My First Beargrease, part III

The video below is a video we put together that shows the dogs we have for sale. More information is available at our dogtec site (http://www.dogtec.com/kennel/nomad-kennels/group/undefined-1), or if anyone is interested in a dog or more information, they can feel free to leave a comment.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBk8SSgX0pc

Newberry, Michigan was long distant in the rear view mirror and Ashland, Wisconsin was on the road ahead. Just beyond Ashland was the town of Iron River and our next stop, the home of Bruce’s friend Eric. Eric lives at the end of a road, in a spot that I am extremely envious of. It’s a solar and propane-generator powered cabin – more properly, “home” – with a super efficient woodstove. The place is well built, better insulated and thoughtfully designed. It is ideal for a dogteam. No neighbours and access to miles and miles and miles of state and county forest, right from the edge of the yard. Eric welcomed us, and two other Beargrease mushers with all the coffee we could drink and fantastic dinners. We bunked in the basement for the night, prepared to get up early and start getting ready for the race that was fast approaching.

Bruce and I were up early the following morning and had the truck torn apart in short order. We unpacked everything while ramming half frozen, half nuclear-reactor hot food into our mouths for breakfast. Such is the glory of a microwave, I guess. Once everything was unpacked and Bruce could see what he needed, we started to repack his bags and the truck so that we would know where everything was on race day and during the race. Some of his gear had to be packed for shipping to an unassisted checkpoint one third of the way into the race. “This goes here… put that and this together… maybe we should put that thing over there. No, maybe this should go HERE and THAT there; wait… no, let’s put that and that and that in the bag…” was how much of the morning went. By the end of it, we had rearranged the contents of the truck and their packing at least five different times. I know I was along to help, but I sure didn’t feel like I was doing a lot of helping yet; more like just getting in the way. Every musher has their routine and has a preference for things being done a certain way and Bruce was no exception. I didn’t want to confuse the issue, so while he was trying to organize everything I kept interrupting, holding a piece of gear up and asking where it went. I could see a look of frustrated exasperation betrayed in Bruce’s face, so I wandered away from the organizing and began to let the dogs out of their boxes again. Shawn had taken this approach earlier on and it seemed to be working for him.

Again, the image is a thumbnail image so click on it if you want to see it larger.

This is just part of the yardsale look we had going on trying to organize everything.

With the organizing done and the dogs watered and loaded back up in the truck, we put all the gear back in the truck. The food, the snacks, the water buckets, the propane burner, the generator for the microwave the bags of dog coats and wrist wraps, the harnesses, the bag of head lights and booties, the creams and powders for the dogs’ feet, our food, our clothes and so on. It all went back into the truck, as did the dogs. We piled the sleds on top of the dog box and headed out to the Chequamegon National Forest for a limbering up, shake-out-the-cobwebs-and-stretch run.

The national forest wasn’t too far away, just the other side of Iron River by a few miles, and we met the other mushers from Eric’s place there: Rick Larson and Laura Daugereau. Rick was running the Beargrease and Laura was handling for him; they travel together from race to race with a truck and 30-foot dog trailer all winter long and Laura’s team needed out for a run so it was her turn today. She explained the trail to Bruce and then busied herself harnessing and booty-ing the dogs while Bruce, Shawn and I did the same. I had been selected to ride in the sled with Bruce, partly because I had never seen his team run before. It’s an unfamiliar spot for me to sit, but I climbed in and sat down as I felt the sled surge ahead under the power of fourteen well conditioned dogs.

The Chequamegon Forest is a beautiful place to run dogs. There are trails seemingly everywhere and the terrain is varied and covered with a mix of hard and softwood trees. I saw fifteen miles of it as we ran down trails that were as wide as a road and down trails that were no wider than the sled. We met and passed dozens of snowmobilers, who always seem to have a stunned look on their face when a dogteam passes by, like they can’t really register what they are seeing. Every one of them was courteous, though, so I don’t want to sound like they were a problem.

A stretch of the Chequamegon National Forest trail.  Up ahead is Laura and her team.

Bruce’s dogs ran really well. They acted like a team that has been together for a long time and one that has many hundreds of miles of training under their belts. And so they should, because that is exactly what they are. Bruce and I would talk on the phone from time to time about how our respective training seasons were going and, without fail, Bruce would have had a great week with several long runs and dogs that just seemed unstoppable. It showed that day in the National Forest how much time and effort Bruce and the dogs had spent to get to this point in the season; the dogs ran like a team gunning for first place in the Beargrease.

Dinner at Eric’s was penne noodle lasagna and although he had made two huge pans of it, the six of us ate all of it. After dinner and after the dogs were taken care of, everyone sat around swapping stories and handing out or receiving advice. So much information was passed along that night that my brain pushed out what was said earlier in favour of what was being said at the moment. I simply couldn’t retain it all. Although nobody seemed really keen to break up the discussions, someone had to and we once again rolled out our sleeping bags on the floor and tried to make the night’s sleep count. Tomorrow was another big day, the vet check, musher’s meeting and bib draw, all in Duluth. And it was only two days before the race: any self doubt I may have about my ability to contribute to Bruce’s race would just have to wait until everything was over and done.