Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Eagle Cap Extreme 2012

I have lots of experience with the association of the words 'extreme' and 'sled dog race'. Over the years I have plunged off cliffs, crawled through storms, shivered through bitter cold, scrambled up embankments.....but until this past week I have not experienced the kind of 'extreme' the 2012 Eagle Cap Extreme threw at me.

Everything started ordinary enough.... See, Wifi, Tess, Smartie, Q, Roscoe, Turtle, Rocky, Astro, Tramp, Boo, Snap, Kelly, Todd, Bet, Helen, Simone and I headed out Tuesday morning for our drive to Joseph, Oregon.

A drop on the edge of Edmonton, one at the Frank Slide, a quick and simple border crossing (I know, who'd have thunk with a Canadian, an American and a Swiss on board!!), a feeding, another drop and we found ourselves at a hotel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

An early start, another feeding and drop, a stop at a great little coffee shack, a quick detour through Clarkston looking for a Walmart that didn't exist, a lot of zigging and zagging through Rattlesnake Canyon, and we were in Enterprise in time for our vet checks.

The vet checks were uneventful and all dogs checked out fine - leaving me alone with the decision of which 12 of the 14 dogs we brought with us to race. In the end, more for reasons of who I WANTED to take rather than who I DIDN'T WANT to take, the decision was to take See, Wifi, Boo, Snap, Kelly, Smartie, Tess, Todd, Turtle, Astro, Roscoe, and Rocky.

The community potluck pre-race dinner was amazing. So much great food. Sadly, I couldn't find room to sample everything!!!

It had started to 'rain/snow' during the vet checks and by now it was a full blown (both literally and figuratively) rain storm. Helen put down the dog food bag that we store the pooper scooper in down on the ground behind the truck and, wind powered, it flew down the road at a speed none of us could match. It was recovered a block or so later.

It was VERY discouraging to drive back to our (fantastic!! Wallowa Lake Resort!!! HIGHLY reccomend) rental cabin with the windshield wipers on.
The rain and wind continued through the night, but thankfully the wind was gone and skies clearer in the morning when we got up. The parking area of the hotel was deadly slippery though and it required 4-wheel drive to get the dog truck into Joseph.

A great breakfast, a lot of help from my fantastic handlers, some very appreciated help with my sled, a bunch of packing, some last minute advice from Bet and it was time to hit the trail.

The climb from the start line and up the Fergi Ski Hill is daunting, but the view remarkable. Pictures simply do not do it justice.

I was concerned about the heat of the day though so stopped to take a few pictures, let the dogs catch their breath and grab some snow. When we zipped around the backside of Fergi the shade provided 'nicer' temperatures and did a lot to ease my mind after the worry that the rain,wind and warm temps had created.
I stopped and put little Boo up front with See, moving Wifi back into the team. Turns out Boo would remain up front for most of the rest of the race.

The dogs moved strong and steady through the climbs and around the sides of mountains. A couple teams passed but mostly it was just a quiet and peaceful run - alone with my thoughts and the dogs. Pretty nice.

About 40 miles into the run I began to catch glimpses of a headlight ahead of us every now and again. I stopped to snack and mess around with the dogs a bit, not wanting to play 'leapfrog' with the other team by stopping right after passing him.
About 5 miles later I caught Chris again at the top of the switchbacks and long downhill grade that are the final stretch into Ollokot. We had a nice pass and the dogs really moved well into the checkpoint.
It was definitely warm and the trail had been heavy going because of it, but nothing 'worrisome' at this point.

Ollokot is a wonderful checkpoint - as nice as any checkpoint on any race I've ever been on. Four hours later the dogs and I were refueled, restocked and ready to go!
It's always great fun to watch mushers all mulling around in checkpoints trying to look like they aren't going anywhere, then one musher sneaks out and next thing you know EVERYONE is pulling snowhooks and hitting the trail. Always makes me smile - especially when I'm in the middle of it!

