I Think It’s Broke

They say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  Well, who ever said that was, most certainly, never a musher.  That’s because, more often than not, crap is always broken in our world. Our motto is more like, “If it ain’t broke, you’ll be screwed soon so get ready!”

There have been times when I wondered why we didn’t choose a sport that required less tools; like ice skating.  Oh gawd, imagine the stress of a broken skate lace.  Do you remember when Tanya Harding broke her lace at the Olympics and was crying with her leg up on the side of the rink?  Puleeze, that was some drama.  I’m tainted and cold; I just can’t empathize.   When a musher breaks his/her sled, if he/she survives in one piece, they better get creative real fast or they are usually stranded in the middle of nowhere with some very tonyarambunctious teammates threatening to break some more shit even if it means bones.  Yep, that’s something to cry about.  Can you imagine a musher dragging into the checkpoint then throwing their sled up on the table all whilst crying hysterically and demanding someone to fix the problem?  This horrific scene, which would certainly be the end of the sport, would be followed by having to watch the musher’s coaches scurry around trying to fix the sled to get them back on the trail.  Nope, I can’t imagine this either.   I prefer our  reality of seeing sleds arrive in checkpoints with a wide assortment of broken parts repaired MacGyver style with duct tape, string or wire and an assortment of miscellaneous items that proved to be useful in the repair.  We are the true MacGyver’s; the real deal.  The TV MacGyver is practically a hack compared to many mushers I know.  We are forced out of necessity and limited funds to tap into our ingenuity to make things work.  This is not on an occasional basis, this is on a daily basis.  I would have loved to see Tanya duct tape her skate together; now that would have made for some good TV.

Have you ever heard of a figure skater being behind in training because of a broken skate lace or a golfer that fell behind because his golf cart broke?  Nope, never heard it.   Have you ever heard of the ice rink not freezing?  Me either, but holy hell if that Zamboni breaks!  I have heard that there was no snow on the ski hill before, but then they just made some …. boo hoo!  I’d like to see them work that snow machine on our 50 mile trail.   Wouldn’t that be sweet!   Certainly, I’ve heard of the ski hill being icy, but that just makes them better skiers; ask any Michigander!   I’ve never heard of the slope being ruined because the cat hunters drove their trucks up and down it and if they did; they’d just pull out the snow machine maker and big groomer.  I’d love to see them ski on some of the conditions we are forced to take a dog sled on.  Nothing more exhilarating than running a trail rutted 12 inches deep with frozen ice, mud and minimal snow being pulled behind a team of maniac dogs that don’t really comprehend “Whoa” even though you’re screaming it!   Speaking for myself, I am not capable of making a video like Jeff King produced of last year’s Iditarod.  Mine would have been more like, “Oh shit, Holy Shit!  F’n Whoa! Oh my gawd, f’n stop …. STOP….. I said, fricken STOOOOOOPPP! skiier

You little mother f’rs I SAID F’N WHOA!!”   You would then probably see me dragging face first, muffled (thankfully) and then the camera would bust and go black.  Yep, that video would have been really edgy; you would have felt like you were there dying with me!  Nope, not ashamed to admit it either!  Just being real.

In mushing, even our clothing breaks!  I’ve never seen a golfer’s game affected because he had a broken zipper on his fly (would be entertaining, but not game threatening), but I have seen where a broken zipper on a parka in below zero weather can be real problem.  I own a jacket that cannot be unzipped.  You pull it over your head; problem solved.   Have you ever seen a gymnast show up with duct tape on her body suit because she had a tear?  Nope, never seen it.  However, many of us mushers are walking patchwork quilts of duct tape and glue; it adds character, especially when it’s your boots! 

Character, now that is something that evolves when your vehicle breaks.  When the hockey team’s bus breaks, they either get on another one or they get off and wait while it is being repaired.  Not such an easy task when you have 36+ dogs traveling with you.  You just can’t tell them, “Guys, we have to send the truck to the shop so grab your gear, disembark and entertain yourselves for a couple hours.”  No, that typically doesn’t work.  To make matters worse the dog truck almost always breaks just as you ardogtrucke leaving for the race or, better yet, during the race.  This is when you learn true patience and the art of staying calm.   No bigger punch in the gut than that sound of the engine trying to turn over when it’s -26F and all you get is WHIIIRRRRR, WHIIIR WHIR COUGH SPUTTER …… SILENCE.   Nope, that sucks.  We’ve seen teams have to disembark their truck and get on someone else’s to make it to another stage/checkpoint etc.  Talk about a chaotic nightmare.  Rarely, do the hockey team mates come off the bus bloodied because they had to sit next to a different partner in a strange bus.  No, this rarely happens, but it does in mushing!

I’m hard pressed to think of a team sport where the competition doesn’t continue even though a team mate is broken.  Football players are broken all the time; they just pull in an alternate and the game goes on.  However, when a musher is broken or the only gee/haw leader in the kennel is broken or the main handler; it’s likely you’ll not be going anywhere.   On the bright side, our sport hasn’t resorted to bashing in our competitors knees with crowbars; which we’ve seen in the violent sport of figure skating.  Mostly likely because the sport is silently violent by its pure nature.

What does silently violent mean?  Well, the most common and least discussed type of “broken” in mushing is when you have a broken musher or a broken handler.  This occurs from a long laundry list of activities required in the sport and the last being actual racing.  The sport is designed to tear the body up.  Unfortunately, the sport doesn’t allow the luxury of sitting on the bench and taking time off to heal so rarely do we stop working unless we are somehow monitored and forced to do so.  Nope, we are a collection of hunchbacked, bruised, fingerless and gimpy athletes that just keep on ticking.  You see, the hockey team still gets fed when the captain of the team is benched, but not in mushing.  Try feedingkatinjury 20+ dogs when you’re bed ridden from the flu or when you have a bulging disk; now we’re talking fun!  I can’t think of a sport where your teammates drag you behind a rope on a road either or where crashing into trees is a regular affair.  We are a chiropractor’s dream.   My chiropractor thinks I’m just the bomb.  He told me I was the subject of their family holiday discussion!  “Holy crap, your shoulders are so tight; have you been wrestling elephants?”

Now you can imagine how mentally tough it can be when everything that you require to be successful at your sport is broken.  This is what leads to broken attitudes.  We start out optimistic and we ride the slippery slope to desperation and despair and sometimes land in bitterness. If someone doesn’t throw you a lifeline before you hit bottom, you’ll likely get out of dogs.  Hence, the high turnover in our sport.  It’s a tough gig mentally and sometimes you just want to punch Polly Perky in the ole chopper!  Most of us have that energizer bunny problem though and we just keep ticking with jaws dragging on the ground until we get that next brief uplifting moment that carries us through to the next mental beating.  It’s the little things that get you through; trust me.quit

We’re getting through this year with the thought that we have all the broken stuff behind us.  The tally of broken crap at our kennel this year was as follows:  we had two broken ATV’s, a broken snowmobile, a broken groomer, a broken truck, a few broken (injured) dogs, broken refrigerator, broken freezer, broken doors on the trailer, broken hooks on the trailer, broken window on truck, broken vent on trailer, broken wiring on the trailer (several times), a couple broken handlers, a broken plow truck, some broken snow hooks, but the worst was the broken internet (a necessity for working mushers).  Whew, and this was all before the racing season started!

On the bright side, we managed through all of this without a broken marriage (believe me this happens)!

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Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

On The Trail With Mary

This blog is in memory of our dear friend and mentor, Mary Gilberston, who passed away this past Monday.family

I remember when I first got into mushing I was in awe by all the gals that bravely stood on the runners and headed into the wild woods on their own, just them and the dogs, for hours on end.  In my world, men did crazy crap like that without a care in the world, but not chicks.  Us girls are …. Ummmm …… smar …… more careful!!  I would listen to their tales of adventure and near misses and I’d wonder why they weren’t scared to death to stand on the runners.  When I met Mary, she was no different, except that she was much tougher.  Here was a gal in her 50’s running 12 dogs like it was nothing and I was near puking with the thought of getting on a team of four.  I remember feeling quite inadequate as a future musher.  I would watch her expertly handle and hook up her dogs calmly and always smiling.  It quickly became my aspiration to be Mary on the runners someday.  I wanted to step on the runners with 12 dogs without fearing for my life.  I wanted to calmly and with good humor hook up 12 maniacs with expertise.  Yes, I wanted to be Mary the musher!

As I slowly made my way through the college of mushing mishaps I continued to watch Mary with admiration.  This lady was one tough cookie.  I watched her walk away from running a high powered, string of dogs in the Midnight Run after crashing into a tree where she received a concussion and some broken ribs.  Was she crying?  Oh no, Mary still found the humor in this moment.  Not only that, but here she was with a sled wedged into a tree and herself down the side of some crazy hill and she still had the wherewithal to take care of those dogs and get them home safely.

