Update on racing –
Yes folks we are in the midst of our annual drop bag madness as we prepare for the 2017 Iditarod. Drop bags are something I have blogged about quite a bit in the past, if you missed any of those posts you can read them here. But they are hardly the only important thing we do to prepare. Shorter early season races are another important step in preparing the team for the challenge of Iditarod, and recently I took the Dew Claw dogs on back to back adventures in racing; running both the Two Rivers 200 and the Northern Lights 300. And I have to say I was super happy with the dogs performance at both events. Wanted to share with y’all a bit about these races. Of course you can find lots of fun photos of the team from both events at my Facebook page.
With 11 of the 22 dogs in my race team this year technically race rookies (never having competed before) my main goal for both races was to expose the teams to the chaos and excitement that is racing; camping with other teams around, passing on the trail, being examined by race vets, and seeing new challenges. We do quite a bit of camping at Dew Claw, but being the only team training in our area means we do a lot of it in peace and solitude, and rarely get to pass other teams. And if I am being honest it doesn’t hurt me to get out there and practice my checkpoint routine, sled packing, and racing skills as well. I divided the race crew into 2 teams, so that everyone would get a chance to race, and I could better asses the new team members before picking the final 16 that will be making the trip to Nome with me. So how did we all do?
Our first event was the Two Rivers 200. The Two Rivers Dog Mushers Association is known for hosting well run, fun events, and this one was no different. I always enjoy getting to see friends at these events, that includes my competition and the regular crew of amazing volunteers who put on these races. With a course that included 3 checkpoints I knew we would have ample opportunity to work on our goals. I must admit I was unsure of how the young dogs would rest in a crowded checkpoint, but those fears would be unfounded. As soon as I got the straw put down for them they knew exactly what to do. To be honest they didn’t act like a rookie team at all… Well that was until it was time to hook up the tug lines and take off again. Then their youthful enthusiasm came shinning through, they started jumping into their harnesses eager to go. They actually pulled the snow hook I had set and tried to take off before I had everyone hooked up. But thankfully volunteers at the checkpoint were able to help me hold onto the sled so I could finish hooking up the team. I guess in the overall scheme of things a team that is super excited to get going really isn’t the worst problem you could have. They repeated this at the next 2 checkpoints, and again I needed help holding them back till it was time to go. And although it was somewhat frustrating, all I could think was “you gotta love the enthusiasm”.
We ended up placing 2nd, behind our friend Jay Cadzow, who had a commanding lead for the entire race. And although catching him would have been nice, it was not to be. Funny story: before the race when we were talking he said, “you know I bet on you to win”. “Funny” I said, “I bet on you”. So although he may have won the race, at least I won the bet.
The last run of the race was a real butt-kicker, with non-stop hill climbs and trail that was punchy from deep snow. A hard last run is actually an excellent training opportunity, gives you a chance to see which dogs will really dig in and keep going when the going gets hard. So although the last run was the most physically demanding, I was glad for it. And even thought the dogs didn’t know we got to go home and rest after the hardest run, at least I did. And believe me I took comfort in that thought!
Next we packed up and went down to Big Lake for the Northern Lights 300. I had run this race in the past and liked both the course and the way it is run. But this year Mother Nature decided to change it up. Low snow conditions on one section of trail forced trail crews to come up with an alternative route. Then, as luck would have it, recent snow fall on other parts made for a softer slower trail then we had had in past years. New changes that may be seen as less then ideal were really just great training opportunities the way I was looking at it. And again I was happy for the chance to see friends who I just do not get to see often enough, since we are all busy training this time of year. And although it was certainly a fun friendly race it didn’t mean that we were not all giving 100% to do our best. Very happy with the 3rd place finish we had.
One highlight of this race was a section of trail they called the Canyon Loop, a new addition to the Northern Lights and exceptionally beautiful. But it will be most remembered for is the water. Once again Mother Nature in her ultimate wisdom decided to make sure things got interesting, and a trail that had days before been dry had warmed up, causing there to be three huge sections of water soaked slush. How to describe it, well first the warm weather causes a puddle to form in the packed area of the trail, and as it fills with water seeping up it spreads into the deep snow that surrounds it, creating the consistency of a water-logged slushy. I had put a young female named Maven in lead for this section, a decision made before anyone knew that the trail had become a water filled slush fest. (Here I want to re-assure everyone that these conditions, as challenging as they were are not dangerous, nor uncommon. Not that they are fun, but the reality of winter river travel in Alaska is that these things happen, so being able to deal with them is a real asset) So while other mushers may have been bummed to see so much water on the trail, I have to be honest, I was so focused on how well Maven was dealing with these conditions it was hard to be bummed out.
Now folks may have seen the photo of me at the finish and wondered about the dog in the sled bag. That is my girl Super Sparrow. She was our one and only injury in 2 weeks and 500 miles of racing. As we were headed home on the last run of the race we crossed a frozen lake. Sparrow took a mis-step on ice and injured her front right shoulder. When a dog is tired or injured they are carried in the sled bag to the next checkpoint, in this case the finish, where there are vets to ensure they are cared for. I was heartbroken to see her injured, and happy to let her rest in the sled bag for the final run. She has always worked hard for me and earned the ride. As you can see she made herself quite comfortable and relaxed while the team and I raced on. At the finish race vets examined her and confirmed what I had thought, an injured right front shoulder. They were able to prescribe anti-inflammatory meds to aid in her recovery and make her more comfortable.
Now for an update on Sparrow.
Although dogs are far superior athletes to humans we do share some similarities. They are not put together in the same pattern, but aside from that the muscular and skeletal systems of dogs and humans are almost identical. Which means they have similar requirements for healing and conditioning, and both benefit from Physical Therapy, PT. And that is exactly what we are doing for Sparrow, Mush Thanks to our friend Nathalie Croteau at Select Physical Therapy in Fairbanks. OK yes, she is a licensed human physical therapist, she has actually helped me recover from previous injuries. But she is also a avid dog lover and canine rehab therapist as well. And she is working with Sparrow on her recovery plan, that includes massage, ultrasound, and laser therapy. Although she will not be racing with me on Iditarod, her injuries will require time to heal, we are committed to her long term health and recovery. And just like any human athlete, PT will be a valuable part of the recovery plan. We are very grateful to Nathalie for sharing her expertise with us. As you can see Sparrow is loving the massage and attention. Sparrow has been my “go to girl” these last few years, and I will miss her dearly on the Iditarod trail this year. While I am racing she will be recovering at home, watching my little GPS blip on the tracker screen with Dan and Victoria. Please join me in thanking Nathalie and Select Physical Therapy of Fairbanks for all their help keeping the Dew Claw Dogs, and Musher, in top physical condition.
So how did we do?
Two very fun and challenging races done and in the books, with respectable finishes. But more importantly having met our main goals of giving the young dogs a positive experience in new situations. There is still a lot of work ahead, but I am feeling positive and looking forward to it.
And as always I am not alone!
Must take a minute and thank Victoria, handler extraordinaire! She, like the young dogs, is dealing with all this for the first time, but you would never know it. Without her hard work and effort there is no way I would be able to have accomplished 2 races in 2 weeks. And honestly I do now know how I could ever tackle drop bags this year without her.
And of course, a moment to thank all our Sponsors! We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful group of businesses and people supporting us. Recent thoughtful gifts from Nancy Frost, Marlys Sauer, Kirstie McGuinness, and Maureen Fuller have all helped with my drop bag preparations. Also got a shipment of new booties made especially for us by long time kennel friend Connie Lykins.
Mush Thanks to our sponsors, it take a team to get us to Nome!!!