The race from a rookie musher's point of view?
Fort St. James, BC
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Article by Stefaan DeMarie from Belgium
Nigel Hill and I left our dear Saskatchewan behind on Thursday, January 13th. We were fully loaded with 26 dogs, 4 sleds and supplies for a week. To give us some credit, you never know what happens on the road!
The further west we went the less snow we found, till we past Jasper. There it was again! We were getting desperate. We were close to turning around again. After a night in Mc Bride and an almost collision with a cop car we made it to John Douglass house in Fort Fraser. That was our base for the next few days. Friday the 12th we had our mushers meeting. Eleven mushers signed up for a two-day stage race from all over Western Canada to collect a part of the $10000 purse. Each day we had to run an 86 miles loop, with 50 miles on the lake. It was my first race and unfortunately I was the last one to pick out my bib. There wasnt a lot of choose left. I was going out first. I was getting nervous!
After a short night, guess why, we arrived at the starting line at 7.30 am. Teams were getting in and getting ready. At 9 am, I was the one to take off first. I had 12 crazy dogs, in front of me, yapping to go and a lake with a trail of barrels. Can it go worse? It did. My dogs hate the lake as much as yours. Snowmobile trails all over the place and one main trail. So my team, as many others had a lot off problems to stay on that one trail. After 18 miles I left the lake in second place for 37 miles in the bush. I was used to going over bumpy trails and some up and down hills, but this? My dogs had fun, myself a little less. I lost my team for an hour so I fell back to the 8th place. Well they had a good rest because we made pretty good time and left the bush again in 3rdplace. Another 31 miles to go. "Could I keep my team on the trail this time", I was wondering?
It didnt take long before we left the trail and wondered off into the fog on the lake. I lost some time so came in 5th after Doug Harris, Ed Rolles, Marcus Ohm and Gordon Wood who came in first.
It was already dark and it started snowing when I finished boxing and feeding my dogs. Now I had to wait for my fellow musher Nigel Hill. After 3 hours of waiting, there he was; had trouble finding the trail and I dont blame him. Collin Emerson from Alberta came in another 2 hours later. He lost the trail too. Laura Butler scratched with her puppy team after 50 miles. So we loaded Nigels dogs, fed them so we could hit the road to be back on Sunday for the same 86 tough miles. To get back to Johns place we had to travel over some logging roads. Unfortunately one down hill was too icy and we lost control and the trailer with the dog box hit the ditch. Every one was ok except the trailer. So we had to load our dogs into another dog box. I was played out when I went to bed; before I knew it I had to get up again.
Eight mushers were still in the game the next day. We left in the order we came in on Saturday so I left in 5th place. Enough teams ahead of me so they could chase. Wrong! Had major problems. Tangles, fights, you name it. After a while I found the leaders that would follow the trail. I lost a lot of time and went into the bush in 8th and last place. Was I ever grumpy! After a serious talk with the team we caught up with 3 teams in the next 37 miles. After the checkpoint and another 31 miles on the lake, I put the original leaders back up that helped me out. I caught up with Marcus Ohm who had major dog problems and was carrying several dogs in the bag. Still, I had to make up more than an hour on him to get that 4th place. Pushed the dogs to go a little faster. It was getting dark and hard to locate the barrels without my headlamp. Just a few miles before the finish line my headlamp quit on me and surprised everyone out there waiting for me to show up. I was glad to be back. 2 days in a row 86 miles straight takes a lot of the dog and the musher. After boxing the dogs and feeding them an hour past so I was sure of my 4th place. Was happy with it, but I knew I could have done a lot better. Most important thing is that I learned a lot in that race! It was a good but hard race. Trail conditions and markers werent always that great but they tried to make the best out of it. The volunteers helped out where they could and I appreciated that very much! Afterwards at the Banquet I picked up my price money and had a good beer.
That Sunday Nigel had the help of a farmer to get that trailer out the ditch. So we fixed it up on Monday and left BC on Tuesday. We had just enough food to make it back home. So it was worth it to take an extra dog food with you. We had a great time and had a lot of fun on and off the trail.
I want to thank the organizing committee for a good and fun race. They made the best out of it!
Good luck in 2002.
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