A few weeks ago we had the 35th Race to the Sky. weather was great, albeit a little warm, dogs were ready to run and mushers ready to tell them which way to turn. I had a good showing of volunteers this year too! BTW, thanks to every single volunteer we had. All the chinks in the chain have to work together to make it all run smoothly and I think our volunteers did just that this year!  Race day had bands of snow coming at us in Lincoln with, of course, WIND. There is ALWAYS wind over there in the openness where Hi-Country resides.

The new jack fence at the start chute holding all the $500 and up banners held up wonderfully. We should line the whole race route made with one of those! Well, ok, that might be a pipe dream, but you get it. Keeps all the dogs in and spectators out. Good for everyone! AND I didn’t have to fight the wind putting up the snow fencing all the way up the chute!

We also had a lot of spectators for Race day. Good showing and support for the Race! Lots of kids out to see the dogs and lots of smiles on faces. Always great to see. who doesn’t like to see these wonderful athletes and their different colored coats and eyes. Big thank you to the 4 wheeler club out of Helena. That crew is something else! they came with chains on their 4 wheelers ready to hold back the crazy dogs at the start. You know, once they see the musher or handler pulling out the ganglines, they know it is coming to race time and they start in. Barking, yipping, jumping, peeing, you name it, they do it. so much energy from the dogs that you can actually FEEL it. Pretty fun. When your team is ready to go up to the start chute, you hook your sled to a 4 wheeler and they help hold back the team while waiting for your turn in the chute. What a great group of guys. They seem to be having a lot of fun too!

Off to Whitetail #1 as we call it and time for some supper. Bob and Carol and their crew put on a great spread of food. Cyndi Braun has her crew of timers and checkers at the ready for when the mushers start coming in. Then the leap-frogging process begins. So leap-frogging is a term I made up for the race and what we have to do to keep things running smoothly. It is when you have to be at the next checkpoint ready for the front runner to come in complete with timers, checkers, vets and a race marshal just in case. Since Jessie Royer was about 4 hours or so in front of everyone else, off we go about 10:00PM to Seeley Lake COmmunity Hall. Thinking too that we could get some sleep before the long night and early AM when all the mushers will start wandering in. The leap-frogging process has begun!

I get over to Seeley Lake with my “crew”, check our phones to see where everyone is and make guesstimates as to when they will be coming in. See those GPS units are good for other things than seeing where all the mushers are on the trail. We also monitor them to make sure someone is out and ready to time them in when they get here! Time to snuggle in for a couple hours snooze time. Alarms set on phones and ready to sleep. Yeah but we cant! So I start talking to Britt, she cant sleep either. AHHHHH. Now what to do? this is supposed to be sleep time and I am tired but not enough to actually fall asleep. Oh jeez. This used to be easier. There are cots, sleeping bags, lounge chairs complete with blankies and even a couple air mattresses all over the place—wherever you can find a spot. Mushers soon to start coming in and oh yeah I need some timers and checkers at the Morrel Creek trailhead. That is the finish line for the 100 mile racers. And oh yeah  a vet team and Race Marshall. These are hurry up and wait times. So might as well get everyone some coffee from the Claw.  Having only gotten about 2 hours sleep I need to have it on intravenous drip—wonder if the vets will do that for me?

About 1:00 PM and ready for the 100 mile awards ceremony and still waiting for 1 musher to come in. The 300  mile mushers taking off to Owl Creek up by Holland Lake. It is the “wilderness” checkpoint, meaning no handlers are there to help and mushers must take care of dogs and themselves by themselves. Leap-frog again some vets and a race marshal to Owl Creek.  

Then comes Seeley Lake #2 for the 300 milers coming back from Owl Creek. Now you can start to see tiredness starting to show on everyone’s face. I did an interview with a local TV station KPAX and had my husband DVR it for me to see. I looked at it and OMG, is that WHAT I look like??? I was swollen and puffy and they woke me up from one of my 2 hour sleep/naps to do it. Note to self: NEVER do an interview when you just wake up, especially on TV!! Off to my house for a quick shower and change of clothes and then leap- frog with a couple volunteers back to Whitetail #2 for the 300 milers coming back through on their way to the finish in Lincoln.

There is a caravan of about 4 cars and over about Ovando way we hit a snow storm from hell itself! Cant see the road at all through the sheets of snow coming down. The only way I could tell where I was on the road was to listen to the rumble strips in the middle to hear where I was. Yeah, that was bad. And of course by now I am 2 nights with only a few hours sleep and it is about midnight so it is dark too. Ugh. But the race goes on and we will be there to greet the first musher into Whitetail—after we get some sleep??

Whitetail #2 is quite the happening place second time around too, but different than the first time. the first time around everyone is still bright-eyed and bushy tailed. NOW they are tired and well more tired. The way the mushers were spaced out this year made it hard to get sleep because we had to leap-frog with big gaps in between.  By now I could sleep through the loudest group of snoring dogs you could throw at me! But, alas, there is work to do. Have to try to get these mushers on a better schedule for next year!  Musher about a half hour out so everyone jumps to attention and starts to gear up and get out there to greet them and of course, get their time in. A little mishap at Whitetail—no water! Oh jeez. So Carol and crew cant cook, we cant wash up  in the sink, brush teeth or flush toilets. Thanks to Sweet Pea for having port-a-potties at all the checkpoints! AND it wasn’t -40 like last year, so using the outhouse wasn’t too bad. Bob and his son are trying to figure out if it is the pump or an electrical problem. So I make a phone call to Britt who is still at the Seeley Lake checkpoint waiting for the last musher to go and ask her to pick up some bottled water and bring it over. Oh yeah, we have to DRINK water too. Forgot that part. The outside pump was still working so there was water for the handlers and mushers to feed/water the dogs. So that is good to go. Crisis averted……

All mushers and dogs have to take a 6 hour layover at Whitetail #2, so WE get to re-group, eat and oh yeah SLEEP a little before the last-leap frog to the finish line at Hi-Country in Lincoln, right where they started. Again, Jessie Royer is ready to roll that night and she will be the first one  to finish and be the 300 mile winner for the Race. Leap-frogging again to the finish where we wait for her arrival along with a timer, checker, race marshal and vet team. In she pulls and her dogs still look good and ready to go another 300 miles! Wow! Now comes the big gap until more mushers come in and some of us  go to the 3 Bears Motel to get some sleep and take a shower. I actually got 5 hours sleep and feel fresh as a daisy! Award ceremony at 3 PM and another Race to the Sky is completed!

A few minor glitches that will be easy to fix. Some suggestions made for next year, but all in all, it was a good race. I like to hear from Rob one of the Race Marshalls that “the race was well organized this year”. Another race in the can and start thinking of next years race! Well, I will take a month “off” or so and  then start up all over again. I have a new notebook for 2021 given to me by Britt at the banquet, but I gotta say, the “big book” that she gave me just aint gonna cut it. J To all, have a wonderful spring and summer seasons and the dogs will be sniffing for the north winds in the fall to kick off another sled dog season……….

photos courtesy of Steve Dubois and Rosemary Morrison all rights reserved