If you are a patron, you may have seen the Solstice 50 Recap I did that talks about the prep, the trails, the reflection of last year’s race, and more! If you haven’t seen it yet you can find it at patreon.com/ataokennel. You can see an especially in-depth breakdown if you are an Adventure Advocate + patron!
Here on the blog, I’ll do a breakdown of how the race went for each of the twelve ATAO racers– Who are, of course, the reason we are all here!
The Stay Home Crew
I’m going to start with the four athletes who weren’t in the race. They sat out for various reasons and had their own great day!
Cassidy sat out of this race because a few days before, she was diagnosed with… MANGE! Dun dun dun. But luckily it is a non-contagious form of mange that sometimes occurs in young dogs. The vet and I decided to give her a little less than a week off while her small spots of hairless skin started to recoup. She skipped the race and got some extra love and attention at home. Sarah brought her inside and gave her some cuddles and attention during the race!
Cassidy is sponsored by espy!
Rogue came up with a sore shoulder / tricep after our big 77 mile run the Wednesday before the race. She did really well the whole run and started showing soreness RIGHT when we came into the yard. I immediately started a massage regimen with her, using a specific massage oil that helps bring heat to the affected area. The dogs get full spa treatment! They deserve it. Rogue had had some soreness in this area a few weeks before, so it’s not a surprise the soreness cropped back up. I will be doing thorough massage work with her to keep her shoulder limber and happy up to and through the Copper Basin. She got to skip the Solstice 50. Sarah did massage and brought her inside for some extra attention while the rest of the crew was racing.
Rogue is sponsored by Allyson!
After our misadventure where the team and I briefly separated during a run, the only dog who ended up showing any issue was Rey. She seems to have pulled her back “wrist”… The area between her pad and her back… elbowy thing? This had some swelling like tendonitis. I have been doing continual work with her to help this area heal up. She was able to do the 77 mile run (more important than the short Solstice 50… Which was only about 38 miles!), but I wanted her to rest up after that. She also got inside time and a massage while the rest of the dogs raced!
Rey is sponsored by Cynthia Lovel!
After our big 77 mile run, Nala had a sore shoulder as well. The trail is really hard right now, so these minor sorenesses are not unexpected. Of course I was not thrilled to have three sore dogs but the important thing is that we have time to do great care with them before the Basin. Nala also got a great massage and some well-deserved inside time! Thanks to Sarah for doing so much great care with the dogs.
Nala is sponsored by Will V.!
The Solstice 50 Race Team
The eight dogs who kicked butt in the Solstice 50 with ATAO all deserve awards! We were very happy with our 28th place finish. For a short race (it was only 38 miles instead of 50, because of conditions), we were able to accomplish exactly what we wanted! We got to see the start of a race with all of its commotion; the dogs experienced being passed by other teams; and we kept to our 9.5 avg mph goal almost to a tee. Here is a breakdown of how the dogs each did individually during the race. They are listed in order of lead to wheel dog.
Annie ran lead along with Ophelia for this race. As usual, Annie provided a ton of motivation and excitement to the crew. Annie is shy but she loves to GO. When she’s in harness you’ll find her screaming to GET MOVING! She is extra excited if she’s not in lead– I think being in lead puts a bit of pressure on her– but she is also my most experienced and reliable dog, so I wanted her at the head of the crew for our first race. And with the excitement of a bunch of teams surrounding her, she was pretty amped up. Annie did great guiding the team along the same trail with some new obstacles. Most of all, she was a solid model for the others as we passed teams and were passed by teams. Early in the race, two teams passed us. Annie kept us on track and ready to move again when the teams blew by. Annie also successfully led us around the one team we passed– Which was good because her partner Ophelia was more interested in sniffing! Annie was an all-star for this run, and I was really happy to have her there!
Ophelia ran in lead for about 36 miles of the race. Ophelia is very smart but is also a two-year-old with lots of will and a big desire to test boundaries. This was a good race for her to cut her teeth on. It wasn’t too much responsibility, but it was a learning experience! I won’t say she passed with flying colors, but she did pretty well. Ophelia is going to end up being a hell of a leader– but she is definitely still very young and very full of opinions!
Ophelia was VERY excited to be surrounded by so many dogs. She carried that excitement and drive to a fast start. Ophelia can be not-so-nice to other dogs, which gave me some concern in passing other teams. She has never fully “alligatored” (when a dog reached out and tries to bite a passing dog from another team) which is good, but I am also aware that given free rein, she would totally try to do that. So she and I are working very carefully on this boundary. Part of that work is not setting her up to fail. That includes making sure she is often on the opposite side of any passing team. Since teams pass on the left and are also on your left when you pass head on, Ophelia runs on the right. However, when WE pass a team, that puts Ophelia right next to the other dogs. Our first (and so far only!) pass that we did happened on this race. We went around neighbor Ryne Olson’s yearling team. This was a great team to pass, because Ryne is a friend and I also know and trust her own dog work. As we passed, Annie pulled us by. Ophelia was curious and wanted to sniff the other team, but with a word to go on, she and Annie carried forward. All in all a successful pass! I am hoping to work with some neighbors or with two teams of our own dogs before we do the Copper to get passing down.
