The drive to La Ronge,
like most drives through Saskatchewan (just kidding Colleen)
was uneventful, well, except for the time in Prince Albert
when we all accidentally got split up. Luckily that big red
truck is easy to spot and Colleen and I made a mad dash out
into traffic to catch a relieved Mark.
We had been paying the
bill at the restaurant and Mark went off to fill up the
truck. The pump we were going to meet at didn’t have diesel
fuel, so he headed off to find another one and ended up in
heavy rush hour traffic.
All got resolved
though and we were grateful to see the city getting smaller
in our rear view mirror.
When we arrived in La
Ronge, race marshall Tom Charles had spotted the truck and
came over to welcome us. Great guy with a wonderful, dry
sense of humor. He told us where to find the meetings that
were scheduled for the morning and gave us some suggestions
for place to drop dogs. All very appreciated.
Jackie and Rick
arrived shortly after and a casual evening was spent with
friends and dogs!
In the morning I was
disappointed to draw bib #1 – I hate going out first, but #2
was a former Neckbone champ, so I figured my leading wasn’t
going to last long anyway.
Sure enough, Stefan
caught and passed us about 4 miles out, however the dogs
were moving strong and steady and we didn’t see another team
for many, many more miles.
The day was cold and I
had not been thinking when I tossed my wind bib pants into
my sled bag – good judgment would have had them on my body.
About 29 miles in my legs were feeling pretty numb and I
decided I should put them on, however realizing that would
require getting my bib and parka off, I decided to tough it
out. If the team had been getting passed by everything in
sight, I would have taken the time, but I hadn’t seen a team
since Stefan passed and I wasn’t going to mess up a good run
with a 10 minute wardrobe change!!
Just as I was coming
into sight of the Besnard Rd safety checkpoint, Gerry Walker
came into sight. We both blew through and continued down the
Shortly after that
Kara began to back off a bit in harness. She had been
setting a blistering pace for the first 30 miles and I
decided she needed a little bit of a break. Young Spidey was
pressed into lead dog duties. She ran like a little pro,
although the pace was definitely slower without Miss Wonder
Leader up front.
We actually had a few
more teams catch up and pass us – still I was the 6th
team to pull into the finish line that day. That didn’t,
however, mean I was the 6th fastest time – start
differentials needed to be considered. It turns out my run
time was the 9th speediest for the day and very
close to the teams in front of me.
Race organizer and
fellow musher Sid Robinson came over as Colleen, Jackie
Wepruk (who was waiting for Rick's team to come in) and I
fed and tended to dogs. “Are those the fastest Siberians on
the planet??”, he asked. Seems he figured he would catch us
in the first 20 miles of the run – and ended up not being
able to pass me at all on the 57 mile run. I was all smiles.
Mark’s team rolled in
an hour or so after mine. I helped Colleen and him feed, but
finally had to excuse myself to find a bathroom – trails
that run along highway ditches don’t give female mushers a
lot of opportunities to pee!
Dogs fed and tucked
into their boxes on the truck we headed over to the Weyakwin
school for chili, fry bread and neckbones – the traditional
‘Neckbone Race feast’. For the record, the neckbones served
were pork ones. I found them a little gristly and fatty, but
Mark drove into a heaping plate of the things and pronounced
When we dropped the
dogs after dinner, Kara was sore on one of her front legs. I
showed Colleen how to care for it and she took over Kara
drops and massages for the evening. Kara was very pleased to
be assigned her own personal massage therapist.
The town had opened a
local gymnasium for mushers to sleep in, so we dragged out
cots and sleeping bags and set up ‘Camp Ramstead’. Hanging
gear to dry and sorting out new gear for morning before
dropping dogs again and then getting some sleep.
The morning came COLD.
Tom said that in the dips and valleys his truck thermostat
had dropped down to –40. In town it was hanging about – 37.
We filled up on a
wonderful breakfast at the school before piling on every bit
of gear we had with us (you can bet I was wearing those wind
bibs today!) and heading out to the start line.
