What an amazing year for Altitude 5000 to hold their 25th Dinner Plain Sleddog Challenge! Snowfall? Best in 25 years! A great field of competitors? 75 odd folks from all over the country! Awesome dogs? Siberians, malamutes, Alaskans, Eurohounds, even a pair of Kelpies!
For our little family, the adventure started when we left home on Friday morning. (Once upon a time, I could finish work at 3ish on Friday and we could race up to Drivers’ Meeting that night, but now we’re a family of four, everything takes more time.) Nevertheless we had a smooth trip out through Sale, Bairnsdale and Omeo - the scenery on the Great Alpine Road is just spectacular!
We were very excited to see snow before the “6km to Dinner Plain” sign.
Having left our dogs back in Melbourne, we were able to stay in a little cottage in the heart of the village, and once we got unpacked, I slipped up the road to the Drivers’ Meeting. Wow, it was packed and everyone was very excited! Eukanuba were the major sponsor for the year and had provided an awesome Race Bag for each competitor, including a vividly pink keep cup. Local sponsors were also providing great support, such as the awesome Mountain Kitchen, who were offering free coffee to all Eukanuba cup carriers! To celebrate the 25th Anniversary, A5k had also organised a silent auction and the sale of some gorgeous Iditarod patches and pins, donated by the generous Race Vet David Moroney. I picked up an Iditarod patch to add to J’s collection.
Next morning, the snow started drifting down... and then it got heavier and heavier! We headed out to the start chute area where people were starting to get their dogs organised for the 2&3 dog class. J and the Wee Monster decided to spend most of the morning at the playground in the middle, while I took the Lil Bunyip down the trail to the notorious S bends.
I watched the 2&3 class from the side of the S bends (check out my Facebook live video on our Evenstride Dog Team Blog Facebook page!) because this is one of the most action packed sections of the trail - steep and windy - but this year, the constant snow fall layered the trail with powder and slowed the pace noticeably. There were a few stacks at the bottom of the S’s, but most competitors made it down looking pretty graceful.
After the 2&3’s, I took Lil Bunyip inside to J, and Wee Monster and I caught the end of the 4&6’s, before watching the Touring class. I was really looking forward to seeing Smudgey and Teyah run in Touring - Smudge was Czar’s running partner in my sled debut races two years ago - as well as the international celebrity entry of the year, and while I got to see them, my phone battery decided it didn’t like the cold and my Facebook Live video died before a single competitor reached the S bends! 😡
However, Smudge and Teyah made a graceful run down the S’s and their musher made a hilarious video of their performance in some of the flatter section of the trail - Smudge absolutely loves snow, like most huskies, but he takes it to the next level and stops to make Snow Angels!
The international celebrity that joined us for DP this year was Lisbet Skogen Norris, of Alaska. This amazing lady is a multi Iditarod finisher, adventure tour operator and the third generation of her family to breed and run Siberian huskies - her grandfather founded Alaskan kennel by importing the famous Anadyr bloodline from Russia in the 1940’s. She’s also just an incredibly nice person, even when the person she’s speaking to turns into a stuttering, red faced fan girl. Lisbet is currently in Australia to be the Race Marshall at the Canberra Sled Dog Club’s Classic next weekend, and ran some Canberran dogs, many with Anadyr lines behind them, in both Touring and Skijor last weekend at DP. This was very interesting because the sprint style racing in Australia is very different to Lisbet’s next project - competing in the Yukon Quest in 2019 - 1000 miles across the frozen wildernesses of the Canada-Alaska border region.
Meanwhile, someone was just happy to be out playing in the snow!
On Sunday, the weather was AMAZING - the powder was deep and the sky was so blue! We headed out to watch the 2&3 dog class from the bottom of the S’s. (Little known secret, the bottom of the S’s is easy to access from the village, and even has a nearby kiosk!)
After we watched the 2&3 dog class, we headed up to the chutes - I collected our NVSDC and BawBaw Race Vet to come and spectate in the S’s and J took Wee Monster back to the playground. That was when we became aware for the first time of some of the issues the snow had created for everyone - cars not starting, time clocks not working, thick powder exhausting dogs and mushers alike - but everyone had just taken the dramas in their stride.
I had promised to film the 4&6 dog class that I’d missed the day before, and I’d come armed with a back up battery pack and a wifi hot spot to try to film the whole class. But again, I was plagued with issues - the battery died about 2/3rds of the way through the class and both mine and another battery pack nearby refused to cooperate in the cold. I ended up filming the last folks of the class on a friend’s phone and of course, that’s when things got really interesting!
By this time, the neatly groomed trail had been quite chopped up through this section - sled runners, snow shoes, boot prints, XC skis and toboggans had all crunched through the surface. The bend just in front of us had been slowly widening as sleds took wider and wider lines, and the edge was a soft mess. The Sunday heats were running in reverse time order - the slowest teams out first and the fastest teams out last, so the last few people to come down the S’s were the speed demons. After an entire morning without a single crash, suddenly we had about three all topple over on that soft bend, but no one was hurt and no dog teams were lost. Adventures did take place elsewhere on the trails, but the S bends didn’t really live up to their reputation!
After racing was over, we headed to Presentations at High Plains. A couple of years ago we passed the Wee Monster around; this year, with all the new babies around - we had Kiddy Corner! Looks like the next few years will be interesting.