Wednesday, 12 November 2003

November 12, 2003

Minnesota Training - Suomi Hills Run

“Lady bug, Lady bug fly away home; Your house is on fire and your children alone…”.

I have no clue where this little rhythm comes from, but it was one I often recited as a child. I loved ladybugs and, like many, considered it to be a sign of good luck when I spotted one. NEVERMORE…
Jamie’s place, and many other places throughout North America (thankfully not Perryvale) have apparently been over run by a strain of Asian or European beetle. They look like ‘normal’ ladybugs with more spots, but they STINK, BITE and are EVERYWHERE. Apparently they were introduced to deal with some aphid problems and have quickly taken over. I don’t know about other places, but I know the aphid problem in the Nelson household was non-existent. And really, what are a few aphids compared to windows and light fixtures thick with little orange bugs??

The colder temperatures a few weeks back drove them into hiding, but any time we warm up the house with a fire or the outside temps go up, they creep out of whatever little cracks and holes they had managed to find.

The poor Shop Vac has been doing double duty due to ladybugs! I must admit, it is sadistically rewarding to watch the little buggers get sucked into the vacuum to their death.
Anyway, back to “Adventures in Togo”….

The morning of October 24th rolled around raining and miserable. Six of us - myself, Jamie, Joel Kersting, Colleen Wallin (Ward must still have been struggling with that Service poem), Nancy and Roger Johnson – huddled around Jamie’s kitchen eating breakfast and dragging our feet about starting our 150-mile trip, the Suomi Hills run, in the rain. Finally, we could stall no longer. We layered on polar fleece and rain gear and headed out. Thankfully the rain slowed down as we were hooking up and although we did have a few snow and rain showers over the next 3 days, overall the weather was pretty much ideal for running dogs in the fall.

Where the previous weekend’s Button Box was a relaxing and fun ‘ease’ into serious fall training - this trip is all work. One hundred and fifty miles, broken down in to (approximately) 25 mile runs with 6 – 8 hours rest in between. After the run, Colleen mentioned to Jamie that this was tough as any race she had been on – and that is EXACTLY the point! (Make training the hardest thing you do in the season, and racing the easiest and most enjoyable, so everyone on the team LOVES to race!) But that is not to say that we don’t have fun along the way!

Our first stop is the intriguingly named Busty Lake. I figured that there must be a colorful and fascinating story behind the naming of this lovely little lake, but it turns out that it was named after Chief Busty, a local native leader. Local legend has it that Chief Busty buried a fortune of gold somewhere in the area. Many have looked, but the mystery remains unsolved. I kept my eyes peeled – but sadly – I’m still broke.

After the dogs and humans were fed, we pulled out our sleeping bags and just threw them down on our mattress pads out in the open. The clouds had cleared and we lay under a spectacular blanket of stars. I wasn’t very tired and besides the sky was so lovely that just lay back and gazed. Later on Jamie and I took turns pointing out passing planes, satellites and falling stars until the clouds quickly and completely came back and a few falling raindrops scared us into packing up our sleeping bags. It was time to water dogs and get ready to leave by then anyway!

The next leg of the run is one I dread, as it includes about 9 miles of travel along the shoulder of paved highways. I put Camilla the Wonder Leader up front and she kept the team safely tucked on the right shoulder of the road the whole way. It was the wee hours of the morning, so there was only sparse traffic anyway.

Soon we were safely back on snow mobile trails, bouncing over downed logs, slogging through mud and dodging partially fallen trees.

Our next stop was Jack the Horse Lake. I thought it must have been a pretty special horse to get a lake named after him, but it turns out Jack was a local miner, renowned for his amazing feats of strength.
Luckily, dogs can’t read – so they didn’t mind bedding down next to the ‘No Camping’ sign. We reassured ourselves that we weren’t really camping, rather just stopping over for 8 hours.
We were all refreshed by our stop and warm meal and eager to get back on the trail for the next leg that would take us to Joel’s place. This run started eventfully with a short, nasty bit of trail and a serious tangle in Jamie’s team. Quick, levelheaded reactions thankfully resolved everything though.
The rest of day passed quickly and as it got dark, we pulled into Joel’s yard.

Joel whipped up a roast, surrounded by veggies from his garden (the carrots were to die for) and treated us all to a much-appreciated feed. With full stomachs and tired bodies we all sprawled around his cabin and snoozed away a few hours of the night. Before daybreak we were again on the trail backtracking our way home.

Around this time it seems I ‘mismanaged my 4 wheeler accessories’ and created some problems that would plague me for the next leg of our journey. See, having an electrician husband is a handy kind of thing and wired to my 4 wheeler I have a GPS (for tracking mileage, location, distance, etc), heated hand warmers (hey – I’ve proved time and time again I can handle the cold. No need to suffer needlessly!), and a 75,000 candlepower spotlight. When we pulled into Joel’s I neglected to turn off my GPS and it drained away on my battery for our 8-hour stay. The ATV started nicely in the cold early the next morning though, but I guess because of all the accessories running the alternator was not able to recover and within a few miles, I found myself with one very dead machine. Using the dogs to ‘jump start’ the engine a few times, I was able to get it going, but it idled rough and stalled quickly and finally refused to restart. I was very gratefully to Roger, who upon learning of my predicament (as I was now traveling in the dark without lights) stayed with me until we caught up with the rest of the group.

Everyone was quick to help out and Jamie watered by dogs while I helped Joel change the spark plug on my machine and looked for any other problems. But it was to no avail, the ATV refused to cooperate. Luckily, it was getting light and the dogs just pulled me into the town of Marcell with the engine in neutral.

I was adamant that I wouldn’t be able to do the highway miles on the way home without a headlight, so we came up with a plan to have Jamie’s son Erik transport another 4 wheeler to Jack the Horse Lake for me. Before he headed out though, we decided to try to jump start my machine off of Jamie’s with a set of jumper cables loaned to us by a kind man at the local gas station. It took a while to locate the battery and a socket set to get at it, but finally we were rewarded with the roar of my ATV coming back to life.

I suffered through a few hours without my hand warmers and other luxuries – but by the end of the run I was totally back in business with a running ATV, warm hands, confidence in my location and the ability to see where I was going!

At 10 am on Monday morning, almost exactly 3 days after we started, our weary, but enthusiastic band of travelers rolled back into Jamie’s yard. Everyone cared for their dogs and all but Jamie and I packed up their trucks and 4 wheelers for their drives home. Before heading our separate ways we all had breakfast together and rehashed our adventures. It’s nice to watch the ‘seeds’ of my own and others teams developing at this time of the year. I know I will be eagerly watching my traveling companions race results this winter and I wish them all a “Bon Hiver”. (You fellow Northern Exposure fans will get that reference from one of my favorite Northern Exposure episodes, I’m sure).

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