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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

CB300 Black Team Wrap-Up

In the truck on the way home from Glennallen I asked Allen about his team.

Lead dogs Kodiak and Commando - These are two of the best leaders that we have, among many that have gone before. I would put either of these two in lead in any race at any time. They both loped for the whole race and are a well matched pair. I couldn’t ask for any more out of those two.

Brother and sister Junior and Dutch ran in swing. They are two more excellent leaders, and could have been in lead at any time during the race. (I may say that about a lot about many dogs on this team, we have that many good leaders). This pair were energetic and happy.



Then came Mismo and Izzy - the two floppy eared goony dogs and another brother and sister combo. Mismo is one of the best dogs on the team because you can put him in any position, in lead, in team, even in single lead and he will know where to go when there’s no trail. When the going gets slow, like it did in this race for the final leg, he was pulling even harder when in lead. Izzy worked really well with Mismo when in lead they kept grinding away, even when we had to carry dogs in the bag.

Rodney and Champ - Rodney, tried so hard for so long that just near the end 5-6 miles he ran out of steam. Champ is talented and driven and his line is always tight. He runs very much like his Mother Nutmeg. These two will be main dogs very soon. It is easy to see that by how much energy they have, how much they like to eat and there was not a time when I got ready to go that they weren’t jumping ready to go. They had a few mental hurdles to get over as this was the longest and hardest race of their career but they got through it. It is exciting to see these traits in such youngsters.



Tinder and Daisy came next. Daisy likes left side and is almost obnoxious about it and pushes the other dog into the snow if they are on the left. Daisy hasn’t had much race experience as she missed the Iditarod last year but she is such high energy and when the going gets tough she bows her back and puts her nose to the ground pulling hard. This was her hardest race and she will be better for it.

Tinder is getting more and more more like his father Nacho. He has a half-lope gait and picks his legs up pretty high. We had no issues at all until I got the team up early in Mendeltna to stretch them out and noticed him favouring his leg. The vet said it was a good catch as there was no sign of it coming in to the checkpoint as he was warmed up. He was doing a fantastic job up until then.

Felix and Chipper ran in wheel. I like seeing Felix because its just like running Biscuit. He has the same gait and has filled out more as he has gotten older. Biscuit was best wheel/team dog we ever had so Felix is heading down the same trail.

Chipper is a fireball, just because she weighs 34 pounds don't let that fool you. She has more attitude than any 70 pounder. She pulled all the way to Tolsona but when I picked her leg up to put booties on to leave she squeaked. Her tricep was sore. We missed her in the last couple of legs.

I believe we had a winning team however musher judgement on how we ran the race was in error. In this race if you make one judgement error there is little chance to make a significant correction. In other years we ran a similar plan and won but in these conditions it was not appropriate to do. We paid for that error in the last 60 miles. The dogs are top notch and they wanted to win!

We all learned something from this. These dogs were as good as we've ever had and we need to help them achieve greatness.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

CB300: Final Catch Up

And you thought a lot happened in the first half of the race!

I will jump to the end first. Please excuse the wall of text, I haven’t got to the photos or videos yet.

As a kennel we are delighted with 4th and 6th positons. It was a tough race - it was the Copper Basin 300, “the Toughest 300 Miles in Alaska” so we always expect the unexpected. After every race Aliy and Allen strip the race down and take an honest look at all aspects and outcomes. This race is no different, Aliy and Allen are looking at why our dogs slowed down at the end. It isn’t just as simple as carrying a dog made them go 5 miles and hour. They will ask questions: How did the race / rest schedule work? What do we need to adjust if we ever have those trail / weather conditions again? Was the preparation appropriate? How could things be better? They ask these questions whatever the result - good or bad.

We are the first to admit it wasn't a perfect race for any of our teams for a number of reasons and they will spend time dissecting it all. 4th and 6th is fantastic and Chemo, Scout and Kodiak still believe they are the winners even though they were in three different teams!

MEIERS LAKE - TOLSONA - MENDELTNA

So, let’s pick up where we left off - on the 70 mile trail from Meiers Lake to Tolsona then 60 miles on to Mendeltna. It seems like a lifetime ago!

The trail from Meiers Lake to Tolsana moves along the Alaska pipeline for a time then runs over Fish, Crosswind and Ewan lakes. At Tolsona we were much more sheltered from any wind that this checkpoint but the snow fell almost constantly.

