Saturday, 31 January 2015

Eagle Cap Extreme

I'm blaming the people of Joseph, Oregon. The first two times I've run this race the weather has been horrible for my team. Warm to the point of pouring rain last time even - yet, here I am writing about another trip to Oregon and the Eagle Cap Extreme.

My friend, Lisa Gersbach of Idigadog Kennels in Australia, had flown over for a bit of adventure and to help out for the trip. We had a relatively uneventful drive down to Oregon - no broken down trucks, no wrestling used condoms out of dogs mouths, no problems at the border......Well, there was the visit with one of Canada's 'finest' - I swear I was in a 100 km zone - but that was just expensive, not problematic. Lisa was just disappointed he wasn't in his Red Serge uniform. The dogs were disappointed he wasn't on a horse.

Lewiston, Idaho overlook

Meeting up with us in Joseph were Shelly Young Lewis and Kristin Fox, who were here to round out the handling team....okay....really they were just in it for the fun, but as they found out, I put anyone that even slows down around me at a race to work. 

Heading out I already had the idea in my head that I might drop down to the 8-dog / 100-mile event if the weather was warm. Training has not been ideal this year and pushing a slightly undertrained team through the heat didn't sound like a lot of FUN - and my goals for this year all revolve around having fun with the team.
Once we got to Joseph the t-shirt like weather set my mind - 100 miles. I vet checked in all the dogs, as I hadn't really put much thought into which 8 of the 12 that traveled down to Oregon with us would run.

Julie, one of the fantastic vets (and a friend from my time as a judge and musher on Iditarod), got a bit of an 'ouch' from See when examining her. When I came over See stood like a rock for the re-exam. I was suspicious though and that evening took See off on her own to take a closer look. With just her and I, she admitted she had a sore toe and was a sad cut from the 12.
In the end, after a bit of tossing and turning and rolling things around in my head overnight, I decided to take 2 girls that were solid leaders - Missy and Boo - and 6 big boys - Turtle, Astro, Scud, Fletch, Todd and Neo.

The morning dawned VERY humid, so humid this dryland Alberta Chick was fairly convinced it was raining! Eventually though it cleared and the day looked to be awesome for musher and fans.

We had a lovely breakfast in town (can honestly say I have NEVER had a bad meal in Joseph) and headed up to Fergie Ski Area for the start.

Everything seemed very low key and relaxed for me - 50 miles out, 6 hours rest and 50 miles home is just basically a training run - and on a trail I know and love! SWEET!!!!

A few folks teased me about the small size of my team - it has likely been close to 20 years since I raced an 8-dog team - and I did think (unwarrantably, it turns out) that I might be doing a lot of work at the back of the sled on this trip.

I noticed prior to the start that Boo didn't seem to be handling the crowds so well. Boo is a complicated little creature. She hates smoke from campfires (I have NO idea why) and crowds. Sometimes she will suck it up and deal with them, other times not. Today, it turns out, was a 'NOT'. She was sitting next to the truck shaking. I knew once we got rolling she'd be fine, but I tucked her in the security of her dog box until just prior to our start and decided to run Missy and TURTLE (I know, what was I thinking?) out of the start.

Photo courtesy of Eagle Cap Extreme

Photo courtesy of Eagle Cap Extreme

As I should have known, Turtle was pretty distracted at the start. We were only a few miles in when I tucked him back into the team and put the now relaxed Boo into lead. The team settled into a nice climbing pace and worked their way up and out of the ski area.

Jill Taylor rolled by me quickly - and many miles later a couple of the teams from the Pot race rolled by and those were the last teams I saw for the entire 54-mile run to Ollocot - which is, honestly, the way I like it. I thought I saw flashes of headlamps every now and again in the dark and the dogs seemed to occasionally think there was a team ahead, but we were able to just set a comfortable pace for us and roll happily along throughout the afternoon and evening.

Eleven miles from the Ollocot checkpoint the trail pops out onto a 'road' and then rolls downhill the rest of the way in. Several times young Neo tangled the front end trying to overrun my leaders. When I stopped to snack I decided to throw him up front for a bit and see how he did in lead. What the heck? He's led on at least one other occasion!!!
He was GREAT! I kept him in lead for the rest of the run and he even did a super job along with Boo getting us into the checkpoint, past a 200 mile team that was waiting to pull out, and, with very little help, into our parking spot. I was so proud, I was BEAMING.

Caring for eight dogs is SWEET!! Booties were off in no time, straw laid out, vet checks done.....all before my cooker had even had a chance to get rolling.

