I (Greg) ran the Solstice 100 race this past weekend. It’s one of the annual races sponsored by the Two Rivers Dog Musher’s Association (TRDMA). While I’ve run another 100 mile race (the first half of the Chatanika Challenge), this was my first “real” 100-miler. It was a fun race, with ideal conditions.
The route is 50 miles one way, then a 4-hour layover at Angel Creek (mile 57 Chena Hot Springs Road), then the same route in reverse. From the starting point at the Pleasant Valley store (mile 22 CHSR), we headed west to trails that Ilana and I use quite a lot, for a loop around the Jenny M. hill, then back east through the extensive (and confusing!) Two Rivers trail system. From there, a road crossing at mile 27 puts us on the winter trail (the Yukon Quest trail), paralleling CHSR all the way to Angel Creek. So, about 30 miles from the road crossing to Angel Creek, and about 20 miles in the Two Rivers trail system.
Temperatures were as high as 10 degrees or so above zero during midday, but mostly were -5 to zero until the return trip, when temps dropped to -15 or so. Very nice weather for mushing. I saw some northern lights on the return trip, though they were faint. This was the shortest day of the year, and in fact I had great views of the sun barely climbing above the horizon (around 11am) and then setting (before 3:00 pm). There was one incredible photo moment when I was heading directly south, with another musher ahead of me, into the midday sun — with the sun barely above the horizon. Too bad I didn’t have a camera.
Overall, I finished #25 out of 27 mushers who completed the race (two mushers scratched during the race, and there was another field of 5 mushers who did a one-way 50 mile race instead). I was quite pleased with my team, and happy with my times: about 5h 25m for the first leg, then about 6h for the second leg. This is a steady pace of 8-10 mph, which is the speed we’ve been training the dogs to run. It was a field of mushing luminaries, including Jodi Bailey, Lance Mackey, Ally Zirkle, and many other competitive mushers. Also some less competitive ones like the StinkyPups. A good time was had by all.
The snow was great — we had some fresh snow that was packed, but not too hard. There was literally zero overflow (open/flowing liquid water), which was a first for my use of the trail to Angel Creek. There was a little open water in the slough (where I took my bath earlier in the year), but the trail bypassed it.
My mush was free of incidents, but I did get to help another musher who lost his team (his main line broke, so his team ran off without him and his sled). The trail was exceptionally well marked.
The team lineup on the way to Angel Creek: Dekker & Chevy in lead, Ahab & Storm, Higgs & Rattles, Rocket, Luke & Spike, and Nikki & Roo.
On the way back: Dekker & Chevy in lead, Nikki & Roo, Rattles & Ahab, Rocket, Luke & Spike, Higgs & Storm.
Dekker & Chevy are very steady leaders. The only dogs who had trouble on the way back were Spike (who seems to be the new Pumpkin: she likes to lollygag, and doesn’t really pull much after she’s tired), and Rattles, whose missing toe seems to be bothering him. Rattles is probably not going to be continuing with hard training for the SerumRun. Back home, Storm was limping a bit, but this isn’t unusual and she did well during the run. We’ll try to find out what’s bothering her over future days.
My last note on this is the incredible amount of time we take to put on booties. Before the race, Ilana and I started to put booties on dogs 40 minutes before my targeted start time, and didn’t finish all 11 dogs before I needed to start. Mid-race in Angel Creek, I allotted 30 minutes for the job, and ended up leaving 10 minutes after my earliest start time, to finish the job. This is for booties on 5 or 6 of our 11 dogs, not all 11. Back home, we only have a few dogs who always get booties (because they have sensitive feet, or get ice balls), while most don’t regularly get booties. So when we try to give booties to more dogs, it’s slow: they don’t cooperate as well, and it’s just a lot of work. This is something we’ll get better/faster with, over time.