Saturday 2-2-13 Trials on the Trail- Going Backwards

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I overslept Saturday morning, even with all the noise around me, which told me how exhausted I was.  Tkope, on the other hand, was pawing at me to get up and get going!  He and Lance were the two who were keeping their heads and bodies in the game, but I needed more than two dogs to get us back down!

 I immediately got Tozi off the line and walked him around, expecting to see some stiffness or limp or something more obvious than the night before, but saw nothing.  I brought him inside with me and found Ty, asking him to come out and check him again, with me trotting him and then him trotting him so we could watch him in motion, but again, all checked out.  I had a decision to make and only a few minutes to make it in, which is the thing I hate most!  I really felt in my gut that it was the wrong thing to do to run him, but there was nothing but a feeling to go on, so decided to give him a try and see how he did.  I contemplated leaving Cicely at Trinity (dropping her) and letting the crew bring her down in the one crate they had but I knew I could carry her and hoped that Tozi would be okay after warming up if I kept everyone slow, which I presumed wouldn’t be too hard!   Looking back, that may have been a wrong decision. 

I didn’t have time to eat anything for breakfast but was able to grab some Gatorade and still had snacks for the trail and actually got the sled re-packed and the dogs ready with plenty of time to leave.  Last night we came in last of the 6 dog teams so were scheduled to leave last this morning, which was fine with me.  I was beat and wasn’t moving very fast… just methodically.  I was even more concerned as I looked over my team in harness, on the line, as all the other teams took off in plain view of my dogs.  Typically that’s when our team goes a bit crazy, but mine was just standing there… except for Tozi, who was still laying on his shavings.  Ugh… was it possible that we’d have another flat day?  I knew we were headed “down” the mountain today and it was colder and the trail was faster so hoped we’d make up some time, but I knew I’d have to keep things slow enough to assure that Tozi was comfortable.  If all else failed, I’d turn around and come back to Trinity and drop him.  I was NOT going to have him run 25 miles in discomfort.  I am here to take care of him… he is not here to entertain me.

Well, all else did fail and after maybe ¾ mile we did turn around and head back to Trinity.  When we left the first time, I immediately noticed Tozi’s head bobbing again as soon as he got up to speed and he was picking up right where he left off last night.  This was not good.  My only hope was that maybe he needed to go to the bathroom, so I continued on a ways until it was obvious that was not the problem.  He also held his head/ear funny at one point and shook his head.  I knew that may be important to mention to the Vets at the bottom, so filed that away in my brain to try and remember.  I again contemplated leaving Cicely but had decided last night that if I had to drop anyone, I’d drop Tozi, because he is a much bigger dog and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to drive the sled with him sitting up high, but I knew I could with Cicely… especially since I had for 3 hours yesterday!  Ugh!  So, I stuck to my plan, something that’s hard for me to do.

I was quite discouraged and dreaded the trip back with only four dogs in harness, and a packed sled bag (including one little dog riding inside.  I know how important it is to try and ALWAYS, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCE keep a positive attitude and happy thoughts in your head whenever you’re trying to coach a team of dogs to do their best.  They pick up on discouragement, fatigue, impatience, etc, and don’t perform their best.  I tried hard to keep upbeat, but it was all I could do to not sit down and cry.  This was not at all how I pictured this race going… the race I’ve been waiting to run for three years.  I heard myself say the word “TOUGH” out loud… I needed to be a TOUGH MUSHER today, so not a single tear was shed, thank you very much!   I WOULD do this and we WOULD get down this trail!  PERIOD!  But for now, we had to turn around and head back to Trinity.  I tried to make a joke of it, telling the crew I had always wanted to pull into Trinity in daylight, so thought I’d come back.  I can’t imagine my face matched my words, and probably looked pretty distraught.

When we pulled back in, Tom stood on my sled and told me where Ty was.  I went to get him but Bill saw me first and came out.  He was the race marshal and offered to take some gear down for me so I could have an easier time or even carry both Tozi and Cicely, but that meant a definite scratch, and I wasn’t ready to do that just yet.  I also didn’t think I could carry two dogs with only four on the string…especially four who weren’t pulling well.  I still had my team of four that I knew could pull an almost empty sled 25 miles on a given day (although wasn’t at all sure they could do so tomorrow), but thought that since they’d have a nice long day of rest today, that maybe we could run for the Red Lantern.  I also knew Tozi and Cicely probably wouldn’t be great riding “buddies”, so I stuck to my plan and got Tozi set up to stay at Trinity until the crew could bring him down to me via a snow machine.  It was the hardest thing in the world to leave “my man” behind… he had shavings, dog food, a snack and people comforting him as we pulled away, but as I looked back on the sled and saw him watching us leave, I had to quickly remember what Laura taught me about dropping a dog… you CAN’T DWELL ON IT.  It was the absolute right call to make for him, and it would only be a few hours and we’d be reunited again.  I HAD to do what was best for him.  TOUGH… I had to be TOUGH for the sake of the rest of my team.

