Knik 200 Recap...
The Knik 200 Sled Dog Race - 2018 version will go down as the race that tamed me. That literally brought me to my knees in self defeat and realization that maybe I should start taking care of my body instead of beating it up like I'm a superhero. None the less I lived, learned and am taking my lessons home with me.
I get nervous, almost panicking at the start of races. The nights prior to race day, trying to make sure that everything is packed appropriately and ready to go I am a nervous wreck!! I'm fairly new to the racing scene and to be honest I just don't want to look like a complete dumb ass. People should know that I do my homework, I research gear and nutrition and race schedules and mileage. But when it comes down to it, I'm not relaxed until I pull the hook and we are on the trail. That's when I'm OK, I've packed my sled, I've trained my dogs and I know that I'm good... but getting to that point, well there could be a whole reality show on me....
This race was no different. Always my main concern is the dogs, everything packed into the trailer for the dogs. Bags of snacks, bags of kibble, bags of fat (its warm so may/may not need it) booties, jackets, bale of straw. This race is going to be a little different than most Alaskan races as we get to work out of our trucks/ trailers and not drop bags! I'm not qualifying so hell yes!! EASY PEASY! Stuff for me! Sleeping pad in the truck (hell yes! No snoring mushers smashed together in a small room trying to take a nap while drying out gear and trying not to trip over each other in the dark... .yep that's exactly what goes on in the musher cabins, I'd rather curl up on the straw with the dogs). Snacks (its only a 160 mile race and the checkpoint has an amazing spot to eat... I just need snacks, and water, and Gatorade)... dry socks and boot liners (these are super important for the sweaty feet that I have!! They are pretty damn gross after a race...). Made my lists and checked them like 40 times. I was ready.
Did I mention that my trailer didn't have lights? And the brakes aren't exactly working...at all? My friend who was also going on her first sled dog race adventure as a handler / volunteer, followed behind me because literally I had no lights :) what could happen? Race start is only about 5 miles from my house..he he he. Luckily we made it to the start with no issues, other than her almost putting her truck in the ditch, which I DIDN"T get to see because my trailer is like hauling a barn door down the road and I can't see anything behind it!
Pull in at my parking spot, Bib 7!! Lucky 7! Alright lets get this show on the road! Dogs out, snacked and vet check done- back in the trailer, sled out, gangline out and sled packed with everything check! I'm out at 11:14 so 45 minutes prior I start getting ready. I always have different clothes on that I'm going to wear out on the trail, boots/socks (sweaty feet remember), jacket gloves, so literally I'm going out of the gate with fresh running gear!
Go to put on my new socks and boots...This is where shit gets real. First sock no problem, second sock, my back literally almost puts me to the ground in a spasm...seriously? Right now you are going to do this?? Well ok...there were a few very loud big girl words that came out of my mouth, and I took a deep breath and continued on with my wardrobe change. Got through that... now comes the dogs...They've been dropped and are getting excited! This is the first race that I have had all dogs that have raced before, are of appriopriate age and I am excited about running! Not really worrying about any of them, this is a very doable mileage (84 mile leg with a break 1/2 way was the plan) and my dogs looked great!
So booties have to be put on, every dog, 4 feet. This requires me to bend over 12 dogs... about every 3rd dog, I'm on my knees in a back spasm...dear lord, deep breath relax, stand up, stretch, and move on to the next one. By the way its just me...my handler had gotten sucked in to volunteering for the race and I was starting to panic a bit but its OK. I'm just gonna have to do this by myself - I'm used to it. Not exactly sure how I'm gonna come up to the line but it might be like a rocket! DEEP BREATH!! My friend Anja was parked right next to me and had some extra help standing around - they offered and heck ya I took that!! WHew- my stress level just went down! Then more help showed up just in time for me to start hooking up dogs - WHEW!! I might actually be OK getting up to the line!! Holy cow the dogs were on FIRE - they were ready to rock and I was excited to get going....so far back is OK.... Throw on my parka, get bibbed up (we have to wear numbered bibs and it helps to have someone tie them on for you...) and off we go to the starting chute.
