The morning of the race we woke up and did last minute prep by loading the truck and trailer with dog gear, mushers gear, handler gear and drop bags. We loaded the dogs into the dog trailer for the short trek to the race start.
The race started at the Pleasant Valley Store (PVS) in Two Rivers, AK. This general store is about 2 miles down the road from our house and also serves as the community post office and ABC store. We arrived around 9am and checked in. Jeff checked in 5th and was given bib #5. He provided proof of vaccinations for each athlete and then got to work with bringing each dog out of the trailer and giving them a meat-soup breakfast that he had prepped prior to leaving the house.
There was a musher meeting held outdoors where the race officials reviewed the trail route, conditions and rules. When Jeff returned from the meeting to our parking spot, he started donning booties while Jeri harnessed and jacketed the dogs. Jeff tied off the sled to the tow hooks on the front of the truck and then started putting the dogs on the gangline. The leaders, Buttercup and Brock, were put on the line first. Bcups immediately started chanting her war cry and got the whole team excited for the first race of the season. The dogs banged in their harnesses, waiting for Jeff to release the sled from the truck.
At 11:30am the first team took off from the start line. Teams approached the start chute in 2 minute intervals. Jeff's start was at 11:38am. When he untethered the sled from the truck, the team shot forward and nearly blew through the start line prematurely. Luckily, the race officials were standing at the start and were able to jump on the sled to hold it back. Jeff was able to set his hook and wait for the countdown. 3-2-1 and they were off!
The first leg of the race which was a little over 50 miles long. The trails were hard packed and a bit icy, making for some very fast traveling. Jeff and the dogs traveled 15 miles of familiar trails before jumping on the frozen Chena River. The wind seemed to pick up a bit on the river but the dogs didn't mind. After nearly 45 minutes of river traveling, the trail followed the Alaskan pipeline for about 10 miles. From here the dogs followed the trail across a few frozen lakes and sloughs before jumping back on overland trails and returning back to the PVS, the only checkpoint of the race.
While Jeff was on the trail, Jeri went back to the house to relieve the babysitter. She fed Atlas, played for a bit and got him down for a nap. While he napped, she had to turn over the Airbnb cabin, feed chickens and dogs, and scoop poop. When she came back inside, there was a text from Jeff's GPS that he was 10 miles from the checkpoint. This was an entire HOUR earlier than anticipated. Atlas had just woken up so she quickly bundled him up and headed back to the checkpoint (also at the PVS). She texted the afternoon babysitter to meet her at the checkpoint to pick up Atlas. She got to the checkpoint just in the knick of time. The FTK team rolled up to the check-in area with 12 wagging tails and a smiling musher. The race officials checked Jeff's sled to make sure he still had all of his mandatory gear and then Jeri helped park the team.
Jeff immediately laid out straw, making a warm bed for each dog. Once the dogs were laying in their beds, Jeff went down the line giving each dog a meat snack and removing their booties. Making the dogs a hot meal was the next priority, so Jeff removed his dog food cooker from his sled and began boiling water to make a meat soup. While the water was heating up, Jeff worked his way down the team again, giving them all a massage and checking for injuries or soreness. As Jeff evaluated Lobben, he seemed to be a bit stiff on his right hind leg. The decision was made to drop him from the race. Jeri loaded him into her vehicle and took him home to rest on the couch.
After a 4 hr rest, The FTK Pack was back on the trails. The last leg was about 38 miles down a familiar trail. This trail was also hard packed and fast. The race route was a “lolipop” which meant on this section, there was a lot of head-on passing. Even with the best leaders, this can be challenging. Thankfully, Brock and Bcups set a good example for the team and they stayed in their lane and did great passing. The team crossed the finish line at 11:17 pm in 7th position, just minutes behind the musher in front of him and less than an hour after the 1st place finisher. Jeri was waiting at the finish and helped load the canines back in their boxes for the quick drive home.
This race was a great way to kick off the racing season and get the dogs used to the chaos of the race start and being around so many other teams. It was also a great way for Jeff to practice his checkpoint routine. We feel very fortunate to have a local organization put on such a fun race to kick off the season.
Special thank you to the Two Rivers Dog Mushing Association (TRDMA), race volunteers, Veterinary team, Pleasant Valley Store, FTK dog sponsors, Nonstop Dogwear, Nonstop Polar, Nature Rapport, Deanna and Stephen Klobucar, Willie and Daniel Vernon, and everyone who has supported and encouraged us along the way!