Archive for January, 2009

We’re still here…

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

…we’ve just been busy packing a 1,000 miles worth of food and gear for our Yukon Quest drops which are due Saturday. Let me tell you, packing for a 1,000 mile race (without a handler), while working two full-time jobs, while still trying to train your team…let’s just say I wouldn’t wish this life on anybody. Our days look like this: get up at 6 a.m. to feed, go to work until 4 p.m., drive to Caribou Hills to run dogs for a 5-hour run (because no snow at the house again), get back around midnight, cut meat and bag meat and continue packing food drops until 2 a.m.ish, then do it all again the next day. Anyhow, enough about poor us. Life is still great and we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Here are a few photos from this past week. One is a 14-dog team on a dusk run to the “Edge of the World” in the high country of the Caribou Hills. The other is just a scenic shot, and finally Joseph cutting meat. He’s barely stepped away from that saw for four days. I know coal miners can catch black lung, but is there such a thing as meat lung???

A Real Ass-Kicker

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Temperatures tickling minus 50 degrees, sections of trail put in hours before mushers came through the soft sugary snow, and of course 300 miles of the toughest terrain in Alaska – it was a typical Copper Basin 300. We just got back (see photo above from road trip) from placing 14th in this year’s race, an improvement from Cole’s 16th place finish last season. We had gone into the event hoping for a top 10 finish, and while it was not to be, we did learn from our experiences this year, even though at times they were miserable.
This season the race started at Wolverine Lodge, instead of in Glennallen, and this changed a lot. First, Wolverine had minimal plug-ins for dog trucks, so with the minus 48 degree temps when we arrived, we had to leave the truck running all night long, and shift all the dogs to one side (doubling them in each box) to protect them from truck’s exhaust. Needless to say, they didn’t sleep well. Also with the race starting at Wolverine, instead of only stopping at three checkpoints through the race as we had done last season, we would have to break the race up into four stops this year, or commit to at least one run of more than 100 miles which we did not want to do for this race.
After freezing our finger tips while booting the dogs at the start, Cole got off well, drawing bib number 21 of 27 that started the race (34 had signed up, but the savage cold kept some teams away). The run to the first checkpoint was roughly 25 miles, as was the run to the second, so Cole opted to put them together for what she hoped would be around a 4 ½ hour run. Instead, the soft snow condition turned the 50-mile run into a 7-hour ordeal. Also, the trail conditions took a toll on Karma, as she injured a shoulder and had to be dropped only 23 miles into the race.
By Glennallen, the second checkpoint, the temperatures had risen to around minus 28, which seemed very comfortable compared to the start. The dogs slept and ate well, but Cole only rested them for 4 hours before heading back to the trail. The race requires a minimum of 20 hours of rest, with at least one block of eight to be taken somewhere along the way. To be competitive, this 20-hour schedule must be adhered to, but it is always tough for our kennel, since we typical rest the dogs longer than their run times.
The 60-mile run to Chistochina went great and Cole made it their in under 6 hours. The next leg of the race to Paxson is always tough and at 70-miles in length, is one of the longest runs of the course, so Cole wanted to take a little extra rest before hitting the trail. She initially planned to stay only 4 hours, but stayed 5 instead.
The run to Paxson, the third checkpoint, ended up being the longest run of Cole’s mushing career. The dogs were already feeling a little down from not having as much rest as they would have liked, but added to the situation, all of the un-spayed females in the team were in simultaneous heat. As such females leaders wouldn’t lead because of their hormones, and males wouldn’t lead because they were too interested in the females. Cole ended up switching out leaders about a zillion times, and ended up taking nearly 10 hours to get to Paxson, an hour more than last year, and two hours more than her goal for this year. She came in feeling pretty beat up, especially because the dogs would pull like maniacs back in the team, but those same dogs would only run a few miles in the front. It was frustrating to have a well-conditioned team that just didn’t have their heads in the game.
Since the 2 extra hours of running would have meant cutting even more rest to stay competitive, Cole decided to call the race a wash and turned it into a training run. She rested them 12 hours, 4 more than they 8 required, but ironically couldn’t rest much herself. Joseph had booked a room at the Paxson Lodge hoping she could dry some clothes, get a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed, but unfortunately a fuse box had blown in the lodge, so there was no hot water and the temp in the room was only about 20 degrees warmer than outside. Cole shivered for a few fitful hours of sleep and then got back on the trail.
Despite her crappy nap, the dogs seemed to rebound from their rest. The temps had also risen to minus 5. The trail to Sourdough, the fourth and final checkpoint, was soft and a little deep with powder in a few places, but she managed to make the 60-mile run in 7 hours. She pulled in and rested the team for another 6 hours, which again seemed to make them even stronger, because on the last leg of the race, Cole posted the fastest time of any competitor making the 60-mile run to finish line in 7 hours, with an overall speed of 8.43 mph. Her time might have been even faster, but she stopped to offer assistance to another musher whose team had quit on him half way to the finish.
With the race behind her, Cole felt the overall experience was a good one for training for the Quest because she again endured, and most importantly overcame, some brutal temperatures and challenging dog behavior issues. Again, none of the dogs ended up with frostbite, and Cole sustained only minor frost damage to her fingertips, mostly from changing booties out on the trail. She felt fortunate her clothing system was so reliable, especially since a neighbor of ours was recently not so lucky. She severally frostbit her toes in sub-zero temperatures in a dog race last weekend (see photo — again NOT Cole’s toes).
This Copper Basin makes Cole’s third race this season where the mercury has not risen above zero. Hopefully there will be some karmic balance to the universe and the Quest will be mild to set the scales even. All we can do is hope for the best, but as always, be prepared for the worst.