I start by laughing because the dogs are so strong, they all look great. My leader Cole is doing his starting line twerk and bark, telling everyone to get ready!! Don't screw this up! We've got this and we are gonna race!! Boggle my other leader just looks at him like he is fool and holds the line out like a good girl - those 2 crack me up! The rest of the team is jacked up- I don't want to even get off that sled! Usually I walk up the line and let everyone know we need to get ready but this time, I feel like they are telling me!! I ask the guys if there is a sharp 90 heading out of here because that could be interesting! Not a 90 but it swings to the left.. Haha OK got it!
Three... Two... One... GOOO!! Hook is pulled and we are off, the sled is just catapulted forward by the strength of the 12 top dogs in my kennel...it was awesome!! Until we got to the left.... it wasn't a 90 it actually wasn't that bad but when your back spasms and sends shooting pain down your entire left hand side...you crash... You get up fast because there is another team coming in about 1.5 minutes and you hope for the best....my thoughts were "this is going to be a LONG run..." I tried to smile, I lost one of my good headlamps in the snow bank (DAMN IT! But I do have my other loaded and ready to go in the sled) and got back on that sled and away we went.
So for those of you that have followed my little escapade that I call my life, you'll know that this is the first time that I've been out on the river that I got so lost on last year...the literally most terrifying night of my life, so I would be lying of I didn't have a few jitters going into this race. BUT I did have the security of a tracker on my sled (yay! we can find the dogs!) and my own personal InReach by Garmin that has the SOS button on it as well -this I carry on my person...so they can find me!! The only thing is that the battery on the InReach I've never really tested it to see how long it will last in the cold weather, and a design fault in my opinion I don't have an option of changing batteries if this one dies as its a rechargable only.... guess we will find out! Luckily the race has a trail sweep and one of the organizers is a friend of mine who knows my track record haha...I'm not sure I should be proud of that though....
The other nice part of this race is I am pretty familiar with most of the race trail!! YAY!! This makes me a very happy camper because I get panicked when I'm not exactly sure where I am. I can't help it, I don't like being lost.
Away we are going - and seriously the dogs are looking amazing! I am always too conservative when I'm racing, I will admit that but I really don't like to push the dogs too hard, to be fair I've been running a lot of puppies and young dogs the last several years so its just the way I think. My plan was to rest at the turn around about 41 miles out for a couple hours before heading back. But I was having to stand on the drag pad to keep these guys at a cool pace of right around 10 mph! The trail was fast and it was a fairly warm day, and I was really trying to just get them to start falling in line at 10 mph with no drag. I was still having back spasms but once on the trail it wasn't very technical until we got to the river, I could work through most of it. I dug out my ibuprofen at a snack stop and slammed that with the only bottle of Gatorade I brought (whoops... and no water bottle for me either...good lord I need a Beckie handler, someone to make sure that I have all the stuff FOR ME!!). I constantly fight dehydration on the trail because I forget to take care of me...sigh we move forward...
Once we were on the river (after coming off the land trail on to the river it was a pretty dramatic drop! I felt like I should stand up and be like yup! I got this!) They had warned us it was pretty dramatic and I knew it was coming from the previous races so I was ready... but it was kind of an airborn landing...) I started getting passed by more people. My friend Anja and I were running together and leap frogging back and forth. That was really fun as I never have gotten to run with someone before! Plus I was happy my dogs were keeping up with hers as she is training to run Iditarod in a few months. Plus its just nice to have that security blanket...
I stopped to stretch my back, snack the dogs and take a break for a minute. All I could think was man my back is sore... I really don't want to stop at Yentna and have to try and rest...right now it was hard for me to keep standing on the runners. I have a routine I do on the back of the sled while I'm running. This includes - yoga moves, dance moves, stretches and bends to help with my back and my knees. If someone is following me I'm sure I look ridiculous but when you are used to moving around a lot and now you are stuck in one spot for 6-10 hours you have to do something to help out your body! I was doing all of this a lot more than normal because I was still having back spasms pretty frequently. The Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) that I had taken was not touching whatever is going on...not a happy musher. But dang these dogs looked great!
I started getting passed by more mushers, pretty famous mushers, Nic Petite (3rd place Iditarod last year!), Ray Redington and Lance Mackey!! Holy crap I just got passed by Lance Mackey!! All very nice and great looking teams. I always look at the dogs before I look at the musher, I can't help it. I had stopped again to walk to the front of the team to try and loosen up my back again (This was starting to get really annoying) and a musher, slowed way down as he was passing and asked "How's it going?" with a big ol' grin on his face. I have to admit that it makes me smile and relax to see my friends out on the trail, Jon drove his team slowly by making sure I was alright before moving down the trail. "Things are good, really good!!" I replied. He's gotten me out of more crap that one person should and I was happy to see him on the trail, I wasn't going to admit that I was having problems, not when my dogs looked that good.
