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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Canadian Challenge: Difficulties, Technical and Otherwise

So much has happened this afternoon that I don't even know where to begin.

Last time I left you Anna and Jillian had just crossed the finish line.
Celebrations took place here as I let out a couple of whoops and maybe did a very small happy dance

That is when 'radio' silence took hold.
The web site has been very quiet today, with the only updates being the tracker showing where the mushers were on the trail.

I could not get the page to re-load but I also could not get anyone to answer my questions. I was feeling very lost staring blankly at my computer screen.  Okay, not really, but that does sounds much more dramatic than, just getting my homework done.

So without further ado, a re-cap from what I could piece together from various Facebook posts, texts and messages from those that are in the know.

Earl Stobbe came across the finish line coming in 4th place in the 8 dog class at approximately 7:30 local time with Sid Robinson was hot on his heals to take 5th.
Jackie Wepruk and her beautiful Siberians are about 14 miles from the finish line to take the Red Lantern for the 8 dogs.

Steve Taylor sadly scratched in Fafards.  Details are unknown, but I have heard that he is okay, which must also mean dogs must be okay as well.   Fingers crossed for news as good as it can be.

As for the 12 dog.
Christina arrived around the same time as Anna did and has settled down for her 8 hour mandatory.

Chris Wall also arrived with 7 dogs on line from Fafards, and I have just discovered that he has scratched from the race as well.
Gerry has also made the decision to scratch from the race.

Scratching from a race is a tough (for the human), yet easy decision, when it comes to the well being of your dogs.  I made mention once that the race is all about the dogs.
And this is the moment that a musher leaves his ego behind, takes a look at his team, and makes the right decision based on their well being.

Jennifer left the check point at her scheduled time out of 7:24 to chase down Aaron who is running a terrific race and with only 9 dogs on line.  I think he may be very hard to catch.  
Jason left an hour later in hot pursuit.

Remy and Steven have both made it into La Ronge and I'm assuming they will both take their 8 hour mandatory.  I wasn't sure if either one had taken it in Fafards as the updates didn't happen.  I guess I'll watch their trackers to see if they stay or leave.
Darren is about 5 miles out and will be pleased to see a warm bed for both his dogs and himself.
And the Red Lantern for the 12 dog, Joshua, is about 17 miles from town.

All the other 12 dogs are in La Ronge finishing up their 8 hour rest in face Randy's team must be busy about now getting him ready to hit the trail.

And that is all I can tell you.
It's all I know.

All the hard work it being done far away from here.  There are more important things to be done than to update computers, a race needs to be managed keeping us toasty warm in our homes arm chair musher happy is the last thing that needs to be dealt with.

While I'm at it.. a huge thank you to Jim Williams for the work on the site, the photos and all the other particulars.
A thank you to Stefaan for all your help with the race, and trails.
And a big thank you to Bart for being Race Marshall.

I wish I was able to be there to give a massive shout out to ALL the volunteers that are keeping everything running as smoothly as possible.   It's a huge job, and we all appreciate everything you have done.

I have no photos to share EXCEPT this amazing shot that Jim Williams took of Jason coming into La Ronge from across the lake.

Canadian Challenge: Girl Power!!

I am not picking favorites, in fact I have been working really hard to stay neutral with all the teams. Those who know me will know my connections.

BUT, how can I not get excited with how many girl power teams are involved this year.  AND when two of them just crossed the finish line for 2nd and 3rd place in the 8 dog class.

Well, I'm just all proud and such.
Congratulations ladies!!  Look forward to your stories.
Anna takes 2nd place
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Jillian hot on Anna's heals takes 3rd place
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Canadian Challenge: AND the Winner is...

Congratulations to Jody Verge for completing the Open course that ran from Elk Ridge to Harold's Cabin for a run of 67.5 miles.    You said you wanted to spread your wings, what a way to fly!

The 8 dog race has had it's first musher to cross the finish line.
Congratulations Marcel Marin!!   His team came clipping in over the finish line with 6 dogs leading to complete an incredible run.
If I read the tracker correctly (which keeps freezing up on me) he was about 12 miles ahead of the other teams chasing him for 2nd and 3rd place.  Both women I might add as Anna and Jillian make their way home.

