Monday 2-18-13 Finishing

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Home from another whirlwind trip running (and racing) my dog team.  We had some great experiences and are once again left feeling very thankful for where the Lord is leading us this season.

Got to spend a bit of time with Mike off-island and enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day lunch before heading over the mountains.  We seem to be passing each other a lot these days, and I am so very thankful for his awesome love and support of me chasing after these special times on the trails with our “kids”.  He is the best husband!!!!

Team Wulik arrived at the race site on Thursday night and enjoyed spending a quiet evening relaxing with Capt. Larry and Michael and Doreen (& Ivy) in their comfy trailer complete with heat!  It was nice having some “down time” before all the craziness geared up.  I got my site set up, including a shelter for the rain that was forecast.  I set up my sled for an early morning run and Kanoo and I bedded down in the cab while the rest of the team were happy in their boxes.

The next morning I realized I could move a bit slower than I had planned, and ended up going out a bit later with Doreen and  Dave behind and in front of us.  I still get so worried about meeting up with little dogs (especially off leash) on the trail from the parking lot with the dogs on my team that have strong prey drives.  I know I can control my team and stop them as needed, and just pray and concentrate trying to be ultra observant with what’s coming towards us on the trail, especially when we’re coming back in towards the parking lot.  It’s really tough to overcome that fear of what can happen if an irresponsible owner let’s their little dog into my team, but I’m working hard on not running my life by all the “what ifs” and fear of disasters!  We ended up seeing two dogs skiing with their people on the trails and passed one beautifully and the other, well, we got past, but it certainly wasn’t beautiful!  There’s more work to be done with “leave its” in our future!

I was very thankful to see that Tozi seemed comfortable with the back checks I put him through before running, and seemed to do fine on the trail.  His gait may not have been as smooth as is usual, but there was nothing obvious that I noticed, and upon checking him again post-run, I was sure I’d race him the following day.  Cicely was another story!  We didn’t even get ¼ mile down the trail when she put the brakes on and looked back at me as if to say “thank you, but I’ll sit this one out in the bag…again.”  I couldn’t believe it!  She had looked excited when we were hooking up and she couldn’t be tired that soon!  I had kept the speed slow enough for her, or so I thought, and couldn’t imagine what on earth was going on with her.  I initially put her in the back, and then after having to stop for another potty break for another dog, decided that was silly and got her out, putting her in the back of the team in between my two wheel dogs, who were Tkope and Tana.  I really had to get to the bottom of what was going on with her, and was tired of bagging her less than a mile away from the truck.  Much to my surprise, when I walked back to the sled and called up the team, she was the first to leap and bang into her little harness!  She ran great the rest of the time from the hardest working position in the team, right in front of the sled.  The trail was pretty soft, and we were trying to follow Dave’s tracks but couldn’t quite tell where they went, so I let Galena pick the direction when we came to another intersection.  For some odd reason, today she chose the steep uphill trail that was straight ahead instead of taking the Gee (which I soon found out was the way Dave had gone!).  That put us back in the trees soon, going downhill on a pretty technical trail, which we haven’t done much of this season that has mostly had hill training with a loaded sled (in preparation for the cancelled MT race).  I knew I’d have to be sharp and keep my speed fast enough to steer around the trees but slow enough to be in control, but when I saw a “familiar tree” on a “familiar corner” where a friend had dumped her sled going uphill a couple years ago, I slowed too much and my sled was sucked right into the corner and “boinked” off the tree.  Actually “boink” probably isn’t a fair term; it would be more accurate to say we ricocheted off of it, dumping the sled to the left.  My wrists felt it, as did my hip, but thankfully my snow hooks landed well in front of me and equally thankfully, my team actually stopped instead of dragging me into the next corner and trees, and the next, and the next, which they could have done.  I know that now that they drug me down the ice road at the Eagle Cap!  Now I am more thankful than ever when they stop!  No harm, no foul, and we were off again. 

