Over the years I've been racing I have done many races that tested my body, my spirit and my soul - and then there are other races that feed and fill the aforementioned! Warm temperatures, an incredible full moon, breathtaking views of Denali, wonderful trails, a solid dog team, a bunch of wonderful competitors....the Don Bowers 200 was a 'feeder'.
A blow by blow account of the race would be boring, as just not that much happened over the course of 200 miles. So, I'll just tell a few tales!
First off, I am sending a bill to Martin Buser to cover training of his hooligan puppy team, barely managed by Sue Allen. About 4 hours into the race Sue's team came pounding down the trail behind me. I stopped to let the 'baby freight train' pass. All was well until one of the hooligans decided to 'think outside the box' and go right around me rather then left like the rest of the team. The tug line hit me HARD in the back of my calves. So hard that it even shook up the offending dog!!! Sue was quick with her apologies but later when I threatened law suits she suggested I would have to take it up with the team owner - Martin.
Just a few miles from the finish line, Sue again came thundering up behind me. I held my breath as they stormed by, but all the dogs kept their heads down and passed flawlessly. Chatting with Sue at the finish line she said that the dog that clocked me early in the race never strayed again. Hmmm, sounds like I did a fabulous job training him!! Expect your bill in the mail Martin!!!
(Just so there is no mistake, I really like Sue (and Martin) and all the above is in complete light heartedness. Dogs do goofy things, even veteran ones, and I would never harbor bad feelings over an incident like this on the trail!! Situations like this are fun to laugh and joke over - nothing more!)
The weather down in Willow for the race was certainly warm, especially for my dogs and I who have been training in some pretty cold temperatures this winter. The warm punchy trail was not what we have been training on either! I stopped to rest the dogs just passed Shulan Lake on the first leg. I hadn't bothered to carry straw and was glad I hadn't as the dogs were more then happy to stretch out in the snow to cool down. I fed them all a meal and then tossed some dog jackets on the snow and lay down for a brief nap myself. My SkookumBrand anorak is warm, but it not often that I can just lay down on a few dog jackets and be completely comfortable. I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and got some nice shut eye!
The tell me January's full moon is called a 'Wolf Moon'. According to Farmer's Almanac that is because "Full Wolf Moon - January Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January's full Moon."
I heard no wolf packs howling (although did hear a bunch of coyotes kicking it up by the Big Su) and the bright moon was a wonderful traveling companion for the 2 nights we were out on the trail. The dogs seemed very fascinated with it too and as it was rising I caught a number of them glancing over at it!
I like to be able to carefully watch my individual dogs as we travel, so rarely travel without a headlamp, but I loved being able to see the scenery around us by the light of the moon!
Leaving Joe May's lovely place on Saturday morning all the mushers were treated to a fantastic view of Denali (Mt McKinley to some of you). We traveled in the shadow of the giant mountain throughout the day and then were treated to a wonderful sunset reflecting off it.
A trapper out on his snowmachine stopped to take some pictures of my team with a very pink Denali in the background. I wish I knew who he was, because I imagine the pictures to be lovely!
Overall Impressions of the Team
It's nice to do a race 2 years in a row like that. It gives me a good tool to judge the progress of my team in training. Last year I was very pleased with the way my team 'came together' on the race, traveling faster for each leg of the race then the previous one.
I didn't feel this team 'came together' quite as well, but yet we were a number of hours faster then our previous year's time.
I think that bodes well for us for Iditarod, as it means the team is still a ways away from 'peaking' by still laying down solid runs.
My superstars were Jinx, Dasher, Crunchie and Charge. Jinx and Dasher led almost the whole race, except for about 50 miles where Rocket was up front. Rocket is coming along wonderful as a leader and she is such a character that she makes me smile whenever I'm around her!!
Crunchie and Charge were the quintessential wheel dogs. The last 20 miles or so to Joe and Sandra May's place has a few 'sporty' spots and having a couple hard driving, solid dogs in wheel just makes a run like that all fun!! Those 2 never back off. Great dogs!!
The Rock and The Tree
The trail for this event was wonderful. Enough dipping and diving to keep one interested, but nothing that was even vaguely threatening - well except for maybe The Rock and The Tree. About 90 miles into the race the trail crosses under the Parks Highway on the Big Su. It then climbs up a short, steep bank and off over to a power line. On the inside of the sharp corner at the top of the bank lies a rock. As we were coming by it on the way to the halfway point I remember thinking that that might be tricky on the trip back. Sure enough, it was. The problem was that the rock had a partner in crime - THE TREE. The Tree was directly opposite the rock and if you clipped the rock, as I believe just about everyone did, it threw you right into The Tree. I had as big a crash there as I remembering having on a race in a long time!! No permanent damage though, just a ripped anorak, a slightly stretched arm and a face full of snow!
At the last second the night before I left for Willow I put See on the team instead of Runner. See is one of my most promising rookies and I wanted her to get a bit more race experience.
Unfortunately, a minor wrist injury flared up on our layover. If she had been an older dog I would have worked on the wrist and probably been able to run her back to Willow, but I didn't want to risk anything with such a promising, young dog, so she rode back with Donna and Keith.
Runner gave me a disgusted "I told you so" look when I arrived home on Monday!
All Kinds of Thanks!
Well run races like the Bowers never come off without alot of volunteers. I'd hate to name names and overlook anyone so I'll just say HUGE THANKS to everyone associated with the event. From the trail, to the checkpoints, to the start to the finish line, the attention to detail and terrific attitude shone through brighter then that full moon. You done darn good guys! Thank you!!
Also thanks to Donna Quante and Keith Blaha for all their help and hospitality over the weekend. And to my kick butt handling team for the start - Donna, Keith, Mike Dillingham, Skeeter, Skipper, Ruth Ann, and Mirranda. You guys rocked!!!
What a great weekend!!!