And you thought a lot happened in the first half of the race!
I will jump to the end first. Please excuse the wall of text, I haven’t got to the photos or videos yet.
As a kennel we are delighted with 4th and 6th positons. It was a tough race - it was the Copper Basin 300, “the Toughest 300 Miles in Alaska” so we always expect the unexpected. After every race Aliy and Allen strip the race down and take an honest look at all aspects and outcomes. This race is no different, Aliy and Allen are looking at why our dogs slowed down at the end. It isn’t just as simple as carrying a dog made them go 5 miles and hour. They will ask questions: How did the race / rest schedule work? What do we need to adjust if we ever have those trail / weather conditions again? Was the preparation appropriate? How could things be better? They ask these questions whatever the result - good or bad.
We are the first to admit it wasn't a perfect race for any of our teams for a number of reasons and they will spend time dissecting it all. 4th and 6th is fantastic and Chemo, Scout and Kodiak still believe they are the winners even though they were in three different teams!
MEIERS LAKE - TOLSONA - MENDELTNA
So, let’s pick up where we left off - on the 70 mile trail from Meiers Lake to Tolsona then 60 miles on to Mendeltna. It seems like a lifetime ago!
The trail from Meiers Lake to Tolsana moves along the Alaska pipeline for a time then runs over Fish, Crosswind and Ewan lakes. At Tolsona we were much more sheltered from any wind that this checkpoint but the snow fell almost constantly.
The trail Tolsona to Mendeltna travels Tolsona, Moose and Louise later with BIG hills in between for 50-odd miles.
Mendeltna to the finish ran about 30 miles along the Richardson Highway - you can see the teams from the road and when Mark and I left we were able to see Aliy, Michelle, Paige, Allen then Ryne working hard next to the trail. One for the first rules of Fight Club - whoops - I mean “Handling” is to never never let the dog team see the dog truck until the finish line i.e. do not stop to take a picture else the team will think it’s time to get in the truck. It was hard to just drive by and try to ignore the fact your team is RIGHT THERE!
The run from Meiers Lake to Tolsona was the Black Team’s run. When Aliy got off the trail she said “that’s an Allen Moore trail” and it certainly turned out that way with their run time through that section. The trail was “punchy” (punching through the soft snow) with lots of hills. Allen said the team did great through there and he was pleased with his run.
Own arrival the team enjoyed their snacks and settled quickly. Allen again slept outside with his team, deciding to forgo the trek to the Fire House (where they had camp stretchers set up for mushers to rest). He left Chippy with us as she had a sore tricep and needed some massage and rest. She was a bit put out that she had to leave the team but seemed happy enough to get into the truck and eat a few fish snacks.
They got out on time after five hours in the checkpoint ready to head 50 miles to Mendeltna.
Allen was pleased with their run through to Mendeltna. They came in strong and everyone was running well. With just two hours rest at the checkpoint everything needed to be precisely timed if we were to get the team out on time. We worked backwards from the leaving time to ensure Allen was able to fit everything in. Once he got his arrival routine completed Allen came inside for something to eat (meat lasagna) and a nap. We counted backward to allow time to get a meal for the dogs, get them dressed and ready plus time to get to the musher “check out” point - mushers needed to walk/run back to the check-in area to sign out of the checkpoint then fast walk/sprint back to their team to leave. A handler from another team sitting in the same room must have thought I was some sort of sergeant major barking orders at Allen - “so, allow x minutes to check out, you want x minutes to ready the team, x minutes to get your boots on and water thermos filled - if you go to sleep right now you have 17 minutes sleep. Go”. In such a short race even a couple of minutes over time and it COULD affect the placings. In a longer race such as the Quest or Iditarod it is not as critical, although in saying that, efficiency at a checkpoint is always desirable no matter how long the race is.
We got them out in time and for the first time all weekend handlers could just breath out a minute. We had now done all we can to help and support for the race - it was now all out of our hands.
Aliy and the Red Team had also worked very hard on the Meiers to Tolsona leg. During the run Aliy decided to alter her rest plan and spend four hours at Tolsona with three in Mendeltna instead of the five and two scheduled. She left Sissy with us here with a sore wrist and mushed off into the night with Chemo and Spark leading the way in their green glow in the dark collars.
Into Mendeltna Aliy had an extra hour compared to Allen so was able to take a little longer with everything but was still super efficient getting it all done. The shorter the stop essentially just means fewer minutes of rest for the musher as most of the chores take the same amount of time whether you are staying two hours or six. We got her away on time ready for her run to the finish.
RED & BLACK TEAM
Boy those experienced dogs are great. Scout, Scruggs and Olivia are such pros, it was great for Chris to have such experience out front to help with the younger ones. Chris came in to Tolsona with icicles from his beard and was ready to head inside to thaw out after seeing to the team first. It was at this point on we didn’t see Chris again until the finish. I’ll get a team account from him later this week to fill in some details as I really didn’t get much chance to find out much about individual dogs or particular runs.
A SHOUT OUT
We’d like to say a word about the three checkpoints with hospitality.
Meiers Lake Lodge was a haven out of the shocking conditions outside. They happily made burgers and grilled cheese for us at 4am and were only too willing to help with whatever we needed. Free fudge or muffins? No problem! Thank you to the team out there who worked so very hard all night and all day.
Mendeltna Lodge was also amazing. All the food I saw being consumed looked to be very much enjoyed and my beef and vegetable stew with home made bread was to die for! There were so many treats and extras we could help ourselves to and for me, the best thing was the huge jug of water with fresh mint and lemon. I downed many many glasses of it. There was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out for some sleep and it was also a welcome haven. Thank you Mendeltna!
Old Paths Church at the finish line once again was fantastic. It feels like home, you know once you reach Old Paths you have made it. They had cook pots of chilli and about 4 different types of soup, exactly what everyone needed. Thanks to the hard working team there also.
We were also lucky to have along for part of the race some folks from Verizon, one of the kennel’s lead sponsors. William, Pepsi, her husband Larry and their two sons enthusiastically helped in every way they could. Goodness the gusto in which that team could rake up the straw was astounding and so very very appreciated by us. Raking straw to my mind is the worst part of the whole thing. Their positivity and interest was infectious and lifted our mood. Thanks team! Go Team “SPK Verizon”
Sincere thanks also to the CB300 Board and Volunteers. CB300 remains one of the kennels favourite races!