Sadly, as we all hit the trail this time, the rain had begun again. It wasn't grossly heavy but it was a good, steady drizzle.
My team wasn't impressed and the climbing in such warm, humid conditions began to take a toll. By the time we began the final 5 mile push to the Twin Lakes summit, the team, most especially Rocky, had had enough.  I managed to convince Rocky to keep going through the turnaround and hoped the downhill section would lift his spirits. It didn't and I ended up loading the big boy into my sled for the 17 miles back to Ollokot. Not too bad on the downhills, but none of us were too happy with him on the uphill sections.
The rain switched to steady, hard snow by the time we reached the Twin Lakes turn around. I was now soaked with a coating of ice on top of everything. The dogs' fur was pretty much in the same predicament! Nice!!! (Must take a moment to say how impressed I was with my SkookumBrand anarok though - even though it was rained on an incredible amount, I never got wet to the skin, it never became too heavy to wear and I stayed pretty warm).

As we dropped down toward Ollokot again, the snow turned back to rain. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse.......

I'm sure I have spent more miserable nights on a sled, but honestly, I can't name one offhand.

Back in Ollokot it was pouring rain. All our gear, the straw for the dogs....everything was soaked and sitting in puddles.

Laura came over to chat. I like Laura A LOT but make no bones, she and I were 'gunning' for each other on this race. We both realized each other's teams strengths and weaknesses and were both experienced enough mushers to 'make a move' if the other team gave us an opening. This weather gave us no chance for 'moves' - we both realized it, confessed our plans, had a good laugh, and discussed our concerns about the trail.

Turns out all the mushers had concerns and the race officials agreed with us. The next leg had a 10 mile section that had not been groomed, just broken out by snowmachines, so it was likely to be very bottomless and hard going....and oh yes, there was also some concern over the avalanche danger in the area!!!!
The decision was made to cut out the next 50-mile leg and have us just race the 52 miles back from Ollokot to the finish. Good sound decision on behalf of the dogs.

I had, of course, dropped Rocky - and I had made the decision to drop Snap too - she had a sore wrist and shoulder - but the remaining 10 dogs looked good as I pulled out of the checkpoint. In fact, Wifi was barking his head off to go - something my dogs NEVER do!!!

Within a few hundred feet through, they were looking over their shoulders at me questioningly. The trail was heavy, bottomless and water splashed up with each of their steps. I assured them that even though it seemed foolish, this was what we were doing, and they plodded back towards Joseph.

That 14 miles of downhill and switchbacks was so fun coming into Ollokot less then 24 hours before - climbing out of it now in bottomless slop was miserable.

After about 20 miles though, the heat of the day had dissipated some and the trail actually began to set up a bit. The dogs started to come together as a team and now were tackling the long climbs with enthusiasm.
About the time we hit the Lick Creek Campground the big, bright moon had crept from behind the clouds and the run became downright magical.
As much as the previous night will live in my memory as a definition of 'miserable', this night will remain in my head to remind me why I do this.
A bright moon, a temperate night; a gorgeous trail; and a nice strong dog team.....does it get better????

I was keen to get the dogs into their cozy, straw-filled dog boxes and me into a bed with my border collie snuggled against me, but I also kind of wished this night could go on forever, so it was with mixed feelings when we swung back on the the ski hill and began the rather terrifying descent (two feet on the bar brake and pulling up on the driving bow for all I was worth!) to the finish line.

Helen, Simone and Bet were there waiting with the truck, food and hugs!!! All of it appreciated.

Not the race we had hoped for - it's very disappointing when you can't execute the race you want because of weather - but still some good experience for the dogs - and good (and a few 'not so good') memories for me!!!


1 comment:

Pat from Chicago said...

Sorry about the race conditions. Beautiful photos Conditions in Alaska are not much better. Good year not to race the Iditarod

At least Perryvale has snow and cold