MaryThen there was the UP 200 where someone put in a trail that should never be run by dog teams and she took a major spill and thought she had broken her arm. The lady was still smiling.

In the last Grand Portage race there was minimal snow with a hill coming out of the checkpoint that was so steep it was a sled destroyer.  I saw men mushers concerned about taking hot teams, in icy conditions, in the dark, down the hill from hell.  Well, Mary just laid that sled on its side and rode down in style; probably smiling!  In the same race, less than ¼ mile from the finish in No Man’s Land, she let Bruce pass her on a hill and yelled, “Don’t let Lloyd know that I let you pass me!” followed by her great laughter.  This lady was a class act on the trail.

She once told us a story, that I thought only MacGyver could pull off, about when her team got on an icy road and she couldn’t stop them as they careened towards the highway.   She climbed over her sled and got to the gang line and then shimmied her way up the line unhooking tugs while a rooster tail of down feathers followed her as her down coat was being shredded by the road.

Then there was the time out west when she was supposed to do a 15 mile training run and was gone for several hours because she got lost in the mountains by herself.  Then the year of the Epic Storm at Stage Stop when the teams were out in blizzard conditions and Mary’s team just quit on her.  She struggled for hours trying every leader combination there was before finally throwing in the towel.  Did she cry?  No, she was disappointed, but never without a smile.dog-smile-2

Yes, this lady was a mushing goddess in my books.  Nothing phased her and through it all she was always smiling, laughing and the epitome of good sportsmanship.

So in reflecting on these memories I have to ask myself if I’ve achieved Mary Mushing status and the answer is, “Hell No!”   I have learned a few things and I’d like to share one of them with all the newby mushers out there.

All of those lady mushers out there that seem so calm, cool and collected before a race; that doesn’t really exist!  It is a façade.  Even Mary got super nervous before a race.   As a matter of fact, most chick mushers I talk to are super nervous before the big race.  There’s frankly nothing more terrifying than your imagination and all the mishaps it will put you in on the big day.

Mary’s service was Saturday, but Lloyd told us to go to the races and win some for Mary and so we headed out with the mission in sight.  I didn’t really get nervous until I woke up at 4:30AM and my crazy mind had me dragging down the trail, missing turns, lost in the woods, dogs not passing, bones breaking, dogs dying and me losing the team.  I told Bruce when he woke up that I was retiring because I hated racing and didn’t understand why in the heck I put myself through this crap.  I then remembered my first race and Mary and her friend Judy telling me that nerves were something everyone dealt with; which led to pukesome crazy story about drinking pepto bismal and puking on race day.

I decided retiring would have to wait until after this race because this one was being dedicated to Mary.  So after an evening of worry about massive snowfall; which left us with the possibility of another Snowmaggedon, in the words of Frank Holmberg, we woke to clear skies and bitter temps and some wind.  The kennel had been training 21 adults and another 21 dogs made up the yearling team.   We lost a couple dogs to injuries and pulled two in from retirement so that we could field 5 teams.  Bruce ran a 10-dog team that had some young leaders and other question marks that we were trying to determine if they should go to Stage Stop.   Al ran a 10-dog team consisting of 6 yearlings and some B team veterans.   I had an 8-dog team of veterans with two 2 year old leaders; which I lovingly refer to as unguided missles.   Kat had an 8-dog team led by a couple of crack gee/haw B team leaders, 3 dogs off the A team, 2 yearlings and another B stringer.   Al-Jo’s 6-dog team consisted of a group of dogs coming off the injury list that we were working back into the mileage; an A-team leader and a healthy 11 year old retiree, two yearlings, a retiree that had broken his wrist in the spring and had it pinned and another A-team dog.

All of us were unsure of what we had going into this race.  The dogs had been running nice, but like many mushers we were worried about our front end and what we would discover, with the exception of Kat and Al-Jo who had phenomenal leaders.   We had the opportunity to do some passing training when the Fortiers came to visit over the holidays, but it did little for the confidence meter.

The hooking up of 5 teams with zero handlers went flawlessly!  I am in awe at our team and how each one of us held our composure like professionals and got every team to the line without a hitch!  It was pretty awesome to see us all function like a well-oiled machine.

We chose to boot all 42 dogs given the temperatures. This, of course, led to my near loss of composure when I saw every single 8-dog team hooking up without booties.  I must have jumped in the truck 5 times checking the temps.  I stripped the boots off of one dog and then changed my mind and re-booted.  I was entering freak out zone and then I just said, “Stick with the plan!”  Man, I REALLY HATE THE BOOTIE DILEMMA!

My little black missiles Packwa and Fala were super exited in the chute.  As we got situated in the chute, I realized that the team in the chute next to me was Kris Sampson, a serious contender.  I had heard that this was one of those athletic guys that spends as much time running behind his dogs as he does on the runners.  I knew he would be gunning for me and I wondered how long it would take.   However, I have a rule when I’m racing; NEVER look back.  This allows me to maintain my focus on the team, my race and how we’ve trained and I accept that the cards will fall where they may.

The first handful of passes went fairly well; which eased my mind working with two young leaders in very tough passing conditions; the trails are very tight and there is a lot of snow when you get off the trail.  This makes for ugly passing sometimes and especially as the race wears on.   I quickly realized that despite the fact that I had tried on 50 different clothing options; I chose the wrong one.  When I left the cabin I was sweating and almost changed to something lighter.  Thank God I didn’t because I would have died of hypothermia out there. cold I was frozen before the 5 mile mark and quite miserable.  We only had one issue when my leaders were insisting on trying to run through some lathe that led down the training trail we had been using all winter, but a gracious volunteer helped get me out of that potential mess.  As we neared our cabin; which is about 12 miles out I contemplated saying the hell with this and pulling in to get warm as I could no longer feel my big toe or a couple fingers.  I thought, “What would Mary do?”  Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now she would have kept on smiling and continued.  So I did ….. maybe without the smile.smile 4

We got by our cabin with no issues and quickly after I passed Kat, without a hitch, and her team was moving nice.  Then I hear, “Hey Monica, can I get by?”   I turned and there was Kris Sampson.  I let him by and then I hear within seconds, “Trail!”  I’m thinking, “Who the hell is that?”   I realize that it is the gal that traveled with Kris to the race, Keri.   I let her by.  I then see Kris notice Keri and she threw her arms in the air; which appeared to me, at that moment, like a mini-victory dance.  I proceeded to watch as they both ran and poled up the hills pulling away from me and the wind left my sails.   In a moment of pity I thought, “I’m flipping old and I don’t have a pole.  Their team is not booted and mine is; this is hopeless.”  I then spoke out loud to Mary and said, “Hey, Mary it isn’t supposed to never give upgo down this way!”  Suddenly, my competitiveness kicked in and I thought, “Ok, this isn’t over until the finish line; so bring it!”  I weighed my options and decided that if I could keep them in sight without over running my team that this was doable; then I lost sight of Kris.  Within a very short time after the pass, as we entered the hilly section of the trail, I could see that Keri’s team wasn’t climbing well and we were reeling her in.  I was pumping and running for everything my old body was worth; which on the open market wouldn’t be much!  We completed the pass and I never looked back.

The team wasn’t flashy, but they were consistent and we kept a great momentum and rolled through the hilly section picking off teams here and there.  Meanwhile, all of my digits were freezing.   I mildly started panicking when I couldn’t feel my middle finger any longer.  I tried everything to bring life back, but it wasn’t happening.  As it started becoming painful I was freaking out, “Does this mean it’s thawing or does this mean it is dying!?!?   OMG, WHAT IF THEY HAVE TO AMPUTATE MY MIDDLE FINGER; I’ll never be able to drive again or truly express myself!”   I thought, “What would Mary do?”  I chose to tough it out and THINK about smiling.   After about 30 miles into the race and no sign of Kris, I spoke to Mary and said, “Hey Mary, we’re running out of time!”  Not long after this I noticed a couple mushers in the distance and one appeared to be running and poling.  I thought, “No, this can’t be; it’s a mirage.  Pure wishful thinking!”  As I got closer I realized it was Kris Sampson and I became possessed.   I yelled to Mary, “Mary, that’s him let’s go get him!”   I called the team up and they responded.  Slowly we reeled him in and Kris greeted me like the ultimate sportsman with, “Nice racing!” and then we high fived.  We made the pass and I never looked back.

I figured we were about 7 miles out at this point and from here the team just started rolling.  I think they were feeding off my energy and that Mary was giving us an updraft.  We hit the main road home and they picked the speed right up to 14.5 mph, which was awesome given what they just ran through and given the conditions and booties.  I refused to look back, but kept hoping that Kris wouldn’t be able to call his team up and make for one of those neck and neck races; I’m too old and out of shape for that crap!  By the time we hit the plowed road they were rolling at 17 mph and as excited as me to get back to the truck.  We rolled through the finish line without stopping straight to the truck!

