Our first race of the season, Tahquamenon Falls, was a huge success. Me and Bruce and JR Anderson (running his own dogs) showed up with 28 dogs and took home 3 trophies. All of us were beyond excited at how well the teams did given that the heavy snows this year kept throwing wrenches in our training plans. We did more improvising than we cared to and weren’t 100% sure how it would all play out on the race course. Here’s a brief synopsis of the event; in other words all the gory details!!
8-Dog Pro 43 miles. Instead of competing against Bruce this year I got the pleasure of battling it out with JR for the title. He had the advantage of a sneak peak at my team and years of mushing experience. I had the advantage because he had started training late this year and was lacking some conditioning and my dogs knew this course. We had fun razzing each other prior to the start and then it started getting more serious when the jokes started to involve threatening each other with potential weapons out on the trail 🙂 I was a nervous wreck this year; more nervous than I had ever been before a race. The shear power of my team was weighing heavy on my mind. Everytime I talked to anybody, that’s all that they commented on was the “POWER”. Well, then I made the mistake of standing on the sled just prior to the race and the new runners made the snow feel as slick as snot and I felt a wave of nausea roll over me as I envisioned being flung into trees, thrown from the sled and dragging. Feeding off my tension, the wheel dogs decided to spar while we were hooking up and I had to play Alpha dog to let them know I hadn’t lost complete control. I stood there with a dog’s muzzle in my hand muttering under my breath why he better shape up and smiling the whole time for onlookers. This did nothing for the nerves. I got the 8 beasts hooked up; Max and Mary in lead, Quest and Pepper in point followed by Ivan, Mikka, Billy and Blizzard. Frank Holmberg helped me to the line with 3 others and he stood in front of the trouble makers. I pulled the quick release and the “POWER” was unreal. Frank turned around and looked at me with wide eyes and started laughing. I was on the claw brake leaning backwards and lifting the sled with all my strength. We were digging in at least 4 inches and it was doing nothing. I felt like I was trying to stop a car. Frank yells, “Do you want to unhook their tugs for the first 5 miles Ha ha!” then followed it with, “They’ll settle after 5 miles or so Ha ha!” I’m hoping noone caught me on camera because I’m not sure shear terror is very flattering! We left the chute and almost immediately the tension left. I realized that the trail was soft and there would be no records set on this day. I held the dogs back slower due to the conditions not wanting to tire them too quick and it was a good call because it got more challenging as the day went on. We traveled nicely and had a relatively clean run with a ton of head on passing that slowed things a bit. I actually got to enjoy the course more at this pace and it was worthy of sight seeing. They course had received about 24″ of new snow in the previous 2 days and sections were so beautiful and magical it took your breath away. The team looked ugly, but I new it was tough and they just continued to power through the snow. Given the conditions we actually think they had a stronger run this year with only being 13 minutes slower. JR was happy with his run as well given the teams lack of conditioning and the fact that he had lost about 5 minutes helping a musher in trouble. Now the adventurous stuff was with Bruce’s run.
12-dog Pro: Bruce let me have my picks and although there are more gifted runners in our pool this year, I chose to go with experienced veterans that would not give me trouble. That meant that Bruce got all the 2 year olds that had never raced (5) and all the dogs from Alaska that had never raced with us or were not accustom to this distance (3). The purpose was to weed out which dogs would make the Wyoming team. He led with Cracker and Anker (new dog for us), Vail (2) and Zipper (Alaskan sprint dog) in point followed by Rocky(Alaska- 2 year old), Cheyenne (2), Utah(2), Sedona (2), TJ, Shiner, Oly, Toppi. The chaos started before we ever had them on the gang line. The veterans started getting amped and the 2 years being born amped, joined in the fun and next thing you know the trailer is rocking and the decibal level exceeded MIOSHA safety levels. Then the 2 years not able to handle their excitement started to spar and we had 2 sets arguing on the truck. It was almost embarrasing……..oh I musn’t forget the veterans still in the truck screaming and biting at the bars. We got them all on line and to the chute. It took 4 guys to release Bruce’s snow hook from the chain when he got the countdown and he was off. 7 miles in he passes (2) 12-dog teams and one of the teams jumps into his causing a tangle. As he’s undoing the mess he realizes that he undid more than he should have when he notices Rocky standing loose in front of the team. Naturally, the loose dog is a new one to us that doesn’t just come to us. So Bruce pulled the snow hook and let Rocky be the chase dog. The team passed Rocky on a sharp corner and he started to follow just out of Bruce’s reach. He decided to trick him and called the team to “Get UP!” Rocky fell for it and shot forward right into Bruce’s reach and he was put back in the team. They motored on and were making great progress until some snowmobilers cut them off on a turn and the leaders followed the snowmobiles down the wrong turn. With 24 inches of new snow Bruce couldn’t hook down and had to grab a tree. Wading in thigh deep snow he had major tangles as he tried to turn the group around. As he tried to undo the tangles some of the 2-year olds got frazzled and Bruce found himself in a wrestling match which resulted in a very sore hand and blood streaming down his face from a few claws.
Fortunately for Bruce, Bruce Langmaid was also having similar issues as his team chose to drag him down the trail for a while with his leg caught in the gangline as he was screaming expletives with no effect on the team. Later he found himself in a tangle with (4) 12-dog teams. They figured they both lost about the same amount of time with issues. They saw each other in the last 5 miles and having been the last 2 teams that had started and knowing they had passed the entire field it was now a race between the two of them. Langmaid being ahead yelled back to Bruce, “Come on Bruce let’s really race it to the finish and give them a show!” No problem, this was right up Magnusson’s alley being a lover of competition. Magnusson’s team was just motoring and gaining quickly on Langmaid. They came in the chute right behind each other within in seconds. Langmaid set his hook walked back and shook Bruce’s hand. He told him if there had been another couple miles he would have taken him becuase his team was spent and our still had lots of gas in the tank. It was a really cool race experience for Magnusson to measure his team against one of the best with a phenomenal resume. The team was happy as punch and looked like they were ready for more. There was not really a weak dog on the team and now we have no clue who is going to Wyoming. What a great problem to have! Stay tuned