Monday, February 27, 2017

Canadian Challenge: Until Next Year

The 20th anniversary of the Canadian Challenge has come to a close.
Most mushers and their athletic companions are home by now.  Although there are those that are heading to the next race, and others still who have a long drive home across Canada.

I waited a couple of days before putting up my own closure of the race.   Waiting for photos and comments from mushers to appear on social network was one reason for the delay, the other, my eyes needed a break from the computer.

I really wanted to do a focus on the volunteers who helped put this race on.  I know they have given up many many hours to ensure the success of this event.
From those who made the many calls looking for the sponsors, to the winter hardy who sat for countless hours on a snow machine to put trails in.  There were those working on the web site, keeping it up to date, and still others answering the e-mails and messages, the 'paper' logistics of the race.    Also there was the arranging of the many volunteers who in turn worked the check points, making sure there was food available, heat and even tents turned into outhouses.

Unfortunately I cannot thank each one personally as there will be many missing from this list.  I was not able to be present to meet the many who led this group of men and women who gave their time.  Instead I will send out one big hearty thank you that I will hope can be sent throughout the Canadian Challenge community.

Know that you helped create memories to last a lifetime for mushers, handlers and everyone else who came along for the ride.  Even those that could do no more than watch those little bib numbers bounce across a screen.  Thank you.

Know that all your hard work helped each musher.

Whether there was a joy in the moment of crossing the finish line first and being able to call your team a winner that year, or coming in for the red lantern and then being acknowledged with that coveted vet award for best kept team, each moment is perfect.

For the musher who as been here a few times to finally cross that finish line in second place and proudly hold the trophy she has been working the hardest for, to the musher who spent the last three years to just make it to the start and then get to actually cross the finish line.

Mushers who have been here many times who come for the love of the trail to those who have never raced before, to all of you, whether you finished the race or had to end it early, you can now walk away with new memories and yes even great accomplishments.

Until next year.

May you run under many dark nights with your best friends and the dancing Northern Lights leading the way.
Photo Credit: Scott Knudsen, Northscape Photography
There were some incredible photographers present this year, Jim Williams, Kandis Riese, Scott Knudsen  and Rod A Young were the Four that I've had the privilege of being able to share their photos.
Link Here to see Jim Williams in the Gallery or Here on Facebook
Link Here to see Kandis Riese
And Here to see Rod A Young

Also for a full list of placement of the teams and finish times you can head Here to the Canadian Challenge web site

Friday, February 24, 2017

Canadian Challenge: The Stories Will Live On

It has been a long day.
Anxiously awaiting the return of three mushers and their incredible athletes.

Darren Haas with six dogs from Controlled Chaos came across to claim his sixth place finish at 1:27 this afternoon.  It was his first race of any kind, and for a rookie did brilliantly.

Christina Traverse followed shortly at 2:05 with eight dogs on the line meeting up with her lead dog, Gogi, and catching that seventh place.  With her race times between Stanley and La Ronge being as fast as they were, she and her team had an amazing run into La Ronge.

Coming in to blow out the red lantern Friday night at 23:20 and close the 20th anniversary of this years Canadian Challenge is Steven Laviolette.  The mountain man with his Siberians from Quebec ran a race they had been dreaming about for a few years now.  He made it here AND he crossed the finish line.

Red Lanter, Steven Laviolette
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese

Every musher who has run the Canadian Challenge over the last 20 years has a story or two to tell. Some are exhilarating tales, many end with a laugh, and each of them share their stories with an enthusiasm that draws you in like a warm blanket on a cold day
Distance mushers with their dry cracked hands, are a tough breed. They spend days on the runners in the cold brutal wind, chewing on frozen granola bars, and try to keep their drinks from freezing by holding them inside their jackets under their arm pits.  When nature calls, it doesn't care that it is -30 or colder, and that alone makes the tough even tougher.
Yet when they bend down to thank their dogs for working as a team their voices become soft and their hands gentle as they massage tired shoulders and hips.   There is a bond, and a trust between dog and musher that runs deep.  You can see it in the dogs eyes as they look up with unconditional love, and a look that says, I will run for you wherever you want to go.