This has come down to my favorite win as I really felt like I did a great job keeping my head and managing my team like they had been trained.  Several people commented that the team looked like they were ready to turn around and do it again; which is an awesome compliment.

Mary had her work cut out for her on Saturday watching over 5 Magnusson Racing teams all running in her honor so she was stretched a bit thin.   Being the consummate professional that she was, she still  somehow managed to bring three of our teams to 1st place.  Al Borak took home 1st place in the 10-dog.  My guess is that since Mary knew Al much longer than Bruce so she had to leave Bruce on his own for a few; which resulted in some delays!  I pulled off 1st in the 8-dog and since Mary didn’t know Kat; that was a no brainer.  Then for the icing on the cake she was there for Al-Jo who took 1st place in the 6-dog.

After the race that evening, I was so sore I could barely move.   My toes hurt, my fingers hurt and every muscle in my back.  I wanted to whine and complain, but instead I thought of Mary and went to bed with a smile instead.

Morale of this story; when you’re on the runners just keep on smiling no matter what!smile dog

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Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

Dat Kopper Kontri Hound Rase

Growing up my dad instilled in me a strong sense of pride to be a Finlander.  SISU wassaad-sisu-avatar2 probably one of my first words and I bet most of my friends growing up didn’t have a clue who the Flying Finn was, but I did!  In my dad’s world, if you were finnish, then you were kin!  When we bought our cottage on the lake the first people we met were all the finlanders.  My dad would drive around and see a finnish name and that was invitation enough to drop in.  In the summer we would drive to the U.P. to visit family and it seemed like I had family everywhere.  We’d pull off on a road where logging was underway and there would be a relative.  We’d stop in the local Rockland Bar and we’d find family. Passing through Bruce’s crossing we’d find relatives.  I grew up to love the U.P. and all its unique qualities and I’m very proud to have family that still live all over the western side of the U.P.   Every year that Bruce and I come back to the Copper Country, I just revel in the all the unique things about this special place:  the mines, the finnish street signs, the ice sculptures, all the pasty shops, the old buildings made out of rock and, most importantly, the friendly souls that live here.  I truly love da U.P. and I’m proud to have roots here!  It’s not surprising that my dad retired here and my brother went to college at Michigan Tech.  Now, I am following tradition by racing dogs here.

One thing that I’ve noticed has changed in the U.P. is that the unique yooper dialect has virtually disappeared.  Every once in a while you’ll find an old timer that has that fun cadence, but you don’t hear it very often.  This is sad to me as it was one of the very unique things about the area.   Growing up my family spent many nights sitting around reading old finglish folk tales.   Finglish is part English and part Finnish; which is where the yooper dialect hails from.  As a kid, I can remember watching the adults sitting familyaround drinking beers, taking saunas and telling finglish folk tales.  Some of my relatives speak finnish and they could add a real authenticity to these stories that just made you cry in laughter.  In honor of the good old days and to this unique dialect I thought it would be fun to share our Copper Dog experience in my version of finglish since I don’t speak Finnish.  To truly enjoy this story you must read it out loud in your best finglish accent!

Dat Kopper Kontri Hound Rase

Brusee and I rolled into da town of Calumet early Tursday eveneen und vee vere retty to rase.   Vee hat ten hunds vith us; Sedona (vee call her dona fer short), Kaloof (vee call heem idyut fer obvyees reasons), Durbin, Triscuit and Zesty (dey are from da cracker litter), Sik Sik and Spike (dey are da main leaders), Provo, Penny und den dare vas Drift (a bik galoof of a hund).  Dem hunds vere ready to roll or so vee thought.   Fritay night vas colt and dey vere calleen fer temps dat could freeze yer ass hairs off or in dem hunds case dere pecker hairs.   Dis vas very concerneen to us as dog jewelsseveral of our hunds have no hair on dere jewels.  Dey as naked as jaybirts.   Dat meant vee hat to protect dem or dem jewels vould vind up being ice cubes and den dere might be no jewels.  Vhat goot is a boy hund vith no jewels?  Dem girl hunds be lookin at him vondereen, “Vhat da hell do vee do vit dat?”  Sooo vee hault out da bodycotes und suited dem hunds up.  Dis included some of da girls dat have hat babies as vee didn’t vant dere udders to fall off.  So most of da team vas dressed for da artic.  Vee put da boots on fortee damn feet.  Oh siit, dat is bad on da back.  Geeze-o-Pete I felt like I been on a berry pickin maraton dat lasted a year.  I manich to git straight upright und vee hooked da hunds onto da gankline.  Dey vas howleen und screameen like a pack a volfs, eh.    Earlier I hat traded in my stocking chuke (hat) fer an Alaskan kromer complete vith a bik fox tail.  I vas feeleen artic sexy vhipping dat tail arount da place and I vas varm like a hund in front of da fireee.  Vhile vee vas vaiteen dough I started to feel varm, but da veather idiyot said it vas goeen ta be 12 below da zero, eh.  I kuld not belief vhat I vas feeleen, but it vas too late; da hunds vere headeen to da soot.  Holy Wah, da team took off like a Floridian fleeing da snow.  I high fived Brusee and yelled, “Give er tarpaper, eh!”  Vhen I got back to da truck the temps had risen and vee had a virtual sauna at 8 dekrees.

In da Eagle Harbor vee vere assigned a parking spot right befur da timeen finiss.  I vas concernt dat dem hunds vould run to da truck befur dey crossed da line.   Dey ain’t no dummies; dey know where da varm bed is und all da goot vittles.  Da formal finiss line vas 200 yards furder down da road und da situation looked hopeless.   After I assed, da officialees told me dat vee could stand right by da timeen line.  Dis vas goot so I kuld call dem flying hunds to me and hopefully avay from da snow tank, eh.  It vurked!  Vee averted disasteree.     Da team vas in goot shape, but Brucee hat many troubles on da trail.  Da lead duo decided dey was too smart fer dis siit und started flakeen out on all da road crosseens.  I guess dey didn’t like all da flasheen lights und glowing people.  Guess you can’t blame dem, da crosseens look like an accident scene.  Youda tink dat Grandma got run over by a reindeer!  Anyhoo, a friend say dat wee were faster den everyone on da trail, but vee lost a ton of time on da crosseens.  duct tapeBrucee said at one point he vas being taped vhile he undid a big tangle and he pretended he had duct tape on his mouth so he didn’t say vat he vas really tinkin.  Dere could have been a lot of bleep bleepees on dat dere tape, eh!  So our circus act vound up vith da 6th place after stage 1.  Vee had some vurk to do.

On day two, vee left vith 9, vich vas our plan.  Da hunds vere happy und vee hoped for a goot run.  Vee vent vith no boots on da hunds.  My back vas tankful for dat.  It vas still above da zero vhen da team left.  After da team left, I did vhat any goot handler vould do; I tore tail outta dere und headed straight to da Tamarack fer some hangover hash!  Dems some friendly folks dat run dat place and holy wah, dats a goot breakfast.  Da hunds came in lookeen spry und happy.  Dey past dere visit vith the hund doctor vit flying colors.  Vee had some sore feet und von girl had a minor sore bicep, but she’s a tough one und I felt I could vork it out fore morneen.  Afta vee doctored dem up vee vent und ate some more vittles.  I tink I found 5 pounts at dis checkpoint.  Vhile vee vere eatin da craziest ting happen.  I vas laid by da vet team.  Yeppers, ya heard dat right.  I got laid right dere in da restaurant.  It vas nutz I tell ya.  A vet gal in a flowered shirt vith some flowers in her hair come over and she put this red plastic lei thingy arount my leigirlneck.  I bout died laugheen.  Boy, dat don’t happen at many rases.   Anyhoo, vee talked to several teams dat eveneen and it appeared dat da 2nd stage sorted out a few teams as dey struggled vith some injured dogs.  Vee vound up takeen da 3rd placee  on dis stage.