Marcel comes in for the win
Photo Credit Jim Williams
Marcel and his lead dogs, Giant and Brave
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

La Ronge is becoming a busy place as they not only welcome Marcel and his athletes, but the 12 dog teams are also arriving.  So far everyone that has made it in is taking their mandatory 8 hour rest.

Aaron as I said earlier, had arrived, and can leave anytime after 4:39 local time.  He will make his way to Stanley Mission, 78 miles north, where he will then do another mandatory rest, this one for 5 hours before racing back to La Ronge the official finish line.

Jennifer Campeau was the second 12 dog team to arrive followed shortly by her husband Jason.  The two teams have stopped for well deserved rests and they will be able to leave this evening, Jennifer at 7:24 and Jason at 8:26.

Randy Mackenzie arrived about 45 minutes before Marcel rounding out 4 teams and have all snuggled down, including the musher, for a nap.    A good time to rest as the temperatures are hovering at around -7, and it is much better to run the dogs in the cooler evenings and colder nights.

The mandatory 8 hours does not have to happen in La Ronge and it looks as though there are some teams still resting in Fafards.
One of these is Chris Wall.  His speeds at the beginning of the race were crazy fast and he led the teams for quite awhile.
If I am guessing correctly I would say he will be leaving for a run after having rested for 8 hours that will have him pass the Campeaus on his way to Stanley at 3:56 this afternoon.

I don't want to trust the GPS tracker at the moment to give an idea of where everyone else is.  I've been a wrong for a few.  They are not updating and then like the Ninjas they are, just show up out of nowhere!

Now  we wait for 2nd and 3rd place.

Oh.. and if anyone knows Marcel, please get him to contact me so I can do a proper bio on him!!

Canadian Challenge: Strategies at Play

Good morning everyone.

The trail was busy last night with lots happening, I almost feel bad for my warm sleep last night, almost.

Gerry was on the move shortly after I signed off.
Taking a look at his tracker history I can see he has been taking long breaks, a schedule that has worked well for him in the past.  His dogs stay fresh and ready to hit the ground running closer to the end.
The front runners are not taking very long breaks between long runs as they head to La Ronge where they will take their mandatory 8 hour rest.
Aaron has recently arrived to take his 8 hours with a 21 mile lead.   He maintained some incredible speeds over night.

There are many race strategies in play on the trail so far.
Working closely with a competitive musher I know how guarded they can be with their secrets.
In fact when I was speaking to most of the mushers before the race many shared some of their plans with me, and not surprisingly instructed me NOT to share  any of this information.

One team that is running this year told me one thing, then went around saying something completely different to his competitors.  Mind games at play here.

There have been many MANY miles in training put on a team before even starting a race.  One musher even proudly stated that they had over 4000 miles so far this year.
For many, with lack of snow and cold, the mileage has been very hard to accumulate and a good handful were saying that this was going to be like a training run.
However watching the race unfold, between the 12 dog and the 8 we can safely assume that 'training' run is no longer in their vocabulary.

There has been one big surprise for me.
Steven Laviolette and his team.
I didn't think he would do as well as he is, and I don't mean that in a negative way.   You see Steven is running Siberians, and they tend to be slower than the Alaskan Huskies that most teams use these days in distance racing.   This does not mean they come in last by any means, however Stevens dogs have never raced before, they are tour dogs, and I just couldn't make any real guesses as to how they would do. I'm sure Steven is having a blast out there, and I also have a feeling he'll walk away hooked on racing.
They are definitely holding their own.
Steve and his Siberians
Photo Credit: Rod A Young

Race Fact:

When a team leaves the starting gate they carry with them some mandatory gear.
They each have a vet book, (the vets ask to see this regularly)
Working headlamp with spare batteries, a knife, an axe and cable cutters. An alcohol cooker, fuel and waterproof matches and or lighter.  A winter weight sleeping bag, one days emergency rations for the musher, one pound of dog food for each dog and two sets of booties for each dog.

Race officials will check to make sure that mushers are still carrying these supplies, and for sure at the end of the race before calling the time, mushers have to show that they still have this gear with them.
Aaron is currently in lead in 12 dog
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Marcel is currently lead in 8 dog
Photo Credit: Jim Willaims

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Canadian Challenge: By the Cover of the Night

This is the best time to run dogs, at night.
They seem to want to run faster.

Night, a time when 'normal' people head to bed.  I'm not saying that there is even a touch of anything normal about me, however, I am going to bed.

