Thursday, February 23, 2006

Yukon Quest Day 7 and 8: Dawson - Tears of a Clown

Dawson cont'd
"Dawson to me is the dogmushing Mecca of the North." I spoke these words after receiving the rookie of the year award for the Percy DeWolfe race a few years back, a beautiful handcrafted parky by a lady named Mary from Moosehide. Dawson is why we've participated in the Quest so often, it really holds a special place in my heart. It's history has left an immense aura over the area that is felt on a daily basis. One of my great literary hero's cabin resides on a hill above town- Mr. Robert Service. He certainly was right-- strange things do happen, not only underneath the midnight sun but a winter's full moon.

Numerous friends from the Annie Lake area were there to help take care of the pooches during our layover. Dr. Paul Geoffrion, Charles Nadeau, his daughter Kim and son Alex as well as Pascal, a cousin. My feet were in major pain upon our early morning arrival thus all of these folks help was a godsend. Not only feeding the dogs but massaging as well as putting ointments on their feet to help aid in healing. As usual Tamra was in charge showing off all the techniques she learned attending doggie massage guru Wes Rau's class earlier this year. The dogs were still being finicky eating so we went into town buying up all the delicious chicken we could find, along with the beaver and various other treats we had even their appetites eventually came around.
During the vet check some splits and sore shoulders were determined to be the main focus: provodone for the feet and massages were decided to be best form of treatment to aid in recovery.

Omen (above), Mahoosic, Flame, and Maestro were all doing well and feeling Perky. Piccalo who I had previously carried in the sled was now well rested with a webcrack on his front right toe that we were attending to as best we could. Titan, my main man was tired upon arrival, having lead by himself over the last stretch but chowing down a bunch of chicken helped to re-energize his spirits.
Blondie (left) was eating well. Her feet were being administered to as well though she was as spunky as ever.

Colby (above) was eating well too and in good spirits except when she was being yanked on from behind unexpectedly. And that's where we come to the crux of my animosity. Tamra and I stared in disbelief when one of the vets, coming off of a 12 hour break accidently pulled her shoulder from behind while his body was on her back legs. It's not very hard to piss off this little ball of dynamite as she automatically began growling at him. "Oh, I'm sorry, that must have hurt." was his sheepish reply. By this time the head vet would barely give me the time of day and decided it was best not to personally look at our dogs to "prevent the question of personal vendetta" - her words. So she had her 'good friend' look at our team. This vet wasn't even on the Quest's official roster - he was actually one of Saul Turner's handlers before he was forced to scratch at Mile 101. During the vet check he was looking at Maestro and saying "Have you been massaging this shoulder?" When Tamra would reply "Yes, just an hour ago", he'd say "but the fur's not wet". Tamra kept saying, "we use 10 squared racing Zalox - it's a cream so it doesn't stay on the fur". He must have said at least three times "but its not wet", not listening to what Tamra was saying. I had been warned just before the race by an official from last year's contest that this woman in charge was out to get me. In fact she had told this official last year during the race, while I was in 1st place nearing the finish I might add, that she'll get that ------- hippie musher. Numerous officials on last year's race refused to return because of numerous actions she had carried out. In fact some in this year's race didn't care for her negative attitude as well. There's a big difference between the two major races-- in the Iditarod officials and vets are more low-key , they've been around the block numerous times. The Quest is a soap opera where these folks need to be an integral part of the action, often determining the final finishing positions of various mushers through their actions. By the way where was Vern Starks?

The officials and mushers had a closed door meeting to determine the remaining part of the race. Due to lack of snow it was decided that the course would be run to Pelly and then back to Dawson. It was a close vote but Dawson, which I had written down had won. I was excited and pumped to get back out on the trail. My #1 hero is no mere dogman- he was a mountain man whose literary novels are what fueled my desire to migrate to the north. He was a man who loved to run and play in the mtns. for the sheer joy of it, it was his way of showing respect to the creator for all of the beauty that we are so lucky to be a part of-- his name was John Muir. From Dawson to Pelly and back 3/4's of the terrain is hilly- King Solomon's Dome here we come!! We couldn't wait to get up in those mtns.- we'll be seeing you down the trail soon boys and girls.

Tamra and I spent the last few hours running around town picking up more supplies including socks and runner plastic. She even surprised me with a brand new anorak for good luck. We quickly stopped by the hotel so that I could change into my racing outfit- if only we knew what lay ahead. Returning to the campground we were impressed with the job Paul, Charles and Pascal had done fixing up the sled- it looked almost brand new. Alex was cutting firewood while Kim was in the tent organizing things. I cannot express fully enough my heartfelt thanks to these kind people, the 36 hr. layover is quite a busy day and a half for any handler. Looking downriver I noticed that the head official's vehicle was parked next to our area, I thought nothing of it since they had been hanging out there earlier in the day making jokes about being pulled over by the local RCMP the night before. Judge Tetz asked Tamra and I to come with them. "Here's the deal Hugh I've got a withdrawal slip with your name on it sitting on the dashboard", the Race Marshall blurted out in an authortative voice. We were stunned, there were issues but this statement coming out of nowhere just hours before we're set to leave? Why wait until the last minute to throw this at us. Here we are running around in circles all day making sure the team was properly outfitted for the next section of trail while our future is being secretly devised without any of our knowledge or input. "Or you have the option of waiting 18 hours and we'll go from there..." Considering that the team had just made up a few hours on our closest competitors by their solid run I was perplexed by their actions. Had they been watching how well the dogs had been eating in the last 12 hours? How they were towing Alex around like a ragdoll. There were no limpers, all were confidently running down the road during their walks. Sure, we had a couple foot issues to deal with but what teams didn't have problems after the trail we'd just covered. (Except The Incredible Lance Mackey's of course) Where were all of the vets when one of the top teams came in with dogs limping and diahrea everywhere- not one was to be seen at the Dawson halfway chute. Heck, I'd seen a bunch of teams come in with a pooch in the sled, trail weary animals are why we have the 36 hour layover in the 1st place. We would have agreed to a four hour wait but 18 seemed excessive. It's understandable that with only eight dogs they were worried though I saw numerous teams leave with only 9. Might I remind the reader that my rookie year I travelled with only seven dogs for over seven hundred miles having only started with ten. Joe May once told me that he could take a solid small team of dogs around the world. At the time I laughed, through experience I believe him now.

