zone out there on the trail. I was the 46 and last musher to leave the the start line and as I kicked up the hill out of Paxson I wondered how this race was going to unfold i know i had to get off to a good start and pass as many teams as possible to put me in position to be towards the front in the late miles of the race. The dogs were moving along great. As i looked up and down the team I realized just how strong of a team I had and if I could run a good schedule and keep everybody healthy I had a good shot of being in the top five. On of my main focuses this year is to finish with big teams, IN years past my Kennel had not been very deep but this year i have 24 solid dogs and keeping them healthy and finishing with big teams is one of my main goals for all my races this season. The gin gin is fairly new race in but in only its third running it had 46 mushers leave the start line and with names like Jeff king, Lance Mackey, Mitch Seavey, Ken Anderson and many more competitive mushers I know that this was our time to show that we can run with the "Big Boys". As we rounded the bend at mile 5 the first musher came into view then two more, I thought to myself this is great lets start the passing!! We passed he first team at mile 5 then to my surprise we blew by Mitch Seavey (Iditarod Champion) and his handler at mile 8, and 2 more teams at mile 9. With a big smile on my face and Silver leading the charger we surged by those teams with no problem. But the fun had just begun. there had been rumors that the Wind was blowing on a section of trail and there could be some bare pavement between miles 9-17 as we rounded the bend right around mile 8 the wind picked up then at mile 9 it was blowing around 20 MPH. Then at mile 11 things started heating up, I rounded the corner and the wind hit me like a wall it was blowing from left to right and it was all i could do to keep the sled upright at this point it was probably blowing about 30 mph. AS I started to go down a hill the snow on road became patchy and then was totally gone!! I found myself going totally out of control heading down hill on pavement. That is when I started to see a bunch of other teams. Ahead i could see there were 3 teams stopped on the road there sleds tipped over and dogs totally bunkered down. then as I looked off to the left of the road there was a pretty good drop off and that is when i saw at least 3 teams in a big ball down off the road about 30 yards, it was totally crazy. at this moment I knew that this was my chance to make a move. I yelled Gee Gee Gee to silver and through the 40 mph gusts he headed to the right ditch of the road. but I was now sliding sideways down the pavement heading towards the left bank of the road and directly towards the mushers parked on the road. A few more frantic Gees and silver jumped up in to the ditch I laid the sled over on it side slid across the pavement trying frantically with all my strength to get the sled to catch the right shoulder of the road, Since the sled was tipped over I had a chance, (when he sled upright it acts like a parachute and just blows you and the sled over). now I am yelling Gee Gee Gee Silver ******* Gee and just 20 feet from hitting the dog teams parked in the road my sled hit the right shoulder I threw the sled back upright and we preceded to climb up the right shoulder of the road. When silver was about 20 feet up in the ditch I gave him the straight up command and he straightened out and we sailed right on by all 7 teams that were parked or tangled down the the road. As I passed I yelled through the wind "get moving" to the teams on the road it looked like they had stopped to help the teams down in the ditch but at this point there is nothing you could do and they could get hit by one of the dog teams coming behind me. there is no way to hook down and leave your team at this point without adding to the problems, Going on by these teams was a hard decision for me, I have built a reputation of helping out whenever I could and passing by these teams having problems was hard but I know I made the right decision I would just be adding another dog team and musher to the problem . but the fun was not over for the next 8 miles we fought the winds. MY sled was blowing over at least a few more times and which lead to dragging sideways down a totally blown paved road but Silver kept driving up hill and stayed in the right ditch which prevented us from falling over the edge on the left shoulder. all in all we passed 16 teams through the bad section of wind and as we came out of it an d the winds calmed I knew that this was a race for Wild and Free Mushing. I called the dogs up and we passed three more teams before heading off the road onto a 20 mile loop through the mountains before arriving at Maclaren Lodge the first check point 50 miles into the race. I arrived at Maclaren lodge in 15 position and with the second fastest time, Just 16 minutes behind Jeff King, We passed a total of 30 teams in the first 50 miles. I was fired up the dogs looked great and we had set ourself up perfectly for the second leg of the race. There is a 6 hour mandatory layover here plus your time differential, because I went out last I had to differential