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2016 Beargrease Marathon Recap

What a ride. Seriously this is something I've been talking about doing for the last 5 years minimum!

I left Two Harbors at 11:04 am on Sunday January 31, and came into Billy's Bar on Wednesday February 3 at 8:18 pm. Taking 39:07:04 trail hours and 31:22:47 in rest with an over all average speed of 8.2 mph.

I am in awe of my dogs and pretty proud of myself!

I left the starting chute with 14 dogs (the first time that I've ever had 14 dogs hooked up to a sled!) with a solid team of: Coal, Boggle, Brooks, Two-Step, Browser, Diamond, Falcon, Chili, Tofte, Soldier, Vanny, Jeanie, Rocky and Gunther.

I came across the finish line with 8 happy dogs: Coal and Soldier, Two-Step and Boggle, Vanny (my baby!!) and Gunther, Falcon and Tofte.

The trail is tough - I've heard this but I now know just how tough it is. I'm going to be adjusting my training and will be back in 2017 to give it another shot!

Leaving Highway 2 (The Pit) was pretty amazing. The day was sunny and very warm for dog sledding but doable! The run to Finland was just simply amazing. As soon as I pulled the hook and left the starting chute all the anxiety I had been having was gone and it was just me and the dogs. I was on the trail with mushers I have been watching for 12 years, mushers I respect greatly, friends with the same passion for life and dogs that I do! It was simply an amazing experience!

Pulling into Finland which was the first checkpoint was an experience! The first leg was only 38 miles and the dogs weren’t really tired. Still having 14 dogs and a plowed parking lot was interesting! Natalie and I got to play Dumb and Dumber tag team on the sled as my handlers drove me through the crowds and parked the dogs next to the truck. I’m pretty sure we got a few laughs from this ride! The plan was to rest early, I had a very young team and I needed to make sure to get them plenty of rest to make them happy. Plus it was hot. I didn’t want to go out in the sun – I do not have as much race experience as the others and I wanted to err on the side of caution. Plus I love running in the dark.

Pulling the hook leaving Finland was great – it had cooled off and the dogs were very well rested! WOW what a ride! The hills between Finland and Sawbill were pretty crazy and I was ready for that leg to be done! Coming into the Sawbill checkpoint was also simply amazing! Sawbill has been my favorite checkpoint since the first race I volunteered for. Its remote its quiet and its beautiful. Here is was unassisted so I had to do everything myself. Which I am used to and have a routine down. Snacks, Booties off, straw, start boiling water, getting meat and kibble ready in the cooler, moving dogs around if needed (Boggle was in heat and had a special spot up by the sled!), thawing meat and adding the boiling water. Feeding dogs, then letting them rest. Me – eat, drink, rest. I decided to drop Chili here as her little legs were having a hard time keeping up with the faster long legged dogs. Plus she had a pretty bad harness rub – she is so hard to find a harness to keep her happy! Getting ready to leave the checkpoint I was VERY happy with the team and the way they were looking.

Injuries are not uncommon in mushing. It’s a very physical sport. Leaving Sawbill (about 70 miles into the race) there was a sharp Gee (right) and I was tired with frozen boots and just didn't catch my runner right to pop the sled back on to the frozen plowed road. The sled jumped a berm and I came down hard on my left shoulder. The pain was immediate, and the type that makes you want to pass out and vomit at the same time. The dogs took the right trail (Thank GOD!) and when I hit snow I could hook down and figure out what happened. After that I couldn't grip the sled with my left hand and the pain was pretty bad. I had a few road crossings that I could have scratched at but it was SO hard... MY dogs were looking amazing and I just didn't want to go home! Plus I wanted to come across Poplar Lake like I have seen so many mushers before me. Plus I had been given advice – Never scratch until you have slept.

Pulling into Trail Center was simply the best. I was in pain, the dogs looked great but I did not. I couldn’t really use my left arm and I was very worried I was broken. About 8 miles out Rocky stumbled into a snow bank and was a little gimpy on a shoulder, but was still pulling. Being the biggest dog on the team – I couldn’t bag him with my arm. He worked all the way to the checkpoint and I dropped him once we got settled – shoulders are nothing to mess with. Once I pulled into Trail Center, I got looked at by an EMT and eventually an orthopedic surgeon who happens to be a musher! The variety of people that are addicted to this sport is pretty funny sometimes! Anyway after getting some ibuprofen on board and taking a nap, plus being put to the test of how well I could take care of the dogs on the trail if something happened by my handlers helped me make the decision to NOT scratch to move up the trail, knowing that it would be a checkpoint to checkpoint race for me and if I crashed again I would more than likely be done. Pulled the hook and off to Grand Portage I was…

I was now running last. Which I didn’t care. I was running that’s all that mattered, because of this I did get to head on pass with Ryan Anderson, Keith Aili, Nathan Schroeder, Jason Campeau, Colleen Wallin, Erin Altimus heading out of Grand Portage – mushers I have a lot of respect for and have watched come into and head out of checkpoints for years. All I could do was smile and live in the moment of how amazing this experience was. Pulling into the checkpoint and after getting the dogs settled I was handed a pizza box and a lawn chair by Geri J YAY!

