As is typical of this race; one day you’re up and one day you’re down. Today we’re down. We were told several times that the course was hard and fast, hard and fast. They changed the trail so we were running out of downtown and at Midnight they started bringing in snow. There was an entire mile of snow that was a truck wide running down the side of a 4 lane highway. No fencing, no cones, no people — you literally run next to cars and semi’s crusing along. So we picked the team based on the scary outgoing trail and the information that was given about the trail conditions. It turned out to be a mistake. Pepper and Cracker were perfect getting through town and the multitude of road crossings and they never blinked an eye. However, the trail turned out to be 27 miles of punchy to bottomless punchy. To make it worse, leaving as one of the last teams and having a definite weight disadvantage was not to our benefit on this type of trail. We left at 10:48AM and the sun was blazing and the temps were in the 30’s when we went to the starting line. He started well and caught Sam Perrino and passed him. The team pulled away for a while and then the team wouldn’t stay on the hard side of the trail so Sam re-passed. They ran together for about 1 hour or more and then Bruce lost the chase when Cracker stopped the team to take a dump and got a tangle. Wendy Davis ran with the two guys for about a 1/2 hour until she pulled away. It was evident her size was an advantage in the conditions. Melanie didn’t catch us until about 25 miles in and by this time Bruce’s team was completely flat and there was no point switching leaders because the point dogs were flat as well. He had tried to switch the leaders earlier and could not hook down and wasted too much time being drug. Others had experienced this as well. Watching the teams along the highway everyone was struggling in the punchy snow. Megan Routley’s team looked real nice and Sean Hard, who left early, had a great run in and the team looked good coming in. We don’t think that going with 8 was a factor because with that type of trail it can lead to more injured dogs. We think folks might starting seeing some stiff and sore dogs tomorrow after that workout.
We were not the only team to struggle today. Melanie had issues when her team ran through a barbed wire fence. Stacey Teasley’s team had trouble at a road crossing and ran over some hay bales overturning her sled and then dragging her for nearly a mile down the highway. Krista Halnes had some scary issues early in the race and was also getting taken down the highway by her team and then had a scary issue in a parking lot. She turned the team around and headed back to the start. Her father was notified and headed back to get her, but Ray Gordon, one of the judges, talked her into getting back on the trail. To everyone’s relief the young musher faced a very scary trail and finished it!! YEAH KRISTA!!! Everyone commented on how punchy the trail was and the mushers were pretty tired. Some of those that have run the Iditarod trail felt that even the Iditarod trail has never been that bad. The sad part is that the trail boss works his ars off for everyone and everyone truly appreciate his efforts, but it is a trail that is a no win situation. Mushers that have run this race for nearly 14 years claim they have never seen it hard (now we know)! The area is nothing but wide open ranges and the trail literally runs along the side of the highway sometimes so close they are on the shoulder and they criss cross back and forth. It is an extremely windy trail and today was no different. It is scary in the best conditions and those can change in a matter of an hour. Today as I went in to the finish the roads were clear. When we left just 2 hours later the wind had picked up and the snow was blowing all over and the roads were snow covered and getting slippery and the dog trail could no longer be seen. Many of us have come to the point where this is a stage to endure and get through with as many healthy dogs as possible. We are always glad to see the teams come across the finish line safely and the standings become irrelevant –safety is our main concern. I think that every musher would jump for joy if they changed this route and put us in the mountains away from the road. Bruce finished in 11th and got pushed down to 4th overall. However, once again, the times were so close and no one is walking away with this race. It is still up for grabs and I’m sure there are many that would like a little wiggle room. We just can’t believe how close everyone is.
On the upside, we were treated to a huge lunch of chili burger and fries that was so big everyone split one. Then just a few hours later we got the royal treatment in Big Piney with another great dinner of beef stew. We are hotly debating tomorrow’s strategy. It is going to be in the 40’s and we are anticipating a tough trail since we heard it was only groomed 3 days prior to the race. Will it set or will it not set…. that is the question. Will the wind be a factor or not….. another question. Will the heat effect the trail or not….another question. If any of these is not a positive, it could like running dogs in a deep bowl of mash potatoes. Stay tuned.