I was concerned on the way back in (about 1.5 miles from the truck) when my main leader, Galena, pretty much quit running.  She was just trotting…slowly… with a totally loose tug line.  I kept having to slow way down so the rest of the team didn’t run over her, and encouraged her to pick it up, which she didn’t.  In the past I’ve noticed how well Galena does in single lead (which I had her in today after placing Tozi in an easier position in swing (in between the leaders and the wheels) but she certainly didn’t look like herself at the end of this little 8 mile run.  I had no choice but to move Tana up next to her, leaving Cicely and Tkope (much bigger than she is) in wheel.  I was relieved to see both Galena running better and Cicely continuing to run well.  We made it back to the truck and I was relieved that I would at least have a dog team to put on the trail for the race.  I was still puzzled about what on earth was happening with my team… one minute everything looks okay and the next, almost every dog is taking turns having some unknown “issue.”  I admit that part of the reason I love mushing is the challenge from having to problem solve, but I’m feeling like I’ve had my share of them already this season and am getting a little tired of playing “musical dogs” on my team!  I would have to check everyone again in the morning, especially Tozi’s back and Cicely’s attitude, to know who I was going to run.  I decided after learning we had only gone about 8 miles (I haven’t replaced my GPS yet and don’t know how far or fast we’re going at the moment) that we would settle for the 6 dog spring class, trying desperately to keep Team Wulik HAPPY!  Polite, happy dogs are definitely my goal!

The parking lot was definitely filling up and the race buzz was again in the air!  I was wondering if racing was the right call for my team, or if I should just help on the trail and run my team after the race.  I decided to go for it, and am sure glad I did.  Tozi seemed fine (no soreness detected with massage or stretching) and Cicely looked pretty amped to dress into her harness with the rest of the team, so off we went.  I hooked everyone up with Galena in single lead, Tozi and Lance in swing, and Tana, Cicely and Tkope in wheel.  I figured if Galena slowed I would move Tana up again, as this seemed to work yesterday.  I was most concerned with getting Cicely down the first part of the trail.  We were fine leaving the chute and getting through the first mile of twisting, turning, treed trail (say that three times fast!) and then at our first intersection, Galena decided that no matter  how many times I said HAW she preferred the GEE direction…. Duh!  So the trail spotter moved where I directed her and eventually Galena hawed onto the right trail.  Yes, we have a LOT of leash work to do before next season… with several of my less-than-trusted team members!  LOL!  We didn’t go much farther before Galena started slowing, so I didn’t hesitate (since this was a race, after all!) and moved Tana up front with her, and things were pretty smooth from there.  We soon came upon several teams in the 6 dog mid class, requiring head on passes, and I was very thankful that everyone was on their best behavior and they were all clean passes.  We also had  no sled dumps and no lose dogs on the trail coming back in, so were very happy!  We ran 7.3 miles in 58 minutes!  And the best part was everyone looked happy at the end.

On to day two…

Again, I was thankful to see Tozi looked fine with massage and stretching, and Cicely seemed maybe a bit less excited to get hooked up but I felt I should give her the opportunity to run with the team today, wondering if I’d soon regret that decision!  I went ahead and started Tana next to Galena up front, with Tozi and Lance in swing and Tkope and Cicely in wheel.  We started with slowest teams out first, so we left second in our class.  I didn’t think we’d catch the first team out very fast, but she was switching some dogs around in the team so we passed them within about 1/2 mile.  I had a plan for the troublesome intersection from yesterday and asked the spotter to move well away from the team, thinking maybe they got distracted from that yesterday.  Nope… didn’t help at all, and in fact I had to hook down and walk up to untangle my “un-trusted” leaders!  I may not have a faster team next season, but I am committed to having one that actually listens to me when I give a command!  LOL!  There will be hikes and town walks this summer with several of my team members!  That’s the best way to train commands, and even Kanoo, who hasn’t run on a team much at all in the last 3 years snaps immediately to a Gee or a Haw from me.  It’s totally my own fault that I get ignored on the trail!  I’ve been saying for at least 2 years that I need to do some leash training with my leaders, and keep putting it off…bad me! 

We finally made that turn and got onto the John Wayne Trail, with Shelby’s team on our heels.  She preferred to not try passing since she was having a few leader issues of her own.  Very soon another team caught us both and went by pretty quickly when something remarkable happened… something I haven’t seen much all season… Galena went into race mode and caught them!  We leap frogged several times with this Alaskan Husky team, giving them the required time to pull away and continued to catch them.  Then another Alaskan team came up and passed both of us, but instead of giving up Galena continued to pull ahead of the first Alaskan team several more times.  We eventually did slow up and let them go, but for probably a good mile we actually were racing with the big dogs!  Even little Cicely was digging in to catch them!  I hoped I hadn’t let us go too fast for her and watched her carefully for signs of her needing a ride.  Thankfully, they never came, and she ran the entire route! 

