You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

We’ve been coming to Stage Stop for so long now that we actually felt like old timers this year.  So in the spirit of all the old timers, I thought I’d walk or gimp my way down memory lane.

Once upon a time, a long time ago in the year 2006, we came and ran our first IPSSSDR.  We were as green as they come; a bright, bright fluorescent green much like Ryan Redington’s attire.  Folks, that is green!  We had only been mushing for 2 years so we were still doing a lot of dumb newbie stuff.  We were fortunate that our mentors had guided us beyond some dangerously dumb stuff, but we still had a full arsenal of stupidity to unleash.  Our decision to come to IPSSSDR was, by far, the most overwhelming and life changing sled dog experience we had ever had or probably will ever have for that matter.

Our trip to the west started with a white knuckle trip on bad roads into the mountains making me question why we were doing this; not much has changed there.  It was the furthest we had ever traveled with the dogs and for two newbies 1800 miles into the mountains with 17 dogs was very stressful.  However, the drive was only the beginning of the stress as our first training runs were something that will permanently be imprinted in my brain.   I recall pulling into the trail head and seeing a bunch of other mushers there and I was immediately intimidated.   We were playing with the big dogs now.  For the first time in my life, I witnessed a musher free dropping dogs and my jaw was getting snow rash from dragging on the ground as I stared in awe.  There was Sam Perrino, a tall, athletic guy with long hair and native features, calmly amidst all his dogs preparing for the run.  He would call them one by one to the line and he effortlessly hooked them all up and then took off without a hitch.  I thought he must be some sort of Dog God.

Then if that wasn’t enough, in pulls Melanie Shirilla and Katie Davis with a trailer full of dogs.  I watched these two smaller women strong arm two dogs at a time, one in each hand, out of the trailer and then they each hooked up two 16 dog teams and took off without a hitch. These chicks were bad ass and by now, my chin was bleeding.

Thankfully, these teams pulled out before we dropped our snarling, loud and crazy bunch of misfits from the truck.  I was barely managing to unload one at a time let alone two at a time and we were only hooking up an 8 dog and a 9 dog team because that was all we brought.  The dogs were literally rocking the truck because they were banging so hard to go and it felt just on the edge of pure chaos.

We took off and I distinctly remember how slow they were crawling as the trail started as a gradual ascent.  I was immediately worried and wondered how they would ever do this for 7 days; not much has changed there either.   When we left the parking lot it was warm, but by the time we got to the top of the mountain I thought I had landed in the artic as it was bitter cold and blowing to the point of no visibility.  We could barely make out the trail markers and I was mildly freaking out.  Thankfully, we saw another musher that pointed us in the right direction.  The right direction was down the other side of the mountain.   This was when we newbies got our first major schooling.   We started the descent and it was a twisty trail with trees on both sides and banks that reached my neck.  I was on an old wooden Hall sled; which is NOT recommended for the type of maneuvering necessary on this type of trail.   I only had 8 dogs and was using everything I was worth to try and slow that team down and at the same time not get sucked into the corners.  The further we went the more speed we picked up until I was completely out of control.  It was a sharp 90 degree corner that got the best of me and I did a few barrel rolls before I lost the sled and the team.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had also wiped out on this corner and was waiting for me so he was able to catch the team.  In the process of this driving lesson, I had injured a dog and had to load him in the bag.   This did not sit well with him and as we continued to go down the mountain he wrestled enough to flip us and we were both dragging at a high rate of speed and I was unable to stop.  Thankfully, the husband saved the day again.   When we arrived back at the truck, we very quietly unhooked the dogs and pretended as if everything was ok.  Didn’t want to give the impression that we didn’t know what we were doing.  It’s all about appearances; right?  When we finally had a moment to ourselves, I looked at Bruce and said, “Holy shit, my legs are still shaking and look at my hands!”  I held out my hands; which, were quivering like a bowl of jello.  He laughed and said, “That’s nothing, I broke my ribs!”   Yep, the wipe out broke a few ribs and Bruce was about to start his first IPSSSDR with broken ribs the very next day. 

As if the training wasn’t intimidating enough, I’ll never forget pulling into the vet check and seeing all these mushers we had only ever read about; Doug Swingley, Charlie Boulding , Jacque Phillip, Sam Perrino, Grant Beck and Ken Anderson.  My poor chin.  I remember looking at Bruce and whispering, “What in the hell are we doing here?”  

The first stage back then after Jackson Hole was Lander and they had a campout.  After we somehow managed to get a 12 dog team to the line without assistance, a first for us, we then managed to lose the team in the chute.   Our first stage and I’m dragging from the gang line eating snow in front of everyone; perfect!   I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.  The second stage we lost a leader when her tug line broke; someone shoot me now.

