{Tsuga Siberians}

January 18, 2006 - “Sue’s 2006 Eagle Lake 100”

The day started early to feed and water the dogs prior to getting to the staging area at 7am. I didn’t sleep well on Friday night, but I really didn’t expect I would as my nervousness and anxiety increased. It was raining on and off in the morning, but the race marshall said not to worry, the rain would only be coming in “cells” throughout the day. If raining in cells means, constant rain all day long, I would agree…

As we readied the sled, the dogs, and the musher, we covered the sled with a tarp to keep it dry before the race even started. I left in the second position and got out of the start shoot with no problems. Many spectators were out, even in the rain, cheering the teams on to a successful race. The dogs were excited to be finally on the trail and I started to calm down. Stump and Maple would be leading us on the first leg of the race, and they were a wonderful pair of leaders. Most of the first leg I ran alone, except when other teams caught up to us. The teams that passed us all went by with no problems, only words of encouragement to the team. As the rain continued in the 50-degree weather, the dogs seemed to enjoy the cooling of the rain, I managed to stay fairly warm, but not dry. The first leg seemed to go quickly and we crossed Fish River Lake with no problems and checked in to the halfway rest.

Our checkpoint routine went very smoothly and the dogs ate and drank well. The handlers at the checkpoint were very helpful and eager to see the teams. Once the dogs were fed, rubbed down, and given their straw to sleep on, I went inside to dry out and eat. Moose Point Lodge was a great place to have a checkpoint and the hospitality was outstanding. They even had a well-needed dryer for some of the clothes I wanted to wear out of the checkpoint. While in the checkpoint the rain picked up and came down very heavy for about 3 hours! Those poor dogs were sleeping out in the driving rain. I checked on them several times and for the first 2 hours they slept, but after that they really wanted to get back onto the trail. At 7:15 I went out to ready the dogs for the trip home. Curly had been limping on the way over and I suspected that his previously injured foot was hurting him, so I decided to drop him at the checkpoint and spare him the trip home. Curly was the lucky dog. John Kaleta (Race Marshall) was offering all the teams a snowmobile escort across the lake since the trail conditions were deteriorating quickly and wanted all the teams to cross safely. I have had nightmares about this lake and the crossing I had last year so I really wanted to do this better this year. The dogs were excited and eager to go and many handlers helped me to the bank of the lake for the re-start. I really wanted to wait for the snowmobile to come back from across the lake for my escort, but that didn’t work out and before I knew it we were on the lake with me saying, “but wait, where is the trail?” I spotted a reflective marker through the fog about 200 yards to my left in the light of my headlamp. So I did what I needed to do, I stopped the team by sinking my hook into the slushy, overflowed lake, soaking my right arm up to my elbow, and stepped off the sled. With all the snow and 2” of rain the lake was in terrible shape with a lot of overflow, layers of slush and ice crust with more water under the ice crust. My first step off the sled was very deep and water quickly poured over the top of my boot! Ahhh, wet foot. What now? Take the second foot and do the same thing. Well my feet are wet and my boots are full of water and I’ve got 45 miles to go. Should I turn around and go back to the checkpoint and scratch? If only I knew what the trail conditions were going to be like, it would have been a very good idea, but I guess I had too much determination and stubbornness. And I kept thinking that I was wasting time, this is a race. Maple was in lead, but she couldn’t find the trail so I changed Maple out of lead and put Kobuk in. Wayne, from Fish River Lodge, came out with his snowmobile to help and after changing leaders on the lake, we were back on the trail, heading for the other shore.

Finally off the lake, I needed to stop and do something about my feet. The kind people on the shore of the lake held my team and watched as I took my boots off, dumped water out, rang some of the water out of my socks, put them back on, covered my wet feet in plastic bags and put my feet back into my very wet, felt lined boots. Ahh.. What a nice feeling. I hoped that this might keep my feet warm, at least for a while. The dogs had just ran across a lake that was very deep in spots and learned that going into that much water wasn’t that much fun which caused them to question other water crossings. The trail was very well marked and would have been exceptionally good if the rain didn’t happen, but there was a lot of snow and then the rain, so the trail was extremely challenging. The dogs encountered many puddles in the trail. At one especially large and deep puddle, Kobuk and Stump decided that they didn’t want to continue and tried to turn the team around half way through the puddle. Off the sled to deal with the problem, I untangled the team in knee-deep “quick sand” and had to be careful not to pull my boots off each time I took a step and also not to fall down in the puddle. I informed the dogs that we would be crossing this puddle and every other puddle we encountered. Kobuk and Stump heard my message and for the next several hours went through or went around the other puddles with no problems. Boy those dogs really amazed me. My feet were not very warm and the puddle incident invited more water into my boots.

