At 5am the dogs had me up for their morning walks and breakfast. It was nice to have a kitchen with us in the motorhome with which to make hot coffee and hot oatmeal as well as feeding the dogs items still frozen in the freezer. They each enjoyed a frozen whitefish filet with their morning meal. By 7:30am we rolled out and went to the race site. It was part of the Sinnemahoning park a bit further south from where we were camping. The stream was cold and beautiful as it wound its way over a rocky bed through trees clad in the many colors of fall. Mountains formed an ampitheater in which we could view the glory of each sylvan fashion as Mother Nature showed off her creative hand. The snow had become big wet flakes, clinging to everything in soppy wet caressing embrace. It was a bad time to have no cabin heat in the motorhome. We tried firing up the Onan, but it kept cutting out after 5 minutes of run-time. Probably a low oil level. I made a mental note to bring a couple of quarts of oil on our next trip, as it seems the Onan was leaking. It will be another project for next spring/summer to rebuild the seals on the Onan.
We attended the mushers meeting, got my numbers and I gave a few dollars to James so he could buy himself 2nd breakfast (boy thinks he's a hobbit) from the kids selling cakes and cinnamon rolls. First up was the 6 dog pro, and I watched as the teams took off with great enthusiasm. We were up with our four dog team after, so I got out the drop line, got the cart out, hooked up the quick release rope and spread the gangline. I then harnessed up the dogs inside the motorhome them took them out to the drop line one by one. Princess and Bucky were quivering in excitement and howling to go. Freya was excited but as always projected calm patience. Yukon was happily investigative, and I hooked him in to the gangline. His gorgeous face and gentle nature are always a draw to the kids even if they are intimidated by his size and blue eyes. When he is close to them, his ears go back and he makes it clear that he is friends and wants a good petting. As usual kids begin to crowd around him and pet him, and Yukon is happy. Bucky on the other hand, is a bit shy but too excited to back off. I caution the kids not to crowd Bucky as he is so excited he has the tendancy to grab and pull on things to try to get running/going forward. Case in point, while my back is turned, he chewed the tie off for the cart in half, and I realized my folly of putting him on the drop too close to the tie off.
I quickly retie the rope as it is getting close to the time for our start. I hook Bucky in to the gangline, then Freya and last Princess. The team is screaming to go, and we wrestle them to the start line. It is a wet, cold, and soggy day, and the ground squelches under the tires as I do my best to hold them while the race marshall counts down. At the 'GO!', we rocket off into the green, yellow, orange and red trees. Our pace is fast and the team eager to run. The grass gives way to blacktop which we follow down to the first turn. "Haw Freya!" turns her onto the gravel with ease, an excellent turn, and I praise her for it.
The trail winds on to packed dirt through conifers and a few maples in full color. Overhead a hawk circles and cries out in the gray miasma of falling snow. We are still making great time, though I'm having to help the dogs on the slight uphills. All is well until we hit more soggy grass. I can feel the cart bogging down and the extra weight and pull on the dogs as they slog it out. Our pace slows dramatically, and I realize I have not trained my dogs to pull over such difficult terrain. This turns out to be the majority of the run, and I'm alternating running and riding with the dogs. White caps the grass to either side of the trail and covers the limbs of the connifers, but I'm getting tired and the dogs are tiring. We come back to a small stretch of road where Freya executes a wonderful Gee.
A short distance ahead and I call Freya to Haw into the grassy trail again, but she doesn't want to. She wants to follow the road. Can I blame her? Behind me now is the second team, so I jump off and hold the dogs to the right so he can pass. My team ignores his and I'm proud of them for not bothering (all except Bucky who thank goodness is on the far side of the gangline and though he strains to see and socialize with the other dogs, he is kept in place by stoic Yukon. The team perks up a bit after they pass and Freya allows herself to be led to the grass trail and takes off. After the first hundred yards though, she begins to tire then slow to a trot. I try to encourage them, and they perk up when I run with them, but slow down as I tire and ride, unable to keep up with their pace. I alternate running and riding as much as I can, and the heat begins to steam out of my jacket. But it was too wet to open my coat. My clothes are soaked, my boots are soaked, my mittens are soaked and sweat is running down my face.
