Obviously I quit blogging. This happens when you are suffering from sleep deprivation and even speech becomes difficult. I decided in Grand Marais that handling for this race SUCKS, especially when you are by yourself, which I was. I basically got 5 hours of rest from 7:00AM Friday until 7:00PM Sunday. So 5 hours in roughly 60. I was a capital “B” and swore that I would NEVER do this again!! Here’s a brief summary of our race.
Bruce came into Grand Marais first to a very large crowd, which surprised me given that we were so far off the beaten path. The team was led by Mikka and Anker and the team looked just great. They were loping nicely and looked happy. The crowds followed us to Fort RPM, which I had spent all morning building. I had snow walls and tarps and containers stacked everywhere to allow the dogs as much sleeping privacy as possible. We went through the dogs and everyone checked out great physically except Utah who was screaming if you looked at him. He’s a bit of a drama queen so I told the vet I would try to pin point his issue later when we were in private. The team was all very alert and nearly everyone bedded down immediately. Everyone except….guess who…. Toppi and his sister, Mikka!!! Toppi was hungry and on a mission. He was causing chaos as he kept trying to climb over the walls of Fort RPM and get into the back of the truck where he knew the food was. I didn’t want to feed him right off because they had all taken glyco cubes and you shouldn’t feed right away for the full effects. However, that damn dog wound up being such a problem I fed at 2 hours and everyone was up by then. They ate great and everyone but Toppi and Mikka bedded back down. TJ was also a royal pain and wouldn’t sit still, but she was next to Toppi so who could blame her. Max threw up a couple times during all this and at first I thought he had ate too fast. The team decided that they were ready before the 8 hours we had planned and so we decided that we would leave. Max, however, would not get up and I knew we had an issue. Despite how well he had drank and ate, he appeared dehydrated and started to continue to throw up. After closer evaluation we dropped him. I had pinpointed Utah’s issue and he was not going to be able to go either so we were down to 10.
The team was screaming to leave and we had trouble stopping them for the bag check. As we were running to the chute I asked the officials if Bruce was free to go becuase he could not stop. The guy said yes. I let go of the leaders and just as he passes through the line, they screamed, “STOP, you need to stop.” I ran up and helped jump on the brake and then they proceeded to tell us we needed to back the team up. We both just looked at them and said, “You’re kidding, right?” They weren’t. This went on for a minute until the Race Marshall stepped in and told them there was no way they were backing the team up and just start his time. Finally, they were off in a blaze. Max was still with the vets on an IV and they wouldn’t let me take him right away so I went back and packed up. Finally, they released him, but wanted him back on IV in Wetmore as soon as I got there. Turns out he had a gastric ulcer, most likely from the stress of Stage Stop. I drove the long 3 hours on snowy roads and finally arrived. I was dying to get a cat nap in the motel so I headed straight to get a vet for Max. Well, there were no vets. Long story short I waited for 45 minutes and got no where and finally told them I had to leave and prepare for my team to come in. They later found me and Max was put back on the IV’s and I wasn’t able to get him back until nearly 4:00AM.
I was by now a walking zombie and I had to haul all of our dog gear from the truck a couple city blocks to Bruce’s camp site in the woods and I just wanted to cry. Thankfully, JR was there to help me out and we got it all set-up and made a plan for when he came in. I went back to the room and laid horizontal for 30 minutes until I had to go back to the woods and wait. The team came in and they were tired. They attacked their food and immediately bedded down (even Toppi). We had a few sore wrists, but nothing major. I took the first shift and curled up on top of a 24 inch duffle bag and threw a parka over my head. I was freezing my ars off, extremely tired and my entire body ached. I kept dozing in and out only to be awoken to the reality I was still at the race and sunk further into crabby depression. Finally, JR came to relieve me and I went to get some food. I couldn’t remember my last meal and wanted a hotdog or hamburger…some form of MEAT! Well, they were no longer serving hot dogs and had some pale pancakes and ham triangles. I almost resorted to 1 year old tactics and rushed out of the door before I threw myself on the floor kicking my legs and arms in a tantrum. Dinner, breakfast whatever the heck it was consisted of cookies and Red Bull. Thank God for that stuff 🙂
