Thursday, 3 February 2011

Rail Trail 200 - Part 1 - It's All About the Hat

In my line of work hats are a big deal. I spend a tremendous amount of time under one and over the years have become very particular about exactly what style of hat I prefer – actually all around here have.

Mark favors a ‘musher’s style’ one. One with ear flaps that closes under the chin.

He just found himself a new one that he is seriously in love with. It is fur lined leather and according to him, very toasty.
I used to wear one of those, but I don’t really like anything under my chin.

Richard seems to prefer what we Canadians call a toque - basically just a knit style cap.

I’ve tried those over the years, but it seems my head is fairly unsymmetrical (makes sense, symmetrical faces are supposedly the ‘prettiest ones' - I've never been accused of that!) and in order to keep my ears warm I end up with the hat down over my eyes.

For a while I was wearing a toque over a ball cap and that set up worked pretty well, but then a few years back I found a polar tech ball cap style hat with ear flaps! PERFECTION!!!
That is the hat that I sport all the time now.

(as a side note - I looked on the LL Bean and Cabelas site to find a picture of the hat for the blog, but to not avail. I fear they might have discontinued them. *sniff*)

So, I took this picture on the Rail Trail this past weekend.
Notice something wrong (Well, other then I look COMPLETELY exhausted and my eyebrows need a good waxing)?
Yup, no peaked ball cap.
I gutted my suitcase, hotel room and the truck looking for it over the weekend. I knew I had packed it, but I just couldn't put my hands on it.

Kindly, Richard loaned me one of his hats for race, but it and I never really got along. I finally got it to stop falling over my eyebrows by securing it with a headlamp, but I had trouble keeping snow out of my eyes and hated the glare back from when I had my headlamp switched on.

I should have realized standing at the starting line in the wrong hat that this race was not going to go as planned!!

I can't tell the story of my start and leave out the wonderful woman with the cat-like reflexes!! There was much confusion at the start and when I finally released my team from the truck they shot off towards the starting line. We had a bit of a plowed road to cross, so using my brake wasn't too much of an option. As the team began the right hand corner to the start chute one of the race volunteers slipped and hit the ground next to the right side of my dogs. I could see impending doom. Physics dictated my sled was going to cut the corner and I was going to run right over the downed volunteer. There was not enough snow to hook down the team so I yelled "ROLL" at her. With no hesitation she executed a series of barrel rolls taking her out of the path of my sled!! WELL DONE!!

Anyway, we got into the starting chute and underway.

The trail climbed steadily over the next while, which was great, as it got colder and the trail a bit more set up as we got higher.
It was wonderful to see all the folks that turned out to watch the teams go by. (Actually, that was the case all weekend. The community support of this event was fantastic!!).
The scenery was spectacular and I could feel the pre races stresses I had had just fall away.

A few hours (I think) into the run I caught up with Richard. We traveled together for the rest of the day - not by design, but because the teams were pretty well matched.

Just before the Jewel Lake checkpoint the trail popped out onto an incredibly slick plowed road. When I touched my brake to slow us down, my sled started fish tailing like crazy. Up ahead was one lonely volunteer whose job it was to make sure we got turned off the plowed road and back onto the race trail. Poor guy! Both Richard and my teams stormed past him with us on the brakes doing our best to stop. Apparently all the teams hit the corner this way. Everything got straightened out and pointed in the right direction and we rolled through Jewel Lake.

A bit after the checkpoint we hit another section of plowed road. This one was more gravel then ice though.

Hard on dogs, equipment and mushers. Unfortunately due to some last minute trail issues, there were alot of these sections. For the most part though they had lots of good volunteers helping you get off the road when you needed to!

The next section was a big, but incredibly beautiful climb.

I know my head was like it was on a swivel as I tried to take in all the beautiful views!!!

Just at dusk I hit a 'Y' in the trail that was not well marked. We were starting down the left branch when over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of pink flagging ribbon up on the right. I stopped and turned my team around and onto the right trail. Problem was the sled cut a corner and ended up in VERY deep snow at the bottom of a ledge with the team mostly up on the top. Richard was gracious enough to come up and help me. After flaying around for a bit in the snow, we both got above the sled and using dog and human power yarded it up onto the trail.

