Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Copper Basin 300 continued

The Copper Basin 300
continued from previous post.....

    When The Hump was in the rearview mirror, so to speak, I felt anxious to get to the next checkpoint. It was approximately 10 - 15 miles to Meiers Lake and I knew I had to talk to myself in order to cool my jets as there is just no fast way to get there. I was feeling incredibly inpatient and antsy.

   Soon, we were traveling along the Alaskan Pipeline. I marveled at the sight of it. I imagined all the men, so many years ago, who toiled day and night, clearing the wild land and to fabricate such a massive project. At first it was nice to be on the broad white band of trail. But, it wasn't long when the flat trail turned into big steep rolling hills. Over and over again we would rise to the top of a hill only to see another and another. It was demoralizing. The dogs picked up on my mood and my leaders, Learjet and Banjo decided to stop mid hill, look around at me, throw back their heads and howl. 



     This was not good, but I could not help but chuckle. I felt the same way. I wanted to howl as well, as I was feeling the same way.  Just like the dogs, I had had enough of this wicked roller coaster for one day. But, this attitude was getting  us nowhere fast. It took more time than usual to reach the checkpoint as my dear leaders stopped and howled on every single hill we had to climb from that point forward. When the team does this it is not good. As a musher you have to be able to read the dogs and figure out, are they just pulling one over on me or are they really finding difficulty going on. When this happens, the musher has to get off the runners and push the sled and run along still keeping a hand on the handlebar to the top of the hill. When you are dressed in many layers of arctic gear, running is not a good thing. Sweat is a major factor. When you no longer have to push the sled, the sweat cools and pulling the heat from your body. As I cooled down a chill set in.  I had to move to stay warm but this activity was expending precious energy I needed just to endure the distance.

    Getting to the checkpoint just seemed to take forever and it was dark again by the time I finally arrived. Dave and Patrick greeted me and helped park the team.

Gwenn Bogart and Patrick Mackey training in 
Willow, Alaska just prior to The Copper Basin 300.

  Once the team was feed and bedded down for a good rest,  I went inside the lodge to dry out and get something to eat. Since I had not been able to rest at the Chistochina checkpoint and had an only a couple of hours of rest on the 70 mile run, I was tired. Food and rest were in order. After eating a wonderful burger, I spread out my sleeping bag to get some well deserved rest. As with many checkpoints, Meiers Lake Lodge was noisy. The bar folks were happy and getting happier by the minute and there was no getting away from them. I lay on the floor in my sleeping bag and was grateful just to be resting even if the noise kept we awake. At least I was horizontal for a little while.

                                                                       ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

                                       There is more to the story....stay tuned for more posts....

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Copper Basin 300 ~ Alaska's Toughest 300 Mile Dog Sled Race

                                 The Copper Basin 300 
                   Alaska's Toughest 300 Mile Dog Sled Race
                                         January 2014

Gwenn during the first leg of The Copper Basin
with her team of 12 Alaskan Huskies. A deep, punchy trail made 
the first 50 miles hard going.

      The Copper Basin was my first 300 mile dog sled race and it was a huge learning experience for sure ! The previous winter, my goal to complete my two 300 mile races evaporated because for various reasons I ended up between kennels and missed some racing opportunities. I needed 750 qualifying miles. I got 200 miles with Jim Lanier's Northern Whites and gained valuable insights. 

     The Copper, as it is fondly referred to, has a reputation of being a very tough race. Many Iditarod mushers said, when they asked me what races I had entered, if you can complete The Copper, then you can do the Iditarod. Over and over, I heard these words. I wondered what was in store for me ! 

     My team of 12 dogs was ready. Training had gone well for the month prior and I knew we were as ready as we could be. Unfortunately, my main leader, Doc, had to stay home because of a mild shoulder injury. We would miss him, but I felt the team was still strong with some additional good leaders to call on when needed. Zema and Learjet would be my main leaders. Picsus and Banjo ran in swing and could be put into lead if needed. Rex and Osprey would be in wheel. Team dogs were Saint and Charlie, Colt and Cancun, Mac and Blackfoot. 

      The race start is held in Glennallen, Alaska. Glennallen is known for some of the states most extreme cold weather, which is one of the elements that gives The Copper it's reputation. The weather forecast for the race was showing moderate temperatures that would hold during the whole race, for which I was grateful. 

      My husband, David Bogart, offered to be my dog handler and I will tell you he was the BEST handler a musher could have. He was there at every checkpoint to catch my leaders with his happy face and the most encouraging comments. After being alone all through the long hours as day blended into night and night blended into day, it makes such a difference to have someone there who can give you some heartfelt words of encouragement. Patrick Mackey was always there to giving morsels of golden advice for the trial ahead and saying the team looked awesome. Amen, brothah !

