It is going to be a bit before I get a chance to sit down and do my Sheep Mountain Tales of the Trail, it is just too hectic here right now. And bound to get worse after Matt leaves tomorrow.
Mark spent the night in the hospital last night. Understand that in the 23 years I've been with Mark, he has only on three occasions asked me to drive him to the hospital - when his appendix ruptured about 5 years ago, when he broke his ankle last year - and last night. Turns out he has the Norwalk virus. He's back home, but still not feeling great.
Anyway, before he got too sick, Mark did sit down and do up his story of the Sheep Mountain race - so I'm passing that along to keep you all entertained for now!
Planning for this race started back in October, I phoned Zack at Sheep Mountain Lodge and entered two teams. Zack said "Okay Karen's musher 17 and you can be musher 22" I asked if it would be okay to be musher 40 because I would be running a young team and didn't want to interfere with anyone who was actually racing. He said "not a problem". When we arrived at Sheep Mountain Lodge on Friday night I found out that because of the expanded field and mushers pulling out that I was now musher 26 in a 43-musher field. I thought about asking Zack to move me to the back but I figured that he had better things to do, so I left in the 26th position and tried to stay out of everyone's way.
Shortly after the start my glasses fogged up and my trick of pulling the hood of my parka up over my head didn't thaw them out, so I took them off and put them in my pocket. Without my glasses I'm as blind as a bat. Normally this isn't a problem while running dogs, they know where to go and I just follow. The Trail for this race was very tricky, definitely requiring a higher skill level then I posses, especially being half blind. The bad news is that I spent a lot of time on my side the good news is that my runner plastic is still like brand new.
After about four or five miles, teams started to pass me. I kept looking behind me so I could line up the team for easy passing. After about a dozen teams went by, I looked back to see several more teams coming. Green blur, Blue blur, Red blur. I stepped on the drag and looked back again. Green blur, Red blur, Blue blur. I saw a spot ahead of me that looked like a nice place to get passed so I stepped on my brake and looked back. All I saw was Lance Mackey as he flew past me in his Red parka. I have to admit I peed my pants a bit. Shortly after Lance disappeared I was passed by a Green then a Blue parka. The spot where I was passed was not as nice as it looked, it turned out to be a side hill covered with what looked like glacial ice, it didn't bother Lance or Mr. Green or Mr. Blue. I fell down. Now with my face resting on the ground it was confirmed, it defiantly was glacial ice.
After a few hours of not seeing anyone else I was pretty sure that I was all alone at the back of the pack. I had a hard time negotiating the trail, Draco and Holly made sure that I was going in the right direction, but I couldn't see the ruts and bumps so I fell a lot.
The hills were very long and very steep. I don't like long and steep, I'm built more for rivers. After several of these hills Draco became very good at the command "whoa cough cough, wheeze, good boy, cough, lets take a break" I don't know if my insurance covers heart attacks in a foreign country. I couldn't figure out why I was having problems on these hills, we have bigger ones at home and we do them on the four-wheeler. Midway up one of these hills I notice that my front end was bunched up. Holly had enough. I took her out of lead and replaced her with Hector. I have used him in lead before and because he was in wheel he was one of the only dogs I could see. It was dark when I pulled the hook and I instantly knew that heart attacks would no longer be an issue. We flew up that hill and the next and the next. I wonder if my insurance covers hitting a tree in a foreign country.
Everything was going great; I managed to reduce my crash rate to a record breaking 3 or 4 times a mile. I could see the lights of the checkpoint glowing in the distance and we were on a lake. I like lakes, very few hills. I knew that we were supposed to get on the lake, run around it and exit it somewhere near where we got on. All of a sudden the team stopped, I sunk a hook and went up to see what the problem was, nothing, they just stopped. I surveyed the landscape with my squinted eyes and headlight and was surprised that I didn't see any trail markers. I also noticed that the trail that we where on was not a trail that had been used by 41 other teams but just a single snow machine.
Not sure what to do I thought that maybe my little hill killer Hector was no better at finding trail than me, so I walked down the gangline to see what options where. Then I saw him (sort of) Odie, he could get me out of this mess. I swapped out Odie and Hector and walked back to the sled. Only to be greeted by Odie and Draco, I looked up and saw the team was now in the shape of circle starting at the front of the sled and ending at the back. It was then that it occurred to me that I had put Loki in lead and not Odie. I straightened the team out, unhooked Loki and grabbed Odie. To make sure that I had indeed grabbed Odie I ran my hand down his front right leg and felt a bump. Yes this is Odie, he has had this bump on his leg for several years. As I put him in lead I thought that it was nice of Karen to mark our dogs with brail for this occasion.
With everyone in his or her proper place, off we went. I didn't know were we where going but at least we were moving. After several hundred feet we left the lake and crashed through a bunch of trail markers that were crossed in the shape of an X, not good. Soon after that I realized that we were on the trail that we just came in on before the lake. I turned the team around and several fights broke out. Once I stopped the fights and looked at the team it occurred to me that I was failing at the only task that I had for the race, "make the race a enjoyable experience for the dogs and keep them happy".
Hoping that my glasses had thawed out, I dug them out of my pocket only to find them still pitch black and useless. At this point I was very thirsty because I didn't pack any water with me. So with things stacking up against me I decided to stop, pull out the cooker and make a meal for the dogs and melt some snow for myself. I was ready to make a fire and spend the night. I knew were I could find some kindling, reflective tape burns real good. I told the dogs to take a break, we wouldn't be moving again until daylight unless a snow machine or Tim Osmar showed up.
I was just picking up bowls when I heard a snow machine off in the distance. Then around the corner some kid shows up and asks if I'm Mark, I must have been dehydrated because I just said "Yes". Once he turned around we followed him for about five miles into the checkpoint.
The team was taken to the truck, fed again then boxed.
If things would have worked out better, I would have run the dogs to the check point rested them for 8 hours, run the second 50 mile loop rested them 8 hours then scratch.
This race was pretty tough for a puppy team and it was way too tough for me!