{Tsuga Siberians}
March 12, 2008 - "Slow Down Before You Stop"
  Howdy all.

In the week after the Quest Finishers Banquet, Sue and I had some  time to relax at the cabin on Annie Lake Road and think about heading  home. 

Lance & Tonya Mackey at our table!
Lance with Rev & Handsome
Mike & Sue with Quest founder Leroy Shank

With the reports of more snow falling daily back in New  Hampshire and the snowbanks needing a front-end loader to open our  driveway, we also started thinking of heading back up to Alaska to  run a race or two, and kind of slow down and enjoy the north for just  a bit longer before we head back south.  After a very nice run up to  Alligator Lake that Sue and I took, we were convinced the dogs were  ready and wanting more.  All of our time in the Fairbanks area this  winter had been very rushed.  After the GinGin race in December, we  were here, but we were super busy shopping and running around doing  errands.  Then, of course, the few days before Quest were pretty  busy, too.  Bill and Sandy had made us feel totally at home here in  Two Rivers for both of those trips and when I finally got ahold of  Bill to ask if their cabin was available for March, he said "Get on  up here!"  without hesitation.  So after making arrangements to make  it all work, we headed for Alaska last Wednesday morning, the 5th.   Home was pulling us in the other direction, but Alaska was pulling us  back in for a bit more fun.

Hawkeye & Stump in lead
Camping near Alligator Lake

We had Thursday to get settled in here, go shopping for food and  errands, before going to the evening start banquet for the Two Rivers  200.  When we were having lunch that day overlooking the Chena River,  we got to watch Buddy and Terry Streeper, who run one of the best  sprint kennels ever, pull out on to the river with their dog truck  and free-drop 30+ dogs; a pretty neat thing for us to watch over  lunch.   The mushers' dinner down at Two Rivers Lodge that night was  great fun.  Bill and Sandy are training some of their dogs with Rob  and Renee.  Renee entered the race as well, her first long run, and  we all sat together and had Bill Cotter and his handler Yuka join us,  too.  The Lodge is a neat place and a comfortable, enjoyable spot for  a drivers meeting and dinner.  Bill and I got to relive some Quest  stories and we got to meet a bunch more local mushers along with some  folks we'd met at GinGin or Quest.  I drew bib number 5 and was  pretty happy to be towards the start of the field as the first 40  miles or so of the race are very hilly.  With the warm temperatures,  I had a feeling the trail would get a little torn up for the back of  the pack.  It was around 40 degrees for the start of the race the  next morning at Chatanika Lodge.  This race has a 100 mile first leg  to a checkpoint at Pleasant Valley Store.  There are ten hours of  mandatory rest and drivers may  break that up between the store and  Angel Creek Lodge, the other checkpoint, another short 50 miler up  the trail.  Kind of a neat format, and different from any race I'd  run before.  I planned to try to run a consistent first leg with  numerous short stops, but not a long rest in the middle.  My team  included Stump and Wilson, Mugs and Gila, Eliza and Reba, Logan and  Merlin, Hawkeye and Hood, and Ambler and Gecko.  8 Quest finishers in  the team, but notably, not Jim.  His foot is still healing from the  cut he got on the Yukon River, so this would become the very first  race TeamTsuga would start without Tsuga's Runaway Jim on the line.   Half the team did consist of his kids, so he was still with us.  I  was considering not even starting at all, with the weather so warm  and predicted to stay that way.  Despite my threats to scratch  because of the heat for the whole race, we finished in 6th place, out  of 19 teams.  A fair bit of the race runs on some of the Quest  trail.  I remembered that first day of the big race, just a month ago  - when it was over 80 degrees colder running on the Chena River,  while we ran into twilight.  Hawkeye showed some of the same trouble  he had a month ago and I carried him the last 35 miles in to Pleasant  Valley Store.  By the time we got there, Hawkeye was acting fine  again, but the rest of the team hadn't been snacking very well  because of the heat, and they seemed as tired as I'd seen them.   After almost 100 miles of trail in under 12 hours through the heat,  hills, and overflow, we were ready for a nice 6 hour break until just  before dawn.

After pulling myself up out of the sled where I'd been napping, I got  the team ready to go, minus Hawkeye who got dropped and checked out  by the vet, Jeanne Olsen.  Wilson and Stump had led the whole first  leg, but Mugs had really been charging towards the end of the last  leg and so she got the honors of moving back up front with her  brother Stump.  Wilson had done a great job and showed no signs at  all of the muscle strain in his shoulder that forced him out of  Quest.  Our run out to Angel Creek was mostly uneventful and fun.   That is, until the last 10 miles of it when the temperature and  sunshine really slowed us down.  The numerous overflowed spots on the  trail were now fun for the dogs.  It's amazing the difference in  their, and my, attitude towards open water at forty below and forty  above.  Open water was the one thing that Stump never really liked  very much, but he was now running right in to overflow, not at all  bothered.  Most of them weren't deep, not more than 4-10 inches, but  the change in the weather sure had a lot of them out there.  We got  to Angel Creek Lodge, which used to be a Quest checkpoint, around  11am, in a fine spot to take our remaining 4 hours of mandatory rest  through the heat of the day.  Race Judge and Quest Founder, Leroy  Shank, welcomed us in and agreed with my decision to not put straw  down for the dogs.  They needed to cool down, not stay warm.  Sue and  I had a nice lunch, and beer!, at the Lodge after I finished with dog  chores, and before I took a quick nap.  This race was a chance for me  to relax and have fun in a race setting and I tried to make the most  of that. 

Two Rivers 200 Team Board
Taking care of Logan at Angel Creek
Ready to go!

The run home went pretty well and I was in my best spirits  of the race.  One section of overflow had worsened considerably since  we'd been there that morning and was now well over my boots, about  knee-deep.  With only 20 miles to go and the temperature just a few  degrees below freezing, I didn't worry about the inch of water  squishing in the bottom of my boots after we got through it.  The  dogs actually got cooled down and the last 20 miles were our fastest  of the race since the first 20 miles.  We climbed the last hill  watching as a beautiful red sunset faded and then coasted back down  the other side as red, green, and purple northern lights took over  the sky.  Stump and Reba were leading this last leg, just like at the  end of the Quest.   We finished in 6th place, out of 19 teams that  started, at 8:20pm and after snacking, unharnessing, and loving up  the dogs, we got them in to the truck to sleep.  I got some dry boots  on before catching dinner back at the Trapline Lounge.  The northern  lights we so good, we had to interrupt our meal a few times to step  outside to watch.  At the Finishers Dinner the next night, I was very  honored to be awarded the Vet's Choice for the race.  I got a little  choked up to get this as I consider it as good as winning a race.  My  wonderful dogs sure make me look good.  The prize was more than a  certificate as they gave me a large vet box, full of supplies geared  towards a mushing kennel.  A very nice award, indeed.  Thank you Two  Rivers Dog Mushers Association and Jeanne Olson, DVM and her Raven  Veterinary Service in North Pole, AK.

Visiting Dieter & Gila Dolif's Siberian Kennel.

So now our racing is done for the year.  We seriously thought about  having Sue run the Taiga 300 that I did last spring, but it doesn't  start until April 1 and we need to get home to start creating some  income. So the plan is to hang out with some friends, run some short  local trails with small teams, and watch the Open North American  sprint race this weekend.  Then maybe one more week in Alaska before  heading south again and home to New Hampshire. 

That's all for now.   

-Mike.

 

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