Away we go, I knew that Yentna was coming up and I needed to make a decision if I was going to stop or not. This is a small place right off the river but they have a lodge and food and good spot to rest (GET WATER YOU IDIOT!) and take a break. But when I drove my team up to the checker (we have to sign in and out of checkpoints) the dogs were NOT having it at all. It was like we were at the starting chute all over again, so away we went. I had enough stuff and was planning on camping some place so if I needed I could stop in the swamp for a break.
We were maintaining about a 10.1 mph average on the trail which I was really impressed with! The dogs were moving together and I was really proud of my little team! Switch my only 2 year old was playing with the big dogs and not the weak link at all! He was focused and working for me! I like to run him towards the front and he likes to lead, but he's still a baby so for this adventure he was right in front of wheel with my solid Miss Acura. This was the way it was for about 60 miles!! We'd stop probably more frequently than they wanted but it was for me, for only a few minutes but I was having problems and needed a break....ugh I hate to admit that. Every time I would have to yell at them to wait - my rule is we don't pull until I ask you too. So I'd pull the hooks and have to have them stop for a second and then go when I asked. Amazing simply amazing.
About 25 miles left, Z skidded over some over flow and starting a goofy gait. Damn. He's got an amazing fast hard working trot and he's also one of my biggest dogs at about 60lbs. Stop, check him over, he's licking my face, hes whining to go ugh OK well you aren't broken lets go. Goofy gait. Dude tell me where it hurts? Check his booties, hm they are fine but new ones go on see if that helps. Pull the hooks, he's fine then not. Ugh, so we slow down. A lot. He starts moving but not as fast or as pretty as he was. I stop again. Rearrange my sled bag, think, hmmm I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to stuff big man Z in here but I gotta try....well bagging dogs is not something that we practice so he was NOTTTTTT having any of it. AT. ALL... Can I bungee him to the sled? Nope. He's gonna get more hurt I'm gonna get more hurt if I keep doing this and I'm still 25 miles out.... UGHHHHHH... OK Buddy back on the line. Happy tail, and lunge forward tells me this is what he wants, OK, but we slow way down. He's still pulling, his pee looks great, he's eating like a machine, he's hurt but not injured, and we move forward.
Slowing down was OK, the team was still pretty amazing. My concern is before we can go back into the checkpoint to rest is 1) we pass the entrance to the dog yard where we started the race 2) we pass our home trail to go home where we train 3) we do our training trail that leads us home and what we took on our way out to Yentna earlier. I knew this was going to mess with their heads a little bit, but they have to get over it.
First success was passing the entrance to the dog yard - not even a glance. Second success was a little slower getting them not to take the trail back home...and third success was getting them to keep going on the a loop they knew where they were and they just wanted to go home. This was a bit of a head game but when I called them up a mile from the checkpoint everyone was happy and pulling hard! We came screaming into the checkpoint and I was happy! Holy cow they looked great- granted most of them knew they were going to get a break but I'm OK with that!
Signed into the checkpoint and a volunteer showed me sorta were to go to get to my parking spot, we gee'd into the resting area and I couldn't slow them down much - all I could do was laugh, Jon jumped on my sled to help me park because it wasn't that clear and I needed more weight to slow them down!! Kind of a good feeling after running 84 miles with out much of a break for the dogs (their choice mind you!). Since my handler Shana was new and she was also trying to help volunteer it was really nice to have someone familiar to get me where I needed to go, I'm glad Jon was able to help. I don't think people understand how nice it is for a musher to have a familiar face to meet them at a checkpoint or finish line, believe me it is VERY nice.
It was dark when we pulled in about 8pm. Remember I had lost my headlamp basically at the start, so I only had one working headlamp with me. This in itself is a panic thing for me. So pulling into the checkpoint was a breath of relief. Seeing a familiar face was an even bigger sigh, and being able to have help was amazing. By the time I got my cooker going my entire back was in a ball and I was having problems getting up off my knees to try and work with the dogs. This is not good.
