{Tsuga Siberians}

January 23, 2007 - “Eagle Lake Race Report”

Hello again!
This past weekend, Team Tsuga loaded up the dog truck at four o’clock Friday morning and set off for the 8-hour drive to the northern tip of Maine for the third running of the Eagle Lake 100 sleddog race. Sue has run it the last two years with very tough weather and trail conditions. This year with the addition of our yearlings and help from Peter Duncan, our mushing friend who is visiting from Scotland, we were able to enter two teams. My team was mostly veteran dogs along with a few of the quickest maturing pups (Mike’s team- Stump, Gila, Hawkeye, Trip, Romeo, Wilson, Hood, Curly, Jim, and Gecko.) Sue’s team had a couple more question marks, as 6 of her 10 had never raced before and we expected her team to be a bit slower than mine (Sue’s team- Kobuk, Mugs, Maple, Lotus, Molly, Eliza, Logan, Merlin, Ambler, and Reba.) Peter had come over from Scotland in order to handle for us at the Beargrease races that we were supposed to be leaving for right after Eagle Lake. Of course, those races have been postponed and our plans thrown in to confusion, more on that later. I want to tell you about the race first…

Sue's Team:











Mike's Team:











Friday’s drive was long and a bit stressful with snow covered roads the whole way and the year’s first race the next day. It was nice to see the snow and have the feel of winter in the air after such a horrible start to our favorite season, but many questions remained because we only had done ONE run with our sleds this whole year and we just didn’t know how the dogs were going to react to 108 miles of sled time. All our ATV miles this fall had us convinced the dogs were tough as nails, but we had no idea of their speed over longer distance. Saturday would bring some answers, Friday only held questions. Sleep was hard to find Friday night, but Saturday morning finally dawned bright, windy and cold (Temperatures were in the single digits all day and the wind gusted all day and night at 20-40 mph.) Perfect weather for a sleddog race!!

Sue was bib 6 and I lucked in to bib 7. That makes for a bit of a hectic start with two teams leaving the same truck only two minutes apart. Sue and Peter got her team started without a hitch. I hooked my team with one painful problem of pinching my left thumb in the truck tie-out chain after Romeo had tangled his harness in it, in his excitement for the start. I had to use our s-hook tool to pry the chain apart to release the tangle and somehow gave myself a wicked blood-blister, which turned my whole thumb swollen and black and blue. 24 total teams left the start chute at two-minute intervals starting at 11am. The early miles of the race follow snowmachine trail and we try to let the dogs warm up slowly by holding them back with the drag-mat between the runners we use as a gentle brake. By holding the dogs back a bit from the speed they want to run, they can maintain much longer. I made up the two minutes on Sue in about 10 miles and went by her with a clean pass. She gave me a bit of distance but her team caught back up to me quickly as they wanted to chase another team, especially ME. Sue followed along for a good 25 miles as we passed a couple teams and got passed by a couple more. When Sue had a little trouble getting her leaders to want to turn off a plowed section of logging road, my team finally pulled away. Our friend Steve Collins came by just when dusk began to fall as we cruised the last few miles down a plowed but snow covered road to Moose Point Camps, the site of the turn-around checkpoint.

Tenley Bennet checked me in and John Kaleta guided my team to its parking spot near the edge of Fish River Lake. Sue was the next team in, only 7 minutes behind me. I hoped she hadn’t asked too much of her young team and would pay for it on the return trip. Our parking spots were in-between small lakeside cabins, in the Maine tradition. Lakes do not make for very good wind blocks. We got the dogs snacked, watered and bedded down in straw as best we could without all the straw blowing away (much of it did). We also used our new dog coats from Mountain Ridge to cover every dog, something we had never done before but were grateful to be able to do here as the wind was still gusting at least 40 mph and a fine snow was driving into everything. All the dogs got wrist rubs and wraps, too. It was pretty fun working through my dog team and being able to look over next to me and see Sue moving through her team in the same sequence that we practice after each training run. She was moving efficiently and effectively and the dogs were as comfortable as the weather conditions would allow. After a nice bowl of hot stew and a chance to change our clothes in the lodge, we went back out to check on the dogs, give a few more rubs, rearrange some straw and wind blocks (snow, checkpoint box, sled, firewood), and change our runner plastic that had been badly gouged by the gravel on the plowed road sections of the trail. With a little more time left to wait out our 4½-hour mandatory rest, we went back inside to pick up our things drying by the woodstove and get ready to go. (I say “we” only since Sue and I were so close in time getting to the checkpoint that our schedules at the checkpoint were the same, although we couldn’t help each other.) The dogs were a little hesitant to crawl out of their beds of straw, but the teams leaving before us helped to fire-up the dogs as we bootied and finished getting ready to leave. With help from the checkpoint staff, we hit the trail again with Sue being released 9 minutes after me because of the start differential being figured at the checkpoint.