The trail Tolsona to Mendeltna travels Tolsona, Moose and Louise later with BIG hills in between for 50-odd miles.

Mendeltna to the finish ran about 30 miles along the Richardson Highway - you can see the teams from the road and when Mark and I left we were able to see Aliy, Michelle, Paige, Allen then Ryne working hard next to the trail. One for the first rules of Fight Club - whoops - I mean “Handling” is to never never let the dog team see the dog truck until the finish line i.e. do not stop to take a picture else the team will think it’s time to get in the truck. It was hard to just drive by and try to ignore the fact your team is RIGHT THERE!

BLACK TEAM
The run from Meiers Lake to Tolsona was the Black Team’s run. When Aliy got off the trail she said “that’s an Allen Moore trail” and it certainly turned out that way with their run time through that section. The trail was “punchy” (punching through the soft snow) with lots of hills. Allen said the team did great through there and he was pleased with his run.

Own arrival the team enjoyed their snacks and settled quickly. Allen again slept outside with his team, deciding to forgo the trek to the Fire House (where they had camp stretchers set up for mushers to rest). He left Chippy with us as she had a sore tricep and needed some massage and rest. She was a bit put out that she had to leave the team but seemed happy enough to get into the truck and eat a few fish snacks.

They got out on time after five hours in the checkpoint ready to head 50 miles to Mendeltna.

Allen was pleased with their run through to Mendeltna. They came in strong and everyone was running well. With just two hours rest at the checkpoint everything needed to be precisely timed if we were to get the team out on time. We worked backwards from the leaving time to ensure Allen was able to fit everything in. Once he got his arrival routine completed Allen came inside for something to eat (meat lasagna) and a nap. We counted backward to allow time to get a meal for the dogs, get them dressed and ready plus time to get to the musher “check out” point - mushers needed to walk/run back to the check-in area to sign out of the checkpoint then fast walk/sprint back to their team to leave. A handler from another team sitting in the same room must have thought I was some sort of sergeant major barking orders at Allen - “so, allow x minutes to check out, you want x minutes to ready the team, x minutes to get your boots on and water thermos filled - if you go to sleep right now you have 17 minutes sleep. Go”. In such a short race even a couple of minutes over time and it COULD affect the placings. In a longer race such as the Quest or Iditarod it is not as critical, although in saying that, efficiency at a checkpoint is always desirable no matter how long the race is.

We got them out in time and for the first time all weekend handlers could just breath out a minute. We had now done all we can to help and support for the race - it was now all out of our hands.

RED TEAM
Aliy and the Red Team had also worked very hard on the Meiers to Tolsona leg. During the run Aliy decided to alter her rest plan and spend four hours at Tolsona with three in Mendeltna instead of the five and two scheduled. She left Sissy with us here with a sore wrist and mushed off into the night with Chemo and Spark leading the way in their green glow in the dark collars.

Into Mendeltna Aliy had an extra hour compared to Allen so was able to take a little longer with everything but was still super efficient getting it all done. The shorter the stop essentially just means fewer minutes of rest for the musher as most of the chores take the same amount of time whether you are staying two hours or six. We got her away on time ready for her run to the finish.

RED & BLACK TEAM
Boy those experienced dogs are great. Scout, Scruggs and Olivia are such pros, it was great for Chris to have such experience out front to help with the younger ones. Chris came in to Tolsona with icicles from his beard and was ready to head inside to thaw out after seeing to the team first. It was at this point on we didn’t see Chris again until the finish. I’ll get a team account from him later this week to fill in some details as I really didn’t get much chance to find out much about individual dogs or particular runs.

A SHOUT OUT

We’d like to say a word about the three checkpoints with hospitality.

Meiers Lake Lodge was a haven out of the shocking conditions outside. They happily made burgers and grilled cheese for us at 4am and were only too willing to help with whatever we needed. Free fudge or muffins? No problem! Thank you to the team out there who worked so very hard all night and all day.

Mendeltna Lodge was also amazing. All the food I saw being consumed looked to be very much enjoyed and my beef and vegetable stew with home made bread was to die for! There were so many treats and extras we could help ourselves to and for me, the best thing was the huge jug of water with fresh mint and lemon. I downed many many glasses of it. There was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out for some sleep and it was also a welcome haven. Thank you Mendeltna!

Old Paths Church at the finish line once again was fantastic. It feels like home, you know once you reach Old Paths you have made it. They had cook pots of chilli and about 4 different types of soup, exactly what everyone needed. Thanks to the hard working team there also.