Spending hundreds upon hundreds of miles together, alone in the wild with 8, 12 or 16 of your best friends doesn't mean you're tough, it means you're lucky.

I have been waiting all day to write, and had wanted to talk about the awesome volunteers, race officials and vets  Everyone who worked hard at putting on the race this year.
However I've decided that, that can wait until tomorrow as the last three mushers coming home was much more important.

Good night everyone, rest well.
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese

Canadian Challenge: It Ain't Over Yet

The front runners are in and whether they are racing for a photo finish to cross the line or have hours ahead on their competition it is always exciting to see how it all unfolds.

Personally sadness washes over me when I see the crowds disperse and the followers on line disappear. Comments about how it's over and see you next year appear.

NO!  It's NOT over, not by a long shot.

Under cover of the dark early morning, Randy Mackenzie crept over the thresh hold at 3:01 to claim fourth place, and well deserved too.  If you check his run times they are in the top 3, way to go my man, well done.
Randy crosses for 4th
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

The coldest part of the morning at 5:56, saw Remy Leduc make his way happily across the finish line claiming fifth place.
 After traveling all the way from New Brunswick he must be feeling pretty pleased with himself.  Excellent work Remy, Congratulations!

There are still mushers out on those trails.

Darren Haas is on his way to La Ronge for a sixth place finish in his first race ever.  He still has about 14 miles to go, and just checking his tracker he has stopped.
I picture him snacking his team, giving them their final pep talk, maybe at this point removing any booties to give the dogs freedom to grab at the snow and ice as they make their way home.

Christina Traverse resting in Stanley Mission opted for a long break over night to run in the light of the day for a secured seventh place.
Christina is still working her way home
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese

And the original mountain man, Steven Laviolette, sits in the red lantern position having arrived at Stanley Mission early this morning at around 4:30.  I suspect he will be home to La Ronge just in time for dinner and to blow the lantern out closing the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Challenge.

The back end of the race is to me what distance mushing is all about.   Yes, it would be amazing to be in the top end of a race, what an incredible feeling that would be.
Working with a champion team and seeing them cross that finish line in first place is a fantastic feeling, I cried tears of joy.  (actually I cried at everything at that particular race, so it's a little unfair that I say this)  In any case, it IS a pretty fantastic high.

There is just something about the determination and drive that keeps mushers and their teams running the trails when the spectators have left and only a few scattered well wishers line the trail.
It has nothing to do with racing anymore, at least not against any competitor.  It has everything to do with that inner feeling of accomplishment.  To say they did it.

Which now brings me to the heart ache that is left out on the trails as well.
Joshua Lichti scratched  at Grandmothers Bay having arrived just after midnight with 10 dogs on the line.   Something had to be amiss as it took him almost 15 hours to arrive.
Word is Joshua and his dogs are all doing well.  Sometimes the dogs decide when it is time to end a race, they've had their fun and a good musher will be able to see that in his team, a better musher knows when to let them finish.

The race is not over, so much can still happen out there.

Good luck to the remaining teams
See you back in La Ronge!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Canadian Challenge: Thursday Night Update

Second Place 12 dogs are in, and it's Girl Power!!
Congratulations Jennifer Campeau and your puppy team, 11 dogs still running strong.
Jennifer as she leaves the start
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese

I had been wondering if she would leave her husbands side, then almost 2 hours from the finish she pulled ahead, leaving Jason and his team of 6 a good 5 miles behind to take third place.

In fourth place will be Randy Mackenzie and his team of 9, running at a good pace they are about 30 miles from finishing as I write this.

Remy made it into Stanley Mission at 5:21 with 10 dogs where he will take his 5 hour mandatory rest.   All the previous teams have been able to take extra long breaks here at Stanley as their finishing places were secured for the most part.
Remy however may want to keep to a strict 5 hour break if he wants to keep his fifth place standing.

You see there is a girl running just behind him!  Christina came into Stanley 2:27 hours behind Remy, and although that sounds like a good lead (and it is), it doesn't give much room for Remy to take a nice long break.
AND Darren pulled in just behind Christina with 6 dogs.

