Gealach Mor Siberians
Working sleddogs - just for the love of it..............
A day off for the dogs, a chance to rest tired muscles and get a massage. Feet are regularly checked, looking for cut or split pads, fissures between the toes caused by snow balling up as they run. Fortunately the feet on our guys are generally good and care is restricted to applying foot ointment on an occasional basis.
After the hard work of slogging up and down mountains for the last few runs, and hopefully refreshed following a day of rest, the plan was to have a fast simple run for most of the team. We headed to Hill Village and hooked up a team of 10 - Vader and Teague missing out today. Undaunted by her snowhook experiences, Joyce was back in the sled as a passenger and David once more took to the snowmobile. Now, Hill is not a difficult place to navigate - it is basically a 6 mile main trail outwards, with a variety of loops and turns which leave and return to the main trail. Simply put, you can't get lost - well, I do believe those are called "famous last words"
Dog team sets off - running fantastically well and reaches the 6 mile turnaround, having had a brief conversation with David a couple of miles back, when he stopped for some photographs. Sled reaches the left turn and we head into the field and start for home, dogs still running well and not at all interested in stopping. So we keep going and make it back to the truck in record time - without hearing the snowmachine at all. Water and feed dogs, pack up sled, tidy up around truck - still no sign...... alternatives now being considered include bringing some of the dogs back out and mounting a search party. At last we hear an exhaust note and our snowmachine hoves into view, a sheepish looking rider explaining that he managed to get lost whilst looking for us. At least he found his way back to the truck.
Race day is fast approaching and this will be our last training run before selecting the 6 first string dogs. We decided to go over to Bear Notch Rd and run an 8 dog team, trying to judge who is ready and willing and who is just helping make up the numbers. Vader, Beth, Tasker and Fina get the day off - which also rules them out of the race team for Craftsbury.
Once again Joyce is happy to sit as a passenger as the 8 take off and climb steadily up the first couple of miles and enjoy the wonderful views from the plateau at the top before holding on tight for the long downhill section.
Once at the bottom, we stop the team and she transferred to the snowmachine so I can run the dogs back up that long 4 mile climb
Nice looking well disciplined dog team.
Ubee and BB hold the team out and no-one is goofing around.
The dogs are due to get a well deserved couple of days rest before the first race of the season. The best of food, fresh straw and lots of affection. We take the time to carry out equipment checks, pack the truck and worry.
We also took the opportunity to drive down to Massachusets to visit Bob and Tammy at Tay Marr Kennels and collect Ubee's rabies and innoculation details which we'll need for the race vet checks. It's no surprise that she's made it into the first team. Barring unexpected injuries or illness, it's looking like Ubee, BB at lead, Milloy and Teague at point with Takeo and Harry as wheelers.
Smiling happily or terrified and trembling?
The day before race day. Checked the weather forecast - no mention of any more snow, but it is going to be a little cooler......
A leisurely morning making sure that we have everything we need and stowing it into the truck. Mid-afternoon and it's time to load the dogs and head off to Craftsbury, Vermont. A good number of the people we have trained with throughout the season are racing this weekend too but on our journey north-west there is a distinct lack of other dogtrucks on the road. After successfully navigating our way to Craftsbury, the next challenge is to locate the B&B we are supposed to be staying in. All the omens seem to be going our way as with only 2 wrong turns, we arrive at Craftsbury Bed & Breakfast on Wylie Hill in the early evening and are welcomed in. With one other dog team already there, we park up and drop the dogs. It has already got much colder and promises to continue to drop. Another dog truck pulls in as we are feeding our dogs and there is a moment of panic as a loose dog is spotted wandering close to the edge of the house. It turns out to be Fina, it is so cold that the brass snap on her cable drop stuck open and she had got loose. A hundred thoughts rushed through my head - 99 of them bad, as we attempted to round her up safely. Fina's a fairly timid girl and doesn't take well to be lunged at, particularly by strangers, no matter how well meaning their intentions. Fortunately, she ended up closer to our truck and I was able to entice her to jump back into her box.
