Yesterday we headed up to the Bendigo area to compete in the NVSDC race - put on at short notice to replace the one cancelled earlier this year when there was a kennel cough scare. Actually, it was not one race, but two. And, because the NVSDC often runs a Novice class, but the SHCV doesn't, I was really excited to run my last Novice races for the year.
A lot of people had travelled over to South Australia, and there were several people with sick cars or sick bodies, so there weren't a lot of people running. However, NVSDC put together a full range of trails and classes and made everyone feel very welcome. Czar and I entered the Novice class, while J signed up to be a Corner Marshall. That meant that after handling for me for Novices, J drove out onto the track and parked the car at a particular corner to ensure that there was support if anyone had any problems. Our friend A was also a Corner Marshall and the NVSDC presented both with some very impressive Thankyou bags - full of edible treats!
As usual, we started with a driver's meeting, where the Trail Marshall went through the key turns and landmarks that would affect each class, and the Race Marshall reminded us of rules and courtesies that ensured everyone had a good run. If anyone had had a bird's eye view of the driver's meeting, we would have all looked like brightly coloured mushrooms, gathering near the edge of the big club gazebo, because the rain was falling and all the umbrellas and raincoats were out. And the rain continued to fall on our little village of tents, trailers and vans... All afternoon, all night, and all morning!!
Novice class was running mixed in with Juniors and Veterans, and I drew second bib for that group. Because NVSDC is not breed specific, Czar was being asked to compete with other sibes, mallies, GSPs, Alaskans and other breeds and crosses. I was a little dismayed to see we were behind a very fast GSP, and being followed by a Malamute - high chance that we wouldn't catch the dog in front of us, and the dog behind wouldn't catch us. Czar took off hard down the hill, and I was stunned to see the GSP was stopped at the first corner. We shot past, but Czar was slowing down with no other dogs around to keep him interested. The GSP quickly caught us, and gave us a "tow" up the short hill, as Czar remembered to chase, chase, chase. The other dog quickly pulled away, and the Mallie behind us was trotting steadily but more slowly along behind us. Once the GSP was around the next corner, it was difficult for Czar to stay focussed on the race.
There are two schools of thought with this type of dog training, one being that a musher should stay quiet and let the dog get on with its job, and the other that you should keep communicating with the dog. I find it really difficult to stay quiet - I WANT to keep talking to Czar and urging him on, but fortunately, by this point of the race, I was working very hard and finding the breath to talk was pretty tricky. So I kept quiet (which is what Czar is used to) except when I could see his ears flicking away towards something in the bush to the side. "On by, Czar! Good boy!"
Although it was only a slight slope, I found it VERY hard going and time seemed to slow right down. Czar trotted, happy but not excited. I scooted and scooted, trying to keep the line loose to conserve Czar's energy, but even, so I wasn't jerking on it at the bottom of my stride, or running over it and wrapping the line around my front wheel at the peak. I was very relieved to hear another team approach as we rounded the last corner.
Once the dog passed us (my brief glimpse, I'm not sure if it was a hound or something else, but it was sleek and fast) Czar took off, and I got a new burst of adrenaline to shout "hike, hike, hike!" We thundered along and suddenly the finish line came into view. I could hear J calling us, and Czar looked amazing, shooting straight and nimble over the rough track. Suddenly I realised I was admiring him so much I'd forgotten to keep scooting. (Perhaps that should be the second rule of mushing for me - never stop working - at least for one dog!) I started scooting, but it felt like only another three strides before we crossed the finish line, and Czar made a beeline for his daddy, and then for his waterbowl.
The rain had been steadily falling throughout and the trail was slick with mud. I discovered my face was well speckled with mud, my pants were well splashed and the spray from the back wheel had coated my back with mud, all the way to the back of my helmet. As quickly as possible, we rubbed Czar down, watered him and put him back his berth, next to the others. His Siberian husky coat shed the damp and dirt very quickly and he looked very comfy, as we headed out into the darkening rain, to help out with the other classes.
After handling for friends in the One Dog Open Class, and having a fascinating chat with one of our amazing ski joring girls, I was keen to help out with the corner marshalling - ok, I was keen to sit in the car and dry out a little!
J was watching the last corner before the finish line, which had three different approaches, each being used by different classes. Each time, there was a slight level of uncertainty about where to park and whether we had remembered the drivers' meeting instructions properly, especially when we saw headlamps appear in the rear view mirror. We hurriedly moved the car, only to realise later, that the lights had been the teams turning off the trail behind us to take a different path. After counting the 2 and 3 Dog teams through the intersection, we drove back into camp to hear about the conditions - getting wetter and slipperier by the minute - before heading out to wait for the 4 and 6 Dog teams.
Again, there seemed to be a lot of lights coming towards us from strange angles, but we were very confident we were parked on the one trail that the last teams would NOT be using. Little did we know, that the single 6 Dog team had been plagued with issues, including a blown tyre, failing breaks and a hyped up team, who were dragging the rig across the slippery surface without too much difficulty. Suddenly, we could see lights behind us, much closer. J peeked out and realised that the 6 Dog team had decided to take the short One Dog trail home. We were parked directly in their path! A flurry of activity to move out of their way, this time parking in the bush to avoid blocking ALL the trails, and turning off all the lights to avoid distracting the dogs. They were keen to keep running, but they listened to their musher and turned towards home, dragging the partially disabled rig behind them.
After the last teams were home, there was a quick pause to let everyone catch their breath and then we were all summonsed back to the gazebo for presentations. By now the rain was really heavy and many people were really wet and muddy, but the mood was very upbeat as we celebrated the achievements of each team. From the 6 Dog team who had won the Hard Luck award, to the people who'd braved the weather to race time and again to ensure all their dogs got a run, there was plenty of applause and encouragement to go around. And I got something that I will treasure for a very long time.