Friday, March 5, 2010

On the Trail

With temperatures a bit cooler than Wednesday,  I took a team of 6 out for a nice long run yesterday.  It was a longer run than I originally intended, but everything worked out OK in the end.

My team was;
Torus and Grace in lead
Seamus and Cassiopeia in swing / team
Capella and Beau in wheel.

Since it was nonetheless warm, I intended to take things pretty easy.  I didn't want to overwork the yearlings (Cassie and Capella), and I wasn't sure what kind of the condition the trails would be in.  All of the dogs, even the yearlings, were well behaved on hook-up.  They are learning what I expect and they are doing their best to provide it.  None of them got tangled up at hook up, not even the babies.

The adventures began shorting after I pulled the hook.  Heading out our feeder trail to the power line right of way the drag mat hooked a root, pulling it from the frozen ground and then wedging it under the mat in such a way that it also jammed the primary brake bar.  It took a hundred yards or so for the leaders to respond, but even with the excitement of running again they finally did respond to the "who" cue, giving me a chance to hook down and clear the obstruction.  I was in a precarious position doing so, but the dogs behaved long enough to accomplish the task.

Although runable, the Swamp Trail is not in good shape at all.  There are more tussocks poking their heads up through the snow and in some places dirt is showing.  Sleds usually work a lot better on snow than on dirt, so that segment of the trip requires a bit of fancy sled handling to negotiate.  I'd prefer to avoid it if I could, but that isn't always possible.  It appears the Swamp Trail has seen more four-wheeler traffic than anything else.

The dogs did the climb out of the swamp very nicely for such a small team, and the 'haw' onto the Money Trail went smoothly.  The trail itself isn't even close to 'smooth', though.  It has more snow than the Swamp Trail, but also sees more traffic.  Again, it can be described as 'runable' but it gives equipment a pretty bad pounding.

I let the dogs stretch out some as we crossed the first pond where I was surprised to see a team and musher resting on the ice, just beside the main trail.  I asked my leaders to take a 'gee' onto a less well defined snowmachine trail.  We had a couple of false starts but then they figured out I really did want to do that.  That allowed us some distance from the other team.  My dogs really wanted to show off for the other team so they stretched into a full gallop.  The other musher and I exchanged greetings and she commented that my dogs were looking "really great".  Nothing like an ego boost to set a guy up for disaster, eh?

We circled the big pond, and a bit more than half way around I stopped the team to cool off.  While they dipped or rolled in snow I opened up and downed a bottle of water for myself as I was a bit overdressed for the conditions and needed to cool off myself.  We probably stopped for 5 minutes or so.  I called the dogs up again and we were off, dashing over the ice of the pond and crash-banging our way over the portage.  As we entered the smaller pond I saw that the other team was still next to the main trail, so I asked the dogs to haw over onto the side trail.

That was a bit difficult for them, as they had already seen the other dogs and really wanted to visit.  We were also steaming along at a pretty good clip.  They hesitated until the last possible moment before taking the turn, and the wheel dogs weren't necessarily planning to follow.  When the wheel dogs did go left one of the runners of my sled fell into a rut, flipping me right over to the right.  As I hit the ground, with a death grip on the drive bow, I called "whoa", and bless their little fuzzy hearts, the whole team responded.

I was able to get a hook into the snow, but couldn't trust it to hold.  I pulled the sled over to me and righted it one handed, keeping a death grip on that snow hook.  Once the sled was up I was able to get a knee on to the drag mat, and from there getting upright with a foot on the brake.  With everything vertical again I called them up and we trotted past, though with much less style than before.  All of my dogs were very curious about those on the other team and spent more effort watching them than running down the trail.

Once past the other team we regained the Money Trail, and about a quarter of a mile down I had to call a stop when I saw my GPS receiver lying in the snow.  Apparently it had bounced out of its holster on the way out.  I was fortunate to recover it, as it is a fairly expensive piece of gear that I can't afford to replace.

The GPS had nothing to do with me becoming a bit geographically challenged as we passed an intersection of trails we call "Times Square", where four popular trails all meet.  Just beyond Times Square the Money Trail goes off to the right, and the Birch Hill trail to the left.  As we approached the junction I thought the Money Trail was a feeder trail going to someone's kennel, so called the team to "haw".

It's been several years since I've run the Birch Hill trail, and I'd forgotten just how much of a hill climb that it really is.  All of us, musher included, trudged our way up the hill to the top of the ridge where we regained the Little Chena Road extension trail.  In addition to increased difficulty, it also adds some distance to the total of our run.  We returned to the Swamp Trail and back to the house, happy to see some downhill running after the major ascent we had just completed.

By the time we hit the main trail back toward the house Cassie was getting tired.  She was coming off of her tug line so I slowed the team to a pace at which she would keep a tight tug line.  We maintained that slow trot until we reached the power line and the team gave me a nice sprint back into our own yard.