About 15 miles into the second leg, the team picked up their pace considerably and I suspected a moose since I spotted many new moose tracks on the trail and off to the sides. I have run in areas many times that have moose activity so I knew the dogs had caught a fresh scent. I was watching closely and attempting to slow the team, but then they shot forward and I knew something was up. There she was, a moose running away from us on the trail. Boy did the dogs want to catch her. I did everything I could think of to stop the team. One knee on the drag brake, one knee on the claw brake, and attempting to sink the snow hook, but the trail was too soft for the hook to catch on the snow. We kept on gaining on the moose! Why isn’t she leaving the trail? Doesn’t she know that I can’t stop the team with the soft, mushy snow conditions? We got within 20 feet from her and I really started to panic, 15 feet from her and we are still gaining, 10 feet from her and she looks over her shoulder, I dump the sled over on it’s side and instead of turning and presenting a challenge, my friendly moose decides to jump off the trail and leave us alone. Very scary and I needed a few minutes to realize that we are ok. Then, back running with happy dogs dreaming of catching another moose in the future. The trail was punched up from the moose and her friends and Maple hurt her back falling in to one of the holes during our moose chase. I ran her for a few more miles, but realized that she couldn’t keep running, so I put her in the sled. The adrenaline rush did little to warm my feet and about 2 hours into the run I was shivering and felt decision-making starting to diminish. My feet were very cold and painful, but I have no more dry socks, so I figure that my gloves will have to do. I stop the team again, take my boots off, take my socks off and put the glove liners, my big mitten liners, and new plastic bags on my feet and back into the wet and heavy boots I have been wearing. It will have to do since I have no other choices. Teeth stop chattering and I feel better, even though I’ve lost tons of time being stopped. But, the dogs are still happy and are starting to pick up speed. Amazing. Ok, let’s go guys! The temperature was dropping and the rain turned to freezing rain and then into ice pellets (they hurt on the face). My clothes are frozen, but I am actually warming up from peddling and peddling and more peddling. Things are getting better and considering the conditions, we are all still having fun and we are getting closer and closer to the finish line. On one section of trail that is hard left up a steep hill, and the trail had turned into a waterfall. Eight feet across, deep, and flowing fast, the dogs didn’t see that as an option. There was a trail off to the right side of the “falls” that the dogs saw and took. It was narrow and the drop off to the left was about 5 feet. I felt the tears well up in my eyes as the dogs demonstrated how dedicated and smart they really are and we pass this section with no problems.

I see the lights of Eagle Lake and know that we are going to do this. Maybe not with the time the team was capable of running the trail, but the “11th dog” (me) slowed us down. I am excited to finish and get into warm dry clothing! The dogs were sensing the excitement and were looking forward to the finish as well. Two miles from the finish the dogs had to take a left off an icy road and nearly missed the turn, but they responded to my command and took us over a large snow bank, dropping us off the top, and the sled sunk into several feet of slushy snow. I muscled the sled out and off down the trail again. Almost there, what could slow us down now? Well, maybe a river crossing that was a mile from the finish. Kobuk and Stump didn’t think this river crossing was a good idea so I put my snow hook down. I needed to pull the dogs through the river. Up to my knees, mid-thigh, then up to my waist in the river. What am I doing this for? Since I was hooked down, I couldn’t pull the sled across the river, I asked Kobuk and Stump and the rest of the team to stand in the middle of the river while I went back to the sled. These dogs must really trust me and have faith that I know what I am doing. The dogs stand in the river until I un-hook and off to the finish we go.

Mike and several others are waiting eagerly for me, and I was so happy to accomplish this feat and proud of the dogs. My disposition at the finish was one of a very cold, wet and tired musher. Not always a pretty sight and I thank everyone who helped me. I want to make a special thanks to my husband for encouraging me to try my hardest and to never give up, taking care of the dogs, and not taking my grumbling at the end personally, since I truly appreciate everything he has done for me and our dogs. I feel honored to have experienced this journey with some of my very best friends and honest athletes. Thanks to Kobuk, Stump, Squiggle, Hawkeye, Romeo, Ambler, Jim, Gecko, Maple, and Curly. And Mike! I love you guys!

Sue the Musher
Tsuga Siberians

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