We were also lucky to have along for part of the race some folks from Verizon, one of the kennel’s lead sponsors. William, Pepsi, her husband Larry and their two sons enthusiastically helped in every way they could. Goodness the gusto in which that team could rake up the straw was astounding and so very very appreciated by us. Raking straw to my mind is the worst part of the whole thing. Their positivity and interest was infectious and lifted our mood. Thanks team! Go Team “SPK Verizon”

Sincere thanks also to the CB300 Board and Volunteers. CB300 remains one of the kennels favourite races!

CB300: Finish Line

Congratulations Ryne Olson, on taking out the 2017 Copper Basin 300!

Firstly, I wanted to let you know it was Tinder that Allen left with us in Mendeltna before the final push to Glennallen. Tinder had been running well but once he cooled down and had his nap at the checkpoint his hind leg started to get a bit sore and swollen. Only as Allen was stretching the team out before leaving did Tinder appear sore so, 10 minutes before leaving in a very precisely timed checkpoint stop (I'll tell you more about that later), he decided to leave him behind. We'll let him rest over the next week or so and see how he recovers. (Thanks to Derek for running to get the vet for us)

As you know by now, Allen and the Black Team finished in fourth position behind superwomen with their super teams Ryne Olson, Paige Drobny and Michelle Phillips. We are so incredibly happy for Ryne, she is a good friend of the kennel and it was exciting to see her and her team crossing the line in first position!

Allen came in with Rodney fast asleep in the sled bag! As we saw from Aliy's first leg - carrying a dog can really slow down your run time, especially a bigger boy such as Rodney. He is okay, he just a bit sore and tired, this was a really big deal for a two year old and he had been doing so so well up until that point.

Mismo and Izzy (edit: correction of leaders) led the team over the line and we quickly gave them a big meal, removed booties, harnesses, jackets and leggings. They got a massage and foot ointment then up into the truck quickly to get on with the serious business of resting.

Aliy and the Red Team came in sixth position behind Cody Strathe. She was also carrying one in the bag, Driver (edit: correction of rider) who has a sore right shoulder, slowing her speed down or, as Aliy said with a wry smile "we're training slow and steady". Chemo and Sparkie led for the entire race and both came in looking really perky. Everyone demolished their kibble meal or their snack meal (we give them lots of choices at the end of a race to satisfy whatever craving they might have - fish, beef, kibble, poultry skins...)

Chris and team are back and resting happily.

I am conscious that there is a big chunk of detail missing - I will work on a post with some details about Tolsona and Menteltna and I will also get a dog-by-dog account of the teams over the next few days.

Monday, January 16, 2017

CB300: R&B Team Update

I have just heard from Wes that he drove to Lake Louise Lodge (part-way between Tolsona and Mendeltna) to pick up Chris and the Red & Black Team. Wes reported that all the dogs are okay, as is Chris. Cell coverage was not great but from what I can gather, evidently Scruggs tweaked something and was in the sled bag, then Nelson and then Outlaw did the same. This meant, essentially three of Chris' most powerful dogs were not able to contribute and there were still many hills to negotiate and deep snow on the ground with even more falling on the trail to Mendeltna.

The whole idea of running some youngsters in this race is to make it a positive experience and I know Chris was determined to make it that. This race has been challenging for many mushers and dogs with the weather and snow conditions. It sounds like Chris decided to pull the pin and scratch before it became a negative experience for the team.

The dogs have all be vet checked, had a nice big dinner with lots of tasty snacks and are napping in the truck at Mendentna Lodge. They will come back to Glennallen after everyone is rested and ready.

Please be patient as we gather more information but rest assured everyone is okay. We will update when we can.

CB300: Finish Line Update

There is so much to catch you all up on but right now Mark and I need to get down the the finish line and set up the truck ready to greet our teams. At this stage Allen is still in second place but just barely with Paige Drobny with her fantastic looking team just about on him and Michelle Phillips bearing down fast also. It will be a sprint finish and we're excited to watch it unfold.

Once both teams are in we will give them a big dinner and lots of snacks, all body massages including feet and will settle dogs and mushers into bed.

Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram, I may post directly there until I get the chance to post something with a bit more detail.

CB300: Analysis -- Rest Strategies

Some of you have asked for updates on required rest times remaining, so here's an update. In the table, you can see the rest times taken by each of the top teams in the first three checkpoints. If you deduct their start differential from their cumulative total rest, you get the remaining rest time. You can do your own analysis -- and speculation! -- about various strategies for early rest vs. late rest by each of the teams.



