Sheep Mountain 300 Champion

 The last race of the season would be this one. Originally it was supposed to be the season opener, and a 150 mile race. But due to this seasons late snowfall, it was cancelled. Thanks for race manager Zack Steer, the race was rescheduled and put on as a 200/300 mile qualifier in the spring, to all those in need, after several race cancelations this season.

After several days with warm weather, wind and snow on every training run, it was pretty amazing to start the race with clear skies, and an amazing Sun Dog as we passed over Gun Sight summit. For those of you, like me, who don't know what a Sun Dog is. Take a look at the picture, it was amazing. I saw this first just as the sun was cresting the mountain, I was completely awe struck. Its much more amazing than in the picture. You have the sun in the middle, surrounded by two rainbows, as the bread around a hot dog.

For the first 80 or so miles of the race, I ran together with Apex co-handler Alex Beutow. This was a lot of fun, as Ive never been running together with anyone like that before. We took it easy, as was the plan, and chatted back and forth between the sleds. Alex, who have been running a puppy team all year, now ran the B-team with a lot of the dogs I ran in the Quest. Still he wasn't super happy about the fact that everybody passed us on the way to the first checkpoint. "I have never not been in last place!" he said. We had a good laugh about it, and enjoyed the warming sun in out faces. We got into the first checkpoint, Lake Louise after 60 miles of running, and somewhat sunburned. Right around noon, and the dogs could rest in the heat of the day. Dogs got quickly fed and taken care of, one burger down my belly, and onto the Musher sleeping cabin. It was hot! 80 degrees Fahrenheit to be more accurate. The sweat was dripping, and I got no sleep at all. If I had a higher IQ, I would have slept on my sled in the warm sun instead, but oh well, school only helped so much..

Lake Louise to Tolsona
In the race, there was a mandatory 4 hour rest at each checkpoint. Meaning you can take more, but not less. I took the minimum everywhere, so after 4 hours I pulled the hook and headed for Tolsona. We where actually going through tolsonna, out on a 25 mille loop and back for rest in the checkpoint. From Lake Louise we had to carry out dropbags of food, as we passed through Tolsona we dropped it off, to lighten the load for the extra loop. Because of the start differential Alex was actually supposed to leave ahead of me from Lake Louise, but for simplicity he waited for me, and let me lead the way. We continued to travel together most of the way to Tolsona. On the way, Meghan Luke of SP Kennels passed me at a loping speed. This was one team I expected to race against, so no surprise on that pass. Closing up on Tolsona, I started to pull ahead of Alex, very slowly. As I came into Tolsona, I saw three teams, including Meghan leave. They had just dropped their bags and was about to start on the 25 mile loop. I did the same, and headed quickly out of the checkpoint to follow them. A few miles down the trail I was about to catch up to Meghan, but got stopped by another team that was blocking the trail at a section of overwater. I decided to stop and see if the problem would be solved quickly, but after a couple of minutes I realized that was a very wrong decision, and passed as best as I could. Tangled teams with no neck lines can be a mess. Only a few miles later I was back at Meghan's runners, and passed smoothly as she stopped to snack her dogs.
On the way out we did a bunch of head on passes of teams that was competing in the 200 mile race, and started first out of Sheep Mountain. I didn't really know if all the teams I passed was in the 200 or 300, so for all I knew I could still be in next to last position. We got into Tolsona around 11pm, got the dogs bedded down and fed. It was pretty bad anchoring at this checkpoint, but the dogs was well trained, and rested from the minute we stopped, to the minute i started attaching tug lines again for leaving. Another burger in my belly, some sleep on the dog bed in the corner (see picture) and out again after 4 hours of rest.

Tolsona to Tyone
I was prepared for this to be a tiring run. Starting out at 3am and running for 70 miles, through Lake Louise picking up my drop bag, and onto the remote checkpoint of Tyone River. The moon was out, and I was luckily wide awake. Me and the dogs decided to "haul ass" and had some very good speeds under the starry skies. I ran up every hill and ski-poled when necessary, but for the most part I wasn't able to help at all, we where going to fast for that. Into Lake Louise I was somewhat concerned, running with dogs I hadn't ran much all season, and stopping at a checkpoint for a couple of minutes, right by our old straw we used on our last camp here. I grabbed my stuff as quickly as possible, and headed for the outbound trail. The dogs tried to follow me as I ran for the drop bags, which was laying right by my straw, but a quick correction and we left without a hitch.

