Four months later, I’m finally sitting down to write about the Stinkers’ experience at the Percy DeWolfe 2022.
Firstly, the Stinkers couldn’t have done this race without Catalina stepping in as our handler. Several folks have said “Aw– you don’t need a handler for the Percy,” but I certainly did! Catalina was there for me to help get things set up for the race, and there for me at the end of the race when the StinkyPups finished Red Lantern style.
I also couldn’t have done the race without these fabulous Stinkers:
- Allie & Axel
- Amy-Sue & Justice
- Yukon & Geri
- Snowflake & Timber
The Stinkers had such a fantastic time running the Yukon Quest 100 that we decided to sign up for the Percy at the very last minute. I was waffling about signing up because of the temperature; The Stinkers don’t like to run in warm weather, which is anything above 36F/2.2C.
The Percy DeWolfe 2022 was billed as a 170 mile race; The distance, usually 200 miles, was cut short due to COVID-19. My gps clocked us in at around 160 miles.
The race started in Dawson City on March 3rd, 2022. which is around a 6 hr drive from our house.
On March 2nd, the Stinkers attended their mandatory vet check– where the head vet, and also the race photographer, let me know that Geri had some arthritis developing in one of her front elbows. Everyone else was fine.
That evening Catalina and I attended the mandatory mushers meeting– which was a little bit lively because the race officials told us:
- drinking and smoking (of any kind) were not allowed at the checkpoint;
- the course was put in only a couple of days ago by scouts;
- there may be scouts and various people milling about the checkpoint.
I was going to ask about markers, but I didn’t because I figured all was good. Ha!
Only four mushers signed up for the full race! Nathaniel, Connor, Quince, and myself. A handful of mushers were running the Percy 100.
I drew bib #2 — which meant I was first out (bib #1 is the honorary bib for Percy DeWolfe), and that I was the designated mail carrier. I was pretty excited that the sponsor named on my bib was Alpine Vet Clinic — which is the veterinary clinic we use in town.
On March 3rd Catalina and I arrived at the ice bridge a little early. We were first to arrive and didn’t know where to park, so we hung out in the truck until the race officials arrived. Once parked, we dropped dogs and started bootieing and packing the sled.
As a side note, this was the first time using my tail dragger since the 2014 Copper Basin! And in 2011 Gin Gin I got my foot pinned in the tail dragger and almost broke my leg– needless to say, I was not looking forward to using my tail dragger. Since it was a last minute decision to run the race, I hadn’t practiced with it.
Soon before we were ready to go, the obligatory photograph of the first musher to leave and the mail carrier was taken. And yes, I did have to carry the mail with me the entire way. I stuck it in the crate on my tail dragger– hopefully the mail didn’t get too wet as there was overflow.
And then we were off!
I don’t recall what the temperature was– I think it was a bit warmer than we usually like, but it was below freezing.
I knew that Nathaniel and Connor were going to pass me within the first 20 minutes. This pass occurred while headed up to the scout camp. And this was the first indication of poor trail marking.
Upon approaching an unmarked turn to the right, I saw open water northwest of me, which looked a bit dodgy. I knew that we were supposed to veer off of the Yukon River onto land and go through a camp, but the trail to the camp wasn’t marked. Luckily one of the boys (I don’t remember who I think it was Nathaniel) passed me at this turn-off and I was able to follow him off of the river.
Soon after Connor passed me. Then, going around one of the turns my sled got stuck on a branch protruding from the ground. Uh oh! I must have been stuck for over 10 minutes and then Quince passed me– asked if I was okay, I said “yes.” Finally, around 10 minutes after Quince passed, I was able to get unstuck and off we went.
Once we dropped back onto the Yukon River, the marking was a mixed bag of different types of markers! Some markers were Yukon Quest colored (black and orange), other markers were orange. There was a right turn with Quest markers, which one of the 100 mile mushers took and it was the wrong way. I distinctly remember this turn because I saw the Quest markers and thought, that can’t be the turn, we’re supposed to be going north.
We went on our merry way and were having a super time! I turned on my old ipod and were were rocking out to Rancid and Green Day.
Checkpoint #1 — 40 Mile
The first leg was around 50.7 miles and it took us about 6hrs and 40 minutes to get there — a StinkyPup pace of 7:54mph.
