At stage 8 we found ourselves with a race. With just 59 seconds between Bruce and Sam Perrino for 3rd place it meant that the guys would be fighting to the finish. Normally, we like to come to this stage with a window because you never know what is in store for you and the stage is so short that it is hard to make up any time. However, we were looking forward to racing Sam because he and Petra know how to have fun and be competitive at the same time. So the joking started at the end of the Evanston Stage. We were each razzing each other about how many dogs we were taking. The guys agreed that if Bruce took 2 and Sam took 3 it would be an even match. Then we tried to psych Sam out in the morning by telling him we had 12. Everyone was getting in on the jokes and having a good laugh over it. Sam told Bruce that he looked it up and they were fighting for a difference of $2,300.00 in race winnings. As we got closer to the race, the guys got intense as they tried to figure out from the race organization how many miles they would be going and what the course looked like. They had Keith Ali draw them a map and at one point wound up getting more confused and the joke became that when they got to the confusing section neither was going to go first. They would hook down and wait for someone else to point the way! The trail was to be about 8 miles.
Park City had done a really nice job this year. The parking was great for the mushers and they kept the spectators behind a fence at the start. This kept folks from being in the way as we were hooking up dogs and it gave the dogs a breather in the chute. The spectators were really intrigued by the sport and enjoying all the dogs. The crazy question of the year….”Can that sled haul all the whale blubber that you need to feed all them dogs?” J That took a lot to answer that one without slapping my thigh and busting out laughing. I replied, “It can hold a baby whale.”
Sam left first with 8 dogs and had a clean start. We had plans to run 10; however, with all the crazy turns, the road crossings and the dogs’ attitudes we dropped down to 8. The team was led by Max and Cracker, Ivan and Mary, Blizzard and Sedona, Toppi and Utah. They were amped in the chute and took off without any issue. I could watch the team for a while and they were stretching out and loping nicely and looked like a uniform team. They handled the early crowds without any issue.
Me and Petra waited at the finish line as Sam crossed first looking behind him and checking his watch. I waited anxiously as the Perrino’s returned to the truck. FINALLY, they came loping in, but I could tell that we didn’t catch Sam. Bruce said the dogs ran great, but Sam out climbed him again and that is where we lost it. Once again, we learned where we had made training mistakes and what we need to do to re-tool. Our team was smoking fast on the flats; however, we were missing a gear on long sustained climbs. The dogs had sufficient power for steep climbs, but they would not sustain a lope on the longer climbs, which is where the competition beat us. Bruce said that watching Mel climb was just an awesome sight. We also felt that we still may need some more depth and our musher needs to get down to about 175lbs! The weight advantage this year was obvious on a couple stages. As Jarle Halnes said, “Bruce, it is amazing what our team did with Krista on the runners. Imagine if she had been on your team. That weight difference makes a huge difference.” Jerry and Bruce learned this as they watched the smaller mushers just cruise by on the soft, mushy stuff. We joked that next year we were changing the sleds to have wider runners like pontoons so that the guys would just float over that stuff!
After the race, we did the junior musher program and that is always great fun as kids get to ride with a musher, often this is their first time on the runners. They parents and kids are just so enthused and it is great fun watching them take off in the starting chute. Sandy Burke actually took out 9 to everyone else’s 6 and said, “He needed to win at least one stage.”
The banquet was top notch and great fun as we got the chance to relax and chat with everyone. The mood was very upbeat and several mushers were promising to return. The recurring theme throughout the banquet was everyone’s sincere appreciation for Pedigree’s support of this race and to the race organization for doing such a phenomenal job. This race is without a doubt a logistical nightmare to manage and yet they are able to give us 8 consecutive days of racing on 8 different trails. There have been times when a wrench gets thrown in the plans and we find ourselves upset with the outcome; however, there is no doubt that there is NO other race like this anywhere. It’s common to see many single day races struggle with organization and coordination and you cannot help but be in awe at the professionalism this race projects over the course of 8 days. It is the real deal for professional sled dog racing.
The awards ceremony started with a representative from Pedigree speaking and she wanted to convey how excited Pedigree was to be a part of this event because they truly feel that this race epitomizes, “For the love of dogs.” Pedigree is over whelmed by the dog care and the love we all show for our dogs in this race and because dog care is so important in this race it is something they want to continue to support. It was a very touching speech and I know it hit home for us.
Jeff King spoke and answered one of the questions we had wondered about, “What were his thoughts on the race this year?” He told us how he had attended the Pedigree race twice in the past; the first time he came in 2nd and the 2nd time he won it. He then shared how after being away for a few years, he was overwhelmed to discover the number of quality dog teams at this race and what it takes to win. He promised he would be back in the future. Later in the banquet he approached Bruce and said, “Congratulations, nice dog team.”
Sandy Burke shared with everyone that he had learned so much at this race and it was an honor to be able to run with all of these “Mushing Gods”. He plans to go back and re-tool his kennel and return for the win.
Krista Halnes was thrilled to pieces to have been able to participate in the race. She said that she had learned more at this race than what she would have learned in school for the past two weeks. She feels that she is a better musher and grew up a lot during the race. Now she just has to talk her dad into keeping the dogs and returning next year.
One of the most awesome outcomes of the race was to see Jerry Bath obtain 5th place his rookie year. This is rare and quite an awesome feat. I marveled at the effort Sandy put into massaging the dogs and told her that she made me look bad because she was always massaging and I developed massage guilt as a result.
One of the coolest things about this race is the friendships you develop. The banquet is just like the last day of high school. We are all hugging, exchanging e-mail addresses and promising to keep in touch and return the following year. Tell me……………when was the last race you hugged your competitors and told them you couldn’t wait to see them next year? This is that kind of race…………it’s not just a race………..you become this mini-family as you struggle through the ups and downs and rigors of this race. It is truly an experience that you must try at least once. If that isn’t enticement enough consider that we took home over $17,000 for 4th place!!!! THANK YOU PEDIGREE!!!