About 10 miles later we rolled into the checkpoint of Thone. Barry had a couple good spots picked out to park the dogs and we got them all settled in and fed before heading over to a big bonfire to warm up and grab some chili that was there for mushers, handlers and volunteers.

Richard trying to catch some sleep in Thone.

After 3 hours of enjoying the hospitality of the checkpoint, Richard and I pulled our hooks and headed down the trail.

The dogs were running pretty well - and again pretty evenly. Sometimes Richard's team would fall back, but then 10 or 15 minutes later they'd catch up again. At one point I had pulled pretty solidly away and thought I might not see him again. However, we came to a spot in the trail were there was a 'Y' and no trail markers. I went up and scouted out both trails with my 'Mantracker' (my all time favorite TV show) hat on, but both had signs that dog teams had been down them. I picked the better packed of the two and headed off. About a mile later the trail looped and headed back on itself. Turns out ice fisherman had put the trail in after the trail crew had marked the race trail. (almost all the other mushers made the same mistake - hence the sled tracks on both trails).
On my way back up the lake I ran into Richard and told him we were on the wrong trail. He got turned around and we headed off again.

An hour or so later, my team pulled away from Richard's for good.

It had been snowing on and off and the trail was pretty heavy going, but I looked at my GPS and figured we only had a mile or two to go on the leg, so that was okay. Unfortunately, the reported mileage was off and 9 miles later we were still slogging through some serious snow and unpacked trail. It was also getting hard to figure out if I was actually on the correct trail, as the tracks of the two teams in front of me were mostly covered by new snow.
FINALLY, we rolled into Beaverdell. Right away the Race Marshall, Quincy, informed me they were putting the race 'on hold' for an extra 2 hours here to let them do some more work on the trail. We were told there would be a meeting once everyone was in to sort out all the details of the trail ahead.

I went about feeding and bedding down my team, as well as attending to a few minor issues with the dogs. About an hour after I pulled in, Richard did. Both he and his team looked tired - and he had Meg in the bag, but nothing too serious was out of order. He parked across from me and got to his chores.

Both of us snuck about an hour's sleep before the meeting. It had been snowing heavily all afternoon and race officials admitted that the next leg of the race really wasn't put in. Much discussion was had and numerous plans discussed as to what we should do. Eventually it was decided that the race would be put on hold till 6am the next morning when we would restart at Fiva and run the 60 miles or so to the finish line in Grand Forks.

We all got busy packing up gear and loading dogs. Richard, Barry and I were planning on heading back to our hotel in Grand Forks. Even though it was a bit of a drive, the chance to shower and somewhat dry out some gear was too good an opportunity to pass up.

At midnight my head hit the pillow - 2 1/2 hours later my alarm dragged me out of bed to hit the road again.


Anonymous said...

I love seeing the race from the musher's point of view!

Pat Grant

granimar said...

Boy oh Boy what a doozy---part 1 was a real adventure. Sorry about the gravel parts, did the dogs do OK paw wise? Must have really gunked up the plastic on the runners. Photos were just great.

Anonymous said...

You never seem to amaze me! I just can't tell you how much I admire you, & Richard, for dealing w/all the elements. And your knowledge of all things "Mushing" really astounds me!!!As I always tell you, I live vicariously through you. You are a remarkable woman & your dogs are the very best!!!!!
I loved reading about the race. Hope the final lap went without a hitch.
Stay safe, Sitka's Mom Lisa

Anonymous said...

Glad to see I'm not the only one that has gone through all the same issues you mentioned about wearing a hat. I have found that goggles also help secure a misbehaving hat and help keep your face warm too - clear ones for evenings or cloudy days. Enjoying your take on the race. Can easily picture it.


Jane Eagle said...

When I find a piece of clothing that I really like, I buy at least 2; more if I can afford it! And, Karen, you are one of the most beautiful women I know :-)

Blessings, Jane