All the dogs looked great - both by my and the vets' assessments. I rubbed down a few wrists to be proactive, but it was so warm I didn't even bother with wraps. Everyone ate everything offered to them and settled down quickly to nap.

I strolled up to the Hospitality Tent for the good food, coffee and company that I knew would be waiting. I LOVE this checkpoint and the folks that man it. As well run and inviting as any checkpoint on any race I've been on.

Bucket for getting water from the creek for the dogs.

Hospitality Tent at the Checkpoint

After some chili, legendary sourdough bread and a few cups of coffee I wandered back out to check on dogs. Everyone was happily snoozing. I covered a few with blankets and threw the extra blankets in a pile next to where Fletch was sleeping and stretched out next to him.

Fletch's 'teenage years' were a bit troubled, but this past summer I had him neutered and that seemed to be a really solid decision. It seems to have helped him find his focus and has been amazing this season. I was so pleased to have him on the team and see him rising so well to the occasion! I tickled his toes and played around with him a bit before we both got ready to nap.

I was just drifting off to sleep when the leader in the 200 mile race rolled into the checkpoint after a blistering 100-mile run. His parking spot was next to my team and the chatter between him and the vet team ruined any chance of a quiet resting spot next to my dogs. No hard feelings, vet/musher communications are fundamental in the sport, so I wandered off to the musher sleeping tent. Sadly, a dropped dog was expressing his strong opinions at being dropped from his picket outside the door.
I knew sleeping wasn't really necessary for me on a 100-mile race, so I wandered back to the Hospitality Tent to kill a bit more time.

Soon enough it was time to get moving. I decided to leave young Neo in lead with Boo. He needed a bit of help off the straw, but quickly got us moving and we left the checkpoint at a nice clip. The eleven glorious downhill miles from last night were uphill now but the dogs were fresh and happy to tackle them. I had my iPod on, so bopped along to the music and poled with my ski pole a bit - mostly to keep me awake - the dogs were traveling lovely.

Somewhere during the night I caught up with Jackie Wepruk and passed her. Jackie is a good friend and one of the people in the dog world I respect most. I am honoured that her kennel all originate from my bloodlines - in fact, one of her leaders, Jolt, is even a littermate to my leader, Boo. The teams traveled comfortably together through the rest of the night.

As dawn was breaking we caught up with Angelique and her team. Sensitive Boo and young Neo weren't up to driving well by them, so we traveled on and off with them through the morning. Jackie was able to get by though, so off she went.
Just after the Salt Creek checkpoint Angelique stopped to put one of her dogs in her sled bag and I was able to get Boo and Neo by and focused again.
The sun was beating hard on us now and I was beginning to look forward to getting the dogs off the trail.

The trail winds along the side of numerous small mountains and in some spots you can see quite a ways ahead. In one of those spots I caught sight of Jackie and her team, who I hadn't expected to see again. We caught and passed them about a mile from the finish. Jackie's team fell in behind. I offered Jackie the trail at one point, but she said she was happy finishing 'this way'. The teams zipped and darted through the trees for the final stretch to the finish.

As things opened up for the last dash, Jackie's team charged up beside me and the teams crossed the line in a dead heat. How fitting.

My kick-ass handling crew was waiting with food and snuggles for all. We tucked the dogs onto the shaded side of the truck for a bit to cool down before feeding them. They all happily drank some plain, cold water while awaiting their post race meal.

Special snuggles were in order for Missy, Boo and especially young Neo, who did all of the leading - but everyone did great and got scratches, pets and loving.

Photo courtesy of Kristin Fox

Neo accepting his 'First Star of the Race' award. He claims he was caught off guard and didn't prepare a speech, but would like to thank his parents!

Huge thanks go out to Lisa, Kristin and Shelly for doing such a great job handling and being silly!!!!

Photo courtesy of Shelly Young Lewis

And of course, to Bet for keeping the handlers in line and all her awesome reporting.

Photo courtesy of Elaine LaRoche

A special shout out to Henning Bartel of Arctis Carts for transporting an order of meat for all the Canadian teams in the race when we ran up against some inflexible border crossing regulations!  None of us would have been able to run without his help!!

And of course, to the FANTASTIC folks of Joseph, Oregon, who put on a FIRST CLASS event. Sadly, your weather SUCKS and I won't be back.....yeah....right. Even I don't believe me!


obiewanone50 said...

We love having you, warm weather or not!

Chris Ambury said...

Just love reading the North Wapiti Blogs,such great stories.

Louise Midkiff said...

This sounded like a fun race. I especially enjoyed reading about the "dead heat" finish. That sounded like WAY too much fun. Look out for that Neo. He may want to make a habit of that Lead Dog roll.