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.

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.

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