Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hillcrest Challenge

It's been one week.
A week to recover from such a strenuous weekend.

Seven women placed into a small hall in the middle of nowhere from Friday night until Sunday afternoon

Women with one thing on their minds. 
Willing to sacrifice their families, commitments and soft beds for two nights.  Putting themselves at risk for paper cuts, ink stains and sleep deprivation to name just a few.

The stress we endured as we placed photos from the past against different colour combinations knowing that once they were put into place with adhesive that there would be no turning back.

Even more stress of needing to use items brought so that it wouldn't feel like a waste of space (and so little of that is had when packing).  Items such as inks and ribbon were needing to be used.
Ideas shared and hoping that you were not offending anyone by stealing theirs.  

Hoping that no one else would walk through the doors as the clothing choices for the full day were not conducive to entertaining anyone who was not on the same mind path.

The smoke that filled the room as our minds ran on over time coming up with new ideas.

The depression, well okay, maybe not depression.  
The sadness that kicks in when it's time to pack up and head home knowing that we only put ourselves through this torture once a year.

It is amazing how much stuff is needed for two nights away from home.  Packing queens are what we have become.

Two late nights sitting around talking about.... about? 
 I don't even remember most of what was spoken of.... perhaps I am following the code of "What happens at Hillcrest stays at Hillcrest"???

I can tell you however with 100% certainty that Scallops are a shell fish.

Don't ask.

I normally do not sleep in. 
Someone however had slipped our drinks with some form of drug that enabled us ALL to sleep in.  Naps were even had on the Saturday.
The snoring that echoed the small room was testimony to this.
Which is a nightmare for scrapbookers who are on limited hours,minutes and seconds to get their work done.

You just have no idea what we endured.

I only wish that I could go away on scrapbook weekends with the ladies more than once a year.
I always have so much fun even though we have to put up with all the horrendous experiences that I have described here.

A toast... to Linda, Carol, Cindy, Marlene, Sandy and Cory..... to next year.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Woman Sick

I'm home.

Sick in bed.

My entire weekend was ruined as I felt so crappy.  So sick.  So wasted.
Today, a work day, I'm still home in bed sick.

Home in bed.

That above statement probably brings visions of someone wrapped up under tons of covers.  Hot lemon water on the bed side table, bottles of medications and a box of Kleenex by their side.
This IS true.  This is me (with a lap top nestled under the covers at this moment).  My head is throbbing (sinus) my ear has an inner ache that will not go away regardless of the amount of red, or blue pills I've been popping.  I'm achy and stuffy and the world is in a far away place right now.


Yes, a however.

I have already washed a sink full of dishes.  (Sort of) played with the dogs, fed the dogs and put them into their runs.  I folded the towels in the dryer and put them away as well as put a blanket in the wash.  THEN came up to crawl into bed.

On Saturday I crawled into bed (I was really VERY sick then) and I did lay around all day sleeping and feeling as though I might die at anytime (two loads of laundry done in between the dying)... that is until 3:00 pm, at which time I head outside to let the dogs out of their runs.  I curled up on a lawn chair with a blanket wrapped around me throwing a ball for them to play with, and of course I picked up any presents that were left within the kennels.
At 6 I fed the dudes then made my way inside to do dishes and try to figure out what to make for supper.
Ray came home earlier than I anticipated and made something for dinner.  I died on the couch.

Sunday.  Floors were swept and washed which left me feeling as though I had just run 5K.  A movie was put on that I tried very hard to concentrate on, but everything felt as though it was deep in a tunnel.  Interestingly I got up to bake a batch of cookies... I think I was delusional at this point.  Cookies??  Seriously?
I pulled myself up, still in jammies and head outside to let the dogs out of the run.  I really don't think my head was altogether at this point.  Not sure why I didn't even get dressed.
Ray came out to take over and I went in to clean the bathroom... yup.... clean the bathroom.

I made the dogs dinner as well as our dinner.

What the?

Monday morning.  Up, dressed.  Ready for work.
Sitting on the couch feeling far away with the dogs laying around me.  A pain deep in my ear.  My cough not as bad as it was on the weekend.  My nose a little less stuffy.  I'm thinking.
I can do this.
I'm ready for the day.
I stand up.
Then think to myself.

What the hell?   Why will I not allow myself to be sick?

So here I am in bed.
I will let myself be sick.

Until 3:30 at which time I will head out to do dog chores once again.
In the mornings when it's cold out the dudes can lay on the couch and be sick with me.  A simple life, but it's mine... sick or not.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Canadian Challenge - Shame on Me!!

Wow, how thoughtless of me.

I ended the race with Randy coming in at fourth place.
How could I do such a thing as to forget to even mention the Red Lantern winner???

Jillian Lawton, the daughter of Steve Taylor, the amazing gentleman who thoughtlessly hooked up our trailer to become our driver in our time of need.

Jillian whom I never saw without a smile on her face.  Jillian who had an incredibly strong team crossing the finish line at 1:13 with 11 dogs ahead of her.
Jillian who has amazing 'hat hair' after 4 days of running dogs.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Without team Taylor/Lawton Randy wouldn't have gone much further than Anglin Lake.

Sarah, Jillians handler, was also incredible.  Sarah helped me hydrate Randy at Grandmothers Bay and even made me a cup of tea.   I was feeling rather gypsyish by then as we had left all of Randy's personal food and drinks under the front seat of his truck which was still in Prince Albert getting repairs.

