I’m not sure who turned off the heat around here, but we woke up this morning and it was -21 F. Definitely not the type of weather we are accustomed to at the Stage Stop. The Alpine trail is a well groomed snowmobile trail and it always has a base and can be very quick. It is a 60 miler contrary to what the website says. Based on the temps the trail conditions looked like they would be hard and fast. We learned early that morning that there was a dead moose and a dead elk on the trail about 18-20 miles in and that a mountain lion had been visiting the new buffet. Yeahhhhhhhhh, let’s take our teams and head in that direction! Sorta wished Bruce was packing some heat on this one.
Our pre-race concerns were a little different this morning as we were concerned about protecting dogs from the bitter cold; not something we have to deal with often in Michigan. Thankfully, we were prepared and I hauled out all the belly coats to protect my houndy pooches. We already had one female in heat that got some frost bite on her hula the day before and we did not want any more issues. Then we had to deal with the one question that seems to plague us every year; do we booty or not? I have to tell you folks that I’ve about had it with this topic as it continues to be an issue for us. It is known fact that if you wish to win this race, you cannot booty. Then if you ask 5 different mushers they all do 5 different things to protect their feet. We have tried them all and continue to have zero success in this area. The whole topic has us on edge as we battle with what to do every stage as the dogs feet get worse and worse. This morning was particularly stressful as we had been taught that you should always booty when temps fall under zero. However, there is contrary opinion out there. We went with the experts and did not booty.
The team was healthy and we had 12 dogs ready to go. The team was led by Houndy and Pepper and supported by Rocky, Cheyenne, Billy, Stella, Utah, Sedona, Perry, Vaanta, Lahti, Mikka. We were down to the wire getting them to the chute. They looked really amped in the chute and just tore out of there. After they left I realized that we missed putting one of our hounds in a belly coat. I spent the entire afternoon sick to my stomach worrying that he would be frostbit. The team ran very strong to the ½ way point. Just as he reached the turnaround he ran into Dawn Breedlove and Ken Josefson who had a huge tangle that covered nearly the entire trail. Bruce’s leaders didn’t want to take the small opening, but he was finally able to do so after a minute or so. After the turn around they ran strong for about 40 miles. At about the 40 mile mark the young leader started to lose confidence and Bruce had to switch out leaders. He also had a dog in team that he had to protect. With about 15 miles to go that dog got to ride in the bag and the team starting shutting down on him. With the team losing focus they noticed the dead moose on the way back and wanted to go visit, but thankfully Bruce was able to keep them moving. No one else had issues with the moose; however, there were several teams that carried dogs and some had multiple dogs in the bag.
One of the funniest events of the day was Aaron Burmeister’s start. He pulled into the chute ready to go with cigarette in hand. We were all standing watching and it started to seem like a really long time, but Aaron was just standing there calmly smoking. Then we see Buddy, who was directly behind him, come running up and hand him his bib. Apparently, the countdown had started and Terry yelled, “Where’s your bib?” They stopped Aaron just as he was about to pull the hook and Terry and Buddy started running back to the truck for the bib. It was as close to being disqualified as you want to get; no wonder he was smoking!!
When the team came in the first thing I did was run over to the dog we forgot to coat and I checked his package for frost bite! Whew, he was fine. However, the team was very down and as soon as I saw their feet I knew why. They were a mess, but I won’t go into detail. We had two dogs, one that was bagged, that quite possibly were out of the game. It was very depressing. All the dogs checked out healthy except the feet. We went into research mode again to try and rectify the situation.
The stage was a major game changer. We actually had a poor run and went up in the overall standings; this only happens at Stage Stop. It seems like it should be a cause for celebration; however, it is a downer to see your team not run to its ability. We saw top teams fall back and things really switched up. Lance Mackey had a very nice run and the team appears to be getting stronger. The most amazing thing is that Warren claims they only have about 400 miles on them; which is almost unreal to comprehend.
We woke up to cold temps again this morning, but we had at least reached single digits. It felt like a heat wave. We were dreading this stage knowing that it is usually very punchy and tough and our team had lost some fire in Alpine. However, we learned at the driver’s meeting that they had actually had the groomer out on the trail from start to finish and they promised it would be hard and fast. We were hoping that would be the case.
We were able to come up with 10 dogs this morning, but we had several females in heat and had to juggle the line up to accommodate the situation. Unfortunately, a few of our leaders needed to be rested and it made things more difficult. So the whole lineup discussion caused some major tension as we discussed our possibilities. The original line-up included a female in heat with another male in lead. Yeah, can you believe it? Surprisingly they had run the Lander stage with no issues; however, since then she had decided she really wanted to breed. At any rate, I had to run up to the chute to ask a vet something and as I was coming back I see Anna Bjorklund’s team parked to the side with a full on tie in progress. This cost that team 9 minutes today. I looked at this as a sign so as soon as I got back to the truck I told Bruce that our lineup was a DUMB idea and we shouldn’t risk it. He was adamant. Then at the last minute he changed his mind and we decided to run two leaders that we had never run together. That’s what I call fun; experimenting during a race when you are currently in 4th place overall.
The team was led by Max, Sedona and supported by Pepper, Slim, Utah, Houndy, Billy, Della, Perry and Stella. They seemed in good spirits in the chute. They ran decent to the ½ way point, but were not climbing well. This, of course, is the worst stage to have climbing issues. The team held their own until the ½ way point and then they shut down. It was at this point other teams started catching Bruce and making time on him. We got our butt seriously kicked today and are now precariously sitting on the edge of 5th place with our good friend Jerry Bath chomping at our heels. Many of us in the race are a bit tired right now. Several teams have had their fair share of carrying dogs and the ravages of Kemmerer could be seen on the faces of many at the banquet tonight.
Buddy, on the other hand, had a very impressive run today and it was something else to see the team come in driving like a freight train. Lance Mackey also pulled off an impressive 3rd place. We are watching teams pick up momentum as we seem to be losing it. I don’t think we are on the Stage Stop roller coaster, I think we got on the wrong ride and accidently wound up on the Stage Stop slide. It’s almost humorous as we had warned some of the newcomers about the emotional rollercoaster that Stage Stop takes you on. As teams struggled early on, we assured them it would turn around. Well, no one told us there was an emotional slide. I can tell ya that the slide is NO fun. I find myself needing stiff drink.
We will strategize until the wee hours tonight with the intent of coming up with a solid team tomorrow to try and hold off Jerry. I’m hoping I wake up to a very amped team.