When I got to our spot at the checkpoint, Snowflake was a bit cranky (imagine that!) and she started fighting with Yukon. There were a couple of bystanders right in front of them and I yelled at them to get out of the way because I didn’t want them to get bit. Turns out– the bystanders were the vets and I felt badly that I yelled at them. Oops.
I snacked the dogs, put down straw, and took off booties. I had soup ready in my bucket so I didn’t need to melt water to make soup– but as it turned out, the checkpoint folks had a barrel of melted water for us.
Unfortunately, the lid to my bucket was frozen and I couldn’t get it off with my axe. I asked Quince for help, but he couldn’t get the lid off either, so I asked one of the vets if I could put the bucket in their cabin to let it warm up because the designated musher cabin was locked and I couldn’t get in. The vet said “No, use the musher’s cabin. Connor has been sleeping a long time now and probably wants to get up.”
I tried knocking on the door to the musher’s cabin again and had no luck. I explained to a race official the situation and they too tried knocking on the door of the musher’s cabin. No luck. They finally agreed to put my bucket in the vet cabin so the lid would defrost.
Once the lid thawed, I souped the dogs and wandered around the checkpoint for a bit.
Mandatory rest for this race was a total of 8 hours, so I decided that I’d take four at checkpoint #1 and take another four when I passed through the checkpoint again. I’m not sure how long Nathaniel and Connor were staying, but someone told me that Quince was staying for six hours.
Around 45 minutes before heading out I began getting my sled ready and started bootieing dogs. Nathaniel and Connor had already taken off to run the 60 mile loop. Around 20 minutes before I was ready to leave, Amy-Sue slipped her collar and was running free. My heart sank. Amy-Sue is my shyest dog and doesn’t like to be touched. There’s no way she was going to come back to me. Fuck! I started freaking out and wasn’t sure of what to do. I was sure that Amy had followed Nathaniel and Connor to run the 60 mile loop and that I wasn’t going to see her for a long time.
I spoke to the race officials and vet team. At first someone was going to hop on a snowmachine to see if they could catch her, but then decided that if Amy wouldn’t come to me, there’s no way she would come to them. Then, one of the vets said she saw a set of eyes. It was Amy! She was hanging out where Connor’s team had rested. Amy and I met half-way and she let me catch her. I was SO relieved. Phew!!
After getting Amy-Sue back on the line, I got everyone and everything ready and we were off–sort of. Our total time at the checkpoint was 4.5 hours.
The 60 Mile Loop
The first leg of the race was shared by the Percy 170 mushers as well as the Percy 100 mushers. By the time I left checkpoint #1, the 100 mile mushers had arrived and were settled down for their rest.
The marking of the trail for the first leg of the race was okay in the very beginning, and then marginal after that. For this next leg, when I asked about the markers, I was told that– well — they ran out of markers and put up some willows as markers. OMG. Okay– so let me get this straight– I’m going to follow willows stuck in the snow with no reflectors on them for 60 miles on a poorly groomed trail at night.
Right before I left the checkpoint the checkpoint person who was checking me out told me there weren’t any markers and that there was a trail to the right and the left, and I should take the left trail. Okay– got it.
I bopped down onto the river to find that there were three trails– one to the left, one in the middle, and one to the right. FUCK! Which way was I supposed to go. Seriously, would it have killed anyone to put in some markers?
My team took the middle trail, but I wasn’t sure that this was correct, so I stopped the team. I wanted to head back to the checkpoint to ask the race folks “which way should we go?” but the trail was so tight. There was no way I could turn the team around without a) Snowflake killing everyone and b) getting stuck in snow over my waist. So I waited. I knew that Quince would be starting out in 1.5ish hours, so I was prepared to wait until I saw him so that I could see which way to go.
I sent Greg an InReach message asking him if he knew which way to go because he was watching the tracker. He told me to go north. I didn’t have my compass with me, but my Garmin watch had a compass– if I could figure out how to get to the compass setting.
