Stage 8 came and went with minimal drama. The sun was out and it was a hot day! There were no real races within the race and everyone just wanted to go out and finish without any major problems. Some of us still had problems; however, but managed to maintain our standings. Bruce had to bag another cramped dog one mile into the 9 mile course, which slowed him considerably. Jerry Bath’s team went the wrong way into a parking lot and then he took out two photographers on a corner. The trail had some serious sharp turns and Bruce ate a bit of snow as he struggled around them with a dog in the bag. They had a great turn out at the race and the spectators were very eager to learn about our sport. At the end of the day, the dogs, musher and handler are tired and glad to be done.
So the race is over and we are heading home with a respectable 6th place finish. Although 6th was not our goal, we have come to realize that in this race often times your goal can become unrealistic once you get on the trail facing some of the best competition in the world. You never know what kind of team someone will show up with, but you can guarantee the competition will be tough.
This year the competition was not only tough, but fierce! The quality and caliber of dog teams was bewildering at times. Despite all of the bad luck we were dealt prior to the race, losing more than 1/3 of our main team, our team performed brilliantly. If not for the unfortunate luck in the last stage, which left us with no opportunity to recover, we felt confident we have a team that can compete for top 5. The one guarantee about Stage Stop is that you will walk away with a new appreciation for your dogs, your competition and Wyoming conditions. You can guarantee your perspective on something will change and you will have gained new knowledge in some other aspect of this sport. Stage Stop is an endless learning curve and we ALWAYS learn something about ourselves, our training and our dogs and this year was no exception.
The question marks we had going into the race are no longer question marks and we couldn’t be more proud of our young dogs. They really stepped up to the plate and became the back bone of this team. We had one yearling on the team, Perry, and that little dude turned out to have the heart and drive of his mother giving us 6 stages like it was nothing. Then there was Umea, a 2 year old we had on the For Sale list, who proved to us that we don’t have a clue about cutting dogs because she gave us 7 stages with a smile and a tail wag every single day. She was truly a little phenom and we’re ashamed we almost placed her. Then there was Cheyenne who has earned herself a Main Leader title this year by leading 4 really tough stages without a moment’s hesitation and was still ready for more. Her brother and sister were unstoppable and her sister, Sedona, earned the MVP by powering through 6 stages literally out performing everyone and still barking and yapping the entire time. Those 3 litter mates (Sedona, Cheyenne & Utah) out of Ricky/Witch almost bring tears to our eyes when we think about their performances. They are nearly unstoppable and handle everything you throw at them no matter how tough.
The dogs did what they were trained to do. We definitely corrected some of our errors from training last year and saw those improvements out on the trail. The team was much stronger than last year and it showed in some of the tough conditions. We don’t believe our team last year would have performed as well in this year’s conditions. For the first time, the team was very consistent and we were ecstatic that we didn’t have to ride the daily stage stop roller coaster except, of course, until stage 7 & 8.
As we drive home we will review every stage and discuss the mistakes we made and where we need to improve. For us, this race is always a classroom and we learn something new every year. Often, we learn things that are humbling leaving us with that “DUH” feeling and this year was no exception. We made some critical errors in our training, which we know cost us several minutes every day; however, at the time they made sense….”DUH moment #1”. The good news is we had less “DUH” moments than in years past. Getting the opportunity to run with top caliber teams every day really points out your training weaknesses as they are rubbed in your face every single day. This is a good thing for us because we can be slow learners. After this race, we now have a clearer image of what we need to work on, where we want to go with our program and the plan is already in the works for next year.
We congratulate the Streeper Kennel for their 1st & 2nd place finishes! We were very excited to come and race the Streepers and they did not disappoint. We all knew that it would be tough to beat them in a foot race and we all knew they are professionals that would come prepared, but I think many of us were shocked at the seemingly bomb proof performances on the tough trail conditions, their ability to climb and the dogs ability to recover. It was a sight to witness and it certainly raised the bar at Stage Stop.
Another congrats to Joe Gans for handling the pressure and bringing the Gilbertson team to 3rd place. Aaron Peck, although not a surprise, had some very surprising and impressive runs and as the race went on his team seemed unstoppable as they locked in 4th place. Our hat goes off to Sam Perrino for kicking our butt, once again, when it came down to the wire. The man is a master at managing his dogs and was able to secure 5th place by running less dogs than everyone else on nearly every stage. Probably, one of the more impressive things we witnessed this year.
On another note, this is the most professionally run race we have ever had the privilege to compete in and the purse is the 2nd highest in the United States. Despite this, several questions remain unanswered, “Why isn’t this roster full on race day?” “Why don’t more teams from the mid-west come out here to compete?” We certainly don’t have the answer to these questions because we choose to attend this spectacular event. I wonder though, how many of you have asked yourself, “Why aren’t we attending one of the most professional and highest purse races in the country?” What is stopping you from running some of the most beautiful trails, meeting some really great people, measuring yourself against some of the world’s best and potentially making a great deal of money? Everyone talks about the lack of races in this sport and here is a race that has a huge National sponsor, Pedigree, that is putting so much money towards our sport and yet so many are reluctant to come. We encourage you to come and help keep this race vibrant and appealing to sponsors!