My ONAC Nightmare

I can honestly say that our visit to watch the ONAC has left an indelible impression on me.   I was awoken last night from a nightmare; one so serious I still shudder when I think about it ………….

The dream begins on day three of the ONAC and the competition is fierce.  The top 5 teams are all within seconds of one another and it is anyone’s race at this point.   You can feel the tension as you walk amongst the dog trucks.  Everyone is focused.  A mistake at this point could mean winning or losing.  Bruce and I are walking amongst the teams trying to stay out of everyone’s way.   The first couple teams begin hooking up to get ready and you can feel the excitement starting to build as the dogs sense that it is almost time to race.  It is an adrenaline rush that gives me goose bumps even when I’m spectating.   It will be a reverse start today with the fastest teams leaving last.  We watch each team as they near the line and are ready to offer a hand, if necessary.   Team #3 heads up to the chute.  The next team to follow is that of Arleigh Reynolds.

As is common with dreams I find myself in a new scene and I’m not sure how I got there.  I am now in the chute holding Arleigh’s leaders and the rest of the handlers have left the chute.  It’s just me, Arleigh and 16 dogs.  Yes, 16!  He was having a helluv a 3-day streak.  I hear the count down and step aside.  The dogs start to take off and then the entire scene goes into slooooowwww motion.  I then see Arleigh sailing through the air and his sled is airborne.  My mind is not registering how this happened.  I realize he is not on the sled and the team is moving.  I do what is instinctive to every musher and I dive for the sled.  In the dream it was a beautiful swan dive; not some lunky, uncoordinated movement by a 40 something.  It was mushing ballet; lobbens and all.  I have grabbed the sled and am being dragged.  I manage to grab the snow hook and dig it into the snow.   I feel like a flipping hero.  As I’m trying to get up, folks coming running up and they are all screaming, “GO, GO, GO!”  I’m thinking, “What?  GO?  Where the hell is Arleigh?”  I look at them confused and said, “NO, NO, NO…. I WON’T GO!”  Yes, it sounded just like a Dr. Seuss book; dreams can be corny that way.  I then asked, “Where is Arleigh?”   An official runs up and says, “He’s unconscious.  You are the designated handler.  You must run the team.  GO, GO, GO, you are losing time!”  Before I could protest again, the official literally pushes me to the sled and leans down and pulls the hook.  Let me just say, if looks could kill!

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are running from something that is going to kill you and no matter how hard you try to run, you never make any progress?  Well, I am trying with all my might to stop this sled and nothing is working.  The harder I apply the pad and brakes, the faster the dogs fly.  This is the point my body realizes it is in a nightmare.  My adrenaline is rushing; my eyes are probably going 90 mph back and forth under their lids as I enter full blown REM.   Undoubtedly, if someone were to see me sleeping they would wake me as it looks like I’m going to convulse.

My mind suddenly grasps the idea that I am running the ONAC on the 2nd fastest team and it is all up to me to either win or lose this thing.   There is a lot going on in my mind and it seems like hours have passed, but I still haven’t made it to the end of the street.  The crowds can still see me in my full on panic.  I try to re-group.   Okay, okay, you can do this.   16 dogs is only 4 more than 12.  Just hang on.  Shoot, is there a GPS on this thing?   I shouldn’t let these guys run full out.  I should be on the pad.  I shouldn’t stand on it too long though…..but how long is too long??  I better keep them under 20 mph. Crap, where the hell is the GPS?  It feels like I’m doing 30 mph.  What are his leader’s names?  Ohhhhh, I remember…..one is Guts….yeah Guts!    I yell, “Atta girl Guts!”   She picks up speed.   Crap, I need to shut up.  What is the other one’s name?  I have no flipping clue.  Hope Gut’s is the command leader.   Gawd, this sled feels like a kite with runners.   Where is the 100lbs of dog food when I need it?  I finally spot the GPS and I see that I’m hitting 21 mph.  I immediately jump on the pad and put everything I’ve got on the pad to bring the team down to just under 20.

I see the turn to get out of town and head down the river.   Please, oh please don’t let this be some freaking 90 degree hairpin turn.  Please, oh please keep me upright.  We zing through the turn and drop down the river.  Before I know it we are heading back up off the river and I then realize I’m heading into the slough.   It should be punchy I recall from the musher’s talking.  I also remember I should never stop here.  Wait, that’s on the way back……if I make it back.   Okay, I come down a little harder on the pad anticipating the transition from hard pack to soft and the team eases into it effortlessly.   As the team slows, I get a chance to catch my breath.  This is when I spot Arleigh’s IPOD and ear phones.  I can hear myself talking to other mushers, “Doesn’t it bug you to wear those while you’re racing?  I couldn’t do it.”   Oh the hell with that, I need to know what is going on around me.  I put one ear bud in and I can hear them talking about me.