So we have a race for fifth, six and seventh place.  We'll see how the teams rest up and when they actually get on their runners to leave.   Could be a fun finish to watch for.
Guesses? As the sun starts to come up over the horizon we could see the first of these three running to the finish line.

In the meantime, Steven, if all goes well with his 8 dogs, is sitting in eighth place  If his run to Grandmothers Bay, where he now comfortably rests for a bit, is any indication of things to come he could very well hold that spot.

Which leaves Joshua as our red lantern holder in ninth spot.  Joshua as I write this update is sitting at almost 10 miles out of Grandmothers Bay.

Good luck everyone, and Congratulations to all.

I wont be awake to see Randy cross that finish line, but I'll be there in spirit.

Canadian Challenge: Aaron Peck for the Win AND Handler Help

Congratulations to Aaron Peck for a fantastic run to the finish.

We, and by we, I mean every musher I have spoken to, are amazed at the speeds by which his team traveled for most of the way in this race.
An incredible run, and now the big question of the day.   How much is he selling those dogs for?

Kidding aside, it was great to watch Aaron put his plan into place and see it all come together.  I had been following Eva on their Facebook page,  Elevation Dogs, and gained some invaluable insight as to what was going on along the trail.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Aaron with his lead dogs and Alex his handler
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

As you may have noticed by now each musher wears a white bib with their number on it, in Aarons case it is lucky 13.  Then there is the yellow bib that sports the corresponding number which is worn by the handler of the team.

A handlers job is pretty big at a race. They are the mushers right hand, and in lots of cases the left one too!   
Handlers help care for the dogs once a musher comes into a check point, massaging, feeding, picking up poop, massaging again and keeping an eye out for any stiff, warm, sore spots on the dogs.
This means that the handler has driven in the dog truck following along on (sometimes questionable) roads to get to each check stop before the musher.
Handlers are also the cheering squad, giving that little motivational push to get them out of the warm building and back on the sled.  AND if you happen to be a wife or husband of the musher then your job sometimes means standing back and not saying a word as the musher grumbles and speaks sleep deprived commands that they would only say to a spouse.

During the longer mandatory rests it is usually the handler that does most of the dog care as the musher drops into a bed to have a sleep themselves before then heading back out with the dogs.
When dogs are dropped they are left with the handler to be cared for, any injuries attended to and extra loving care given.

Every musher is different in how they would like to get the 'job' done and some use their handlers more than others.   Sometimes it feels like a handler is just a glorified poop scooper, but without their help that's an awful lot of poop to worry about.

A musher who is qualifying for the Quest or Iditarod cannot use their musher at any of the check points.  They are completely on their own for the care of their team, unless they drop a dog in which case the handler takes over the care of that dog.    
The same rules apply here as they do in the Quest, the handler cannot touch the dogs or the sled when the musher is into a check stop. 
Dogs are not put into the truck and are bedded down with straw until they cross the finish line, which means someone must clean up all that straw once the musehr is back out on the trail. 
Guess who takes over that massive sweat inducing job?  
You got it, the handler.


Canadian Challenge: Dogs on the Trail

Time to dis-spell a myth in regards to the dogs health at a race.

I received a message today.  This concerned non-dog sledding person was worried that the dogs of this years race were being pushed too hard.
It was suggested that all the dogs being dropped this year was because they were all hurt and how could a musher 'really' care about his dogs if they were pushing them so hard.

I need to address this and what better time than at this moment sitting with the tracker open on my screen waiting for Aaron Peck to reach the finish line.

The trail was hard and fast, there is no denying that.  If you look at the statistics from the first part of the race you will see that the teams were running at incredible speeds.
Because all the teams had the same top speeds at the beginning I can only assume that most mushers were running their dogs with both feet on the brake or drag mat, or both! (if only they had 4 feet).  Most mushers I know like to start their race slow and steady, so they don't burn out their dogs or create any early injuries.

Due to the fast hard trail there were dogs that were dropped early due to sore wrists and shoulders.
Usually the dogs just need a bit longer of a rest and lots of massages with oils.  Most of these dogs are ready to return to the trail not long after the musher has left without them.  However once a dog is dropped they cannot re enter the team.

