Sarah Stokey and the 2016 Copper Basin 300: Mendeltna And the Finish Line

This is the last post on my Copper Basin 300 race. 

Dog team overview

The starting line


Meier’s Lake

This was another run that has become fuzzy with time. My feet were cold for a long time and I know that it was tough staying awake in the early hours of the morning. We trudged along, hour after hour, it seemed hardly getting anywhere.

The one thing I do remember is that t took us almost 6 hours to go 30 miles. This was impressively slow. I had wanted to camp halfway through but knew that it really wasn’t realistic given how slow we were moving, so I ended up pulling over earlier then anticipated only a third of the way into the run. I thought perhaps I may need to camp again too given how slow we were moving — so this seemed as good a time as any.

I’d brought straw and laid it out for the dogs. I got my cooker going and prepared a meal but held off on giving it to my dogs; they were tired and I knew wouldn’t be interested. I set my alarm and after about two hours of rest I fed them. I camped longer than expected.

At one point Jason Stewart passed as I was slowly getting ready to leave around 10:30. I told him I was frustrated because we were moving slow and he reminded me that at least we were still in it — many teams had scratched in Sourdough. He said his team was also moving slow and that sometimes that’s just how it goes. He gave me some toe warmers which I gratefully accepted and continued on down the trail. He expected to camp within the hour so I told him I’d see him in a bit.

We were slow to leave. I finally realized that we were just going to move slow and accept that for what it was. I couldn’t fix anything or do anything that would change it.

We mushed through the afternoon and at dusk the team and I descended onto Lake Louise, a pink sky lit up over head. This is worth it. I told myself.  This right here is worth traveling slow and still moving. It was so brilliantly pink and lit up a small hill on the fair side of the lake. 

We mushed past a large Bernese mountain dog who chased across the lake for some time and then found ourselves mushing up a road and then back on the pipeline.

We turned on to the trail near Mendeltna and I started getting tired. I was given a sharp wake up call when the dogs and I passed one of the largest moose I’d ever seen just off the trail. They barked and barked and barked and for awhile it seemed that we had speed again.

After that I sung loudly. Every now and then I’d get completely off key and the dogs would turn around and look at me as if to say hey lady, do you mind being quiet?  

I’d sung a lot on the trail, loudly. My biggest fear throughout the race wasn’t a moose encounter but was having another team come upon me as I belted out Disney songs, 90s pop songs, and show tunes. I would never live it down.

I wa greeted in Mendeltna outside the Checkpoint by Dwayne and Travis who were whistling loudly. They’d written my name in snow on the banks and had made snow angels. They even had signs that said “Go Sarah!” I was flattered, embarassed, and smiling like a lunatic.

The dogs fed off the upbeat atmosphere and pulled into the checkpoint and put on a show, barking and lunging with excitement. “It’s just an act,” I told Travis, half joking. I knew if I asked my little puppies would keep going but that would not be fair.

Travis showed me the checkpoint and I told him that given the long run times I had I was probably staying longer. He confessed he had a conundrum – he needed to be at the finish for Justin and Wyatt in a few hours and also here to pick up after me. In the end, our friend Noah kindly agreed to help us.

Mendeltna was nothing short of amazing. Everything about it was amazing, including the volunteers. My friend Julie, who I met at the race a few years prior, was the checker. Her radiant smile and upbeat attitude was the icing on the cake.

After I took care of my dogs, I went inside. The tables were exquisite and on stool at the bar sat a hairless cat. I gawked. 

“Woah,” I said, not sure if I wasn’t seeing things.

“That’s wild,” Travis said. Ok good – I wasn’t hallucinating.

Travis had ordered a pepperoni pizza and it was ready by the time I got inside. It was the best pizza I think I’ve ever had. Then a friend nearby ordered a burger. Travis saw my eyes light up with delight and ordered one of those too. I ate half of the pizza and half of the burger, which again was heavenly, and then passed out.

I woke when Travis and Dwayne left to say goodbye and feed again. After they left, I curled up on an open couch and told myself I’d sleep for two hours, wake and go. I couldn’t fall asleep. Sphinx, the cat, coming up and walking on me. Finally, as I started drifting off into sleep she jumped on my face in a full on assault. I jumped with panic, despite not being clawed. I was in that half awake state but now was fully alert. Resigned to the fact I wouldn’t sleep, I headed out and bootied my team.

When I went to booty Pippa, the youngest dog on my team, I learned she was sore and so left her with Noah. I left the checkpoint and the team poked along.

The trail paralleled the road and less than a quarter mile from the checkpoint I saw my truck zooming back towards Mendeltna then slow down.

“Who is that?!” Travis yelled out the window.

“It’s me!” I shouted back.

“Damnit! We just missed you.” He said but then drove along, eyeing my team. He followed along for about 3 minutes and then sped off into the night. “See you at the finish!” He called.

Then I was alone again with the dogs and the night. It had started snowing lightly and I couldn’t figure out whether to wrath my rain jacket or my parka. In the end I wore my rain jacket under my parka.

It was a long run into the finish. 

During the early hours of the morning I came across another musher stopped on the trail. I asked how he was doing and he said bad. He couldn’t get his team going. I told him he could follow me and then waited as he got his dogs ready. He started off and followed me, for awhile it seemed promising but after I grew confident in his team I stopped turning around to check and somewhere along the lines we lost them. Although I felt bad for him, there was no way I was turning my team around so we continued down the trail.

The trail was endlessly straight. Mind-numbingly straight. After a few hours I was convinced we were lost but we kept going. On and on. Through a patch of woods, through a clearing. More woods. Another clearing. Always straight. Always able to see miles ahead.

The trail had always been so interesting up until this point that I felt completely let down. What a boring run to end on.

My GPS slowly ticked off the miles. The dogs kept moving. We stopped a lot. We played. We snacked. We kept our spirits up by enjoying each other’s company. I sang loudly and occasionally would hear birds chime in.

We saw a jack rabbit.

And we continued to go straight.

Finally, it ended and we popped out into a road. The team picked up speed and my attitude soared – we were near the finish.

Just kidding!

On and on it went like that, me thinking the finish was just around the corner only to realize it wasn’t. 

When we finally did reach the finish, I was beyond thrilled. There was a crowd to greet me. Travis was whistling with delight and the dogs put on a fine show, coming into the chute.

My mandatory gear was checked by Meret and then we were officially done. We finished in 37th place in 51 hours and 4 minutes. 

The dogs were happy to be at the truck and i was thrilled at the idea of sleep and a warm shower, which I soon got both.All in all, the Copper Basin 300 was a great race and I really learned a lot both about my dogs and myself. Here were some of my key take away points:

  • As long as you are moving, that’s something.
  • Coda would gladly run up front and help lead the team.
  • We needed to find more sugary snow before Iditarod to train in as well as other conditions we hadn’t seen yet in training.
  • Hand warmers even make wet gloves warm. Pack a lot of them.
  • Always carry more food then you think.
  • It’s ok to turn your brain off for a wile cruising down the trail
  • The dogs have a lot of heart — just believe in them.
  • I thought my dogs had better hydration after meals that included rice
  • Cater meals to your dogs 100% of the time.

I also still had a lot of questions:

  • Who would bounce back the fastest?
  • What could I do to improve my teams speed?
  • How could I be more efficient in checkpoints and along the trail?

I really enjoyed my race and would like to thank my team, Travis for handling, Dwayne for flying up from Oregon to handle, justin, wyatt, all of the volunteers, all of the vets, and the race itself for making such a fun event possible!

Thanks to all for your support!

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