"My First Race"
My heart was pounding in my chest. I was soaked with sweat even though it was close to zero degrees out. My hands were holding onto my handlebars in a death grip. I kept repeating to myself "If this is what racing is like I'm not cut out for it!" and I was only a couple of miles into the race.
My team consisted of five yearlings and one adult. Siblings, Gynger and Kasper, ran lead for me. Coyuk, the only adult, ran behind the leaders. Tymber, Ben and Ember were the remaining dogs on my team. It was a great team. I was proud of them. I had wanted to race them with all of my heart. Now I had my doubts.
It had been my idea to run this race. The 30 mile race was being held in the heart of Maine. It had sounded wonderful to me. Scott called the race marshal to find out more about the trail. Scott explained that it was his wife and friend's first race, he wanted to know what the trail was like. Scott was reassured that the trail was fairly easy, and we would have a good time.
I had not slept a wink Thursday night. I was a bundle of nerves since I did not know what to expect. Friday morning I packed the truck, and we left for Maine as soon as Scott got home from work. I was hoping that my nerves would calm down some once we got to the motel, but that did not happen. Scott slept like a baby, and I talked Rob's ear off for hours. I kept thinking to myself "he must think I never shut up!" but it was also his first race and he did not know what to expect either. Rob did sleep for a couple of hours, and I just laid there trying to fall asleep.
Saturday morning was cold! I was a nervous wreck and I could not stay warm. I heard them talking at the drivers meeting, and I was trying to absorb what they were saying, but I could not seem to focus. After the meeting they had us sign forms that said we would not use any foul language. Then they checked our rabies certificates, and we got ready for hook up. It was 30 miles to the camp where the finish line was. Since it was one way we needed someone to move our trucks to the finish line, Scott's mother had come to do that for us.
My team was the first team to the line. Mike Ellis grabbed my leaders to help me across the busy street to the start line. It was the weirdest start line I had ever seen. The teams were supposed to go straight and onto a snow mobile trail that followed along side a road. They had people standing in the road straight in front of me so that the dogs would not try to follow the road. The road also went to the right, and they did not have anyone standing there. I heard the count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO. Mike let go of my team, and they started to head straight down the road instead of going onto the snow mobile trail. Someone went to grab my leaders, which Gynger did not like, and the team took a sharp right and ran as fast as they could down the road. Stopping a 6 dog team on pavement is next to impossible, the brake is designed for stopping on snow. I threw down my drag mat which was made from a piece of snow mobile tread. I stood on the drag with both feet and the team slowed, and then the rope holding the drag broke, so I had to pick it up to make sure that it did not go under my runners. Everyone at the start line was busy helping the teams get to the line, so I was on my own. Luckily the road was a dead end. My dogs got to the circle at the end and started to follow the circle around. Then I saw a car with the back door open, and my dogs saw the car with the door open. Then I saw the groceries in the back seat, and my dogs saw the groceries in the back seat. I envisioned 6 dogs in the back seat ripping apart groceries and me trying to get them out. Thank goodness the owner of the car ran outside just as my leaders got to the car door. I yelled to him "Please grab my leaders!" he said "grab the leadas?" in a thick Maine accent. I said "grab the white dog!" he said "grab the white dog, Ayah." I figured the only way I would make the turn onto the trail on the way back would be to have the grocery guy put Gynger on the other side of Kasper. I asked "Can you pickup the little dog and put her on the other side of the white dog?" he said "pickup the lil' dog and puht her on the otha side of the white dog, Ayah." while he moved Gynger for me. I yelled thank you and I was off. I made it back to the start line and took a right onto the snow mobile trail.
I caught up with Rob who had started while I was on my trip down the dead end road. Rob's team decided that running on the snow on the trail was the right thing to do. My team decided that running on the pavement beside the trail was the right thing to do. I did not argue with them. It became a problem when the trail went to the right along a field. I could not get my guys to go the right way. Of course Rob's dogs went the right way, so he stood on his brake and called and called my team. I could see wheels turning in Kasper's head "why would we want to go around that field when we could go straight up the road to where all the people are standing?" So I said "f*ck it!" and went straight up the road, and I reminded myself that I signed a waiver saying I could not swear. We went up the road to the folks standing in the road making sure that teams could cross the road without any trouble. I had the trail help take my leaders and turn them left onto the trail. Then a fast Alaskan team caught up and passed me. Gynger lives to chase. Off we went as fast as we could go. I white knuckled the handlebars and wished that my drag was not broken. We zipped through some evergreens covered in snow, branches bouncing off my face, and I was temporarily blinded. Then all of a sudden I felt my sled air born and then slam I hit the ice. Then I remembered them saying something at the drivers meeting about getting air before we hit the ice. I chased off the team for a while longer. We went into the woods and the trail was narrow. I bounced off a tree in order to make a 180 degree turn. My heart was pounding, I was soaked in sweat, and I thought "If this is what racing is like I'm not cut out for it!" I lost the Alaskan team and Scott caught up to me. The first thing he said was "That was a tough start!" he told me that he had never had a race start like that one. I started to feel better.
