Monday, January 19, 2009
Copper Basin 300 Chapter 1- Wolverine to Glennallen
3-2-1 GO!! I pulled the hook and we shot out of the Starting shoot of the 2009 Copper Basin 300. I had drawn #10 the night before, a good start number especially when the temps at the start on Lake Louis were hovering right around -45. Waiting around would not have been a lot of fun at those temps. As we found our way across the lake in the thick Ice Fog I looked back at the past weeks and still wondered if I had made the right decision in my training, Because of extremely cold temps in the Interior we had headed south to my Dads cabin just outside of Homer in hopes of finding warmer temperatures. We did find warm temps and great trail conditions but living on the road, out of the truck is not an easy task with 24 dogs. Because of this I was still not 100 percent sure that the decision would pay off in the end. But here we were at the start of the Copper Basin and the results of this race were going to give me the answer to my question. We were moving along great. I already knew that moving south to the balmy 5 degree weather offered by the Caribou Hills had been very beneficial to the dogs weight and conditioning, but weather all the moving around and living out of the truck had affected the Dogs mental attitude and long distance conditioning was yet to be determined. One thing was for sure the warmer temperatures were great for me, and my recovering frostbite from the Gin Gin 200 just 2 weeks earlier. As we passed our first team just 5 minutes into the race things were looking good. Other then The Dude and Silver splitting the musher and causing a brief stop to straighten them out it was a smooth pass and we were on our way. The trail report from the CB300 trail crew was fast hard trails for the first 4o miles into the Glenallen Checkpoint. I didn’t want to start to fast but I did want to get out in front and stay there for most of the race and this fast trail was going to help. Next we past Sebastian Schnuelle who had taken the other option when the fridged temps blanketed the Interior. He chose to bunker down and gave the dogs two weeks off. This was going to be a good comparison for me since that is what I could of done instead of heading south to Homer. I was going to keep a good eye on Sebastian throughout this race. With Silver at the helm it was an easy pass and we were on our way with only 6 mushers in front of me. I caught Martin Jahr next,e his team was moving nice so I decided to follow for a while and get the dogs calmed down after going out of the shoot at 14 miles an hour. As the trail took a left turn we went from a nice hard packed trail to some soft sugary snow. I just figured this was a connection trail and before long we would be back on the hard stuff. Once we got in the middle of this soft stuff my team started moving faster so we passed Martin and continued on. Sure enough after 5 miles we were back on hard fast trail and moving fast again. Before this race I had told myself that in order to do the best we could do I had to be a large part of the effort so just 10 miles into the race my Ski pole was out and I was kicking and Poling to help the dogs down the trial. In doing so we quickly caught Tamara Rose and Josh Cadzo and passed both of them. I wished them both a good race as we went by as they did the same to me. Tamara is my vet, and over the past few years has gotten sled dog fever, She has a small Kennel of her own and has been doing a lot of racing and has done very well. It is great to have a Vet that has her own dogs and is out there running races. It is very beneficial to both her and her clients. She defiantly has a better understanding of what goes on with the dogs out on the trail. Josh is a young Native kid from Fort Yukon who in his first race blew the Competition away and won 2008 Quest 300. I see a lot of myself in this kid since I did the same thing in my first race in 2006. He is also signed up for the 1000 mile Quest this year and I wish him the best. As we croozed onto Tolsona Lake and closed in on the first checkpoint the dogs were moving along great. The trial makes a big loop on the lake and I was able to see Newton Marshal and Hans Gatt as they pulled out of the checkpoint. I pulled in the Checkers did a quick check of my gear and off we went. I quickly caught Newton and passed him with no problems. Newton is a real story he is from Jamaica and has been training with Hans Gatt over the past few months. He is also signed up for the Quest this year. This Race is really going to serve as a great test for a guy use to 80-degree temps. He has a great attitude and I am sure will do very well. Shortly after passing Newton the race trail took a hard left and we went, once again from a hard packed fast trail to a trail that looked like it had been run over with a snow machine 2 hours ago. We dropped from moving 12 miles an hour down to 7 and the slog began. Because of my experience in previous years when this leg of the race is the finishing leg I pretty much new it was going to be like this until the next checkpoint in Glennallen. So we settled into moving 7MPH and just slogged along. This section of trail is a long straightaway, so I looked back to see how Newton was doing, I didn’t see him which I thought was a little odd I hoped that he made the left turn. It was marked well but the hard packed trail went straight and with memories of last year when Sigrid had the race all but won 20 miles from the finish and went straight at the very turn and ended up going 10 miles in the wrong direction I began to wonder about Newton, I hoped he stopped to booty or fix something and that slowed him down. The next time I looked back it was a different team a team that is very hard to miss all red Jackets and moving like a freight train. It was Lance he was coming up behind me not to fast but defiantly making time on me. As he got closer I pulled over and let him by we both said hi and he asked if I expected the soft trail I said HELL NO he concurred and passed on by. We hung with lance for a long time before the trail took some turns and he went out of sight. The dogs were moving good I was talking and singing to the keep their spirits high because in conditions like this it is easy for the dogs to get bummed out. It is a little painful watching the dogs battle through the soft deep snow, but I just think back to all the trail breaking we did back in Eureka and it comforts me to know that they are prepared for tough trails like this and that these