My team flew out of the checkpoint. I really have never seen my team so charged up leaving any rest stop in a race. I was very pleased but really wanted to make sure they didn’t burn all their energy too soon. I smiled as I kept my foot on the drag heading up the hills, right until I came to a team hooked down in the middle of the road with all of the dogs in a space that two dogs should be in. Not good. I couldn’t get off my sled for fear of loosing my team, but I did get a hold of the tangled team’s leader neckline enough to keep them out of the mess while the musher cleaned up the remaining web of lines wrapped around excited dogs. With things sorted out, I offered to help give the team with balking leaders something to chase, which got that team moving and eventually on by us and I never saw them again until after the finish when I got a hug, in thanks. (If you look at the race results, you’ll see there’s really only one person who finished ahead of me that I really would have been happy to get a hug from…). Once I was back alone with my team, things calmed and I shut off my headlamp to conserve batteries that were fading fast in the very cold wind-chill. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I watched the team move steadily down the trail. Stump and Gila set a marvelous pace together and I was really impressed since this was Gila’s first race ever in lead. My pups looked like veterans. My veterans looked awesome. I kept looking over my shoulder wondering if I’d see Sue’s headlamp at the end of any long straight sections. When I finally did see a light way back there, I blinked mine a couple times to say HI. Sue told me later she saw that but thought it was just a snowmachine or trail crew. With about 10 miles to go, the dogs finally started to slow a bit and then Trip tripped and started limping. I stopped to check on her and couldn’t find any tenderness in the front leg she was holding up to show me. I thought she was just tired and told her we didn’t have far to go. I don’t think my headlamp came off of her for the rest of the remaining miles, and maybe I should have put her in the sled bag, but she finished on her feet with the rest of the team in 9th place with a running time of 11 hours 32 minutes. Peter met my leaders at the line and guided us down the road to the waiting dog truck. Before we could even get a single dog boot off the team, Sue came to the line only 5 minutes after me. She had been gaining on me the whole way!! We were very happy to have such consistent results, to both be in the money, and to both have finished with our full teams in harness!!! We had never seen each other the whole 54 miles of the return trip, except that mile-distant headlamp blink, but we had finished 108 miles of racing only 5 minutes apart, that’s very satisfying for us. For the most part, my team was very steady and I didn’t move any dogs around the entire run. Sue said Kobuk was her superstar as he lived up to his billing of being a cold weather specialist. He led the whole way for Sue, paired with Maple on the first leg and Mugs on the second. All the pups did well on both our teams and that gives us great hope for the future and great faith in our process. The two little wrist injuries Trip and Molly showed us at the finish (akin to a sore ankle after a long day hiking for us two-legged creatures), have already healed and they’ll all be back in harness tomorrow to continue training for the remaining races on our schedule, which brings me to that topic…

Beargrease has postponed their race due to lack of snow in Minnesota. The date they moved it to makes it impossible for us to keep two teams in Beargrease and two in the Can-Am 250 which starts only a couple days after the completion of the BG. While we work over our options and try to decide what makes the most sense for us to do, our priorities are for next year’s Quest. I need that 300+ mile race of the Beargrease to be qualified. Additionally, the young dogs NEED the experience of difficult terrain that we think only Can-Am can provide. (Beargrease may be longer than Can-Am, but by being on more traveled trail and having handler assistance at the checkpoints, we feel it will be substantially easier overall.) There is barely enough time between the finish of the BG on Wednesday and the start of Can-Am on Saturday, but we think that we may try to have me run a team in the BG 400 and then race home, trade Mike’s team for Sue’s and drive to Fort Kent in time for Sue to run the Can-Am. Everything will have to fall in to place and we’re not sure we can make it all work, but it looks like that’s what we are going to try. For now we have to hold both our Can-Am entries in the event BG has to cancel all together. We’ll be contacting the BG office to withdraw Sue’s entry in the 150 there, as soon as we’re completely settled that this is the new plan. Between now and Beargrease, we’ve got hundreds of miles of training to do and a few other races including Stratford, NH, Greenville, ME, and maybe Sandwich, NH. We’ll let you know how this all works out…

Thanks for taking the time to check us out-
Happy Trails and Tails- Mike.

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