Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tobacco Trail 2012 - Part III - "The Start"


The kids are getting dropped and fed several times, being checked by chief vet Annette Johansson, who advises us to use booties as much as possible due to recent fresh snow dump and cold.  
The boy are not really into eating, because Magpie and Snowy are in heat. It worries me a bit, but we´ll have to take it step by step and in the worst case drop the girls in heat.

Frostie, whom I´ve jokingly nicknamed "the old man" as he´s going to be turning 10 years this coming April. Still strong and in a great shape. Funny, when I sometimes hear some mushers calling their eight year olds "old". I know many good distance mushers and teams, whose most accomplished and treasured team members are in what they call the "golden age" - between 7 and 9 years old. 

He´s calm, experienced, good eater with a positive attitude and has never been injured nor had even a tiny cut on his paws. Very good, tough dog. 

Here are some of the boys - right to left. Goosak, then Chilli, who is a bit skinny and it´s been a challenge to put and keep weight on him the whole season. He will wear a coat the entire race, unless it gets really warm, which is not predicted. Then Runner - it´s his first big race, he´s only 3 years old. And last Nugget, Goosak´s brother. 
Thought we´d have more pics of all the kids before the race, but we don´t. 


The first half of the day is filled with registrations, weighing of mandatory dog food rations, vet checks and finally the musher meeting.

We got bib nr.3 and start at 16:04 from the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjaarvi, some 40km outside Kiruna.

Taisto Thorneus, the "father of the race" informs us about tricky parts of the trail and shows different types of trail markers used.

The trails are supposed to be very good, hard packed and fast all the way to the first checkpoint Övre Soppero, then looser and a bit "sandy-like" over the low mountain area on the way from Soppero to checkpoint nr.2 Saivomuotka, on the Finnish border. It is the same way back from there to Övre Soppero, before the last leg to Kiruna.

The total length of the race is measured to be 308km (after the race one of the competitors measured it with GPS and found it a bit longer, actually).

Distances between checkpoints:

Jukkasjaarvi Ice Hotel (start) - Övre Soppero = 61km,

Övre Soppero 1 - Saivomuotka = 77km

Saivomuotka - Övre Soppero 2 = 77km

Övre Soppero 2 - Kiruna, Arena Arctica (finishline) = 93km

Mandatory layovers: 

2hours plus time differential leveling in Övre Soppero 1

6 hours in Saivomuotka

6 hours in Övre Soppero 2


We have to be at the race start 1,5hours in advance, and checks of mandatory equipment will be performed there.

After the meeting, a feeling of panic got me - we needed to feed the dogs a light soup one more time, pack all neatly into the sled, I had to change into racing clothes, grab something to eat and drink, and Jachym cook tea and prepare drinks for my camel bag and thermos, then get to the Ice Hotel on time. 
Luckily, we had most things on place, and thank to making a list in advance, I had the sled packed and ready within 20 minutes.

We got to the starting area right on time, I managed to take a bite in the car on the way there and we had enough time to prepare the sled, lines, snow hooks and all for a start from the truck. I got a compliment from the race marshal who checked the mandatory gear personally, about my nicely organized sled and we joked about the "woman´s touch".  It felt nice to not be called a "freak" for once, but rather get praised :)

We watched the teams of tour operators pass by on the Torne river, big teams with huge sleds, carrying several excited tourists each. These huskies sure work hard and earn their and their musher´ living.

The temperatures dropped quite low and I realized it´s getting seriously cold when I touched a metal part  of my sled and got skin on my hands "freeze burned". 

The sun was setting down and visitors of the ice hotel and many others started to fill up the starting area on the river ice. Many volunteers from the Kiruna sled dog club members have come to give a hand and help the teams safely to the starting chute, which was greatly appreciated.

Waiting. Still relatively patiently...

Grayling is starting to loose his nerves and graps the neckline. Magneto gets all hyped up as well.

Now, knowing all is done, prepared and ready, I was finally calm. Walking up and down the line, calming the kids and having a talk with each one.

Soon, guys, very soon.

Nugget and Goosak getting mad.

Yeah, really beautiful, guys! People will think I run a team of ware-wolves.

The boys were not the only ones getting mad. Snowy looks like no fun to mess with, Tazlina behind her as if she´s just about to take off and get air-borne, while good-ole Magpie belongs to the group of calm, relaxed dogs under any circumstances.

Finally at the starting line. Look how professionally calm Galena and Rapid are. What great lead dogs.


And off we are. Thirteen excited happy campers, on our way for the arctic adventure!

To be continued...

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