The whole team did fantastic! There was no MVP and no one has a really big ego on that team. Actually I was concerned at the lack of egos when I started simply because in many races you have a couple of dogs that you can point to as your "ace in the hole".
Red Team into Carmacks - Photo Julien Schroder
I did have some experience on that team as well as extreme youth so I guess I'll start with the experience.
Schmoe and Scooter are dogs I can count on 100% of the time through thick or thin, cold temperatures, camp outs, jumble ice, checkpoint stops. They are without a doubt some of the happiest and most enthusiastic sled dogs SP Kennel has ever had. They will wake up and start wagging their tails howling and soon get themselves so worked up that they're barking to go. I really find a lot of personal motivation from these two dogs. I'll find myself thinking, geez if they are that excited to go on a -40F river bed I'd better be at least half that excited. I never did put Schmoe or Scooter in lead but I always felt like that was something I would do if I had to and I never got, at any point, near a "have to" situation. I think those two dogs are wonderful additions to any team.
The next most experienced dog I would have to say is Outlaw. He was on Allen's YQ team in 2015 headed this direction. He's an odd dog in that our harness system doesn't necessarily benefit him. He is a dog who is insistent about dipping snow for his hydration but he dips so much it is actually to his team mates and, at times, his detriment so I ran him with a neckline most of this race. That seemed to help because whenever he dipped he wouldn't stray too far off the trail which at times can end up with a mis-step and anchoring the rest of the team to a rather quick stop. But, as far as working, eating and positive team energy, Outlaw did fantastic. He is a strong animal and he used a lot of his muscles in the last 70 miles in the hills and I thank him for that.
Hotshot and Outlaw - Photo Whitney McLaren
The next group is the golf litter and I had the three brothers: the two big boys aptly named Driver and Woody and their smaller more sleek brother Iron. I'll start with Woody as he ran up front most of the time. Woody's just downright a sweetheart. He is completely a non-squeaky wheel, he never asks for anything. He somewhat can get lost in the hustle and bustle of things just because of that. So I focussed on him this race because I don't feel like he's been the main focus ever. I learned that he is a lot like his dad Biscuit, that he always wants to keep going down the trail even when he doesn't know the correct direction. He is very good with commands and he is the most high stepping dog I have ever met. When I passed Ryne at one of her camping spots she even giggled out loud that Woody looked like a Tennessee Walker going down the trail. Needless to say I am really pleased with Woody's performance.
I have seen what Driver can do in previous races and he did not falter from my expectations. He is steady, steady, steady. He has never been the smartest dog but he's very good natured. He came into the race with a bootie rub on his hind foot so that took a bit of effort tending to that every time we stopped as well as stopping several more times just to check it's status or apply ointment or a fresh bootie. He's got this cute habit of quietly whining when he wants my attention but you can barely hear it so you just have to listen. He's really cute for being a big lug.
Iron stepped up to the plate this race. I needed an enthusiastic happy dog in the position right behind my leaders and I picked him and that was a good choice. Whenever I walked him around before leaving a checkpoint he got very excited. I kind of see a little doggy smile on his face and I think he was pleased to be put in that position of team cheerleader. I don't think he'll ever make it into a lead position but stranger things have happened.
It's exciting to see those three brothers as four year olds and to see what they've done and what's ahead. Four is that great age where you are a mature dog but you have an amazing future ahead of you.
The fire litter - Tinder, Hotshot, Violet and Chena. It's just pretty cool to have so many of one litter achieving. I find that so satisfying that we breed so few puppies each year and a large percentage of them make it.
Tinder and Violet started in lead. Tinder is a lead dog. He has drive, smarts, ambition and confidence. He's fast but I still think he just needs to pace himself a little bit more. At the beginning of the race they really wanted to go fast and Allen and I both decided we were going to try to stay under 10 miles per hour despite the fact that trail conditions could easily have you travelling at 12 miles per hour. Anyhow it think Tinder wanted to go 15 miles per hour and it was hard to convince him to slow down. He held it together but he did get a little bit sore and I think this really has to do with his exertion level. He needs a couple more 300 mile races and I think he'll figure it out.
Red Team into Carmacks - Photo Julien Schroder
Violet is not a leader. I left the starting line telling Moira I was going to make Violet my new leader. I did not. She did very well and she is a super sled dog but she's concerned about the responsibility of being up there and she is always on the look out when she is up there. She'll find stuff even though it might not be there, for instance, she and Scooter barked for the next 15 miles AFTER the horses chased us. She was pretty sure the horses were going to chase us all the way to Pelly. That really made me laugh. They were like this unified force of dogs against this unknown 'enemy'. The hard trail took a bit of a toll on some of their joints and I left her at Pelly. She is 100% now; she is sassy.
Chena is one excellent lead dog. She has this demeanour of a sulky teenager, she always has had even as a puppy. She will never be the upbeat, tail wagging, enthusiastic sled dog but she will motor down the trail doing her job and getting enjoyment out of her alaskan husky genetics. She is great though and has her own personality. She's a dog that you can count on and I really believe she will be one of our main leaders for a long time.
Hotshot - ahhh HE DID IT! I am probably more pleased about him completing this race than any other dog. My honest expectations for him were not this successful. He surprised me and that doesn't happen very often. He is a DEDICATED worker: he doesn't do it for me, he doesn't do it for all the "good boy" treat in the world - he does it because he wants to pull that sled. Hotshot continues to put too much effort into his job but, in saying that he just finished a very challenging 300 mile race. Good boy.
Ginger and Ernie. I was excited to take these two year olds. I wasn't sure whether they were completely ready for a challenging YQ300 but when you start any race you never know what conditions are going to be for the next three days. Of course, they would have done a little better with easier trail contiditons but the reality is what it is. Both dogs have run a 100 mile race and ran much of the CB300 but they are not educated race dogs yet.
We need to take it slow with Ernie. He is a sensitive dog who is a good sled dog but needs to build up his endurance, his confidence and his whole sled dog skill set. He is a fun, happy-to-be-there dog but when he gets tired it is not fun for him anymore. He gets excited about the moment and then he gets distracted easily so he just needs to focus on himself but when there is so much going on, how is a youngster going to do that? That will come with time. He tried hard but is just very youthful.
Ginger tries too hard, it doesn't not surprise me I carried her in the end. I told her for 250 miles that she should cut back her intensity level to 85% instead of 100% but it didn't happen. I did, however, see her trot once so that surprised me. Most of the time her gait is a complete full-time gallop. She must have trotted at least 10 steps in this race! Basically, she did really well but she did not rest well - she sat up in checkpoints and looked around most of the time - and her exertion level was too high. In saying that she did well. It did not bother me or any of the team to carry that little girl. It was not a negative experience for anyone.
Often times in my life, my race teams are very strong and educated and true "race caliber" teams going for the win. Now, I would have loved to win this one and don't get me wrong, if Michelle had slipped up in any way I would have gone for it, but this team was not a team I expected to win with. Going into a race with that kind of team means I have to have a different mindset. But, that was probably good for me. I found myself singing a lot and looking at the scenery. Brian Wilsmhurst, who is racing 1000 mile race asked me in Carmacks "Hey, are you having a good time?" and I think I must have thought about it for too long and he got a bit worried, and I answered "Yeah I am having a good time". Every time he saw me from then on he asked me and every time I said "yes".
I did see two snow machines on this race, which is a common experience on a sled dog race. That is obviously an uncomfortable situation for me now but it went better than I had anticipated so things are looking up.