Yesterday when we came upon the one narrow bridge over a bit of water probably 3 feet below the trail, I braked a bit too much and almost got sucked off the right side right into the water.  I was determined to not let that happen today so made a concentrated effort to slow before hitting the steep part of the trail, and then letting off the brake until we were safely across the bridge and away from the water.  We were going pretty fast and I was happy with how the sled was lining up to be centered on the bridge, noticing it was catching up to the dog team (traveling faster than they were able to run) and wondering if I would have to hit the brake after all.  It turns out I didn’t need the brake because for some unexplained reason the sled FLIPPED to the left and we crashed… ouch.  Again, thankfully, the team stopped and I lifted my head to see that I was looking down into the water… we had come to a stop exactly in the middle of the bridge!  Whew!  That could have turned out very differently!  That would have been painful…and cold… to fall into the water!  I don’t think it was very deep, but I really hope I never have to test that theory!  LOL!  It’s always such a crazy feeling when you crash and you have no idea what caused it.  Shelby was still behind us but not so close that she could see the actual “dumping”, so she couldn’t help shed any light on the cause.  Again, no harm (other than a bruise that I’m sure will be ugly) no foul, so we continued on our way.  We ended up having a social visit with Dave’s skijor team, requiring me again to hook down and lead my leaders along the trail.  They lined out beautifully as I was walking back to the sled, as if they would never consider doing anything other than what I asked of them!  Ha ha!  I know better!!! 

We got back onto the Stampede Pass trail and saw a two dog sled team up ahead with Malamutes.  The musher got off his sled and stood with his dogs, and we went right by them with the utmost politeness.  We were approaching the intersection where we Haw back onto the John Wayne Trail and saw a nice team with some Siberians in it, and as we got closer realized it was Doreen’s team!  I love running with her because our teams seem to be very equally matched and without having to try to stay together, we naturally do, usually with some nice leap frogging, which provides great training for polite passing.  We caught up with them and together headed towards the finish.  We decided we’d have a photo finish at the end and had it all planned out, “racing” towards the chute which instead of holding a crowd of people (like we had envisioned when we were planning it!) had maybe 3 people to witness our fun ending!  There were some photographers who I think caught a shot or two of us, so we can look back on it and smile!  So just like that our race was over.  We headed back to the truck and I saw a tired dog team settling right down for a rest.  It was warmer today and the trail was softer and slower, meaning the dogs had to work harder, and even though we only went 7.3 miles, they looked tired!  Even Tkope went directly under the truck and napped before even drinking his soup.  Tozi got a bit tangled when we slowed going across the gravel parking lot to the truck, so I must have accidentally removed both his neck line and tug line (thinking he was still fastened to the gang line) and when I removed another dog and placed them on the truck, I turned around to come back for Tozi and he was entirely absent!  My brain could not figure out what had happened… he was just there… I checked the lines and he hadn’t chewed anything…?  Must have been my mistake… but I had a bigger problem to solve… Where was he?  I immediately realized that the two cutest puppies on the planet were in a very non-secure pen behind the truck parked next to us, and he had been eyeing them for a couple days now.  I immediately RAN over there to find him sniffing them through the pen.  Yikes!  Tozi is my dog with the biggest prey drive, and even though he is much better, much much better actually, with “leave it”, I don’t trust him at all with cute little furry things.  I grabbed his collar and took him back to the truck, thanking the Lord constantly as we walked that He had protected Don’s adorable puppies!  A few minutes later I walked him back over and sat with him in front of the pen practicing “leave it” and being calm while the puppies were barking at him and standing up on their pen.  It was a terrific training opportunity!  He was such a good boy, using what I’m sure was all of his self-control to be polite!  We tried a similar exercise several years ago and he had been so amped up that I never tried it again, but he has certainly matured and learned how to control himself over the years.  It looks like it’s time to take his training to the next level too.  It’s time for more leash training for my big boy as well.

