After Kemmerer we had three sore dogs and only one healthy dog on the sidelines for Evanston. That left us with a team of 9 for the final stage. It wouldn’t have been too much of a concern if we hadn’t found ourselves in a very close race for third place between JR Anderson and Jerry Bath. There was only about 3 ½ minutes between the three racers all vying for 3rd place and we were in the chase position sitting in 5th position. We knew that we could not afford to make any mistakes on this stage by taking the wrong dog and having to bag them for the run. Doing so would certainly destroy any chances of moving up in the standings and put us in a perilous position for maintaining 5th place. There was 55 minutes between us and 6th place. So, as luck would have it, later in the afternoon when we went to drop the dogs for dinner we were dealt another blow when two more dogs came up sore after they had cooled off. We were now down to 7 dogs for Evanston. This was devastating. This was a bang your forehead on the side of the trailer type of moment. Instead, I silently screamed a few “F” bombs in my head. It didn’t help me feel any better. We knew the other two teams were going to throw as many dogs as they could at us and we needed to get to work and get some dogs back into the game. We worked on every dog; icing, massaging, walking and lasering in hopes for a small miracle. We repeated later in the evening around 11PM.
In the morning we got up to water the dogs and another key dog got out of the box drank his broth and then barfed all over. Holy crap, there is no way Bruce could do this with 6 dogs or could he? We went through all the dogs one more time, got out the box of Band-Aids and decided to put two dogs back in the team that had been sore the previous evening. We pulled one healthy one from the sidelines and then debated at length about adding a dog that had been sitting on the sideline due to a sore wrist. I was against it as he still squeaked a tiny bit when the wrist was palpated, but Bruce was insistent. He felt confident that the dog would run through anything. This gave us 10 including the guy that had gotten sick early in the morning who we were watching like a hawk. We both decided that if he didn’t get animated on the line, we were going to pull him. We were going on the hopes that he didn’t have a virus and had just drank too much and had puked. We obviously took a very high risk approach as we didn’t have enough solid dogs to do otherwise. We had a significant lead in front of 6th and decided that we would go for broke and if it didn’t work we had enough to limp in and maintain 5th. By this point, I was near puking myself and had found my religious side. I must have asked Bruce 10 times if he was sure about the one dog with the wrist. He was solid. I still wanted to barf.
As we were agonizing over our choices, right next to us were the Anderson crew busy running dogs and having the vet over to the truck. We wondered if they were going through the same dilemmas. On the other side of the truck Al went quickly from a team of 12 down to a team of 9 as he sorted through each dog. Meanwhile, Sandy Bath was walking around passing out fudge and Dylan came running up and told us all NOT to take the candy; it could be a trick! Holy crap, my blog had turned on me. The Baths were baiting us all with fudge!
In true witchcraft form we all joked that an eye of newt or two might help any of the three teams catch Alex Stegman; the thought kept us all hopeful.
We got to the chute and our barfy boy got animated so we kept him in. The dogs all ran to the chute without a hitch and they were excited to go. I felt slightly hopeful. At the last minute, JR pulled a dog off his team in the chute bringing him to 9. Jerry Bath pulled up to the chute with 12 on the line. Hmmmm, maybe I wasn’t so hopeful anymore. Bruce took off and once out of sight, barfy boy demonstrated that he was not really into racing and would have probably preferred to stay back. On the bright side, he didn’t have to be bagged and thank the Lord for that because he is just shy of 70 pounds. However, he didn’t contribute the entire run. He was able to stick it out, but significantly held the team up when they were climbing the hills; which is pretty much 50% of the run. Aside from that, the team ran great. The trail was hard and fast and Bruce’s leader found his stride. JR caught Bruce at about 25 miles in and slowly pulled away. They paced each other for the remainder of the run. Jerry caught Bruce within 13 miles, but then he started having dog problems. He carried a dog, put it back out and then bagged it again. Bruce didn’t see him again the remainder of the run. JR secured 3rd place with a solid lead and Bruce moved up to 4th just barely beating Jerry by a couple minutes. It was a great race amongst these three and we were very happy for each of them. Couldn’t have picked two nicer guys to be neck and neck with!
We came to the race very confident in our team and we still feel it was one of the strongest teams we’ve had. However, we were concerned about the fact that the team never got to see snow until we arrived out west and this proved to be an issue. You always hope it won’t play a role, but we knew that we needed to be on snow. Logistically, we just couldn’t make it happen. So as a result we were unable to test some of the new dogs in the snow and learned that it was not in some dog’s wheel houses. In addition, the team lacked the type of conditioning necessary to really move through deep snow like we saw in the early stages of the race. This created some injuries that you typically see when you’ve not had the necessary snow conditioning. Our front end turned into a hot mess from all the above and we struggled to recover throughout the race. Losing two key leaders and then learning a 3rd didn’t like deep snow was a huge let down and a big challenge. Thank Gawd, we had the 9 year old superstar Sedona with us as she saved our butt too many times to count at this race.
So are these excuses? Absolutely not! This is reality. Does this take away from those that finished in front of us? Absolutely not! Each of us has obstacles and dog racing involves overcoming obstacles. We did the very best we could working through ours and the other teams either had less or did a better job working through them. Our dog care was top notch and we successfully kept aging dogs and injured dogs in the game to keep us competitive. We were regularly massaging, lasering and working on dogs. We tried to strategically capitalize on opportunities and sometimes that required a high risk approach. We are proud of the race we ran and look forward to, once again, applying what we learned towards an even better team next year!