At home in the comfort of my warm home, not sitting inside a cold truck, nothing to stop me from crawling into bed.  Although if I was there, I'd still be at MacLennan and most likely sitting in the warmth of the hunters tent that is set up at this check stop.
I would be following the mushers on the trail via the tracker, which I am doing here... BUT I'd know why some of the mushers have not left yet.  The worst part of being apart from it all.

Before heading off to sleep, apologies to all you handlers out there that are missing that at the moment..oh, alright, the mushers too.  (although what you are doing is, what I consider, fun).
AS I was saying, before tucking myself in I thought I'd leave an update of what has been going on recently.

Chris, Jennifer, Jason and Aaron are all arriving at Harolds Cabin as I write this.  I would think they will have a break here for about 5 to 6 hours (my guess remember).
Marcel and Steven will arrive within the hour and again they too will rest.
Randy should arrive just behind them by an hour or so.

I've noticed the last 1/2 hour or so teams pulling away from MacLennan, which still leaves 8 teams resting.
I think that Gerry has gone undercover of the night himself.  His tracker has not updated in over 2 hours.  He could very well be on his way to Fafards and no one noticed!!

It's going to be an interesting night.
I do think that Chris will lead this first 1/2, but I have to wonder just how fast his dogs can keep going, but he may just surprise me.

No, I cannot predict, all I know is mushers will still be running dogs when I get up in the morning.

So I shall say goodnight, but before I do I will share some of Rod A. Youngs photos from the start today.
Chris Wall

Gerry Walker

Jennifer Campeau

Randy Mackenzie

Canadian Challenge: They're off!

Photo Credit: Jim Williams

The first mushers have arrived at MacLennan the first check stop in the race this year.

Like a game of chess mushers make strategic moves.  They will either work for you or they wont, it is completely up to the furry athletes ahead of you.
If you push too hard at the beginning of a race they can run themselves out by the time you even get to the half way mark.

As I write this, Chris Wall was the first to fly through McLennan on his way to Harolds Cabin, probably arriving sometime after 11 tonight, unless he makes a stop to give his dogs a rest along the way.
Following his lead and chasing him down are Jason, Jennifer, and Aaron Peck.
The other trackers show Randy, Christina, Gerry and Joshua still at the check stop, and so does Steven's, however there was a video just posted of him getting ready to leave as well.

As for the 8 dog, Marcel has left the check stop as well.
Jody running in the open should be in pretty quick and will have to take her mandatory 4 hour rest before moving on.
Everyone else is super close, and they may all be in by the time this post gets up.
All teams are looking strong so far, it is more of a sprint race at this point than a mid-distance!

The beginning of a race it is still anyone's guess who will come out ahead.
I still stand by my top 4 pick (I couldn't come up with 3), and I'll let you know at the finish how close I was.

The start according to Jim had a few 'hairy' starts and I look forward to his photographs of this, but I did hear from Jason's brother, Jody, that both Jason and Jennifer had fantastic starts.
Jason ready to go
Photo Credit: Jody Campeau
Competition size each other up (Marcel and Steve)
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Drop bags are organized (Jennifer Campeau)
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Dogs are snuggled and pep talks had (Steven Laviolette)
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Handlers discuss their plans with each other
photo credit: Jim Williams

Canadian Challenge: Pre-Start

Just by looking at the photos you can feel the excitement.
Taylor and Lawton getting ready
Photo Credit: Rod A Young

I'm sitting here, arm chair mushing, 778 km to the west feeling pretty bummed about missing all of this.
Here I shall sit for the next few days as I keep my eye on everyone with the Tracker that can be followed right HERE on the Canadian Challenge web site.

Each musher has been equipped with a GPS tracker so that we can follow them along the trail.

The mushers have all arrived at Elk Ridge and are getting themselves organized, packing and re-packing, hoping to not forget anything.
Some are calm, cool and just wandering from truck to truck chatting it up, maybe hoping for a hint of the competitions strategies.  Others can be a bag of nerves that are best to keep a distance from.

Dogs will be barking as they sense that something big is about to happen.  Those that have already run these trails will be catching a scent in the air that lets them know they are in familiar territory. Perhaps struggling to stay contained in their dog boxes or chained to the truck while they wait.

Not much longer now.

Two hours to go.