Shana got my straw, jackets for the dogs and brought me 3 Gatorades (She's amazing!). We got the dogs snacked, booties off, bedded down and jackets on. Wrist wraps on as needed and I was struggling to go through the team. Z got looked at by my friend Jenn who was vetting the race and it was determined that he sliced his pad (it finally started to bleed) and had a sore hock from the skid across the overflow, he was going to rest with the team but when I left would stay back with Shana. My plan was to rest for about 8 hours (our mandatory with time differential was almost 7 hours, and I wanted to give them a little longer since we had just done a 9.5 hour run). Plan was to start getting the team ready about 4 am and take off at 5 am for the second loop. But we all know how my plans go.
Team fed, meal ready to feed before we leave. Everyone was resting really well. Perfect. That's what I want. Got them a babysitter to watch for a little bit so I could go get some chow and a nap. I went to the restaurant to get some food, I needed some food, a lot of water and a whole bunch of ibuprofen....I sat down and that's when it happened. I'm not sure exactly what happened but HOLY HELL!! I couldn't get off the chair, I couldn't stand, I couldn't sit, I was dying. I tried leaning on the table, I tried crouching near the table I tried everything. I couldn't stand straight at all. Oh boy. This is not fun at all. I ate my oatmeal and slammed a Coke and some muscle relaxers and ibuprofen. This has to help. I went back to my truck at a slow hobble hoping that the meds would kick in at any time. I climbed in the back in my sleeping bag and set my alarm. I tried to slowly stretch my back and finally I got comfortable enough to get about 3 hours of sleep before my alarm went off.
Crawling out of my truck was horrible. Spasm, crawl, spasm, crawl. I couldn't stand up straight and I barely could put on my slip on mukluks. I needed to see if walking would loosen up my back. If you've never been to a checkpoint for a sled dog race you should go, they are constantly in motion, teams coming in, teams going out, volunteers walking around, officials walking around, mushers walking around all getting ready for what they need to. Doesn't matter what time it is. I walked over to my team to see how things were going, I tried to get in the straw with them. I cried. I couldn't do this. I could barely get into make sure we were all good to go let along put booties on 11 dogs. I had to scratch. I got snuggles and love from Cole who was ready to go if I asked him. I had to have him help me up by pushing on him like a crutch, he just rubbed into my hand and said just tell me when we are going.
I shuffled over to where the officials were sitting in a truck, DeeDee Jonrowe was the official, and she knew before I even said anything "You're hurting aren't you?"
"DeeDee I have to scratch, I can't, my back I can't do it."
"There is no shame in that, if you can't take care of the dogs you shouldn't go, lets get your bib. When you are ready make sure you come and ask for help! I will help you get your team to your trailer!"
"Thank you, I'll let you know, right now they are resting again." It was all I could do to not cry, its all I can do to not cry right now and its been almost 2 weeks.... I walked back to my truck. I walked over and woke Shana up to let her know that she didn't need to get up yet and what happened. I walked back to the officials to find out when Jon left to see when he would finish and they had told me he scratched too. Sigh. Tough race for a few of us. Back to lay down in the truck because that's the only position I could get comfortable in and wait until the dogs could get loaded into the truck.
DeeDee had to ride my sled back to my trailer and she helped Robert take jackets and harnesses off the dogs and load them up. Shana collected all the crap and packed everything away, brought me food so I could take more meds and entertained me so I wouldn't cry, while said meds kicked in so I could drive the team home. I laid in the truck while all of this was happening because I couldn't move...
I have lots of thank yous from this race and lots of angels that didn't have to help but they did. So many I'm not naming names because I don't want to forget anyone. If you helped me in anyway just know that I appreciate you and your kindness.
Its been 2 weeks and I'm still side lined. I did a good job apparently. I have help with the dogs and chores - thank god and that I am eternally grateful for. I can do somethings but not all, and I really am trying to fix this, its just taking longer than I want, but that's just me. It will get better, everything does, it just takes time and effort. Patience if nothing else working with dogs has taught me that, so I must practice that, every day...
Thanks for reading the recap! Positives from this experience - 1) I didn't get lost (I even told someone where to go!) 2) The team and I came into the checkpoints together! 3) The dogs did amazing and far exceeded my expectations and make me excited for the future. Lots of good things!
I hope to actually finish a race soon! Gotta have goals if you have nothing else!