This stage is nice because you get to sleep in an extra hour with the 10:00AM start time. The weather cooperated and stuck around the teens today, which made it nice running for the dogs. Pinedale made the decision to have the trail run out of town, but instead of sending teams right down the center of town they took us to a school and ran us from there. It was much better than running on sidewalks next to a main highway, which we’ve done in the past. The trail still runs along the highway giving spectators an awesome view of the teams as they cruise along the 33 mile run. You can literally follow them for almost the entire run along the highway.
It is always our strategy to get through this stage without injuring any dogs or having any problems. The trail is always punchy, which can cause shoulder injuries and there are at least 3-4 road crossings where the teams haveto cross a 2 lane highway. There are a fair number of driveways and other areas that can create issues for the teams as well. At the musher meeting they told us there would be 5 miles of icy trail right away and then it would improve. We thought about our team, our overall strategy and made a rather unique decision to go with 8 dogs. The decision raised the tension at the Magnusson Racing truck this AM. It was evident that most teams were taking 9 or 10 dog teams. Our original plan was to go with9 and then we went to 8. I kept questioning this decision as I didn’t want to give up too much time; however, Bruce was adamant and held firm to the decision. There were several reasons backing the decision, but I was still freaked out. One, we knew the team was strong and could keep us where we needed to be provided there were no problems. This would allow us to rest more dogs for later stages. Two, knowing the power of our team we had concern about not being able to hook down in the first 5 miles and we knew there would be plenty of obstacles that could require us to have to hook down. Three, we knew the trail would be punchy and often the extra numbers don’t help, they just increase your odds of injuring more dogs. Once again, we were gambling.
The trail had hard portions and as always it was punchy in many areas, but it was in much better shape than we had ever seen it. The trail folks did a really nice job with what they had to work with. Our team was led by Pepper and Houndy and their supporting cast was Della, Slim, Billy, Shiner, Lahti & Mikka. The team was averaging about 16 mph for the first 8 miles and then we hit the punchy trail and slowed down a bit. They kept on cruising and then around the 20 mile mark, Bruce had a dog start to neckline. He had to hold the team up to protect the dog and made the decision not to bag because they were still able to move 13-14 mph and this most likely would have changed with7 dogs and one in the bag. The team held its own until about 5 miles out when the front runners finally caught him. Not bad for an 8-dog team. Buddy had some blistering speeds in tough conditions, which was impressive to watch. Anna’s team looked good as did Burmeisters. Bruce never saw Peck. We finished in 6th place and maintained our 5th place overall position. We are now 11 minutes out of 3rd and 8 minutes out of 4th. The gamble didn’t hurt us too much, but it remains to be seen if it will pay off later in the race. Tomorrow we run in Big Piney/Marbleton and it is supposed to below zero.
Update on the Big Piney leg was given this evening and they had to shorten the leg to 36-40 miles due to the last sixteen miles of the trail being plowed, which is the toughest section. This leg can be a difference maker and now it looks like things just got a whole lot easier for a lot of teams. Had we known this earlier we may have changed our strategy today, BUT…….that’s stage racing!!