Monday, April 06, 2009

Livin' it to the limit and lovin' it a lot

After lots of sleep, a few beer and some tasty food, I'm feeling 100 percent again.
So here's my Taiga 300 story. Settle in kids, get a cup of coffee because I've got stories.
Rich and I arrived in Lake Louise on Tuesday afternoon with the team (Bully, Capiche, Crush, Drake, Omar, Steven, Jerry, Stanley, Peter, Ku, Rohn and Hazel) I signed in and we fed the dogs, then ourselves. After getting caught up with other mushers, we went out and parked on the lake, organized drop bags and packed the sled. We slept in the truck that night and got up early for breakfast, dog chores and the pre-race drivers' meeting. Rich was such a huge help, he pretty much took over to let me rest and fret.
I was the third of 21 mushers to leave and took off at 11:06 a.m. One concern on this race is that April temperatures can be pretty high (up to 40 degrees F) but we left and is was clear and cool. The first 60 mile run went well. The dogs got a little hot in the afternoon as there were some surprisingly steep uphills (with white-knuckle downhills to follow!). We finished in about seven hours in 16th place out of 21. Not too bad. It's not like I went into this with the expectation I was going to win. I know my team is slow and being my first 300-mile race, I just wanted to relax and take it easy. The coolest thing on this run was a snow tornado that spun up the trail at us. We went right through it. Also, we saw a wolf-kill on the lake near the end of the run. Apparently a lone wolf has been all around that area recently.
So we arrived back at Wolverine Lodge for a mandatory six-hour layover. The dogs ate and rested well. I ate but only got about half an hour of sleep before heading out on the 110-mile leg shortly after 1 in the morning. I dropped Hazel here as she was being pouty and didn't want to go anymore. I left her in Rich's care and took off into the night.
The 110-miler, traveled over three lakes and three rivers to Maclaren Lodge. I ran the dogs for six-and-a-half hours (stopping to snack a couple times along the way) before making camp at 7:30 a.m. I rested for the same amount of time I ran. I cooked them a hot meal, ate some frozen pizza and curled up in my sled for a three-hour nap. I woke up at noon feeling great. The sun was out and the dogs and I lounged in the sun for another hour or so before taking off for the last 55 miles into Maclaren.
Along the trail, we were passed and passed teams camping or snacking or just slowing down in the heat of the day. We crossed some nasty overflow up to my knees and that's where my feet got wet (not on the 30-mile loop like the website said). It dropped to 30 below on that run and my boots froze completely solid. It was like wearing casts on my feet. I wasn't all that cold though as I was pedaling on the sled to stay warm and help the dogs. About 25 miles out of Maclaren on the Maclaren River we hit a canyon where the trail twisted over shelf ice and ice bridges with rushing, open river on either side of us. It was kind of spooky, but I was never scared. Some teams had a tough time over the ice-bridge crossings and almost ended up in the drink! Not me, though. My team was steadfast and fearless over the many water and ice crossings.
We loped into Maclaren at 10:45 p.m. for a mandatory eight-hour layover. We stayed nine. In that time, I fed the team twice and carefully went through each dog massaging and wrapping wrists, rubbing shoulders and putting ointment on their feet. I tucked them into their straw and heavy dog coats (thanks again Lou Ann!) and headed up the hill to the lodge for a burger and some sleep.
I napped for about three hours before heading out to the dogs to do it all over again. At around eight, we took off for a quick 30-mile loop on a super trail past the Maclaren Glacier. It was socked in so I didn't see much. On this run, Bully started limping a little and looked really tired, poor old guy. I loaded him in the sled and gave him a ride the rest of the way. We still managed to finish the 30-mile in two hours and 45 minutes. We got back to Maclaren for a mandatory four-hour break. I dropped Bully and sent him home. It was here that I also dropped Jerry, one of five Greg Parvin dogs that I borrowed for the race. Jerry should have remained in the team as he was uninjured and doing great, but I'm an idiot and in my tired stupor, I gave him a cough suppressant to ease a tickle in his throat. I mentioned it to the vet AFTER I gave it to him and she informed me (actually race marshall John Schandelmeier informed me) that the substance was banned and Jerry would have to go home. Live and learn, I guess.