I realize I was probably overdoing it, but I couldn't let Freya and the team slog out the last of the trail dragging my fat butt on a cart. About a mile into the trail the faster team comes back at us and I pull the team over left and let them pass head-on. I'm very proud of my pups. All of them ignored his team as they steamed by, even Bucky stopped pulling towards them when I said "Leave It!"
We finished the loop and slogged back down the grassy trail towards the road, then on to more grass, then across the road again to the cones. Freya did a good Gee on to the grass chute marked with cones, but kept trying to go haw again back to the parking lot. It was a bit difficult to keep her going towards the finish, but she finally got it and we crossed the line. When I got off and James pulled her left, she was more than eager to go to the motorhome. I unhooked them and put them in the motorhome, pulled the cart up the hill and put it back on the trailer, then went in to snack, unharness and check the dogs. They were in good shape, no foot problems and no injuries, but very tired. They all curled up on my bed in the back except Moony who hadn't gotten to run yet. I was exhausted and overheated. I could feel the dehydration eating at my body and I tried to drink a bottle of gatorade then water. I was too tired to bike with Moony. So I informed the marshall I wouldn't be running the bikejor.
We stayed for a while, and James and I had a cup of hot cocoa, I walked the dogs a couple of times and took a couple photos, but my head was beginning to hurt from overheating and dehydration. Even though I drank about a gallon of water and took aspirin, it didn't seem to help. In the mid afternoon, we left to go find a bank teller, and a general store. Little did I know this would be a two hour fruitless search before we finally found a tiny store without an ATM. Ah well, I procured what we needed and we found our way back to camp. There were a few leaks beginning to show in the roof of the motorhome as we set up camp for the night. I also discovered there was water damage in the left outer panel by the electric plug that would need fixing. The snow turned to rain then back to snow, but fortunately the heaters kept us warm. The dogs made sure my bed was well coated in mud before I went to bed as they kept pulling down the covers to make nests... sigh.
We wandered over to the lady on the hill's camp where we stayed for a while, but my headache was beginning to bother me plus not being a night person, I begged my leave, took several aspirin, drank more water, went to the bathroom, then to bed. 3am and the dogs were walked, and 5am they had us up again. By this time my skull was pounding in an attempt at migraine, and though I tried to stave it off with ibuprofin and gatorade, it was still lurking. The dogs seemed eager enough to run again, but I knew they would be hard pressed to make another slog through the grassy trails, and I knew I wouldn't make it. I pulled from the race for that reason, plus, my son had forgotten to bring his allergy meds so I had given him half mine which left none for either of us for that evening. I decided it would be best if we just headed for home. Turned out to be a good thing as the heavy snow hit that night, but we were safely back in Kentucky long before then.
On the way back, we passed by a huge bull elk grazing on the side of the road. A magnificent animal, so majestic, so beautiful and awe-inspiring. I can see why they are sometimes referred to as the spirit of the land. Off to the other side of the road was a cow and a calf, all wonderous creatures, and I was glad that they had been re-introduced to the east. May they live and re-populate and never again be hunted to extinction!
By the time we were out of the mountain range, and I had drank probably another gallon of water, my headache began to recede. (Thank goodness I didn't have to drive all the way back feeling nauseous!) It was a wonderfully fun trip, and I wished that I had been able to compete Sunday, but I was sure I had done the best thing possible for myself and the dogs. I had a great time and thank those who put on the race. I learned what I wanted to learn, and that was whether or not my dogs could compete at the pro level. I believe they can, but unfortunately I don't have the time or the means to train them properly for it. Until I put in a trail on my property that I can run them on, or until I move to a place that has trails I can run closer to my home, I will have to content myself with running in the sportsman class. My dogs are great sports though, and are able to pass by and head-on without an issue, which makes me proud of them. Freya is an awesome leader and for the most part listens to commands except when they clash heavily with where she wants to go. Which may someday stand us in good stead as she is very intelligent and may find the right way on her own when I cannot. Here's to you Freya my goddess of sledding!