So we started (again) down the trail, slower than previously.  Turning dogs around on a trail and going backwards and then turning around and going back out again is a defeating thing for them sometimes, and mine were already acting defeated.    It looked to me like they weren’t enjoying themselves, which made it even less enjoyable for me.  That’s the cycle you try to avoid, a downward cycle, so I tried hard to coach, cheer, encourage and help as much as I could to climb out of Trinity and make it to the part of the trail that actually was down hill.  It seemed once again that I was “pushing a rope.”  All we could do was our best, and I knew I was giving all I could.  At this point, I may have cut off an arm for a leader with true DRIVE, as both of mine were as interested in sniffing the previous teams’ scents as they were in running, or moving forward at any pace actually!  It seemed that every time we would get into a groove, there would be a very interesting and smelly distraction that immediately slowed down (and often stopped) my team.  Seriously?  I couldn’t believe how unmotivated they appeared.  They weren’t even running well on the downhill sections…and I knew the “big honking hill” climbing up from Fish Lake was coming… and I was dreading it… a LOT!  We FINALLY made it there and started up.  I snacked them at the bottom, thinking that was the best thing I could do to “happy them up”.  We started going uphill and the harder it got, the more the leaders sniffed.  I’d cheer, coach, encourage, and even holler a bit (!) but it only served to make me more tired and was doing absolutely nothing to speed them up or cause them to pay attention to the task at hand, getting us up this ridiculous hill!  I couldn’t understand just how it happened, but I was SURE that somebody had stretched this hill out to be at least twice as long and twice as steep as when we ran it two years ago in the Sporting Class.  I remember trotting right up the thing, being so proud of my then 3 dogs, and today we were walking, I was pushing, they were sniffing, and I was struggling to avoid giving myself a heart attack! 

I felt so very very discouraged…. We have trained more this season than any other season yet today I felt like we were honestly performing where we were four years ago.  NOT what I had looked forward to seeing.  I can’t explain it except that I think the Eagle Cap took a lot out of my team and none of us had recovered in the week we had off since then.  That race wasn’t any longer than we had trained for, and it wasn’t any steeper than the hills we had trained on, but it still took a lot out of us all.  Evidently, I was concerned about not being ready for the wrong race!  We had been ready (barely) for that one, but we were not looking anything close to being ready for Cascade Quest.  The last thing I wanted to do was to put my dogs in a situation they weren’t prepared for, and I felt like I had done just that. 

But we kept pushing, or shall I say I kept pushing, and was never so happy to see the top of that hill when we FINALLY made it.  It felt like it had taken an hour to make it up that crazy thing, and it wasn’t any longer than ½ mile!  I knew it was all downhill from there, hoping they would get their groove back, but that downhill section still felt like it was going uphill in places!  They now were hardly pulling on level ground and only slowly loping on the downhill sections.  I was so glad we were almost done for the day.  They faked running faster towards the finish line, but I knew they were performing far below what is normal for them.  We got the sled back to the truck and immediately everyone laid down looking quite tired.  Even Tkope crawled under the truck and crashed.  Wow… just Wow.  Nothing else to say…

Mike was there with Kanoo to meet us and it was wonderful having his support once again.  I was so discouraged but tried to make some jokes to keep it light for the little crowd that met us.  I wasn’t even looking at faces, just talking and trying to focus on what I needed to do next for the team, and was surprised to see our new friends we met at a Switchfoot concert in the fall made the drive from Cle Elum to be there for us!  What a nice gesture!  It was great having people around saying happy things about my dogs, but I was really wiped out and don’t even remember the next hour very well… just went through some motions to take care of dogs and after putting them to bed, went in for some pizza at the Sponsor Appreciation Banquet.   Mike served me, as I didn’t even have the energy to walk across the floor to fill my plate.

I was feeling very sad and empty without Tozi, who hadn’t made it back to the start yet.  I kept listening for snow machines and  finally heard some and looked out the window to see the crew that brought him down.  I literally ran out of the building to go get him.  The snow had gone into the openings of the crate (even though they tarped the front of it) and he was all wet inside.  They had been so good to him… put shavings in, driven slow, stopped several times to check on him, but it still broke my heart to see him in there.  He didn’t look especially afraid, which was wonderful because after I left him I started thinking about all the things that might scare or stress him out about a trip down on a snow machine.  He is a very sound-sensitive dog (FREAKS during fireworks or thunder or gunshots), but I wondered how this ride had affected him.  I wondered if he’d now be afraid of snow machines on the trail, or what he thought about me leaving him.  I quickly grabbed a towel and dried him off and took him to the truck and just hugged and kissed him over and over, telling him how much I loved him.  I don’t think he believed me.  My heart was broken, but I knew it would have been far worse to try and run him when something just wasn’t right.  I loved on him a bit more and put him in his bed, which he was very happy to go in to.  He would be just fine.

Mike was still inside for the banquet and admitted to feeling sicker after sleeping in the cold car the night before so he could be here for us.  He was already on “round two” of a cold/flu, so I encouraged him to go ahead and go home.  If he left right then, he could catch the last ferry home and sleep in a warm bed that night instead of the cold again.  I wasn’t going to be very good company anyway… I really, really just needed to sleep.  I was hurting and my muscles were starting to cramp, so I drank more liquids and pulled out my blanket (my sleeping bag was wet from having to pack it that morning with frost all over it) and set my alarm for a nice nap until dinner time.  Man it felt good to just lie down and cover my head with my blanket.   Everything would have to wait for this much-needed nap.

I got up around dinner and was already dreading the following day’s trail.  I was able to sit by the fire Steve built with Mark Stamm and Scott White and ask them to compare the next day’s trail (which I had never been on before but they were familiar with) to the last hill of today.  I knew my four dogs could run another 25 mile day, albeit slowly, but was so disappointed in how they were running that I wondered if it was crazy to even consider such a thing.  I just listened to some very wise statements they were making about their own teams and racing, about how it’s one thing to run the upcoming trail with a healthy, strong team but it’s another thing to do it with a team that’s not.  They asked me what I was going to do tomorrow… I answered, “Wake Up.”  That was all I had planned…

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