On day tree, vee woke up und hell hat frozen over.  It vas -12 below und da vind vas blowin like a hund on beans.  I vas too lazy to haul out the artic kromer und so I just froze my ars off.  Ya ain’t no true yooper until ya got a little frost bite on yer face, eh!  We walked da hunds vhen vee got up and dey all looked goot axsept our bik galoof hund.  He vas bein a bik babee und limpin a bit.  I cided to pull him so dat Brucee didn’t vind up giving da 68 lb lug a ride home.  Dat vould have been like hualeen a Volvo in da slederi, eh!  Vee took off vith 9 hunds und dey vere all happy to go, but von of dem sonsabeetchs vas lyin.  Brucee vas makin goot time, but den about 8 miles from da finiss a team dog, dat SOB dat vas lying, startet necklineen and needed to be put in the sledari und dis shut da team down.  Soon after von of da leaders started falleen off und da udder vas pulleen him like she vas draggeen a cow to da field.   Brucee debated about moveen dat dragger out, but didn’t.  In hind site, he should have as it may have been the forty seconds vee lost to canuckAaron Peck.  I tell ya those damn Kanucks you invite dem to a race and not only do dey vin the damn think, but den dey beat ya by forty seconds and vorse dan dat dey beat us in da hockey!  Damn dem Kanucks from the Great White North.  Dey sure do know how to train some fast just hunds dough, gotta give dem dat.   Vee vere tinkin our team must have snuck a pasty or two as dey didn’t have vhat it took dis veekent.   Dats da dog raceen dough.  You vin some und you lose some.  Dis veekend vee lost da rase, but vee von from the experience and da friendships. 

This year’s Copper Dog drew the best field of competitors to race in this area in a long time and it was very exciting.   Competitors came from all over the continent.   We saw teams from as far west as Alberta, Canada and Alaska and as far east as Ontario, Canada.  Representing the middle of the country were teams from Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.   Some of these teams could have stayed at home and avoided long drives, but instead they chose to come because they preferred the tougher competition!

The race didn’t disappoint and a spectacular event was put on, once again.  Smart decisions were made on the fly, improvements from past lessons were obvious and the energy was awesome.  We cannot commend the RGO of Copper Dog enough for the outstanding event they pulled off.  Their enthusiasm, energy and efforts show in the world class event they put on and it is appreciated more than you’ll ever know.  Aaron Peck spoke openly about his concern for our sport as there are fewer and fewer races being put on, but he was given renewed hope for our sport after experiencing the Copper Dog.  The manner in which this community embraces our sport brings tears to my eyes.   During this one weekend we experienced; gifts from the hotel where we stayed (AmericInn), discounted meals from restaurant owners, drinks bought for us from fans of the sport, random fans wishing us luck and the friendliest and most welcoming feeling from the community.   We have raced in several different parts of the country and none are able to top the overwhelming friendliness or the spirit of copper country.   If you have not put this race at the top of your list for 2015, you need to.   This is not just a race, it is an experience; an experience you will take with you for a long time.

I would also like to be so bold as to encourage other RGOs to really look hard at what this race is doing.  You may find answers to your low entries and many other problems plaguing your race.   These guys have figured out a way to be progressive and to build a symbiotic relationship with mushers that works towards constantly improving the event.  They understand that the race, the competitors, the community and, most importantly, the dogs must all benefit from this event.  We cannot have a successful mushing event without all parties working together.  Our sport is changing and race organizations, as well as, competitors need to evolve to help keep this sport alive.   Too often we get stuck in a rut and continue to do things status quo because we’ve always done them that way.  We are afraid of change or we are afraid that change will leave us behind.  If you are one of those people, you need to watch the video, “Who Moved My Cheese” to understand how evolving in life and not being let behind is truly dependent on constantly changing.   There are so few races out there and too many that need to move some cheese. cheese

Posted in Dog Racing 2014 | Leave a comment

Back In The Saddle

It’s amazing how much happens in this race in just two days.  I feel like it’s been a week since I last blogged.   We woke in Big Piney to -11F, which was much warmer than they had predicted and the winds were minimal.   Our goal this day was simply to break our dog bagging trend and have a clean run.  So we pulled everything out of our arsenal to get rid of the bad juju.   First we requested the services of some of our big lobed friends to sprinkle good juju around the truck.   One wonderful friend actually danced around the entire truck sprinkling her good luck; if only I had a video!  Other’s came by and wished us luck.   Another left sage on our truck; which we also put in the sled bag!!   This was great since the enlargement of Bruce’s lobes was a total failure.

We hooked up 10 healthy dogs.  Everyone was booted and several were coated to protect them from the bitter temps.   Nearly every team was fully booted and many dogs were wearing protective coats and furs.   This was the first time in 9 years of coming here that we saw so many teams booted and coated for multiple stages.  It was really nice to see the care being given these amazing athletes.

Bruce said the trail was punchy, but not as bad as we’ve seen in the past.   There were sections where the dogs would punch through 7-8”.  The down hills really had to be controlled in the punchy stuff to prevent injuries so they were very slow.   Bruce’s leaders went a bit flat after punching through for several miles.   They motored along, but they were still running cautious; which slowed them a bit.   The good news was that our juju elimination efforts had worked and we successfully completed the stage without bagging a dog.   This was cause for celebration!celebrate

So there might be some out there arrogantly thinking, “No wonder you’re doing so poorly if you’re setting your goals so low.”   Well, that’s one way to look at it, but if you’ve never done this race and never rode the IPSSSDR roller coaster, you will never understand.   Those of us who seem to have permanent tickets on the coaster understand the emotional strain the ride causes.   You get on that coaster feeling confident and energized.   You sit in the front row and are ready to ride with no hands!  The first hump is exhilarating and then you do one of those long swoopers that take your breath away and you want off the damn ride.   It is guaranteed that at some point in the race you will say, “OMG, I cannot believe we have 4 more stages.  How are we going to finish this race?”   Sometimes it even crosses your mind to pack the truck and head home.   Then before you know it you will be thinking, “Geez, I cannot believe it is almost over.”  One minute you are on top of the world and feeling invincible and the next minute you are a slug sucking mud.  So after having 4 long swoopers in a row we had lost our stomach for the ride.   To regroup and get through this thing we knew that we needed to take baby steps and it flippen worked.    We broke the cycle and moved up in the standings to be within striking distance.

We are cresting the hill, but we are not so confident that we didn’t take the opportunity to garner some more good juju and so we went big.   You can call it ironic or maybe it was fate or I suppose it could be coincidence, but the juju thing went to a religious level when apriest man of the cloth sat at our dinner table last night.  That my friends is some good juju!!  I felt it was a sign and when he blessed our dogs; I damn near jumped with joy.   If he only knew how perfect his timing was!

As it stands now we are slugging it out for 5th place with Alix and Stacy.   There is 4-5 seconds between us and Alix and about 4 minutes between us and Stacy.   We were very excited for Kemmerer as the team seems to be over the hump and are now getting hardened and re-energized.  They were all bouncing out of the truck this morning.  Everyone was eating and drinking and attitudes were high.  We felt awesome heading to the staging area and knew that this stage could really mix things up.

The drive in to the staging area was a little concerning.   We had heard there were going to be 30-40 mph winds and snowfall anywhere from 4-12”.  The area is wide open with lots of rolling hills and no trees.  It was snowing and overcast and all you could see was blinding whiteness with some glimpses of a fence line.  At times it was difficult to see the edges of blizzardthe road.  As you drive this ribbon of a road until it dead ends you start to feel all alone and every year you can’t help but question if you are going the right way.   As we neared the starting line the weather became worse.   It was so bad that a plow truck was coming at us from the opposite direction and we couldn’t see the road well enough to move over to the side.  I had to lean out of the window to see if we had any room to move over.

The mood in the staging area was a bit reserved as everyone was realizing that they were in for a very rough day.   I knew that I would be a wreck worrying all day as we have seen too many scary things happen on this stage.  We prepped everything as the wind literally beat us with snow.  Then as I finished greasing the last dog’s feet I looked up and saw Jenny Gregor taking dogs off the line and back to the truck.  I thought, “WTH, did she scratch?”   I continued my prepping and then I saw Bruce talking with some other mushers and then disappear.   A minute later he comes back and said, “The stage is cancelled, we are not going!”    Apparently, the groomer could not get through as there was 36” of drifted snow on the trail and the winds were so strong the trail markers kept blowing over.  They were too afraid that if they did get through they wouldn’t be able to keep the trail open for the return.

It was disappointment, relief and bewilderment all rolled into one.  However, being all too familiar with the challenges of this stage in inclement weather we supported the decision and understand the safety concerns behind the decision.    I just wonder why this couldn’t have happened on one of our bad stages?  Instead, it happens just when we need to make a move; hmmmm is that more bad juju?  The last time this happened to us we were in a close battle for a higher position with Doug Swingley and it was the very last stage.    Nothing is more disappointing then to not get your shot to correct things in this race.  It’s one thing when you run out of racing, but when the weather denies you the chance to race, it pretty much sucks.

So we have one stage left now to right this ship and we will be coming to the line with everything we got!


Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

Oooops We Did It Again

When we woke this AM it was -20F and when we arrived at the race site it was -25F!  Just COLDa tad chilly.   It was strongly recommended by Race Marshall that all teams booty dogs and that if any dogs were not booted they would be checked for splits and pulled from the team that day.  Every team I saw had booties, with the exception of a couple dogs, and many had coats and furs to protect the dogs.  The temps stayed frigid the entire day with no relief.  When we pulled out it was still -23F on the temperature gage!  The trail was in awesome condition and the best Bruce has ever seen.  However, we threw some salt on our frozen wounds with another bad run.