There were times at a check stop that we would wrap up muffins or we would find empty bottles to fill with water.   If anyone had caught us doing this I am not sure if they would have felt sorry for us or just shaken their heads in pity.

Actually there were many wonderful people out on the trails all willing to lend a hand, or an ear even.
I warmed up in Dena's truck, as well as Sarah's truck and in the process somehow kicked Todd, Jillians husband, out at the same time (I still feel bad about that)

Other handlers from various teams were great fun to just stand around and chat with.  I'm terrible with names but I very much enjoyed the company of  Earl Strobbes handler (Earl won the 8 dog by the way, another oops that I forgot to mention) and missed my chats with him after La Ronge.

The handlers, drivers and cheering squads kind of become a gaggle of groupies, or a family, or a team of sorts.  We may be on other competitive teams but we all work together.  It was a great atmosphere.

Also if it wasn't for Rick and Dena for letting me take up some back seat space to hitch a ride to Prince Albert and home again I wouldn't have been there at all.  Thanks for that!!

The volunteers were also amazing as well.
Who would want to volunteer at a race that runs like a woman giving birth?
You know what I mean?
Most of the action takes place in the middle of the night and everyone is so tired and emotional that sometimes 'thank yous' are forgotten and crankiness sets in.
Photo Credit Jim Williams
Dave Smallwood Race Marshal 

From food offered, to just making sure the check stop ran smoothly to calming a teary handler down in the middle of the night.....a big THANK YOU is shouted out your way.

I found a list of names.... all volunteers from checkpoint bosses to trail crew and I am going to list them all here.  Without any of you this race would not have happened.
If a name is missing add it in the comments, it would be nice to make sure everyone is acknowledged.

Dave Smallwood, Ruth Sims, Kate Robinson, Romany Pinto, Gill Gracie, Allan Sheremata, Bart de Marie, Bernie Zintel, Tim Dyck Rosmary Dyck, Gerry Markel, M.J. Chuey, John Edwards, Harold Johnson, Fafard Family, Peter Clark, Olivia Clarke, Canadian Rangers, Terrence Johnson, Shaune Lapworth, Jeremy Hubka, Darrell Klassen, Cosette Fafard, Garth Muirhead, Lindsay Blair, Quincy Miller, J.C. Fafard,  Dary Minter, Tom Charles, Steve Dow, Leon Charles, Sid Robinson, Redmond Fox, Paul Waitier, Al Wasylenka, Calvin Radford, Chad Nilson, Elliot Clarke, Jim Williams

I'm sure there are more, but this is all I could find listed.

AND Sponsors.... again without your help I wouldn't have even been writing this blog (no race, no experience to even mention)  so thank all you as well!

SaskEnergy, Northwinds Bus Lines, Cornerstone Insurance, Land of the Loon Resort, Full Circle (Laurie Thorson), Transwest Air, PAEX,  Acklands Grainger, Boson Pizza PA, Linda Caswell, Dr. Joe Firak, Econo Lumber, Forest Gate Sheet Metal, Fresh Air Experience, Home Building Center, J & L Enterprises, Keethanow Foods, Keethanow Lumber, La Ronge Coop Marketplace, La Ronge Petroleum, La Ronge Scattered Sites Outreach, Mark's Work Wearhouse, Mid City Electric, La Ronge,Mr Mike's Steakhouse, Norsask Aviation, NorthMart/ North West Company, One Stop Pub and Grill, Peavey Mart, Pines Pub, Prairie Recreation Parks, Prince Breakers Ltd, Prince Albert Kennel Club, Pr Septic Services, PA search and Rescue, PWS Water, Rally Motor Sports, Riverside Hyundai, Southwest Petroleum Corp, Speedy Glass, La Ronge, Spruce Home Parts and Recreation, Tim Hortons, Tru North Yamaha RV and Marine, UniTech Office solutions, Vernie Zintel

So now.... what do I do that it is over?
Our weather is hitting double digits meaning that spring has arrived in my part of the world.  Running dogs has come to a close for me this season.
Now it is onto a life of hair for a couple of months as we all begin our spring shed and if we are lucky enough maybe some scooter runs thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Canadian Challenge - The Finish Line

Randy is on his way to the finish line and you can watch him leave Stanley by clicking HERE.
It was 2:25 in the early morning when he left us and give or take minutes here or there it was about 1/2 hour later that we were finally on the road back to La Ronge.

The dogs looked amazing after their slumber in the warmer dog boxes.  I can only imagine how the team would have fared if we had the truck all along.  One never knows, but the cards are dealt and you play the hand you are given.  I'd say up to this point we did pretty good with our handicap.

Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Randy and his kids were on their own with 55 miles to go until they would cross the finish line and anything can happen between there and here.

The four of us, Rob behind the wheel Jessica in shot gun and myself and Melissa crashed in the back seat drove the windy road south.
I awoke feeling disorientated not knowing where we were to find out that Rob had brought us to the finish line just in time (4:30) to see Rick Wannamaker cross the finish line and win first place.

I've never been so pleased to not be taken back to the hotel where my pillow was screaming for me.. thanks Rob!!

