Well teams are almost in Braeburn and as many of you already know this is where things get unusual. Dogs are going to be trucked to the next checkpoint of Carmacks. And let me say this now, I 100% support the decision to put the safety and welfare of the mushers and dogs first. I know some fans are questioning it, and that makes me a little sad. Hopefully all of us agree that the dogs are priority #1. And I would also hope that everyone would join me in supporting the races when they make these difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions.
If you are not already familiar with the changes, check out the news release announcing the route change. Although highly unusual this is not the first time teams have had to truck. In 2003 the exact same situation caused teams to be trucked between Braeburn and Carmacks. And in 2008 teams were trucked between Two Rivers and 101 Checkpoint. And guess what, Dan was running both years, so we have some experience with this.
Astute tracker addicts have already noticed the race map shows which section is being trucked, so there should be no confusion.
But what does this mean for the mushers?
First a long rest and a chance to get with your truck and handlers and regroup. This means some competitive teams are running straight to Braeburn banking on that extra 12 hour rest to make up for it. And I am sure in the extreme cold not stopping is a pretty attractive option.
But it is not all extra rest and warm trucks – there are also pitfalls. Let me explain. When you are out there on a distance race you and your team need to get into trail mentality. There is a simple single minded beauty to having your whole life packed in a bag in front of you. After running my first 1000 mule race I said it all boiled down to 14 tails and the next mile of trail. So having a major change that disrupts that can actually get you off your pattern. Usually once you leave the starting line you are a self-contained unit, and when you pull your hook at the start if you do not have it you don’t get it; till you pick up drop bags at the next checkpoint. With a chance to go to your truck and regroup comes the opportunity to go to your truck and get completely unorganized. “Gear Explosions”, the phenomena that happens when a musher unpacks everything they so carefully organized in their sled into a huge heap are a real pitfall. Little things can get over-looked in the repacking. Also whatever carefully worked out run rest run schedule you think you might have had gets thrown out the window so you can strategize for the new situation. Yes smart mushers did just that and have already made accommodations for trucking, and the really good mushers will keep focus and stay on task in spite of it. But is will certainly be more challenging to keep that trail mindset from the passenger seat of a truck.
Now the handlers were making that drive already, so what does it mean for them. Well as a handler myself I actually had fun with it. Handling is long hours, tons of coffee, cold cold cold, and a lot of standing around and waiting. Waiting for your musher to show up, and then waiting for your musher to leave, so you can clean up. Cleaning up is the one thing handlers get to do, and they do it at every road accessible checkpoint. And of course handlers get to care for dropped dogs. But what they do NOT get to do is help mushers or handle the actual race team (except for the layover in Dawson). So when teams truck handlers have a chance to get more involved and help support their musher and team in ways that they would not otherwise. One of the most important things handlers can do this year is be supportive and make sure that mushers leave Carmacks as totally prepared as they left the start.