Tuesday 3 February 2009

Don Bowers 200

After weeks of whining about the lack of snow, the day after we got back from Sheep Mountain it began to snow in Willow...and snow...and snow. By the time race day rolled around, even those of us that had been doing snow dances were starting to think it could stop anytime. The 'icy, fast' trail they had been talking about earlier in the week had become considerably slower due to the up to six inches of fresh snow.

I wasn’t bothered one way or another, as our dogs are still undermiled for the season and aren’t ready to race anyway. Fast trail, slow trails….we just needed trails.

In order to give the six race rookies – Flash, Wolvie, Wonder, Isis, Wifi and Rocket – the best experience we could, I put them all together on Mark’s team and gave him a more conservative race plan.

The start of the race was a bit confusing, as there were different stories about when exactly the 200 mile race was starting. Originally they said that all the 300 mile teams would start, and then there would be a 15 minute break, followed by the start of the 200 mile teams.
As the last 300 mile teams were hooking up, I checked with the race manager, who said that the 200 mile teams were going out right after the 300 mile ones – no break. As I was bib 2, I rallied the ‘troops’ (Molly, Doug, Keith and Mark) and we got the team up to the starting line to be told by the race Marshal that there was a 15 minute break between classes. Argh!!!!
Common sense prevailed though and the marshal asked if it would be alright with me if they let me go now and I made up the time difference on my layover. I readily agreed, as holding the team for 15 minutes would have been quite a chore.

Off we went. The dogs were moving easily and I just let them do their thing. We zipped down about 8 miles of the Iditarod Trail before heading north into new territory for us. A couple ravens teased the team and flew along with us for awhile.

I love ravens and completely enjoyed being out on the trail with them. The trails were lovely and well marked.
A couple teams passed us and we passed a few more. The dogs continued to move easily.

At about 50 miles out we hit Shulin Lake, that was the landmark race officials had given us for the 1/2 halfway point to Joe May's. I found a nice pullout right after the lake and parked the team. Everyone snarfed up the 'slop' I had for them in my cooler and settled down to nap.

I was sitting on my cooler, listening to a podcast of 'The Vinyl Cafe', watching the odd team roll by when a group of dogs I recognized started to pass. I said 'Hey' and Mark's leaders beelined for my lap. We chatted for a minute then Mark called up his girls to go look for their own camping spot, which they found just a bit up the trail.
My team was settled well in and my sled tied to a tree, so I walked up and helped Mark park. Mark had told me that Jr had gotten sucked into a soft corner and then into a bit of a dog fight. I checked him over as much as he would let us. He had a mean looking gash on the inside of his back leg and some puncture wounds. We moved him away from the other dogs so he could rest better.

After about an hour, it was time for me to hit the trail again. So I said goodbye and pulled the hook.

The dogs roared out of their camping spot and continued to move easily. This portion of the trail was on a plowed road (not plowed to the ground though) and involved no thinking or sled driving to speak of. I listened to tunes and sang to the dogs. Until we turned off into the checkpoint.

I signed in and signed out. The checkers told me 28 miles to Joe May's. The dogs were moving fantastic as we left. The trail zigged and zagged through some swamps and I think they liked being off the road. Jen Seavey caught up with us and passed. She was the first team I had seen since leaving my campsite (well, except for a few camping at the start of the road). We crossed under the Parks Highway on the Big Su river. All was quiet at this time of night.

The next section of trail had been hastily put in in the week prior to the race. It dipped, dived and snapped side to side through the trees, but it was obvious that it's creators had sledding experience, as it was challenging without being dangerous. I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Then back into big swamps for the final miles into Joe's.

The dogs were rambunctious and unruly to park, but thanks to some 'on the ball' checkers it was done without much fuss. I got them settled and then got a warm meal into them - which they all devoured.

Joe and Sandra's cabin was open to the mushers and after hanging all my outerwear in their garage to dry, I headed in and was served a delicious bowl of soup, sourdough bread and cookies. All washed down with juice and coffee. *heaven*

There was an area for mushers to sleep, but I was lurking around waiting for Mark. Pretty much on schedule he pulled in two hours after me. I asked about Jr and Mark said he was doing okay, but needed to go to the vet. So I headed up to May's cabin to make arrangements to get him to our vet in Big Lake.

After all Mark's chores were done, I told him to go sleep a bit and I'd wait for Molly (thanks Molly for jumping out of bed and coming out to get Jr for us!) to come get Jr. After she and Jr left, I caught about an hour of sleep.

I fed dogs again and was making ready for my 1pm departure when I got thinking it would be nice to wait an extra 2 hours and make the trip home with Mark. He told me he'd enjoy the company, so we both left the checkpoint at 3pm.

The snow had stopped and the temperature dropped, setting the trail up quite nicely. My dogs seemed to settle into a nice traveling pace quickly, but Mark's weren't. We messed around with his leaders and such, but they just weren't 'clicking'. After 2 hours we decided that traveling together just wasn't going to work. We wished each other a good trip and off I headed.

There is just not too much to say about the next 70 miles or so. The dogs had jelled into a nice team and were moving along strongly. Even when I stopped to put on another layer of clothing or change headlight batteries, they stayed on their feet ready to go. I was very pleased with them.

We pulled into the finish line at 5am. The checkers commented that they actually weren't expecting me for another few hours, I smiled and shrugged.

I didn't want Molly to have to get up at some ungodly hour of the morning to greet us at the finish line, so I had had her drop the truck off at the Community Center the night before. The checkers steered my leaders to the truck, told me there was food inside the community center for me when I was finished with the dogs and scurried back to get warm. It was cold. So cold that the lid was frozen on the soup bucket that Molly and Jamie had left for me. I unharnessed and loaded the dogs, started the truck, put the soup buckets in the cab to warm up and busied myself putting away gear.
I thought about running the dogs back home and coming back to wait for Mark, but didn't want to risk missing him, so I fed dogs, repositioned the truck, fed myself and then napped for awhile.

The Winter Carnival was on, so eventually folks started showing up for that. I chatted with friends and then hung out at the Willow Dog Mushers Association table with friends Jamie and Donna.

At 1:45 I was up with the race officials chatting about maybe sending a snowmachine out to see what was up with Mark when Vern Halter came upstairs and announced that Mark was down in the parking lot. Apparently the spotters had missed him coming across the lake and he had been in for 45 minutes. His dogs were fed, his sled empty and most of the dogs boxed by the time we got to him.

Apparently Mark's crew had picked up a bug and he had opted to take it easy on them on the trip home, stopping twice to camp. It was definitely the right decision for the team and I was very proud of what excellent care he had taken with them.

Complete results of the race can be found at http://www.donbowersmemorialrace.org/ - but I must point out something that I am very proud of. If you look at my running speeds for the 4 legs of the race, you will notice that each of my legs was run faster then the previous one. With my fastest mph being the last 70 mile leg to the finish. I am very proud and excited about this group of dogs!!!

And that is the story...

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