Friday, 18 January 2008

January 18, 2008 Flathead Sled Dog Days 100 Race

The Neckbone race in La Ronge, SK that Mark and I ran last year was such a good warm up event for the dogs that I was disappointed that scheduling wasn't going to allow for us to run it again this year. When I happened across the information on the Flathead Sled Dog Days running the weekend before the Seeley Lake races, I figured that would fit the bill perfectly.

So, the Thursday before the race, Colleen Hovind, Anna Husch and myself loaded dogs and headed for Montana. Anna was a last minute addition to the entourage. Her brother, Markus has been to Alaska with me a few times and Anna figured it was her turn for an adventure. She was a very pleasant addition to the team!!

We spent an enjoyable Thursday night in Calgary, having dinner with my Mom, my brother, Geek and wife, Mrs.Geek.  Mom made sure we were loaded up with lots of snacks and goodies for the drive. Moms are the greatest.

Everything went well until we hit the US Border. There we met up with a Border Guard that must have been attacked by a pack of rabid sled dogs as a child. His personal interpretation of the regulations for crossing the border with dogs were very different then every other border guard I've met in the 12 or so years I've been doing this. It took about a 2 hour delay while the wonderful staff at the Westlock Vet Clinic pulled and detailed all the information this guy wanted before he would let us into the US.

When we were finally on our way, we passed a coyote trotting along the ditch towards the border. I hope he was carrying all the proper paperwork.

Despite the delay, we got into Whitefish in time for our vet checks and all. The weather was horribly discouraging though. When I called home and whined to Mark that it was raining outside, he reminded me it has almost always been like that when we raced in Montana - basically it was a 'Suck It Up, Princess' reminder.

Morning dawned warm and wet - not ideal by any stretch for my team, but .... as Mark would say "Suck it Up Princess".

by Penny Blakenship

The girls and I fed dogs, readied the sled, and eventually harnessed and hooked up the 12 dogs. The team consisted of Jinx, Hilda, Holly, Nahanni, X, Bingo, Hector, Batdog, Runner, Togo, Boom and Barq. As the snowmachine pulled up next to the team to help us up to the start, I all of a sudden realized the X, Bingo, Runner and maybe even Togo were not at all familiar with the machines. Bingo and X looked like their eyes were about to pop out of their heads at the sight and sounds of the 'iron dogs'. Well, no time like the present to learn.

We struggled up the difficult ¼ mile to the start line and arrived just in time to be released. The dogs and I were in high spirits as we got underway for our first 'real' sled run of the season.

A number of teams passed and the rookies dealt with that very well. X and Bingo were stopping dead in their tracks with each snowmachine we encountered, but all the drivers were courteous and kind, so I was sure they would figure out in time they weren't really an issue.

The trail climbs for over 20 miles, cruises along a summit for awhile and then drops for over 20 miles back to the finish line. Actually, the altitude gain over the 20 miles was over 3100 ft - that's a BIG climb. I was actually very pleased with how well the dogs all stayed in their harness and worked hard, despite the warm temperatures.

The view along the Summit was absolutely breathtaking. There was a big storm front moving out and another one moving in, so there was stunning dark skies next to vibrant blue sky - all set over a blanket of sparkling white snow. I shot off a bunch of pictures with a disposable camera, but haven't got them in to see if they turned out yet.

The miles clicked by easily and soon we cruised across the finish line. Many mushers had been opting to have their teams walked down the nasty trail back to the dog trucks - or were having tug lines undone. I just let the dogs cruise by and someone yelled 'Watch the gate" as I passed. Boy, where they right. I did more sled driving in that ¼ mile then the whole rest of the race! We arrived upright and in one piece back in the staging area though.

All the dogs devoured their snacks and meal before being unhooked and eventually put away. I was pleased with all of them, but especially young Bingo and X, who drove hard and seemed happy for the whole run.

My dear friends Marlene and Doug Daniels treated us to a wonderful dinner in Whitefish before they headed home to Belgrade, MT and we headed back to the hotel.

Day two of the race at least was cooler and it was snowing instead of raining. That had made everything VERY slippery, so very gingerly we did chores and inched up the mountain to the staging area.

As my running time was the slowest from Day 1, we were first out of the chute on Sunday morning. I had put Hilda and Jinx in lead again, but Jinx just didn't seem 'with' the program. Sure enough, we I called them up to leave the chute; she started slowly and was promptly run over by the rest of the team resulting in a big tangle. I cleared the chute and recruited a photographer to stand on my brake while I threw Hector up in lead with Hilda. That got us moving, but Hector really isn't the best leader and he was too busy flirting with the girls to be doing a good job, so after a mile or so, I stopped and put Runner up in lead. Runner was still in awe of his first race and all and while he stayed up front and focused, he wasn't setting a great pace. I started to think this might be a VERY long day.

By this time Jinx started looking like she might have woken up, so I decided to try her up front again. She was ready this time and the dogs seemed to find a bit of their 'groove'.

Today we had a lot of company through the biggest climbs, which was nice. The dogs climbed well, but the new snow and a few other issues damped their enthusiasm for the downhill portion of the trail. For a number of miles they just seemed to 'lose' it altogether and merely plodded along. I hummed, planned what we wanted to do for dinner, and contemplated the brim of my ball cap to distract myself while I waited for my dog team to come back. Many years and many miles have taught me that patience is the best tactic in this sort of situation.

Sure enough, about 10 miles from the finish line they seemed to come together again. A few snowmachines roared by and the rookies barely even flicked an ear. Yeah!

We crossed the line in about the same time as Day one. Not too shabby, but also not what I know the team is capable of.  However, tails were still wagging and appetites intact at the truck, so it was hard to not consider the race a success.

The drive back down the mountain to Whitefish was a 'hairy' one. Many trucks and cars were in the ditch - and we ended up no exception. Well, we didn't actually hit the ditch, we slid into a guardrail. I will confess to being very scared as we slowly slid towards it. Luckily, there was no damage to the truck (snow was actually between the rail and the truck) and we were able to just drive out after a bit of shoveling.

Fellow musher Butch Austin wasn't so lucky and hit the rail right behind us. He was pulled out by musher Rick Larson but did suffer some damage to his truck.

Once back to Whitefish we quickly dropped dogs and changed for the Banquet. I got $30 and a red flashlight for being the 'red lantern' (my first one in 6 years!) and Anna and Colleen each got a little gift bag as in recognition of how helpful they were to all the mushers in the race!! Way to go girls!
View photos and race info at

Next up - Seeley Lake!


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