I walked back towards the start chute after getting some packing done to enable us to catch the last ferry of the night and get home, and a friend told me I was “in the money”!  One team had taken a wrong turn and was disqualified and we were faster than one other team, so we came in 3rd place!  Wow!  I certainly didn’t expect that!  We were gifted with the most beautiful plaque I’ve ever seen, with artwork by Regina of a Siberian’s face with crystals around it, to signify the Crystal Challenge race.  I just LOVE IT so much!  Thank You Regina!!!

So now we’re back home resting from another fun weekend, and I’m once again dwelling on where the Lord would have us go from here.  This has been a very difficult, trying, learning season, and I want to make sure that I grasp what I’m supposed to from all the adventures and trials.  I also want to make sure I put my priorities where they should be, not letting my emotions get the best of me or be my ultimate guide as I plan for the future.  I have learned a few things that I can say at this point in regards to my goals for my team.  My number one goal for them is to ENJOY their time running.  My number two goal for them is to be POLITE on the truck and on the trail.  My number three goal for them is to perform as good (fast and strong with a good work ethic) as is possible for them, while staying healthy.  I hope to be able to compete in some longer races in the future as the opportunities present themselves (in the Sovereignty of God).  Aside from that, I’m unsure about what my next step is with my pups.  Do I need another dog to provide some more DRIVE and WORK?  I do not know.  Do I need to change my training techniques ?  Definitely!  I believe I have asked too much of my team this year, especially with so many runs being with a loaded sled and lots and lots of hills.  Maybe that type of training would not have been enough for another team of Siberians or Alaskans, but I do think it was too much for my team.  I always expect too much from my dogs, too fast, and I believe I’ve done it again.  I’ve heard of other mushers “souring” their teams, but I wouldn’t have dreamed that would be the case for my team.  There didn’t seem to be much of a warning that it was happening, but during January when our training regimen fell off so much, they seemed to be happier just laying around than they were on the trail.  I have learned some about what to look for in the future to prevent that from happening next time, but know I still have LOTS to learn in that regard… how to keep my team having FUN and HAPPY while teaching them to work harder and more consistently is something that I’m not sure how to succeed with.  I’ll be dwelling on that a lot before next season, and talking with other mushers I respect to get some of their input so I don’t make these same mistakes twice.  I do think that this will be the last time (while living here) that I will stop dryland training at home once the snow flies.  It was so much pressure and so expensive to get to the snow that I believe I made it a lot harder on myself (and probably the team too, who does get tired from traveling).  It’s best to stick with snow, but I can’t always do what’s best!  Sometimes I have to settle for what works better for my team because it’s more practical.  When I was driving home from Cascade Quest, I had a thought that seems appropriate here… “If you can’t do what you want, Do what you can!”  It’s pretty simple, don’t you think?!

I’m also struck by how GOOD it felt to finish this race, especially after scratching from the last race.  Even though the Crystal Challenge wasn’t as difficult as the Cascade Quest, and even though we did a LOT more work for Cascade Quest (for which I am VERY PROUD of my team), there is a lot to be said for completing a goal.  Scripture talks much about finishing the heavenly race, and these verses have come alive to me in a new way as a result of racing dogs this season (and specifically as a result of failing to finish the CQ).  There are MANY obstacles to finishing a race, some that we can blame on ourselves but others that we have absolutely no effect on or control over.  Realizing anew how little control we really have over our life is a good thing, reminding me of how thankful I am to know The Sovereign Lord Who continues to show Team Wulik Much Mercy!

Romans 9:16- So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

Hebrews 12:1- …let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Continuing on with the race that we are called to, the race that is “set before us”, is our next step.  We’re contemplating one final snow race this season where we would enter a 7 dog class that runs 15 miles.  It’s important for me to be sure that this is something the Lord would have us do, and not just do it because I want to do it.  Mulling over the reasons my team has looked flat this season is sort of an object lesson for the importance of looking at my own life and making sure that I run my heavenly race with more passion and do not hinder myself from obeying God’s truths, especially by getting carried away with a worldly passion (my dogs). 

Galations 5:7- You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

I also want to be sure I am not “running in vain”, but am actually following after eternal goals and truths and growth in Christ more so than following after earthly goals of entertainment, which I am always so guilty of.

Philippians 2:16-   holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

May He lead me in His “Everlasting Way”, and keep me from getting sidetracked and smashing into spiritual trees or sinking in spiritual water just off the trail!

Psalm 139:1-5, 23-24-  O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.  You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.  Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.  You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.  … 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.


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