Gwenn and Dave at The Copper getting ready
for the start. 

      The start of any sled dog race is crazy. The energy in the air from lots of ragged nerves, canine and human, makes it difficult to stay calm. The dogs really need calm from their musher to help them hold it together.  Knowing this, I found my demeanor change. The effort made on my part to remain calm not only worked well for the dogs but was great for me. Suddenly, there I was at the starting line and I felt calm and ready for the job at hand. Intellectually, I knew things would happen to us on the trail and I could handle it. I always had up to this point during training. This would be no different. Jason Mackey, who owns my team and was also running his Iditarod team, had given me lots of encouragement and his training preparation for me, I knew, was the best it could be. We were ready.

      The trail of the first leg was punchy. The dogs struggled as the going was deep and it took a lot out of them. I could see it was going to take longer to reach the first checkpoint at Chistochina than originally planned. Our starting position was near the end of the pack but there were still fast teams behind me. I was looking over my shoulder a lot to see faster teams coming up and needing to pass. At one point as I tried to pull over to let yet another team by, my sled got off the packed trail and ended up in the deep snow. The dogs floundered around, straining to get some sort of solid foot hold as I did too. I remember Jim Lanier coming along and upon recognizing me, butt up and head down, in the deep snow, he asked do you need help? All I could do is laugh at myself and the situation and he gave a chuckle too.  We got out, but lots of time had been wasted. 

Zema (left) and Learjet lead the team during
The Copper Basin 300

     The team was ready for a break when we pulled into the Chistochina checkpoint as I did too. I set about my checkpoint routine while the vets checked my dogs. Saint had pulled a pectoral muscle and needed to be dropped. The cabin at the checkpoint was a busy place with many people passing through and many loud conversations going on. Not a good place to get some shut eye. I had not hit the level of fatigue that would allow me to just pass out. 

     The second leg of the race was 70 miles long. I heard the trail was hard and fast which was good news after having traveled 50 miles of soft stuff. Stories of the hump, a benign term for a mountain we had to climb, had been circulating as well as stories of the water crossing. The water crossing did not worry me much as we had been through lots of water training and the dogs handled it in training just great. But this water crossing was epic. At the mushers meeting the night before the start, we had been told there was open water but not to worry as it was just inches deep. By the time I got there, the water had risen. The ice shelf was more than a foot thick. Upon our approach my team acted as if they were going to plunge right in but when the leaders saw the water moving they did a very fast exit stage left move. As quickly as possible,  I set the ice hook and ran up to pull the leaders into the water but in order to do that I had to release the hook. Back to the hook I went, released it and ran back to the leaders, who in a moment had knitted a complicated snarl into and through the lines of rest of the team. I knew there was no pretty way to get across so I just grabbed onto a line and pulled with all my might. 

    The water was much deeper than the inches we had been told. It was up to my thighs and the dogs tried to swim. Because they were all in such a tangle, they could not swim. They thrashed and their panic was palpable. I have to admit, I had some panic very close under my skin about to come out. I pulled like I had never pulled before. I knew I had to get this crossing done fast, our lives depended upon it. The sled floated like a cork and swung downstream as the current caught it. UGH !

    The exiting ice shelf was slippery as slippery can get. I made it up and over by literally clinging with my fingernails onto the surface sheen, belly crawl.  Once I got my feet planted I could pull and haul the dogs and sled up over the ice shelf. The dogs were as relieved as I was at getting up on the other side. I could see it in their faces. The dogs were soaked. I was not as I had been wearing a wader of sorts that kept me dry. I was prepared, a god send indeed. The dogs needed my full attention immediately as the temperature was hovering near -10 below zero. As they stood shivering and shaking,  I pulled off their booties and got them moving again as quickly as possible so they could warm up. Hypothermia was in the forefront of my mind.

     We still had another 35-40 miles to travel to the next checkpoint, Meiers Lake, while the hump, somewhere out there, still loomed. From the stories, I knew it was something of a concern. The beauty of the trail that spread between the water crossing to the hump was spectacular. I was overjoyed to be traveling through this area in the daylight hours and am so happy that I was able to witness the grandeur of the landscape with my own eyes.  So far off any road, this beauty would only be witnessed from dog team or snow machine, seen only by few.