Now I must take a moment or two to leave my loyalty to Randy and shift gears.
Ricks team holds a special place in my heart as I was able to help run dogs over the last couple of months as the fur dudes prepared for this race.  I'm not 100% sure but my guess is I got to run roughly 300 miles(ish) behind these incredible athletes.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams
Ricks fur dudes... so, does that make me kinda like a Nanny to these guys?

The only downside to the training this year was our lack of snow and the limited amount of times we were able to run with the sled.
Regardless, it was a proud moment to see them come over the finish line in first place.  I know the work that Rick put into his kids to get here and I was over come with emotion when I wandered over to give them all loves, hugs and cuddles.
I started with Salt and burst into tears.

Surprised?  No?
I guess it didn't take much anymore, but this was different.

While Rick and Dena settled their team, exactly 1/2 hour later at 5:00 Gerry Walker came over the finish line in second.

The saddest part of finishing in the wee morning hours is the lack of spectators to cheer you in so I was glad we could be there for both of them.

Laura scooted in behind Rick and Gerry by an hour and 17 minutes to nab third place.

I'm afraid by the time Laura arrived just after 6, I was asleep at the hotel.  It was a pretty light sleep which was broken while I kept checking on Randy's progress.  I had set the alarm but I really have the hardest time laying there knowing I could be back at the site waiting.
I think it stems from the horrible past that Randy and I shared in Dawson City 2013.  I will not speak of details other than stating the fact that Randy's spot checker was no longer working properly.  (bad handler, bad!)
Finally just before 8:30 I had everyone up to get ready to get going, I'm sure they must all hate me by now.  But I yam what I yam.

When we got down to the finish line there awaiting us on the heated bus was an angel who shone from the heavens.  I don't even know what her name was but all I can tell you is she made the best breakfast ever.  Bacon, sausages, eggs, toast and hashbrowns with orange juice.  Oh it was pure bliss and I almost cried as it helped fuel and warm me for the big finish that was on it's way.

Photo Credit: Jessica Fielding

Now the moment everyone has been waiting for.  Randy and his pack of awesome fur dudes came rolling over the finish line in fourth place at 10:10 on February 27.
Photo Credit: Jessica Fielding

I wasn't quite as emotional as I thought I was going to be, perhaps it was the couple hours of sleep I got earlier and the full tummy, but I think I disappointed Randy when I didn't actually cry.  I was close though.

There is still much to be done when a team crosses the line and of course the first order of business is checking over the dogs.  \
Sage came in without her tug line attached.  Randy said she was pretty much done as they neared La Ronge.  He tried putting her in the bag but she would have none of it and although she didn't want to do anymore pulling she was happy enough to walk along with the pack and although it slowed everyone down everyone came in on their own four feet.

The vets re-checked everyone and answered any of our questions and concerns.
Again Randy had given many snacks along the way in that he figured the dogs could use a sleep before a big meal so they were all tucked away into their boxes.  
Rob and Randy began putting everything away in the sled and this is when I grabbed Randy telling him to leave the packing to Rob and presented him to the bus to meet the breakfast fairy.

The rest of the day is blurred into feeding the dogs a big meaty sloppy soup that they all wolfed down greedily.
Shopping at the Trading post.  (There were a pair of wolf mitts that had my name on them but, sigh, I did not pick them up silly me)
Naps and then supper.
Finally it was back to the hotel where I fell into a deep deep sleep until morning.

Breakfast was served banquet style and was also the time when the awards were handed out.
Stories told and lots of visiting done before everyone said their goodbyes.

I'm not finished yet.
A most wonderful gift awaited the team.
Randy was presented with the vet award for Best Kept Team.
This is an incredible honour for all the work put into making sure the dogs were healthy, happy and injury free during the race.

Ruth shared with me some kind words about my work as well which made me feel pretty great (and yes, I almost cried, again!)

And then.
Just like that.
It's over

Randy and his Fort Mac crew said goodbye and I left with Rick and Dena.
Home and in my own bed by midnight on Saturday.

What an adventure.
Little bits in its own way.  Dena informs me if I call it fun I shall be committed. I do have tons of memories.... and lots of pictures stored inside this still tired brain of mine.

It's back to routine with my own little crew of fur kids and boy did they miss me.
It was fun coming home to the lovin'

Until next time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Canadian Challenge - "I Don't Want the F'in Red Lantern!"

It has been almost a week since the mushers crossed the finish line in La Ronge and my memory is losing details as time slips by.
Photo Credit: Jessica Fielding

In La Ronge while Randy and his crew were taking their 8 hour rest there were a couple of scratches that happened.
Stefan and Kyle.   I heard that Stefan was due to a young team and the same for Kyle.   Kyle said he saw some injuries beginning and didn't want them to get worse.  Although a hard decision to make, especially when it is after you have made many sacrifices to get to the race, it is also an easy one to make when it comes to the well being of your dogs.

Greg also scratched with his decision also based on the well being of the dogs.  I cannot speak for Stefan as I do not know particulars but for both Greg and Kyle, well any musher, who chooses his dogs over placement in a race I have a lot of respect.
Both Greg and Kyle from what I understand saw potential problems before there were any and decided to not wait.   I only hope if that was me in the same position I would have the same foresight.

Back to the race.

So, where was I?