In the meantime I'll be glued to the computer, following the race AND trying to get all this homework done, sigh.
homework on one, tracker on another and Challenge Facebook page on another.
I'm set

Thank you Rod A. Young for sharing your photo's with me.
Anna settling her nerves with a good friends help

Jackie, she's got this, these trails are a snap!

Steven finally at the Challenge,

Good luck to all the musher!!

Canadian Challenge: Sid, Marcel, and Josh

I did my best to contact all the mushers.
Time was against me though.  Mushers are a hard breed to get hold of, they are either running dogs, getting food and supplies organized for dogs, or are out earning money so they can turn it all back to their dogs!

I told you this sport is ALL about the dogs didn't I?

Well I missed speaking with three mushers.  It does not make them any less an important part of this race.

Sid Robinson I know is also a local musher from La Ronge and has been running dogs for more than a decade.  He gave Earl a run for his money at the last Canadian Challenge and I wonder if there are any new strategies to see if this year he will work his way around getting past him.   I have heard that Sid is a terrific story teller and he fits right in with the likes of Gerry, Rick and Earl.  Perhaps once the race is complete I'll be able to get some tall tales from the trail this year.
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Marcel Marin drove here from Yellowknife with a list of many races under his runners.  From running the Percy three times, the Underdog 5 times, and the Yukon Quest in 2004 to name just a few.  Marcel has run both the 8 and 12 dog here at the Canadian Challenge and it's great to see him back again this year.
Photo Credit: Yukon News

Josh Lichti is currently living in Sexsmith Alberta and at 23 comes to us as a Rookie musher here at the Canadian Challenge.  He has entered the 12 dog and it looks like he is hoping to make this a qualifying run so that he can one day race in either the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest.
Photo credit: from the Canadian Challenge Web page

Good luck to ALL the mushers as they quietly battle with pre-race nerves.

Canadian Challenge: Arm Chair Mushing - Qualifying, Predictions

I sit here at a distance, not knowing what the chatter was about once the musher meeting was complete and trail conditions were reported.

I did catch 'wind' of nerves, fast hard trails, lack of snow in places, however that could be almost any year spoken of.

This year there is a big change that makes a difference in what predictions were set previously in my mind.  That is the shaved 70 miles off the trail.   A sprint race is what we are possibly looking at now.
Strategies are changing, and no one is sharing!!
Although I did hear some rumour, but I'll keep those quiet for the time being as I don't want to be the one to spread false information. 
I do sit here twiddling my thumbs excited to see where this rumour leads.

Mushers are the most giving people I have ever met.  You show up at their place and they will wine and dine you, give you the shirt off their back if needed.  BUT you ask what their race plan is, or even training routine, and they turn to stone and become the fiercest competitor out there.

I have spoken of mushers who are looking to qualify at this race.

The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest don't allow just anyone to run their race, you have to in fact be experienced in distance racing. 
In order to enter you must have run two approved races that are a minimum of 300 miles and one that is  150 to 200 miles.  You in fact have a report card that is signed by a race official after you have completed what is required.
The Canadian Challenge is proudly one of the approved races that can be used to qualify.

What this means for the musher is they receive no help at check points from their handlers.  
They make drop bags to be sent on to the check stops just as they would at the 1,000 mile races.  Handlers do nothing to help other than clean up their spot after they have left the check point.
Dogs on a qualifying team, bedded down in straw
Photo Credit: Kandis Riese
In the 2015 race, Laura Neese qualified, sleeping in a bag curled up along side her dogs snuggled into beds of straw while their tug lines still held them to the sled.   No one helped as she massaged each dog, checked feet and bootied each one.  No help to feed each dog, no help of any way from her handlers as they stood patiently to the side waiting for her to leave.

I do not have official word on who is qualifying this year, but last I heard for sure, Jennifer Campeau, Steven Laviolette and Remy Leduc were all using this as a qualifier.
I know Chris Wall and Josh Lichti were also on the list, but nothing is confirmed as of yet.
Apologies to those if I missed anyone, but will do my best to keep everyone up to date.

Start time is still set for 5:00 pm as Gerry Walker leads the race this year leaving from Elk Ridge.

In the meantime.
What are YOUR predictions for top 3??
One of this years superstars
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Monday, February 20, 2017

Canadian Challenge: Race Order

Bib numbers are drawn, race order is set, and we are down to the wire, 22 hours and 5 minutes!

