Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race 2015, my dog race diary
This is the end of March. The temperatures are up, the sun is shining, days are getting longer. The last race of the season for us is the Percy De Wolfe. This is a memorial race to remember Percy who was carrying mail from Dawson (Yukon) to Eagle (Alaska).
Me and Ninie, Dona, Cute, Mad, Lisa, BJ, Coffee, Mega and JJ are driving on Wednesday the 25th toward Dawson. The musher meeting is at 6pm at the Tourist Information Center. I have the privilege to drive the Subaru, as the rest of the gang is in the dog boxes on the trailer. The road is good and we stop a few time to let the canines stretch their legs and do what they have to do! Arrival at 4pm at Wendy’s place, where Jane is waiting. Wendy is very kind to let us stay in her house in Dawson. Electricity, running water, kitchen!! Thanks!
The meeting is a gathering where we get information about trail, rules, vet advises, … but here at the Percy, there is always that atmosphere that makes the meeting special. Probably because it is the end of the season, that the weather should be giving us some sun and blue sky. We do jokes as we sign posters. Soon it is done and it is time to go for a beer and a meal somewhere in town. We choose to go to the Eldorado Hotel with Normand and Jean Francois! Beer, food, play pool, drop the dogs for pee and poo, than go to bed!
In the middle of the night I hear Lisa screaming. As she has been destroying a door every time she is in the box I let her out and put her on a chain close to the house. Back to sleep.
In the morning, wake up, small quick soup for the dogs, breakfast than head out to the start chute. With only 9 dogs and my sled pretty much ready to go, I am not stressing too much. I see some friends. The officials check my gears. A few Jokes with Normand who is next to me at the chute. I also take time to walk around and have a look on the gears that the competition is using.
The logistic of the start is well done and Mitch (the trail boss) is handling the show as a master, waving at his volunteer to get everybody on the start line on time. We start racing at 10:23. The trail is good, arguably the best that Mitch has seen for a long time. To my opinion the trail was better last year, at least for the first 48 miles. The rest in between Forty Miles and Eagle is new to me so I have no comparison. Maren is the only musher to pass me, but I re-pass her a few miles later. I pass Simi, Josh, Melissa, Fabian, Nathan. I am surprised to see so many teams, as I am not setting the pace too high.
The morning it runs smoothly. The temperatures are not at the peak yet and we have a bit of wind. Some shade helps in places, and every cloud is welcome to give a bit of shade. The early afternoon is more tricky as the sky is fully blue, and the temperature are up to 15 celsius in some places (+20 on Normand Thermometer). After the frosty – 45 Celsius from the Quest, the tropical weather from the Percy is a new challenge. To keep the dogs cool, I use some nylon sun jackets to block the radiation from the sun on my black dogs!
We hit the Forty Mile stop right at the peak of heat. I am surprised to see my old friends Lauren and Matthias running the Check Point! I am the fifth musher to enter. We ran 5 hours and 23 minutes. I park the team and snack them with chunks of Salmon. I prepare a soup. I don’t offer straw right away, thinking that sleeping on the snow will help them to cool down. It works for some, but as I see the young dogs get agitated, I give them straw so they understand we are resting. We do stay here for two hours.
17h46 we leave Fortymile. I was not rushing but it happens that I do leave after 2h bang on, so no time is lost. The heat is not so bad anymore, the temperature is still well above zero but will gradually go down. The trail is quite good towards Eagle. At one moment there is a number of rocks that fell from a cliff that are laying on the trail. It looks like it covers the trail opened by the Percy and that the first teams have found they way through it. Scary. Mushing through the border will be a good souvenir. It is not dark yet and I can see the cut line in the forest. On the river, right where the border is, the guys from Eagle did drill two holes in the ice and stick two logs each side of the border. On the Alaska post is the American flag and Alaska flag. On the other side the Canadian and Yukon flags!!
After a few miles into Alaska, I stop the team for some reason. The dogs do not bark. It is quite. Through the silence I can hear the river flowing somewhere below the ice. Another souvenir that is good to put on paper to remember!!
The rest of the run on the river is good. We go through some ice, some slush, some dirt, some water. As we leave the river I look at my watch to realize that we came from fortymile in less that 5 hours. I am naive and I think that I will be soon on the checkpoint after leaving the river. After a while I am worried. Half an hours into roads, trails, power line. Am I lost? Did I follow the wrong markers? I keep going and finally reach the checkpoint of Eagle at 23:25. I feel relieved. I receive a great welcome from the volunteers.
I do my chores to feed the dogs, move booties, check them out, … Mad doesn’t have a great appetite. Coffee and JJ neither. I am successful at snacking salmon. I decide that I will be back in an hours to try again to put some food into them. It is important. In 6 hours only we will be on our way back towards Canada, with a 105 miles trip ahead !!!
I enter in the kitchen of the checkpoint and treat myself with whatever food I can grab. Cookies, cakes, hot dogs. Than a volunteer ask me what I want to eat from the menu. I choose a caribou stew. It is pretty cool to be offered some local meat. Thanks Eagle!!