I'd been warned that certain people were 'wishy-washy' and easily coerced into doing things yet little did I realize how prophetic this statement would be. The saddest part for us was there was no discussion about this with the vets during their inspection and no negotiating the situation, much like the teams back at Mile 101, we were basically forced into a corner. What happened to the notion of vets and mushers working together to get healthy dogs to the finish line? One of the officials whispered, "you can still make 3,ooo dollars ya know." "This is B.S." was Tamra's reply. Though we might be 35 thousand in the hole 'selling out' is not part of the way we approach this life. Believe it or not buddy not all of us mushers worship the almighty dollar. There's been so much squawking by the higher echeleon mushers about raising the race purse these last few years that its literally destroying the whole purpose, the SPIRIT of why this race began in the 1st place. We were being ramroded and there was nothing we could do but sign the dotted line and get away from this circus-- this was a sick joke that unfortunately is now our reality. I'll never forget the look on Maestro a blonde five year old wheel dog with 4 one thousand milers under his belt, face as he was loaded into the dogbox, "What's going on boss- this isn't the usual routine." While packing the dogs into the sled Dave Dalton passed by with his team, a perplexed look on his face, "Hey wait, what 's going on?" Then Cor Guimond and later Wayne Hall stopped by to chat. It meant alot to me that these men, sourdoughs to the core, actually cared how we were. As for the race vets and officials they just looked away or at the ground as if we didn't exist anymore. Don't worry about us though folks we're still alive and kicking-- if you wanna worry about something worry about the Quest. Especially those of you who spend your free time or extra cash helping to support this event. Hopefully someone out there will thoroughly investigate all that has occurred to leave such a bad taste in so many mushers mouths this past contest. Are the people presently in charge concerned any more with what this race is really about or where their next paycheck is coming from? Any of you who attended the opening banquet in Fairbanks realize that from the very start the managing of this year's Quest has been a major JOKE. Though well intentioned the opening banquet was a humiliating experience. Mushers were paraded and auctioned up on stage as if we were slaves, as we were barely given any time to talk about the most important thing: Our DAWGS. It's no wonder half the crowd was gone within an hour- embarrassing to say the least.

Sure Mother Nature was a bit wild this year but well thought out, objective decisions were a rarity. As in the past my family's name might be smeared on the internet and in papers but I'm willing to sacrifice my self-esteem so that others may be enlightened of this crazy situation. Hey that's why most of us love the Quest- it's " Outdoor Theater at its Finest" unfortunately this year we weren't given a chance to write a happy ending. Oh, well hopefully that's what the Iditarod or Kobuk 440 is for. I was actually quite giddy and full of energy upon our return to Annie Lake the following day. If you've ever been to our place you'd know why- we live in 'Heaven on Earth'. That evening as we watched a movie on the boob tube I sat back and smiled. As usual we had about ten dogs laying on various pieces of furniture snoozing away. Elfin, our adopted black cat was purring away on my lap as Tamra dozed on my shoulder. For some strange reason I felt content. Sure there was a hollow numbness not being out on the trail. But there's worse predicaments in this world to be in. I'm surrounded by love and that's what matters the most. Others may judge me by an article they read in the paper or some Adam Killick novel. Admittedly I've done some foolish things in the past (my apologies to Doug Harris) yet isn't this world about change, about overcoming obstacles to better oneself as well as the community around them? Where is that "Code of The North" nowadays? Who knows what the future holds in store for Laughing Eyes Kennel but I'll tell ya one thing: We're keeping 'Hope Alive'. For the Vision that brought this silly cityslicker to the North so many moons ago still remains - A Vision not of Dogracing but of becoming a more complete Dogman, better neighbor-- a true "son of the North". My congrats to Lance and everyone else that completed the race- it's one for the memory books that's for sure.

Enjoy the View, Hugh
p.s.: The above account is to the best of my recollection. No harm was intended upon any particpants, officials or vets involved with this year's race. We're simply trying to portray our version of events so that others might understand the situation set forth upon us and our reasons for not continuing on in a race where we believe we were being unfairly treated.


At 7:44 PM , Blogger barbarawoodland said...

I remember following that race on the net and thinking that you had got served a plate of BS and I was pissed..., what musher would take the risk of heading down the trail with dogs he knew would fail him... need I say more about officials.


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