kinds of conditions an advantage to this dog team. But I still have to watch for injuries this stuff is really hard on shoulders and with 4 of my main dogs, Madonna, Rocky, Eagle and Busta back from early season sore shoulders it makes me keep a real close watch for anyone out of rhythm. The temps have seemed to warm up a little, I take a look at my thermometer mounted on the side of my sled and see that I must just be warm from all the kicking and poling because it is still -30 wit with slight breeze. It is amazing how if you just don’t think about the weather it has very little affect, at least on me. I have my Beaver patch on over my nose to help keep it from turning black other then that my parka is in my sled and my Fingers are warm in the light liner gloves I am wearing. The strap on my Ski pole does not allow me to wear big gloves so I have to create enough heat to keep my fingers warm in just the Liner gloves, which is working at -30 so I think I will be all right. Up ahead I see the red flashing light of Glennallen and know we are closing in on the Checkpoint, but because this is the first time I have run the race with the start at Wolverine lodge I don’t know exactly where the trail goes. I know we have to go all the way round town to get to the Hub on the Richardson Highway where the Checkpoint is located. As we turn off the old trial to head towards the Hub the trail improves and the dogs get up in step. So far all the dogs are really doing well I see no apparent injuries from the loose trail and I let them open up a little and they love it. Heckel has been loping this entire section and it doesn’t seem to have slowed her down at all. I wonder how far into the race she will keep her lop before she settles into a trot. Most dogs are already trotting along very efficiently and will continue that for most of the race. Dogs like Heckel and Rosie are young hard driving dogs that haven’t developed an efficient trot, but as long as their tug are tight I don’t care how long they lop. The Next 300 miles will be a good test to see when or if they change gears to a trot. The lights seem to be getting brighter but it is hard to say where we are, it seems like we have been out here forever and that the check point should be just around the corner but the second that you start thinking that it will never come. The soft trail conditions are making this a very slow run, so I just kept singing and soon enough the lights will get brighter in the sky and the checkpoint will appear. It is dark now and the dogs seem to sense that the Checkpoint is near because we were really moving along. Then all of the sudden the dogs Disappear ahead of me and soon enough I new I would be going were they were DOWN, Straight down into a deep ravine, I put all my weight on the brake and it was all I could do to keep the sled from running over the dogs. We made it safely to the bottom and back up the other side, nothing like a sheer drop off to wake us up before the checkpoint!! Just around the next bend we took a left and paralleled the Highway for less then a mile before entering the checkpoint. I arrived at 523 PM just 13 minutes behind Lance Mackey and 16 minutes behind Defending CB300 Champ Alan Moore and Hans Gatt. We were in good shape. Kyla helped park the dogs and I started my checkpoint routine. Which consists of taking booties off, get water going in the dog cooker, check every dogs feet, shoulders and wrists, feed and let them rest. When I got to Busta I had already had a bad feeling and after just touching his shoulder I new that he had a problem, it was already swollen and extremely sore, I asked Kyla is she had noticed it as I was coming into the checkpoint but she said everyone looked good. I new there was only one thing to do, drop him now before he shows any sign of it getting better and I am tempted to take him. Busta is a very strong dog and an expert at hiding his injuries on the trail. I asked a vet to come take a look, but at this point I had already made the decision to drop him and I had to move on. One thing I have learned in my short racing career is not to dwell on injured dogs, I got a good lesson on this when in my first Quest I had to drop Silver at the first checkpoint. This was tough but has made me very good at moving on and not letting dropped dog’s get to me our spread to the other dogs. I signed the forms and Busta was in Kylas care before any of the other dogs even new it. Everybody else was 100 % and ate like crazy. Teams were pilling in now and just as I was getting ready to head in Michelle Phillips came in and parked right next to me, Very fitting that she would get parked next to me. Ever since last years Quest we have had an unspoken rivalry and this was only going to fuel that fire!! I left my dogs to rest and went into the Checkpoint. At this point I didn’t know if I was going to rest for 4 or 6 hours. The run over from Wolverine had been a long slog but all the dogs minus Busta had made it in good form and I wanted to make sure I stayed up in front so that the trail would not be to chewed up ahead. So I decided I would rest 4 and follow lance (who’s wife had basically announced he as leaving in 4 hours) and Tom Latsze out who had blown through the checkpoint and continued onto Chisto, after just ½ hour of rest. The way it works with the Copper Basin is that every musher has to take one mandatory 8 hour rest at any check point and a total of 20 hours of rest between all the checkpoints. It was going to be fun to see how each musher broke down the run rest schedule. I was not sure of my schedule yet, I try and be very flexible throughout the race because you never know what the trail and weather conditions are going to be like, and the condition of your dogs at any given moment. All of these are factors into how the rave plays out. But one thing was for sure I had some pretty exciting plans in my head and we were about to see how they all unfolded. I spent my four hour rest chatting with Lance and other mushers trying to get an idea of what their plans were for the race ahead, another thing I have learned in the past few years is never trust a Dog Musher on the trail, because there never going to tell you exactly what their plans are. At one point I think there were at least 5 mushers sitting around chatting and Michelle asked how long everyone was going to rest, and the room went silent!!!!
Look for Chapter two of Wild and Frees 2009 Copper Basin 300, Glennallen to Chisto Coming soon
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