Thank you to all sponsors and fans for your support and encouragement. Without you, not only would Evening Star Kennel been absent from the 2010 Yukon Quest, but this incredible sport and these wonderful dogs would become a thing of distant memory. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I hope that you have enjoyed following this amazing event.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tales from the Trail: Part 5

Out of Dawson City, we had a short jaunt down the river and through the outskirts of town before we started heading up to the top of King Solomon Dome.  I was a little nervous that the dogs might balk with such a heavily loaded sled and such a long climb, but they were happy and fresh after their long rest.  They never looked back to question me and I never stopped running, pedaling, and poling.  I quickly started taking off layers and opening the vent zippers on my bibs.  So much for the showers in Dawson (yes, I took 2 just because I could).  I got to see the sun come up over some of the most beautiful and little traveled mountains I have had the privilege of climbing.
After 2.5 hours, I stopped to give the dogs a snack.  I thought it looked like we were almost there and I wanted to give them a little pick-me-up before we made the last ascent.  This was were Jennifer Rafaelli, who had left Dawson less than 10 minutes behind us, passed.  After our snack stop, we began to climb again.  And climb. And climb.  And climb.  Finally we crested the top and started the rolling descent.  Charlotte was having a hard time stretching out on the descent and so I loaded her into the sled.  Whenever we reached another longer ascent I would put her back in the team.

We continued like this for a while until we dropped into an old mining district where there were old tailing piles and big trucks along the trail.  I was looking for a good place to camp when I caught up to Bart and Peter camping alongside the trail with their (may I say, pathetic) attempt at a fire.  I stopped just passed them and got the dogs all set for a 6 hour rest.

After getting my team taken care of, I visited with the boys and helped them get the fire going a little better.  They were planning to take off 3 hours ahead of me.  We discussed how to get on track with our timing so we could hopefully travel together again.  When it was approaching their time to leave, about 2:30 pm, Bart declared it too warm.  It was warm and sunny where we were camped, which is good for resting; not so good for running.  They stayed for an extra hour and a half and departed just over an hour ahead of me.

On the way to the Scroggie Creek Dog Drop, we went through the black hills.  I had heard these were just lots of rolling hills that could be frustrating as it was difficult for the dogs to get into a rhythm with the constantly changing terrain.  However, I must have confused that trail description for something else.  This was another long climb and steeper than the one during the day over King Solomon Dome.  The dogs did great and we had a fun ride down the other side. 

We leap-frogged with Jennifer Rafaeli several times on this run, and I passed her a several miles outside of Scroggie Creek while on a river.  The Northern Lights were the most incredible I had ever seen.  There were all shades of green, highlighted with red.  The was a hugh rope of green from horizon to horizon, arching over us.  It seemed so close.  If I were just a little taller, I could have touched it.  It was quite difficult for me to pay attention to the trail as all I wanted to do was turn off my light and look up.  Absolutely beautiful

When we left our camp with Bart and Peter, I had decided that I would drop Charlotte in Scroggie.  I knew that the next section would be hilly and didn't want the rest of the team to have to carry her.  I didn't think her injury too severe, so I put her back in the team.  By the time we got to Scroggie, Charlotte was 100% again and somehow healed on the run.  She never had another problem and finished with flying colors.  These dogs are amazing.

Scroggie was a great stop with a recently built cabin.  When I arrived, Bart and Peter were just finishing getting their dogs down for a rest.  I had had a really good run and felt like my dog team was back and had made up another 20 minutes on the boys.  I thought maybe if they would take another longish rest, I could catch up.

I headed out of Scroggie in the morning and ran until it was too warm to push on.  I camped alone on the side of the trail.  One good thing about camping alone is that it is easier to get some rest.  After bedding down the dogs, I got in my sleeping bag with Shilo for a 2 hour nap.  We headed out in the dark to run to Pelly Crossing.  This was another smooth run except for losing a bolt on my handle bar.

After arriving in the wee hours, I bedded down the dogs and fixed my handlebar.  I went inside to hear that Hans Gatt had won the race and shattered all kinds of records.  I ate my dinner and went to sleep on the hard concrete floor.  My cold was getting a little better, but this was where the terrible cough started. 