Ah yes, the best ever lasagna was eaten at Grandmothers Bay.
We had about a 2 hour wait before Randy arrived and shared the space with good company.  Sarah and Todd, Jillian's handler and husband, along with Jim Williams, Sarah's husband.
You may recognize the name Jim Williams as it is the name attached to most of the pictures I have been using.
Jim is an incredible photographer who was following the race and all the mushers in order to capture some incredible pictures along with some great video.
While waiting for Randy I had the privilege to check out a ton of his pictures and videos.  A great way to pass the time.

Randy got into Grandmothers Bay at 6:13 leaving 4 minutes later.  Click the link here and you can see the video of his arrival.
The dogs were all running well and Randy decided as they were only about 2 hours from Stanley Mission where he was to do a mandatory 5 hour rest he would just keep going.

It takes a musher approximately 2 hours to get to Stanley Mission.
It takes the handler and driver approximately 2 hours to get to the same location on twisty curvy narrow roads.  Good thing the winter conditions were mild and we didn't have a storm to contend with as has happened in the past.
As it was I had just enough time to set up the drop chains and pull out the straw.   Word on the street, uh, trail ,was Randy was just about here.

Stanley Mission is a very noisy place.
I have never seen so many snow mobiles in one location.  In fact I was beginning to think that the residents of this town didn't even own regular vehicles.
picture from internet

We ended up parking in the middle of the lot and I questioned if this was such a good idea with snow machines running past as we were going to bed the pups in piles of straw once more.

Speaking of bedding down in straw.
I've neglected to mention a spunky musher who was barreling along in third place at this point.  Laura Neese (only 19) was doing an amazing job.   I mentioned a few blogs back that she was running the qualifying portion of the race.   Meaning if she completed this race (crossing the finish line) she could use this as one of two races needed to be allowed to run the Quest and the Iditarod.
What this meant in the Challenge was not accepting help from her handlers.
And for Stanley Mission it found her parked behind a building away from snow machines and the lights of the parking lot.
It wasn't any quieter, but it looked a lot less busy.

Randy rolled in at 8:50 and we quickly had the dogs bedded down in big piles of straw while the vets came and did their check on each one of the kids.

It is now that I must mention these amazing ladies.
                     Ruth                                                  Kate                                          Romany

The care was wonderful and they were there if we needed them answering any question and showing concern for each one of the dogs.

Rika was dropped in La Ronge but they still asked to take a look at him while we were in Stanley Mission to make sure he was doing okay.
Our biggest concern here was Icon.  A beautiful boy who caught the eye of Jim at the starting gate by being a true showman posing for each shot, was showing signs of trouble.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

For some reason his breathing was laboured with a bit of a fever which seemed to baffle the vets.
We covered him up in extra blankets to keep him warm and Ruth said she would be by to check on him within the hour to see how he was doing.

Randy had been snacking the dogs lots and decided to bed the dogs down for a couple of hours before a big soup would be fed to the team.
This also gave Randy a chance to grab a bite of Moose soup and bannock as well as a chance of a lay down and try to sleep.
This would give me a chance to massage and work on sore joints etc. that the vets suggested and wrap a few ankles as well.

Magic happened while Randy was working at catching a few 'Zs'

Our truck arrived!!!!
I have never been so happy to see three people that I hardly knew.
Rob, Jessica and Melissa decided to make the trek all the way up to Stanley Mission and it couldn't have been better timing.

I immediately put all the dogs into their boxes and gave them extra straw so they could curl up and get toasty warm.... it wasn't long since they were first laid to rest on their beds of straw so they would still get a good two hours of sleep in their boxes.
Sage was so excited to go into her box she was wiggling so crazy I had trouble picking her up.

The vets came out shortly after to check on Icon again but he had pushed himself so far back in his box that we couldn't get him out.  A bucket was found to stand on and the vet did her check half hanging out of the box.

After Randy was up the decision was made to officially drop Icon from the race.  His breathing and his unhappy look made the decision easy.  Jessica and Melissa took him immediately into the building for some loving and spoiling.  (I started to wonder if he had just faked it for this moment)

Jillian in the meantime had made her way into Stanley and a conversation was started about how I thought Randy and her should race to the finish side by side to share in the red lantern.

Jillian announced she was going to have a sleep and wait  until later in the morning so that she wouldn't have to run in the dark to La Ronge.

Randy and I left the building at which time he turned to me and said, "I don't want the fucking Red Lantern, it's time to get ready to leave"

Randy and his furry 10 left at 2:25 in the morning, 5 hours and 30 minutes after arriving.
He was on his way to the finish line for fourth place.

After cleaning up more straw we were on our way to meet him there.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Canadian Challenge - It's all about the Dogs

I think I may have led some of you astray thus far.

It isn't as bad as it sounds.


Okay, the loss of our dog truck sucked big time.  After having arrived in La Ronge I called Jessica to find out they didn't know when it would be ready.  I was probably way snappier than I should have been when speaking to them in regards to this.  However I WAS lacking sleep big time and I REALLY wanted the truck for the dogs when Randy came in to do his 8 hours.

The dogs were looking fantastic up to this point with all 12 still running as a team.
I will attempt to post pictures with the names.  I mix up Boone, Chase and Titus so I apologize to the fans that know them if I got them wrong.