When it was time, we woke the dogs and rubbed them down and walked them around. We had a few stiff spots, but nothing that we didn’t think wouldn’t work itself out. There were 3 dogs with minor issues; however, at the line they were all screaming. TJ and Billy led and Billy was all full of attitude and given it to Ivan in point. I think he was telling him, “Look Buddy, don’t be pushing me back there. We still have 60 miles to go and I don’t need you up my tail the whole time.” Ivan just looked at him with amusement. Apparently, they got a little more serious later in the run and Bruce had to let them know that it wasn’t allowed on his tour. I then had to pack the truck back up and head to Deerton in case Bruce had to drop a dog. It was a long ride and I was really struggling to stay awake. I scared myself one time and popped open a Red Bull. I know I exceed the daily recommended allowance of those things and wondered what would happen 😮 When I got to Deerton road it wasn’t plowed and had at least a foot of fresh snow. I barreled down the road wondering if I was going to get out of this place. It was snowing to beat the band and looked like it was getting worse. I got an update that the first teams were not even close and it looked like the run was going to be 5+ hours instead of the normal 4. I passed out in the front seat and the phone woke me up. I was talking to some guy and he was asking me questions and finally I asked, “Who am I talking to?” “It’s Doug, Doug Swingley Ha Ha Ha Monica, are you a little tired? Ha Ha HA!! I then proceeded to babble a bunch of nonsense to Doug, which turned out to be completely wrong. Someone had told me Bruce was in the top 5 and at least 20 minutes in front of Jason Barron. I relayed the info. He asked who the top 5 were and I had no clue. I explained I was brain dead and we would call him later. It wasn’t until later that I realized that there was no way Bruce was 20 minutes ahead of Jason if Jason left 13 minutes in front of him out of Wetmore. How embarassing. Bruce came through in about 5 hours and yelled he was dropping Toppi. Toppi was moving, but the tug was hanging and he was wobbling along kind of like myself. He came willingly with me and went to bed.
The drive to the finish was reminiscent of being out west. I couldn’t believe how bad the blizzard was. It was a complete white out, there was a semi-that went off the road down a steep embankment and I could barely see JR’s truck in front of me. We crawled along with flashers blinking hoping that it would let up. It didn’t until we hit Marquette. Then we did the long wait at the finish line. They announced that Bruce and Martin Koenig were in a foot race to the finish having crossed a landmark at the same time. Bruce’s team was later stopped by traffic for a couple minutes, which he took issue with especially in a foot race. I was nervous to see the team at the finish and feared they would fall over in front of everyone. So I was pleasantly surprised to see them come in happy and rolling in the snow. They finished in 8th place and we were more than pleased given that we had never trained for this sort of race.
We learned that the training issues that plagued us out west also played a role at this race. The lack of camping experience effected the team slightly as well. However, aside from those issues we learned that we have a team that can do this and do it well. It was sad and yet amusing all at the same time as we learned about some of the talk centered around our team. Apparently, there were folks betting that we wouldn’t finish the race and several comments were made about our “wimpy” stage dogs. Folks were making comments that our dogs were only used to hard, fast trails and would crumble under these conditions because they couldn’t be put back in the box. Oh, and they were too skinny. I was shocked and amazed at the number of negative comments. If not for the amount of supportive folks, it may have been a real drag. I cannot help but feel compelled to clarify a few things:
1. Our “wimpy” stage team consisted of 5 multiple Iditarod finishers from top teams and 1 finisher of the Fenmundslopet that is also an Open Class Unlimited Sprint finisher. Each of those dogs finished this race and were ready for more.
2. There have been several “wimpy” stage teams that have run the UP 200 and kicked butt; Doug Swingley 1st, Melanie Shirilla 4th, Frank Teasley 1st & 3rd, Lloyd Gilbertson 4th, Wendy Davis 8th, Anna Anderson 2nd
3. Several “wimpy” stage teams have gone on to complete the Iditarod: Doug Swingley (4x winner), Melanie Shirilla, Katie Davis, Dan Carter, Jacque Phillip, Ken Anderson, Nikolich Alexsandar.
4. After now experiencing the UP 200 it is our opinion, as well as, several others we’ve spoken to that this race is easy on dogs in comparison to the Stage Stop both mentally and physically. I’ve seen dog’s come in after climbing 11,000 feet in elevation running through snow often 4 foot deep with no base in 55 mph winds for 76 miles and they look a helluv alot more spent than anything I saw this weekend.
5. The weather, trail conditions and environment are far more tasking on the dogs, mushers and handlers then what was thrown at us this past weekend. Try 8 days of that crap and pushing your team to run as fast as they can through it and climbing mountains at the same time then pack up and drive 3 hours in it.
6. You work on dogs alot more at Stage Stop than in the 200. Dogs can leave a checkpoint with minor injuries that you would never consider sending them on the trail with at Stage Stop.
I believe the above is proof that stage dogs are some of the most versatile canine athletes in the world. They can run fast, they have endurance and they are TOUGH!