In there morning, I watched Peter and Bart head out of the checkpoint as I packed my sled and prepared for the next leg.  I saw several stray dogs come into the dog area and steal from drop bags and sleds.  Amazing how bold they were!  We headed out late morning.  Only 250 miles to go.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tales from the Trail: Part 4

In Eagle, I decided to give the dogs a long break of 12 hours.  After running 170 miles into the wind, some of the younger dogs were seriously questioning what we were doing.  We headed out of Eagle at 4 in the morning with Peter Fleck and his team close behind.  Finally off the river, we headed up the plowed road which quickly turned into snowmobile trail and started climbing American Summit.  There were are few sidehill glaciers along the way.  My dogs still were not very confident about the ice and looked for the best traction which happened to be on the downhill side of the glacier which just dropped off the side of the mountain.  With a sled packed for 150 miles and weighing more than me, I fought to keep the sled from dropping off the edge.  We made it almost all the way across when my runners lost their edge and the sled went down on its side, fortunately uphill.  Unfortunately, though, with just snow dusted ice below it, I struggled to get it upright.  I would have eventually wiggled it to better gripping snow to get it upright, but Peter was kind enough to help me and we were on our way again.

It was a long climb up and up.  And even though we were finally off the river, we still had a headwind.  The trail was well packed but the shoulders were very soft.  I had to be careful not to doze off or lose focus or one runner would drop of the hard pack and I would be sucked into the snowbank requiring a lot of choice words and elbow grease to get back on the trail.  Peter followed us most of the way up the mountain giving his leaders a little mental break.  Once he passed us and we took a snack break, I caught glimpses of them on some of the long descending switchbacks.

Fifty miles from Eagle where we were to get on the Forty Mile River for 50 more miles, Wayne Hall is kind enough to set up a wall tent for Quest mushers to use.  The tent has a small wood stove to warm it.  I nearly missed it but arrived to find Bart and his team there but no Peter.

After bedding down and feeding the dogs, I joined Bart in the tent to warm up, rest, and feed myself.  Bart had arrived 2 hours before me and thus left 2 hours before me.  Peter missed the turn and ended up camping alone on the river.  I headed out at dark for the 50 miles on the Forty Mile River to the old 40 mile town site and cabin.  The run was uneventful except that we crossed into Canada.

We arrived at the old 40 Mile cabin in the wee hours of the morning where I fed and bedded down the dogs are got some sleep myself.  I woke up feeling under the weather but decided to ignore this fact as I pushed on to Dawson.  This 50ish mile run was back on the Yukon River and seemed to take forever.  I was ready to be in Dawson City, where I could shower and sleep in a bed, and the dogs were ready for a long rest.

Just as we were nearing the end of the run (or so I thought), we ran into some knee deep overflow coming off the river.  How do I know it was knee deep?  Because, again, like the first night out of Two Rivers, I got to spend some time standing in it trying to get the dogs to go through it.  At least it was light out this time and I realized what was happening before they got too tangled.  We made it through after some work on all our parts and I decided that since we were off the main body of the river we must be almost there and I would wait to wring out my boot liners until I got there.  This ended up being a bad call as it was another 30 minutes or so before we got to Dawson.  After 15 minutes, I stopped to squeeze out the liners and they wouldn't come out of the boots.  They had already frozen in place.

After standing in water inside my 10 pound (apiece) boots, I was most definitely not in my cheeriest mood of the race when we arrived in Dawson.  I got checked in, asked Anita if they had some dry boots in camp, and headed across the Yukon to our campsite.  What a relief to get out of my boots and get the dogs bedded down for a long rest.

We had a vet check as soon as we arrived and I dropped Boggle from the team so he could go right to the truck.  I was certain that I did not want him to continue as his attitude was taking away from the team overall.  The dogs ate and ate and curled up to sleep in the straw inside the tent that Brooke and Anita built for them.  Then I got to go to the hotel with Brooke and Anita where I got to shower and put on clean clothes.  Brooke also informed me that my dirty clothes were too stinky and had to go out to the truck for the night.  I just had to laugh.

Having been so bundled up for the last 6 days, it was a wonderful relief to get out of the layers and a bit shocking to look in the mirror and see new bulges here and there from all the heaving I was having to do with a heavily loaded sled.  We managed to find a late dinner and then I got to sleep for 8 hours straight.  Brooke and Anita were kind enough to head back to the dog lot at 3am to feed and walk the dogs and make sure everyone was still tucked in for the night.  I woke up the next morning with a cold and in the most physical pain of the race.  Apparently, 8 hours was too long for me to stay in bed.  I was so sore and stiff.