                 Sage (the only girl)





 Chase and Gumby 



The true athletes of the race.  Each one has their own unique personality and unless I went up to Fort Mac and spent more time with them all I can only share what I saw this week or for some who went to the Yukon Quest in 2013.
I've known Dirk the longest as he used to live here in my home town of Didsbury with his brother Dillon who was on Rick Wannamakers team.  A sweet boy always willing to please.

A couple of the kids that stood out the most were Rika (who has a girls name as far as I'm concerned) that growls when you put booties on, or put in a dog box, or do anything to.   
Braxton also shone to me.  He was a dog bought from Hugh Neff and was the most skittish dog I've even met.  However as the race progressed he became one of the best eaters, strongest workers and most cuddly stretching out for contact when I walked by.

Without any of these kids who were willing to run the 320 miles I wouldn't have had the experience of handling for Randy.  
And Randy.  
Well, he'd still be standing on his sled at the starting gate.

Instead, at 2:04 on Thursday morning Randy and his crew arrived and were ready to take their 8 hour rest.  Still without the truck meant bedded down on straw again and we did our best to cover everyone in blankets and pile on extra straw to keep them warm.
The plan was to just let them sleep for about 3 hours as Randy had snacked them lots along the trail... and sleep they did.

Randy also left to get some shut eye at the hotel where we got lucky enough and Elliot drove him down there.

I had a nap in the Wannamakers truck and also hung out in the heated bus or sat by the fire that was burning by the shore of the lake to wait until it was time to attend to the dogs.
Photo Credit; Jim Williams

I put a pot of water in the cooker and dropped some snacks in to warm them up.... then each dog was walked, massaged, oiled and wrists wrapped if needed... feet were checked and cream applied, they were then snacked and bedded down again.
This took 2 hours to get through all 12 dogs.

It is ALL about the dogs.
These mid (and long) distance races always make it all about the dogs.
It has to be.

Before I move on I forgot to mention in the last entry that Christina Traverse decided to scratch at MacLennan River. She had a very sick dog and maybe more than 1?  I didn't catch all the particulars but she decided in the best interest of her dogs that it wouldn't be a good idea to carry on.
I was sorry to see her have to leave, I'm always rooting for the women to do well (how can I not?)

And speaking of the women racing while at La Ronge I bumped into Laquasha waiting in the bus for her mom, Dogs in a dog truck.
I was surprised and shocked to see her there.
She told me (boy is she ever grown up for 17) that the trails she trained on at home were very different to here.  The difference being that the ones here are so straight and long and hard made a big difference in sore wrists and shoulders.

I later on found out that she had been withdrawn, meaning that the race marshal for reasons that were in the best interest to both the dogs and musher made the decision that the team of 7 would not be safe heading out to the wilderness checkpoints.  The speed being traveled put them at risk at having them stranded, and the knowledge of two wolf packs and many cougars in the area did nothing to help matters either.
I know there is more to this than I would ever know, but I am just sharing what I heard.
In any case it is always a tough call to make for anyone and a tough call to have to accept as well.

Again, it's all about the dogs in this race.   This is what we must always remember and put first.

My lack of sleep was all about the dogs and while waiting for Randy to come back to the park to check out his dogs and prepare to head out I found myself feeling beyond tired again and a bit hungry as remember I had not eaten anything yet.
It was close to 7:30 when Sarah, Jillians handler was talking to a few others saying they should head to the hotel for breakfast.
I was turned away from everyone in front of the fire and my tired brain said... "gee I'd love to go for breakfast"  a lump forming in my throat.
Sarah asked if I would like to go with them and I responded I couldn't as I had to attend to the dogs.... but I was pretty much crying when I said this.... I tried my best to keep my voice steady but knew I had blown my cover.

I hate crying in front of anyone... gah!!  Stupid sleep deprived brain.

Randy arrived around 8:30

We then fed a big meal to and walked each dog.  Again checking for sore wrists, shoulders, hips etc.
What we did discover was a funny cough that Rika had picked up when arriving but had not left yet.
Quite a few dogs were experiencing this odd cough that would disappear after time.  Many teams had this and the vets put it down to the cold humid air.
However Rika's cough sounded as though it had settled in his chest.  (side note:  Rika is fine now, the cough all but gone)

After a check with the vets and a bit of a discussion Randy decided to leave Rika behind in my care.
Rika didn't seem too unhappy about being curled up in his dog box on the trailer.

It was almost 2 hours beyond his 8 hour stay that Randy and his 11 strong head out on the lake to Grandmothers Bay at 11:57.
On their way!

After almost 2 hours I had our site cleaned up of 5 bags of straw.
A big job alone.

Steve came by after I messaged him that I was done and he picked me and the trailer up, and while he fueled up I ran into the hotel to get cleaned up and change.

I still hadn't eaten a thing yet and by the time we reached Grandmothers Bay I thought I might fall down with hunger.  It was here that I ate the best ever lasagna.
Hands down.
Best Lasagna ever!!

Canadian Challenge - MacLennan and the Tears

Steve, Carol and myself arrive in MacLennan sometime after 12:30 in the morning on Wednesday.

MacLennan is a campground in the middle of nowhere.  There is nothing here except an outhouse that looks as though a murder took place there.  It is so horrible a small tent  with a bucket was erected to be used as the outhouse.  I personally used neither opting instead for a bush.

