It's great weather for the mushers right now, but the current 20 degrees might be a bit warm for the dogs. Fortunately for them, there's a lot of fresh snow available for dipping. We have a chance of snow every day for the next 7 days and this should ensure that the trails are great for the next month of training. But, temperatures will start to fall this weekend and could get as low as -40 again; a sharp reminder that we are officially into winter.
We are back in Two Rivers after an exciting weekend at the Sheep Mountain 150, which turned out to be a real glove biter. We are straight back into dog training with the Sheep Mountain dogs getting a gentle stretch out, and the ones that stayed behind picking up their regular training schedules.
Allen and Wes keep the Red Team lined out in Eureka
Sheep Mountain was Wendy and my first ever dog race. It gave us the chance to observe the logistics of race preparation, transporting two teams across the state, and what handlers can do to ensure a smoother race for the mushers. We watched and learned from Allen and got a good idea of what we need to do to support our three teams in the upcoming Copper Basin 300.
One of the key things that we learned was how tiring and sleepless it was to do absolutely nothing. The rules of the Sheep Mountain 150 permitted handlers to do nothing but pass on useful information to the musher and keep an eye on the dogs while the musher rested. Keeping an eye on dogs involved ensuring that dogs didn't chew any lines, get pregnant, or get involved in altercations.
With this race, it was the threat of dog altercations that ended up being the biggest risk. Aliy's team's designated resting spot was very close to the Eureka checkpoint entrance. Aliy was the first racer in from leg two, and therefore immediately fed and bedded her dogs. They soon tried to sleep. But, since the dogs were so close to the checkpoint entrance, incoming dog teams would run in and turn a corner while the musher slammed on their brake to converse with the checker. These dogs, having been stopped and hearing no instruction from their musher, sometimes assumed that they had taken the wrong trail and would start moving, trying to find the right trail. On more than one occasion, dogs meandered over Aliy's sleeping team. Fortunately none of these encounters ended badly. However, with 45 teams coming in, it didn't take Wendy or I long to figure out that whenever we saw a headlamp coming in, one of us needed to stand near the sleeping dogs to make sure that the incoming dog teams did not wander into our team.
When there were no SP Kennel teams at a checkpoint, we were busy trying to update the Dog Log and Facebook page. Many of you may have noticed this didn't always go as planned. However, we hope that you felt relatively up to date.
Sitting back in Sheep Mountain Lodge waiting for the winner to cross the finish line was nerve-wracking. We knew that Aliy had started with a 15 minute lead but there was a blizzard going on and finding the trail might be a challenge for her. We also knew that Jeff King was the only musher from the back of the pack to post a 5hr run time on a deteriorated trail and this indicated a very strong team. His support team indicated that he was also racing with a broken runner. Two mushers coming into view at the same time provided a lot of excitement at the finish line. In the end, it was Jeff King balancing on a single runner that crossed the line first and barely had time to exit before Aliy crossed.
Emotions were high for Wendy and I as we followed the various stages of the race. At the end of leg one, both SP Kennel teams had the fastest run times. We arrived in Alaska knowing nearly nothing about mushing or dog care yet Allen, Aliy and Ryne took the time to train us and had enough confidence in our progress to include us in all dog training activities. This included many fantastic hours on a sled and countless much less fantastic hours on a 4-wheeler freezing our toes off. It was very satisfying and nearly overwhelming to see a dog team that we had spent so much time working with engaged in such a brave push for a first place finish. We are so proud of these dogs and every one of them is special; we even get to take one home at the end of each day to warm our frozen toes.
SP Kennel Handlers at Sheep Mountain 150
We can't wait for the Copper Basin 300, on January 14. It feels like so far away. Yet, there is a lot to be done before the race. The dogs will have their training schedules adjusted for this race and there are a lot more miles to run. Drop bags will have to be prepared and race equipment fine tuned. The time is really going to fly and it will be here before we know it.