Big Piney – Trail of Tears

 Big Piney is known as the ice box of the nation and it did not disappoint.  We had anticipated the temperature to drop and it did rapidly.  When we woke this morning it was a brisk -14 below zero and the high was not going to make it to zero.  This was quite a shock to the system after we had been sunbathing the past few days.  In just two days I had gotten soft and didn’t want to come out and play.   I’m glad I did though because a few of us handlers/vets had a riot today waiting for the teams.  Mr. John Stewart livened things up with his IPOD and had us head banging, playing air guitar and doing the Penguin dance.  If you’ve never seen it, envision folks all geared up in their winter gear… it’s -14F…we all have our hands in our pockets and we are jumping as high as we can and wiggling like penguins.  Do you have the mental picture?   It was silly, had us laughing our butts off and we were staying WARM; which is the most important part.  Forget that we looked ridiculous.  Who cares when it’s -14F?

Anyway, back to business.  All of the front runners were running 12 today and so we followed suit; we could not afford to give up any more time.   The team was healthy and ready to go.  Our only concern was that we have 5 bitches in heat on the truck and this team included every single one of them!  It was led by Cheyenne and Rocky (the unguided missile) and supported by Max, Slim, Utah, Sedona, Lahti, Della, Mikka, Vaanta, Perry and Stella.   The females were strategically located in the back of the team with hopes they would go unnoticed!  Our plan today was to lay one down and we had the team to do it.  HOWEVER………….. 4 miles out there was a sweeping, right hand, off camber corner and one of our point dogs stumbled in the punchy snow and rolled down the hill dragging the front end with him.  They were unable to get their footing to get out due to the deep snow.  Bruce, unable to hook down, waded through waist deep snow holding onto the gangline to try and help the dogs.  He was able to get the front four back on the trail and then they pulled him and the rest of the team back to hard ground.   Once they were on the trail he discovered he had the biggest tangle of his life with at least a couple dogs hog tied at the ankles.  After several minutes of sorting the mess out he was finally able to get the team moving again; however, that resulted in him getting drug for ¼ mile or so.   He was having a riot; NOT!

When he finally worked out the issues there was no relief in what the trail had to offer.  Let’s just say there would be no blistering speeds on today’s trail.  This stage is known for having a punchy trail and it lived up to its reputation.  The dogs were in shoulder deep snow with no bottom and the mushers were useless on the runners because every time they tried to help they would fall into their knees.   It was very stressful on many dogs and wore some down mentally.   Our team ran well and kept their heads despite all of the issues.

When the team came in and I heard what had happened my first impression was …. WTF….. why can we NEVER seem to have a clean, fast run when we plan it and need it?  Are we jinxed?   Is it the dogs?  Is it the musher?  Why?  Why?  Why?  I drilled Bruce with questions trying to understand, but at the same time I tried not to blame him.  However, I guess I didn’t do a very good job.  Let’s just say things were a little tense!

Sad as it is we found relief in learning that we were not the only ones being jinxed today.  Stacy Teasley had a horrible day and lived through every musher’s nightmare; losing your team.   She said that ½ mile out she was on a side camber hill and the wind was just blowing her all over so she squatted down and then hit something and flipped.  She got the handlebar in the crook of her arm and was being drug.  She watched her brand new watch get ripped from her arm and it started to tear her skin.  She then attempted to set her hook and at that point the sled was ripped out of her hands.  She immediately  began running and calling them.  She has this fun, crazy bird call she had been using to train the dogs while free running this summer and she was calling and calling to no avail.  Finally Ryan Redington showed up to her rescue.  She was nearly in tears and told him to go on, she didn’t want to ruin his race and he said, “No, get on.  I’ll take you for a mile.”   As they got moving all of a sudden here comes her team heading back to her.  Siren, her leader, must have heard her calls.  She was so elated they had come back, but then she had to stop them.  She grabbed the leaders and this resulted in a huge tangle.  She spent at least 15 minutes undoing the mess and had to cut lines to get things sorted out.  However, she got back on the trail and tragedy had been diverted.  She was especially thankful to Ryan for helping her out!   In addition to Stacy there was another musher that lost his team, but I have no further details on that. 

Lance Mackey also had a hellacious tangle with, ironically, Newton Marshall.  They apparently had a huge jumble during a head on pass.  Mushers were drug, dogs were hog tied and it was a mess; however, Lance must have handled it with super human speed because he posted the 4th fastest time today.   Lance is running dogs he leased from Warren Palfrey and Newton is running the team he will take to the Iditarod.

There were also a few teams that had to bag dogs on this run so it appeared that the issues were fairly spread out amongst many of the mushers.

We finished 5th and maintained our 5th place overall.   This race is still very tight and there are several smaller races within the race starting to form.  

It is supposed to get to -20 F tonight so it will be a chilly one tomorrow in Alpine.

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