Back to Trail Center was pretty uneventful, except I have a feeling a big ol’ wolf or moose was not happy we were on his trail as all the tails went up along with a few hackles…On by guys let’s just go! We made it back to Trail Center and all was as good as to be expected.

Leaving Trail Center I was a little worried about Brooks, I didn’t notice until we were out on the lake a little bit but he was limping, but he warmed out of it (it’s kind of like me when I get out of bed! It takes a few minutes to warm all the joints up and then we are good to go!). This leg was a little tougher on the dogs. About 250 miles the dogs start going through a metabolic transition. Well about 8 miles from Sawbill they started to slow down a little. I ran into Jen Freking who was also having issues with her team. So we ran in pretty close together. During this time my little Cole dog really won my heart. Everyone wanted a nap… I knew we were close and we just needed to keep moving forward. I hooked Cole up in single lead and he kept everyone moving. And we got there. I knew we needed a good nap and a meal and all would be good. And it was. I have coached a lot of mushers through this but experiencing it for your self is a whole different experience. It sucked! I’m not gonna lie! Watching your normally strong crazy dogs want to lay down and take a nap was very frustrating. But just keeping moving and not giving up was key.

At Sawbill I ended up dropping Brooks, his other wrist was sore, and Browser. Browser was my go to guy for leading but knowing that he was also going to run the Midnight Run in a few days it was OK for him to be dropped. Brooks is now race retired! He is a fantastic dog that has worked very hard for me! He deserves to be a couch dog and relax! At Sawbill I had to prompt a few dogs that are normally good eaters to eat, but once they got going they snarfed it down. Sometimes slowing down and paying a little extra attention to them is all they need. Leaving Sawbill, it was snowing, blowing snow and a little cooler than it had been the rest of the race all of which are fun things to run in!

Running back to Finland was a long run – the hills! We now were at the back of the pack and the Red Lantern was my goal! Rest and away we went! To the final checkpoint!! Less than 100 miles left!!

Highway 2 is also known as the Pit. It’s a gravel pit and tends to be the coldest place on the earth! This day, the sun was out, the wind was light and it was a beautiful day! Pulling in to the checkpoint I earned an extra handler! Jake who was handing for Nathan was on his way back to Ely and had to stop and say hi J. It made my day to see another smiling face with the ability to help with the dogs and tell me how the front end of the race was going! It’s a weird feeling not seeing all of the action but it was also great to be able to focus on my dogs only.

A few of the dogs got to rest in the sunlight and enjoy our mandatory 4 hour rest…I dropped my little Jeanie here. Her and her brother Vanny were the two yearlings that I brought with thinking I would be dropping them early in the race. And yet here they are! Last checkpoint!! She did very good but just wasn’t having fun anymore – it happens in young dogs, so leaving her behind to be babied by Maria was good for her! Vanny however was ready to rock!! That little dog did amazing and was still super spunky at the finish line! I can’t wait for next year for that litter to be 2 year olds!

The last leg into the finish was brutal but amazing! You run along this ridge that you can see forever. I was up there as the sun was setting and it was simply spectacular. I even stopped and enjoyed the view for a second. Then back to the uphill, down hill, up hill, up hill, up hill, down hill… LOTS OF hills!

Coming across that finish line was incredible! I was NOT expecting the reception that I had. I was the Red Lantern, the last finisher, 14 hours after my friend Nathan won his 4th Beargrease, Wednesday night and yet there were a ton of people there! I was very over whelmed and so proud of my team. I had happy tails and lots of kisses from my finishing 8. Cameras and kids cheers and hugs! I was so happy to be there!

I had the most amazing handler crew in the world. I seriously couldn’t have done it without their assistance their encouragement and their support!

Natalie who was able to rope Kristen in for the start and surprised me at Finland! Coffee the exact way I like it in a thermos, finding me a black sled for hauling things, to meeting me at the finish line - Love this woman to the moon and back! Soul sisters we are and will always be!

Maria who handled for the mid-distance and then jumped in with my crew at Trail Center was amazing! She made sure I was taking care of myself and my pain med manager! I would come into to a checkpoint and immediately Acceed covered ibuprofen and a Gatorade would be shoved in my face! Last thing before leaving a checkpoint - same thing. She made sure I ate and got a quick nap while the dogs were resting. All with a smile which is how I run things!!

Rick "Coach" made sure the TaHOE and trailer got to the checkpoints and that I was making the best decisions I could on the trail. After my injury he made me make sure that I was able to take care of the dogs on the trail by bagging a very unwilling Tofte at Trail Center and then supported that decision 100% - smiling the whole time! dog care was impeccable and I didn't have to worry about anything! I didn't have a lot of concerns from the trail because I wasn't pushing really hard to race mostly because of my injury. But she addressed everything I needed immediately, except for those disappearing splits :) She is simply amazing!

Kathleen!! WOW where did you come from!! From helping financially to giving me a special lineament for my shoulder to bringing a bag of healthy food! Taking fantastic pictures of the team and just being a smiling helpful face! Thank you!

There are a lot of details I'm missing but its one of those things you have to experience yourself in order to understand or even get the full effect of the trail. The moon, the stars, the Northern LIGHTS I saw (or hallucinated I'm not sure but they were there!), the dogs, the people, the quiet, the scenary, just everything. Its why we run dogs it is why I love being behind a dog team. The team work the understanding the wild.

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