The eight top teams have all "hit their numbers" exactly on 30-minute increments. Matt appears to have "lost" 12 minutes by overstaying at Sourdough. Ed Hopkins appears to have overstayed 5 minutes in Meiers and understayed 6 minutes in Tolsona. I have no idea how that will be worked out by race officials, or if it will even matter. I'll update again when the teams have all left Mendeltna.

It's hard to explain how complicated time-keeping is for teams out on the trail. Everyone is exhausted, hungry and cold. I can tell you from first hand experience that it's very easy to lose track of the little things. It is a testament to ALL the teams that they get it right so much of the time... Go SPK!

CB300: Analysis -- Run Times to Mendeltna

Allen and the SPK Black Team are on their way to the finish line, with speedy Ryne Olson hot on their tails. A 26-minute lead can wither in a hurry during the last, long stint. Matt Hall has not yet checked into Mendeltna, which means he is now well behind the lead. I have no ready explanation for that until I see his run time from Tolsona, but he has already taken all his required rest and will (probably) not stop in Mendeltna.



The rest of the field is pretty steady, with the next four teams all within about an hour of each other. You can bet they are all chomping at the bit to finish their required rests and hit the trail, especially Aliy whose young Red Team is putting in an excellent performance.

The next few hours should be exciting... Go SPK!

CB300: Mendeltna Monday Morning

Good morning! We hope everyone has had their first coffee and is ready for an update... Lots of action overnight as usual. I'm tabulating times now and will post analysis ASAP.

Meanwhile, thanks to SPK fan Mary-Beth, we have a couple of photos from Mendeltna. On the left, Allen checking in after another strong run. He dropped Chipper in Tolsona with a slightly sore tricep, now getting luxury treatment from the handler crew. Aliy checking in on the right, hot on the heels of the lead teams. She left Sissy in Tolsona after another episode of "the booty thing." The vets couldn't find anything wrong, but she just wasn't her usual fabulous "Sissy-self" and Aliy decided to make a conservative drop.



Chris continues to run a strong race, currently in about 12th position with a shot at the top ten. He left Cayenne in Tolsona, simply because she is a little girl who got tuckered out in all the loose snow. It's always better to drop a dog than set them up for failure on the trail. She is now sleeping in the dog truck after massage and snacks.

I'm going to make another cuppa and get after the numbers... Go SPK!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

CB300: Analysis -- Run Times to Tolsona

Teams have been pulling into the Tolsona checkpoint, so we have some run times to share with you. Allen had a very speedy run with the SPK Black Team and picked up enough time to now be in the lead by 7 minutes. That's not much in a field this good, but it's still a lead!

Aliy and the SPK Red Team continue to turn in very solid times and are still in the hunt in seventh place. The handlers report that all the dogs are eating well and making the most of their checkpoint rest.



In the early morning hours, the teams will get up for a hot meal and head down the trail to Mendeltna about 50 miles away. By the time we're having morning coffee, we should have more information to share.

Those of you who are CB300 veterans know it is always a nail-biting race to the finish, and this year promises to live up to that reputation... Go SPK!

CB300: Update from the Internet Dead Zone

(Moira finally got enough cell signal to send this update through... Enjoy!)

Certainly a lot has happened since the teams left from Glennallen over 14 hours ago!

The run from Glennallen to Sourdough was 73.3 miles over some new trail not run in the CB300 before. The severe cold snap that was forecast didn’t arrive (yet) and instead came the snow. Lots and lots of snow, over a foot in Sourdough by all accounts. The snow was also “sugary” making it challenging to run through. Such snow doesn’t pack down like other snow, it is too dry, so instead of breaking trail for those following, the teams in front got the better conditions. This created some issues for the organisers, having ploughed parking spaces and in/out chutes the day before only to see them snowed in again.

BLACK TEAM UPDATE

Allen and the Black Team arrived hot on Matt Hall’s tail. We parked the Black Team near the exit chute sheltered somewhat from too much more snow next to a small bank of trees and willows. After the 73 mile run the team was ready to have a snack and settle into their straw for a good long nap. Allen curled up in his sleeping bag near Rodney and caught a short nap himself before doing his checkpoint exit routine of feeding the dogs the meal he prepared as he arrived, booty-ing and putting leggings on (in these snow conditions, the dogs that have longer hair along the back of their front legs wear leggings to protect against snow balls forming).