The people, angels, volunteers here were terrific.  Super friendly and fun to visit with.  They put up a tent with a wood stove inside so there was somewhere to get out of the cold besides a vehicle.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

I crawled into the back seat of the truck once we were parked to try and have a nap.  I had gotten a bit of a chill and the truck was cold so it became impossible for me to sleep.  I broke out my hand warmers placing them in the small of my back hoping to warm myself up.
Nothing seemed to help.   I felt frustrated that sleep wasn't coming to me.  It didn't help that I kept checking the web site to see where Randy was on the trail.

Randy arrived at 3:26 the coldest part of the morning.  We left the dogs on the gang line undoing the neck lines so they could curl up on beds of straw.  We covered them in blankets and dog coats to keep them as warm as possible.
The cooker was pulled out and a warm soup was made for the kids.  Most of them ate well.  A few were just too tired.  They all slept curled into little balls.

I sent Randy off to have a sleep and he ended up in the backseat of the truck while Steve and Carol took the front seats.  This time Steve had the truck running on and off to keep the cab warm.

I spent a bit of time going down the line of dogs massaging ankles and shoulders and making sure everyone was warm and covered.   After this was done I was not sure what to do, or where to go.
Most mushers were in at this point.
We were still waiting for Greg and Laquasha.  There may have been others but those were the two at this point I had my eye open for.
It was here that I learned of Anna scratching but finding out everyone was okay after she had been out on the trail for a very long time, we were all getting very concerned.  Sometimes things happen that you have no control over and that is what happens with every scratch.  In Anna's case it was a lead dog having an issue and as a musher you make the call as to whether or not a team can carry on without certain dogs.
I was sad for Anna but knew she made the right decision in the best interest of her dogs.
Photo Credit: Scott Knudsen

I wandered over to the tent that was super toasty and stood inside having a visit with other handlers and volunteers.
It was warm, but at times would get very crowded.  So I would then head out for a walk and to enjoy the northern lights that had filled the sky.

Greg's team arrived at 6am and looked great.  They were camped next to us so I was able to peek a bit at his crew.  I'm sure at one point I saw Greg eating dog food... he assured me it was his breakfast, but when you've been up for over 24 hours your mind starts playing tricks, so I'm sure it really was people food he had.

My memory of events here starts to become a little hazy as my mind began to lock into sleep deprivation mode.
Randy woke up and the routine of walking dogs, massaging dogs and feeding dogs began.
We had some sore ankles and shoulders that needed some attention.  Wolverine still had a bit of a sore inner thigh, knee going on but it didn't seem as bad so he was massaged and his harness changed from the x-back to a shorty.
One dog who I cannot recall at the moment had a sore ankle.  It was rather swollen so it was massaged and wrapped.  It was due to this that Randy stayed a little longer at MacLennan.  We wanted to make sure no further injury would happen and to actually see if the swelling would come down in time.

I know I picked up a chill this morning and if I stood still too long I felt cold.  Keeping myself moving either with the dogs or wandering to the tent and watching out for Laquasha.

Laquasha had been out on the trail for a very long time and we were getting rather worried.  It turns out she had camped only a short distance away from here and rode in just after 9:00.

Checking on dogs again and with everyone looking great Randy finally left MacLennan at 11:13 for the wilderness checkpoints, Harolds Cabin and Fafards Cabin before making his way to La Ronge, with all 12 dogs on the line.
Photo Credit: Jessica Fielding

Once they were gone I could clean up the sight.  After raking up more straw and putting away supplies left laying around we could then leave MacLennan for La Ronge where a hotel with a bed and shower were waiting for me.

I don't remember the drive into town, I think I dozed in and out of sleep, but I don't really remember. I know that Steve likes to tell stories and chat up a storm so I tried my hardest to pay attention.
By the time we arrived in La Ronge I was feeling rather out of it.
Steve parked our trailer at the park where Randy would be arriving and dropped me off at the hotel which was way too far away from where we needed to be.

I couldn't wait to shower and crawl into bed.  I didn't even care that I hadn't eaten anything but a muffin since Tuesday afternoon.   
The tears began at this point.
I called my husband to give him a run down of events and burst into tears when I heard his voice.
I cried when I realized my blanket and pillow were still in the truck.
I cried because I felt cold.
I cried because my shampoo was frozen and I had to use the hotel shampoo.

Finally drifting off to sleep I awoke with a start a half hour later worried about the fact that I was not sure what time Randy would be in, or how I was to actually get to the race site from where I was.
This happened three times until I finally was able to speak to Bart to get a rough idea of how long it takes a musher to arrive... I needed to know what time to set my alarm.

I had set my alarm for 1 am.
But because of who I am I awoke 3 hours later at 11 to see that Randy had blown through Fafards. 
I wasn't sure exactly what time he would be in at this point so I got up, got dressed and organized... called a cab and head down to the trailer.

Amazing how refreshed 3 hours of sleep will leave one after being awake for 48 hours.

To call MacLennan a handlers hell is a little unfair.
It would be more the lack of sleep that made me feel this way.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Canadian Challenge - Handler Hell

Well okay it's not really hell but there were definitely moments when I wondered.

The teams all left Prince Albert making their way through down town to the river.  I wish I could have recorded some of the stories of this grand adventure.

