Sunday, February 9, 2014

Nearing the Finish Line

Lot's of things are nearing both literal and figurative finish lines. As I have to return to work, for an extended 3-week tour of duty, on Wednesday, my R&R is nearing the finish line. The leading racers in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race are nearing the finish line, and....

So, I'll begin where I left off last Wednesday morning. As planned, Trish and I ran dogs. While Trish's team was well behaved mine was much less so. It wasn't a total train-wreck, but it was pretty darned close to the edge of that classification.

Last year Animosh did such a nice job in her leader trial that I decided I'd let her run lead beside my most experienced lead dog, Just. I also had yearlings Friday and Thowra in the team. Trish was running Maggie, the little sprint-type husky she saved from starvation a couple of years ago, beside Amazing Grace in lead. Aumaruq, the big goofy adolescent was in wheel beside Seamus.

While trying to get launched, Friday was goofing around as puppies do, and got into a big tangle in his harness. While trying to clear that, Maggie and Grace decided to visit and play with my dogs (we were hooking the teams up side by side). It took a while to get all of that sorted out and moving along.

Once started, Trish's dogs were prefectly behaved, but mine were less so. Animosh decided to snark at Just who tolerated only so far - about half way through the run. At that point he just stopped, sat down in the middle of the trail, and decided he wasn't leading another step beside the snarky little bitch. I can't say I blame him one bit, either.

Behind the leaders, I had Cassiopeia running in single swing position. I moved Ani back beside Cassie and let Just finish the run in single lead. He did a good albeit slow job of that until we came to a new intersection recently broken out by my neighbors. Poor Just was very confused by the new trail and I had to stop and go forward to show him the proper direction.

It's said that a good run is any run with no fights, tangles or unintentional breedings. We had the tangles and though not a fight we had Animosh's snarky fits. No unintentional breedings, Thank Goodness. It was a long, frustrating four-miles but I learned a lot about some particular dogs, and it prompted Trish and I to make some changes in the way we hook up our two teams that seems to offer some improvement and will probably prompt some summer projects to make it easier to hook up and launch two teams next winter.

Thursday was a town day. The heater in the little car hasn't been working properly, so we dropped it off at the mechanic's shop before heading across town for a dental appointment. During my dental examination I learned that some more of my teeth are approaching their own finish line. I have two that are likely to require extraction whenever they become symptomatic. In spite of periodontal surgery some 10 or 12 years ago and diligent care, my gum disease has progressed to a point where I need to see a periodontist to decide the best course of action in the future. Both my mother and father had lost all their teeth by the age of 45, so I'm well ahead of family history but it was still a disappointment.

About the time I was finishing with the dentist, I got a phone call from the mechanic. It seems the heater wasn't so much the problem with the little car as was the cracked head gasket. They estimated the cost of repair at $2,500.00 assuming there was no damage to the head itself. The car itself is only worth about $4,000.00 total and has plenty of other issues that need to be addressed eventually. I decided the $2,500.00 will be better invested in another rig whenever this one finally dies it's ignoble death. The little car is now approaching it's own finish line.

On the brighter side, we got about six inches of new snow through the course of the day Thursday, so when I returned home I fired up the tractor and spent about three hours clearing our drive way. That was really the brightest spot of the day.

Friday I fired up the snow machine, grabbed and chain-saw and shovel, and headed out to break open trails. Most of the trail was in great shape but there were a couple of low spots that needed some shovel work. When I returned Trish was on the computer, cussin' and fussin' while trying to negotiate some government websites. I spent the rest of the afternoon helping her deal with bureaucratic on-line forms. I have no idea how much the State of Alaska pays their website developers, but it is obviously twice as much as the quality of their work justifies. By the time we finished that it was getting late in the day and we decided a quiet evening at home would be more fun than running dogs.

Yesterday, my team more than made up for all the difficulties of the previous 2 days. Since Capella had done such a nice job in single lead with my tour team the other day, I decided to give her sister, Cassiopeia, a chance to run alone up front. I put yearling Chetan (Animosh's sister) beside veteran leader Rose in the swing position, figuring that if Cassie had trouble I could move Rose ahead to help her out. Behind those two I had little Selene, who hasn't run in a while, in single team position and for the powerhouses of the wheel position I ran Midnight's Son beside veteran Denali. Trish was running a four-dog team consisting of Amazing Grace beside Capella in lead, with Seamus and Beau in wheel.

Before hooking up, I moved the snow machine over to use as an anchor that would allow Trish's team to be a bit behind mine, hopefully preventing some of the tangles we'd had on Wednesday. That seemed to work pretty well, though even with only four dogs they moved the machine sideways a good four feet before Trish could pop her quick release and get them moving. 

We headed down the powerline and up the Two Rivers Road trail like a freight train and negotiated the meandering Swamp Trail (aka Potlatch Creek Trail) like a sports car on a mountain highway. As we were approaching the steep hill at the top of the Swamp, we encountered an oncoming team. It's a very narrow section of trail there, and the other teams leaders hesitated. They started again, but a dog in the other musher's swing position decided it would be fun to visit Selene (she's hard to resist) and then my wheel dogs. I asked Cassie to pull my team on by, AND SHE DID IT.

While the other musher was working on clearing her tangle, Trish asked Capella and Grace to move past the distraction, AND THEY DID IT. We were both running up the trail in very short order, which I'm sure made it easier for the other musher to take care of her issues as well.

The rest of the run was uneventful, almost boring as Cassie hit every single directional cue spot on, evening going "straight ahead" past the new trail that had caused Just so much confusion. It was a beautiful albeit brisk day, the trails were good, the dogs were good and the video I recorded of the run also came out good, so I decided to just post the entire run on-line. 

Here's the run from my perspective. The head-on pass can be viewed at about 11 minutes, 15 seconds into the video.

Meanwhile, the leading mushers in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race are also nearing their finish line, and giving us one heck of a good show in the process. Ever since Dawson Allen Moore and Brent Sass have been playing leap-frog, sharing the first place position back and forth. Both mushers are on pace to establish a new record. This morning the GPS tracker shows Allen Moore in the lead and starting his mandatory 8 hour layover in the last checkpoint of the race, Braeburn YT. Brent Sass isn't very far behind him, certainly no more than an hour behind. When they leave Braeburn they will have only 82 miles (more or less) to determine the outcome of the race.

Hugh Neff, running in third place, has lost a fair amount of ground. He only had 8 dogs on his gangline leaving Carmacks, and is now about 44 miles behind Allen. This close to the finish line, and with a relatively small team compared to Allen and Brent, his best bet is to just cruise along, take excellent care of his remaining dogs, and enjoy a strong third-place finish.

Cody Strathe and Matt Hall both left Dawson nearly a full day behind the leading trio, but they are also leap-frogging positions in a hot race for fourth place. Matt's rookie run has thus far been exemplary, especially considering the level of competition in this race. They are currently approaching Pelly Crossing and it looks like they are set-up for a neck to neck race to the finish line.

In the back of the pack, Siberian husky driver Tony Angelo was withdrawn from the race after using the emergency button on his SPOT GPS tracker to summon outside assistance. He was found safe, with a healthy team of dogs, but deemed his team unable to continue the competition.  That leaves Hank DeBruin as the only Siberian driver left in the competition and it appears that he will probably finish and win a little money as well as the Red Lantern award.

1 comment:

  1. You didn't mention Orion today - how's he going? Or have I missed something?