In the words of Britney Spears, “Ooops we did it again!”  That’s right we bagged another dog and the brave soul that I am is telling the world.   This time we went for broke and carried the 55lb dog for 40 miles!!  Certainly, there must be a puke green bib for this huge feat.  We have now acquired Master Dog Bagging Status.  It’s like being a black belt and takes years to perfect!

So the big question is WHY???  How can you keep winding up in this situation?   Good questions.   We can now rule out that Lander has bad juju.   The only obvious answer is that WE have bad juju.   Over a couple of slaw dogs we further investigated this “Cosmic Luxa Flux” with some fellow mushers after the race.   We learned that both of us have small luck buckets BECAUSEEEEEEE, according to ancient Chinese face reading theories, we both have small ear lobes!   That’s right; small ear lobes. lesson_7_small_ear  Go figure.  The problem was right in our face; literally! I presently have Bruce’s ears attached to strings tied to the door knobs on opposite ends of the room in an effort to increase the size of his lobes.  Plus, I have arranged for fellow big lobed friends to show up at the truck tomorrow to sprinkle a little luck around the truck. fairy cartoon

If you’re thinking that this is starting to sound like crazy talk, you are on to something.   These are the type of conversations that occur after running 5 stages.   This is the craziness that seeps in when all you want to do is find answers to your problems.   Shoot, I’d by a crystal ball if I thought it would help.  Here is what I can tell you.   We bagged the same dog today that we bagged on day 2.   He was checked over thoroughly and palpated in every way imaginable.  Muscles checked out great, mood checked out great, hydration/nutrition were great and he was moving fine in the parking lot with no obvious gait issues.  This dog was ready to go.  We thought that he was bagged the first day due to cramping and the way he jumped back quickly led us to further believe this.   He was on fire in the chute.

3 miles out he literally laid down and said, “NO, I’m not going!”   So Bruce bagged him.  He was now faced with 40 miles to go, -25 below temps and 9 dogs left on the line to make it up several long climbs.  Bruce was dressed like a Polar Explorer and given the situation he should have had on running shoes and spandex. Needless to say the situation overcame his emotions and after many expletives and cussing at everyone he could think of (including myself), the team immediately went flat.   He realized that it wasn’t the team’s fault and quickly got control of his emotions to try and make the best of his situation.  The team got passed by a couple of teams and this jazzed them up and they started rolling.  The desire and training was there, but they were handicapped and we couldn’t overcome to try and maintain anything in the top ten.

The vets looked at the dog and agreed with all muscular assessments and then noticed the dog was seriously out of adjustment as one side of the ribs was flat and the other was rounded.   This observation was only noticeable to the trained eye.  It was a relief to see that they found something and a bummer that we were not skilled enough to catch it.    We also learned that one of the other dogs that was bagged in Lander had a rib out of adjustment and muscularly she is also fine.  The dog that was bagged in Alpine just ran the last two stages and led Pinedale and has been on fire.

To the best of our abilities we are going to try and break this cycle tomorrow and it’s all in the big guy’s hands.  The trail is supposed to be 38 miles.  Temps are expected to be -20 – 25F again so we expect to booty and coat our dogs. If all goes well, Bruce’s ear lobes will be so huge in the morning that we could not possibly have bad luck!lobes


Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

Lander Has Bad Juu Juu

I was talking to a friend the other day that was telling me her theory on life.   She calls it the “CosmicLuxaFlux”.  According to her, you have to give back to get good stuff in return.  If you are too cocky in life, you’re taking from your luck bucket.  No one knows how big their personal luck bucket is if you are not re-filling it; it could be empty or running out.  Well, I’m here to tell ya; I don’t know what we did, but our Cosmicluxa is flucked.  It’s either that or Lander just has bad juu juu!

Telling today’s story is tough as the feeling from today is all too familiar to us and it’s getting a little old.  Girl’s just wanna have fun!!  If you can hear a banging noise; that is us banging our heads against the wall, AGAIN!    Someone please remind me why we do this year after year?

I begrudgingly will share the down and dirty of today’s events; however, I am only doing this for all my fellow mushers out there that are familiar with head banging.  Know that you are not alone!

We woke to zero degrees and calm weather.   As we drove South pass up to the trail head cold-cartoon-manthings began to change considerably.   Upon arrival it was -7F and windy with blowing snow.   It was frigid with the wind chill and our immediate concern was protecting the dogs.  So as per usual the big bootie dilemma became the topic of conversation.   Do we or don’t we.   One thing we learned is that we cannot talk to western mushers for their advice on this matter as it never seems to translate to our dog’s feet.   Their dogs are conditioned to run in that type of snow and environment and they do not experience problems with the feet to the extent that we’ve seen.  At any rate, the consensus amongst mushers was about 50/50 on whether or not to wear booties.

Streepers showed up to the line with both teams fully coated and booted.   Aaron Peck did not.  Dave Turner did not.  Stacy Teasley did not.  Dennis Laboda did, Jeff Conn did, JR Anderson did, Jerry Bath did not, Jenny Gregor did, Ryan Redington did, Andrew Letzring did, Frank Moe I do not believe he booted, Alix Pearson did not, Slyvain did.  Given what West Yellowstone had already done to the feet we made the decision to booty.

As the teams left it was apparent that our close competition was going for broke as they did not booty.   We expected that the non-booted dog teams would have better runs and they did.  We had to run our team and our situation and we went willingly into this situation.  What was not in our estimation was that we would run into further problems on 223734-royalty-free-rf-clipart-illustration-of-a-big-dog-carrying-a-man-by-dennis-cox-at-wackystockthe trail; which resulted in yet another bagged dog.   We are not missing physical injuries, but seem to have some other issues going on that we are trying to work through.  In the meantime, we may now have the record for most consecutive bagged dogs.  Is there any day money for that?

So tomorrow is a 43 mile run.   The weather is expected to be -20F in town and we were told that at the trail head we could see -25 to -28F!   They have told us the trail is windblown in sections and they are going to try and groom tonight.  We’ve been here long enough to know that this means the trail could be pure hell tomorrow.  Last year there were sections that were wind-blown bottomless pits.  Well, doesn’t that sound like a total blast?!?!?   We had a long 4136R-175discussion today about the booty situation and we have committed that we will booty in these temperatures regardless of what it does to our standings.   We are going to proceed with this race in a manner that is most comfortable to us and let the cards fall where they may.  Too shay!

A huge shout out to Stacy on her win today – You rock sista!!

Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

Train, Train

So I’m seriously slacking in the blog department.   Yesterday I thought I was over the hump on this head cold only to discover soon after the race I was not!  My energy meter went below zero and I found myself bed bound for the entire evening.  Nothing like having a major head cold during an 8-day race to make it enjoyable; makes Monica bunches of fun!

So enough of that, let’s talk racing.   We woke to 2 degrees and snow falling steadily.  This year they shut down Yellowstone Avenue and had the start right in the heart of the town; which drew more spectators than the previous year.  They brought in snow to make a nice trail down the main avenue.  It was about 1/2 mile of trail to get out of the town.   Bruce left with 11 dogs.   He was conservative going out until they got into a groove.  The trail climbed on the way out  for about 19 miles then there was an 11 mile loop on top and they descended on the same trail they came in on to the finish line, which was a few blocks from the start. The trail had 2-3” of fresh snow on top of mealy snow, but there was some hard packed areas of the trail.  At about 6 miles one of his leaders stopped and turned into the team for no reason, which was not a good indicator.  The team got back on track and they were moving nice.  Stewart caught him 7.5 miles intrain and they just stroked by him.   On a long incline Bruce spotted Buddy coming. At this point in the blog you should click on this link  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuWt8Y9RvLw and listen to Blackfoot’s “Train, Train” to get the full effect of what it is like experiencing the Streeper machine approaching you on the trail.   Imagine a dog freight train, smoke coming out of their noses, no whistles, but a rhythmic pounding of their pads.  The rhythm starts out slow and rapidly picks up pace.  Now you’ve got the picture.   Bud caught Bruce at 16 or so miles and literally left him.  We have raced Bud’s team several times now and this year, thus far, has been something different.  The team is so strong it leaves your jaw hanging after they cruise by.  Funny thing, this year in our first race our team plowed through 18” of fresh snow for the win and I believe I used the term “freight train” to describe how they plowed through that snow.    I now have a new reference for freight train and I realize that we were merely a toy train.train-cartoon1

When the teams crested the mountain the weather declined.  The wind started whipping and visibility went to hell.   You could see your team, but you could not see the trail.  Bruce just kept focused and hoped the dogs could tell where they were going.   Bruce started to catch teams at the top of the hill as they got jazzed when they started seeing other teams.  When he caught Jerry Bath, he learned that Jerry had gone off trail due the visibility.  The trail went right and his dogs went left.   He was unable to hook down to guide them back to the trail so he patiently coaxed them back to the trail.   As I understand it went something like this, “Please gee, Puleese Gee, Gee, GOOOOD, Gee!”