Every stage was unbelievably stressful.  Back then they didn’t give you a booklet with maps and directions to the race sites or banquet; you were forced to figure this out on your own.   I recall getting up at 5AM in Kemmerer so we could sit at the gas station in the middle of town and then follow the first dog truck that came by.  By the time we got to Kemmerer we only had 8 dogs left we could run; something we’ve since learned you must avoid at all costs in Kemmerer.   It was a brutal, snowy day and when Doug Swingley passed Bruce he said, “I hope you packed a lunch!”   Then when Charlie came by he yelled, “The Iditarod is not this damn tough!”   Needless to say, they took the finish line down before my husband came in.  I was in a mere panic waiting for him wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do if everyone left and he never showed up. 

All the things Stage Stop can hit you with, plus some, we experienced that first year.  We accomplished our goal and we finished the race 15th out of 22 teams.   Bruce won the sportsman’s award for have a great, positive attitude throughout the race.   They must not have seen us screaming at each other in the dog truck when times got tough!

So to say, “We’ve Come A Long Way Baby!” is quite literally the truth.   We have come a long way and I can’t help, but laugh at our beginnings.   We have learned so much at Stage Stop and that still continues to this day.   There is nothing more gratifying than to be pushed and to witness your efforts come to fruition. 

On Sunday, we were in a serious race with JR Anderson for 3rd place and after we got the guys out on the trail Anna Anderson asked me, “Did you ever think six years ago we’d be racing each other for 3rd place?”   I laughed and replied, “Hell no!  That was just a dream back then!”   We are still feel very green in terms of obtaining that elusive 1st place, but I can honestly say that every year we get a little less green than the year before.

The race in Evanston was a nail biter.  We had 12 healthy dogs with the exception of some poor feet.  Now that the race is over, I can tell you what we were dealing with.  After Alpine, we had 8 out of 16 dogs with pads that peeled off.   By the last stage, out of the 8 with good feet 6 had splits.  So we had two dogs that left Evanston on solid, healthy feet.   So the booty issue was a no brainer.  You boot the bad ones or you risk them quitting on you.  So we did just that and we double booted feet on 5 dogs.  The trail was hard packed when they left, but the sun came out and was intense.  The heat was a major concern again and they sent a vet back out on the trail. 

Bruce said his start was a bit flat and the team took their time to get rolling.  To get the mileage in, the team had to climb a mountain, descend, turn around then climb back up, then descend and turn around and climb one last time.  There was lots of head on passing during these climbs and descents.   He could see the dogs were struggling with their feet on the first descent, but they only got stronger as the run went on.  Out on the trail, the mushers were sharing with each other where everyone was at so with 14 miles left Bruce learned he was about 6 minutes behind JR.  Upon hearing this, Bruce started descending faster than he typically does in a race attempting to make up time.  With 3 miles left to go he caught Bud Streeper and asked him, “Come on Buddy pull me in, don’t make me pass ya!”   At which point, Bud came off the pad and the teams averaged about 18 mph on those final miles.  This was enough to secure 3rd place.  Talking to JR later he was also descending faster than normal and in his efforts to catch Bruce managed to win the yellow bib for a 2nd time this season!

I have to say that we have always witnessed tremendous sportsmanship at this race.  The competitors here really love to compete and they do it without all the petty animosities that you often see elsewhere.  No one wants to win because the other guy had some fluky crap go wrong, they want their win to be the real deal.   As we were getting the dogs ready I ran out of foot ointment and had to ask the Anderson Team to lend me some; they did so without blinking.   I, in turn, loaned them our laser throughout the race.  We also helped Bud out with booties when they realized they weren’t going to have enough.  Everyone helps each other out to the line and back to the truck.  The camaraderie at this race is an awesome thing to be a part of.  It’s just one of the many reasons we keep coming back despite the rigors of the roller coaster ride. 

We had a blast racing our friend JR and the best part is at the end of the day we hugged and life was still good.  They have a great dog team with a great driver and crew; it’s a bonus they are also friends.  its-about-competition-and-having-fun-with-friends

We’d like to thank our crew at Magnusson Racing.  It takes a small village to prepare two teams for IPSSSDR and everyone’s hard work truly paid off this year.   We couldn’t have managed this without the hard work and efforts of Al Borak, Kat Manderfield, Gerhardt & Al-Jo Thiart.    I’d also like to mention that Al and Kat did a great job getting those young dogs through a very tough race.  On the last day, Al had 11 on the line and they were all barking and screaming to go.  We are very excited about the future of these young dogs.

 Most importantly, a big thank you to our dogs; they never cease to amaze us. i-love-dogs_design Here is a breakdown of how many stages these dogs did.   We come to tears when we think of our veteran, Sedona, who gave us 7 stages at 8 years of age and she led the majority of them.  The dogs that had 5 or less stages had more serious feet issues and were underutilized as a result.  Every dog on that team is healthy outside of their feet.



















































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