and was able to leave after 6 hours which ment I was able to leave in 2nd position at 1231 AM 16 minutes behind Jeff King. But it was going to be busy with in five minutes of my departure 4 other teams could leave, so I was going to have Lance Mackey, Hugh Neff, Allen Moore and Sebastian Schnuelle all on my tail. So I knew i had my work cut out for me. I prepared and feed the dogs they all devoured there food and i headed up to the lodge to get some food and warm up. the temp had dropped to -40 and was falling. After a good meal and a short 1 hour cat nap, I went out to to check on the dogs, At -40 the dogs curl up and dont move I had jackets and blankets on them to help stay warm and they seemed to be resting well. As I went through and put ointment on their feet and booted them in preparation to head out the second leg of the race they didn't seem all that excited to get up and go, but this is the mind games we play all race. AS I look around and see other teams barking and banging at harness to go it freaks me out for just a split second, but then i wake up and realize this is how it is my dogs dont shoe much excitement leading up to leaving checkpoints but they always leave in good fashion. As I booted up the last dog I walked up the line and said ok guys ready all the dogs jumped up they didn't say a word but they were all in the ready position, I went over and said see ya out there to Lance and Hugh and go the checker. it was 1231 AM -40 and we where headed out on a 110 mile run on the frigid Maclaren and Susitna River before hitting the snow covered road for the last 45 miles back into the Maclaren for the second 6 hour mandatory rest. After the checker checked for my mandatory gear I once again heard the count down 3-2-1 go. Ok lets go and like a finely oil machine they all jumped up silently and charged down the river. We were off in second place and chasing King down the trail. one minute later I looked back to see 3 more lights moving out of the checkpoint, the race is on!! Even though i know it was doubtful I would see Jeff on this leg I kicked and pulled with everything I had. this was for two reasons to help the dogs out and stay warm. I am notorious for under dressing. This motivates me to keep moving and help the dogs out throughout the entire run. As we made our way down the Maclaren River I kept looking back to see where my competition was. to my surprise no one was gaining on me. I expected for those guys to catch me and pass pretty early in the run but times are changing for Wild and Free and it wasn't until 2 hours into the run that Sebastian passed me he surged ahead for a little while but then steadily I gained on him and we stayed fairly close for the next few hours. Then Lance came up from behind and stormed on by. let me tell you it is a great honor to be racing with a guy like Lance he and his dogs are totally amazing and watching his team go by so smoothly and efficiently is truly amazing. but again he didn't leave me in the dust, I kept his headlight in my sites for hours to come. And it wouldn't be the last time I saw Lance Sebastian or King!! About 3 hours into the run the fun began. OVERFLOW. open water that can be anywhere from 2 inches deep to knee deep and 3 feet across to 30 feet across. the first section was bad about 5 inches deep and 20 feet across. We charge through but this ment it was time to stop and take all the booties off the dogs and re booty and let me tell you this is quite fun at -40. but it is essential if you don't change booties when they get wet they freeze and can cause all kinds of rubbing problems on the dogs feet. so for the next 15 minutes I had my gloves off booting dogs at -43 degrees. I know it was this cold because I mounted a thermometer to the side of my sled for my enjoyment. it is great entertainment to know how cold it is out there!! As I ma booting Hug hand Braxton (handler for Lance) came by and passed they were going to go a bite further before rebooting, Sometimes if the dogs go through the water fast enough and the conditions are just right they can actually dry the boots off but it is a big gamble and because I need to stay focused on keeping the dogs all at 100% , I choose to reboot right away. As I put the last boot on the my fingers are frozen and numb to the cold I jump back on the sled and off we go, we are now 4 hours into the run and the dogs are moving great, it doesn't take long to catch back up to Hugh and Braxton and I pass them about 5 miles up the trail, unknown to me at the time. i didn't think i would catch them that quickly and thought they were some of the female mushers that had started out ahead of me, this is where the head games set in. it is now 430 in the morning and I am beginning to feel the cold my face is ok except for my nose which had been frostbite multiple times this season so it is really stinging but it doesnt take long before it goes numb again and the pain fades. as I look ahead i see headlamps and don't know who they are but am determined to pass them i start kicking harder, I pull out my ski pole and start poling to help the dogs as well in a matter of a few minutes I went from having a chill to on the brink of sweating!! as we the