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.

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