The meet and greet as I write this is taking place right now in the PA Exhibition Hall.  The room is full of mushers, their handlers and family members, past mushers, sponsors and many volunteers.

There is most likely a nervous excitement in the room, with lots of stories and laughter at each table.  Fellowship is strong among mushers.
I'm so terribly sad that I am not there tonight to partake in the gathering. 

I have not made mention of the fact that the start has been moved about 70 miles north of Prince Albert due to the spring like weather the mid-west has been experiencing.   
The lack of snow has been a big issue the last couple of years with last years race being canceled altogether.
As the trails are snow covered and do-able North of the second check stop of Elk Ridge, this is now where the race will begin.
With mileage being cut to 135 miles for the 8 dog and 270 miles for the 12 dog the start time has been adjusted to 5:00 PM.

Don't forget you can follow the race here on the Canadian Challenge web page
Now without further ado here is the race order.

12 Dogs will leave first

Bib #      Musher

4     Gerry Walker
5     Jennifer Campeau
6     Randy Mackenzie
7     Chris Wall
8     Christina Traverse
9     Jason Campeau
10    Remy Leduc
11    Darren Haas
12    Josh Lichti
13    Aaron Peck
14    Steven Laviolette

8 Dogs

53   Jackie Wepruk
54   Sid Robinson
55   Earl Stobbe
56   Steve Taylor
57   Anna Bolvin
58   Jillian Lawton
59   Marcel Marin

Open Class

60   Jody Verge
See you next year Anglin Lake (1st check stop)
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

Canadian Challenge: Kyle Withdraws

I've been holding off on writing this next entry.
It makes me sad and my heart aches for this musher friend of mine.  Kyle Job, who wears his heart on his sleeve, who would do anything for his dogs, a friend, a stranger.

Kyles high energy level is extremely infectious and he draws you in with his excitement. 
Not long ago (so it seems) I spent a weekend, with Rick Wannamaker, out at Kyle's place as we trained dogs for the Canadian Challenge.  Kyle couldn't wait to show us the trails that he put in, amazing trails that ended up teaching me more about handling a sled around tight spots than I could have ever hoped for. 
We spent the evenings visiting and talking 'dog' the entire time.  
You knew he was going to do well with his team, you could somehow feel it.  

To get word this morning that he had officially withdrawn from the race made for a very sad morning indeed.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, the dogs always come first.

I didn't ask details, but his reason for the withdrawal were for the best interest of his dogs.
Photo Credit: Canadian Challenge Web site

Canadian Challenge: Vet Checks are Underway

194 dogs will be passing through the Archie Anderson Pavilion at the PA Exhibition grounds today.
Vets will be checking each dog over carefully ensuring that the athletes are in top condition for the race ahead of them.

Dog trucks line up outside the pavilion
Photo Credit: Rod A. Young

Dogs stretch their legs while they wait their turn
Photo Credit: Rod A. Young
Earl Stobbes team waits patiently
 Vets have volunteered their time today working many stooped over hours, from checking 776 feet, to 388 shoulders.  Listening to each heartbeat and jotting down many notes on each dog.
Dogs are also scored on a scale from 1 (too thin) to 5(too fat).  Most mushers hope for a 2.5 scoring.
Each dog this year was marked with green to show that he was given the all clear to race tomorrow.

These same vets follow the race, meeting up with each team as they come into the checkpoints.
Getting to know the team ahead of time helps them determine how well they are faring on the trail.  The dogs health and safety comes first at the race.
Dogs always come first.

I met three of these amazing ladies at the 2015 race and can say with all honesty that they took care of each dog as if they were their own.  They remembered each and would check on them throughout the race.   It left me with confidence that if anything were to go wrong help would be available quickly.  

Ruth Anderson is the head vet and this year will be her 10th with the Canadian Challenge, she also brings with her the experience of having been a vet at the Yukon Quest in 2006.
The assistant Vets also bring with them past Challenge experience, Katherine Robinson, Jessie Peck and Romany Pinto will all be found at each checkpoint as well.
This is a good opportunity for the vet to answer any questions
Photo credit: Jim Williams

Heart rate is checked
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

The following photos are Randy Mackenzie's dogs from the 2015 race  
Ruth checks gums for hydration

shoulders, and all major joints for range of motion and any soreness

Feet, checking for splits between the pads and overall health