Laura lost her team so I heard catching a vehicle to help chase the team down and catching up to them a couple of blocks later (hope I have that somewhat accurate)

Rick ran over a poor senior when he was just trying to help him out as many of the mushers ended up on the walking path rather than the trail that was set out for them.
Jillian also clothes lined an unsuspecting photographer who did not heed the cries of "Watch Out!!"

Randy seemed to me the only one who made it out of town without any crazy story to tell of, in fact I don't even know he realized this was all going on around him as he made his way to the trail that followed the hiway out of Prince Albert toward the first check point of Anglin Lake.

I was thrilled this year to be handling for Randy at the Challenge, not only for the experience but also because I would be working along side Dena Wannamaker.  I would get to learn from one of the best.

Handlers are the only ones allowed to help the musher once they enter the start chute and until they cross the finish line.  We were asked to wear the team number on a yellow bib any time we were working with the dogs.

Most teams also had a driver, obviously the person responsible for driving the dog truck along the route.
Randy's driver was a fellow by the name of Rob.  I was finding out that he and I had a ton in common from watching the Walking Dead to enjoying all the DC movies.  This was going to make our trek along the Challenge a fun one.  It also turns out that not only has Rob been to the Challenge twice and knows the ins and outs but he is also a mechanic which helped Randy out with the trailer issue and also as much as he could with the upcoming truck issue.
Some teams brought along support in the way of cheering squads, mothers and fathers were present as well friends.  In Randys case he had two young ladies from Fort MacMurray who also were vets that worked at the clinic he used for his animals.
Jessica and Melissa were to follow along to cheer and take a ton of pictures.

It took Randy 4 hours and 50 minutes to get to Anglin Lake, for us in a vehicle it was much much less.
Once arrived Rob worked at backing our rig up into a free spot where we would wait for Randy and the team to arrive.  However the clutch blew on the truck.

Panic could have taken over me easily and I could see it on the edge of some of those around me, I'm sure it was also reflected on my face.

My brain working on overtime I tried to piece together what could be done without a truck.... how was I to follow the team and give support without one?
Speaking to Dave Smallwood the Race Marshal a plan was devised.

Steve Taylor whose daughter was Jillian Lawton, agreed to hook up the trailer which held all of Randy's supplies and become our driver until our truck could be repaired and back in service.

This meant that I lost the companionship of Rob and that photos would be sorely missing.
However it also meant I gained the company of an incredibly vocal and full of fun and interesting stories from a fellow full of amazing energy.  If it wasn't for the Taylors I don't know what we would have done.

Randy's reaction was to scratch, at least that was a question he posed to me when first arriving and learning of our situation.  I pulled him aside to tell him in no way would he scratch and that what was going on with any of these troubles were to be no concern to him right now.  He had to focus on the task at hand and that was to get to the next check point.

For now it was important to bed down the dogs in piles of straw and then to cover each on in a blanket to help keep body heat in as they had a well deserved rest.
I sent Randy up to the lodge to get a hot meal and warm up in the building while I worked at comforting dogs.  Dogs were fed, massaged if needed and just left alone to sleep.

Randy tried to close his eyes for a bit, but unfortunately I don't think he got much rest.

Anglin Lake being the first check point from the finish line takes an average of 5 hours to get to.  Most experienced mushers use this stop to take a rest for the team that matches the run time.  Looking at most winning teams you will see that their run time matches their rest time for the most part.

As Randy's rest time was coming to a close we discovered Wolverine with a very sore knee... we think... at least that seemed to be where the pain was directed.  There was a knot inside the groin area that was massaged and then walked out.
He actually seemed okay when it came time to hook up the dogs so at 9:34 Randy and all 12 dogs left Anglin Lake for Elk Ridge.
Anglin Lake cabin Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Straw strewn about which now needed to be raked up and bagged and dog supplies needing to be packed back up, the site needed to be cleaned and then checked and signed out by the checkpoint official.  

Then Steve, his wife Carol and myself hopped into the truck to meet up with Randy at Elk Ridge.

Randy was I believe 4th out.  I'm afraid I didn't do a great job of knowing where the other teams were other than Rick as I was just a tad busy myself.

Randy arrived in Elk Ridge at 11:38, a 2 hour and 4 minute run.
He pulled in thinking he needed straw and that the run toward the next check point was longer than originally thought.... so after convincing him it was only another 3 hours  he was back out on the trails headed toward MacLennan River 16 minutes later. 

Handler Hell?
Yeah..... that would be at the MacLennan check point.

Canadian Challenge to the Start Line

I really did want to blog this adventure while it was happening.
There just really wasn't enough time so instead I will do a re-cap.

My hands hurt so much.  I have splits under all my nails and there is dirt embedded deep into my skin.  However my hands were used to massage each dog and receive many cuddles.
Going down the line of dogs giving massage and rubs was a regular routine.  This was in McLellan
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

It was cold.  Very cold. Nights VERY cold and colder still in the early morning witching hour.  That cold did bring out some wonderful Northern Lights.  It also wasn't as cold as it has been in the past so it could have been a lot worse.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

I hardly slept the last 4 days staying awake from Tuesday at 6:30 until Wednesday night where I only drifted in and out of cat naps because I was so worried about missing Randy coming into La Ronge. Then I didn't get to bed again until Friday at about 6:30 am where I again drifted in and out as I was worried we'd be late for his run into the finish line.
 I can't think of a positive for this other than giving some of those around me a good chuckle with what I said and did.
Lack of sleep also brought tears on easily, and I hate crying in front of anyone so hardly ever do.

