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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 3

We left before daybreak. John had suggested that I put Herbie in the lead with Hobart. We cleared the field and started down the road. It was hard packed glare ice which made for a fast run, but left no place to set a snow hook.  I tried to ride the mat brake or pad to slow down and stay behind John.

During training, we had each put a 40 pound bag of dog food in our sleds to simulate the weight of our mandatory equipment. John had put an extra 40 pound bag in his sled to compensate for the difference in our weights. He weighed about 154 pounds and I weighed a little over 200 pounds.  I had started out with more yearlings, but we kept changing dogs between his team and mine until I could keep up with him. By the time we started the race, I had gained three new veterans, Hershey, Herbie and Hobart. They had not run with me before and had not gotten used to me as their musher. I would be tested. I would need to gain their respect.

At the first turn from the road, I was put to the test. While the rest of the team was behaving, the dogs in lead became like an unruly class of teenagers, checking out the new substitute teacher. They blew on by the turn to the right, despite my commands and protests. Grabbing the handlebar with my left hand, and squatting as low as I could, I tried to drive the snow hook into the road wit my right hand. It skipped and skidded along the ground until it finally caught something and brought the team to a stop. I go off, set the other snow hook in the snow bank beside the road, went to the leaders, grabbed the neckline, yelled at them and turned the team around. We went back the 100 yards to the turn and I tried to get them to left onto the trail. This time I was ready, but they still ran past the turn. I stopped the team and started to unhook the back lines from the wheel dogs when they took off again. I barely had time to jump onto the sled. Hanging the sled bag and facing the wrong way, we were headed back to the last checkpoint, we had just left. I could see it now, my entry back into the yard, out of control, clutching the sled for dear life, laying on the bag instead of standing behind it. I grabbed the snow hooks and tried to drive them into the ground again. At last they caught and we stopped. I quickly unhooked the back lines from all but the first four dogs, changed leaders to my trustworthy Toro and Gator and put Herbie and Hobart in swing. After turning the team again, the dogs took the right hand turn with no problems. I stopped the team and drove the snow hook into a post beside the trail, then reattached the back lines and straightened out all the tangles. 

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