The Cosmic Canines just finished their 7th race of the season. The Two Rivers 200 started Friday the 13th (if you’re superstitious, our next race starts April Fool’s Day). The weather was beautiful, a little bit warm for the dogs on the first day, but perfect and sunny for the musher. 17 teams were in the race, we started bib #9. To be competitive in this race we needed to run the first leg, 100 miles, straight with no rest. 5 teams pushed through, in order; Tom Lestatz (Jessica Hendrick’s partner, past champion of the Knik 200), Brent Sass (Yukon Quest top 10 team, winner of the men‘s division of this year‘s GinGin 200), Mark May (long time competitive musher, 2nd in the Quest ’01, and veterinarian, son of past Iditarod Champion Joe May), and Braxton Peterson ( Lance Mackey’s stepson, running his yearling team).
I knew the first 50 miles would be tough for my dogs. A few of area’s my own team needs some work on are running hills, soft trails, and in the heat. The first 50 miles you climb Cleary Summit, Iowa Dome, and the top of the Two Rivers Wood Cutting Road. The trail was just put in after are big snow last week. It was hilly and soft. We worked hard to stay in with the front runners. We passed teams one by one. Mark May pulled ahead of me in the hills, I could tell his team was stronger climbing. I tried to let the dogs “go” a little on the downhills, to keep up, which later prove to be a mistake. I knew once we got to the river the dogs word start rockin’, flat and fast is more of my team’s forte. I stopped every hour to let them catch their breath and praise them. Every 2 hours I snacked frozen beef or fat. Once we got over Iowa Dome and in to the Anaconda Creek flats I stopped one more time to snack, I knew from this point forward the dogs knew the trail and the trail surface would improve a little. What a beautiful day! The sun was blaring and the vistas on the hills overlooking the White Mountains were amazing. I perfect example of spring in interior Alaska.
We had passed Mark May before the 17 mile road crossing/ dog drop and we blasted through in 4th place. Once we crossed the road, the dogs expected to make a left (or haw) turn to head home. This in one our regular training trails. So when I made them turn right they got a little pouty. But we had practiced this a few times so it didn’t slow them down too much. About 5 miles later we passed Rick Studley ( running Dan Kaduce and Jodi Bailey’s team). He had pulled over to camp for a couple hours, Dan had given him a more conservative schedule to run because this was his 1st 200 miler. This excited the dogs and I think they finally realized that we were heading to the river so they kicked it into high gear. The dogs LOVE the river run because there are typically lots of moose on the banks eating willows so they think, “Yeah! Time to hunt moose!” I snacked them quickly in the AG parcel which is a few miles before you drop onto the river because I knew this was the place for me to catch up a little. Once we got on the river the dogs started rolling. The temperature dropped enough that I was getting a little chilly, I had just my shell parka on because I would be runnng up all of those hills earlier in the day. I had my big parka in the sled but I didn’t want to stop the dogs momentum.
We pulled into Pleasant Valley Store, the first checkoint, in 3rd 10 minute behind Brent Sass, and 20 behind Tom Lestatz. I was surprised because I never even caught a glimpse of them the whole day and there are some pretty open spots where you can see for a long way. I also never saw Mark May behind me once I crossed the road. He had to pass house at mile 60. So that might have slowed him a little. Tom passed his house at mile 50, that didn’t seem to slow him down at all.
Pleasant Valley Checkpoint was extremely organized this year. All of the mushers a had convenient spot to park and were brought both their drop bags and their straw, which is soooo nice after long run. The dogs looked great and ate well. I did a little preventative massage and applied liniment to some of the dogs problem spots. Soft trails, speed, and hills can equal pulled muscles. Kobuk’s wrist was borderline so I gave him a wrist wrap and some Zalox ( analgesic massage lotion) and decided I would look at it after the rest. He is a large and big chested dog, running downhill fast creates a lot of impact on his wrists.
Inside I got something to eat and enjoyed the company of the other mushers. Clint Warnke, who was handling for his wife Sarah Love kept us posted on the Iditarod with his iphone and gave us a lengthy lecture about the plastic runners we all use (he sells them). We had a good time. I asked around to see how long the other mushers were staying. There are 10 hours of mandatory rest that can be taken at Pleasant Valley or Angel Creek, or both. Tom told me he would stay 5 and 5, which was the direction I was leaning. Brent and Mark wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Braxton said he would stay there for all 10 because he didn’t get any sleep the night before and he was tired. I thought that he wouldn’t do that and would rest 10 and get to Angel Creek and take a couple more hours.
I went out to get the dogs ready. There was some confusion on the times in which we could leave because they had an older lady doing them whom I think is going a little senial. I got my time worked out with her and mentioned to the other mushers that they might want to check on theirs. As I was getting ready to go Mark was with his team.
“Val (the time checker) thinks I am supposed to leave at 5:14 but I keep telling her I am supposed to leave at 5:20.”
