It was our intention to run the team in the UP 200 this year; however, after assessing the health of the team after Wyoming we chose to withdraw and re-enter into the Midnight Run. Too many of our veterans had minor injuries and we would have had to put 5 yearlings in the 200 team. We did not feel this was the best decision for the future sucess of these yearlings. The 200 is a very tough race and running so many yearlings could prove to be a damaging experience, in our opinion.
So we were back at the Midnight Run and actually felt like old veterans to the venue. After the grueling schedule of Wyoming, preparing for this race felt like nothing. The weather was a blessing compared to last year and felt almost balmy at around 10-15 degrees. We chose to run Cracker (3) and Quest (3) in lead. Team dogs were Dickens (4), Blizzard (3), Lemon (1.5), Mikka (1.5), Topee (1.5) and Mary(2). We had 6 dogs that had never run this format before and 3 of them were yearlings. They represented our fastest dogs, but we took a bit of a risk due to their lack of experience running this type of race. I worried that the checkpoint could prove to be challenging. The bib draw Thursday evening was a slight disappointment as Bruce was schedule to be the 2nd from last team out of the chute that night. This meant lots of passing and potentially a chewed up trail since snow conditions were only fair. There were supposedly some minor trail changes, but nothing dramatic was brought to our attention from the trail bosses. However, we heard through the grapevine there were some dangerous spots on the new trail and to keep a heads up.
Since we were scheduled to leave almost an hour after the first team, I chose to go watch the front teams head out of the chute. Unlike in Wyoming, the air is always tension filled just prior to the start of this race. I watched several mushers enter the chute with the look of pure concern and dread on their faces. It must be the night that brings it on. Just watching them, makes you feel tense. When I got back to the truck, our leader Quest was acting very tense also. He must have sensed the tension floating around like fog. He started to concern me and I began to worry if he would get Bruce out of the chute. When he got so freaked that he climbed into the front wheel well and got stuck, I brought it to Bruce’s attention. We decided to put him in lead anyway and would pull him out if he flaked on line. Unlike several teams, we waited until we had just a few minutes before our chute time to hook up. This is something we learned at Wyoming that has proved to be very valuable. Our dogs use alot less energy sitting on the truck waiting than they do when they are banging in their harnesses on the gangline. Despite Quest’s obvious nerves, the team got out of the chute successfully and they looked really amped to run.
As I was heading back to the truck I heard the first ambulance, which brings immediate concern. I packed quickly so I could try to salvage a decent parking spot at the checkpoint since I’d be nearly last to arrive. As I pulled out, I heard the 2nd ambulance siren and a feeling of dread washed over me. Ambulances and dog races just don’t mean good news. I was eager to catch a glimpse of Bruce along the side of the highway to ease my nerves. The beginning of this race runs along the side of highway 553 and has several road crossings. The trail comes very close to the highway at points and is a bit unnerving to think about. It was pitch dark and I was having a hard time seeing teams. I saw one at a road crossing and then I noticed our three blinking lights and knew it was Bruce. The team was humming along and I yelled out the window and Bruce responded with a “Whooooo Wooo”, which meant it was going well!
At the checkpoint, I was rewarded with a really decent parking spot and was actually quite pleased. After getting situated, I joined the Gilbertson crew for some food. As we sat talking and laughing a race official came up and told Lloyd that Mary had an accident and she was injured. They were waiting for more news from the crews on the trail. The tension and concern reached a heightened level as we waited for more information and speculated on all the ambulances we had heard. As the minutes ticked by the news filtering in was sketchy. We had heard she was in an ambulance, then we heard she was ok and continuing down the trail and then we heard she had scratched. It wasn’t until more than an hour later that we heard someone was bringing her to the checkpoint. The Anderson’s showed up with her and she was a mess. She had blood all over her face and in her hair and was holding her side. She was in good spirits, but appeared slightly in shock. Apparently, she had been coming down a steep downhill that had a sharp 90 degree turn. The turn was on the edge of a cliff and she went off the edge. Her sled got wedged between the cliff and a tree and stopped them in their tracks. She had no idea how she hurt herself. Several teams stopped to try and help and she told them all to go on and tell the road crew she was injured and needed help. She then climbed to the top of the trail, unhooked tug lines and waited for help. The got to her and helped her get the team out of the tree. She decided to continue on after looking at the dogs. However, when she had to maneuver down Marquette mountain the pain in her side was too unbearable. She heard Anna Anderson cheering her on and told her she needed help with the team, she was scratching from the race. Long story short, she had a few broken ribs and a large laceration on her head that required stitches.
Mary’s accident turned out to be only one of many that occurred that evening. Seems the new trail was a complete safety hazard and had no business being a part of a dog race. There were several mushers that lost their teams that night, a few broken sleds, dogs on the highway and numerous crashes. I couldn’t wait for Bruce’s arrival to ease my concern. He was shooting for a 4 hour run. The first teams in were running at 4 hours + give our take 10-15 minutes. When Bruce exceeded that I started to worry. Finally, the team showed up and everyone was safe; however, Bruce was unhappy with the trail and the markers. He had missed a couple turns and this resulted in at least 10 minutes of lost time. He was in 7th place at the checkpoint. Mary and Cracker had led the team in becuase Quest had issue with all the people and road crossings.
The team was looking good at the checkpoint. They drank well and all seemed happy. We had one dog with a very minor soreness in front shoulder and one dog with some diareaha. I went to work on the shoulder and gave something to treat the diareaha. The vet’s gave everyone their blessing and so I than worked on getting them to rest. They all finally laid down after an hour and they rested very well for a bunch of rookies.
We chose to run the 2nd half without booties to improve speed and I treated all their feet for some minimal protection. They were a bit tired after I woke them, but the minute they got on line, they started going nuts. We put Cracker and Mary back in lead and just laughed with excitement over Mary’s new job as leader. What a dog she had turned out to be this year. They had a clean start and again looked very amped to go.
The drive to the finish line was slow and unnerving. It had begun to snow and the wind was blowing and visibility was limited. I watched Don Galloway cross the finish as leader and what a joy it was to see that team experience their first win. Congrats to the Galloway’s on a great job. Sharon Curtice followed shortly behind in 2nd place and then Chris Pavek pulled in 3rd. Just seconds after Chris crossed the finish, someone yelled, “TEAM” and I looked up to see who it was and I suddenly recognized Cracker and Mary. I couldn’t contain myself and started whooping and hollering. Bruce came from 7th all the way to 4th. The team ran into the chute and looked HOT!!! The tails were wagging and all the dogs looked great. We were just 18 seconds out of 3rd place and had the fastest time for the 2nd half of the race! We couldn’t help but wonder about the outcome if Bruce hadn’t missed a couple turns in the first half. Oh well, that’s dog racing. We are pleased as punch and very proud of those dogs, they did phenomenal.