This past weekend Team Tsuga entered the Two Rivers 200. Tsue was going to be riding the runners and Mike and Zirkle would make up the handling team. Once Quest was finished and the dogs had some time off, I jumped on the runners and started to make the team mine. Mike can generally get more out of the dogs than I can, but I was going to do my best and hope the dogs trusted me to run their best. With 11 Quest finishing dogs and Boom, I had a pretty stacked team. I was really looking forward to this race and was able to keep my nerves under control. With much help from Mike the checkpoint bags got packed and ready. I drew bib number 11 which was a good place for me to start the race. The morning of the race start, at the Chatanika Lodge, was a nice temperature of -15 degrees, but getting sunny... The team was Mugs and Merlin in lead, Eliza and Moon, Gila and Reba, Wilson and Lotus, Trip and Logan, and Hood and Boom in wheel... Mugs is not our fastest leader, but with passing and big hills to start she was the one to pick, Merlin is still working on his leading skills and throughout the race he showed me just what he is made of. The plan was to slow them down the first half of the 105 mile run and then speed them up for the last half. We were able to do just that. On each leg of the race, I would stop for a few minutes each hour and snack every 2 hours. The dogs know the routine and enjoy the consistency. Almost immediately after leaving the start line, the hills begin. These are some pretty serious hills, but the dogs just chugged on up them. I was probably the weakest link on the hills, but I managed to do my part. Just ask my legs right now! We caught a couple of teams on the way up and got passed by a team as well. The views up on top were fabulous. What goes up must come down. The down hills were just as serious as the up hills. Standing on my break with all my might was fun. At the bottom of the hill we were told about an overflow glacier that was side hilled with trees to the left. Stay Right! Ok sound easy enough, yeah right! I saw it coming and hoped for the best. Well we ended up exactly where we weren't supposed to be, in the willows. Prior to hitting bottom, I tipped my sled on its side so the runners would hit the willows and not just drive my sled into the trees. The dogs did a great job extracting us from the situation. Once back on snow, I stopped to let the doggies know that they just did good. I also needed to calm some nerves. Overall the trail was in great condition. A few inches of new snow prior to the race really made the difference.
For those who know me well, you know that I am pretty good at getting lost. Well not in this race, the trail marking was outstanding and being familiar with the "home" trails made it impossible for me to get lost. I don't really like to be lost so this was a good thing to have the confidence to know that the ones putting in the markers really knew what they were doing. Thanks to all the volunteer who put on this great race.
About 40 miles into the race there was a dog drop if you needed to drop an injured or tired dog at. Well the team was doing great so we ran right on by. The temps were starting to drop and Mugs did exactly what I needed her to do in the first half so after snacking, changing booties, passing out some love, I put Wilson up front with Merlin for the 65 miles into Pleasant Valley Store. The race course followed some familiar trail for us, but almost every turn we made on the race is opposite of what we normally do in training. The dogs made all the right turns as I called them. I was so proud of how they were doing. We had passed a couple more teams back and forth, but I ended up being by myself for most of the race and that was just fine. Over the next several hours the team just got faster and faster. The cooler temps and getting dark really helped. The dogs just love to run at night. I reviewed that plan of what to do when we got to PVS and was eager to start that layover. We arrived at 12:44 on Saturday morning. The run was 12 hours and 24 minutes. The dogs were looking good, I was a bit tired, but feeling good. Time to take care of the dogs and then myself. Mike had picked a good spot to park the dogs against a snow bank. Under the cover of darkness and alone, I went about taking care of bedding the dogs down and getting food to them. I was relaxed and enjoying the time with the dogs. With chores done, I went inside to dry some gear, eat some food and get some sleep. The gear got mostly dry, listened to some good snoring, gave Mike my meatball sub... After 6 hours and my 6 minute start differential we hit the trail at 6:50 in the morning with enough light to run without a headlamp. The team was now in the paws of Reba and Eliza. These two dogs just love to run together and love to run fast. Helping to push the pace was Lotus and Gila, Wilson and Moon, Mugs and Merlin, Trip and Logan, Hood and Boom. The run over to Angel Creek was 32 miles and the cool morning (-25) made for a great run over. The trails up to Angel Creek was in great shape, no bad overflow and well marked. With the iPod on and dancing away we made it into the checkpoint in 3 1/2 hours. Wow the dogs did great! Look at all the people and a couple of horses. My routine in Angel Creek was not the best. I was a bit distracted and disorganized. I should have thought more about what I was doing. Live and learn. Mike was doing his best to not yell helpful hints to me as I went along taking care of the team. Although it took me a while, I did get the team bedded down, fed and tucked into the straw for a nap. Well the nap didn't start off great. Again too many distractions. The dogs were pretty interested in looking at the horses and then the 3 teams in front of us were getting ready to leave. Mike spent some time outside watching the team and I went inside to hang out. Since the rest was only 4 hours long, I decided to just relax in the lodge instead of sleeping... I don't always wake up happy so staying up was the best option. With the next musher behind me a few hours, I was confident that I could keep my position and have a relaxed run back to PVS.
The trail back followed the same trail out to Angel Creek and then did another 20 miles on the south side of Chena Hot Springs Road. I left Angel Creek at 2:19 in the afternoon under bright clear sunny skies... Yuke! The dogs started off pretty slow in the blazing sun and the temps had reached 25 degrees. The excitement for the first half of the run consisted of passing about 6 teams head-on. All the passes went well and the dogs were eager to run around the next corner to see if another team was coming. As the temperature dropped, the team picked up speed. After we cross back over the road the trail turns left into the woods and off the common trail. So we were now about 20 miles from the finish line. These weren't going to be a physically hard 20 miles but more mentally challenging for the dogs. We had to run past the turn to go home! Well the dogs really picked up speed as we got closer and closer to the home turn. Oh boy, how are they going to like running past home? I called the straight ahead (home is a gee) and they really didn't want to listen, but without getting off the sled, the dogs went straight. They were pretty ticked off at me at this point. The team dropped down to walking, a few were looking at the snowbank to see if they could just take a break and some were looking over their shoulder thinking we just passed home. I was pretty worried, but gave them some encouraging words and snacked shortly after to cheer them up. I am sure they thought I had lost my mind. They must have thought we were going all the way back to the start line. When I made the call to turn up the Beer Can Trail, they took off with amazing speed. They knew that we were heading home. Right they were and the last 15 miles of the run was just incredible. I had to hang on pretty tight to not have them drop me somewhere on the trail.
We pulled into the finish line at 8:02 pm Saturday. The dogs were happy with tails wagging. We received many complements on how awesome the dogs looked after running almost 200 miles. We came in 4th place with all 12 dogs and an overall time of 31 hours and 42 minutes. The highlight of the race was being recognized for outstanding dog care and winning the Vet's Choice Award.
This was my first Alaskan race and the race organization did a fabulous job with putting this race together. I had so much fun!
Thanks to Mike for giving me an outstanding team of dogs to run and supporting me throughout the race and before.
Most Valuable Dog Award goes to Merlin. He led the first 105 miles and when I really wanted to pick up speed in the second half of the race, he did just that from swing dog position.
Tightest Tug Award goes to Reba! She really loves to run.