Friday, March 16, 2007
Well. Then it’s all over. After spending the fall and a good part of the winter training the dogs it was all over in less than tree days! Or maybe it’s not that way? Because I had a goal, running the Finnmarksløpet, I had en excuse to spend a lot of time whit the dogs. And that's what its all about, spending time whit the dogs, and at the same time travel through both familiar and new areas.
In time you "only" spend tree days whit the dogs during the race, but in intensity and quality it’s an eternity. You get to know your dogs and yourself in a way that you want do in training or on trips. All my focus is on the dogs and their well being. As soon as I stop at a check-point, number one priority is taking care of the dogs. Maybe a sip of water and a piece of chocolate first, but that is to get energy to take care of the dogs. They have to be fed, bedded down on fresh straw, their feet's need to be tended to and I have to check for injuries. Then its to put some blankets over them and go to get something to eat while the dogs are resting. About an hour before leaving, its out to care for the dogs again. Give them some water, massage stiff legs, tend to their feet's and put on booties.
The problem sitting here, in front of my Mac whit a cup of coffee, is to find out were to start. There is so much to be said. Words can’t explain what you experience out there on the trail.
But anyway, lets try.
First leg: Got up early Saturday morning. Dogs need water and my nerves need coffee. Handlers Bård and Erik make breakfast while Espen and me take care of our teams. After some more coffee it’s was time to leave for Downtown Alta and the start. Whit late bib numbers its quite some time to wait. But in the end it was my turn, bib nr 91. After leaving the city streets it´s up the Alta River. The dogs were doing well, and although I was breaking to keep the speed down I was passing other teams. Just before leaving the river we passed the restart area for the 1000-kilometer teams. About half of them still hadn't left. The climb up Detsikalia it was quite chaotic. How many of the 14-dog team that passed me, I don't know, and how many 8-dog teams I passed; I don't know. But I know that only two teams from the 500-kilometer class passed me. I was in a good mood. And I was exhausted after running up the long hills, being the 9th dog of the team.
The trail was becomeing soft after the 80-90 teams (more than 1000 dogs) I had in front of me. Most of the way over to Skoganvarre it was like running in a sugar bowl. But, I was happily working behind the sled and the dogs happily working in front of the sled.
On the climb up from Stabursdalen the night came, and whit the night the headlamps came on. Looking behind it was a snake of lights following me. In front of my lamp Sting and Trangia is steadily leading the way, always searching for the hardest part of the trail. Which was not easy because there were not many parts where the trail was hard. At this time of the race I had forgot that I actually was part of a contest. For me it became a trip, an experience together whit my dogs. It was not a conscious thought, I just felt that way. What became important was being out there together whit my team of dogs, working together as one unit. What happened around us did not matter any more.
At ten in the evening I reached Skoganvarre check point. Bård and Erik was there showing me where my depot bags was. That's all they could do for the moment. Everything that concerns the dogs is the musher’s responsibility. When I was done with the dogs and had told them how good they were it was time for dinner, coffee, trying to rest, and then out again. At two in the night, after 4 hours of rest we hit the trail again.
Second Leg: I am too exited to be tired. This part of the trail is new ground. After a couple of kilometers the dogs start rolling again. This time its Gunnar and Petra leading the way. Then the hills start. I am running up the hills, then a little rest for me on the sledrunners, and then running up the next hill. At last we get back above the tree line. The snake of lights is gone. During the first rest the field stretches out, depending on how long rest each team takes. There are a few lights in front of me, and some behind. Jan Vidar comes up from behind. His team looks really good, and in some minutes he is gone. But who cares? After two hours I stop and gives the dogs a little snack. Moose meat this time. An other team passes me. After some time he takes a small stop and I pass him. And like this wee keep on going for the rest of the leg.
At one point the race trail leave the hard packed snow machine trail we have followed. From here it’s only a couple of trailbreakers that have put in the trail for us. Again we met the sugary snow. Its deep; its no hold in it. Its hard work. For musher and dogs.
