I must admit that in the days prior to
leaving for Alaska for the Sheep Mountain race, I had
some trepidation. Maybe driving 3 days for a race was
insane - even by my rather warped standards.
However, once the truck was packed and we were underway,
the routine clicked into place and I knew we were making
a solid move for the team.
Our drive from Fort Nelson to Whitehorse threw a bit of
everything at us. From heavy snow to dense fog to bright
blue sky - we saw it all. Wildlife was plentiful with
moose, elk, and caribou all making us slow down or stop
at one time or another.
The Yukon welcomed us back with an amazing display of
northern lights as it got dark. Much of the time we were
feeding dogs just outside of Teslin, our eyes were
cranked upwards! Greens, pinks and even a bit of red
moving in rapid waves - gorgeous!!
The dogs, for the most part, traveled very well. You
have to know that when we drove up to Lac La Biche to
run, Watt and Charge were making such a fuss in their
boxes as we drove down the road that cows stopped
grazing to stare as we went by - not a word of a lie!
So, we were prepared for the worst on this drive!
However, the boys were remarkably well behaved. Odie is
the one that has been shhhh'd' the most on this drive.
Someone needs to give that dog a wake up call and remind
him how old he is - but it's not going to be me!
We arrived at Sheep Mountain Lodge late on Friday
evening. The warm welcome from a number of mushers
instantly made me feel I was back where I belong -
surrounded by like-minded folks where everything
revolves around DOGS!
Zack Steer's cheerful staff got us all checked into one
of their lovely new cabins. I think that cabin rates as
one of the nicest rooms I've ever stayed in - and I've
stayed in some pretty swanky places in my day!
We were the first mushers up and tending to dogs in the
morning. We enjoyed the dark, quiet morning knowing that
everything would be noisy and jumping in the parking lot
I lingered over breakfast, mainly do to my interesting
dining companions - Mark Nordman and Hans Gatt.
The morning flew by with meetings, race preparations and
the arrival of Jamie
and Donna. How good it was to see them again. Soon
enough I was standing at the
starting line behind -
One of the great things about the Sheep Mt race is that
it is put on by mushers, for mushers. Pretty much all
the race officials are mushers themselves, so they know
what's what. I was chatting with head timer/Iditarod
finisher, Bryan Bearass about the showers in Ruby while
waiting for my countdown, when I glanced down at my sled
and realized that I had hooked my snow hooks up to my
sled wrong. Damn! Bryan asked if I wanted to attempt to
fix it in the moments I had left, but it wasn't
something that was going to put the team at any risk, so
it was just going to have to wait. What a bonehead,
We were off. Sure enough, right out of the start chute I
was fighting my snow hook lines that kept slipping under
my runner. I was happy to finally get onto the straight
trail on the old highway and let the dogs stretch out
and blow off a bit of steam. Just before the trail
headed into the backcountry, I stopped to see if I could
fix my hook lines, but it wasn't a job I could do safely
on the trail. The problem was that I had neglected to
feed the lines through the hole in the front of my sled,
instead hooking them straight to the carabineer. That
meant that they were free to slip under the runners of
the sled, creating drag and affecting the steering.
We banged and crashed through the tussocks and rough
trail. Although I stayed on my runners, neither the dogs
nor I were having an enjoyable time. The dogs missed a
well-marked corner and wouldn't come back onto the main
trail. When I went up front to pull them back, I used a
spare neckline to 'McGyvor' my snow hook lines. That
seemed to work and the dogs and I took a couple deep
breaths and settled into the business of running, rather
then struggling with the sled.
We were moving along nicely, and I was really enjoying
the handling of my new Gatt Sled (which steers like
NOTHING I've ever driven before - even my other Gatt
sleds), even so a number of other teams caught and
passed us. No sweat, we were here to do our own thing
and that's what we were going to do.
The trail detoured off of last years route and up and
over Turtle Mt - I believe it was called. It was a tough
climb and the reward at the top was a lovely view, once
we were out of the ice fog that had enveloped us much of
We slide down the mountain and twisted and turned
through the valley on the other side. There was a bit of
overflow ice, but nothing to write home about.
At one point the trail swung left and
then dropped down onto an icy patch with a patch of open
water in the middle. Another team was on the far side
getting reorganized, my team headed straight for them
and I was heading straight for the hole. My attempts to
convince my sled to swing left just put me on my side
and I hit the water runners and feet first. Luckily, the
dogs kept pulling strongly and I was quickly out, though
my boot and legs were definitely wet.
I stopped right behind the other team. Moments later
Jessica Hendricks drug across the water on her stomach
and came to a stop beside me. Poor thing, she got much
wetter then I did. Another musher was dragged into the
pile up before the front team got straightened away and
we all got moving.
A couple miles later, Lance Mackey's well-oiled
'machine' of a dog team powered by us. I would have been
surprised if he hadn't won this race.
We continued to wind and snake through mountain valleys
as daylight slipped away. I stopped and put The Amazing
Kara in lead with Hilda. The team strongly drove up over
the last big climb of this leg, past the '4 Corners'
(out in the middle of nowhere) and down towards Eureka.
We spit out onto a lake and I was surprised to see a dog
team 'right in front' of us. Then I remembered that Zack
had warned that they had skirted the trail around one of
the big lakes to up the mileage of this leg, so in
reality, I was
about 1/2 mile behind that team, even though they were
only a couple hundred feet from me. Oh well!
A race judge was out there on a snow machine to make
sure no one was cheating and cutting across the lake! He
greeted me warmly by name as my team passed by. Everyone
can always tell who I am, even in the dark because of my
Alittle later then I had hoped, but with the dogs still
looking strong and spunky, we pulled into Eureka for our
first mandatory layover.
