We are back in racing 😃
It’s almost ten years ago that Yvonne started to work with sled dogs professionally. At that time she was mainly training race dogs for long distance races. And even if she also had some nice tours with guests those of you who know her also know that being out with the dogs alone for hours and hours is what makes her really happy. Of course, the last years when we started to build up our own kennel there were no possibilities to even think of racing. But when we got the invitation to take part in Metsjövidda Fjällrace organized by long distance world champion Petter Karlsson it was no question that we would love to do this.
Initially we planned to take part with two teams to give a lot of dogs new experiences, one team on 320km and the team with the younger dogs on 240km. In autumn we could more or less train according to these plans but when the snow came it got more difficult. Even if it was very cold for relatively long periods already in October and November we still had crazy much overflow on the lakes the whole December and rivers were not frozen. So a lot of trails were not possible to drive and when we wanted to do long trainings we had to repeat the same trails all the time and rest was often in the kennel.
Anyway until Christmas we were quite sure that everything will go like planned. But suddenly we had to think new. Rafiki started to limp, independent from training or tour, probably after jumping down from the dog house. We checked him and couldn’t find the reason, it looked like he had no pain and he was still running and jumping like crazy. But when he stood still you could see that he didn’t have weight on his back right foot. And since it didn’t get better after a few days we went to the vet in the beginning of the new year. The diagnosis was a chock. He has a fracture of the cruciate ligament. One of the most complicated surgeries on dogs with unpredictable future. When we were at the specialist vet clinic for the pre surgery examination they clearly let me know that most owners decide to put the dog to sleep instead of paying a lot of money for a surgery with an unknown result. That is of course absolutely no option for us. So, now we are waiting for the surgery, which is planned for the first of February, and try to keep Rafiki as calm as possible. But he is crazy, even if he lives inside now and is on the leash when we go out, he wants to run and jump. But of course, he was out of the team for racing.
At the same time our main leader Barolo started to eat very badly. Probably because his partner Ruby was in heat and they couldn’t be together. We could try whatever we want, he didn’t take it. And of course he was loosing weight. So, it was questionable if our most important dog could start at the race.
Then right after New Year we got a week with temperatures down to minus -40°. Not only that we spent our time fighting against freezing water pipes and trying to keep the house warm – that means not to be under +10° inside 🥶 – with those temperatures it was also not possible to do more long training runs.
So, we had to think about our race plans. It was even in question if we can race at all but since we trained a lot and were really looking forward to it we decided that we want to start, at least with one team.
Since Rafiki was out we decided to fill up the team with Ruby who was planned to be the leader of the yearling team and Max, at the moment the most promising dog of the five yearlings. We also decided to shorten the distance to 240km so that it is manageable for Max too.
On Saturday we finally set the team together: Barolo and Ruby as main leaders, Max and Mavas as the promising youngsters, Timon, Pumba and Zazu as the always happy dogs and Luna and Stella as motivators and little engines in the back.
So, the weekend we spent with cutting and packing snacks, preparing booties in the correct sizes for exactly this team composition, check and pack all the equipment, etc.
On Monday we drove to Slussfors were it was cold, -29° and it was promised to be cold – and windy – also the following days. I was a bit afraid on how my feet and fingers will manage. But anyway, I couldn’t wait to go on the race. Of course, for us it was not a race in the sense of being fastest but to give the dogs the possibility to gain a lot of new experiences.
The start of the race was on Tuesday at nine. Since it is a race among friends there was not a strict starting order, everyone could start as soon as he or she is ready. But if you plan to go not too fast of course you let the teams that you know are going faster start first. So, I went out with my team ten minutes after nine.