“Folks, this is unprecedented what we are witnessing today.  The #2 fastest team in the world has lost its driver in the chute on day 3 with only seconds between them and their nearest competitors.  A Rookie to the ONAC and virtual unknown in the mushing world, Monica Magnusson, is now managing the runners of this team of 16 super dogs trying to hold on to 2nd place.  I don’t imagine we can hope for a win given the situation.  We’ve got Monica’s husband here.  Bruce, can you give us some perspective on what is going on in Monica’s mind right now?   “Ha Ha Ha …. there is a pause as Bruce tries to stop laughing and then he responds, “It’s probably something like this ….bleep, bleep, bleepity, bleep!!!!  In other words, she is literally pooping her snow pants!”   There is now laughter from the announcer and Bruce.  “Bruce, why do you think she is pooping her snow pants?  Is it because it’s the ONAC?  Because she’s on the 2nd place team?  What do you think?”    More laughter ensues.  At this point, I’m ready to kill the hubby.    My loyal, lifelong partner responds, “You know, I’m not quite sure.  She has quite a crazy imagination and it is probably on overload right now.  I could never interpret all the crazy thoughts that are running through her brain at warp speed right now!  Ha Ha!  I’m just glad it wasn’t me that fell off the sled and she had to fill in for me.  Whew, that would be ugly.”   More laughing.  Bruce, you better be careful, she could be listening.  To which I find myself saying out loud, “Yeah, bone head….listening….I’m LIS-TEN-ING …..IPOD….DUH!”  Then I see the dogs turn and look at me and I realize I need to shut up.

I make it through the slough.  As I’m nearing Danby Street I hear the announcer say the times of Ken as he passed through.  “Ken Chezik has passed through the Danby crossing in 10:33.  We have another musher approaching Bob.  Yes, it looks like Arleigh Reynolds’s team.  The team is looking good, strung out nicely.  Monica appears to be very, very focused.  It’s as if she sees nothing but the dogs.  She’s got this great Alaskan bomber hat on with a huge tail that is just flying in the wind behind her.  It would appear she is one of the team.  Ok, we’ve got a time on Monica.  Her time is 10:22, 10:22 through the Danby crossing for Arleigh Reynolds’s team.

I hear the time and start trying to process what I’m hearing.  If Ken left 2 minutes ahead of me and came through at 10:33, then if we were running the same speed, I would be through at 10:33 also.  Okay, so I’ve lost time.  No, no, I’ve gained time.  11 seconds.  Whoo Hoo!  Holy crap, maybe I’m going too fast.   Where is Egil?  Did they say his time?  Oh Gawd, did I miss it?  I turn to look behind me and I don’t see him.  I envision him approaching like a freight train, his dog’s nostrils blowing smoke and flames.  Ok, I need to focus.    As I’m regrouping I hear a familiar voice on the radio.  It’s Arleigh!  Holy crap, it’s Arleigh.  I’m yelling in my head, “Arleigh, Arleigh…talk to me Arleigh!  Tell me what to do.  Who are my leaders?  Who should I watch out for?  HELPPPPPPPP!!”

As if on cue, the announcer says, “Arleigh, I’m sure this is a very difficult position to be in.  Your team is out there right now with a stranger.  If there was one piece of advice you could give Monica, what would it be? “   “Well, Bob as you know I cannot help Monica as that would be against the rules.  I’m sure GUTS AND FINN will take care of everything if she keeps them at a reasonable pace, DOESN’T OVER RUN THEM and stays upright.”  “Arleigh, what is a reasonable pace?”   “Well, she shouldn’t let them see OVER 20 MPH and I like to finish stronger so she’s got to watch the dogs and leave a LITTLE GAS in the tank.  Easier said than done.  Monica, if you can hear me rock on buddy!!”

