Well, if you live in northern Saskatchewan, you eat them (they are pork neckbones and slathered in barbecue sauce, they aren't bad, although they are a pain to eat) - but if you are a dog musher from northern Alberta you run a Neckbone.
Back in '07 Mark and I went out to La Ronge, Saskatchewan for the Neckbone Sled Dog race. We had a great time and have frequently talked about going back, but the scheduling just didn't jive. This year, without Iditarod or Alaska looming - and Canadian Challenge, which uses some of the same trail as the Neckbone, in the plans - it seemed to be a good option.
So, on a bit of a last minute whim...okay...let me clarify that a bit...a last minute whim for me meant that the Ford Dealership in Athabasca was given some heavy prompting to get the last of the dog truck repairs done PDQ, Richard jumped in a vehicle to drive to Calgary to pick up one of his friends, Barry, who was supposed to fly in from the UK on Thursday and make a leisurely trip up to the kennel on Friday, (Leisurely visit out the window - trip handling for the NorthWapiti team on the table. Thank goodness Richard's friends are as easy going and accommodating as he is.), twenty dogs selected and put in the truck, and point the truck down the road for the 12 hour drive... Not much in my life is ever done easily and 'on a whim'.
This year the trail was entirely different than in '07. Rather than running in the highway ditch from La Ronge to Weyakwin and back, the race started in Stanley Mission, home of the oldest building in Saskatchewan (150 years old - yeah, I know, that has most of you European readers rolling in the aisles) and ran, mostly on Lac La Ronge, 50 miles to La Ronge. Day 2 started 20 miles south of La Ronge, through a bit of highway ditch, a lot of bush trail and a bit of lake trail (much more on that particular feature later), ending 50 miles later in Weyakwin.
Day one started out well, with Richard and me getting launched off the truck with no issues, despite our bib numbers being 8 and 10. Must have been our great handler!!!
Because Richard was driving a team of mostly 'in heat' girls, I wasn't interested in traveling too much with him. In fact, I tucked in behind Gerry Walker hoping my team wouldn't notice Richard's 'hot girls' as we went by. It actually worked.
Richard's team stayed in sight for a while, but eventually on some of the blown in trail, my bigger boys put some distance between them and the 'Estrogen Express'.
We passed a few other teams and then stopped seeing other teams all together, which is always fine with me. The dogs moved strongly and happily even when the weather began to close in some as we got closer to the 'dog drop' at Sucker Creek.
I rolled through the dog drop without stopping (but offering a quick wave to Barry who had hiked out onto the lake to watch us go by).
After Sucker Lake the weather got much worse, but my leaders were well experienced with storms and none of us paid the weather much mind.
As we got close to the finish line of day one, the clouds blew off and blue sky appeared - along with this fabulous sun dog.
Jinx and Dasher trotted across the line, hung a hard 'gee' and followed my command to 'Go to your truck!'.
Barry had everything organized and ready for us. Dogs were fed, unharnessed and loaded into the truck in no time. He then ran up to A&W to grab a coffee for me and a tea for himself while we waited for Richard.
An hour and a half later or so I spied a familiar headlamp beam working its way across the ice. Sure enough it was Richard. He and the team were in good spirits.
I was very pleased with both teams' times - mine of 6:22, good for 6th place (out of 11 teams), and Richard's time of 7:49 putting him 2 spots behind in 8th.
It was also very nice to read the nice things race organizer and fellow competitor Sid Robinson had to say about Richard and his crew -
"I expect that all of the front running teams were able to handle the tough trail conditions. At the back of the pack, I was really impressed with Richard Todd's team (Richard is from Lincoln, England). Heading south from Sucker River, my team would not lead into the unbroken snow drifts even though there were spruce markers to show the way. Richard's team of Siberians were willing to just drive right ahead. They needed the odd correction from Richard, but they kept going in the right direction. This gave me a much needed track to follow."
All in all a good day and we were very much looking forward to Day 2!