I must have been in that spot for at least 1/2 hour with the dogs barking and wanting to go. As I was playing around with my watch to find the compass setting, I saw a headlight near the shore. It was one of the 100 mile mushers– Martine– my heroine! Martine yelled to me asking if everything was okay and I said “No, I don’t know which way to go, there are no fucking markers!” It was difficult to hear anything with all of the barking. Martine said that she didn’t know which way to go either, but she’d go ask. She went back up the hill and asked the race folks which way to go; came back down the hill and yelled that I was headed in the right direction. OMG– THANK YOU SO MUCH MARTINE!
Everything was hunky dory. It was night, it was cold– but not too cold, we were mushing on the Yukon River following a trail that was barely marked with non-reflective sticks stuck in the snow– what more could one ask for? Bam. Whoaaaaa. WTF? All of a sudden we were gliding across glare ice. OMG is that water or ice? I’m not sure. Whoaaaaaaaaaa. Where is the fucking trail!?!!
I manage to stop the team. My hooks didn’t work well on the ice. The team was now in a ball and Snowflake wanted to eat everyone. I stayed calm– still wondering if that was water or ice ahead of me. I untangled everyone. I fell several times on the super slippery ice. I was looking for a trail or a marker, which was over to our right. I dragged my leaders toward the right, falling once again. We made it to the trail! Yippie. Ready, let’s go. Off we went.
Eventually we got to the turn around loop which had some willow markers and a lot of side trails. The dogs were doing well. Eventually we came across that section of glare ice again. Right before we hit it I thought to myself, “Oh– the dogs will do fine because now they know where the trail is.” Nope. We slid across the ice in the opposite direction of the trail and ended up in ball. I untangled them and dragged them back to the trail.
At around mile 45 Geri started limping. In retrospect, I think she twisted her ankle while dipping (dipping is when dogs run and eat snow at the same time)– either that or she hurt herself when we went over the glare ice. I stopped the team. Geri didn’t look happy. I decided that she would ride in the sled. While I was rearranging the items in my sled to accommodate Geri, Quince showed up with his team. He asked if everything was okay and I said yes– that I was just bagging a dog. He passed me. Geri jumped out of the the sled several times until she settled down.
Eventually we pulled into the checkpoint where we had a gear check. My gps clocked this run at 57.45 miles with an average StinkyPup speed of 7.3mph and a time just under 8 hours.
I parked the dogs, snacked them, and removed booties. We parked in the same spot, so I didn’t need to give them new straw, but I did put on dog jackets. The vet came over to look at Geri. She didn’t have much advice to give, except that she’d check Geri before I left.
I was super tired and should have wrapped Geri’s wrist with Algyval, a hand warmer, and vet wrap. I did put a shoulder jacket on her with some hand warmers inside. Everyone else was doing well but tired.
I souped the dogs and headed to the musher’s cabin. Quince and his team were getting ready to leave the checkpoint. I was incredibly tired, but couldn’t sleep. I searched my pockets 5 times for my InReach and figured I lost it. On the 6th try I found it and was so relieved. I stoked up the fire, rested for 45 minutes, and then it was time to start getting the dogs ready. My plan was to stay at the checkpoint for four hours. I should have stayed longer.
One thing about the Percy is that you can’t drop dogs. This meant that if Geri wasn’t able to run with the team, that I’d need to carry her in the sled bag for another fifty miles! This is doable, but not fun for any of us.
The vet checked Geri and said she didn’t see anything wrong with her, except for her being tired. I said that Geri looked really unhappy and that she’d ride in the sled; and that this would be her last race. The vet said this was a fine decision.
Also, according to verbal (?) rules, you’re supposed to cross the finish line with a days worth of food for the dogs and something for the musher. I had enough dog food to get us to finish, but not an extra days worth. I had 24 pieces of meat and 1/2 a cooler or water/kibble — which is enough for a 50 mile run. For human food- who knows what I had. I’m not a good eater while mushing, which is something I need to work on.
After packing the sled and bootieing the dogs, we were ready to go. The checkpoint folks pointed to the direction of where we were supposed go, but the dogs missed the turn down to the river. This meant that I had to turn a fairly fresh team around with Geri in the bag. Nope, this wasn’t going to happen with Geri squirming in the bag. Some volunteers helped out. I put Geri on a leash and they held her while I got the team turned around and down the hill. I stopped the team and rushed to packed Geri in the sled. And we were off for our last 50 mile run.