A musher will determine if a dog is not having fun anymore.  A sore shoulder will make it hard for anyone to have fun.   This is when a dog is dropped, or bagged on the sled.  Sometimes a ride for a distance is enough of a break and they come back on the team ready to continue without any issues.

Yes it can happen, dogs can be pushed too hard which then leaves a musher with many issues to deal with, However the seasoned mushers, such as Aaron, know their dogs and what they are capable of.
Aaron would have not dropped down to 7 dogs for the last leg of the race because they are all injured. Most likely he dropped down to 7 in order to pick the best of this team and avoid further injury.

Aaron is running for the win.  He is not being chased, so he has no worry of being over taken by competition.  There is no reason to create a smaller team other than the fact that he cares for the dogs enough to leave those behind who are slower and maybe are not strong finishers.  The team he has left with is faster and why worry about creating unnecessary injury by taking dogs who might have to ride in the bag, even for a short distance, slowing the team down.

And you can replace Aarons name above with any good musher.

Then there are those that scratch.  It has nothing to do with bad mushers or bad dogs, it has everything to do with conditions and bad timing.
As I have already mentioned, the trail was hard and fast and having a team of power house dogs up front that love to run, and love to run fast, it can be difficult to slow them down.  This is when you end up with injuries.
The trail can have many hazards for the musher as well, hitting some conditions on crazy fast trails is like playing Russian roulette, some make it, some don't.

Steve, Chris and Gerry all have incredible dogs.  They are amazing athletes that love doing what they do. They just happened to hit those conditions with bad timing.
All three have winning teams, they will be back.

The mushers that I know personally, and many are mushers here this week, love their dogs.  They know each dog so well, from the slightest movement of the head, to how they hold their tail.  Each dog is watched for hours as they run the trails making sure each one is happy, healthy and willing to run.
The dogs LOVE to run at night
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese

Canadian Challenge: While You Were Sleeping

Good Morning!
Movement there was as we were snuggled warm under our covers.
This morning in La Ronge, the temperature sits at a perfect -15 with the snow lightly falling.

At 11:20 last night Jackie Wepruk with 7 of her fluffy bummed Siberians came over the finish line to receive the red lantern for the 8 dog race.
Congratulations Tucoldturain Kennels and Jackie!
Just over the finish line
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Rick, handler extraordinaire
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Randy left just after 10, while Jackie was still enroute to the finish line, to head to Grandmothers Bay.  From his GPS tracker I see that he has passed that check point and is only 18 miles out of Stanley Mission.
Jason is just about there with only 2 miles to go where he will meet up with Jennifer who finishes her mandatory rest some time after 10 this morning.
Aaron who could have left almost 2 hours ago looks as though he is letting his dogs enjoy a nice long rest before booking it home to the finish line.
From what I could tell he had about a 4 hour lead on Jennifer and must not be too worried about closing in this gap.

However this is all guessing on my part. Aaron could very well be on the trail home and the tracker has not been updated yet.

Watching the tracker however I see that Christina, Remy and Darren have all left for their run into Grandmothers Bay leaving Steven and Joshua to decide when to leave.
Steven was able to leave 3 hours ago, and it can sometimes be hard to get motivated once you have had the opportunity to get a good sleep in a warm bed.   That said some dogs may need a little longer to rest with lots of massages and TLC before they head back out on the trail.
Without being there, one can only make assumptions.
Joshua on the other hand has just finished his mandatory and also can leave at any time now.

Gerry Walker I mentioned in the last post had scratched from the race, however after posting I discovered he would wait until morning before making it official.
We are still waiting for any word on what his decision will be.  There may be a chance that we will still see Gerry cross that finish line after all.

Dogs are the most important factor of any race, and very well should be.
They put their trust fully into the musher.  Knowing they will be fed, and taken care of, that they will get rest and a full belly of warm food from their human helps builds trust.  They in turn give back 100% to the musher doing what is asked of them.
It is a well oiled machine and timing rests with runs is important to keep the teams spirits up and the dogs motivated.
If dogs get sore wrists and shoulders the mushers are there to massage and give breaks for the dogs. Knowing when it is too much for the team mate and when to bag him on the trail or drop him at a check stop is important as well.
Josh comes into La Ronge having given a friend a ride
Photo Credit: Jim Williams