Jamie and Donna were on hand to help me get parked. It
was nice to have friends to visit with as I went about
my chores. The first thing I did after the dogs were fed
and bedded down was to properly reattach my snow hook
lines to my sled. It was a relief to have that mistake
The dogs were all on their straw, but few were actually
lying down - they were all sitting up staring at me. I
headed up to the lodge, knowing they would finally
settle down if I were out of sight.
I had been in about an hour when Zack Steer popped by to
mention that Mark wasn't in yet and to ask if I was
worried. I wasn't, so he wasn't - however when another
45 minutes or so had gone by, I confessed I was getting
I have every faith in my husband's abilities on a dog
sled, but I've been around long enough to know that
often things out of your control can go wrong out on the
It was a huge relief when fellow musher, Michael
Salvisberg came over to tell me Mark was in.
I tossed on my parka and still damp boots to head out to
check on him and the team. All 13 of them were in good
Weird things had indeed happened to Mark, but he kept
his head and made good solid decisions that were in his
and the dogs best interest. I was very proud of him.
So much for sleeping, it was time to soup the dogs
again. They all inhaled their soup and looked
expectantly at me for more. I told them they were going
to have to do some more running before they got to eat
Just before I was ready to leave another musher came by
looking for a headlamp bulb. Hers had blown and she
hadn't packed another one for the race. I always have
all kinds of spare bulbs, batteries and headlamps on a
race - I learned
that one as this young woman was - the hard way! I gave
her another and told her that I was leaving just a few
minutes behind her, so if she had any further problems
to stop and wait for me.
Finally it was time to leave. The dogs had lots of
energy, but Kara wasn't too interested in leaving her
straw bed. She twice attempted to head back to the straw
before resigning herself to heading out into the night.
That's my little
Once we got by all the straw piles and onto the trail
the team began to click. I have to say that that run
gelled into one of the nicest runs - a lovely night, a
strong dog team and a fun trail. That's about as close
to heaven as I know.
Kara and Hilda were stars. They powered up even the
steepest of climbs and zipped along the trails through
I never even bothered with my iPod, we just 'danced'
down the trail to the music of the night.
Sure enough the team in front of me again had headlamp
troubles and I came across them in the dark. I gave her
a new bulb and a backup. We ran together for a bit
before my team pulled away from her young dogs.
About 10 miles from Eureka I blew a headlamp bulb. I
quickly switched headlamps and kept going. Six miles
from Eureka I blew yet another! Go figure. I had to
fumble around in my sled bag for a while to locate my
backup backup headlight (I try not to change bulbs on
the trail unless I have to). Maybe giving away 3 of
those darn bulbs wasn't the smartest move! Oh well, only
6 miles to go and then my next run would be almost all
Coming back across the lake into Eureka I called up the
team and they moved readily into a solid lope. (Donna Q
told me that Mark's team, which was in the dog truck at
the checkpoint, started to howl moments before I pulled
in. I'm assuming they heard me call up my team!).
Jamie had kindly raked up all my straw into a long
skinny pile while I was gone, so I just pulled the dogs
into their parking spot and they all were able to
immediately bed themselves down.
They ate like starving wolves and then sat and stared at
me. I expected them to be more tired - they were at this
point last year. I wasn't sure this boded well for the
last leg. I was worried they weren't getting enough
I left them alone to settle down and headed up to the
lodge with all my headlamps in tow. Time to swap bulbs
and toss all the blown ones.
I had a huge omelet once the kitchen opened - too huge
actually. I was uncomfortably stuffed after eating it.
Again, I just wasn't up to sleeping. Really going 24
hours without sleep isn't a big deal for me.
I was right ready to go when my time was up. In fact,
the dogs and I were all up and raring to go long before
our 5 hours were up.
I had decided that Hilda had earned a break and put
Snickers up front with Kara for the last leg.
Jamie and some volunteers came by to lead my team over
to the starter. Despite both my feet on the brake, the
team blew off the help and charged up to the checkers on
They were much more jazzed for the leg home then last
year and I fretted over whether this meant we were going
to have a good run or not. I was worried they would
peter out over that last 50 miles if they left really
strong. Our usually
pattern is to start slow and finish strong.
On the count they charged out of the checkpoint and back
towards Sheep Mt. I pleaded with them for a while to
ease up a bit, but finally figured - what the heck - and
just enjoyed the ride.
Kara set a blistering pace around the lake and loped the
team up the start of most of the hills, but eventually
began to back off some. I stopped and tossed Dasher up
front with Snicks. I looked Kara over for problems, but
none. She was keeping up with the team, but not
contributing. I worked over the puzzle in my mind as we
moved along. Finally, I remembered much the same thing
had happened to her last year on this race and booties
had helped. I stopped and bootied all 4 of her feet. In
typical Kara ritual, she took 2 steps, wiggled her whole
body and then bounced forward into her harness. Within
about 2 miles I had my little leader back out in front
of the team and we were loping up hills
The last leg passed by remarkably quickly. It seemed
like much less then 5 hours when we pulled onto the
stretch of old highway that is the beginning of the
The dogs sailed across the finish line and pulled to a
stop with smiles and wagging tails. Bryan asked if I
wanted help to my truck and I declined. "Go to the truck
Kara" I asked after I was checked in and off we went.
Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about the
team. Kara, of course, was the star of the group, but I
was also very pleased with Hilda's leadership. Barq did
his first race ever with me and I have nothing but great
things to say about him. We are now reaping the rewards
of our patience with him over the years! Waiting for him
to 'grow up' is really paying off!
'Youngsters', Q and Jinx did a great job too. Out of the
veterans, I was most pleased with Herman, who was in
tremendous form for all 150 miles, although I have
nothing bad to say about any of the dogs on this race!
Definitely a weekend worth the drive!