{Tsuga Siberians}

January 16, 2006 - “Couldn't Be More Proud”

Rain at the race start
Race Start - Where's the snow?

Sue & Mike
Still smiling before 2" of rain


On Thursday, while packing up to leave for Eagle Lake, I checked the weather forecast for northern Maine. I didn’t like what I heard, so I made a couple of calls to friends up there, and the general consensus was that there was so much snow, a little rain couldn’t hurt that much. My gut feeling was to stop packing, ignore the local optimism, heed the weather forecast and avoid the long drive, cost of gas and lodging and just not go to the Eagle Lake 100 in 2006. But we are only planning on racing three weekends this winter and missing a third of something that takes so much to prepare for isn’t all that appealing either. Sue and I discussed the weather forecasts and in the end decided to not trust the weatherman this time with his warnings of “the potential for a significant storm with heavy rain and possible flooding.” No kidding, a National Weather Service warning said that on Thursday about the day on Saturday and we still left for a 100 mile race through the wilderness that started at 11 am on Saturday. It’s kind of hard to really explain THAT decision. The “severe weather alert” should have had a bigger impact…

A warm and dry day on Friday made for an easy 8 hour drive that had us pulling in to Tenley and Wayne’s Fish River Lodge only about a mile from the race start, but secluded and quiet, at about 2pm. The dogs, and we, were in good spirits as we all relaxed outside around the dog truck in the afternoon sun. Race jitters may have been getting to Sue a bit, but she was hiding it well.

Come Saturday morning, Sue was bib two out and I could watch her and the team for about 1000 feet before they were out of sight and off in to the woods and the building storm. At this race, the handlers can not even go to the checkpoint at Moose Point Camps, as it is in a remote area that gets plowed out just for this event. So I did what any good handler would do with a rainy Saturday afternoon and evening to kill with a bar in town that had playoff football on the big screen and race times being posted on the way to the bathroom. As the times went up, I got my first feel for how the trail had been for the teams. Matt Carstens was first in to the checkpoint, followed by four Canadians, any of whom I think most people thought would win the event. Matt has been up to our camp a few times this winter to train, and we knew he was working hard with good, fast dogs, so I honestly expected to see Matt have a great time. Sue’s time was soon posted and she was in the middle of the pack with a run averaging 10 miles an hour. Not bad for our team over tough trail in 45 degree heat and heavy rain. I felt like she was right about where we thought she would be. I could relax for a bit, knowing she was warm and dry for a little while after caring for the dogs and getting inside at the checkpoint.

After dinner, and maybe something to drink while watching the Patriots loose, I went to the finish area to start checking times through the two interval points from which times are radioed in to “race central” where the detailed timing is posted. Matt had been increasing his lead and coming in as fast as he went out. Sue’s times were not coming in as fast as they should have been and she had gotten passed by a couple of teams. I knew she was having some sort of trouble. Dealing with very tough weather and trail conditions is hard enough, but then when something is wrong with one or more of the dogs, things can snowball out of control all too quickly for a tired, stressed, cold and wet musher. I hoped that wasn’t happening to Sue but couldn’t stop imagining her shivering and miserable as the temperature was dropping and reports were coming in of lots of water in the trail and “waterfalls where the trail used to be…” Hearing that really didn’t help my disposition, knowing Sue still hadn’t passed the halfway point of the return leg and had lots of obstacles yet to overcome. Then the radio crackled about a musher coming in to the finish. We hustled back out in to the dark and driving rain to greet Matt as the winner of the 2006 Eagle Lake 100. As I helped him care to his dogs and stow his gear, he gave some pretty depressing reports of the trail, and said it was getting worse. It was half an hour before the second musher came in, Stephane Duplessis. He was followed by Andre Longchamps about ten minutes later and Martin Massicotte right behind. Andre’s wife, Amelie Aubut finished not too long after them in fifth place. Matt had overcome some recent bad luck and I give him a ton of credit for his humble attitude and quiet determination The New Hampshire distance mushing community is pretty small and we’re very proud of Matt and the Nevahome Kennel of Kricket, Mitch and Gracie Ingerson in Jefferson, NH. Well done!!

I lost track of time, but shortly after Matt got in at about 11:20 pm, the rain began to freeze on everything as the temperature dropped below 32. Each finisher came in with a new story about waist-deep water in the trail and dogs that had done amazing things just to get to the finish line. As we continued to wait, raincoats became like armor with the pelting ice, and if you stayed in one place too long you risked not moving again until spring thaw. It was just plain nasty. Finally sometime after 2 am, Sue came around the last corner, through another puddle and in to the finish line. I looked up and down the team, and they really looked about as good as 8 soaked and ice-encrusted dogs could to me because I was so happy to see wagging tails. But, wait a minute…, she started with 10 dogs, …dropped Curly at the checkpoint with a sore toe and the race officials had already turned him over to me. She should have 9 dogs here. Once we got the zipper chipped open on the sled bag, Sue revealed what some of the troubles had been for her... Maple had hurt herself and Sue had been carrying her in the sled for the last 30+ miles. The vets looked the little leader over and seemed to think she had strained her lower back, but not seriously. While Sue went inside to change and I fed and cared for the other dogs, Matt and Mitch who had stuck around to see Sue in, helped clean up sled gear. After a snack and a rub, the dogs were very happy to crawl in to their boxes and out of the rain for the first time all day.

In the end, 12 of 15 teams finished the race and Sue came in 9th. I couldn’t be prouder of her and the dogs for finishing an incredibly difficult race. As she continues to tell stories of the race and I’ve emptied the contents of the sled bag that weighed twice what it did dry, to thaw out today, my respect for everybody who got their team to the finish grows. This morning Maple’s back seems fine and Curly acts like nothing was ever wrong with his formerly swollen and bruised toe. I think we’ll be drying gear and clothes for a couple of days yet, but we’re glad to be home safely and have everybody in one piece. When Sue gets the chance, she’ll post some of her thoughts from the trail, in the meantime, I’ll glow with pride in my wife and her continued growth as a musher…

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