I Never Want To See Another Mountain

The Can-Am ate chewed my (Monica’s) team up and spit us out!  During the musher’s meeting for the 60 miler they told us the moose situation was really bad this year and we needed to be careful.  They were seeing moose on the trail everyday and they did not want to get off the trail due to the 6-7 feet of snow out in the mountains.  Being the ninny that I am, of course freaked a little.  I asked a few experienced distance mushers what to do if I encountered one.  They all told me they carry a fire arm and had no advice for me if I didn’t have a gun.  I thought, “Oh great, well at least I’ll have my trusty ole whistle!”  As it turns out I didn’t see a single moose, not much scenery either, unless you count looking at the snow at my feet.  As my race played out I got to the point of near hallucination when I was actually hoping to see a moose with the intent of lassoing it and being drug in to the finish.  It was a good thing I didn’t have a gun or I might have shot myself around mile 35! 
As I suspected before I went to the race I didn’t have enough horsepower under the hood to be running this race.  My team of 6 little girls, 2 boys and no horses were challenged on this course.  The morning of the race it was snowing heavily and the forecast was for 15 inches.  The team started out beautiful.  I was on the pad for a good 30 minutes until they settled into a reasonable pace and we were starting to pass teams. Trail was good with a little fluff.   I was having fun and the team definitely seemed to want to run fast.  Then the engine began to sputter.  Indigo, who had started to battle a bug during the trip over came off her tug.  By mile 20 she was holding us up and I had to bag her.  Meanwhile, the team had started to show they didn’t have the gusto for the climbs.  I realized having to put Indigo in the bag was going to virtually eliminate any climbing power we had.  I was right and worked my butt off knowing the checkpoint was around mile 28 or 29.  I dropped Indigo at the checkpoint and talked myself out of scratching as I decided that would be the wimpy way out since I still had a team of 7. 
We left the checkpoint and proceeded along; the team was doing fine.  However, around mile 35 I lost an engine.  Cracker came off her tug and really started to struggle.  We kept on motoring until she was literally holding us up.  I was now looking at adding 45 lbs to the sled with 25 miles to go and some of the toughest climbing sections ahead.  I was a bit freaked as I was already dealing with a team that was stopping on the inclines and turning around to look at me.  I knew though that in order to finish I was going to have to be positive to keep the dog’s attitudes high because it was going to be grueling.  This was worse than the physical challenge.  Thankfully, I ran with a team #11 and her freight dogs for a great deal of time.  I think I first saw her before the checkpoint and we switched back and forth and then just ran close until nearly the last 5 miles.  She was a psychological lift for us.  I didn’t get a chance to thank her so if she’s reading this – Thanks!  Everytime I was getting low and the dogs were really dragging we’d spot her and I’d think, “Oh good, we haven’t fallen too far behind.”  Then we’d catch up and she’d have something cheery to say, “Hey, looks like we’re going to do this last 20 at 5 mph!” and later, “Hey, great news we did the last 10 in only an hour and half!”  I was quite amused and it kept my mind off of the situation.  However, it was painful to watch her lightly pump her leg up the hill and pull away as I sat at the bottom with my team turned around looking at me until I could garner the strength to make another climb. 
By mile 50 I was cooked and the dogs were cooked.  They were not even pulling on even the slightest incline and I was literally pushing the sled up the hill.  The snow was like superglue and I was convinced I had the wrong color runners on.  I later learned everyone felt that way despite the color they were using.  The snow continued the entire day and by now there was accumulation on the trail and the entire time it was punchy enough you couldn’t be very effective with pumping and it just kept getting worse.  When you ran you would find yourself  falling into moose holes every so often; which really helped zap the stamina.  I was dreaming of scratching at every safety station, but knew it wasn’t allowed and I didn’t have a real emergency except for the possibility of a mental breakdown.  At mile 7 I looked at my GPS and we were traveling 7 mph.  I figured I could hold on another hour.  At mile 6 I looked and the GPS said 6 mph.  “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”  I’m sure there wasn’t a moose for miles after they heard that bellow.  I almost tore the GPS off my wrist and threw it in the woods.  At mile 5, silly me, I looked at the GPS and, I kid you not, it read 5 mph!  I lost it at this point and I could feel the tears well up.  As this was all happening we came to a really steep hill and the dogs stopped, turned around and waited for me to push.  I started to push and we weren’t moving.  I yelled, “HIKE, HIKE, HIKE!  Do something dog gonnit  I cannot do this on my own!”  I went to set the snow hook.  Don’t ask me why; as if that was even going to be necessary because as I was doing this the sled actually started sliding backwards.  The team was unable to hold it.  I decided right then and there Cracker was coming out.  She didn’t have a physical injury and if we had to run and wait, run and wait I needed to get her out of the basket.  I pulled her out she gave a shake and started screaming as I hooked her up.  Bless her little heart, but I wanted to kill her.  I kept wondering if I should have pulled her out sooner after that.  However, she was buried so deep in that bag and never even moved that it didn’t seem fathomable she would be ready to run again. 
Cracker turned out to be the key that got us home.  She put just enough on the line to help motivate us and the weight was suddenly less.  We struggled up the last miserable hills and I was never so glad to see Ft. Kent in my life.  Coming down the ski hill I felt the need to scream for joy, but I didn’t for fear that I was hallucinating and at the bottom I’d find myself faced with another climb.  Surprisingly, my little engine that wouldn’t go still managed to finish in 15th place.  I was shocked.  I’m very proud of those guys for getting me home they really gave it everything on an extremely challenging run.  Their attitudes were all high at the finish and I knew I had managed to keep my team motivated when all I really wanted to do was scream in frustration.  That was a good feeling to get through that with a very happy team.   The team was Mary and Hope (Frank Holmberg’s dog) in lead.  Indigo, Cracker, Lemon, Mikka, Pepper and Tuffy (Frank Holmberg’s dog).   My MVP was little Mary who continued to try and lope even when that team wasn’t moving and Mikka who stayed on her tug and gave it everything she had and worked harder than the boys.  Thanks to Frank for allowing me to use Hope and Tuffy and to Tuffy’s new owners who patiently waited until we came back.  I was very glad to have two experienced veterans on the team.  Little Hopester (as I now call her) kept a really high attitude and worked fabulous with Mary keeping the team strung out.  Tuffy is a very gifted and beautiful runner that helped the team gain back some time on those declines as we ripped down them.  As for coming back for another shot at the Can-AM……………….it’s a great race, great folks, but this will take me at least a couple years to erase the memory of that run. J

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