About 3 miles from the finish, Bruce’s dog Zephyr started slowing the team downhill.  He had been off all day, but wasn’t holding them up until they started to descend.   Bruce put him in the bag for the ride home.  He could see Aaron Peck up ahead, but did not know it was him.   Had he not had to carry Zephyr he thinks he would have caught him.

Jeff Conn came in first and he had a very nice run and the team looked good.  The Streeper teams came in one right after the other and looked like they were ready to do another 60 miles.  I was looking for any weak dogs in the team and found none.  Seriously, every team usually has at least one dog that is off when they come in, but these dogs looked like they had just run 10 miles.   We’ve seen Streeper’s dominate in the past, but we’ve not seen a team of this caliber before.

Interestingly, an armchair musher made a public post after the Alpine leg stating it was boring to see the Streeper’s dominate year after year …… and that he really hopes the other musher’s take it seriously and train teams just for stage racing otherwise, there is no competition…..   WELL….. HUGE SIGH ……  I cannot possibly let this go without putting my 2 cents out there.   Never before have I seen a group of competitors take something so seriously.   Let’s see is living in a trailer on the mountains training your dogs all season serious enough?   Is selling your home to live in a condo to make life easier to train dogs serious enough?  Is foregoing a home, but keeping your dog yard serious enough?   Is putting your entire life on hold for 2-3 weeks to race dogs serious enough?   Is selling your vehicle to get the cash to come race serious enough?   I could go on, but I won’t.  This group of mushers is some of the most serious competitors we’ve ever run across and they are not afraid of competition; they seek it out.  The Streeper’s are giving us everything we ask for (and then some); we will all be better teams as a result.

The level of competition at this race is beyond comprehension unless you experience it.  Each of these teams comes from their respective areas with wins on their resume.   They are all great teams.  When you put a bunch of great teams together you quickly have a yardstick of how great or not so great your team truly is.  This is why we all come here.  It takes a certain type of person to come here year after year to take your beatings and try to relish in your small successes.  Sure it can be discouraging to be defeated by the Streeper machine on a consistent basis, but, in my opinion, if you are a true competitor you look at their success with admiration and, most importantly, a strong curiosity to figure it out.   So to that armchair musher …… take a hike!   SEE I FEEL MUCH BETTER NOW THAT I GOT THAT OFF MY CHEST!

Now, it would be nice if the Streeper machine didn’t have to beat everyone by such huge margins every stage.   Couldn’t we work out some arrangement where you took a picnic lunch about 5 miles from the finish?   Let’s mix things up a bit?

Back on topic.   Bruce’s team is healthy with the exception of some feet issues.   We believe Zephyr cramped up and so he should be back in the game after a day or two off.   The day off today was awesome.  We’ve only done two days of racing, but it feels like a week already.   It was a great day to work on dogs and get things back in order.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be in the lower teens and it will be a hard, fast trail.   The stage was cut down to 28 miles due to a lack of snow.   This should make for an easy day as we will be on the road to Pinedale much sooner and will have a little downtime to care for the dogs and this damn head cold.   Until next stage …..

Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

Ladies & Gentlemen We Have Blast Off!

There is an exciting energy at the race this year with lots of new changes and new race crew members.   There were some last minute rule changes that didn’t go over very well due to the delayed announcement.  This is understandable; however, most of the changes were in the interest of safety for dogs and others so it’s hard to take issue with that.  Due to the rule changes there was a wee bit of tension at the driver’s meeting, but nothing the new Race Marshall, Terry Adkins couldn’t handle, especially since he packs heat!   LOL

The ceremonial start went off flawlessly.   There was one change this year and that was that the times do not mean anything.  They used to determine your starting order for the next day; however, this year we will start in Alpine based on when we signed up.   Bruce will be the 4th team out.    The trail received a foot of new snow on Thursday and given that we will run this stage on Saturday, we expect to see quite a bit of snowmobile traffic.  This means that trail will most likely be soft and a bit of work for the dogs.   It was a very wet snow, so we are hoping that an early start will have a freshly groomed trail and we can beat the sledders heading out to the mountains.  As of this evening they intend to do the 58 mile loop.

Here is our 2014 Stage Team:

Meet Cora, 3 years old.  Billy x Ira   How can you not love that smile?  Don’t be fooled this little gal is tough.  She helped lead Bruce out of some very tough conditions last year in Kemmerer.

2014 team 002 This is Toohey 4 years old  Fireball x Turtle   Penny is one of our main leaders and will be paired with her sister Penny.  They are the only two that can put up with each other as they both have lots of attitude to go!2014 team 003

Meet Drift  2 yrs  SikSik x Caliber.   This behemoth ran on our team last year as a yearling and he is as serious as they come.  He absolutely loves to go ….. everyday we’ll let him! 2014 team 007

Melba 3 yrs  Della x Dash  This girl proved how tough she was running three stages in Yellowknife last year.   She has tons of speed and is an everyday dog that is tireless. 2014 team 008

Typhoon 3 yrs.   Utah x Stina  This newcomer is a firecracker with lots of speed and desire to run.   We are looking at him to be an everyday dog for us. 2014 team 012

Zephyr 3 yrs Utah x Stina  This is Typhoons partner in crime.  Like his brother he is a fluid speedster.  He has endless energy and can also run up front if necessary. 2014 team 013

Provo 3 yrs.  Utah x Wendy  This one is a serious sled dog.  She is all power on the line and drives super hard.  Gifted sled dog that we are looking for several stages from.2014 team 016

Penny 4 yrs.   Fireball x  Turtle  This is Toohey’s sister and a main leader.  She is the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet until you hook her up and then she goes ape!  2014 team 017

SikSik 6 yrs   Marmelade x Porcha   One of our main leaders.  Hard driving and fast.  He will be paired with his brother Spike who I neglected to get a photo of.  Imagine same dog, but all white! 2014 team 019Sedona 7 yrs  Ricky x Witch – Sedona is this years seasoned veteran.  Having run every Stage Stop with us since she was a yearling, this dog is invincible.   She is having one of her best training seasons this year and is remarkable.   She is a leader and cheerleader for the team.

2014 team 020Triscuit 3yrs  Della x Dash  Super point dog that has proven she is a multiple day stage dog.  Outstanding speed and she will run up front if necessary. 2014 team 022This is Kaloof.   4 yrs  Sedona x Kenny brother to Durbin.   This dog is nuts.  He got it from his mother.   An absolute powerhouse on the line.   He had bad luck last year after getting into a tiny spat before the race and it took him out of the race.  He is back this year with a vengeance. 2014 team 023Breezy 3 years  Utah x Stina   This is one tireless dog.  It will be interesting to see if she ever tires.   If she is like her Aunt Sedona, she should prove to be an energizer bunny. 2014 team 024 Durbin 4 yrs Sedona x Kenny  a veteran stage dog that gives us multiple days and has gifted speed.  He is Kaloof’s brother and a key part of the team.2014 team 005

Not pictured - Spike 6 yrs.  Marmelade x Porcha  — Spike is the brother to SikSik and a main Leader.  The two of them led my winning TCSDR team this year in 18″ of fresh snow; they were like a freight train.

Not pictured – Zesty 3 yrs  Della x Dash — sister to Melba and Triscuit this dynamo is a super point dog that is a proven multi-day dog.   She loves to run fast and looks awesome doing it.

The team and the rest of the crew are ready for some racing tomorrow.   So let’s get’s this party started!!


Posted in Dog Racing 2007 | Leave a comment

Sick For Mushing

I’m feeling pressure.  The pressure of the blog.   I keep getting e-mails or inquiries “Where are the blogs?”  “Make sure you blog!”  The fact is that I’m not feeling very funny or bloggy.  Most likely it’s because I have a head cold and my head is in a fog.   Hard to be funny when you feel like crap.  It seems like every year at IPPSSDR there is some funk going around.  You often feel like you are trying to dodge a bullet before the sickrace starts.

My husband came down with it first and I was tormented being locked in a motel room with him sneezing every 5 minutes and blowing germs all over our tiny little room.  Evil thoughts were running through my head as I kept popping vitamins and supplements to ward off the floating germs.  Seriously though, where the hell were the germs going to go?  Those germs were probably on every surface in that room and at one point I was sure the air in the room was ½ germs.   It was grossing me out.   I was not meant to be a nurse or doctor as I have no bedside manner and I’m hardly sympathetic.  Every time he’d sneeze I looked at him like he insulted me and I’d mutter, “For Gawd’s sake cover your nose!”  I did offer him some essential oils to ease his discomfort, but that was as far as the nursing went.  Thank goodness he is not high maintenance when he is sick; I’d be a huge disappointment.