     The trail went through hemlock groves, over frozen swamps and lakes. I kept looking around at the peaks wondering if that was the hump only to experience the trail go by and was left to wonder in trepidation about the upcoming obstacle.  My first view of the hump was spectacular. We came to a hilltop over looking a huge- broad expanse of land, a wide valley that looked like it went on forever. That was the moment when I got my first glimpse of The Hump.  There, way up high, on the treeless summit, if I squinted my eyes just right, I could make out the tiny image of a team, making their way to the summit. 

   It was quite a climb from the floor of the valley to the summit but I have to say it was a surprise how well it went. The dogs did a great job and before we knew it we were on the other side, which was not a huge horrible descent, but an fairly easy ride.  I could imagine this could be a horrible place, if traveling through a storm or dreadfully cold temperatures. I considered myself lucky, again.

                                                                          ~ ~ ~

    There are other side bar stories I could tell now, but I think I will end this for now and write more later as this post is just getting way to loooonnnnggggg…… stay tuned for the rest of the story !

Thank you for reading and visiting my blog !!!



Winner of the Raffle for a Trip to Alaska for Two

We have a Winner 

Carol Lincoln of East Dorset, Vermont

Winner of the Alaska Trip for Two

Carol says "Winner winner, chicken dinner"

Congratulations !!

      Good job Hannah Perkins for being the seller of the winning ticket.

   We could not be happier for Carol and her big win. She will be off to Alaska on June 30th. 

Thank you for everyone who purchased raffle tickets. I wish everyone could have won because you all deserve it. It will be a trip of a lifetime.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Training and Racing
  Qualifying year for Iditarod 2015

Hello from Wasilla, Alaska ! 

This year, I am  training/racing a Mackey team. Yes, that’s right a Mackey team ! I have secured a fantastic team of 14 dogs from Jason Mackey and they are proving themselves each day we spend together clicking up the miles on our team odometer. I also have three additional dogs to add to the 14 Mackey dogs. Jim Lanier, 15 time Iditarod musher, who I worked with last winter, asked if I would take on his three yearlings to train for the winter, while he concentrates on his Iditarod team. Our goal is to peak the fitness at the third week of January in time for our first race, the Northern Lights 300 which starts January 24th at Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake, Alaska.The next qualifier is the Yukon Quest 300 which starts February 2 in Fairbanks, Alaska.

October is the month dry land training begins in earnest here in Alaska. The temperatures In the Wasilla/Willow area the temperatures have been hovering in the high 30‘s, low 40’s,  making it much to warm for healthy training.  Jason and his 24 year old mushing son Patrick, who wants to qualify for the Iditarod this year invited me to join them for a week training at Lance’s Comeback Kennel outside of Fairbanks. Lance had called Jason and said there was a thin layer of snow and the temperatures were in the 20’s. We loaded the trucks and headed north. It was a treat to see Lances kennel and rub elbows with him for a few days.

To take advantage of our training time we decided to train our teams twice a day.  We started with six miles two times a day with a minimum of six hours in between sessions.
To start the training, the speeds are slow 7-9 mph. As the fitness improved we increased the speeds to 10 mph before increasing the distances. In the beginning the fitness training of the long distance Alaskan Sled Dog is a cycle that looks like this:

Day 1; 6 miles at 7-9 mph  (twice a day)
Day 2; same
Day 3; same
Day 4; day off

Day 5; 6 miles at 7-9 mph (occasionally increasing to 10 mph to test how they are handling the fitness) twice a day
Day 6; 6 miles 9-10 mph (always go slow 7-9 downhills) twice a day
Day 7; Bump up the distance to 7-8 miles but slow the speeds to 7-9 mph..

Day 8: 7-8 miles at 7-9 mph (twice a day)
Day 9; 7-8 miles at 7-9 mph (twice a day) occasionally increasing speed to 10 mph.
Day 10; 7-8 miles at 10 mph (7-9 mph downhills)
Day 11; Day off

Day 12; 10 miles at 7-9 mph (twice a day)
Day 13; 6-8 miles at 8-10 mph (twice a day)
Day 14; 8-9 miles at 8-10 mph (twice a day)
Day 15; Day off

Gradually, as the distances are increased, around 12 miles the training sessions can be once a day. 

General notes:

* For long distance training, generally keep speeds around 10 mph.
* Occasional short wind sprints are fun and good for the dogs.
  • Keep the team slow 7-8 mph downhill to help mitigate shoulder injuries.
  • A conservative training schedule is best. If you question your dogs fitness, keep it shorter and slower.

Eventually, my team will be training 3 days in a row with 40-75 miles a day at 8-10 mph 3 days in a row. Sometimes we will travel 6 hours, camp for 6 hours and then run another 6 hours. Generally, we train 3 days with a day off. Camping with the dogs is a key component to training as that is what races are all about.