Then there is silence.  I feel a bit deflated.  I have no more information, with the exception of the other leader’s name, than when I started.  As my emotional barometer is now dipping low, I suddenly spot a musher up ahead.   The musher is wearing a black parka.  Is it Ken?  Oh no, what if it is Ken?  That could mean I’m hauling the mail and I might be going too fast.  Crap, I might have to pass him.  Ok, think positive.  See the pass.  See the pass.  It is flawless.  BUT, what if it isn’t?  Ken is a fellow Michigander; maybe he’ll be easy on me.  We know mutual folks.  I’m getting closer.   Is that Ken?    Then I hear the radio announcer.  “Hey Joe, how do things look out at Creamer’s 9 mile?  Ok, Bob we’ve got a musher coming up.   It is Ken Chezik with a time of 32:38….32:38.”  I am momentarily relieved.  WHEW!   Thank Gawd, hallelujah it’s not Ken in front of me.

Like flipping a page, the dream now has me back in Creamer’s field and there are spectators lining the trail to see the teams on their way back to the finish.  I’ve somehow ran most of the track and there is no recollection of it.   I’m intently focused on a particular dog that has diarrhea.  I’m watching it closely to make sure it is still on its tug.  Man, I don’t want to have to bag a dog.  I thought I read somewhere in these races they just run up and cut the neckline and tug and get them in the bag in record time.  I don’t even have a knife on me.  As I’m studying the dog, we are still moving at a good clip and then I get hit in the face with flying wet poo.  Unlike at 13-15 mph, poo doesn’t drop vertical, it flies horizontal and it managed to fly right into my mouth.  As I become horrified with the fact I have poo in my mouth, I faintly hear someone call trail behind me.  I look back and it is the team I passed earlier.   I am spitting up a poo storm just as the team begins its pass.  Then I suddenly hear the crowd erupt, “BOOO BOOOOO BAD SPORT, BOOO BOOOO!!”   I look around to see what the guy did and as he passes me he mutters, “Well take care of this at the truck.”  I am totally confused.  “Take care of WHAT at the truck?”   Oh my gawd, what just happened?  Then as the booing is fading in the background, the radio announcer comes on and I hear that the officials have been notified of unsportsmanlike conduct by Arleigh Reynolds’s team.   An investigation will ensue.   I’m thinking, “Are you flippen kidding me?  An investigation?  Oh Lord what I have I done now?”  The announcer then begins questioning Bruce.  “Bruce, have you heard that Monica was spitting at a fellow competitor as they tried to pass her?”  “Yes, Bob I heard.”  “What do you make of this?” “Now if they told me my wife had been flinging the “F” bomb at the other musher, I would have believed it.  However, spitting…….definitely not her style.”  “Interesting Bruce.  Why do you suppose she was spitting at that competitor?”   “Bob, I have no idea, but I am confident that it is not as it seems and we’ll just have to wait until she returns to find out what really happened.”

I am in total shock.  After all of this, I might be disqualified for spitting poo.   I try to regain my focus, but I am sick to my stomach and want to puke; for more reasons than the obvious.

I hear the radio announcer start sharing the times at the Danby crossing.   “Bob, we’ve had the last three teams come through now at Danby; Ken Chezik, Monica Magnusson and Egil Ellis.   Hold on a second while we get you some times.   (Pause)   Ok, we’ve got Ken Chezik through Danby with a time of 1:25:00, Monica Magnusson with a time of 1:24:35 and Egil Ellis with a time of 1:24:20.   These guys are close, really close.

After a quick calculation I realize I’ve got 25 seconds on Ken and I’ve gained over ½ of what I need to beat Egil.   I feel myself begin to freak out.   I had to make up 30 seconds to be dead even with Egil and now I only need 16 more to beat him.  This cannot be happening to me.   I start to look over my shoulder and each time I hold my breath hoping I don’t see the fire breathing Scandinavian freight train behind me.   I wonder in my head if he’ll call trail in Swedish just to throw me off.   Gosh I hope not, I don’t know Swedish.   Wait, I do know Swedish.  I learned one sentence before I went to Scandinavia.  It’s only one, but it was an important one.  I think I’ll use it on Egil to see if I can take him out of the zone, which could buy me 15 seconds.  I envision him blasting up and I yell, “Hey, Egil Ja skulle villa en kalt ule!”   I see the look of confusion … the shaking of the head…..then the realization that I just yelled, “Hi Egil, I would like a cold beer!” I then envision him laughing out loud, which disrupts his team and then they begin to shut down in the slough; that is when I make my move.