I left Maclaren for the last time at around 4 p.m. on Friday (the winner of the race had already crossed the finish line at this point) for the final 110-miles to the finish at Wolverine Lodge. We started out slow but eventually settled into a pace and the dogs were moving well, back over the ice bridges, one of which had apparently collapsed but I didn't notice (couldn't have been that bad). After about five hours I stopped to camp, fed the dogs, rubbed their bodies and crawled on top of my sled for a quick hour-long nap. I camped with another woman because she was a little afraid to be out there alone. I would have preferred to be by myself, but I wanted to help her out. We set out at 1 a.m. and ran another five hours before stopping to camp for the last time. I cooked the dogs a meal and crawled into my sled for a long two-hour nap. I was so sore and tired at this point, I could have slept there for days. But the end of the race was calling. At about 9:30 a.m. two teams came whizzing by us and I knew that I was in last place. Oh well. I slowly packed my sled, watered the dogs, bootied and took off for the last 40 miles to the finish. It took us about six hours as we were running in the heat of the day. I stopped often (probably too often) to rub snow on the dogs to cool them off. The woman I had been camping with was long gone. It was just me out there and the last 20 miles across the lakes to the finish was, at times, excruciatingly slow and painful. I was popping four Ibuprofen about every four hours, but my body was screaming at me. I got the finish line with my Capiche in single lead and my faithful Rich there waiting. Zoya and John, the husband and wife duo who put on the race, were also there to check my mandatory gear and look at the dogs. Most other mushers were still around so I knew I wasn't that far back...only about 15 minutes actually.
It was then that I found out that I wasn't last. Whoohooo!! A woman who had been in first place for most of the race had gotten lost in the night and took a 100-mile detour. After I realized that she and the dogs were good, I smiled because I wouldn't be last. Not that it matters to me. I had a great time and learned so much. The trail was challenging at times but beautiful. The weather was fantastic and people were absolutely amazing. The Taiga 300 was better than I could have ever imagined. It was well organized and as always with a John and Zoya race, the standards of dog care were very high. In fact, two mushers were withdrawn from the race because of poor dog care. So of the 19 teams that finished, I was 18th. The dogs were so great on this race. I love them so much and adored every second on the trail with them. They teach me something every time I get on the runners.
I need to thank Rich for his ongoing support and love. You are my everything, Rich!
Also thank you to Greg Parvin of the Nome-Kotzebue-Two Rivers-Big Lake-Lawyer-Musher ilk, for the use of Jerry, Steve, Stanley, Ku and Rohn and for his support and friendship. I love ya, Parvo! Thank you to Darrin Lee and Heidi for their kind words and support and to Ed Steilstra for complimenting my smile at Maclaren and for the good company while we both shoved burgers down our gullets! Thanks to Susie, Alan and Ed at Maclaren River Lodge for their support, great food, excellent company. See you all again soon! (thanks Ed, for putting my socks in the dryer and for the pizza bread!) Thanks to Jodi and Dan for Omar and Drake (they did awesome!) and for your friendship. Thanks to John and Zoya for putting on the race and for your support and advice. Thank you to my sponsors, especially Arctis Carts in California for your support this season. And lastly, thank you to my family for your interest.
Anyone else who helped me in any way, I appreciate it very, very much.

Me on Lake Louise after the first 60-mile run.

On the Maclaren River shelf ice. Notice the open water to the left.

Our first campspot on the Susitna River.

Sunset on the Maclaren River.

Bully in the sledbag. The old man is feeling much better now and is enjoying some quality couch time with me.

Leaders cuddled up at Maclaren. Rohn, Ku, Stanley and Capiche.

Jerry enjoying the sun at one of our campouts.

Me enjoying the sun at one of our campouts.

We arrived home Saturday night and to our surprise saw that Summer's pups had grown exponentially. Here's Rich with Cinch, the boy. They mostly grew out and are now fat little roly-polies.