We spent the day taking care of the dogs, doing laundry, making sled repairs and alterations, and prepping for my 6 am departure on Sunday, February 14, Valentine's Day, as someone more attuned to such things pointed out to me.  After a busy day of chores, I finally got to bed at midnight where I went through all my mental lists over and over until the alarm went off at 3 am.  I think I slept less than an hour.  So much for getting rested on my 36 hour layover. 

The three of us headed to the dog lot to feed, harness, and bootie the dogs, pack the sled, and make all the last minute preparations.  I had to pack for 200 miles or 4 runs and 3 camps.  I was carrying close to 150 pounds of dog food for this stretch.  Plus a bale of straw.  It was a heavy load.  I also decided to drop Miss Cleo at this point as she was still having a hard time recovering from the big that she had gotten on the way to Dawson.  Brooke told me she just needed 12 hours more than I had and was eating, drinking, and bouncing around shortly after we left.

We hooked up and headed out of the campground.  I signed out and we headed back onto the river and out into the most remote portion of the trail.  And up to the highest point on the trail, King Solomon Dome.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tales from the Trail: Part 3

Upon leaving Circle, with over 100 pounds of dog food in the sled, we quickly headed out onto the Yukon River for about 160 miles to Eagle, AK.  The reports were that the jumble ice was the worst for the first 15 miles.  I think whoever wrote the report must have been highly optimistic.

I had never seen jumble ice before and didn't quite understand what I might be in for.  Jumble ice is the rough sections of the frozen river caused by an early freeze breaking up and refreezing. The broken up ice "jumbles" up and when refrozen forms a very rough surface.  From talking with regulars of the trail, we had a relatively mild jumble ice year.  But it was still rough going. 

Mostly we would follow one river back that was relatively clear and then cross the jumble ice to the other side of the river when necessary to find smoother trails.  Occasionally, we would portage across a bend in the river to avoid the river entirely.  One of these portages followed some beaver sloughs and was very tight and windy.  I was very glad the dog team had toned down a bit for this as it took constant effort on my part to keep the sled out of the scrub along side the trail and ducking to avoid low hanging branches. 

After 5 or 6 hours of running, our mild headwind, a usual expectation as you head up the Yukon, turned into a stiff headwind and we lost the trail as the wind exposed the glare ice.  I had to tip the sled over and become lead dog for a while trying to find trail markers.  One advantage to running on a river is that you have to be really out of it to really get lost.  Even if you aren't on the established trail, you can keep following the river in the right direction and eventually you will find the trail again.

We got back on track and headed on into Slaven's Roadhouse.  This is not an official checkpoint and therefore no resupply, but it is a place you can drop dogs that do not need to continue.  When I arrived at Slaven's, they informed me that it was -22 degrees.  I didn't think it felt that cold, but the wind can change everything.  I bedded down the dogs and went inside for some food and a nap.  Shortly after I arrived, Bart De Marie and Peter Fleck pulled in as well.  These guys became my travelling companions for a good portion of the remainder of the race.

I ended up staying at Slaven's a little longer than intended so as to wait for the guys to get their full rest.  We all travelled that night in fairly close proximity with Peter just ahead and Bart and me playing leap frog.  The Northern Lights were spectacular.  I turned my headlamp off to get a better look and ran into the back of Bart's sled.  Apparently this story got told to one reporter and then made the papers all over.

We ran a long 8+ hour run that night to Mike Sager's cabin at Trout Creek, enduring a constant headwind and blown in trails.  We arrived at the cabin around 4 am where we rested and slept for a few hours.  All three of us sprawled out on the floor in the loft and I don't think anyone moved until the alarm went off.  That was a tough morning to get going.

One of the things about running a race like this that most people don't realize until they have been there is how comfortable we get with people we hardly know.  I, like most of my fellow mushers, would regularly strip down to my long underwear in checkpoints while eating, sleeping, and drying things out.  But the outhouse at Trout Creek takes the cake for smothering any facade of modesty.  The said outhouse was actually not a house at all.  It had 3 half walls barely hiding the hole and an open front facing exactly where Bart was repacking his sled.  I realized this as I was walking over, toilet paper in hand.  What could we do but laugh?  Bart was kind enough to "give me a minute" and hightailed it over to talk with Peter.  I wish I had taken the time to take a picture.