It was 2:30. I thought hmmm, Mark is staying for 7 hours here. That’s weird.
As I walked over team to finish up the last preparations to leave I realized, “Wait! Mark is bootying his dogs. He’s really leaving right after me.” So he wants to mess with me.
We headed out into the night. 4 miles into this run we would pass the house. I thought it would be pretty easy this direction it would be very difficult on the way back, 4 miles from the finish line. We passed the house successfully and the dogs didn’t slow down much. We went under the Jenny M bridge to the north side of Chena Hot Springs Road. We connected to the Flat Top Trail which is narrow and windy and has 3 or 4 nasty overflow crossings. Typically they aren’t wet but the entrance to them is steep and the trail winds around on them. They weren’t very bad, a couple of the dogs took some good spills on them because of the loss of traction from their booties. There is also a good little climb at the beginning of the trail. After about 15 miles there we connect to the Winter Trail which is fast and straight. We started picking up speed. There is a long stretch of overflow near the Colorado Creek Cabins. Apollo took another nasty spill there. After that he was sore and didn’t feel like running anymore so I loaded him into the sled.
I expected to see Mark May’s headlamp behind me at some point. But I never saw him. Morning came and we pulled into Angel Creek in 2nd. About 20 minutes behind Tom, only 9 minutes in front of Mark. Brent pulled in a little over an hour later, but because he rested 6 hours at Pleasant Valley he only had to rest and Angel Creek 4 hours, so actually he was in 3rd only 6 minutes behind me.
I had breakfast after tending to the dogs. Satellite’s wrist injury from earlier this season was showing some soreness. I would wrap it and apply Zalox and access it after the rest. I dropped Apollo, no sense in pushing him for the last 50 miles, and I certainly didn’t want to carry him, when I had Brent and Mark breathing down my neck for the last leg. I asked Mark how long he rested at Pleasant Valley.
“Never ask other mushers questions like that, they will never give you a straight answer.”
Oh, so we were still playing games. I know its all in good fun, and plus all that told me was, hey, you’re a threat.
I got about 1 ½ hours of sleep. I watched Tom’s team leave, they looked really strong. With a half hour lead on me, I figure 1st place was out of the question. I knew I would have to work hard to hang onto 2nd. We had a good howl before we left, off we went into the sunshine. They were a little slow from the start. Usually the first 10 miles are spent with the dogs taking turns relieveing themselves. In the exit shoot I ran into 3 teams so that didn’t help their momentum either. The dogs were travelling a little slow so thought for sure I would see Mark or Brent come up from behind soon. On all of the long straight stretches I would call the dogs up so that the team behind wouldn’t see me. I had my gray shell parka on again so I would also put the hood up so my bright blue hat didn’t stand out. I knew that if I team from behind saw me, they would catch me. We started to run into teams head on that were on their way to Angel Creek still. This sparked the dogs speed a little. I started asking teams how far ahead Tom was. After a few passes it dawned I me…I started telling the teams to tell whoever is behind me that I am at least an hour ahead of them. Ha ha, how’s that for a head game?
As we cruised along I started picking up a “vibe” from my team. It seemed every time I encouraged them they would turn around and look at me as if to say, “Will you shut up!” So I did. They started picking up speed. When we started climbing up flat top I began to push to help them up the hill. Again they started glancing back, “Will you quit it?” Okay….obviously you guys got this covered. And they did, we started travelling pretty good up the trail. I just wanted to get to the other side of the road before I saw a team from behind me. I knew for a few miles they would pick it up, thinking they were going home, and then the last 4 miles they would be slow, after passing the house. I got out into the Peasant Farm Fields, still no one behind. Whooo hooo. Now to get past the house.
We got to my home trail and Samson and Meade pulled over. I hit the break, “No, Gee”
Samson pulled harder. “No, Gee.” Meade pulled gee and Samson followed. I released the break. The whole team looked down the home trail with pleading eye, “But…..are you sure???” They all seceded.
I started calling, “ GOOD DOGGIES, GOOD DOGGIES!!!! Yeee hawww!”
I go them cruising about 15 miles per hour for the next 2 miles. We did it! All of those other local races that we did this winter paid off. I think they realized, hey if were not going home, it just means we are going to the truck at the store.
We pulled into Pleasant Valley Store in 2nd. We were happy, all of the dogs looked great. Satellite was a little wiped due to a pulled muscle, but otherwise they were still ready to go. I am so proud sand amazed with this dog team. They keep beating my expectations of them in every race.
The team: Samson (5) Meade (2) Satellite (2) Dark Star (2) Nasa (2) Gemini (4) Bear (6) Kobuk (3) Stellar (3) Apollo (2) Polaris (1) Captain Kirk (4) Everyone finished except Kobuk an Apollo
Top 5 mushers:
1st: Tom Lesatz 2nd Abbie West 3rd Braxton Peterson 4th Mark May 5th Brent Sass