They had us leaving in
reverse finishing order, so Mark was out 3rd and
I was out 4th. It took some fancy footwork to get
us out three minutes apart, but aided by Colleen and Jackie
(who had already seen Rick off), we got it done.
The dogs didn’t start
off as spunky as the Saturday, but they were still moving
nicely. I caught and passed Mark and then a faster teams
Although Kara had
looked good at the truck this morning – with all swelling
and tenderness in her wrist seemingly gone, she was backing
off in lead after about 5 miles.
I took her out of lead
and put her back into the team to see if that would help. It
didn’t. Finally, after about 5 miles of fussing and fiddling
with her, I stopped to load her into the bag. As I was
putting her in, I noticed a team bearing down on us and just
quickly closed up my bag.
Kara was NOT pleased
at being ‘loaded’ and as we started to move shot up and out
of the sled and onto the trail. I threw in my hooks and
collected my wayward leader. As I was arguing with her about
getting back into the bag Gerry Walker passed – or attempted
too. His sled caught one of my snow hooks and everything was
suddenly in a big mess. As we tried to sort it out, Stefan
caught up and came running up to help out. Unfortunately,
his team didn’t feel like a break and popped loose his snow
hooks. He just caught them as they roared by.
After what was
probably only a minute or two, but what seemed like ages,
things were all straightened out and all three teams
underway again. No one to blame, but one of those things.
My team started to
‘click’ a bit now. The spark seemed to be starting to
ignite. I had Dasher and Snickers in lead and they were
really moving steady. We traveled with another musher for a
bit and then she stopped to snack prior to the Besnard
crossing. I pulled into the safety checkpoint, very quickly
turned Kara over to the race officials, pulled the hook and
was gone again. Once out of sight of the crossing (so the
dogs didn’t think we were taking a ‘real’ break), I stopped
and tossed each dog a chunk of lamb sausage. Just before I
pulled the hook Jess Allen came over the hill. I slipped in
behind her and we traveled that way for a number of miles. I
stopped to put a bootie on Charge and the team was screaming
by the time I stepped back on the runners. I pulled the hook
and it was like I entered the Twilight Zone – that team was
ready to rock. They quickly caught up with a 6-dog team that
had passed us while we were stopped. I wanted to just follow
them for a bit, but Snicks and Dash had other ideas and just
pulled out and passed. They pulled strongly away and now had
Jessica’s team in their sights. They loped up behind her, we
passed and then they loped on down the trail. I was slightly
concerned that they were going to burn themselves out, we
still have about 25 miles to the finish line, but then
decided it was just time to see what these puppies could do.
A number of miles
later we spied another team ahead and they kicked it into
overdrive. The team was Sid’s and he had a number of nice
comments about my team. Sid had a bit of a tangle in some
deep overflow, but my team skillfully edged around the water
and around him to continue their charge to the finish.
I continued to be in
awe of the way the dogs were driving – I couldn’t wipe the
grin off my face if I had tried.
We caught glimpses of
one more team ahead, but I just couldn’t reel them in. We
loped across the finish line as the fourth team, with a time
that turned out to be the 4th fastest for the
day. Placing us in 8th overall. More significant
to me was the fact that we were only 25 minutes out of 3rd
That evening we dined
again on chili and neckbones, visited with other mushers and
swapped trail stories. A lovely end to a lovely weekend!
We will be back!!!
Gerry Walker, Pierceland
Stefaan de Marie, Christopher Lake
Charlie Conner, Meadow Lake
Quincy Miller, La Ronge
Charlie Noltcho, La Ronge
Jessica Allen, Minnedosa, Manitoba
Sid Robinson, La Ronge
Karen Ramstead, Perryvale, Alberta
Jeff Thomas, Minnedosa, Manitoba
Mark Ramstead, Perryvale, Alberta
Irvin Wai, Carstairs, Alberta
Rick Austin, Lacombe, Alberta
Blake Charles, La Ronge