The run from Trout Creek to Eagle was more river and jumble ice.  Although I knew we had a 36 hour rest coming up in Dawson City, another 150 miles, I decided to take a longer break of 12 hours for my pups to reset at the checkpoint before heading out on another 150 miles with a heavy sled.  The advantage of running a young team who needs more rest is that I get a bit more rest, though I still averaged less than 4 hours a day on my 12.5 day trip.

Eagle is the only remote checkpoint where we had drop bags for our resupply.  It is not road accessible in the winter and so I did not see Brooke and Anita at this checkpoint.  They had great food for us and beds to sleep in. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tales from the Trail: Part 2

Upon leaving the Twin Bears Campground, we immediately got off the trail, as did almost everyone else, I heard later.  After a few tense moments of barely controlled backtracking, we got on the right trail and continued on.  I had planned to go for 4.5-5 hours and camping.  But that was not the case. 

We had about 20 uneventful miles where I felt the team was moving along great.  That's when we hit the Olympic size swimming pool of overflow.  Not only was it an expansive pool, it was also mid-thigh deep on me.  I know this because I spent more than 10 minutes standing in it trying to untangle the most massive tangle I have ever had.  As soon as I got one dog free from the mess and let go to go after another, the first dog jumped back into the cluster and wound round and round again. 

This seemed to go on forever.  I had 2 teams waiting behind me wondering what could be taking me this long.  Finally, Abbie West came up behind me, irritated that all our dogs were just standing in water but quickly realized that I was too.  She helped drive my sled across the pond while I dragged the 14 dog ball through.  She and Sam went though and on down the trail while I spent a very long time untangling my dogs.  Everyone was fine and no worse for the wear.  My boots weighed 10 pounds apiece before I pulled out the liners to wring them out and pour the water out of the shells.  After sorting out the dogs and myself, we headed down the trail..

I wanted to go for a couple more hours but started getting really nervous about my feet.  I stopped twice more to wring out the liners as gravity pooled more water around my toes.  After an hour, I finally stopped, bedded down the dogs, and built a fire.  I was so thrown off by the overflow that I couldn't seem to get anything done.  I finally got the dogs fed and fire wood stockpiled so that I could sit down and try to dry out my feet and boots (and mitts and bibs and gloves and...).

I managed to get my boots thawed enough to open the cinch straps to make it possible to put my new liners in for the next run.  I also manged to melt the rubber heel of one boot, singe a hole in my new sleeping bag, and pock mark my tarp.  And I was still less that 100 miles along this 1000 mile adventure.

The next morning (3:30am) I was up and prepping everything to continue our run to the Mile 101 checkpoint.  During the night, the fire had gone out and my boots had frozen solid, fortunately, relatively open.  The downside of this was that the cinch straps were fully extended and frozen so that I could not cinch them down to stay on my feet.  We headed out on one of the craziest runs with more tangles than I have ever had in one day, possibly ever, as we encountered lots of sidehill glaciers and frozen creeks and 6 foot bouldery drops.  Everytime we had to cross ice, I had to lead the leaders across.  Thank you, Magali, for the ice cleats.  At one point the dogs went the wrong way and dragged the sled on its side over a 6 foot drop onto a creek.  We weren't the first and likely not the last to take this route, but it sure was an interesting experience trying to wiggle the sled through the dense willows to get it back on the trail.

There are 2 summits early on the east bound Quest trail, Rosebud and Eagle.  Eagle is the more infamous from a rookie standpoint and is the second of the 2, just after the Mile 101 checkpoint.  The climb up the scantily snow covered Rosedbud was not too bad except for the windblown sections where the dogs lost the trail and wanted to turn around and hurtle back to the bottom.  The most exciting part was going down with little snow for braking and flipping and getting dragged and losing one of my frozen boots. 

I had to hook down, flip the sled, undo tuglines, and do one of the most taboo thing while running dogs: I walked away from my sled and behind my dog team and crossed my fingers that they would stay just long enough for me to run back up the trail and get my boot.  Luck was on my side and they did stay put.  We continued down the mountain with far less catastrophe than earlier.

As we pulled into the Mile 101 checkpoint behind 2 other teams, my dogs were still screaming to go.  We had a 2 hour mandatory layover for a vet check and I took 4 hours before heading out to climb the infamous Eagle Summit.