The run to Tyone felt slow. The trail was very slow, and my gps was in my parka, in the sled, so I didn't really know how far I had gone. Talking with Jake later (race judge at the remote checkpoint) he said the trail was completely blown in, when they drove over it few hours ahead of me. The dogs were going through, and it was slow going with a bad trail. We caught Heidi Sutter shortly out of Lake Louise. I still didn't know which position I was in, so when I suddenly didn't see any sled tracks ahead of me, I got worried. I couldn't see Heidi behind me. Had I taken the wrong trail? After a couple of minutes of thinking, and consolidating with the GPS, I figured I was on the right trail, there must be a reason why those trail markers are here (again, I don't have the highest IQ). So, I figured I might just be leading the race. As the sun is rising, Im starting to get hungry. Irritatingly my balaclava has frozen to my beard, and I cant seem to get it off. I try to hold my hand over it, to melt the ice, but to no succsess. Its still pretty cold, so my hands gets freezing quickly and demotivates any complex try at de-icing. I manage to get a couple nuts into my mouth from beneath the balaclava, but thats about it. Figure Ill just wait until the sun warms up more. And, coming into Tyone at 11am, the balaclava has melted and I can get it off. I am also the first musher to arrive, so its a happy moment! At this point, the sun is super warm, and i strip of my wool sweater as I bed down the dogs, and start to melt snow for their meal. As Im feeding my dogs, Heidi pulls in next to me. We chat a bit, before I lay down on my sled for some rest, and further getting more sun burnt in my face. Two hours later Alex shows up with another team, and some time later Meghan shows up as Im about to leave. Right as we pull the hook I hear a big bang, and scream out loud (I am very easily scared). The dogs don't mind this time. One minute later, right as my leader is peeing, a second bang comes. My team gets scared of this, and within half a second they are all in a big ball. At the point, I had no idea what it was. The explanation awaits at the next checkpoint, the millitary was practicing, and it was two plains that broke the speed of sound.

Lake Louise and to the finish
The run into Lake Louise is a nice one, the trail has set up much better now, after several more teams have passed over it. We get a couple of hours in the heat, before the sun gets lower, and a bit colder. Right as I need to put on my headlamp, around 9pm we get into the last checkpoint of the race. Robin and Kate is waiting and cheering as I get in, not before the dogs are fed and I have ordered another burger (!) for myself, I see the second team of Heidi Sutter arrive.
Definitely a good feeling to have. I have gained even more time, and can leave the checkpoint with around hour and a half of a lead. Learning by failing, this time I go to sleep at a couch in the main building, not trying the 80 degree musher sleeping cabin again (it was as warm when we where here under the Copper Basin race, but obviously I had forgotten that). I get some lovely sleep and happy dreams, before its up again. My face is burning from all the sun. The clock is around midnight as I get up, and I get ready for another night run. Sled gets emptied out, leaving everything but the mandatory gear. My neos overshoes, and parka also gets left behind, so I can run more easily. Not to mention it ended up being 25 bellow fahrenheit this night, so I had no choice but to run. At some point I see a pack of, something. At first it looks like a dog team, but its not that, it crosses the trail and heads into the woods. 4-6 animals. Im thinking wolf, but don't really have an idea what it was. I know I saw it, i wasn't that tired. As we hit the highway before Eureka, I stop to snack, and snuggle shortly with each dog. I take a chocolate bar for myself also, the whole team deserved a snacking now. We run along the road for a while, before we start climbing Gun Sight summit, headed for Sheep Mountain lodge and the finish line. As Im on top of the mountain, I suddenly see a light behind me. WHAT? How did that happen. I left hour and a half before Heidi, and we have been running at a good speed, how can she have caught me, its impossible!! I panic, rip of my sealskin mittens and start running like a mad men. This goes on for probably 2 minutes before I realize, impossible, thats exactly what it is. The light I saw is no longer visible, and it was probably a car down on the highway I saw. Back on with the warm mittens, and I can relax. We get down of the mountain, and cruise the last few miles into the finish line. Dogs are barking, and jumping in there harnesses at the finish line, what a beautiful team! The dogs gets some well deserved snuggling, and a couple of hours rest in the dog truck, before a well deserved meal in the sun. Only 3 hours later, Heidi Sutter cruises in to a good second place, followed later by Alex taking third with the B-team and my Quest buddies. Meghan Luke following few minutes behind Alex taking fourth. Congrats to all racers. A very fun race, in beautiful weather and some amazing dogs.

Video from the finish, and feeding are beneath. More photos available at Sheep Mountains 200/300 race FB page.