Monday, February 27, 2012

We Have A Winner!

Joanna and I left camp on Valentine's Day in our Tahoe hooked up to the 18 foot trailer that was now home to nine sled dogs. We were heading over to Marquette, Michigan for the Midnight Run 90 mile Dog Sled Race. It was Joanna's first race of the season since the Beargrease Race in Duluth and the Wolf Track Classic in Ely were both cancelled due to lack of snow. The disappointment was even greater for Joanna because this year she knew she had a team that was young, energetic and well trained, ready to race. Eight dogs would run the race, five of which had never raced before and we took along one extra dog as a spare in case one of the others didn't pass the pre race vet check.

For some reason, this year, she decided to sign up for the Midnight Run which she had never run before. Thankfully, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was one of the few places in the mid west that had snow. It ended up being a 17 hour drive for us. Good thing the scenery was beautiful.

I accompany Joanna on her races to drive the vehicle to the race and to the different check points in the race and help with the handling of the dogs and doing any odd job that needs to be done to assist her.

Marquette did a superb job of organizing and putting on the race. Thousands of people attended the ceremonial start on Friday evening along with hundreds of volunteers who assisted the mushers. Dump truck loads of snow was hauled onto Main Street of Marquette for the dog teams to run around a block, giving spectators a look at each of the teams. Like the infamous Iditarod race, the Marquette staging had a wooden archway for teams to pass under at the start, bright street lamps lighting the way. Even a live band was on hand playing patriot songs, lending to the already exciting atmosphere.

Following the one mile ceremonial start, the mushers loaded up their sleds and dogs and led by a police escort, headed to the official start of the race about 40 miles away in Chatham. Joanna was number 12 out of 29 entrants in the race. The teams left the starting chute in two minute intervals. Quite a few of her fellow mushers were regular top ten finishers in past mid distance races, so the competition was tough.

The race entailed two legs, the first one 47 miles and the second 38 miles. There was a five hour mandatory rest in between the two legs. After about 4 hours, the first team came into the check point. Soon after that, a second team. To my astonishment, Joanna's team was the third team into the checkpoint. I thought, "Wow, she must have passed a lot of teams."

And indeed she had. After all the teams had reached the checkpoint sometime around 3:30 a.m., we got the news that she was now in the number one position with about four teams close behind her. We could hardly believe it!!

Being in first place, she led the pack out of the checkpoint heading to Munising, Michigan. I drove the truck to the school parking lot in Munising where the race was to finish. After completing my dog handling chores of setting up the picket line, (a metal cable fastened between two rods extending from both ends of the side of the trailer) to hook up the dogs upon their return and heating up water to thaw the frozen chicken meat chunks to feed the dogs, I walked over to the finish line ready to assist my girl when she arrived. I had no idea what was happening out on the trail. I had noticed that our dogs didn’t rest as well as some of the other dogs at the checkpoint. They seemed a bit tired and sluggish when they left and they had no one to chase since Joanna left first.

At the finish line I met and visited with another dog handler, Pat, who happened to be the wife of Jerry Trudell , the musher in third place leaving the checkpoint. Pat and their other handler sounded very confident that Jerry was going to win the race because of how well their dogs were doing. She too said her nerves were shot. We agreed it was more difficult for us who knew nothing about what was happening on the trail. In the course of our conversation she had mentioned that their lead dogs were white and I knew one of ours was black.

All of a sudden we got word from someone posted further up the trail that the winning musher was on their way to the finish line. We couldn’t see anything but a small hill that they would pop over at the end. My eyes were glued to the top of the hill. Then a black dog came into view, then the rest of the team and then JOANNA. I jumped up and down laughing and crying, “Joanna, you did it!!! I can’t believe it-you did it. Yahoooooo!!!”

I almost forgot it was my responsibility to grab the lead dogs and help direct them back to the truck. Joanna had so disciplined herself not to get excited or to think about winning, but just to go as fast as she could and stay in the lead that she could hardly relax and receive the news that she had won. Jerry Trudell had passed the second place musher and then passed Joanna on the trail when she had to stop and shift some dogs around because of leader problems. But she then worked hard to catch up to him and with a team to chase, her dogs put on the afterburners, zooming on by him and he was never able to catch Joanna’s team again.

Because Joanna had never run this race before and won it, she also received the Rookie of the Year Award. At the awards banquet later that evening, she had an additional surprise, winning the coveted Humanitarian Award. All the veterinarians involved with examining the dogs during the race got together and voted on the best cared for dog team and Joanna won that award as well.

While commenting about the race in front of everyone at the awards banquet, she made mention of the fact that her Dad shared equally in the win because he accompanied her on almost all of the 950 miles of training, following her with his snowmobile to help her if she had problems and protect her if they ran into moose or wolves on the trails. Joanna told me later that when she was nearing the end of the race and believed she was truly going to win, she teared up thinking, "We did it Dad! We finally did it."

The whole trip was very enjoyable from all the awards won, fun visiting friends and making new ones and viewing the beautiful scenery along the way. Needless to say Joanna is still on cloud nine.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Family Visit

This last weekend we were blessed with a visit from our nephew Eric Oberg and his wife Amber, sons Lawrence (4) and Celeb (14 months). Eric works for a mining company in northern Minnesota and had a long four day weekend to enjoy. It worked out for them to come up and spend some time with us, which made us happy.

We filled every moment possible with some exciting adventures. The first day they were here, Joanna and John were scheduled to take a couple of folks on a full day dog sled trip. So, I guided Eric and his family to our Indian Lake overlook. It is a new trail on the opposite side of the Agimac River through a beautiful spruce swamp and up a hill. We put the baby in his car seat and strapped him to our long sled. Then Lawrence hopped in behind him. We took turns pulling them along behind as we snow shoed the trail. They were amazed at the view from the overlook, about a hundred feet above Indian lake. We could see the snowmobile trail on the lake,lined with tree branches to mark the trail that John, Joanna and the other dog sled team would travel on their way back to camp.

On our way back down the hill, Eric climbed in the back of the sled with his two sons and commandeered it around the curves to the bottom, sometimes plowing his own trail to cut off some sharp corners.

Believe it or not, Caleb, the baby, slept through the whole experience, waking only once when they bumped some brush.

The next day, Joanna and John took them on our half day trip trail while I stayed home with the baby. Joanna took Lawrence in her sled while Amber and Eric each had their own sled. Apparently they had a great time, because when Amber came through the door, her face was flush with excitement. She kept exclaiming on what a fantastic time she had. She never dreamed it would be so fun. Joanna might have another willing helper for the Beargrease Race next year.

It's refreshing for us to have family and friends come to stay with us during the long winter months. We don't get out as much at that time and it gives us a chance to slow down, spend more time with them and have some relaxing fun ourselves.