Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hopefully It's Downhill To Spring Now

Several days ago, John went out and took some pictures of our record high snowbanks around camp and down our 325 Road.  It's been constant snow plowing and trail grooming for John all winter this year.  We are all ready for spring meltdown now.  Joanna and John are now focusing on harness training the yearling dogs mixing them in a team with veterans to show them the ropes.  It's relaxing and the longer, sunny days are beautiful for dog sledding.  

The temps are slowly rising for the highs of the day, but we need to get to the point where it's no longer freezing at night.  Spring will come.  It always does.  And soon the first tulips will be popping out of the ground to soothe our souls with some bright and joyous colors.  Happy Spring everyone!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Copper Dog 150 Sled Dog Race

Joanna and I just returned from Calumet, MI where she joined 29 other participants in racing the ten dog Copper Dog 150 Sled Dog Race.  It was a long but beautiful drive from our place which took about 15 hours one way.  Calumet is really on an island in upper Michigan and the terrain is ruggedly beautiful.  We were astonished at the amount of snow they had.  The snow banks around the houses was so high that most of the windows were covered up to the roofs.  There were small mountains of snow piled up at department and grocery stores.  I think it's been a record year for them too.

We spent Thursday night in the Americinn Motel which was very nice.  Lots of other mushers stayed there too.  Friday morning we headed to the vet check where a vet thoroughly checked out each dog to make sure they were healthy enough to run the race.  Then we went to a theater downtown where they fed everyone a nice meal and handed out the bib numbers.  Joanna was #7.   After a meeting for just the mushers where they give last minute instructions on road crossings and signage etc. , we drove our rig to the assigned parking spot near the race start.  It was two hours till takeoff at 7 pm..

It's always a combination of excitement and anxiety at the beginning of a race because you're eager to get on the trail and you need to plan enough time to prepare and not forget anything.  In preparation, Joanna puts new runner plastic on her sled so she slides easily, loads her sled with the mandatory equipment, puts cloth booties on the dog's feet to protect them from getting cracks,  puts on their harnesses, and hooks the dogs up to the gangline to head to the starting gate.

At this race they ask each musher to pick out their favorite song which they play during the two minute time they are at the starting gate.  Joanna got invigorated listening to her song and her team took off with a flourish on the 50 mile first leg of the race.

I watched the other mushers take off, then drove the car and trailer to the first checkpoint at Eagle Harbor.  Joanna came in 15th at that checkpoint around midnight.  She doesn't really enjoy running in the dark because you can only see where your headlamp provides a bit of light.  After feeding and caring for the dogs, we drove a few blocks over to a small community center that was provided for those who wanted to have a place inside to sleep on the floor.  They even had a heated outhouse outside which was nice and coffee and cookies for morning wakeup.  It was a very cold night and Joanna and I both slept fitfully from 2 am to 7:30 am.

She left the first checkpoint about 10:30 am heading to Copper Harbor which was a 42 mile leg and the most hilly stage of the race.  One of the dogs had a sore wrist and had to be dropped from the race, so now she was racing with nine dogs.  It only took about 30 minutes for me to drive to Copper Harbor on a curvy road following along Lake Superior.  The big lake actually froze this year and the wind had driven the snow into peaks so that it looked like the meringue on the top of a lemon pie.  

After parking the rig at Copper Harbor, I leisurely walked around, found a place to get hot water for the dogs to be fed when Joanna came in, talked to some other mushers, ate some lunch and just relaxed in the warm sun coming through the windows of the car.  I tried to figure what time Joanna would be in so I could walk up to the finishing line and be there to catch the leaders.  Suddenly, I saw a team of dogs running down the road to another vehicle.  I thought , "Oh boy, I'd better get up there in case Joanna comes in soon."

Well, I didn't make it.  Joanna and the team were heading my way before I could leave the car.  I was shocked that she was in so soon.  A friend of ours was waiting at the finish line when she came in and graciously led the team back to our trailer.  Joanna finished 7th that day surprising a lot of people.  Anytime you broke into the top ten, you were doing well.  This race had the toughest competition of any race but one in the lower 48.   She said she saw five deer leaping one after the other, over the gigantic snowbanks and onto the trail, then over the snowbank on the other side in front of her soon after she left that morning.

We were so blessed to be able to stay with a host family that Saturday night.  Mike and Suzie Borlee win the prize for hospitality.  They came to find us before the race start, helped us in any way needed to get Joanna off, then took me to supper on the way to the first checkpoint, brought us fruit for breakfast Saturday morning in Eagle Harbor, helped put equipment away at Copper Harbor and provided luxurious accommodations at their newly completed log home near Copper Harbor.  They waited on us hand and foot.  They even prepared a delicious meal for us Saturday night and breakfast at 5 am the next day.  They went beyond the call of duty in every way.  What a fun couple they are!  We will never forget their kindness to us.  I took some pictures of their beautiful home shown above.  As you can see, we really suffered.  :)

Sunday morning was bitterly cold and windy with temps down to 40 below including wind chill.  We tried to delay bringing the dogs out of the trailer and onto the picket line for as long as possible to keep them from getting cold.  We almost waited too long because it became a last minute rush to get them up to the starting line.  Joanna was now in 12th place because of her great run the day before.  At the beginning of the third leg was a four mile incline up Brockway Mountain.  It was good to have the toughest uphill be at the beginning when the dogs had more energy.  Joanna told me later that the wind was gusting so hard at times that it felt like they were being lifted off the ground.  She squatted down on her runners, hiding behind the sled bag to reduce drag and protect herself from the brutal wind.  The top picture above was taken on top of Brockway Mountain.

I headed back to Calumet and met Joanna at the finish line.  (Third picture above)  Her overall standing for the race was 13th place which she was quite happy with considering the competition.  That evening was the awards banquet which was catered by a world class chef who has a restaurant in the area.  What an extravagant five course dinner they served us! 

We both felt that this was a very well organized race and so appreciated all the wonderful volunteers who freely and kindly donated their time for the race efforts.  They gave every attention to details to make sure it was a safe race with well groomed trails.  There are many businesses that donate both funds and little gifts for all the mushers.  I'm sure these are all reasons that the mushers return each year for this race and hopefully we will do it again in the future.  But for now..... it's puppy training time.