Joanna set a new record this racing season by becoming the champion of two out of four sled dog races. It sure has been an unusual winter, however, with lots of difficult situations happening all at once.
Joanna won the first race of the season, the Gunflint Mail Run, then came in 6th place at the Beargrease having to drop two of her eight dogs because of injuries.
The third race was the Midnight Run in Marquette, MI. I always help Joanna at the races, driving to the checkpoints, and helping with the care of the dogs during the race.
However, I received a call from my sister in Franklin, NC that my dear 93 year old Dad had fallen and was not doing well. They believed he may have had a stroke as he was unable to talk much after that. On February 14th, Valentine's Day he went to his eternal home in heaven. That was Wednesday. I hastily booked airline tickets from Minneapolis to Asheville, NC and left Thursday morning with Joanna. I was meeting up with our daughter Cherish who was accompanying me to the funeral while Joanna drove on by herself with the pickup and trailer full of dogs to Marquette, MI for the race.
The day before we left we were wondering how Joanna was going to manage at the race without me when a friend suggested someone to call who could possibly help. Sure enough a handler was found to help Joanna who would meet up with her in Marquette and also be able to drive the truck to the checkpoint.
John came down with the flu about a week before we left. Joanna and I were trying to stay clear of him so we would not get it. But I started feeling sick two days before we left and then I heard Joanna start coughing the day we departed. Not good.
Once Cherish and I finally arrived in Franklin, NC on Thursday all I wanted to do was go to bed. I managed to rouse myself the day of the funeral, but then it was back to bed for the next two days. Eagerly I checked the Midnight Run facebook page to find updates on the mushers and their positions. Joanna was running the race in honor of my Dad who greatly supported her racing and was always excited to hear every detail. I saw she was in second place after the first leg on Friday night. I would have to wait till after Dad's funeral to see the end results.
What a perfect addition to a very special day celebrating Dad's life on this earth to find out that Joanna had indeed won the 100 mile race. I could imagine Dad cheering her on from heaven. She said the team was on fire and she was able to finish with all 8 dogs. I was not aware of what happened before the race.
After Joanna and I met up with Cherish on our way down to Minneapolis, Joanna continued on to Superior, WI to spend the night. She became very feverish and felt terribly sick with all symptoms of the flu. She called her Dad and talked to him, knowing she could not race in such a condition. She decided to see how she felt the next day. Thankfully, after taking some Tylenol, the fever broke and she thought she could go on to the race. She still had a bad cough but was feeling strong enough to press on.
In addition to winning the race, she received the coveted Best Cared For Team Award, given to a high placing musher whose team was in very good condition at the finish of the race.
Floating on cloud nine from a successful race, she received a phone call from John informing her that a severe snowstorm was headed for Marquette and instead of spending the night there, she should leave right after the banquet and at least try to get to Superior, WI or she could be snowed in for days. Here she hadn't had any sleep for two days and she had to press on again, driving by herself. Joanna was determined to drive all the way to Chisholm, MN where she could spend the night at her cousin's house. We were all praying she would get there safely and thankfully she did at 2 am. She stayed there for two days but was getting sicker with the flu with all the exertion and lack of sleep.
In the meantime, Cherish and I had planned to fly back to Minneapolis on Monday after the race so that I could meet up with Joanna and we could drive home to Canada together. Monday morning came and I was so weak I couldn't stand up. I was trying to get ready to leave for the airport and my sister marched me right back to bed, changing my tickets to the following Saturday to give me time to recover. So Joanna decided to head back to Canada and try to get well for her next race the Copper Dog in Calumet, MI.
Once we were all home again, Joanna filled me in on more details of the Midnight Run. She had planned to run conservatively on the first leg so as to save the team for the return trip. She doesn't use a GPS to rate her team's speed like most racers do, going by instinct and how the team looks instead. It's a balancing act as you do need to go fast enough to be competitive and be within reach of winning, while still not running too fast to where the team would not have as much "gas left in the tank" for the final 50 miles. It was nice for her to see the team in 2nd place after the first 50 miles, approximately 7 minutes behind the team in first place at the checkpoint. Many top teams were stacked up behind her with the team in 3rd place about 3 minutes behind her and teams after that 1 minute apart so anything could happen on the 2nd leg depending on how good of a run you had.
The dogs looked great after their five and a half hour mandatory rest plus the extra 12 minutes of start differential. They are fed snacks and a meal upon arriving to the checkpoint, massaged and then bedded down on straw with jackets and blankets to help them rest comfortably. Roughly an hour before their scheduled departure they are watered with a warm meat broth to aid in hydration. Taking off, the team was fast and powerful. The dogs seemed full of energy, giving Joanna hope they could catch the team ahead and hopefully not let the teams behind catch them!
This is one of Joanna's favorite races due to the fact that the race mostly uses curvy, narrow trails groomed and maintained for the race. It was exciting zipping through the trees and flying up and down small hills and around corners, catching air in some places with her head inches from trees! Both the dogs and mushers love an interesting trail! The team was flying and caught the lead team about 15 miles from the checkpoint, having made up the seven minutes already! They pulled away fairly quickly and the dogs just were driving, even when they were on the last 17 miles of more boring wide, flat and straight snowmobile trail.
Often, Joanna and other racers use a ski-pole to help the dogs out if they slow down a bit on flat stretches but Joanna said the team was moving right along, too fast for a ski-pole to be of any aid so she just squatted down to offer less wind resistance and let the dogs run. She and her team finished a little over 13 minutes ahead of the 2nd place team, having a faster 2nd leg then on her first, averaging just under 12 mph for the whole race!!! The dogs were still jumping to go when she stopped them past the finish line! What a race! This is her second time winning the Midnight Run, having won it for the first time in 2012. She is so proud of how well her dogs did, especially since all but one of the dogs on her team was bred and raised by her.