Sunday, 14 January 2007

January 14, 2007 2007 La Ronge Neckbone Race – Karen’s Story

When we contacted the race organizers for the Neckbone, they were thrilled that we wanted to come out, but made sure to inform us that this was an informal, ‘low key’ race. I guess maybe they were worried I would expect a Ceremonial Start, a 1200 person pre race banquet and such!! Fear not!! Neckbone was exactly what we hoped for and wanted – a fun weekend with the dogs!


In the weeks prior to the race, I had actually thought it was a 12 dog race, so when I figured out it was only a 10 dog race, I had a bit of scrambling to do about who was going and who was staying home. Draco was first cut, he just didn’t need the experience compared to the other dogs – and with his ‘more senior’ status, injuries, even slight ones take more time to heal, so you don’t want to push those ‘oldies’ too much.

Next cut were Jinx and Olena because they were in standing heat – well, in Olena I call it the ‘Spawning stage’ – but either way it just means they were going to be a big distraction to the boys.

Last to be cut was Barq. Although Barq is definitely having the season of his career, his feet were a bit tender on our last runs and I thought time off would do him a world of good.


So, my team for the Neckbone was going to be:




The drive to La Ronge, like most drives through Saskatchewan (just kidding Colleen) was uneventful, well, except for the time in Prince Albert when we all accidentally got split up. Luckily that big red truck is easy to spot and Colleen and I made a mad dash out into traffic to catch a relieved Mark.

We had been paying the bill at the restaurant and Mark went off to fill up the truck. The pump we were going to meet at didn’t have diesel fuel, so he headed off to find another one and ended up in heavy rush hour traffic. 

All got resolved though and we were grateful to see the city getting smaller in our rear view mirror.


When we arrived in La Ronge, race marshall Tom Charles had spotted the truck and came over to welcome us. Great guy with a  wonderful, dry sense of humor. He told us where to find the meetings that were scheduled for the morning and gave us some suggestions for place to drop dogs. All very appreciated. 

Jackie and Rick arrived shortly after and a casual evening was spent with friends and dogs!


In the morning I was disappointed to draw bib #1 – I hate going out first, but #2 was a former Neckbone champ, so I figured my leading wasn’t going to last long anyway. 

Sure enough, Stefan caught and passed us about 4 miles out, however the dogs were moving strong and steady and we didn’t see another team for many, many more miles.


The day was cold and I had not been thinking when I tossed my wind bib pants into my sled bag – good judgment would have had them on my body. About 29 miles in my legs were feeling pretty numb and I decided I should put them on, however realizing that would require getting my bib and parka off, I decided to tough it out. If the team had been getting passed by everything in sight, I would have taken the time, but I hadn’t seen a team since Stefan passed and I wasn’t going to mess up a good run with a 10 minute wardrobe change!!


Just as I was coming into sight of the Besnard Rd safety checkpoint, Gerry Walker came into sight. We both blew through and continued down the trail.


Shortly after that Kara began to back off a bit in harness. She had been setting a blistering pace for the first 30 miles and I decided she needed a little bit of a break. Young Spidey was pressed into lead dog duties. She ran like a little pro, although the pace was definitely slower without Miss Wonder Leader up front. 

We actually had a few more teams catch up and pass us – still I was the 6th team to pull into the finish line that day. That didn’t, however, mean I was the 6th fastest time – start differentials needed to be considered. It turns out my run time was the 9th speediest for the day and very close to the teams in front of me.


Race organizer and fellow musher Sid Robinson came over as Colleen, Jackie Wepruk (who was waiting for Rick's team to come in) and I fed and tended to dogs. “Are those the fastest Siberians on the planet??”, he asked. Seems he figured he would catch us in the first 20 miles of the run – and ended up not being able to pass me at all on the 57 mile run. I was all smiles.


Mark’s team rolled in an hour or so after mine. I helped Colleen and him feed, but finally had to excuse myself to find a bathroom – trails that run along highway ditches don’t give female mushers a lot of opportunities to pee!


Dogs fed and tucked into their boxes on the truck we headed over to the Weyakwin school for chili, fry bread and neckbones – the traditional ‘Neckbone Race feast’. For the record, the neckbones served were pork ones. I found them a little gristly and fatty, but Mark drove into a heaping plate of the things and pronounced them delicious.


When we dropped the dogs after dinner, Kara was sore on one of her front legs. I showed Colleen how to care for it and she took over Kara drops and massages for the evening. Kara was very pleased to be assigned her own personal massage therapist.


The town had opened a local gymnasium for mushers to sleep in, so we dragged out cots and sleeping bags and set up ‘Camp Ramstead’. Hanging gear to dry and sorting out new gear for morning before dropping dogs again and then getting some sleep.


