Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saving the best for last

I finished! I was last, but I freakin' finished! I'm so happy. So proud of my dogs. Of myself. The trails were very slow with all this new snow, so we were out there for a lot longer than I thought, but we made it. Happy and healthy. I feel like I've been run over by a truck, so I'm going to try and make this short.
The Start.
I was nervous. Especially when, at the drivers' meeting, the trail crew warned about overflow (water) on a creek that was a foot-and-a-half deep. My stomach sank. Oh well, it'll be good training and practice on tough conditions, I tried to convince myself. I had extra boot liners and it wasn't cold out.
Sam helped me get the dogs ready (harnesses, booties etc) and they counted me down. I left 10th out of 12 mushers. They told us at the meeting the course had to be shortened because of the crappy conditions. They cut 20 miles off the second 50, so it was 80 miles total, not 100.
The first 50 miles.
We took off to a modest crowd of spectators and officials and I immediately knew this was going to be harder than I thought. Usually, when my faithful 10-dog team takes off, we're cookin' at 15 or 16 miles an hour. But the snow was so soft (Big snowfall, plus warm weather equals soft trail.) we were immediately just puttering along at a snail's pace. Darn.
Pretty soon, Carol Blevins and Aliy Zirkle (the first and only woman to win the Yukon Quest) passed me. I was last within half an hour from the start. I had to keep telling myself that it was OK. 'My dogs haven't gone this far, so this race is more of a training run,' I'd repeat in my head. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, my best friends and I were seeing new trail...what could be better?
About 35 miles in, we hit some overflow (not the stuff they warned about, that was closer to the checkpoint) Bully balked a little but pulled the team across. I stopped on the other side to take off the dogs' booties which were now wet and icy. I stopped to snack them and they ate like maniacs. We lollygagged along, through wooded areas, on and off the Chena River and over creeks. We hit the spot with the bad overflow and it had frozen over! Hooray! About four miles from the checkpoint at Angel Creek Lodge, I saw something. It was getting dark, so I wasn't sure if my mind was playing tricks on me. No, the dogs saw it too. It was another team! I hadn't seen one in about five hours. We caught and passed another team. Even though we weren't really racing, it was the boost we needed. The other musher was struggling, so we stayed close together. About a mile from the checkpoint we had to cross an open creek. It wasn't deep but for some reason Bully didn't want to go across. Before I knew what was happening, he turned around on the team and a giant tangle ensued. I ended up dragging the big ball of dogs and my sled through the creek to the other side, where I set the hook, ran down the embankment, through the creek to help the musher behind me get his team through the water. He then came and helped me untangle my dogs. That's what mushing is about.
I got in for my mandatory four-hour layover after a six-hour-and-45-minute run. I know. It took a long time. Right away, I gave the dogs broth, meat and kibble and they ate and drank everything I put in front of them. Perfect! I made straw beds, checked some feet and went into the lodge to dry out gear and eat a cheeseburger. In the lodge I chatted with the other mushers. After a few hours, I went back out to the yard where the dogs were resting. I put ointment on their feet and rubbed shoulders and wrists. They were looking really good. I offered them more water and meat snacks and they ate it all up. I dropped Summer because she was the most tired, but otherwise fine. Sam said she screamed in the truck for the next couple of hours. "How dare you leave me behind!" I'll know next time to just leave her in the team.
We left the checkpoint at 9:06 p.m., right on time. The first 10 miles of our 30-mile run to the finish went by fast. The dogs were flying...or so I thought. Unfortunately, the guy we passed coming into the checkpoint scratched and went home, so soon we were last again.
The run to the finish.
Soon after leaving the checkpoint, the dogs tried to skirt the open creek again, which resulted in me getting dragged face-first through the water. No harm, just a red face and a wet sled.
We got passed soon after leaving the checkpoint by a team but caught up with him again and stayed on his butt for a long time. I thought about trying to re-pass and therefore not be last, but that was selfish. The dogs needed a little break and they don't care if we're last or second last. We gave up the chase and stopped. It was warm night with a glowing moon. I gave the dogs a snack and loved them up until each tail was wagging furiously.
The dogs and I were sore and tired but we were almost there and we knew we were going to finish. We arrived at the finish line shortly after 1 in the morning. Race officials and Sam greeted me but there were lots of other mushers milling around. I was only last by about 15 minutes, so that's not bad considering all the stopping I did. I was on Cloud 9. I snacked and watered the dogs and they gratefully jumped into the truck. We went home to our own beds.
The next morning.
I feel sore but happy. The dogs are a little stiff, but I'm working on that with massage and some free runs and play in the yard. I've unpacked my sled and the truck. Booties, mitts and boot liners are drying by the stove. Sam's homemade pizza with caribou for supper.
In summary, I learned so much on this race and with that knowledge, am looking forward to my next race: The Knik-Goosebay 120 on Feb. 15 and 16.
Congratulations to Rod, Abbie, Aliy and Molly on your great finishes. It was great sharing the trail with you!

Bully and Capiche waiting, waiting, waiting to get going.

Out of the chute.

Coaxing the dogs across an open creek. Sam was on the bridge waiting to cheer me on and take some pics...what a handler!

Feeding time at the checkpoint.

Me signing in at the finish line. We made it! All these photos were taken by Sam. Thanks, honey!


Anonymous said...

Great job kid what a story.

love Dad

Anonymous said...

Awesome Jill!
Send us an 8x10 for our "gallery" wall. Warm hugs to all xo

Anonymous said...

You Rock Jill! I can't wait to see you in Fairbanks!

KATS Blog said...

Hooray! Hooray! Your first time and you did fabulous - last place, not really remember someone didn't even make it! Congrats to you and the team ~ I will be waiting for the results from the February race...course hate to tell 'ya I will be just returning home from Palm Springs....well wishes from your Indy lurker friend! ~ t

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Congrats and a great big "Good On Ya, Mate" from Oz!

AKbushbaby said...

Thanks, everyone! Today my back is still sore, but I'm still on a high from a great experience. The dogs are perky and ready for more, but I'm giving them several days off. In the meantime I'll take old Gus out with the puppy team for some fun in all this fresh snow.

Brown Eyed Girl said...

Congratulations Jill! You did an awesome job. Kudos to your team (cute and eager as always) and two thumbs up to Sam for the great pics!!

Christine, Shaun & Mikey

Anonymous said...

Congrats again kid what a story you really, do Rock. Inger and I enjoyed reading it so much and Sam was right there wonderful'.It"s cold here but you have got us beat but ai still envy you. Love you Great Gran.

Theresa said...

Yay to the whole team. Way to go, guys. Finishing your first big race, right up there with the rest of the runners. And bringing the rest of us along for the ride. Sweet.

dogsled_stacie said...

Yay! Congrats!!!!! Finishing it for one, is a HUGE accomplishment. It sounds like you and the team did amazing AND had a good time along the way! Don't worry, you'll work your way up the standings as you keep knocking off these mid-distance races.

Great pictures Sam!!! Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

WooHoo great job. You made it through and that's what counts. Maybe sometime you can come up our way and race in the Kobuk 440.

AKbushbaby said...

The 440...Yikes...I don't think I'm that tough! But you never know. I would love to come up even just to help out or cover the race for Mushing...

Jill Homer said...

Congrats! Sounds like a ton of fun.

So cool that you're thinking about racing the Yukon Quest someday. That is serious hardcore.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!! Aaron and I are super proud of you, great job on both those races!