Right from the beginning it was an amazing trail, going a bit uphill through the forest and after the first road crossing along some lakes and rivers. In the beginning I passed a few teams and were passed by others, e.g. by Petter who I had supposed to have started before me 😂
The weather was cold but not too cold. I forgot to put a thermometer on the sled but I guess it was -20° or a bit below. There was some wind, but ok at this time. The trail was going up into the mountains and after a while I was alone with my team. The teams in front had some distance to me and also the teams behind, so I couldn’t see anyone and just enjoyed being out with my dogs in such a beautiful area. Of course, you couldn’t see that much of the mountains because it started to snow and was windy but anyway it was great. On one of the mountain tops we passed I tried to film with the GoPro, but since it was cold, it went off immediately. My phone was so deep in my clothes to be protected from the cold that I couldn’t reach it without stopping, so unfortunately I don’t have a lot of pictures or videos of the race. But I have the memories of it in my heart 🥰
My plan was to do a break after 60km before we had to pass a 20km long lake. Before the race Petter told me, that it might be cold down there so that it might be a possibility to rest a bit earlier. I realized a bit too late that there were a little cabin at about 55km where I saw Malin and Lars resting. For a short moment I thought about stopping earlier but since I didn’t feel cold at all I decided to stay with the original plan. The downhill to the lake was a bit like a rollercoaster, really funny trail. When we arrived at about 13:45 there were two teams resting but already in the preparation to start again. I snacked my dogs, put the booties off and made them beds of hay. Then I boiled some water to make a real meal for them. Since it was still in the beginning of the race they were not so eager to take the snacks but everyone was eating something. Some dogs prefer dry food, some meat or fat, some take it with water, some tip over the bowl as soon as they get it. Every dog is individually but as long as you know them and find the correct way for every single dog to make them eating it’s fine. Relatively in the beginning of our rest Malin and Lars were passing and the dogs stood up but after that they took a nap. We had a nice 3,5h rest and indeed it was not that cold. While I was preparing the dogs with booties two more teams passed. We left our resting place at about 17:15 if I remember correct. I supposed that the run over the lake will be boring and slow because usually our dogs are not that fast on lakes – except if you have frozen overflow. But they were extremely motivated running with 15-17km/h. So, after a while we came to the two teams that have passed by before we were out again. Usually Barolo passes a team without interest in the other dogs but this time it was not that easy since there were girls in heat in several teams. During the race it more and more turned out that he was distracted by all these new experiences, new dogs and probably most by the females. So, after having passed the lake we went much slower on the up hill parts because Barolo‘s nose was on the ground all the time 🙈
After a while I got a phone call from Angela, that one of the mushers in front of me has lost a snow hook and that I should be careful not to run over it. After having not seen it for quite a long time I was almost sure that I had passed it already and relaxed a bit and where not searching anymore… and suddenly there it was. I put it on my sled so that no one else had the risk to crash into it.
During the evening the wind and snow got more and on the open spots the trail started to be blown over. Not that it was a problem, because mostly the trail was marked and I had it on the GPS too, but weather got worse. When it was about 5-10km to the checkpoint Danasjö at 120km my GPS was a bit strange and I was not sure if it’s actually showing the right trail (it was always zooming out when I tried to see details). So I somehow managed to take out my phone and checked if I am close to Danasjö. And also saw a message from Angela that due to the weather and upcoming storm the trail is changed (originally it would have been the same way back). But while driving I was too stupid to understand the message. Let’s say, I understood that the trail is changed but not where it goes on. So, I was just hoping that it was meant to be changed after the checkpoint not on the way to it 😉 but it was not that far anymore and after a while I reached Danasjö, I guess around 22:00 or 15 minutes earlier maybe (sorry, I have forgotten the exact times). Again, the dogs got snacks, food and hay and could sleep for a while. Luna was the only one – again – who doesn’t want to lay down. Later on, I discovered that it was the dog coat she was not comfortable with even if she has slept with it on tours already. During the break I tried to get half an hour of sleep myself but I am very, very bad at this and couldn’t turn off my had. After another 3,5h we were starting on the next stage. As said it was not the same way back but an 80km loop coming back to Danasjö and after that half of the loop and going home. Since 80km at once with a part over the mountains in the second half seemed to be a bit much I planned to do another break after about 40km.
