Friday 19 January 2001

January 29, 2001

Grand Portage is a race that I would like to come back to. What a fun race!! Let me tell the tale starting from the beginning.

We got out of here early Friday morning, as planned. Ken and Jamie in their dog truck and me in mine. It occurred to me on the drive over that the last time I raced in Minnesota, the highlight of my trip was meeting Jamie Nelson and shaking her hand. Now, 4 years later, I’ve been living and training with her for 4 weeks prior to the Race. You can never predict what paths life will take you down!

As I checked in, I met Shelley Gerig of Thunder Bay. Shelley had graciously offered to come down and help out with some handling and driving chores for the Race.

The vet check went well. Everyone was pronounced in great health and ready to Race. Shortly after we met up with Bill Boutang and Sandy Wheiler, friends of Jamie’s that had agreed to shoulder most of the handling responsibilities for me during the Race.

That evening the Band held a feast in honor of the Race. That was really neat, in addition to GREAT food (moose, wild rice, fish, fry bread…) they had a gift giving with the community. Each musher brought a gift with them. Names of community members were tossed in a hat and the mushers drew names of who the gift was going to. The gift to the mushers was the Race. I think the Grand Portage band got the short end of that trade. 

The next day was time to visit, organize, plan, and gamble (well – we were in a casino!!! I played until I lost a whole $5!). That evening was the mushers' banquet. We sat with Iditarod veteran and former Grand Passage Champion Mitch Seavey, who proved to be an interesting and articulate dinner companion! I drew bib #23.

Race Day

Trust me to do something stupid at the beginning of a Race. I attached my sled bag backward to my sled and while I was cutting the tie wrap to fix the mistake, the knife slipped and I nicked my knuckle. Not a big cut, but deep and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Bill and Sandy used up a good portion of my first aid kit bandaging and wrapping the darn thing. Finally Bill send me in search of a vet to fix it up. The vet wanted to put a stitch, however I must now trash the myth that I’m a tough and fearless musher and confess to the fact that I am scared to death of needles. It got taped together and well wrapped. Just before the start, I had the dressing changed and it re-wrapped so I could hang onto my sled a little better. Jamie, who suffered blood poisoning in a Race a few years ago, made me promise to get the dressings changed and the cut checked at each checkpoint. With no further mishaps, we headed off down the trail!

The trip over to Devil’s Track Lake was a clean, uneventful run. I felt the team wasn’t really working together, but they were still moving along steadily and I hoped  teamwork would fall into place as the Race progressed.

Veteran handlers, Bill and Sandy had everything ready when I got to Devil’s Track. It is a real treat to have help in checkpoints, unlike Iditarod where only the mushers can do their dog care. I helped with the feeding and bedding down of the dogs and then took off to get a warm meal! After that it was back to the truck for a 1-½ hour nap.  Bill and Sandy kept watch over the team and doled out a few massages to very grateful canines! I took a little more then my planned 4-hour break  – I think it worked out to 4 ½ hours. . As promised, I had the finger checked over. It still hadn’t completely stopped bleeding, but it was slowing way down.

In the dark on the trip over to Popular Lake, I battled with headlamps. My light kept getting dimmer and dimmer and no combination of battery packs and headlights wanted to do any better. I was grateful when daylight rolled around, as by that time, I could hardly pick out my leaders with my light.
Popular Lake was a ‘Splash and Dash’ checkpoint for us. We stayed only long enough to get some soup in the dogs. Many dogs were dropped at this checkpoint due to sore shoulders, I was grateful to leave for Gunflint with all 12 of mine. All looking fit and strong.

More later...

Tuesday 16 January 2001

January 16, 2001

Well, I think nerves are getting to me about the Grand Portage Race that starts this coming Sunday. Here I am at 4am typing away on the computer instead of sleeping!!