Despite my worries about Eagle Summit, it was relatively easy compared to the Rosebud.  I left Mile 101 with Bart de Marie but he had troubles with his runners and had to stop on the trail to fix them so we were quickly separated.  The descent was quite the adrenaline rush, but I managed to keep the sled upright and my boots on my feet.  Going into the checkpoint at Central we went through a recent burn area where there were many obstacles to avoid including large root balls in the middle of the trail, pulled up by the brakes of earlier teams, fallen trees sticking out in the trail.  I was quite glad to get to Central for a nice long break for the dogs and for me.

I got my first real rest of the trip in Central and was ready to head out on the rather boring (I am not complaining) 75 mile trip along Birch Creek to Circle City, the northern-most point on the Yukon Quest trail.  After another long rest in the firehouse, we headed out into the night, with 120 pounds of dog food in the sled and 170 miles to travel on the Yukon River to Eagle, AK.

Though the trail is amazing and the dogs the reason to be there, one of the most amazing things about an event like the Yukon Quest is the people, getting to see old friends and make new ones.  Some people you can be almost certain to cross paths with again, like Bart and Peter who I traveled with most of the way.  Others you meet in a passing moment and can only hope that you will cross paths again, like Santiago, the Spanish volunteer in Circle.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stories from the Trail: Part 1

We started our 1000 mile journey in Fairbanks, AK on the Chena River downtown.  The crowd was spectacular and went on for miles.  I never got nervous, just anxious to get on the trail.  Tensions were high as we made last minute preparations and packed the sled in the staging area.  My mom, Beverly, was there for the start and I tried very hard to keep her from hearing some of the Quest horror stories or to learn to much about the typical extreme cold temps to be expected on the trail. 

We hooked up the team with the sled tied to the truck and then clipped onto a snowmobile for the 1/4 mile trip to the starting line.  My mom had already headed to the starting line with (I heard later) tears in her eyes.  Brooke ran with the leaders and Anita jumped on the snowmobile.  As we eased our way to the start, the dogs were screaming and jumping in anticipation.  This was not going to be another training run and they knew it. 

Shilo and Margaret held the line tight in the starting chute, focusing on the countdown to head down the trail.  As the countdown approached and hugs were given all around, a sense of relief came over me.  Finally, this is what all this was for. 

We wove our way through a crowd that seemed an unpenatrable wall, parting just in time.  I spent the first couple hundred yards talking to Margaret, hoping that her confidence would hold and not become a public spectacle.  Once she realized that the crowd would part, she put her head down and charged.  I stood both feet on my drag mat, hoping they would slow down.  This hot little dog team was not ready to go 10 mph.  They wanted to run as fast as they could.  I wanted to also but knew that they would never last like that.  1000 miles is a long way to go.

We quickly caught Gerry Willomitzer who had left 3 minutes earlier.  I tried to keep them behind him as a way to pace the pups, but he waved us by.  We ran down the river for 20 miles or so before heading through wooded trails to come out near Two Rivers.  There were people all along the way giving cookies, hotdogs, and much appreciated water. 

We came into the Twin Bears Campground, our first checkpoint, just behind Lance Mackey.  This was the only place we saw this 2010 2nd place and 4-time former Champion.  We rested for 4 hours.  Well, at least the dogs did.  I was too amped up like almost every other musher there to really sleep.  I visited with Brooke, Anita, and my mom for a bit before heading out into the night... the night the adventure truely began.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

True Heros of the Trail

Brooke and I and all the doggies made it back to Montana yesterday night.  It is good to be home, have the dogs back in the dog yard, and be able to sleep in a bed.  What an incredible adventure that I am still and will be processing for a while yet to come.  Having had a few days away from the trail, the race, and my mushing family, I have been able to take a step back and think about all that has happend over the last month or so.

I am so proud of my dogs for their accomplishment.  Without them and their ability and desire, we never would have had this opportunity.  I had the privilege of watching pups who were born on the floor next to my bed become accomplished veteran dogs.  And not only that, they shone in a team of dogs with more age and experience.

Voodoo was one of the smaller dogs in the team but made me laugh more than once when she caught a whiff of who-knows-what and started screaming and charging down the trail getting the whole team amped up and cruising a bit faster.  Despite being in season for almost the entire race, Voodoo was a great asset to the team.  She started to get sore going into Carmacks so I carried her the last 20 miles into the checkpoint.  She quickly curled up in the sled bag and went to sleep.  At the checkpoint, the vets and I could find no injury whatsoever so she continued on and never looked back again.  She just needed a few more hours of rest.