The start of this stage was quite ok. After a while you have two bigger lakes again. Not comparable to the 20km from before but anyway some kilometers over lakes. But even here the dogs did a good job and the speed was fine. After the lakes there are some kilometers on forest roads and that was really boring. I had to change the leaders to keep the motivation up. And of course it didn’t help so much that I got a bit tired myself 🥱 so, we went on and after 50km we stopped for another 2,5h rest. After having taken care for the dogs I took my extreme bivy bag and rested on the sled, trying again to get some sleep. If I remember correct it was around 8 when we started again so it was getting daylight again what made it easier for me. Now the next mountain part was waiting. We were a bit slow uphill but constantly moving on, so all in all totally fine. On top of the mountain it was a lot drifting snow and wind but on most parts you could still guess the edges of the trail. Here it was not marked, so to be sure to stay on the right trail I was constantly checking the GPS. But the dogs did great. First Ruby was showing Max how to find an overblown trail, later Barolo took over from Ruby. The last 12km of this stage back to the checkpoint the dogs recognized that they know it and went fast and motivated. Here we met six teams that have started out from the checkpoint and again some passings were not perfect due to crazy dogs 🤣 but we reached Danasjö in an extremely good mood and highly motivated to go on. For a moment I thought about skipping the break here and maybe do it later on the trail, because even if we now had completed 200km I knew that it will be a bit more than 40km back home (I estimated about 50km, in the end it was 59km). So, I gave the dogs another 1,5h break before we started again.
They started good but already after a few hundred meters Barolo and Max didn’t want to run further together. First I tried to change the lead completely but in the end it was Barolo in single lead who brought us further. I did a snack break before the two lakes and after that put Ruby back to Barolo. The snow was more now but still possible to find the trail. The next snack break was on a boring forest road and there the dogs were not so motivated to go on but did it. Unfortunately only a few minutes later, short before the next lake, my headlight battery broke down (probably because of the cold the upper part with the cable got off the battery itself), so I suddenly had no light until I picked the extra battery out of the sled. And this time the dogs used to roll together and sleep. I gave them a lot of extra snacks what they took really good but anyway I was forced to give them a break. I checked the GPS and saw that it shows exactly 240km. Maybe the dogs took the distance too seriously and haven’t understood that the changed trail was a bit longer 😉🙈 By the way, also my phone battery got empty even if I had charged it in between and tried to hold it warm under several layers of clothes. So, I was a bit nervous about my GPS. Since it was so cold it showed only one of four possible lines for the battery immediately after you put in fresh charged ones. Until this part of the race they had anyway lasted long but after one light battery was broken and my phone off, I was afraid to also loose my GPS because the weather got worse and I was not sure if it will be possible to see the trail or markers on the next lake and further on.
After about three hours Petter who was on the last part of the 320km came and passed me and behind him the dogs were eager to run again. So we did the last 20km together and reached the finish line short before 23:00. I can’t imagine a better support for me and the dogs 😉
The dogs did a great job over the whole race. Especially our yearling Max did great, learned to eat during the race and was still happy at the finish. Of course that applies also to the „Rangers“ Timon, Pumba and Zazu. Even after the finish it seemed that Pumba just want to go on. But of course all are superheroes, running through difficult conditions in an area they have never been, meeting many new teams and dealing with so many new experiences. It was a great training and preparation for the future.
I am extremely thankful that I got the chance to take part in the race. It’s such a nice area that you are passing and it was absolutely great to experience this together with our own dogs. A big, big thank you to Petter and Angela for the invitation, organization and support.
And of course, I am also thankful, that Raffi was my handler, trying to make sure that I eat and drink enough and possibly get some sleep. Not an easy task with me, I know 🙈
Now we are looking forward to the rest of the winter season and already make plans for the next year.
As written I have almost no videos or pictures from the race but you can see a short reel on our Instagram account.