I had an amazing time at the recent Two Rivers Dog Mushers Solstice 100 (which was in fact scheduled for Solstice time, but had to be rescheduled due to poor trail conditions.) MUSH THANKS to all the race organizers and volunteers! Special thanks to my crew: Abbie, Jessica & Tom, Jason, Judy, Kevin, Greg, and Julie – all stepping in to help out as I was flying solo for this race. And I could not have even got to the race without Tonya generously loaning me her dog trailer. They say it takes a village to raise and musher, and they are right! I am very fortunate to have so many wonderful friends helping out in my village.
With Dan running the Copper Basin this weekend I had my hands full just taking care of the kennel at home. But I really did not want to miss out on a fun local event, Two Rivers Dog Mushers always has fun races. Mike Green and the trail crew do an awesome job of putting in a very well marked trail*. Plus it was another great opportunity to give our younger dogs more experience. So after sending Dan to Glennallen with our friend Erin to handle for him I did chores around the kennel, got drop bags together, and loaded the truck getting everything ready for my race.
Race day started very early, with a 5 am alarm. Dogs who were not racing needed a full meal and race dogs needed loaded into boxes for the trip to Two Rivers. I arrived extra early to the race start for 2 important reasons.
- The young dogs are still getting used to truck travel, and sometimes get sick. So I wanted to let them travel on an empty stomach and feed them at the race start. But needed them to eat early enough that they would be digested and ready to run.
- I am horrible at driving a trailer (no chance of backing into a space), so I needed to be able to park before other trucks were there.
My plan of leaving at 6 to get there with time to park and feed worked perfectly, and I was the very first person there. Even beat the race organizers, and I had a huge open area to park in. The dogs ate well and I was not rushed at all getting myself organized and signed up. Race day sign ups for fun events like these are not uncommon. But it means you do not know who will be running till the morning of the event. As it turned out this race was a women’s affair with 7 awesome female mushers showing up to rumble on what would turn out to be a fun fast course. I was very happy to see my friends Aliy, Shanee, and Amanda (whom I had camped with on the Top of the World) were part of the field. It may be a race, and we are all there to do our best. But we are also friends and races are social events as well, a chance to see each other and do what we love best: run dogs.
My teams was led by 2 experienced lead dogs, sisters Orchid and Casper. CC wheel dog extraordinaire with a few Quests and Iditarods under her belt was with. The Buggers, BedBug, Cricket, Spyder, & FireFly were all there. And Monsters Gremlin, and his sisters now affectionately known as the twins, Pepsi, & Topaz were in attendance. Rounded out by Sweet Pea (the Rascals mom) and her sister Squirrel.
I drew bib number 3, and thanks to a small army of help had one of the smoothest starts I can remember. Team was ready early and everything went off without a hitch. The first leg of the race went from Pleasant Valley Store on local trails to a road crossing that is part of the Quest trail. The dogs were happy to be out on new trail, and we flew through the first part. And then a funny thing happened. As we crossed the road and hit Quest trail my leaders (who had run that trail as part of the Quest) realized where we were and slowed down. Dogs are trail smart, and they remember things. No Quest team would travel at the speeds we can on a 100 mile race, just does not work that way for 1000 miles. But on this race we quickly left Quest trail and veered off on a trail that went over a hill called Flat Top. Once we made the turn onto new trail, which the leaders were excited to see, the speed picked right back up. Flat Top was a fun twisty rolling little climb, with some overflow in small valleys. The dogs handled it all like pros. And then the really fun part, a full on down hill ride through a tree filled slope. It was FUN! Even with my feet on the drag mat we got good speed! At home we go down hills all the time, but this was new trail, and different in that it was tight trail in a forest. Not the wide open higher country we are used to.
After Flat Top you cross back, this time under the road, at Jenny M Creek. Here I stopped to check all my dog’s booties, as we had traveled through some water earlier. Here is also where I got caught by Aliy Zirkle. And although she could take me, she could not easily shake me. We traveled together for some time, with her occasionally pointing out local landmarks, as these are her regular training trails. But eventually my young team had a tangle and demanded a poop break. She is a smart and talented racer, with excellent dogs, and I have to imagine she knew this was the time to pull away and leave me. Which she did. Although our times were close (see spreadsheet link below) I would not see her again till the checkpoint.
At the checkpoint I am pleased to say you could tell our dogs had learned a lot camping during the Top of the World, as they easily rested and ate well. The 4 hour layover is not long enough for the mushers to sleep, so people pretty much cared for their teams and enjoyed each others company and some food inside at the store while we all waited to take off for the second leg.
The second leg was run at night, and I was nervous about finding my way through the Two Rivers trail system. But as it turned out I would be fine.* The team took off smoothly, but after a meal and rest there was some stopping for bathroom breaks and to work out the kinks. About 15 minutes into the run I turned around and saw a headlamp approaching in the distance, and my heart sank a bit. Times had been tight on the first leg, and there were some really nice looking fast teams in the race. But not wanting to give up easily, or be affected by other teams I decided to stop looking back and just run my own team. If someone was going to come pass me fine, but they were going to have to work to do it. At that time something in the team just seemed to click, they started to gel, moving a bit faster and with more focus. When I finally gave in and let myself peek over my shoulder there were no lights to be seen, and I would not be passed that run. I would not catch Aliy who left ahead of me and went on to win the race, but my team finished strong with a good time. And I like to think we made Aliy look over her shoulder for our light at least once
You can see everyone’s time and the final standings here
~Race Results in an Excel Spreadsheet~
There was more wonderful help at the finish to lead the team back to the truck. Abbie West had returned to help me care for and load up the team for the trip home, and we got to visit a bit while we watched the other teams come in. The kids & I made it home safe and sound. Although it was now 3 AM and I had been up almost 24 hours there were still a few chores that had to be done. The dogs deserved a nice meal after all they had done. Meat snacks at the finish line are wonderful, but after a nap in the dog box on the trip home the appetites had kicked in, and now a full meal was in order. The house dogs; Whiskey & Guppy, had managed to not destroy anything, but now they were demanding some attention. Gear could wait until the morning, but the kids could not. Plus I needed to get online and check out how Dan was doing in the Copper Basin Standings! So a full feeding happened before I could eat something, get caught up on Dan’s race, and drag myself to bed. And when I did, it was some of the best soundest sleep I had had in awhile!
Again to everyone who made this wonderful event possible ~ MUSH THANKS
Congratulations to Aliy on her excellent run! To all the teams who participated let me say it was a pleasure to run with such a wonderful group of women!
*Side note: I was nervous about the second leg of the race, as Two Rivers trail system can be a real maze for people who do not train there. During the layover Mike assured me it would be fine, “just follow the markers” he said. I jokingly replied if I got lost I would come find him and beat him to a bloody pulp with a trail marker. Happy to report the trail was very easy to follow, despite the maze like quality of the trail system, and Mike if you are reading this: Thanks, you do great work!