The dogs were plenty tired, but they reanimated when I showed them nice meatball treats as a reward for taking me out for such a nice run.  Yes, even with the challenges and adventures it was a very nice run. Both yearlings did "helicopter tail" for me and seemed to be quite happy.  This morning they are all acting as though they did nothing at all yesterday, and would be delighted to go again. 

My original plan for today was to run the other team, but the weather is warmer than it was when we started out yesterday, and the forecast is actually more favorable for a run tomorrow.  We may even get a little bit of snow between now and than.  Even an inch or two could make a big difference in the trail, so I'm willing to wait to give this second team a more positive experience.  There is plenty of time in which to change my mind, but at the moment I'm leaning toward waiting for what might turn out to be better trails.

Iditarod Start Order

Tomorrow will mark the ceremonial start for the 2010 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, in which actual racing will start on Sunday.  At last night's start banquet the 71 racers drew their bib numbers and starting order.  

1) Orin Seybert, Anchorage (honorary musher)

2) Linwood Fiedler, Willow

3) Cim Smyth, Big Lake

4) Wattie McDonald, Scotland

5) Zoya DeNure, Gakona

6) Jessie Royer, Fairbanks

7) Paul Gebhardt, Kasilof

8) John Baker, Kotzebue

9) Ray Redington Jr., Wasilla

10) Justin Savidis, Willow

11) Blake Freking, Finland, Minn.

12) Matt Hayashida, Willow

13) Scott White, Woodinville, Wash.

14) Newton Marshall, St. Anne, Jamaica

15) Jeff King, Denali

16) William "Middie" Johnson, Unalakleet

17) Pat Moon, Chicago, Ill.

18) Ross Adam, Grande Prairie, Alberta

19) Mitch Seavey, Seward

20) Hans Gatt, Whitehorse, Yukon

21) Ramey Smyth, Willow

22) Jane Faulkner, Soldotna

23) Karin Hendrickson, Chugiak

24) Art Church, Wasilla

25) Ryan Redington, Wasilla

26) Tamara Rose, Fairbanks

27) Warren Palfrey, Quesnel, B.C.

28) Quinn Iten, Kotzebue

29) Karen Ramstead, Perryvale, Alberta

30) Michael Suprenant, Chugiak

31) DeeDee Jonrowe, Willow

32) Robert Nelson, Kotzebue

33) Chris Adkins, Sand Coulee, Mont.

34) Kirk Barnum, Seeley Lake, Mont.

35) Sebastian Schnuelle, Whitehorse, Yukon

36) Michelle Phillips, Tagish, Yukon

37) Martin Buser, Big Lake

38) Kristy Berington, Kasilof

39) Cindy Gallea, Seeley Lake, Mont.

40) William Pinkham, Glenwood Springs, Colo.

41) Dallas Seavey, Seward

42) Sven Haltmann, Fairbanks

43) Jim Lanier, Chugiak

44) Sonny Lindner, Two Rivers

45) Hank Debruin, Haliburton, Ontario

46) Kathleen Frederick, Willow

47) Zack Steer, Sheep Mountain

48) Gerald Sousa, Talkeetna

49) Lance Mackey, Fairbanks

50) Aliy Zirkle, Two Rivers

51) Ken Anderson, Fairbanks

52) Dave DeCaro, Denali Park

53) Emil Churchin, Anchorage

54) Allen Moore, Two Rivers

55) Gerry Willomitzer, Whitehorse, Yukon

56) Hugh Neff, Tok

57) Rick Swenson, Two Rivers

58) Celeste Davis, Deer Lodge, Mont.

59) Michael Williams, Jr., Akiak

60) Trent Herbst, Ketchum, Idaho

61) Colleen Robertia, Kasilof

62) Thomas Lesatz, Two Rivers

63) Lachlan Clarke, Buena Vista, Colo.

64) Dan Kaduce, Chatanika

65) Bruce Linton, Kasilof

66) Sam Deltour, Sint-Kruis, Belgium

67) Peter Kaiser, Bethel

68) Tom Thurston, Oak Creek, Colo.

69) John Stewart, Aberdeen, Scotland

70) Billy Snodgrass, DuBois, Wyo.

71) Jason Barron, Lincoln, Mont.

72) Judy Currier, Fairbanks 

Who Do You Like as a Winner?
I've frequently said, and I firmly believe, that in any given year there are at least 20 teams that have the ability to win the Iditarod.  Of course than can only be 1 winner, and only 9 others who will fill the Top-10 slots.  At the risk of jinxing my favorites, here is my list.
ANY of these teams could win the race, depending upon weather and trail conditions, so here is my pick for the Top-10, not necessarily in order:

Lance Mackey (obviously)
Sebastian Schnuelle
Hans Gatt
Jeff King
Martin Buser
Paul Gebhart
Mitch Seavey
Aliy Zirkle
Ken Anderson
Sonny Lindner

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