I set out on a solo trip to Siskiyou County, CA on January 21, 2009. This trip was solo only because I had no human companion, but I did have 12 dogs. Shilo played co-pilot most of the trip. I drove 900 miles to reach my destination, stopping to let the dogs out to stretch, eat, and relieve themselves. I slept in the truck at a truck stop somewhere in Washington state. I arrived in Mt. Shasta City for the pre-race gathering and met my host, Donna, who, by the way, turned out to be the best host any musher could hope for. We went back to Donna's house and got settled in for the night. I was a little concerned that the dogs might be noisy in such a tight neighborhood, but they barely let out a peep.
The next morning, race day, I packed my drop bags for the checkpoints and let the dogs out in Donna's fenced backyard for a pre-race romp.
I headed to the starting line with some time to spare to get everything ready with as little stress as possible. I arrived in the staging area to discover the truck had a MAJOR oil leak. I tried not the worry about this as I packed my sled and prepped the dogs. I was lucky enough to meet Mary, Bino Fowler's better half, who was willing to pickup some oil for me while I was out on the trail: 3 gallons worth (yes, I meant to say gallons).
I had drawn number 1 which meant I was the first team out. A lot of mushers don't want to be first out of the chute. I don't mind. I don't often get nervous at the start of races anymore so starting first just means I can get away from the chaos of the parking lot and out on the trail sooner. I headed to the starting line with my sled snubbed to an ATV. The parking lot was mostly bare down to asphalt, and the spectators had turned out in droves. We got to the starting line with no problems. Detour and Shilo were my leaders. They just wanted to go. Etna, who is usually fairly reserved during hook up until just before we go, was screaming and banging in her harness and nipping at the dog next to her. She knew the difference between training and racing. And racing is much more exciting. During our 10 second countdown, we got to 3 and an overzealous volunteer helping to hold my team pulled the snowhook and we were off 2 seconds before go. There was no stopping them then.
We headed off down the trail which was actually a road, and we got to see parts of it without snow on it. Dog sleds do not steer at all on pavement so you just hold your breathe and grip the handlebar until your hands are numb and hope for the best. One of my competitors, Steve Madson, had some very bad luck in the first few miles of the race with the bare spots on the road. His sled dropped off the shoulder of the road and his foot got caught and his ankle snapped. Fortunately for him, Bino Fowler was able to stop and help him get turned around and headed back to the start.
We ran 62 miles to the first checkpoint, only seeing the other teams, head on, in the section of trail we went out and back. I was checking my watch and doing the math and realizing that we were making time on all the other teams. We arrived at the checkpoint where I fed the dogs and myself, and then we all slept, the dogs for about 4.5 hours and me for about 1.5 hours. After 5 hours and 15 minutes in the checkpoint, we headed out into the night. It was about 1:30am. We headed to the next checkpoint, about 45 miles away arriving about 6:15 am, an hour or so before light. I got the dogs fed and bedded down before the next team arrived. Bino Fowler was the second team in at about 7:30 am.
Five and half hours after we arrived, we headed back to first checkpoint. I had slept another 45 minutes or so and was starting to get mild hallucinations from the sleep deprivation. The dogs looked awesome and I felt alright too. Boggle stayed behind at this checkpoint. Being the youngest dog in the team at about 16 months, he was a little sore but still having fun. I saw no reason to make it anything but fun for him and decided to save him for next time.
We arrived back at the first checkpoint after running in the rain for a few hours. I was getting cold and wet and was really glad the leg wasn't any longer than it was. We got into the checkpoint in the day light. The dogs watched my every move until they got their dinner, which they all ate like champs. Once their bellies were full, everyone curled up for a 4 hour rest and I headed into the warming hut to dry out.
We finished a little after 11 pm and there was no one at the finishline. We were an hour before they expected us. The first race we won and what an anti-climactic ending. But it is the journey not the destination that we remember most fondly.
My little team, almost all smaller females, not only won the race by 3 1/2 hours, they looked like they were ready to do it again. I was happy to finish first, but I was most excited with how good the dogs looked at the end of the race. After sleeping for the rest of the night, they looked like they had done nothing for the last few days. They were happy and bouncy and barking to go again.
We made the long trip home, limping the leaking truck along. But we made it. And, yes, I did use 3 gallons of oil to get there.
So that concludes the story of the first win for dogs of Evening Star Kennel. One last picture: Detour and Whitney at the last checkpoint. They didn't want to lie down to sleep because they thought they might miss something.
PS - Detour has always been a star, but Whitney may have outshone her on this trip. Look out for these girls on the Quest next year.