After a few conversations with other mushers I decide to go for another round of food for the dogs. Coffee and JJ have found their appetite back. Mad is not in the mood to eat much. I separate the meat from her soup and she goes for it. So I give her more solid food (kibbles, beef) and let her finish at her pace. After a few more check on wrists and shoulders I decide to go sleeping. I figure that I can allow myself two and a half hour. Not bad. I make sure that my watch is well set. I go in the sleeping room and find a bed available. When I wake up, all the beds are full. It means more mushers came in. I pack my sleeping bag. I fill up my two thermos and grab some snack for the way back. Back to the dogs I give them some more snack before we do anything. I get ready for departure. A volunteer comes to inform me that I leave 23 seconds ahead of Nathaniel. I tell them that I don’t want to worry about that and I will leave right after him. I count on just be conservative for the first few miles anyway. Departure in the dark. Thanks to the volunteers from Eagle for their hospitality :o)
Around the border I load mad in the sled. She didn’t want to snack. I worry about hydration. I worry that she did give a tiny bit too much on the way in. She is light and she is usually comfortable to ride in the sled as she did in the quest 300 two years ago. She will not even last an hour in the sled. She wants to be in the team and is getting agitated. As I hook her up the gang line she start pulling hard right away!
Five hours into the run I am passed by a snow machine. It is the vet from Eagle on his way back towards Forty mile. It means that all the musher were out of Eagle and that they have been traveling at least as long as the vet did. The vet was traveling quite fast, so if I estimate that he made
55 miles in less than two hours, that the 9 mushers that are in pursuit are not further than 3 hours behind me.
I approach Forty Mile and I can see two teams leaving. These are Jason and Nathaniel. I feel good because it shows that I am still in the hunt. Meanwhile I will take the time that is needed to do a vet check on Mad and Lisa. I want to know if Mad has any early sign of dehydration or any other issue. She runs and pulls fine but she refuse the snacks. I want to check on Lisa because she had some minor bleeding on her front left paw. I use this time to water the dogs and snack them with Salmon. Mad will just take small bits of salmon! The vets conclude that Mad and Lisa have no big issues. I am back on the trail. Let’s go back to Dawson :o)
On the last 50 miles, I will meet snow machines on the trail and people on the river. I ask them how far ahead the previous team is. They say it was a while ago. I can figure out that I am probably 20 minutes behind. As I have done half of these 50 miles, I figure that it will be hard to catch up. We stop on approximately every 15 or 20 minutes to give a chance for the dogs to grab snow, to have a poo. And I keep snacking Salmon. As a miracle Mad suddenly decided to aggressively go for a full snack. At least the team is looking good.
Suddenly out of a long curve on the river I see a team some distance away. I get exited. The dogs feel the excitement and start speeding up. I am surprise to see how much fuel there is still in the tank. We are going as high as 10 to 12 mph. Incredible. The difference of speed with the team ahead is so important that I start to question myself. Would it be a team from the Percy Junior (short version: 100 miles)? When I get close enough I can now recognize Kris Marsh from the Percy Junior. I feel sad. Not that I don’t want to see Kris, but that my hope to catch up is gone. I use the opportunity to do my last snack. We are probably not that far from the finish now. Not more than 10 miles.
The last miles are unusual, as the habit is to be on the other side of the rive on previous years. Due to open waters on the Moosehide side of the river, the trail is on the West Dawson side. No big deal. I pass on the ice bridge and some volunteers are there to help. I don’ really need any help to maneuver my team but it is nice to see them. I am told my team looks great. It is always a compliment that I appreciate. They have probably some stiffness but they run smooth. They run the last climb at good pace. It is nice to finish the Percy in style!
We are the fifth team to cross the finish line. At the end we will get fourth place as Nathaniel will have a penalty of one hour. One of his dogs was limping and the Percy wants sick or injured dogs to be transported in the bag. I haven’t seen so I can’t judge and won’t judge. I think Nathaniel is a great young guy that learn fast and will learn more I am sure.
As I have still plenty of dog food and dog snack in the sled, I give them some more salmon on the finish line. We do our gear checks and I do park the team in the truck area. Jane helps me to do the last chores. I do more checks and massage a few wrists and shoulders. I know this is the end of the season and that they will rest and recover anyway. The dogs will be soon in the boxes. I am sure they are going to sleep and relax.
Jason proposes to go have a beer at the Down Town hotel. We share some stories, get a few beers. I go for a shower, a meal and one more drink at Bombay Peggy with Jane. That one more drink is the one that get me really closer to sleep. I call it a day and head back to the bedroom that has been generously offer to us by Wendy. Thanks Wendy :o)
Saturday Morning is a lazy morning. Feeding the dogs, breakfast. I drive to the Campground to let the dogs run freely. It will help them to get rid of the stiffness. Than back to the Tourist Office for a meeting with the vets at noon follow by a post-race meeting at 1pm. The rest of the afternoon I relax and give meal to the dogs right before the Banquet.
The food was excellent at the banquet. Some music and good moments with friends. I am at the table with Normand. We have some good laughs. They call every musher from last to first. As my turns comes I take time to thank Wendy for hosting us, Jane for her various contributions, Nancy to sponsor my vet bills and Cindy to take care of my dogs at home (and my old dog Ibex!!). They announce that they will give the price for rookie of the year. Suddenly I realize that the three guys in front of me have already done the Percy. It means the prize will be for me. I am offered a beautiful parka from Cabin Fever Enterprise, from Dawson. I am quite happy to see how my race in Dawson did turn out. But it is not all. I win a big hat from Gerdies.
So many good memories. Time now to switch from spending money to making money life style. The motivation for the next six month is to do the Yukon Quest next year. Time to hunt for sponsors, donation, help from friends. I am pretty sure there will be a lot more stories to come next year. More adventures, more experiences, more reason to write diaries. See you in six months !