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!

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 a 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 the 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!


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