The first light of day slowly comes creeping. It’s my team, the mountains and me. The trail meanders around small mountains, crossing valleys, climbs up on the other side. The snow is deep, Gunnar and Petra and the rest of the dogs keep on working. Pompens is checking pee mail and leaves messages to other dogs. I am looking at the map, wondering where the valley that will take us down from the mountain is. It feels like it is never coming. I am tired of sugary snow. We are going through a ditch, a deep ditch, of sugar. Never again sugar in me tea. I try to eat, but I cant. I have to work the sled, I have to push it out of the snow, I have to run up a hill, use the break down a hill. And I am having a great time. We are in this together. This is what we have been training for all winter.
At last, or to early, we start going down from the mountains. Down to the Tana River and Levajok check point. We are tired when we sign in after nine hours and eight minutes. Take care of the dogs. A vet is checking my team. She says they all look good. Feeding them. Pompen and Vosko attack their food dish as usual. Kesam think his food dish will bite him; he is tired and will rather sleep than eat. The rest of the dogs eat, but not as much and as fast as I would like them to. I try to give them some snack. The first I try they don't want, so I try some cheep fat. That works. I am a waiter, trying to please my guests. OK, sleep tight my brave dogs; you have a six and a half hour break to look forward to. I have to eat and change plastic on the sled runners before two hours of sleep.
Leg 3: After swimming through sugar over the mountains we all look forward to the next leg, 85 kilometers on the Tana and Karasjokka river. But why look forward for it? The leg over the mountains was not that bad. Its what you must expect to meet in the mountains. And that is what this race is all about. Do the best out of the conditions we meet. Just like we have to do when we are out in the mountains the rest of the winter. Long distant mushing is not about a well-prepared trail, it’s about who is best prepared for what ever we meet.
Well, what we had to look forward to is a good trail and no uphill to run through deep sugar snow. And we had 85 kilometers of monotone river running, 85 km of time to think about what I am doing, smile and hopefully not fall asleep.
This is again a leg for Trangia. She likes it hard and fast. When tired she definitely don't like soft snow and hard work. The first 20 kilometers it’s nice trail and fast going. And then we meet the sugar. Trangia stops and sits down. This is not what I had promised her. I take her out of lead and put Petra up together whit Sting. But Trangia is still sitting; she is fed up whit soft snow. So I put her in the sled. After a couple of kilometers the trail is yet again hard and fast. I put Trangia back in the team, but by now she has become stiff. She really tries to run, but there is no way back. She goes into the sled. The race is over for her. She will probably recover whit a long good rest in Karasjok, but I can’t take the chance that she becomes stiff again on the next leg. She have seen the finish line before, on the 1000 kilometer, so I know what she is capable of. But this year it was too much sugar for her.
After an endless number of curves on the river we reach Karasjok, the Sami Capital and our next check point. Its 45 minutes after midnight, early Monday morning. Since Saturday morning I have had two hours of sleep. I am tired, but as always, dogs are number one priority.
A vet looks over the team. The rest of the dogs look OK. Kesam have lost some weight, but the vet says he seems fit to continue. All the dogs eat, at least some food. kesam don’t eat as much as I want him to.
Then some food for me, a talk whit my handlers and an hour of sleep.
Leg 4: At 5.30 in the morning it’s of again. It has come some snow the last hours, but now it’s clearing up again. Leaving the check point, the dogs are all a little stiff and need some time before they starts rolling for real again. The first 10 kilometers are on the Karasjok river. Then we leave the river and climb up through pine forest towards the high plateau of Finnmark. On the way up the hills the morning sun comes up. I start to wake up myself running up the hills together whit the dogs. The obstacle I fear most on this leg is the Ravnastua cabin. We spent some days here earlier this winter, so I am afraid that the dogs will order a break there. But they pass the cabins real good. On our way up the rolling hills after the cabin Sting, who is in lead, starts to limp. I stop and check him. He is stiffening up in his chest/shoulder region. I try to stretch him and massage him, and let him run a little more. He has problem trotting, but when galloping its ok. But this is slow going and trotting is the natural way to move at this speed. I try to put Sting in the sled, but he jumps straight out of it and walks up to Gunnar and Perta in lead saying this is my place; my job is to pull the sled, not sit in it. I try once more to put him in the sled, try to hold him down, but he breaks out again. There aint anything to do but let him run. As long as he is able to gallop its ok, so that is what he does. But for my trusted leader this race is over. The sugar in the early stages of the race has taken its toll on another of my dogs.
