Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Me and Meade

Solstice 100

The Cosmic Canines participated in their first race Saturday. We entered the Solstice 100. There were 12 teams and we finished 5th. So I was pretty happy with the crew. The trail was a little slow because we just got 8 inches of snow and it was warm, so it was a little bit of a slog on the way out, which truthfully the dogs need. We’ve been training on a “bullet proof ice skating rink” for most of the season, so it was nice to give them a taste of some different conditions. But for us mushers, it doesn’t get much nicer, warm (25 degrees) and absolutely gorgeous. Sunny skies and warm weather don’t normally go together in Fairbanks in the winter. So it really was a blessing of a day.

My dog box isn’t built yet so I had to run the dogs to the start. It’s only 2 miles to Pleasant Valley Store, the starting line. I felt kind of “bad ass” pulling up to the parking lot like that. “Yeah, the Cosmic Canines don’t need no truck.” The start went relatively smooth and we started passing teams within 7 miles of the start. I was a little worried about passing our home trail, 4 times, but the dogs passed without hesitation. It was a wonderful, but slow trip out, but definitely fun.

Dark Star was running a little funny, though I couldn’t find any injuries, but she is young so I decided to drop her at Angel Creek. I must not have given Kobuk enough time to recover from his wrist injury because it was sore when I checked it, he’s a big dog, and didn’t want to carry him if it got real bad so I dropped him too.

I had a burger and a couple of beers while I enjoyed the company of my fellow mushers. There was a mandatory 4 hour layover, so I relaxed while the dogs rested. It was dark when it was time to go. I bootied up the dogs. I just wanted to hold my 5th place position. Jody Bailey left 17 minutes in front of me, and Molly Yazawinski about 11. Carol Blevins was due to leave 9 minutes behind me. So I was worried more with Carol catching up from behind. The cooler temps firmed up the trail so it was a lot faster. The dogs were going at a good clip; I held them back a little to pace them for the whole run back. About 5 miles down the trail I saw a headlamp….ahead of me! I turned mine off, so I could “stealth” the musher that wasn’t aware of me catching up yet. We caught them quickly and passed. I turned my head lamp back on. It was Molly. Now I wasn’t planning to move up any positions, but just that little taste of competition drove me. Hey maybe I could catch Jodi too. We pulled away quickly; I began to call the dogs up. We went around a bend where I knew I was out of sight and I turned my headlamp back off. That way it would be harder for her or her dogs to see me and “give chase”. The moon was almost full and really I didn’t need the headlamp. I kept on the dogs to keep a good pace. Samson and Leo were responding well in lead. I could tell they were having a blast. About 15 miles later on a long straight stretch I could see a headlamp behind in the distance. “Oh crap, I don’t know if that’s Molly, or Carol, but I was getting used to the idea of placing 4th.” I started pushing and running, calling the dogs faster. I knew in the open swamps it would be easier to see our silhouette against the glow of the moon reflecting off the snow, so I would really push them so we could hide in the trees again, then I would let them catch their breath again. We held the team off for about 10 miles. I had put my parka on because it was about 0 when I left Angel Creek. But I hadn’t planned to be getting so much of a workout. I was sweating. I didn’t even have time to pull my parka off. Then I remembered the strip of reflective fabric that I had sewn around the skirt of my parka for safety. I sure that it stood out in the light of a headlamp, even from a distance. So I pulled up my skirt in the back so it would cover it.

I knew the road crossing was coming. We train on this trail regularly, so my dogs don’t really need help crossing the road. On the way out the dogs kind of freaked seeing all of the people at the crossing. So I left my headlamp off hoping that the volunteers wouldn’t see me coming and I could skate past the crossing. But a truck was heading down the road, so I had to stop and the volunteers saw us so they came running out and the dogs balked. The got tangled and wouldn’t move off the road. Finally we got across and I had a hard time getting them untangled. Here came the team from behind. Shoot! All of that hard work ruined for something as stupid as a road crossing. They caught us quickly and I had to give them trail because we were still 5 miles from the finish. We tailed them but didn’t have quite enough to pass. Oh well, I was happy with 5th when I left Angel Creek, I should be happy with it at the end.

So we finished 5th, just seconds behind Molly. Not bad for a bunch of young dogs. It was pretty cool after pulling over the finish line to just mush the dogs on home, ”Race done, we’re not, later!”