Margarita is a big girl and did an excellent job.  She is sponsored by Dotty Webster of Landrum, SC (thank you Dotty).  Margarita actually gained weight in the first few days of racing as she is a very effective bowl cleaner.  If someone else didn't finish their meal, Margarita made sure the dish was clean and ready to go back in the sled.  She had a sore wrist for a few early days on the trail but worked through it and finished with no issues at all.  Being a young dog, Margarita got more tired than some of the older dogs, but she never gave up or stopped pulling her weight in the team.  I see a bright future for this girl and expect to see her in the lead next year.

Patron may be, in the future, the best dog in the kennel.  This big boy has such a smooth and efficient gait that he is able to avoid a lot of injuries that bigger dogs can be more prone to.  Patron never missed a beat and, like his sister Voodoo, was able to energize the team and get them moving down the trail at even faster speed.  Patron is my watch dog and is always aware of what is going on around him.  On the first leg of the race, we ran down the Chena River.  There were places we went under auto bridges or paralleled the highway.  Patron apparently likes to chase cars and would just charge down the river when he saw one.  On the last leg, he saw or smelled or heard something and got the team loping down the trail for a few miles.  If only I have 5 more of him.

Sneezy is the fourth yearling, though he is 5 months older than the other 3.  Sneezy led at least 250 miles of the Quest and ran in swing, just behind the leaders, a good portion of the rest of the time.  Sneezy was a maintanence-free dog, never needing wrist wraps or shoulder rubs to keep him primed.  The only thing Sneezy ever did that wasn't perfect was get in a fight with Lightning coming into the Mile 101 checkpoint because we had to wait 5 minutes to park as we came in behind 2 other teams.  They didn't want to stop there at all.

There were also 4 two year olds in the finishing team.  They contributed so much to the team and even surprised me at their staying power.  Boggle was the 5th two year old who was dropped in Dawson as he was tired and not having fun anymore.

Charlotte was a huge surprise.  I almost didn't bring her.  She is not a leader and though she generally doesn't pick fights, she never loses them and usually leaves the other dog a mess.  But she surprised me by working hard the whole way, eating and resting well, and getting along with everyone in the team.  Charlotte was sore coming off of King Solomon Dome out of Dawson at the beginning to the second half and the longest stretch between checkpoints.  I loaded her into the sled for the descent to our day camp spot.  I decided I would drop her at Scroggie Creek where we would be camping that night.  Because it was so hilly and my load still so large, I put her back in the team planning to leave her in Scroggie in 50 miles.  She never limped again and finished with flying colors.  Charlotte is a great long distance dog as she ALWAYS eats.  She didn't lose a bit of weight and was bright and playful within 12 hours of finishing.

Goon did a great job and lead one of the earlier legs.  She was consistent and ran wherever and with whoever I needed her to be.  She never needed any maintanence and never missed a beat.  Goon was always the first to get up off the straw when it was time to go and never needed any extra encouragement to get out of bed and hit the trail.  She learned a lot on this trip and I expect to see her leading the team a lot more in the future.

Lightning was phenomenal.  Especially considering that 2 weeks before he was practically 3 legged.  I don't know why or what was wrong with him, but he was quite the limper.  One week before the Quest start, he seemed to be better so I ran him 20 miles and he was fine.  The next day, he ran our last 70 mile training run and hasn't looked back since.  Lightning ran in lead here and there but was absolutely essential in supporting the leader from his position in swing just being them for 800 miles.  I thought he would be one to need constant attention to keep him from getting sore but he never needed anything extra from me.  He was consistently working hard and took good care of himself.  This young male (one of 3 boys in the finishing team) has a great future ahead of him.

Margaret led from the start with Shilo.  It was a crazy maze of people for the first mile or so.  I was really worried that it would back her off.  But after the first 100 yards or so of reassuring her, she hit the end of her tug and wove her way right through the middle of the crowd.  Margaret was one of my best leaders early on for ice, overflow, and wind blown trails.  She is serious about her job in lead and works hard no matter where she is in the team.  Margaret so impressed me with her leadership, showing up some of the older dogs, she earned her royal title "Milady Margaret" and will be leading the team to great successes to come.

And lastly, the ladies who deserve the most credit for leadership and staying power:

Etna was the first working sled dog I bought when I started my own team.  She was sold as a team dog but quickly showed she knew what to do up front.  Although she has always been a great command leader, I have never quite come to trust her to be there for me when the going got tough and tensions rose.  But she proved me wrong on this trip.  Etna took charge and pulled the team safely across glare ice, sidehill glaciers and overflow.  She put her head down in the wind and carried on.  Etna never needed any extra care except for her windburned belly.  I am excited to harness break her pups from last year and see if they are as good as the mom and pop (Lightning).