Scott and I were traveling together for a while, he was in front of me and it felt like a good pace. I was really starting to relax and feel better about the whole race. I heard Scott yell something to me, but I could not make it out. All of a sudden my team hit a slatted bridge. My dog's feet fell through the open slats and my leaders panicked. Gynger and Kasper backed into the team. I had to get off and drag them over the bridge. My team was tangled, it was beyond tangled, it was a clusterf*ck. I set my hook, but I did not trust it. I was swearing under my breath at my husband who left me for dead. Thank goodness Rob had caught up to me again. He stood with one foot on my brake and one foot on his brake, our teams were side by side. All the open teams were coming up fast on the bride and I would yell "bridge" to each team as I tried to figure out my tangle. I then saw Bob Ohearn coming up on the bridge real fast and I yelled "bridge" and I'm not sure that he heard me. Bob went over the bridge and then caught a hold of me with his handle bar. I grabbed for my sled as it pulled away from Rob. I was stuck in-between the two sleds. Bob had to drive his team into a ditch to loose me. As he pulled away I felt myself fall, and I landed on my tail bone so hard that I wanted to cry. Luckily I did not loose my team. I jumped to my feet to see if Bob was ok. His team pulled out of the ditch and they all seemed ok. I reassured Bob that I was ok, and I told him I was sorry that I was in his way. As soon as Bob left I told Rob that I hurt myself pretty bad. My team was now untangled and we started off down the trail.
I was told that almost immediately after the bridge there was a left turn for the race trail. I have to take their word for it because we never saw it. Rob and I ran our dogs straight down the trail, apparently we were pre-occupied by the bridge and my fall. We started to realize we were not on the right trail when we saw a big saw mill ahead of us. We started to look for tracks from other teams, but we were the only morons who went this way. We tried to set our hooks to turn around the teams, but the snow was thin and on top of ice. At this point I'm not sure where Rob's team went. All I know is that I ended up in the mill and I could not stop my dogs. My team was running all over the place, I would hook myself onto a building and get the team turned around, but it did not help me in the least. I quickly lost my sense of direction and I had no idea where I was. Kasper decided that running around the mill chasing the birds would be a perfect life. I cannot say how long we did this because it felt like forever. About the time that I was thinking I would have to live in the mill for the rest of my life I saw that Kasper was running straight for the road entrance. I yelled "Please Kasper if you love me at all you will not go into the road!" Kasper came to Main Street, he looked left and then he looked right and he decided that right was the direction we should go. Off we went down Main Street, my drag was still broken, and I wore the bolts of my brake trying to stop them. I was yelling "Kasper when I get off this f*cking sled I'm going to ring your neck!" Cars were driving past me. I waved frantically at them for their help, they waved back and smiled, some folks even gave me a thumbs up. People were coming out of the Diner and lining up on the snowbanks watching me go down the road. Children smiled with joy. I was screaming "Kasper I f*cking hate you!" and I wanted to cry, I was in so much pain and this was just all too unbearable. I kept throwing my snow hook at each passing telephone pole hoping that I could just catch one. Finally I caught one and I tied off my team. Now what do I do! I don't know why I missed two nights of sleeping worrying about tiny little things, I could not have imagined such a disaster. While I sat their on my sled with my head in my hands a man who was apparently with the race stopped his truck along side of my team and asked me if I was ok. I told him my name was Corina Alexander that I was lost and hurt and I needed him to find my mother in law with a green truck with a white dog box and tell her to come get me. He said that he would find her and off he went. I got back up and tried to calm my dogs, they were all screaming at the top of their lungs, after all we were only a few miles into the race. Just when I thought things could not get more embarrassing I saw Steve Glover and his wife. I had sold Steve Gynger and Kasper's sister. I plastered what I hoped was a real smile on my face as they pulled their car along side my team. They got out and I told them the whole disaster. We stood there for a while just talking while my dogs screamed and screamed. I happened to look to my left and saw a team coming down the road. It did not make sense because everyone was long gone. I saw that the team only have five dogs and I realized it was Rob. He was my night in shinning armor, I had never been so happy to see someone in my life. He pulled up and said that he heard my dogs screaming and he said to his dogs "boys let's go rescue her" and he followed the noise until he found us. The plan was that Rob was going to hold my leaders and have his team lead us back into the mill and we would find the trail together. Steve got