As per usual, the cold was a surprise thrown into the race plans.   Seriously, what would IPPSSDR be like if everything went as planned?   I can only dream.   I think next year we will make race plans that include catching the flu, a few surprise injuries, at least one truck or equipment problem and, of course, trail conditions that are the opposite of what we are prepared for.   This will ensure that we are healthy, injury and problem free and totally prepared to kick ass on a perfect trail.   It’s only taken us 9 years to figure out how to plan for this event.

So we are down to the 11th hour.  We had our last run today in Alpine; which got a foot of fresh snow last night.   It was not the romantic picture of running dogs in beautiful Alpine, but rather a scene of minor misery.  It was gray and hazy and snowing; which matched well with our head colds and lack of energy.   We were both crabby and the thought of running dogs all day in the wet snow was not appealing.  The minute I got outside my nose was running so bad I should have just stuffed Kleenex up my nose.  On 2nd thought, I should have borrowed from a fellow musher and stuffed tampons up my nose. runny noseNothing is more disgusting than having an out of control runny nose and then having to booty 20 dogs.   Our dogs are licking machines; it is in their gene pool.  Now I know this is gross, but it sure came in handy today as they kept cleaning up my mess! I think they felt bad for me.   Well, at least some of them.   As they are getting amped for the lickingrace it often feels like you are in a room full of loud, hyper-active 3 year olds that aim to drive you nuts.   This can drive a sick person to the edge.  By the time we were done we were too exhausted to head into Jackson and chose to stay and relax in Alpine.

While I was kicking back I traced the germs down to the Streepers.  Yep, I think they are the responsible party.   We saw them on the first day that we arrived in West Yellowstone and we all exchanged friendly hugs.  Lina informed us that they had all fallen ill after they had arrived.  Unfortunately, she told us after the hugs!   I wonder; could this be a strategic maneuver on their part?  Everyone be leery of excessive hugging by the Streeper Crew!   Sorry gang, the word is out and your plan is foiled!  Yeah right, as if the Streepers have to resort to germ warfare!  Now, us on the other hand ……… I think I’m feeling a little huggy for Friday!!   Hee hee Heee

Aside from the cold I haven’t felt like there was much to blog about on this trip.   Every time I come up with an idea, I start to worry that I’ve already blogged about it.  My memory is such crap these days that I fear I’m a blogging broken record.  I don’t want to be blogging about something I’ve already blogged about.  That would be blogging ridiculous.

The trip thus far has been pretty uneventful.  The GPS hasn’t led us astray, but she has tried to break up our marriage a few times.  I started a blog on that one, but it got really ugly.   Frankly, I don’t need any rumors spreading that we are on our way to divorce court so I’ll re-visit that blog later.   We all know how the gossip flows in the mushing circles …… quickly and way off base!  Gee, that might be a good blog!

The weather has been great so there haven’t been any white knuckle horror stories to tell.  I can’t rant about the cold or the heat; it’s simply been perfect temps.  Training was awesome and there were no eventful moments to share.    Things have been going so smoothly and have been so uneventful that I’m becoming paranoid that a good blog is just around the corner.   Here’s hoping that it is about Bruce and the yellow bib!!

Speaking of blogging, there was a new addition to the IPPSSDR website with regular blogs by Lloyd Gilbertson.  It was interesting to read about Aaron Peck’s strategy to stay away from all the other teams and the comparison game that inevitably occurs.   This struck a funny note with me as he couldn’t be more accurate.  I read this blog this evening and laughed because of how true it is.  When you are with a group of competing mushers the comparison game is inevitably going to happen.  You must be prepared for it.

While running the trails this past week I intentionally ignored the other teams.  I envydidn’t look to see how they were moving.   I didn’t turn around to see where they were.   I looked only at my dogs and my GPS.   I didn’t watch them feed and tried to just ignore all teams within my vision.  I was like a 5 year old covering my ears and singing, “la la la la la LA LA LA I can’t hear you!”  Despite my nursery school efforts, little comments that floated around kept trying to seep in.  I found myself starting to question things as my worry wart ways took over.  As I ran the dogs I’d be looking at each dog and crazy thoughts would start.  “Boy that dog looks weird.  No one is on their tug.  It feels like we are crawling.  The leaders have lost their edge.   My gawd, that can’t even handle 28 miles how will they handle 50?  We should just pack it in.”   Then I’d look at the GPS and the dogs would be flying and I’d have to stand on the pad; which would bring back a little confidence.  Thankfully, Bruce is unlike myself and is very confident in the team and what we’ve done for preparation.  The comparison situation does not faze him.   He’d come in and say, “Man that was an awesome run!”  I’d nod and hang my head in shame.   Then to make matters worse, if your own mind doesn’t mess with you, there are always mushers out there that like to get into your head for you.   It’s called mind games.

There’s always the musher that is setting land speed records with their dog team and climbing mountains faster than the speed of light.   The same team always has great stools, eats everything put in front of them and is so hydrated they could put out a 3 alarm fire with one leg lift.   It’s no surprise that these super dogs are never injured, have great feet that never get fissures and are capable of running all 8 days in a row.  Mushers playing psychological warfare often make little comments about your team.  “Wow, you have a lot of red dogs.  Did you ever hear that red dogs are more injury prone?” “I don’t like furry dogs, they cause wind drag.”   Worse, they comment on your training, “Wow, you’re doing a 30 miler?  I haven’t done one all season!”

paranoiaIf you let this crap in, it can impact your mental focus and inevitably your performance.   You can start to question and lose confidence in your team.  You start to see all your red dogs bobbing with potential injuries.  You swear the furry dogs are running slower; must be wind drag.  You consider shaving them.  You really panic and cut back all your runs to 5 miles.   This drives you to steer away from your game plan and get sucked into their game plan.   This is BAD!

We were laughing this week at how many different training strategies that mushers are using.  Everyone is doing something different; it’s really quite funny to listen to.   Talk about 100 ways to skin a cat.  Truly, only the teams that have multiple wins under their belt have a proven and successful method.   The rest of us are partially clueless as we seek the elusive win.  This makes you realize the power that those winning teams have.   They could tell everyone that they do 100 5 mile runs with no day off and a whole host of mushers would be running 5 miles 100 times.   If they announced that they watered their dogs with Red Bull; the local stores would be empty.  This is a crazy sport with many unanswered questions and a continuous learning curve.  It could drive a person mad; hence the large fallout of mushers after a bad season.

So we made it through comparison week unscathed and sane.  We are ready to head into the Hole for some serious racing.  We will be wearing our blinders and ear plugs until the start of Alpine from which point the trail will tell the story.racing

Posted in Dog Racing 2014 | Leave a comment

Mushing Through Menopause

In my head I’m still 21 and in this fantasy world I’m still young and cool. I tacoollk cool, I dress cool and I understand cool. Damn, it is cool to be so cool. I am invincible! Then BAM! Just as if someone turned out the lights, I am thrust right smack into reality and trust me when I say, “It is not cool!” My reality begins every morning when I wake up. First, it’s the aches and pains that remind me that the body is no longer young and cool. I often wonder, daily actually, how in the hell a person can wake up being sore. I never remember sleeping being so painful when I was younger; if it was, I had done something significant to earn it! Now, just laying on my side can cripple me for the day and Lord help me if I was to sleep on my stomach….. get the wheel chair!

Despite the pain, I manage to drag the old butt out of bed and try to stretch; no easy process since stretching these days can be akin to ripping flesh off of bone. Then I plod over to the mirror and make my 2nd mistake of the day; I look into it! I can hear the 80’s music in my head come to a screeching halt as if someone scratched the record. It is replaced with some syrupy elevator music; slow and old and so NOT cool. Holy hell, what happened to the 21 year old? I stammer about perplexed. I was 21 just yesterday. Where did all of these crow lines come from? Oh, and the bags under my eyes; I never got those in my youth even if I partied all night. Then the hair; no wonder my body is sore it looks like I was break dancing on my head all night. Actually, it sort of looks like hairmy old 80’s hairdo ….. hmmmm ….. NOPE …… NOT cool! I used to wake up when I was young and look refreshed. Now, I look haggard and beat down. This just sucks and I ponder how I can gain my youth back. Crazy thoughts start to enter my head; plastic surgery …… liposuction ……. $200.00 face cream ….. the list goes on. After a half hour of this torture, I pull myself together and move on with my day. One of the greatest things about getting older is that it no longer takes me 2 hours to get ready in the morning. What in the hell did I used to do for all that time. Man, I was some kind of crazy, high maintenance back then. Now, it’s ½ hour max. I just love the freedom of not giving a shit.

