Ok, so the first couple of races had been a bit nerve wracking. But nothing compared to the thrill/embarrassment/excitement of having the start chute lined by people calling out good luck to me by name. Actually I think there might have been a competition about which side of the chute could shout loudest. It was wonderful to feel so supported by all these new friends, friends of J who have accepted me so completely in the last year. It was also terrifying, and I became convinced I was going to take off and fall flat on my face in front of them all!
This time last year, I was handling for the first time, half terrified at any moment that I was going be responsible for letting a dog loose or spoiling someone's start time. J was very patient, never giving me more than I could handle at a time, but always pushing me forward bit by bit. The Norstarr folk were also great supporters, trusting me to help with and handle their award winning dogs, and B being thrilled to see me when I'd been away for a couple of races. This time around, J was somewhere back behind me, lining up for the veteran class that was going to take off just after my novice class, so it was T from Norstarr who was handling Czar for me. Thank heavens for these cool calm collected dog people - especially when I'm trying not to get the shakes!
Count down finished, all I could think to do was hold on tight. I completely forgot about scooting, or even hunkering down to minimise my wind resistance. I think I yelled "hike hike hike", and then just stood there like a rock as Czar took off. Fortunately, we made it past the first bend without issues, and then we could see the trail ahead.
Being a novice class, most competitors were new like me. Being an open class, there were several breeds competing. Different breeds suited to different races, and many dogs as new as their owners, or old steady dogs that were unlikely to do anything too unnerving for the newbies. Czar, as a Siberian, is built for mid range speed and distance - not as fast as a hound or a pointer, and not with the slow, long distance trot of the Mallies, either. He is also experienced and not yet getting old and tired. We chased down the first couple of people without much effort, even though passing is still a bit terrifying for me.
When passing, the musher coming up from behind is meant to call "trail" to let the musher ahead know that they're coming. Giving enough notice is going to vary a lot, depending on the speed that each team is travelling at. I feel unreasonably embarrassed and haven't yet used "trail" in a race. Instead, I'm being a lot more conversational:
"Coming up behind you"
"Are you ready for me to pass?"
"Is it ok to pass on your left?"
I'm sure that in a faster race, I wouldn't have the time to do this, but Czar was happily loping along, far from his top speed. Anyway, with a couple of mushers pulled over for toilet breaks etc, it was easy to safely pass. (I hope that I gave everyone enough time and notice before I went by!) At least one other dog, probably new to this whole racing game, decided to chase after us, but never quite caught up. I did get a Thankyou for the "tow"!
Having made it safely around the first three quarters or more of the trail, we started to come in view of the finish line. Of course, that was when I got a "wheel wrap" and both Czar and I had bone jarring halt as the scooter stopped dead. It took me a couple of goes to snag the gangline that was wrapped around the front wheel, but I got it unhooked, feeling pretty annoyed with myself. Why do these things never happen in the privacy of the back loop of the forest?
Just as we crossed the finish line, we were passed by Cooper, an award winning veteran from Idigadog Kennels. I laughed, an older dog who had started at least three minutes behind us, dead heating us at the finish line! Some racing team we were!! So I was pretty surprised when I was talking about passing other people, and J told me I was probably coming in the top three.
"Well, did anyone pass you?"
"How many did you pass?"
"Not sure, three or four?"
"Weren't there only about a dozen in the class?"
Oh. No skill of mine, I thought, just the newness of the other teams.
When H took me up to check the times, sure enough, Czar and I had come third, with a time of 7:17. Nine seconds behind the second person, but over a minute behind one of the girls I'd met at the AMCV race a few weeks earlier. Her Mallie, #14, Mutie, is an amazing dog, a malamute who runs! He also has an lovely temperament and is a credit to his Tanome family.
Anyway, I got a little bit of ribbon fever. Next morning, I scooted and scooted! Czar was still mostly loping, except when we caught up with another team. Then he did the classic push to overtake, before slowing down, once there was no one to chase. In the end one of the Mallie blokes suggested we travel alongside, which I think kept Czar happier. His girl was beautifully behaved and we loped along happily for a while.
As we came up to the last half km marker, there was another voice calling "Czar, c'mon boy!" Not up in front, but behind me! Amazingly a lady I'd met that weekend had a Czar running right behind me, another tall grey wolf-like husky. (I hope she has more luck with people pronouncing his name than we do!) The chase was on and all three of us started pounding towards the finish line, none having quite enough puff to overtake the others. Suddenly we were home, across the finish line where I forgot to call out my bib number, and then trying to pick our way across the campsite back to our trailer and some water for my beautiful boy.
We'd improved by over 40 seconds, and ended up with a final total time of 14:06. Not enough time to beat Mutie, who had made a brilliant 12:29. But it was enough to get me my first trophy and ribbon - and a second to boot! Thankyou Czar!!
Special thanks to CATEMAC Photography for the shots below!