Eagle Cap Extreme ~ Part 1

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To put the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race into words, seems impossible, but now almost a month after my first 100 mile race, I am, inevitably, on the way to my second 100 mile race, stuck in a parking lot with my truck leaking fluid, and have a chance to write about the incredible mental journey, that is the Eagle Cap Extreme.

• • •

The vet checks were on a Wednesday, January 17th.
The main street of Joseph OR was packed with trucks, people, and, most importantly, dogs.

Each team going into a mid-distance race is required to be checked over by the vet team before they are approved for a race.
Our vet check was smooth, and presented no issues with the team. We were clear to race!

The race start was on Thursday the 18th, and it was probably the muddiest start I have ever seen.
The parking lot was packed with kids from local schools, and Mushers getting there teams ready. I honestly can’t remember how many handmade posters I signed. It’s awesome how the race includes the local community so much.

They ran the team’s up a small rise and into the starting chute, where we waited for our countdown to reach zero. The chute was slush, ice, and water, and ended in a corner that turned you onto the course.
All remember thinking was ‘don’t tip over, don’t tip over, just make the corner.’.

On the first part of the course, the snow was fairly soft. On the way up to Salt Creek Summit, there were some sections of bare ground, and rocks.
The only good thing about that, was that the area a Musher slid off the trail last year due to ice, was bare this year, so not having traction wasn’t an issue!

Once through Salt Creek Summit, which is 10 miles out, we drop down off the other side.
At the bottom of the hill, teams cross a bridge, that leads directly into a steep embankment, and a sharp left turn at the top.

I headed across the bridge, and noticed two Mushers stopped directly after the turn. I put on my brake so not to crowd, as I was sure they were fixing a mishap in a team. Unfortunately, my leaders had already taken the embankment, and had reached the top, while the back of the team, (aka, Yours truly) was still at the bottom.

After the other team’s moved on, my dogs were still fresh and ready to roll, so cutting that corner was not a hard decision for them.
Though it effectively dragged the rest of the team, (and myself) off the trail.

The thing about deep, soft, snow, is that it’s hard to walk in, and maneuver in, and lift heavy things in. And nearly impossible to set a snowhook in properly.

Thus I found myself in the predicament of not being able to leave the back of the sled to lift it back onto the trail. So at this point, I did the only logical thing I could think of.
I tied my snubline, (and effectively, my team) to the most minuscule, smallest, itty bitty baby sapling that was within reach. Not only that, but I tied my snubline to this sapling in the most complicated slip knot I have ever learned. Logically.

It was about this time that another musher drove by with his 200 mile team, and offered a hand.
I waved him by, certain I could figure it out by myself, and not wanting to make a dent in anyone else’s race.

And then the dogs and I began to slowly work the sled back up onto the trail.

And away from my twig.

Those of you who are veteran Mushers, can probably already see where this is going.
Fortunately, I did too.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do about it, so I just kept going. And getting farther from this tiny tree that my very long snubline was tied to. In a very complicated knot, (I’m going to give up calling it a slip knot at this point).
I blame this on my Rookie Musher logic.

After then getting within a few feet of the trail, I climbed up onto the trail, and proceeded to attempt to haul my sled up onto the trail.

Let’s just take a moment to look at this scene.
I weigh about 110lbs. I’m a pretty small human.
Now my sled, which weighs 35lbs without the bag, is packed full of all my emergency trail gear. My cooker and Heet, dogfood, etc.
so this thing is not a walk in the park to carry.

As I’m Scrambling to, (A) Pull the sled onto the trail, and (B) keep my footing at the same time, another team pulled up behind where my team was off the trail.
I asked if he wanted to head by, and, thankfully, he said no.

It took the two of us tugging and hauling to get my sled back onto the trail. The Musher then ran back to my… okay, I’m going to be nice to myself here, and just say, ‘my interestingly tied knot’.

He then began the process of undoing the rope, and released us from the sapling. The dogs, who had been out of there minds with confusion about why I was not letting them go, shot off, tugging their harnesses with the urgency of ‘catch those teams!’.

I big thank you to the other Musher.

The trail was uneventful for the majority of the race, though the views offered wonderful entertainment for the mind!

The intent going into the Eagle Cap, was to enjoy our time, stay positive, happy, have fun, and to come into the finish line with a healthy team. So we took our time, with myself spending most of my time on the brake and the dragmat to keep the team at a slow, sustainable pace throughout the race. We went smoothly along for a ways, at which point I stopped to snack and give pats of praise and encouragement.

Another team cruised past, and we exchange nods and words of hello and encouragement amidst the blowing wind and snow on top of the mountain.

With the dogs snacked and briefly rested, we cruised on into the fading light.

Now the impression is, that when you are nearing the checkpoint, Ollokot, you are approaching downhill. The impression is not, that this downhill, is indeed 20 miles long.

So you being this decent and feel this lightening of your heart as your mind, which is numb from sleepiness, and hardship, exclaims, yippee!!! We’re almost there!!!!’.

Which is indeed, not the case.

The hill JUST KEPT GOING. On and on it went, the snow falling just enough to make seeing more challenging. We passed a few teams and went on into the night.

When we hit bare pavement at the bottom of the hill, I was very confused, wondering if maybe I had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but I decided we should keep running. I knew I had been paying close attention to trail markers, and that if, by chance I had taken a wrong turn we couldn’t be that far from the Checkpoint and eventually they would send someone out to get us if I went to far.

Before long I could see headlights moving across the river where Mushers had their team’s camped. We pulled into Ollokot and signed in, picking up our drop bags, and were lead to our spot.

Thus commenced our first checkpoint.


To Be Continued…