Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What The Heck Do You Do With A Neckbone - Day 2

I expected that Day 2 of the Neckbone would be much less windy then Day 1 - I was partially right!

The first 18 km of the trail ran along the highway ditch. It was a bit punchy and had a number of willows poking out of the snow, but nothing too bad.
Once we turned into the bush, things got lovely. The trail had some new snow on it, but was still reasonably well packed and easy traveling. I ran with a few teams and passed a few others.

We skipped across a little road where Redmond, one of the trailbreakers, told me to 'watch out from here on'. "Watch out for what?", I said. "You are on bush trails now", he replied. Excellent! Bush trails are usually alot of fun - as this one proved to be too.

Eventually the trail went through someone's yard and dropped onto a lake. I knew there was a team just moments ahead of me, but when we hit the lake, I could see no dog team tracks at all. I was a touch concerned until I spied the team about 1/2 way across but it was so windy that all the tracks had already vanished.

Jinx and Dasher were not concerned at all and everyone just put their heads down and went to work. I actually enjoy watching the team work through weather like this, so I was no more bothered then they were.

When we got off the lake I stopped to let everyone roll around and shake off the snow that had caked their fur. The trail then began winding through some swamps and low rolling hills. It reminded me a lot of running the trails near Willow, AK.

I was playing with my GPS during this stretch and realized that we were heading over to cross Montreal Lake, which is HUGE!!! It was calm in the trees, but I knew with the way the weather had been on our last small lake crossing, we were in for some fun!!!

Sure enough -

The pictures and video I'm sharing here in no way do this wind storm justice. It was definitely worse than the pictures appear and being behind some nice experienced leaders made it seem easier than it was.
When I hit the lake, I knew there were 4 teams ahead of me in the race. A few miles along I came across the 4th place team struggling to get their leaders to go into the wind. Jinx and Dasher rolled right by them and Joel was able to get his team to follow mine.
By this point we were often losing sight of one spruce bough marking the trail before the next came into view. We would just blinding go ahead, I'd scan the horizon and as soon as I caught sight of a marker, I'd yell out commands to my wonderful leaders to correct our course. After a bit, they were looking for the markers as intently as I was.
Again a team shut down on the ice came into view. Their leaders weren't even interested in trying to head into the wind anymore, but they readily sucked in behind my guys. We were now leading a 3 dog train across the lake.

A minute or two later we came across one of the trail breakers sitting on a snow machine. My team took the opportunity to try and use his snowmachine as a wind break and I had a bit of a mess straightening everyone out. Jinx was in standing heat and the boys all decided this was their chance. I got it sorted out and got the team moving - which is the way to deal with trail like this - just keep going forward, but they were still a bit tangled.
A bit later I stopped everyone in a spot where I was next to one spruce bough and could see the next ahead of me and ran up to fix my tangle. I got it organized but Jinx's hormones got the best of her in this stressful situation and she jumped back into the team creating a bigger tangle. While I was sorting this out the trail breaker drove by and the team behind me passed and slipped back into 3rd place.

About this time we started to see the edge of the lake and things began to clear up a bit. We popped into the trees and total calm again. The other team I had led across the lake was faster and repassed me. The trail rolled through the woods and a few swamps for 3 or 4 miles before popping out onto the finish line on a road.
Barry was waiting to guide the team to the truck and Stefann, the 3rd place finisher, gave me a high five and a 'thank you' as my team passed him. "No problem" I said, very proud of my team.

We had just finished feeding my team when the race officials put out the 'TEAM' cry. "Karen, I think it is your second team." I turned around as Bang and Rocket led Richard up onto the road. My sense of pride increased!! Way to go dogs!!! Way to go Richard!!
This storm was a tough one and certainly outside of anything Richard would have previously experienced. Bringing his team through it - and it turns out that he had also led a few teams across the lake - in such good time and good spirits says a lot about him - nothing that I hadn't already figured out, but perhaps showing others a glimpse of why he is on the runners of a NorthWapiti team.

Sid Robinson had this to say about our teams during the race -

"Most mushers would agree that Karen Ramstead's two teams of Siberian huskies fared the best in the wind. On both Saturday and Sunday, I got to watch Richard Todd's team travel in the wind. His dogs seemed completely unperturbed by the wind and kept up the same speed they had in the quiet of the bush. It was impressive to watch them. Although I suspect Karen's dogs train a lot in poor conditions, I could not help but think the Siberian genetic background might give Karen's dogs an extra advantage in poor weather."

Dogs and gear were tucked into the truck and we headed over to the school for a traditional feed of neckbones and bannock before hitting the road back home!

Another race in the books!

2011 La Ronge Neckbone Sled Dog Race Results
Day #1: Stanley Mission to La Ronge (80 km). Weather: Temp from - 25 C. to - 18 C. Moderate south-east winds. Snow and blowing snow.
Day #2: Creighton Junction to Weyakwin (80 km). Weather: Temp at about - 5 C. Strong northerly winds with gusts. Snow and blowing snow. Visibility on lakes down to 50 metres at times.

Day 1
Day 2
Gerry Walker, Pierceland, Sk
Quincy Miller, La Ronge, Sk
Joel Poti¨¦, Saskatoon, Sk
Stefaan de Marie, Christopher Lake, Sk
Karen Ramstead, Perryvale, Alberta
Miriam Korner, La Ronge, Sk
Richard Todd, Lincoln, England
Emma Smallwood, Air Ronge, Sk
Sid Robinson, La Ronge, Sk
Ragnar Robinson, La Ronge, Sk
Harold Johnson, Molanosa, Sk


JARAWSiberians said...

As alwasy a very good write up of your experiences.. And some wonder why we stick with our Siberians!

Anonymous said...

You should be VERY proud of your teams! Champions, every one (including Richard!). A wonderful read: thanks :-)

Blessings, Jane

Teanna Byerts said...

Thanks again for sharing your experiences! Certainly there need to be more races and opportunities for traditional northern breeds like Siberians to show the qualities that made them the best in the arctic for thousands of years.