The morning came COLD. Tom said that in the dips and valleys his truck thermostat had dropped down to –40. In town it was hanging about – 37.

We filled up on a wonderful breakfast at the school before piling on every bit of gear we had with us (you can bet I was wearing those wind bibs today!) and heading out to the start line. 


They had us leaving in reverse finishing order, so Mark was out 3rd and I was out 4th. It took some fancy footwork to get us out three minutes apart, but aided by Colleen and Jackie (who had already seen Rick off), we got it done.


The dogs didn’t start off as spunky as the Saturday, but they were still moving nicely. I caught and passed Mark and then a faster teams caught me.

Although Kara had looked good at the truck this morning – with all swelling and tenderness in her wrist seemingly gone, she was backing off in lead after about 5 miles.

I took her out of lead and put her back into the team to see if that would help. It didn’t. Finally, after about 5 miles of fussing and fiddling with her, I stopped to load her into the bag. As I was putting her in, I noticed a team bearing down on us and just quickly closed up my bag.

Kara was NOT pleased at being ‘loaded’ and as we started to move shot up and out of the sled and onto the trail. I threw in my hooks and collected my wayward leader. As I was arguing with her about getting back into the bag Gerry Walker passed – or attempted too. His sled caught one of my snow hooks and everything was suddenly in a big mess. As we tried to sort it out, Stefan caught up and came running up to help out. Unfortunately, his team didn’t feel like a break and popped loose his snow hooks. He just caught them as they roared by.

After what was probably only a minute or two, but what seemed like ages, things were all straightened out and all three teams underway again. No one to blame, but one of those things.


My team started to ‘click’ a bit now. The spark seemed to be starting to ignite. I had Dasher and Snickers in lead and they were really moving steady. We traveled with another musher for a bit and then she stopped to snack prior to the Besnard crossing. I pulled into the safety checkpoint, very quickly turned Kara over to the race officials, pulled the hook and was gone again. Once out of sight of the crossing (so the dogs didn’t think we were taking a ‘real’ break), I stopped and tossed each dog a chunk of lamb sausage. Just before I pulled the hook Jess Allen came over the hill. I slipped in behind her and we traveled that way for a number of miles. I stopped to put a bootie on Charge and the team was screaming by the time I stepped back on the runners. I pulled the hook and it was like I entered the Twilight Zone – that team was ready to rock. They quickly caught up with a 6-dog team that had passed us while we were stopped. I wanted to just follow them for a bit, but Snicks and Dash had other ideas and just pulled out and passed. They pulled strongly away and now had Jessica’s team in their sights. They loped up behind her, we passed and then they loped on down the trail. I was slightly concerned that they were going to burn themselves out, we still have about 25 miles to the finish line, but then decided it was just time to see what these puppies could do.


A number of miles later we spied another team ahead and they kicked it into overdrive. The team was Sid’s and he had a number of nice comments about my team. Sid had a bit of a tangle in some deep overflow, but my team skillfully edged around the water and around him to continue their charge to the finish.


I continued to be in awe of the way the dogs were driving – I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face if I had tried.


We caught glimpses of one more team ahead, but I just couldn’t reel them in. We loped across the finish line as the fourth team, with a time that turned out to be the 4th fastest for the day. Placing us in 8th overall. More significant to me was the fact that we were only 25 minutes out of 3rd place!


That evening we dined again on chili and neckbones, visited with other mushers and swapped trail stories. A lovely end to a lovely weekend!

We will be back!!!




1 Gerry Walker, Pierceland 5:03:15 4:50:18 9:53:33
2 Stefaan de Marie, Christopher Lake 5:21:55 4:54:50 10:16:45
3 Charlie Conner, Meadow Lake 5:44:35 5:51:51 11:36:36
4 Quincy Miller, La Ronge 5:56:00 5:46:32 11:42:32
5 Charlie Noltcho, La Ronge 6:05:52 5:39:14 11:45:06
6 Jessica Allen, Minnedosa, Manitoba 5:50:01 5:56:20 11:46:21
7 Sid Robinson, La Ronge 6:03:58 5:51:31 11:55:29
8 Karen Ramstead, Perryvale, Alberta 6:15:07 5:45:18 12:00:25
9 Jeff Thomas, Minnedosa, Manitoba 6:03:33 6:11:38 12:15:11
10 Mark Ramstead, Perryvale, Alberta 6:56:05 7:03:09 13:59:14
11 Irvin Wai, Carstairs, Alberta 7:22:42 7:00:02 14:22:49
12 Rick Austin, Lacombe, Alberta 7:57:01 7:38:08 15:35:09
13 Blake Charles, La Ronge 7:46:18 8:02:14 15:48:32


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