Ok, so it was a dream within a dream.  As I dip down in the slough, I see the musher that I’ve now been accused of spitting on and it looks like I’m about to make another pass as he is coming to a crawl in the mushy snow.  I call trail and begin my pass.  As my team is passing I realize I just cannot let this go by without an explanation.  I feel like such an idiot.   As I approach him I see he’s got his IPOD in.  I try talking to him and no response.   As I edge closer I reach and wave my arm in front of him.  You know, like you would do when someone is in a daze and you wave and say, “HELLowww”.  He looks at me, removes ear bud and I say, “Dude, I wasn’t spitting on you.   I had POO in my mouth!”  I then release both my hands from the sled and do the Vanna White with my hands to have him look at my poo spattered face as I stick it out towards him.  He looks at me, realizes what I’m trying to convey and the next thing I know he starts laughing and I mean really laughing.  Then the horror of all horrors happens.  My dream goes back into that slowwwwwww motion mode and I see my fellow musher suddenly lose his footing on the runner and he wipes out.   I’m now having a Dejavu experience as I hear the crowds start yelling, “Booooo Booo!!!!   Go Home Rookie Boooo!!”   I just about die right there on the runners.  Should I stop?  I can’t stop.  This is a huge moral dilemma.  He’s okay; I’m going to continue as I look over my shoulder.

“Bruce, we’ve got more disturbing news from the trail.   It seems Monica has now had another altercation with that same musher.  According to eye witnesses, she was waving a fist at him and then made a gang type threatening gesture with her hands and stuck her face in his at which point she pushed him over in the snow.  Your thoughts?”  Bob, maybe the pressure has made her lose her mind.  I don’t know.”

I’ve had enough fun now and this race needs to end.  I started out worrying about not staying upright and now I fear that I might wind up in jail.   I suddenly see Ken in the distance and realize I am almost there.  I start calling up the dogs.   I have no clue what Arleigh uses to call them up, but I figure if I get the tone right the dogs will respond and they do.   I can see the finish line in my sights.  The dogs are responding and we are picking up the pace.  I hear the last announcement on the radio and realize I am dead even with Egil Ellis.   It is do or die time on this final stretch.   I see the crowds screaming and the intensity is huge.  I look over my shoulder and it is my mushing friend that has unintentionally been a part of my now destroyed image and we are neck and neck racing for the finish line.  The crowd is going nuts.  I look over my shoulder and I can see Egil in the distance and the team looks menacing in the distance.  I shudder as I get the sensation I can hear them breathing down my neck.   I start pumping like a mad fool.  The guy next to me is pumping and laughing.  I look at him and laugh and then quickly turn away for fear he’ll burst into flames and I’ll be blamed for that.

I hear the radio announcer yelling in excitement, “Folks, this is going to be close.  Monica Magnusson is in a dead even heat with Egil Ellis who has just entered our vision way down the street.  Monica is racing neck and neck to the finish with team #22.  I don’t have a name on that team yet, but I can tell you one thing.  This is the same team Monica has been accused of displaying unsportsmanlike conduct towards  The odd part is they appear to be smiling at one another and having fun, which doesn’t seem like two mushers that had an altercation.  Folks this is crazy.   Both of these mushers are working like crazy.  LOOK AT THEM PUMP!!  Here comes Egil.  Is he gaining?  I cannot tell.  He is pumping just as hard.  You can hear him in the distance calling the dogs up with, “YIP, YIP, YIP!!!”   This is so close.   Will Monica beat the 10 time champion of the ONAC?  If she does, will she then be disqualified?   Holy cow, this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen.  There’s Arleigh standing at the finish line screaming for all he’s worth to his lead dogs.   I am getting chills folks.  Can you hear Arleigh yelling?  Faintly, you can hear Arleigh screaming in the background, “COME ON FINN, GUTS, COME ON!”  We have Monica and team #22 across the finish line and Egil is coming on strong.   There is elation in the Reynolds’ camp.  They are screaming, jumping up and down as if they just won, but Egil is looking really, really strong!  Here he comes.  He’s now over the finish line.  I’m looking at my watch and this is too close to call.   We will have to wait for the official times. (silence)

Suddenly, I’m all alone in the dream and everything around me is black and I hear the announcer, “Ladies and Gentlemen the winner of the 2011 Open North American Championship is………”

BRRRRRRRRIIIINNNNNNG  BRRRRRRRIIINNNNNNGGG  BRRRRRRRRIINNNNNNGGG   I am startled out of bed by my alarm.  I am gripping the sheets.  I am sweaty.  My legs are sore and my face feels dirty.  What in the heck?  That was one FREAKY nightmare!!

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