After five hours on the dot they headed out on the 34-odd miles to Meiers Lake. Conditions changed quite suddenly around that time to cold driving wind at the top of the steep hills blowing in the trails and making it more challenging than normal. (This part of the trail has been run the last few years, only in reverse, so Allen and Aliy are familiar with “the hills”). Kodiak and Commando were still the dogs to lead through this. The weather and trail conditions made the run time slower than first anticipated but still made good time considering.

Meiers Lake checkpoint was very cold with horizontal driving snow. The parking spots that had been beautifully ploughed out yesterday had disappeared so we were left to find what spot we could to shelter the dogs somewhat. Mark had the genius idea of parking the team around the back of a cabin BUT this meant we had to turn the dogs 180 degrees to get them facing the right way. Allen said “no problem – we do this in practice all the time” so after expertly manouvering them (we did it while they were tired instead of when they woke up), we got them settled in a prime parking area completely sheltered from the wind.

Meiers Lake checkpoint has traditionally been where Aliy and Allen have taken their mandatory six hour rest plus time differential (I think Macgellan has explained about this – basically it puts everyone back on equal time after the staggered start). This year was no different so the Black Team rested their required time. They left bang on time ready for the 70-odd mile run into Tolsona lake.

By the way: Tinder, Rodney, Champ and Daisy are rock stars! The others are pretty stinkin’ awesome also.

RED TEAM UPDATE

Originally Aliy was going to start with Spark and Lydia in lead but with the snow falling and more forecast she decided she would put bigger and stronger Chemo up front to break the trail for the team. Lydia said she could have done it “no problem” but turns out she was glad Chemo stepped up. Once on the trail the red team was also making great time until about 25 miles out of the checkpoint. Aliy and Sissy had what Aliy called “a miscommunication” – Sissy got some snow in her bootie and, just like if we had a stone in our shoe, she started limping on it so Aliy loaded her into the sled to ride the rest of the way thinking Sis had some sort of injury. Once they got into the checkpoint Aliy had one of the volunteer vets to take a look and they could find nothing specifically wrong so Aliy decided to let Sissy sleep on it and would reassess after their nap. Turns out she was absolutely fine and continued strongly with the team onto Meiers Lake (well, she did get an extra 25 mile rest).

After checkpoint arrival chores (snacking the dogs, putting straw down for them to sleep, removing booties and leggings, soaking some kibble ready for their hot meal after they wake up and packing her sled) Aliy settled into her sleeping bag, curled up with her wheel dogs and had a nap herself. At some checkpoints there is water available that a musher can heat up in their cooker to make a meal – at Sourdough they have to melt snow into water. That means the musher must be multitasking as they arrive keeping their cookpot topped up with fresh snow in between the other chores.

The Red team also took five hours rest at Sourdough and headed away towards Meiers Lake where they arrived some 4 hours 40 minutes later. Again, the ability of the team to turn on a dime meant they could share the sheltered parking spot with the Black Team and be away from the blowing snow for their mandatory six hour (plus differential) rest.

Right on time, Aliy pulled the hook for her team to head to Tolsona.

Aliy’s rookies, Amber and Iron, are doing GREAT! As is the rest of the team.

RED AND BLACK TEAM UPDATE

Chris’ youngsters coped brilliantly with the chaos of the start line to romp away down the trail. The first leg was a long run for them but they got to Sourdough looking particularly perky!! Chris completed his arrival chores and they settled quickly to take their five hour rest.

By the time the R&Bs ran over “the hills” it was really blowing and thick snow so they all worked really hard to get to Meiers Lake. Remembering this is the Copper Basin 300 – the most challenging 300 miles in Alaska, it proved to be correct once again.

They rested and ate really well to leave after their mandatory six hour stop (plus differential).

Chris himself is doing well! It is a tough race and he was his usual cool, calm self, quietly and efficiently completing his start line and checkpoint routines. He sure was ready for a cheeseburger at Meiers Lake.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The teams are headed to Tolsona Lake checkpoint, doubling back over some sections of trail already run. The handler team is trying to catch what rest we can between supporting our mushers in and out of the checkpoints and cleaning the camp spots once they leave. We will catch a nap ourselves before hitting the road for Tolsona. We are unlikely to get internet there so I’ll hand off back to Macgellan.

I hope to update you again from Mendeltna.

(Sorry – no pictures: not enough internet juice to upload them)