hours pass by I pass a few more female teams and go through a few more sections of over flow stop reboot and keep moving. about 630 my headlamp dies know I am in the dark the cold temps really took a toll on my Batteries and because I was trying to cut back on weight i didn't bring enough extra. but the dogs are moving well land I just have to stop every 30 minutes to take a look an d make sure everyone is in good shape. by 830 am the horizon is starting to get a little glow it will be hours before it is light but the glow on the horizon has a warming feeling and helps me stay focused. We are know 8 hours into the run and I ma dozing off I tie myself off the sled to make sure I don't fall off the sled during one of my spells and start kicking more consistently again, my legs and arms are now sour from kicking a and pulling for the last 8 hours so my motion is not quite as smooth and has a short 10 second naps mixed in between pushes, but we surge forward. 45 miles from Maclaren the trail heads back onto the road at the Susitna River Bridge, I had been looking for the bridge for hours now. as the sun starts to come up I think i see the bridge around every turn but it never seems to come. This is the toughest part of the run we have now been out for 10 hours the dogs running almost none stop that entire time, the conditions are slow. when the temps are as cold as they were it makes for very slow conditions and now what was a 10-12 mph pass for the first 6-8 hours is now down to a 6 -7 mph slog, throw in some knee deep over flow and it can be very mentally and physically challenging on the musher and dogs. This is were my happy positive attitude really shines i continue to to talk to talk to the dogs and give them lots of encouragement they they seem to respond and keep moving forward. At this stage I still have 10 solid dogs all pulling hard, I am especially proud of two young dogs Skunk and Jerry. They are just under 2 years old and this is by far the longest toughest run they have have ever been on and they are rising up and showing they have what it takes to be great distance dogs. They Motivate me to be stay positive and keep hope that the bridge will be right around the corner. and sure enough at 930 am their it is The Bridge, the excitement in my voice goes up the dogs feed off if it and we crooze up off the river and onto the road, we are excited new trail new scenery and its now light. but after about 1 hour the excitement fades we are truly marching now. the dogs are keeping a steady pace but they are getting a little tired which is understandable since we have now been moving for over 12 hours. The just as I am wondering why the hell i Ma doing this to myself a dog team appears up ahead. I see it the dogs see it and we get a 2 3 4 i don't know maybe 6 wind and we surge forward. At this point I started kicking and pulling and didn't stop until we arrived back at the lodge. As we chased down the musher ahead wondering who it was I see another team up ahead. we are now in the open country and can see bends in the trail ahead, I am totally confused at this point as too who these people are we we approach the first team an pass I find it is Aliy Zirkle. we said a few words to each other and passed on by. As we crest a hill i look a head and see who i never thought I would see KING yes we are in striking distance of Jeff king then a ways behind him i see Lance and then just ahead of me is Sebastian. This is enough motivation to totally forget about my sore muscles and start working even harder, i gained Sebastian and thought to myself just stay with him and we have a shot at this. But this was truly a battle now I kept pulling which forced Sebastian to keep pulling to stay ahead, it was perfect for the last 10 miles of the run we had a team ahead of us to chase and the dogs really enjoyed that, AS Maclaren lodge came into to view a big smile came to my face. not only had we had a great first run but the second was even better, this was huge never before I had we been so close to the likes of Jeff, Lance and Sebastian. it was a very proud moment and called the dogs up as we followed Sebastian right into the checkpoint!! I as I drove the team to my parking spot i went by Sebastian he looked up and said I have never worked so hard I am going to be soar for days because of you. I smiled and thought to myself Better get use to it because we are here to stay!!! We had just completed a 13 hour 57 minute 110 mile run and we were at the Front of the pack racing with the best in the business. I stopped dropped the hook and was almost shaking with excitement we were 160 miles into this race and parked next to Quest and Iditarod Champions!! Amazing. I went up and down the team with excitement petting the dogs and letting them know they had just done something amazing. I tended to a few rubs from my frozen jackets, Jerry had a frostbite Nipple (OUCH) I snack and feed the dogs and headed in. the temp still hung right at -42. Inside everyone told war stories about their run in a way it was comforting to know that everyone had had as similar experience. it was a tough run no doubt. as more mushers came in more trail stories of deep over flow and frozen fingers