Eating was limited as well.  More due to the fact that I was too tired to eat, but also because it got so cold my drinking water froze and I ... well when you are sleep deprived you do some weird things, mine was to not eat.
I did hang out with other handlers and had some great conversations sharing stories and enjoying the fellowship.  It is a small community amongst itself.
Hanging out at Anglin Lake
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Did I have fun? 
Not all the time, I will be honest.  There were moments I wondered why I ever agreed to do this, there were also moments when I felt so old and wondered again... "What was I thinking?!"
But it was fun in a strange sort of way.
I've met some wonderful people.  Enjoyed being a big part of the team, it was very different from the Quest.  Way more work for the handler but you get a real hands on feel and I really did feel as though I was a team member rather than supporter. 

You are not here reading this to listen to me whine about how tired or sore I was, I know you have come to hear about the team and how the week played out.

Photo Credit Jim Williams

The start.
Just getting here everyone made sacrifices.
I know the hours that have gone into training a team to just get here which includes not only the time needed but the vet bills and the hundreds of booties that have been used up to this point as well as food for the dogs, supplements and all the hundreds of extra supplies.

The expense of travelling to northern Saskatchewan and finding accommodation as well as meals and all those incidentals.

For myself, handling for a team, meant loss of wages for the time needed to be here as well as leaving my husband and my little family of dogs.  A huge shout out to my incredibly supportive husband for letting me live this crazy nutty dream.

So here we all are.  Handlers, drivers, support team, volunteers, mushers and their dogs.  All converged in down town Prince Albert.  Nerves and excitement filling the streets.

At one point it felt like hundreds of school children walked through to meet the dogs, there was an incredible feel of community support.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

The race was set to start at 12 noon on February 24th

Bib #1 Laura Neese first out of the chute is from Newark Ohio and only 19 years old.  Her experiences beside working for Natures Kennel in McMillan MI is coming in 7th at the Eagle Cap Extreme and 2nd in the Up 200.  She was the only racer running this as a qualifying race, meaning she would have no help from her handler which also meant her dogs would be bedded down in straw and she herself would sleep with her dogs.
Photo Credit; Jim Williams

Bib #2 Rick Wannamaker from Didsbury Alberta has many races under his belt including 2 wins here at the Canadian Challenge including the Vet Award.
For me there was a personal connection to the team as I had the privilege of helping run these dogs as they trained for this race.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Bib #3 Gerry Walker from Pierceland Saskatchewan has 3 previous wins under his belt from the Canadian Challenge.  Another veteran of the mushing world and good friend to Rick.  This retired cowboy was one of the friendliest most down to earth story tellers I have yet to meet.
Photo from Canadian Challenge web page

Bib #4 Stefaan De Marie a local favorite from Christopher Lake has run the Challenge many times either with a first place or top 5 placing.  
Photo from Canadian Challenge web page

Bib #5 Randy Mackenzie, the team of course that I am here to handle for and for which this blog will be centered on is from Fort McMurray and this is his 5th time running the Canadian Challenge with a third place win as his personal best.   
Photo Credit: Jessica Feilding

Bib #6 Kyle Job a musher out of Rimbey Alberta who has never raced before although has many years of running dogs as his experience.  I was excited to watch this team as I myself am in the rookie category and they live close to me. 
Photo from Canadian Challenge web page

Bib #7 Jillian Lawton another Alberta musher from Rocky Mountain House has run the challenge for the past 7 years winning the 8 dog once and competing in but not finishing the 12 dog.  This year she was determined to see the finish line in the 12 dog.
Photo Credit Jim Williams

Bib #8 Christina Traverse from Fort McMurray is coming back for her second Challenge.  The first time was as a qualifier this time around she will be getting help from her handler.
Photo from Canadian Challenge Web site

Bib #9 Laquasha Laviolette the youngest participant at 17 and from Quebec was one of my favorites as I had been following her and her family on social media.  I was excited to meet the young lady and to watch her as she ran her first mid distance race. 
Photo from Canadian Challenge web site

In the 8 dog category were two mushers of the four whom I have met and also follow their dog sledding adventures on social media.

Bib # 51 Anna Bolvin from Porcupine Plain Saskatchewan a lovely lady that I have had the pleasure of sprint racing with and have chatted with many times.  Anna has run the 8 dog a couple times before and I was excited to be able to follow her adventure in person.

Bib #52 Greg Scrivener from Meadow Lake Saskatchewan I have met at our local race this year and was thrilled to learn he would be entered in the 8 dog here.  It is always fun to watch and cheer on those you have met before.  Greg has run the Torch but this would be his first time at the Challenge.
Photo from Canadian Challenge web site.

You may have noticed and as I have already mentioned that the date of this blog does not coincide with the race itself and as I write this I sit in the comfort of my living room warm and caught up (almost) on sleep.

I had this grand idea that I would blog as I followed along handling for Randy.  That did not happen as I barely had time to even pick up a pencil and make notes in my paper journal.
This race was much more work than handling for the Yukon Quest.

In fact Dena dubbed it Handler Hell.
Which brings me to my next blog entry.  One at a time here as we move along.