into his car to drive down the road to make sure that we did not get hit. Obviously Gynger and Kasper needed work, and we figured they would probably try to run down the middle of the road. We got Rob's team turn around, he grabbed my leaders, I pulled my snubline and off we went down the road. My team wanted to get ahead of his and I had no way of stopping them. My leaders got away from him and off I went down the middle of the road. Steve had parked in a way that my team had no choice but to turn into the mill. Off we went going all over the place and I could not stop them. I felt so embarrassed, I was sure that Rob was on his sled shaking his head at me. I saw a young guy run out of the building towards Rob and tell him something, Rob pointed to me and the guy came running over to me. This young guy said that they had been watching me from inside the building and that he could show me were the trail was. Part of me wanted to die, I was hoping that the mill was closed on Saturday, and knowing that there was a ton of guys in there laughing at me was embarrassing. I looked at this kids face and I knew that he had lost some sort of bet and was forced to come help me. I told him that would be great, and asked him to take a hold of my leaders and take me to the trail. This kid ran over snow banks with me struggling over them and trying to not loose my team. We got to a road and he said go down there for about 1/4 of a mile. I saw Rob ahead of me and I thought "oh good my team will chase him" just as my team turned around and tried to go back into the heart of the mill. I begged the kid to keep a hold of my leaders for a little longer. Rob went around a corner and I lost sight of him. I got to the trail and saw a girl just sitting there in a car. The trail was marked, but only for coming straight onto it, and we had just come from the long way. There was two turns, both of them were right hand turns for us. I saw which one was marked and I had the kid point my team in the right direction. I thanked him and told him he was a big help, I said "Are you sure you do not want to keep going with me I might need you again?" he looked at me like I was the biggest pain in the ass that he had ever met.
It was nice to be on the right trail again. I knew right away that I was on the power line trail, I remembered it from the drivers meeting. They told us that we would be able to see teams ahead of us and behind us. I said "Ok, guys go get Rob!" My back was hurting and I was thinking that if I had duck tape in my sled bag I would have taped it to give it support. I found a candy bar in my sled bag and I was starting to feel good about things again. Ok I might have blown an hour or so with the whole mill and main street disaster, but I was back on the trail. I started to think "man Rob must be flying with Ace in lead" Ace was a leader that he borrowed from the twins, it was Rob's first time running him. I kept thinking that I would see him over the next little hill. About halfway into the power lines I started to think "He must have taken that other right hand turn." then I started to feel like crap because he came to my rescue and I abandoned him. I kept trying to reassure myself that he was ahead of me and Ace was just flying along. I came to the end of the power line trail and the sweeper was sitting on his snow machine waiting for me. I asked him how far ahead my friend was and he told me that he was not ahead of me. I wanted to cry. I told him where he went wrong and I asked him if he could go find him. Instead he followed me on his machine, all the while I was getting madder and madder because he would not go find Rob. I saw that I had to take a right but my team did not listen and they went straight. I threw down my hook and went to turn my team around when the man said "You are going the wrong way!" and I replied with "NO SHIT!" crap "Uh, I mean I know, I'm turning them around. Can you please go help my friend?" I headed down the right trail and he kept following me. I came to a road where I had to go left. The guy stopped and told me that I should be fine from that point on and he said he was going to get Rob. I went up a hill and turned right onto the trail. There was trail help there and they told me that I had gone 10 miles and I would be on my own for the last 20 miles.
It was a very lonely trail. My back hurt so bad and I was so tired. My dogs seemed tired too, they had slowed down. I'm sure that they were tired both mentally and physically. I spent the whole time wishing that I was running with either Scott or Rob, everything was so quiet. Then up ahead a saw a man walking towards me. As I got closer I saw that he was extremely handsome. He was not dressed well for the cold weather though, he had on regular pants with a wool hunting jacket he did not have on a hat or gloves. I found that very strange. I was embarrassed and I felt myself try and fix my hair even though it was all under my hat. I looked right at his face and I thought "this is the most handsome man I have ever seen" and then he said to me "Looking good!" which I knew was a lie because the dogs were practically walking. He just kept walking down the trail and I turned a couple of times to see if I could still see him. I found it very strange, but I shrugged it off and kept going.
