If you so much as blink your eyes around here, the weather just might change before you open them. The start of this year’s Stage Stop was wet, warm and dreary. This was the first time we’d ever seen rain and temps in the 30’s in Jackson Hole. Normally, in the Hole you freeze your butt off. I didn’t wear a hat all day and sported around in a lightweight coat. It was not weather that brings the mushing spirit out. The roads had minimal snow and the snow the brought in for the race was a lovely brown color.
Despite the weather, the town was full of the usual hoopla, but to mix things up a bit the race added a dual start to make things a little more interesting. It was mandatory that you run 6 dog’s; no more and no less. This was for safety reasons as there was no way to hook down. We chose to take all the young dogs that had never seen crowds before including a young leader. We were paired up to leave with Aaron Peck. On the long jaunt to the chute our young leader decided that people, pets, loud music and a jumbotron screen were not his thing. By the time he reached the chute he was wide eyed and freaked out. I told Bruce I didn’t think he was going to go, but he chose to leave him in anyway. As they left the chute, he started balking and his partner, Sedona gave him a raft of shit. About 200 yards down the chute he decided he was done. Bruce had to ask a spectator to stand on the brake while he switched out leaders. The spectator looked as freaked out as the leader and wanted assurance they were not going to take off with her! Bruce laughed and told her they didn’t even want to take off with him so she was safe.
Aaron Peck politely waited for Bruce and they continued only to catch Jacob Golton and Richard Beck. Richard’s leaders wanted to take him the scenic route and Jacob was setting out his sleeping bag and starting to build a fire (wink wink). We shall now refer to him as Camper Jake!
The results didn’t count, but they did determine your start position. It was evident there were a few different strategies this year based on the finish positions. We had heard there would be severe winter weather and potential for 8-10 inches or more in the higher elevations throughout Sunday. We felt the early start could be advantageous.
The weather didn’t disappoint as we woke to steady snow and the temps had dropped to the mid-twenties. There was not significant accumulations at that point to be concerned about breaking trail. The big discussion amongst several was whether or not to booty. Our goal this stage was to play it slightly conservative. The race this year is 62 miles longer than last year and it’s a long race. We chose to booty today and try to keep their feet healthy for later. Bruce would decide on the run if he would strip them. They told the mushers that the first 25 miles of trail would have several intersections with multiple choices. A good Gee/Haw leader seemed necessary. We switched our plan up a bit and ran SikSik and Sedona in lead. She is a crack gee/haw leader and would keep SikSik in the right direction. Bruce said it was a good thing as SikSik tried to make a couple of his own decisions and she attacked him. One time she actually knocked the poor guy down. That will teach him not to listen to the gal in charge! The remainder of the team was filled out by Sparrow, Pickme, Cora, Piney, Prince, Perry, Drift and Puff. They got off to a good start and left in high spirits.
The handlers all had to drive a couple hours to Ashton, Idaho for the finish. The snow had picked up by then and the roads were very poor. I must be getting used to driving mountain roads in crappy weather as I was worse than a texter behind the wheel. I hadn’t eaten all morning and I required food. Just before we left I managed to cut an apple with a plastic knife and then while I was driving I proceeded to try and slather natural peanut butter on the apple. If you’ve never seen natural peanut butter it is very runny. So I steered with the left hand and with the right hand I dipped into the jar and tried to get a blob of peanut butter from the jar to my apple, which was parked on the center arm rest. In theory, this sounded doable. In reality, not so much. At one point I was laughing out loud because there was peanut butter on the steering wheel, on my seat, on my ski pants, on the radio, on the console and on the floor, but there wasn’t a drop on my apple. I was not to be discouraged as I weaved all over the road. I wound up consuming probably 400 calories of peanut butter because whatever amount made it to the apple, I ate. My vehicle now as a lovely sent of peanuts mixed in with the regular doggy odors. It is 6PM and we are driving to Alpine for the banquet and I’m so hungry and all I can smell are peanuts.
As for the run, the trail had tough conditions and it snowed hard the entire time. ½ hour into the trail they started a long climb. The team steam rolled up the climb and looked really nice. It opened up into some wide open flats with rollers. This was a total white out and you could only see the track directly in front of you. The team caught everyone in front of them except Richard Beck by the 30 mile mark and they were moving nice. Bruce could see Aaron in the distance for a while, but the gap stayed the same for a long time. The team finally caught Richard’s team. Richard was in front of the team trying to get the dog’s to take a haw. The marker showed a turn, but in the white out you couldn’t tell that the turn was actually 30 yards further up from where Richard was. Bruce hawed his team and passed Richard and this took them into a ditch with waist deep snow. Richard’s team followed. They got out of the ditch and Bruce’s team was in a major tangle. Richard passed again and so did Charlotte. During the tangle the front end got interested in a female that is coming in and after that they went flat. He caught Richard and Charlotte again and passed one more time. However, the front end was not running like they were and kept wanting to turn back to the flirty girl in the back. By this point, Aaron had caught Bruce and passed and then Charlotte and Richard passed for the final time. Bruce switched out leaders and they got rolling again, but he had lost some significant time. We later heard that the back of the pack was the place to be as they felt the trail had really hardened up.
Jerry Bath had a flat run; the team got in cruise mode and stayed there. Ryan had a nice run despite having to bag a leader. He leased one of our dogs, Spit, and she did a great job for him on this run and still wants more. His great run may have had something to do with his hat; that guy is clucking crazy!! Stacy Teasley and James Wheeler also had dogs in the bag. Erin was having some struggles on the trail, but we haven’t heard the details as of yet. Buddy’s main team and second team came in back to back and paced each other the entire run from what we heard as everyone was passed by them together. Aaron’s team looked really nice as they crossed the finish line. Jenny Gregor’s team went flat and thought it was due to the warm weather. Jake said he had many issues.
Looks like Alpine got a good six inches. This trail always has a base. It is not snowing as of right now so we’ll see what the trail looks like in the morning. Stay tuned!