Annabel (sponsored by Beverly Davis in memory of another Annabelle) might have had the greatest transformation of all the dogs in the team.  She has always been shy and skiddish with strangers. I have always thought it such a shame that no one but me ever got to see her hilarious personality.  Annabel had a hard time in the first half as she was very sore.  She got lots of massages and heat packs.  She always had a shocked look for me when it was time to get up from a sleep and go again.  After the 36 hour in Dawson, she was a completely different dog.  She was no longer so and she was a phenomenal leader.  She led 250-300 of the last 450 miles.  She was always ready to go and the last to fall asleep at the checkpoints, making sure we really were stopped for a bit.  After the race was over, Annabel decided Brooke and Anita were both friends.  She solicitied play from both and even approached my dad, who she had never met, on her own.  Annabel has always been hard to keep weight on but she didn't lose a bit on this race.  Once Annabel got over the hump and figured it all out, she only looked at what adventure might be ahead.  Watch out for Annabel for years to come.

Whitney is worth her weight in gold.  That would be 41.3 pounds of gold.  The smallest dogs on the team but most deserving of praise, Whitney led more than half of the race.  Despite being tired and sore at times, she always got up when it was time to go and led the team out of camp and down the trail.  Once she figured out ice and overflow, she never balked at anything.  This little dog gave 200% at all times.  Whitney led the team into Whitehorse with Shilo where I heard comments on how amazing it was that they continued to hold the line tight even though they were done and there were people milling about.  Even when all the other dogs had got to the truck, Whit and Shilo did their jobs and kept the line tight until their turn to walk to the truck and curl up for a much deserved sleep.  I hope to have Whitney in my team for any race I ever do.

Shilo is the queen bee.  She now has 3 1000 mile races to her credit.  Shilo was my crutch and the only dog in the team with a 1000 mile race to her name.  Although the others stood up and showed that I didn't need a crutch, Shilo was essential to the team's success.  Although she still doesn't like standing water on the trail, Shilo lead the team over mountains, over jumble ice, through tight winding trails, and into the head wind on the Yukon River.  When not in lead, Shilo would answer any command I gave with an exasperated scream if the other leaders didn't respond fast enough.  Shilo rode contentedly in the back seat of the truck all the way home.  Shilo won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
So those are the real heros of the story.  They are happy to be home and have a different look in their eye.  They have been somewhere and done something and are now stronger and wiser.  These dogs are my friends and travelling companions and for that I give them my love and care and respect.  Now we all get a much needed and deserved break and we're going to go have some fun in the hills of Montana.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bittersweet End to the Adventure

I find myself at a loss for words to describe the experience of the last 2 weeks, 2 months and year.  We made it to the finishline and now all that I have worked so hard for and planned for is done.  I thought perhaps this trip would shed some light on what happens next.  But I find that instead of finding clarity of thought, everything has become more blurred.  Maybe that is just the sleep deprivation.

The dogs did an incredible job and there is something changed in them now, especially the younger dogs.  They know they have done something.  They aren't just your average dogs anymore (if they ever were).  They are Quest veterans and have traveled 1000 miles over rugged terrain.  12 of 14 starting dogs finished the whole race.  Boggle was dropped in Dawson as he just wasn't having fun anymore.  Miss Cleo stayed there as well.  The whole team had had a bit of an intestinal bug that Cleo just couldn't seem to shake.  Brooke and Anita took great care of her and she was back to herself in 24 hours. 

We saw some beautiful scenery but spent a lot of time in the dark wishing for a full moon.  The Northern Lights were spectacular and at times seemingly touchable.  I traveled a lot of the first half with Bart De Marie and Peter Fleck.  We had a lot of fun on the trail and in checkpoints.  Going out of Eagle toward Dawson City, we got spread out and I traveled most of the second half by myself just seeing the boys and Jennifer Raffaeli at the occassional checkpoint.

I am having technical difficulties adding pictures and now am heading out the door for the rest of the adventure: 4 days in the truck to finally return home.  I will work on some stories to tell and hopefully be able to make a post en route or as soon as we return home.  Thank you to all you sponsors, supporters, followers, friends, family, Brooke and Anita for believing in me and offering you support in so many ways.