We woke to a balmy 26 degrees and overcast skies. It was very hard getting out of bed this morning. I have come to the conclusion that Best Western Motels have the BEST beds around so the name is fitting. YEAH Best Western!!! We were thankful for the 10:00AM start as it gave us more time to sleep and I woke up with a head cold. Starting to wonder if I can ever get through a Stage Stop without contracting some sort of illness? Must be the stress!
We were up late working on dogs trying to make sure we had 12 healthy dogs ready for Evanston. As you saw in my last post we were struggling with feet issues, but aside from that the team was physically in great shape. However, we were seeing a different dog team than we have ever seen before. They are unwilling to come out of their boxes and were just mopey. We are sure that the condition of their feet has left them demoralized, but we think we have possibly hit a wall based on where we are at in mileage. The team appears to have peaked too early. In our discussions with Terry Streeper we trained too much; which is almost hard to imagine since we had 400 less miles than last year. Then if you look at other top teams and the ones catching up they all were at where we were last year. It has left us scratching our heads; what else is new!
We were able to come up with 12 sound dogs for Evanston, which gave us some hope. We realized that the dogs and us were very down in Kemmerer and that we needed to improve the attitudes for Evanston. The goal today was to put some fire into the dogs, have fun and NOT carry anyone. We are a bit superstitious about this stage since we have NEVER had a good run here AND we have never had a run here without carrying a dog. The stage is known for teams carrying not just one, but usually multiple dogs to the finish line.
All the dogs were eager to come out this morning and everyone was eating/drinking like machines. Stools looked great and this was a major first for us during this race. The feet had made some improvements overnight, but we were not taking chances and decided to booty the dogs with the worst feet. We were the first to arrive at the race start and then the Bath team pulled into next to us. It’s always fun when the team you are neck and neck with pulls right next to you. We love competing with folks that love to compete and know how to have fun with it and the Bath’s are our kind of folks. For the past couple years we have found ourselves in this same situation with the Perrino’s team and this year the Bath team took their place. As is customary, the teasing and harassing commenced at about 8AM!! I tried to convince Jerry that this was an 8-dog stage, but I was unsuccessful; that guy is just too quick in the morning. He must drink Red bulls!
The day started with a bit of excitement when Newton Marshall showed up at the nick of time. Apparently, he had driven all the way to the finish line thinking it was the start. He arrived in just enough time to hook up the team and head to the chute. At some point after hooking up his team the carabineer that attaches the team to the sled, came off. So when they started to take him to the line, there was basically a team with no sled or driver; Newton was on the sled still hooked to the truck! Thankfully, one of the trail crew saw this and dove for the snow hook and drove it into the snow. They were able to hook the team back to the sled and avoid a disaster. Whew!
Our team got jazzed up in the chute and gave us good vibes. However, as we arrived in the chute our good vet friend, Denny, told Bruce she noticed one of our dogs looked stiff in the rear. It was our biggest dog, of course! Bruce told me and I said, “Do you want to pull him?” He said, “No, he’ll be fine.” I knew right then and there it was the wrong decision, but what could I do? This was one of those moments where I had a feeling we would live it over and over and over.
The team left and Bruce said within 2 miles the dog we should have pulled started having issues. (Insert expletives here)! Bruce kept easing the dog along as they had an hour climb ahead of them and he wanted to make sure that he didn’t have to bag him until after they reached the top. He got to the top of the first climb at 18 miles before he had to bag him, but then after the dog was bagged they had the steepest climb ahead of them and the team shut down to a crawl. Understandably, as this was a 65 lb. dog in the bag. The trudged along until about the last 8 miles and they started to find a groove again, but it was too late. When Bruce came in it was evident that he was kicking himself for the decision. There was nothing we could do, but live and learn. This is all a part of stage racing. Everyday is about making decisions; sometimes they are great and sometimes they break you. Today it broke us.
We were not the only ones that came in with a dog in the bag and several teams had bad runs; which switched up the leader board significantly. Jerry had a great run and knocked us right out of 5th place. We informed him later that he now has to pick-up the bar tab!!
At the driver’s meeting they informed us that the race was over and that we would not be racing in Park City, but we would be entertaining the spectators instead. We were a tad thankful given the downward slide we were on it was a concern that we could blow up and lose another placement in the overall standings. It would be us that had the team that chased the poodle through the parking lot and lost a 12 minute lead.
The race this year was exciting, fascinating and disappointing all at the same time. We have never seen faster times and it was apparent from day one that the speed had elevated to new levels. In past years we had always seen the front runners finish first even though they had started last. This year the back of the pack was often holding their own and coming in one right after the other and the front runners would follow later with seriously great runs.
We think all the changes we made were, for the most part, good changes. We have a team that has the athletic ability to compete. However, it was evident by our downward spiral that we humans are still the weak link on this team. We have to fine tune the training program a bit. We are happy with the equipment choices and we are ecstatic with our new diet. We definitely handled some things wrong, but we have taken note and will attempt to not make the same mistakes twice. During our ride home we will review this entire race and have what we lovingly refer to as our “Duh Session”!
One of the funnest things about the race this year was all the new teams that came to participate. We’re especially proud of how the Mid-west showed up to represent with 6 teams hailing from this part of the country with 4 making the top 10. Being one of the teams with the most consecutive years attended this year; we can’t help but carry a certain amount of pride for this race. We are always trying to tell folks how much fun and how competitive it is and it was so great to hear that the new teams were all having a blast. Many expressed how much fun it was. They loved the weather, with exception of the bitter cold. They loved the scenery. There were comments made about how unique and different and fun it was compared to other races. They also were blown away by the competition and how fast these teams are moving. I have said it before and I will say it again, “The Stage Stop is like no other race anywhere. Where else can you go to run awesome scenery, race 8 days in a row against some of the best competition in the country, learn from the best vets around, meet lifelong friends and win huge money?” This is the ONLY race that I know that can provide all of that.