Rancy's Race Reflections - American Dog Derby 2011

Back in Orange County after a 2000 mile roundtrip to Ashton, Idaho....

I must say, running the team at the American Dog Derby was a great experience! The thrill of the race, the exuberance of the dogs, walking around with temps at 2F, chatting with other mushers, driving through snow covered roads in swirling powder, and making friends with the wonderful people of Ashton, Idaho - this was the culmination of months of training and numerous hours of learning from and and about the dogs that made it all worthwhile. The small town of Ashton really got behind this race as we they played host to between 40 - 50 teams in the 100-mile, 60-mile, 45-mile, and 24-mile dog sled race, upholding a legacy that dates back to the first race in 1917. There was also a 7.5 mile junior race as well as a skijor race and a weight pull contest.

The races started off at 5th Street and Main, and headed out of town running an out-and-back trail through the potato fields. The longer races ventured out into the woods, and made it into the borders of Yellowstone National Park before heading back to town. The 6- dog/24-mile race had the most number of entries at 21. Bruce and I, as well as Sheryl O'Rourke (from Bishop, CA) were entered in this race. All of our teams consisted of purebred siberian huskies and if I am not mistaken, there were only 3 other teams amongst all the classes that ran with all siberians  as most of the teams were running alaskan huskies. I definitely had the first time big race jitters on Day 1. I drew bib number 174 and was slated to start out at 17th place. The 100-mile racers went out first, followed by the 60-milers, 45-milers, and then 24-milers, starting out one at a time at exactly 2-minute intervals. Our staging area was on Main Street, where we hooked up the dogs and were led out by our handlers to the starting chute. Temps that morning was probably around 17F or so. While waiting for our turn to get into the chute, I called out to each dog individually – Hey Niko! Hey Blue! Obi! Howl-Howl-Howl! Coalie! Bolt! And they all looked back at me as I called their names. I know they could feel the excitement and I knew that they knew that this was what we have trained for. The starting chute was lined up with spectators, a lot of who were wide-eyed kids. The announcer would give a short bio on the musher and their team as they waited for their turn to start at the chute. Kinda funny but when my  name was announced, the announcer said that "Rancy Reyes is from Costa Mesa, California……She has been running dogs, blah, blah……She is blah, blah…" and there were a few chuckles from the crowd as I waved to him and shouted that  "I'm a HE!!!."

Finally, we are counting down. Matt and Claire are my handlers and holding onto the team. The timer looks to me and says "20 seconds" and then "10 seconds" and everybody starts their chant of "10 – 9 – 8 -." And as I've done dozens of times over the past few months, I called out "Are you guys ready? Okay,  let's go!" and in unison they banged into their harnesses …… and then I realized  that I started them a couple of seconds before we got to "1!" What a dork… I quickly hit the brakes but they were just so powerful that I was just being dragged and the timer told me that it was okay, to go on ahead. And so I  called out "Rock and Roll .... Woo Hoo!!!" and we shot off away from the starting line. I will give you more race trail details later on.

I was much more relaxed on Day 2, although I had a bit of a concern as an announcement was made while I was waiting at the starting chute warning racers that a moose was spotted at around Mile 2. In the end, nobody encountered the moose as it was probably scared  away by a snow mobile that was quickly dispatched to shoo it away from the trail.

We ran on the same course (shorter, of course) as the other race classes and  so there were a lot of passes, both head-on and side-by-side, that occurred. We had some missteps, but nothing major, especially considering that this was by far the most number of passes my team has ever made in one run. It can be a bit intimidating when you've got a team of 8 seemingly wild dogs headed directly towards you at about 15 MPH, but the team did relatively well under those conditions. Not perfect, but we adapted and learned from it.

So how did we do? Well, as I mentioned before, we were not contenders, NOT by a long shot. But nonetheless, we did not come home empty handed as we came home with the coveted Red Lantern Award!!! Funny story – I was talking to a group  of 7 or 8 people after the races, telling them about the dogs, our training in Southern California, etc., and they asked me how we did in the race. I said  "We did great! The dogs had fun and we won the the Red Lantern award!". To which they all enthusiastically cheered – "YAAAY!!!". I then asked them if they knew what that award was for. They all shook their heads, and then I said "it's awarded to the last place finisher" and their expressions all turned sour as a couple of them said "I'm sorry!". But no, I responded, it's okay! I am proud of coming in last as we finished the race and my team did their best. And needless to say, I am proud of the dogs! As it turned out, the race ended up being 12.5 miles per day for a 25-mile total. It was the furthest they  had ever run at any one time and their average speed on Day 1 was faster than any of our training runs at 8 miles or more. And this was only our second time on sleds this season – definitely not bad for a team of urban sled pets! It was also great to meet up with other mushers, some are old friends and I made some new ones. Although we did stand out a little bit, as everyone had their trucks or trailers with dog boxes, while we had our trucks with pickup shells. Heck all I had was an SUV and Henning had his Mr. Mom mini-van. I guess that's why we are urban mushers.

And I must reiterate – the people of Ashton are so friendly and very welcoming. The whole town really gets behind the race and there is truly a lot of  mushing history behind this city and this event. Back in the 30s and 40s, some kids would actually skijor or dog sled to school, as children had to be bussed in from other towns and sometimes that was the preferred mode of transport during the winter as there weren't any snow plows to clear the roads.

Would I do it again? Honestly, I don't know. It did take a lot of time and commitment and racing is not and has never been my priority. Exercising the dogs and having fun with them while educating others about this wonderful sport IS what I am committed to doing, and for others, that can go hand-in-hand with racing. I do know that if there was only one race I would ever do, this had to be it. I am very happy about making this a goal and realizing it. The end itself was very gratifying but the journey to get there was an equally invaluable and rewarding experience.     


Back to training in So. Cal



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