Stage 4 was a bear and came complete with drama. We got to see the best and worst in sportsmenship today. We knew it was going to be a tough day when we literally followed the plow truck down the highway to the start as he plowed a single lane of 3 foot drifts all the way to the start. There was a caravan of dog trucks and officials at least a mile long following him. We had to sit in the roadway as he plowed out the parking lot. We laughed and joked that it was very doubtful there would be a groomed trail and we were right. They informed everyone at the driver’s meeting the race was delayed for a ½ hour and they were sending a snowmobile ahead of everyone to make the trail. Well, that was fine until the winds kicked up something fierce and the trail virtually disappeared within a few minutes of leaving the starting chute. The poor guy on the snowmobile got stuck a million times and struggled to find the trail and stay ahead of the teams. Teams were breaking trail in 2+ feet of snow, through bitter wind and cold (-2) right from the get go. Bruce passed several teams only to find himself breaking trail for over an hour until Doug Swingley showed up and graciously agreed to take his turn. Finally, the front runners all caught up and everyone agreed to run single file and take turns breaking trail or staying back. It was the kind of day where everyone had to put away racing. Then one team caught up and decided to pass to the front and the leaders immediately struggled to find the trail and went off course. Doug was yelling instructions as the team struggled and tangled. He finally got off his sled and walked a trail that the team would follow and got on the musher’s sled so they could get things straightened out. Meanwhile teams were stacking up like cordwood. Doug offered to take the lead and break trail, but the team chose to go on. To everyone’s dismay the team again went off course and starting down a mountain. Doug and Bruce proceeded on breaking trail on the correct path because they couldn’t help and Sam Perrino stopped his team to help as Melanie held his sled and everyone waited again. Long story short, teams were held up for 50 minutes waiting single file as everyone tried to help this team back on the course. Tempers got to an all time high. As they all trudged back in single file teams were running up on people and there were ridiculous attempts to pass for no gain. When the teams got in over 6 hours later the emotions were out of control. There was pushing and shoving going on at some trucks, yelling at others and a lot of folks comparing horror stories of how poor some peoples trail etiquette was. Many mushers felt ripped off like their race that day had been jeapordized to the benefit of others. Dogs and mushers and handlers were exhausted from the long day and all the drama. Afterwards, we had to make the 2+ hour drive to the banquette on crappy roads and we were 3 hours late. There was some disappointment on our finish, but it couldn’t be avoided and Bruce had to put away racing that day for the benefit of everyone. He was very pleased with how well his team handled the conditions considering we were lacking the sort of condition required for this type of running. Max and Mary led like champs and never faltered breaking trail. The rest of the team consisted of Ivan, TJ, Cracker, Shiner, Blizzard, Mikka, Tanya, Quest and Oly. They all looked good except some sore feet and Mary was pretty whipped. As of this stage 4 mushers have scratched due to the conditions — it has been an extremely tough race thus far.
Stage 5 started with very heavy snow in the morning, but the promise of a trail with a solid base! Yeah!! We were all estactic, but a little doubtful as the snow just kept coming. Everyone was walking around like zombies and the dogs were unnaturally quiet. We were dreading another loooooong day. However, the teams ran the course in relatively good times considering the amount of snow. It was a tough course again, but much more pleasant when they had a bottom to the trail. Bruce’s team rock and rolled today and took 3rd, which just blew our minds! Billy and TJ led and the team consisted of Indigo, Cracker, Pepper, Shiner, Blizzard, Toppi, Oly and Dickens. The dogs all looked great coming in except we have some pretty tore up feet, but those can be healed. We made the 3 hour drive to Kemmerer and were only 2 hours late for the banquet. The good news was that they contracted a groomer to start at midnight tonight to groom the trail because it is in very bad shape. We are holding our breath because this stage is traditionally very tough with wind blewn sections everywhere. Stay tuned!