The next big obstacle for Ophelia was that we passed by the home trail twice. The first time was fairly easy, even though it was just a few hundred feet from the house. We’d only run a few miles at that point, so the dogs were still full of vim and vinegar. However, when we passed the home trail at mile 34 on the way to the finish, Ophelia particularly was bummed out. She started looking back at me as though to say, “Uh… I think you missed it!” After a couple of miles, once she started running in a more forward direction, I decided to give Rebel a chance to finish up the run. Rebel is always 100% forward oriented, which I love. Ophelia had done a great job; I wanted her to finish up the race not bored and confused up front, but also moving forward with excitement again. When she gets bored up front, I find it’s most successful to move her out of lead. In team, she’s excited to chase whoever is in front of her. We changed to this arrangement, which turned out great for her. She finished the race with a giant grin– And then we mushed our way home!
Ophelia is sponsored by Chris L!
Rebel was an MVP of this race, as she often is. She never stopped working. She ran next to her brother R2. Rebel is short and R2 is tall. Rebel may have to take three steps for every one of R2’s, but she works harder on every step than almost every other dog on the team.
Rebel was switched into lead for the last couple miles of the race, and also ran the last 5 miles home. She was a rockstar up front.
With my young leaders, I end up switching dogs out of that position more than I would with experienced dogs. Being in lead is mentally tough. Rebel led most of the 77 mile run we did, but she did end up finally (for the first time I have ever seen!) getting “tired” of being up there. One of my jobs as the team’s coach is to anticipate when this is about to happen and give the dogs a break. I am lucky to have six dogs who can rotate into the leader spot. Because Rebel had hit a bit of a mental wall at the end of our last run, I didn’t start her for this race. She closed out the run, though, in perfect form.
For the Copper Basin 300, I am likely going to do my first run with Rebel and Annie in lead. I’m contemplating plenty of options, but I feel pretty great about that combination. I think Ophelia is by far my smartest dog, and will become one of the core leaders. She’ll be the head of the team. I think Rebel will be the heart. She is the strongest, go-gettingest, toughest little dog I’ve ever met. I love her. Our team colors are blue and yellow… But I think my key leaders will end up being black and red.
Rebel is sponsored by James Frye!
R2 showed his stuff in swing. This is a great position for him, except for one thing– When we stop, his chewing translates into grabbing the gangline and pulling backwards. This is confusing for the leaders, because he’s strong enough to pull them both backwards! We’re working to change this habit. It’s obviously not great but in a way, I’ve kind of liked dogs who do this… They are smart and they want to GO. That’s R2.
R2 ran most of the race with Rebel. They are a good pair. The only time R2 is not mellow is before we take off or if we stop during a run. Otherwise he is the most mellow dog ever, which I love. He kind of runs mellow too. He’s got a smooth, easy gait. R2 has gotten to be as tall as Ophelia. Often he and Ophelia will run in lead together. They look really nice together. I wish I could breed them, but unfortunately R2 is not capable of passing his genes on!
R2 did not seem swayed by any of the passing teams, or when we passed Ryne’s team. I like his steadiness. Now to just work on not chewing that gangline!
R2 is sponsored by meencat!
Furiosa has the littest legs of any sled dogs I’ve ever seen. She may secretly be part corgi. Hmm. Worth considering! But whatever she is, she works hard. She was paired up with Sundance, who is her #1 running buddy. Furiosa did a great job on this race. She was excited and raring to go. She wore a tee shirt, because she sometimes still gets a little harness rub. She and Sundance were a bit confused by the whole race start. What was happening! Why so many dogs! But once we got going Furiosa figured out what was up. Running!
During the race we stopped once for a snack. That’s a good measure of how the dogs are feeling. Some dogs, just like some people, don’t want to stop and eat while they are on the move. Furiosa is not that kind of dog! She wolfed down her chicken snack and even accepted a second morsel! That was a great sign about how happy she was and how well she was doing.
Furiosa and Sundance are a great pair. They are around the same size and have a good rhythm when they run together. As usual, they were a little happy unit on this race.
Furiosa did very well when the other teams passed as well as when we passed the one team. She also didn’t bat an eye when we passed our home trails. She was focused on going onward! Good girl.
Furiosa is sponsored by Cynthia Lovel!