came pouring in, As I sat eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and listening to everyones tale, it is comforting to know that everyone was challenged on this run. We are now on another mandatory 6 hour rest here and then a 40 mile run back to Paxson and the Finish line. That's when the report comes in that the wind is still blowing up top and conditions we will likely be the same our worse for us by the time we can leave. On top of that it will be dark and I am down to my little headlamp. but there is really no doubt in my mind that I am going. Everyone else is contemplating staying longer. I don't rule it out because getting the dogs up after a 14 hour run with just six hours rest could be hard on the dogs. I go down to take a look and notice that Ling Ling, Silver, Budget and Ross are all sitting up. My decision was made I was going they were not resting well it was -42 on the river where they are parked and it was only -17 in Paxson just 40 miles and some windy conditions away. I didn't say much, Lance and Sebastian said they were going back to bed Jeff called his wife and said he was scratching and heading back to Cantwell. and the whole Time I sat there and said were going to Win this thing!! Jodi Bailey had been having a great runs and was winning the female race I was just 2 hours behind her and she also decided to go. Jodi had a really solid race and is also proving she can handle a very powerful team (something she always says is a challenge). I looking forward to competing against Dan Kaduce when her runs their team in the Quest. Colleen Robertia who was currently running in second in the women's Division. and could leave at 809 PM was also getting ready to leave. I was especially impressed with Colleen and her dogs she always seemed very upbeat and happy and it reflected in her dogs. I dont think she ever even thought twice about heading out into the wind. So at 755 I booted the dogs up watched Colleen leave waited 12 minutes and pulled the hook once again the dogs jumped up and stormed right out of the checkpoint and up onto the road. It was a good ting because I couldn't see where we were gong at all because my light was so dull. We were off for the finish line, in first place and the dogs new it! I met John Schandelmeier (race Marshal) on his way to Maclaren on SNowmachine, he stopped and said it was blowing pretty good up there and that there was even more pavement. I thank John for putting on a great race and we continued climbing. The temp warmed up to a balmy -17 which seemed like a heat wave after being out at -40 for over 13 hours. as we approached the windy area I called Silver up gave him the haw haw haw command so he would stay in the ditch on the left side. he did, and the wind once again hit us like a wall we battled through it for the next 39 minutes. This time it was alittle different there were no other teams around to run into but I had next to no light I could barely see Silver, bit once again he proved he is THE MAN and drove straight into the wind I did a few tumbling slides on the pavement but made it through. I was pelted pretty hard with the wind and blowing snow and paid for it with some frost bite on my face but that is a little to pay for the experience the dogs and I had just had over the past 38 hours. As the lights of Paxson came into view I thought about all wind and snow training we had went through out in Eureka and realized how amazing it is out there. it should be mentioned that on the way out The Dude was in lead with Silver in the wind and on the way back Ling Ling was SIlvers leader mate both of these dogs deserve alot of credit as well, they gave me great confidence that they are also very strong leaders. As we pulled up to the Finish line, Josh and Danny there to greet us, I was one hell of a proud Dad, We had done it not only proven that we can run with the "Big Boys" but that Wild and Free will prevail in adverse conditions. But most important to me was that we finished with a full team of healthy happy dogs!! It was off to the bar for two full meals and a beer. What a race. I hope that this Novel was entertaining it got a long. After a good sleep in the Trailer courtesy of Horst Expediting and Remote Operations, and the awards banquet, where we collected our check and a really nice Handmade metal, that was sponsored to the race, we we made it back to Fairbanks late last night. As I site and type this all 10 of my champions are stretched out on the couch and floor around me resting and I am sure dreaming about then next time we hit the trail. the temps have now plummeted here in fairbanks, it is -43 right now and supposed to drop even more in days to come, I have a few more thing to do in town and then it is back out to Eureka where Kyla has been training the dogs left behind, just two weeks and we will be back on the race trial in the Copper Basin 300 look for an even stronger team in that race as we get closer to figuring out who will make the 2009 Quest Team. thanks for stopping by and thanks to all of my sponsors it is because of you that we are able to make it to these races and show we have what is takes to make it to the top. Until next time
Brent and the Gin Gin Champs!!!