6.06.2016

Copper Basin 300

Lisbet feeding dogs at Red Eagle Lodge in Chistochina. 
Itelman wants his kibbles. 
Lisbet & her DayQuil. 
Nils, Lisbet & Katie Jean


At the start line.
Nils & Mini Lou in lead.  
Copper Basin was a tough race for me.  I had a very inexperienced team bolstered by one Iditarod veteran & lead dog, Nils.  Excepting Nils, this would be the longest & furthest any of the dogs had ever gone in their lives, so I went into the race planning to run the dogs like a yearling team. Lots of rest and no longs runs, a race schedule designed to teach them that they are capable of going the distance.  I also went into the race with a terrible cold, keeping a bottle of Dayquil tucked in my sled bag and my pockets full of cough drops.

The Team: Mini Lu, Orro, Nils, Fly, Shelly, Princess, Pearl, Buffy, Jasmine, Raspy, Bitey & Itelman.
Handlers: Nils Pedersen & Katie Shadrach

Race Recap: We had not been training at competitive mid distance speeds, but at Iditarod speeds (read: slow) which automatically dropped me to the back of the pack.  Plus, it turned out I picked the wrong old dog to lead the team...  Nils seemed unable to stretch out and keep the speed up. He was steady, and I`m unsure if we would have been able to finish without him, but he struggled with any amount of speed and it was frustrating to go so slow. Our pace (or should I say, Nils' pace) was compounded by terrible trail and an overcautious musher. I rode the drag mat hard the entire way, trying to make the dogs walk through ditches full of sugary snow, wicked stubs of willow branches sticking up & & down steep inclines rutted out from the brake bars of the forty mushers preceding me. I spent a lot of time concerned about the dogs; watching them struggle in the powder and the trenches, worrying a dog will misstep or be drug the wrong way of the lip of a deep trench and hurt themselves. (Please note, the terrible trail is due in no part to the race volunteers, it's just a matter of fact that all but the most hardened trails deteriorate after 30-40 dog teams rip over them).

It's a stressful experience to run a team of untested dogs in a long sled dog race. I've been working with the same group of dogs for two or three years now & this is the first time since 2012 that I've run a race with most the team comprised of completely inexperienced dogs. So, I spent the entire race worrying. I was very proud of them at the finish line but also distraught because they had been pushed, both mentally and physically, on the final stretch. We follow the main road into the finish line in Glenallen so there were a lot of "false finishes." Nope, that`s not the finish line, nope, not here, nope, not this driveway... good dogs! When we finally reached the finish line the dogs were pretty nonplussed about it.

I dislike stressing my dogs but also realize that our performance will not improve unless we challenge ourselves, and the dogs are always capable of more than I give them credit for. They are incredible natural athletes and their steadfast drive consistently amazes me.  I am the weakest part of the team, no doubt ! I have a hard time pushing them, but it is my job as a musher to bring out the maximum potential of each dog, a task that is inhibited by coddling. The dogs & I came out of this richer for the experience but the trail was so so terrible at the back of the pack,  I've decided it's unlikely I'll return to the race unless I intend to compete more seriously. Our schedule was such that we ran primarily in the dark, so I didn't get to see much of the famed Copper Basin scenery either !  Less rest, more scenery will be the goal next time :)

Big thanks to Katie Jean & Nils, my handler team. Katie came down with a a migraine and headed home early, so Nils singlehandedly parked the team and bought me cheeseburgers at the checkpoints. Thanks babe !!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds really exciting, if anything like this would take place in my country, I’ll surely want to participate or see these kinds of races. Great post though!

    ReplyDelete