So I’m seriously slacking in the blog department. Yesterday I thought I was over the hump on this head cold only to discover soon after the race I was not! My energy meter went below zero and I found myself bed bound for the entire evening. Nothing like having a major head cold during an 8-day race to make it enjoyable; makes Monica bunches of fun!
So enough of that, let’s talk racing. We woke to 2 degrees and snow falling steadily. This year they shut down Yellowstone Avenue and had the start right in the heart of the town; which drew more spectators than the previous year. They brought in snow to make a nice trail down the main avenue. It was about 1/2 mile of trail to get out of the town. Bruce left with 11 dogs. He was conservative going out until they got into a groove. The trail climbed on the way out for about 19 miles then there was an 11 mile loop on top and they descended on the same trail they came in on to the finish line, which was a few blocks from the start. The trail had 2-3” of fresh snow on top of mealy snow, but there was some hard packed areas of the trail. At about 6 miles one of his leaders stopped and turned into the team for no reason, which was not a good indicator. The team got back on track and they were moving nice. Stewart caught him 7.5 miles in and they just stroked by him. On a long incline Bruce spotted Buddy coming. At this point in the blog you should click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuWt8Y9RvLw and listen to Blackfoot’s “Train, Train” to get the full effect of what it is like experiencing the Streeper machine approaching you on the trail. Imagine a dog freight train, smoke coming out of their noses, no whistles, but a rhythmic pounding of their pads. The rhythm starts out slow and rapidly picks up pace. Now you’ve got the picture. Bud caught Bruce at 16 or so miles and literally left him. We have raced Bud’s team several times now and this year, thus far, has been something different. The team is so strong it leaves your jaw hanging after they cruise by. Funny thing, this year in our first race our team plowed through 18” of fresh snow for the win and I believe I used the term “freight train” to describe how they plowed through that snow. I now have a new reference for freight train and I realize that we were merely a toy train.
When the teams crested the mountain the weather declined. The wind started whipping and visibility went to hell. You could see your team, but you could not see the trail. Bruce just kept focused and hoped the dogs could tell where they were going. Bruce started to catch teams at the top of the hill as they got jazzed when they started seeing other teams. When he caught Jerry Bath, he learned that Jerry had gone off trail due the visibility. The trail went right and his dogs went left. He was unable to hook down to guide them back to the trail so he patiently coaxed them back to the trail. As I understand it went something like this, “Please gee, Puleese Gee, Gee, GOOOOD, Gee!”
About 3 miles from the finish, Bruce’s dog Zephyr started slowing the team downhill. He had been off all day, but wasn’t holding them up until they started to descend. Bruce put him in the bag for the ride home. He could see Aaron Peck up ahead, but did not know it was him. Had he not had to carry Zephyr he thinks he would have caught him.
Jeff Conn came in first and he had a very nice run and the team looked good. The Streeper teams came in one right after the other and looked like they were ready to do another 60 miles. I was looking for any weak dogs in the team and found none. Seriously, every team usually has at least one dog that is off when they come in, but these dogs looked like they had just run 10 miles. We’ve seen Streeper’s dominate in the past, but we’ve not seen a team of this caliber before.
Interestingly, an armchair musher made a public post after the Alpine leg stating it was boring to see the Streeper’s dominate year after year …… and that he really hopes the other musher’s take it seriously and train teams just for stage racing otherwise, there is no competition….. WELL….. HUGE SIGH …… I cannot possibly let this go without putting my 2 cents out there. Never before have I seen a group of competitors take something so seriously. Let’s see is living in a trailer on the mountains training your dogs all season serious enough? Is selling your home to live in a condo to make life easier to train dogs serious enough? Is foregoing a home, but keeping your dog yard serious enough? Is putting your entire life on hold for 2-3 weeks to race dogs serious enough? Is selling your vehicle to get the cash to come race serious enough? I could go on, but I won’t. This group of mushers is some of the most serious competitors we’ve ever run across and they are not afraid of competition; they seek it out. The Streeper’s are giving us everything we ask for (and then some); we will all be better teams as a result.
The level of competition at this race is beyond comprehension unless you experience it. Each of these teams comes from their respective areas with wins on their resume. They are all great teams. When you put a bunch of great teams together you quickly have a yardstick of how great or not so great your team truly is. This is why we all come here. It takes a certain type of person to come here year after year to take your beatings and try to relish in your small successes. Sure it can be discouraging to be defeated by the Streeper machine on a consistent basis, but, in my opinion, if you are a true competitor you look at their success with admiration and, most importantly, a strong curiosity to figure it out. So to that armchair musher …… take a hike! SEE I FEEL MUCH BETTER NOW THAT I GOT THAT OFF MY CHEST!
Now, it would be nice if the Streeper machine didn’t have to beat everyone by such huge margins every stage. Couldn’t we work out some arrangement where you took a picnic lunch about 5 miles from the finish? Let’s mix things up a bit?
Back on topic. Bruce’s team is healthy with the exception of some feet issues. We believe Zephyr cramped up and so he should be back in the game after a day or two off. The day off today was awesome. We’ve only done two days of racing, but it feels like a week already. It was a great day to work on dogs and get things back in order.
Tomorrow it is supposed to be in the lower teens and it will be a hard, fast trail. The stage was cut down to 28 miles due to a lack of snow. This should make for an easy day as we will be on the road to Pinedale much sooner and will have a little downtime to care for the dogs and this damn head cold. Until next stage …..