The Final Leg
Around 5 miles from the checkpoint the wind started howling. We found ourselves in a massive windstorm on the Yukon River with no trail, as it had been completely windblown, NO markers, and knowledge that to our right was open water.
Allie and Axel stopped leading. I put Amy-Sue in lead and moved Axel in point position. Allie didn’t want to lead– this was understandable because there was no trail to follow and the wind was blowing hard.
During training this season, the trail was often windblown, so the dogs were used to me stopping the team, running ahead to stomp a trail, and running back to mush them 10 feet and repeat the process. I tried this approach. Nope, Allie did not want to run in lead. I moved her back and worked with Amy-Sue. Amy-Sue was doing it. Yippie Amy-Sue running in single lead in a massive windstorm. Go Amy! Until she decided she had enough and she turned the team around to head back to the checkpoint.
Crap! I was unsure what to do. I knew it was 5 miles back to the warm and comfy checkpoint. I could head back and wait out the storm. I decided I’d try one more time with someone else in lead. I turned the team around and put Justice in solo lead. Justice and I worked together. I’d run ahead of her for a few feet and then run back to the sled to mush a few feet. I really had no idea where the trail was, but I tried to stay in a straight line heading south. This was working. Go Justice! Woohoo!
I honestly don’t remember how long the windstorm lasted for. I remember thinking that if the storm is going to be all day, it’s going to be a LONG 50 miles to the finish.
At some point the checkpoint folks passed me on a snowmachine. I tried following their trail, but the wind blew it in very quickly and soon there wasn’t a trail.
I passed the checkpoint snowmachiners, as they had pulled over to the left for some reason. I yelled to them to put in some trail markers, as this was not safe, especially if I was going to end up mushing in the dark with no trail and no markers and open water. Their response was, “Don’t worry! You’ll make it back before dark.”
Finally, the windstorm died down. We were slogging along, but there was a lot of arguing going on with the dogs. That’s when I realized Kia was in heat. Oh– this was going to be fun (kidding!). I played the dating game with which dogs could run next to each other. Due to Kia being in heat, everyone was arguing and dogs who are usually fine running next to each other were no longer fine running next to each other.
I tried EVERY combination. At one point Axel was wheel and Timber in point (this is unusual because Axel is a lead dog and Timber a wheel dog). Eventually we ended up with something that worked.
By now it was mid-afternoon– which meant it had warmed up and we really slowed down– we were trudging at around 5 miles per hour. At least we were on a visible trail. I stopped the team and told them we were going to have a snack and rest.
We rested for about 45-60 minutes. By now, Geri was feeling much better and refused to ride in the sled bag. I told her that she could run with the team, but if she showed any sign of limping or problems, that she’d go back in the bag. I was unclear if this was allowed (letting Geri run), because the vet left the decision up to me as to whether Geri should ride in the bag or not. I figured that since it was my decision, that it was okay to try Geri out and see how she did. Also, I had told the vet that I was worried about having Geri in the sled for the icy sharp downhill turn at the scout camp. She said I could put Geri back on the line for this section. It was a good decision to have Geri on the line for the icy section, because we dumped and the sled rode on its side for a short bit.
By the time we passed the scout camp, it was dark. At least now there were some markers and there was a trail to follow, and we weren’t too far from the finish.
Around two miles from the finish, I put Geri back in the bag because I was unsure of the race rules. When we got to the finish line we had our mandatory gear check and I snacked the dogs– who were really happy to have their snack. My gps clocked us at 52.17 miles with an average speed of 6.8mph and a moving time just under 8 hours.
Since we were the Red Lantern, there weren’t that many people waiting for us at the finish. Of course, my fabulous handler Catalina was there! and I was super happy that my fellow musher Connor showed up. Debbie was there with an amazing vegan sandwich! Thanks Debbie.
Soon after our arrival to the finish everyone left. That left Catalina and I to put the dogs away and pack up all of the gear into the truck. The tricky part about this was getting the sled on top of the dog box. We tried once and failed. We tried twice and failed. We tried the third time and succeeded! Yes! Catalina drove us to the hotel where the Stinkers slept in their boxes and musher Ilana, once in the motel, quickly fell asleep.
The next day was the awards ceremony, where I took home the Red Lantern.
Overall, I’m happy for the experience. I do wish there was a better trail, or at least some more trail markers!