With the dogs cared for, it was time for some food at the Spaghetti dinner put on by the town and then to head over to the Mushers' meeting being held at 9.00pm at race HQ. A nerve wracking time - especially for this rookie driver. First up is registration - then a vet check of the paperwork. A mistake or omission at this point means that we won't be able to race. Everything is in order - the vet was rather amazed at the Pet Passports of our dogs and I was able to relax a little before the race briefing and drawing of start positions. A thorough presentation of the race rules, with a Q&A session, a hand out of a trail map and then the bib numbers were drawn. This was to be a dual start - two teams leaving the chute at the same time racing for the advantage onto the lake. Fingers crossed, all I wanted was NOT to be drawn out as number 1 or 2. Wish granted as I pulled 24.
Shortly afterwards the meeting broke up and there was a dash for the door to drop dogs in the car park. It's nice to be surrounded by other people whose dogs are making as much racket as yours - and no-one is bothered.
With an early start the next day with a vet check on the race dogs scheduled for 8.00am, we headed back to the B&B. Mindful of Milloy's noisey night in the truck at Pittsburg earlier in the month, I was slightly concerned about him keeping everyone awake and had hoped to be able to park a good distance away from the house. Sadly, that was not feasible, so instead, Milloy got a stiff talking to and warned to behave as we went inside. Surprisingly, that seemed to do the trick as all was quiet. After an hour or so, David came through and said that Milloy was howling and had been for a while. In the interests of decency and consideration for others - and despite the fact that because our room was on the other side of the house, I couldn't hear him - I got up, got dressed and went out to sleep in the truck with Milloy. As with the other occasion, Takeo and Harry also joined in the protest and they too were "rewarded" by being brought into the cab. Not ideal preparation for our first race, half the team and driver huddled into the cab of the dogtruck at 3.00 am with the temperature at - 30 C. Yes, it was that COLD. Eventually, I gave up the uneven struggle and decided to go for a drive. That way, at least the heat from the engine would warm me up. So, I went on a nice scenic tour of rural Vermont - not much happening at that time in the morning, I can report.
RACE DAY. Well, the start of the day kind of blurred into the end of the previous one - I arrived back at the B&B to drop and water the dogs and collect Joyce and David. Perfect timing as Maggie, the B&B owner, had decided to get up early and make breakfast for us. Mmmm, apple and cinnamon pancakes with local maple syrup. Seconds became the norm and I'm sure more than one of us had thirds.
The price of leisurely breakfast is a mad rush to get down to the race site in time for the vet checks. The organisation was excellent and each team was allocated a marked parking space according to their starting number. Setting up, we dropped the dogs and again watered
them and tempted them to eat a little. Next up was the vet check, and
I was happy that all the dogs were declared in good condition and fit to
run. Then it was time for the mandatory equipment check. Having just
packed it all into the sled, it was with a fixed grin, I unpacked it and
layed all the stuff out for the marshall to see and tick the list off.
Suddenly, it was all done, the dogs were harnessed and I was almost
ready and we still had an hour until my 10.35 start time. Lots of time
to spend worrying about what lies ahead.
At 10.00am the first of the 12 dog, 60 mile teams left and it was time to really get nervous. Most of my training friends were running in the shorter 15 mile race and so were on hand for words of encouragement.
Did I mention it was cold? By race time it had warmed up to minus 22C.
At last, it was time to hook the dogs in as the marshalls wanted us up at the start gate. More last minute drama ! It was so cold that the snaps on the tuglines were frozen shut and needed to be coaxed and breathed on to thaw them enough to open. Panic over, dogs on, sled in the start chute - it's too late to back out now.
The actual race is a blur - moments stick in your mind - and words can probably
never accurately express the emotions and events. The frozen lake was the easiest
part - thank goodness for our run on Umbagog Lake early in January. After the 5 miles around the lake it was time to start climbing a little into the trees - and it was here we dropped back from the team we had started with. Then a road crossing and a short stretch down a road with not much snow cover, which was interesting........ and then what seemed like an endless procession of hills, road crossings, hills, all the time, being overtaken by the same Quebecois racer, she was way faster than us, but missed every turn and would be sitting at each junction as we approached and would then set off once Ubee had shown her team which way to go. This went on for several miles before she broke her sled and was unable to continue. About halfway, there was a checkpoint, where you had to sign in and the vets gave your dogs a quick check to see that they were all ok to continue. The dogs were doing fine, no problems, no snowballs and performing at a consistent pace. Maybe we're a ways off being as fast as ideally I would like, but at least we're out there and moving. The memories of the back half of the race seem to consist entirely of close encounters with trees.