One thing that Sarah mentioned once is that Sundance is great at pooping on the run. That is true! I have also noticed that she tends to pick one back leg up while she poops. That is quite a feat! She definitely did this on our race.
Sundance was so excited about the race that she hopped over Furiosa a couple of times. She has only recently figured out that she can do this. You’ll often see excited dogs before a race hopping back and forth over their partner. (I’m looking at you, Egret!) So Sundance has finally got this worked out, but she hasn’t gotten to the part where she can figure out how to get back! So at the start of the race, she got onto Furiosa’s left side. Furiosa doesn’t know how to jump over her partner at all, and since Sundance couldn’t figure out how to get back, they were stuck on the opposite side of where they normally run. Sundance is “right handed” and Furiosa is “left handed.” This is part of why they are good running buddies! If they switch sides, Sundance especially will still try to run to the right, which means she and Furiosa end up leaning up against each other like a pair of cards. When the first team passed us, I quickly went up and lifted Sundance back to the right side so she and Furiosa could run like normal people.
Sundance, as you know, has the happiest face in the world. She was no different for our first race. She had a big frosty smile on the whole way. She ate her snack like a champ (you have to eat fast when you are next to Furosa!), and worked hard per usual. She did a great job!
Sundance is sponsored by Calimelissa!
Egret has been really showing her experience the last few weeks. When we started upping miles, she seemed a bit tired, but now she is completing runs and is ready for more. After our 77 mile run, she was one of the dogs who was bouncing around and ready for more by dinner time. The little 38 mile Solstice was a piece of cake!
Egret showed off her suuuuuuper pre-run excitement by getting up to some antics. Egret gets so excited before a run that she does two things: 1. She furiously digs. In the fall, there ends up being big holes in the ground wherever we hooked up Egret. 2. She jumps over her partner. However, her partner for the race was Max and he was too tall for her to easily jump right over so she had to crawl over him. On repeat. Poor Max. He patiently endured her neurosis while a spectator watched with growing amusement. Egret had a method of crawling over Max that was one front paw, then another random paw, then finally a hop which got her over Mt. Max. At one point while we waited to take off, a helpful musher friend tried to intervene in this process, which excited Egret into her third method of coping with the overwhelming YAYYYYYY of a race: jumping! Egret took the opportunity of someone being nearby to jump up and down with so much enthusiasm that the musher (who is a very experienced dog handler) gave up and gave her a gentle but resigned pat. At which point Egret began her crawling-over-Max routine again.
Luckily Egret is good at negotiating the lines that connect harness and dogs, and this ridiculous ritual never ended up in a tangle.
Once we got going, Egret dug in and worked hard, like she does! She and Max are a very good pair. Egret tends to run side to side, back and forth. She probably covers a full third of extra miles compared to everyone else. Down the road, I’d like to try some other harness types to see if that might correct this issue, but for now, it’s how she runs, and she’s pretty happy about it. Sometimes it looks a bit silly! Max helps keep her balanced.
Egret goes from the extreme of being totally bananas at the race start to immediately going into nap mode when we stop. When we get home she always lays down and begins grooming herself and I swear she basically just goes to sleep until it’s time to go back to her house. She is such a good girl she gets to be off leash whenever she wants; she always sticks around. Sometimes I’ll unhook her from the gangline, though, and she’ll just carry on with her nap til I remind her that it’s time to go home!
Egret was as stalwart as ever on this race, and I was very glad to have her strength and enthusiasm.
Egret is sponsored by Jenny Cieplak!
Mad Max is a big, strong, derpy looking dog. On this race, he and Egret were my wheel dogs. They held up their position with valor. Max is a great wheel dog; he has a lot of strength, and his steadiness offsets Egret’s zig-zag running pattern.
Just before the race, Max had been dealing with a little stomach bug. He had done well in the 77 mile run but was definitely pooped after… And I mean that in two ways! But he was ready to rock and roll once he saw all of the other excited dogs around him. Even though he probably felt a little poopy, he ran really hard and kept his tug line tight– an important sign that he was working the whole time.
I was proud of my derpy, sweet guy for doing such a great job even though he might not have felt his best. At the end of the day, when we pulled into the home front, he had a big smile and a wagging tail– Which is all you can ask!
Overall I was super proud of the team. They did a great job and learned some things. They got to experience a race start, the excitement of going into the dog boxes and then getting to run, and finishing a race– including going by home twice (which is not going to be typical of most races but will be “a thing” during the Yukon Quest).
Every run bonds me more to the dogs, and somehow the excitement and adventure of a race is always more so. I’m so excited to get to go on the Copper Basin journey with my team. We’ll come out of it an even stronger pack, looking forward to even more adventures.