Preparations for the Race are in full swing. Jamie and I each have Race plans done up. This past weekend we spent a good portion of our time standing in front of a bandsaw cutting up all the different meats and snacks that will be offered to the dogs out on the trail and in the checkpoints. . August Galloway, Joel Kersting, and Anna Chapman (running the 8-dog GP class) all made stops by the place to take advantage of the running saw. Jamie’s handlers Lori Pedretti and Terry Miller where also around being a great help.
I also cut up some of my meat snacks for Iditarod, so I had to be fairly meticulous on packaging some bags for 12 dog teams and some for 16 dog teams and marking which was which. I don’t know how I would possibly explain to 4 hungry Iditarod dogs where their snacks were!!  I got an email from Mark on Friday night and he was basically doing the same thing over the weekend, although his helpers were Grisle and Takeout (the cats), Skeeter and Libby (the house dogs) and Fly (the yard dog).

Today we are spending most of the day rounding up, cleaning and packaging odds and ends for the Race. As the area around here is swarming with logging trucks we are waiting until after dark to do our running. Hopefully, we will get 2 teams each out after dark tonight and tomorrow night and then spend Thursday packing the trucks for Grand Portage.  We will leave Friday around 10 am to make it in time for our 5pm vet checks. Saturday night is the pre – race banquet and Sunday is Race Day!

If you all don’t hear from me prior to the Race start – you can be sure I will be posting very shortly afterwards. Those who would like may follow the Race on the Internet at  Don’t expect too much from our team – we are simply using this race as a warm up to Iditarod and many of the key Iditarod dogs, like Grover, won’t even be making the trip out to Grand Portage – but it should be a fun time regardless!!

Wednesday 10 January 2001

January 10, 2001

What a fun day we had yesterday! Jamie and I had a large list of things to get and do, so we got up early in the morning, got our chores done and headed shopping!!

After a quick stop in Cook to pick up some mundane items like an air filter for Jamie’s truck and a new light fixture it was off to Ely. Our first order of business in Ely was to visit the Laundromat and take over all their large volume washers and dryers with sleeping bags, sled bags, and other items too big to fit in the machines at home.  For Christmas Mark sent me a gift certificate for Steger Mukluks, so between wash cycles it was off to there for some Mukluk shopping. I got a great pair of ‘Yukon Jacks’ that I know will be well used and handy on Iditarod too! By the time all our washing was done we had found time to visit Wintergreen, KMR Designs, and Pragis too. My haul included some fabulous Polartech overmitts and boot liners from KMR, a new insulated water bottle, and a few little ‘splurge’ purchases!

Afterwards we headed out and visited Jamie’s friend, Peter, who runs a dogsled tour business outside of Ely. After a nice visit there we cruised by the home of Bill and Sandy Boutang. Bill and Sandy, along with Shelley Gerig of Canada will be handling for me for the Grand Portage Race this year, so we had some things to talk about.

I think we finally rolled back in the door at around 11pm. And that was our relaxing ‘day off’ !!

Monday 8 January 2001

January 8, 2001

Gosh, am I glad I’m in Minnesota!! Mark tells me there is not a flake of snow on the ground at home. In fact, he said it is so icey in our yard at home that he had to put screws in the bottom of his boots before he could go feed the other night! I would certainly not be putting many miles on the dogs in those kinds of conditions!!

Alaska seems to be not much better! Every time I talk to someone from up that way, it is raining! The Knik 200 was canceled due to lack of snow and many other races seem in jeopardy. This could be a very tough year for rookies looking to qualify for Iditarod. I’m very grateful my qualifiers are done for this year!

Training here continues to go well. I feel I made some major breakthroughs with problems that I had had with the team last year. ‘Leaving Shaktoolik’ issues, as I refer to them! I have a CD at home, by an artist whose name eludes me, with a song on it called ‘Leaving Las Vegas’. ‘Leaving Shaktoolik’ fits in with the tune really well and I was humming that as I was working with the dogs! Maybe I’ll have to work on a complete rewrite of the song on the trail this year.

Grover is really working out to be the class act in this group of dogs. As I will on the trail this year though, I am trying not to use him too much in lead. He already knows what he is doing, so I’m spending my time developing Surge, Orion, Oreo, Smiley, Gus, Chester, Mork, and Camilla’s leadership abilities. Two year old Surge is doing amazing. He is bouncing around and playing with me as I put him away after back to back 50’s or other demanding runs. His enthusiasm and spirit on the trail will be a real asset to the team.

The Grand Portage Race should be a great introduction to racing for the young dog’s on the team!