It was with some relief that I descended out of the woods onto the lake again for the final 5 miles. It was about then I realised that the teams we had been overtaking in the previous couple of miles were the 4 dog, 15 mile racers and that the lake ahead was dotted with teams which made for a great run home as the dogs relished chasing down the smaller teams.
Finally, we came up off the lake and suddenly there were spectators, people clapping and cheering and there was the finish line. Our first ever mid-distance race was over. I crossed the line and rushed to congratulate my dogs. I was so happy, pleased, proud and knackered. We trotted the dogs back to the truck and then snacked them and eventually Joyce managed to track down a water supply as all of our water had frozen. The dogs very quickly settled - a nice meaty meal and they curled up in the sun-shine for a doze. And that is just one of the many, many wonderful things that amaze me about these fantastic dogs. It is minus 18 C and they are enjoying being out in it.
Climbing off the lake on the way home.
Despite the cold, there were several points during the race when I was just too warm. Never again will I race wearing a pair of Carrhart overalls.
Back home and with some free time to tend to the dogs. A beautiful Sunday encourages lazing about in the yard and it is lovely to be able to play in the straw with our team. I have examined all of the dogs carefully and am happy to see no signs of injury, stress or feet troubles. Treats are dished out to everyone and the race dogs get just a little extra. One eye is already looking ahead to next weekend and the race at Stratford.
But first, there's time for a visit to Benton's Sugar Shack for a late breakfast.
All good things come to an end, and sadly, it is time for my wife and friend David to fly back home to Scotland. Joyce has been delighted to see the continuing improvement in our youngsters. They have certainly come a long long way since those first stumbling steps at Mushing Boot Camp back in early October. Many of the photographs depicting the last 10 days have been taken by David.
Once more, I venture down I-93 to Logan Airport and each time I see Joyce walk away into the terminal, I wish she could stay longer. It is a quiet ride north to New Hampshire as nothing on the radio suits my mood.
The race dogs have had 3 days off since their last run - some of the others have been idle for over a week. Equal trail time can't be achieved for everyone when trying to put together your best 6 dog team. Today I head over to Hill Village and take the opportunity to run all of the dogs in 2 teams. With our next race being held on Saturday, I took the 6 dogs that had raced at Craftsbury and ran them together again for 20 miles. The second team ran 12 miles and performed well. I guess giving them all that time off has made them realise that running is fun after all.
Time to run through mandatory checklist and make sure that I have everything needed, and that there is a place for it all on the truck. Stratford is only a couple of hours north of here and bearing in mind the disturbed nights that have resulted in trying to stay away overnights with Milloy, I decided to stay at home and get the benefit of a proper night's sleep - even if it means a bit of an early start.
Some mornings it is a real struggle to get up when the alarm clock rings - today wasn't one of those. With most of the equipment already packed on the truck, it was simply a case of rousing the dogs, making some coffee and remembering to take the sandwiches and snacks our of the fridge.
Having driven through Stratford on our trip to Pittsburg earlier in the month, I was sure I could find the town again but was still pleased to catch up with another dog truck heading north, which I duly followed right to the race site. Despite my "early" start, I was far from the first to arrive - but at least I wasn't last, and I was still in plenty of time to drop the dogs, get organised and wander around chatting to other mushers before the race meeting. Race meetings for mid-distance runs are rather more structured than I am used to. Add to this, my relationship with maps could hardly be described as close. I spent ages trying to establish where the trail actually went and missed some of the salient points during the briefing. Asking questions at these meetings is encouraged - but if you ask one in your best Scottish brogue, you'd better bring a translator too.
Allocated parking depending on your race class.
These are some of the 4 -6 dog, 15 mile teams
The team might be well disciplined - but I'm taking no chances. The sled is secured with 2 snowhooks and a snubline tied round the signpost !
to be continued......................