So as you can see I’m not aging well. I’m not embracing this crap. Screw the wisdom, self-assurance and self-love and all that other crap that you hear, mostly Hollywood, women proclaim about the joys of getting older. Easy for those beeutches to talk about all that when they dump hundreds of thousands into maintaining their youth. They’re a bunch of 70 year-olds that look 50; which just messes with the heads of us real chicks. Come on, Cher is damn near 70; where the heck are her crow lines? Not to mention she can wear 6 inch heels and her thighs don’t rub together. That is just not real. I’m real and reality comes with crow lines, sagging everything, mood swings and no way in hell can I wear 6” heels without hospitalization. “Wisdom, self-assurance and self-love……my ass”, I say!

So if the aches and pains of reality were not enough to destroy my young and cool fantasy world, the grim prospect of menopause peaking around the corner buried it for good. Now before I continue with this rant, here’s my disclaimer; I’m not yet entering menopause. Soooo don’t plan on me tripping off the deep end at a dog race or anything; at least not yet. My familiarity with this subject comes from a whole host of friends, relatives and acquaintances that are in the midst of or have been through the big “M” plus a bunch of research I’ve done in preparation for this fun filled portion of my life yet to be experienced. At any rate, I thought it would be fun to bring you into the mind of a menopausal musher. Hopefully, you won’t be afraid to get on the trail with any of us aging female mushers after this!

menopause4Our first menopausal subject should definitely be hot flashes! Every woman that is in the know has had some form of experience with hot flashes. It’s something you often hear women joke about; which is amazing to me. How do you find something funny about feeling as if you’re about to burst into flames? It boggles my mind. “Look at me I’ve got flames coming out of my head!” Yep, that’s pretty funny. On the upside, hot flashes can be a welcome thing when you’re hanging out in sub-zero temps; nothing like an instantaneous bonfire when you need one. Too bad you can’t ask for a flash when you want one. “It’s -26F and I’d like a flash to go; make it a medium please!”

Unfortunately, flashes have a mind of their own and they don’t usually come at menopause1convenient times. They come at times like when you’re in the truck wearing three layers of polar fleece and a huge ass parka plus hat and gloves. These flashes require emergency clothing removal and let me assure you that this is no easy task in a parka. Imagine being wrapped in a huge sleeping bag and the only way out is by lifting it over your head. You start the process and progress is slow. You are burning like a meteor and find yourself stuck in the middle of your parka. This is usually with one arm stuck to your side and the other still in the sleeve and your head is somewhere in the middle. This situation causes you to start to lose consciousness from the heat and now you can no longer remember which way is out. Panic sets in. You look like a giant parka worm rolling around in the front seat. The observer can see your parka pulsing as you pound your fists against the fabric trying to get out. There are lots of muffled cuss words sneaking out on occasion. Finally, in a big ball of sweat your head emerges. Your hair is full of static and standing on end. You are flushed with red blotches and there is sweat dripping down your face. This would be a mushing hot flash.

Now guys I don’t want you to feel left out and stop reading because you’re thinking this is too gender specific so imagine, if you will, that someone just lit your jewels on fire and you have on a one piece mushing suit with a pair of serious snow boots (the ones that take two people to pull off) and you’re wearing beaver mitts. Welcome to our world gentlemen! So now you know why some women mushers are practically wearing halter tops in the dead of winter. It’s not because they are so tough that the cold no longer bothers them; it’s because they are walking meteors! Hot! Hot! Too Hot!menopause5

Since we are on the subject of heat, it seems only natural to move right into night sweats. Yep, we are talking Sweaty Betty in the Beddy! This is a time when most women probably wish they were single. Nothing like the hubby reaching over to spoon you and you’re awakened by his yelling, “Ewwww, what the hell! Did you wet the bed?” You bolt up and start feeling the mattress. OMG, it is wet! You pat yourself down and realize your pajamas are wet! OMG, you start to wonder if you’ve now lost control of your bladder function! Slowly you realize your hair is wet and your pillow is wet. There’s no way you wet the bed unless you were sleep walking all over the bed and peeing at the same time. Whew, what a relief; it’s just night sweats! Now imagine being a musher that is planning to sleep outside in a sleeping bag or inside at a checkpoint. Neither situation will allow you to strip the clothing and try au- naturale to keep cool. You just have to suffer and stick it out, but definitely bring a change of clothes. Unfortunately, an outfit change in the middle of a race leads other mushers to think you’re a Diva. You can’t win on this deal. Frankly, I think older women are much braver mushers. No one else would risk hypothermia with a sweaty sleeping bag and damp clothing?

The fear of losing control of your bladder function comes as no surprise given one of the symptoms of menopause is increased urination. Yep, as if chicks don’t have enough issues with this subject matter; let’s just exaggerate the problem ten-fold as we get older. For a chick musher, increased urination is serious agro; it’s not as if there are port-a-johns all along the trail. You have to stay hydrated so it is not as if you can go without fluids. You cannot leave your dog team to go sauntering off into the bushes; assuming there are bushes in whatever god-forsaken snowy locale you find yourself in. The longer the distance, the bigger the problem this becomes. I once heard of a woman that held it for so long that when she entered a particularly rough section of trail it took all of her concentration and her bladder just let loose. This was not even half way into a 90 mile run in extreme cold. Can you say, FUN! Thankfully, our suits always have that dog pee smell!

So what does a gal do? I have no idea to tell the truth. I have heard of devices you can wear which allow you to pee on the fly. However, I’m not sure sporting a pee ice cube in -26F would be much fun. Then what do you do when you arrive in the checkpoint? You would have to melt your cube to empty the device, right? “Excuse me. Don’t mind me I just have to melt my pee cube over here on the wood stove.” Yeah, right! You could go the diaper route, but those have their drawbacks in -26F as well. Imagine the thigh chafing you’d experience if you had to run or pump in a frozen diaper. Then when you walked into the checkpoint sounding like you were wrapped in frozen canvas with cubes falling out of your pant legs surely you’d be dubbed Ice Queen.

urinatingThat leaves the only realistic option; stealth peeing. It requires some flexibility and coordination; often another problem for older woman. First and most important, you must look for fellow competitors; there must be no one around. Then you must manage to pull down your bibs with one hand. I don’t know what to tell you about the fact that you probably have to take off your glove and it’s -26F out; frost bite or bladder burst – your choice. Then you must squat real low. The key is to keep the moon as incognito as possible so as not to draw attention. Then let loose as quickly as you can. We don’t have time to waste here; it must be quick like a superhero! While you are being quick, don’t forget to be accurate. You wouldn’t want to risk frost bite only to discover that you peed right into your bibs; defeats the purpose, right? Then superhero quick, stand up and pull up the britches. If anyone makes mention that they thought they saw your white buttocks in the distance, you just tell them it was the spray of snow from your rooster tail while you were leaving them in your dust. Yep, no moon here … just dust baby… WHITE DUST!

Dry skin is another fun symptom of the big “M”. Great, it’s not enough that running dogs outside in sub-zero temps is sucking every ounce of moisture from our bodies, but now our hormones are going to help do their part. Pray for the women in the west that are aging mushers they are literally experiencing what it is like be a piece of freeze dried fruit. When I was a teenager I worked indry skin a retail clothing store and one day this older lady came to the counter and slapped a bag on it. She muttered and looked away, “I want to return these.” I approached the bag with some caution as it was wrinkled and the top had been rolled and folded as if it had been being carried around for weeks. I unrolled the bag and dumped the contents onto the counter. There was a pair of sweatpants turned inside out. Then to my horror I noticed that they were completely covered in flaky, dead skin. I almost hurled. Looking back on that moment I wonder if she was a musher going through menopause! I should have had sympathy, right?!?! So I’m just warning you folks NEVER EVER call an aging gal a flake! This would be taking life in your own hands.

Since we are walking freeze dried fruit, it seems only natural that we would develop brittle bones. Now that is something a musher doesn’t need to be concerned about; falling in snow is soft, right? Yes, snow is soft when there is several feet of it, but trees and icy snow are not. Take your vitamin D chickees or you’ll be sporting a cast.

After all of the above, is there anyone that dare ask why anxiety and irritability are symptoms of the big M? I should hope not, I get bitchy just writing about it.  This one is a blog in and of itself.

I had to laugh at the final symptom; painful intercourse. Seriously, what sweaty woman with flaky skin that has to urinate every 10 minutes and is irritated by just about everything wants to have sex? Need I say more?

So my friends have a little sympathy for your aging chicks out on the trail. They are probably some of the toughest and bravest folks you’ll ever run across. And please don’t do anything to piss them off; just let them have their space, offer them a cool spot and maybe some hand lotion or chapstick. 7dwarfs

Posted in Dog Racing 2014 | Leave a comment