When I come to Jergul, the last check point, I also decide to leave Kesam. Whit the minimum amount of food he has been eating he is getting to tired. On the last stretch he even refused to take snacking. This leave me whit five dogs. The minimum amount I need to finish. I am sorry for the dogs I have to leave in my handlers care. They have done a really good job, and I would like them to see the finish line. But I still have 5 strong and happy dogs, six whit me. I am still a big smile looking forward to the last 130-kilometer leg.
At Jergul there is a mandatory six-hour layover for all teams. I make it eight and a half. Running only five dogs I want them to be well rested. But I have to convince my self a bit. Coming to Jergul all but one of the teams in front of me is still there. For the first time since Alta I feel that it’s a competition. I get caught in a competitive mood. But I tell my self that the important thing now is to see the finish line whit happy dogs. Being nr 19 or 29 does not matter. And on top of it all I can get some more sleep myself.
Leg 5: At 8.27 in the evening I leave Jergul. The dogs are well rested. Petra and Gunnar is fit for fight in lead, Vosko and Pompen is barking to go when I sign out and Dønning, he is there as he always is.
A light is coming up behind me. It’s an other 5 dogs team. The German and me run together trough the night, traveling whit the same speed. Keeping the spirit up in the dogs, swooping on who is running first. The northern light is illuminating the sky. Yellow, green and pink. The dogs are moving steadily towards the end of the journey. On the Iesjoka river it’s a light in front of us. The light is an other musher. His dogs have stopped, what is called to park for insiders. He has been there for two hours, waiting for his dogs to decide its time to move again. When we pass they follow. Coming on to lake Iesjavre I am tired. All the way across the 10-kilometer lake I feel like going uphill. The dogs move steadily, but for me it looks like an endless hill. When we are done whit the lake we stop for another snack break for the dogs and a cup of coffee for us. The Swede we picked up on the river have just what we need right now, the coffee, the elexire of life.
Towards Jotka, the last checkpoint, my team speed up. I just sign in and out and move on. 53 kilometers to go. On the lake after the check point the Germans team stops. The Swede and me continue. This is not a time to be a gentleman. The risk is that my dogs too get the idea that its rest time.
Then it’s the last uphill before going down to the Alta River. I stop to give my brave workers some more snacks. We climb the last hill. On the top the Swedes dogs park. Gunnar and Petra keeps on running. Gunnar is growing as a dog. He knows he has a big responsibility, and he takes it. He his happy, he is were he belongs. Pompen is getting tired. I stop to give him some more snack. He wants to lie down, but now we have to continue. We are almost there. On the way over a small lake a team comes up from behind. It’s Espen and the youngsters It’s the future coming from behind. He have rested the dogs more in the beginning, including a 3 hour break in the middle of the second leg, the deep sugar bowl. Now he is getting paid in better speed than most of the other team. Its ok to se him pass. He is the older of us, he has more racing experience, he has 7 dogs and he is running the future of our kennel.
Down on the Alta River Petra and Gunnar is increasing the speed, but I have to keep the speed down. Pompen is not in for more speed, but he is still in for the pee-mail!
At 8.12 we cross the finish line. The job is done. So here I am, at the end of it all. A three-day eternity, done all to soon. I want to be back out there whit the dogs, I want it all to last longer, I want to sleep and I want a beer. Next time I want the double distance.