I came to the part of the trail were we had to run down logging roads. It was all ice and a little hilly. Things seemed to be going good when all of a sudden Ember fell over and was dragged. I stopped the team, and they seemed content to rest for a minute. I stood Ember back up, and he fell over again. I checked him all over and he seemed fine. I figured he needed a break, so I put him on my sled bag. It was hard to maneuver the logging roads with a dog on the sled, but it all worked out fine. The next part of the trail was very different than the roads. It was a snow mobile trail that was raised in the middle with loosely packed snow and ditches along either side of the trail. I had to fight with the sled to keep it in the middle of the trail, it kept sliding down into the ditch and I would wrestle it back onto the top of the trail. I did this for a long time when finally I gave up and told Ember "listen pal I really need you to go back on the team and work for mommy!" I hooked him back up and he started pulling right away, he was recharged after his rest.
I found a wooden cross country ski pole on the ground and I figured I would be a good sport and pick it up for the person who lost it. Sometimes a musher will use one to "pole" meaning they use it to push off while going down the trail. I tried doing just that, but the pole was for someone taller than me. I tied the pole on top of my sled bag and continued down the trail. The trail went to the right and it started going up. It felt like we were going up forever. My dogs had given up on pulling me up this hill and I had to get off and walk. I looked to my left and I saw my dog truck! I could not believe it, we were at the finish. I was so excited. It was the only truck there and I could not believe that everyone else already left. Could it be that late? Where was Scott and his dogs? I could not see any sign of him. Yet there was my truck. Where the heck is the finish line? I kept thinking that the trail would go around to the left and we would come to the truck, but we just kept getting further and further away. Then it dawned on me that I was hallucinating. It all made sense. The very handsome man, my dog truck. Just great.
We finally came to the top of the hill and I got ready for the long awaited down hill, but it never came. What a cruel cruel joke to throw in such a long up hill at the end of a race and then to never have a down hill. Jeez. All of a sudden I heard Scott yell "That's it guys go to the truck!" and my dogs picked up. I must be hallucinating again. Scott would have finished hours ago, yet I saw my dogs respond to his voice.
The trail was going along in the woods when I saw a big moose standing to the left of the trail. Knowing that it was a hallucination I looked at him and admired his beauty and I did not worry about it. I looked at my team and saw Kasper's eyes get big, and the team picked up the pace. We flew past the moose and kept going at a fast pace for a while. Good boy Kasper, and to think I thought I was seeing things again. Unfortunately the fast pace did not stay with us, we went right back into our very slow trot.
It was starting to get dark out and I was really wishing that I had a watch on. I was worried about Rob and his team, I knew that he would end up finishing the race in the dark. The last part of the trail was narrow as it winded through the woods. I was watching my team when all of a sudden my leaders disappeared down a drop off, then the whole team was gone, and I was airborne. I landed up right on my runners but I was thrown forward, the ski pole that I picked up slid out of my sled, stuck into the snow, and the wind was knocked out of me as I impaled myself on the ski pole. Tears welled up in my eyes and I started swearing "That is what I f*cking get for trying to be a f*cking good Samaritan!" I guess the back pain I was feeling was not good enough, I now had a wonderful stomach ache to go with my back pain.
About the time I stopped grumbling about nearly killing myself I saw that I was almost to the finish line. I could not believe it. It felt like I had run 50 miles, and I was so happy that it was over with. As I came closer to the finish line I saw that someone had strung up a dead dog at the finish line. What the heck kind of a sick joke is this! I was asking Scott why there was a dead dog hanging on a pole and he was not answering me. It was horrible, it looked just like Gynger and I wanted to know who's dog it was. I was going on and on like a crazy person when Scott told me that it was a hunter's camp and it was a coyote. I was so disgusted!
We took care of my dogs, and I told everyone what had happened. Scott did not finish as well as we had hoped. Maybe his dogs sensed all the trouble I was having. It was Scott that I heard when I crested the top of the hill. Scott's mother did get a partial message about an Alexander being hurt and wanting to scratch. Good thing I was not still sitting in the center of town with my screaming dogs! Scott had told her that we were sorry about the mix-up and he had sent her home before I came into the finish line.
We moved the truck to the finish line so that we could wait for Rob without having to stand outside in the cold. I was so glad to see Rob come into the finish line and all the dogs looked ok. We tended to his dogs and helped him pack up. Everyone was trying to get us to stay over night, but we had planned on just driving home. We decided that we would stop for dinner at a place up the road from the mill. While eating our food some locals asked us if we were there for the dog sled race. We told them that we were. One of the locals told us that he had heard that there was two teams running down Main Street and he wanted to know if we knew anything about that. Rob and I both looked down at our food and told them that we did not know anything about that.