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Katja and the 100 Miles Percy de Wolf Junior Race 2004

I would like to give an insight into my first longer Dogsled race last winter, the Percy Junior in Dawson City (100mi), to all who are interested in mushing. First, I would like to describe shortly how I have gotten into mushing. It has all started with a typical crisis for women when they turn 30 years old. Since I couldn’t decide what to do with my life, my husband gave me a week of dogsledding as a present for my birthday. I made two weeks out of it and that was already enough to be infected with the so-called ‘Yukon-Virus’, which strikes me every winter since then!

After a few fun races I decided that it was time to do something bigger. After discussing it with Sebastian we decided that the Percy Jr. would fulfil the purpose perfectly in the matter of distance as well as the time it would be.

After finishing the extensive preparations of material, dog food, clothing, sleds, food for us and so on, we, Sebastian and me with our two teams, were finally ready to leave for Dawson City on Wednesday of the week when the race would take place. Sebastian’s way of driving is well known to some of you as it is for me, therefore I was well prepared with medications against travel sickness… but imagine, the wonder happened! Since we had enough time to travel to Dawson City, we had a quite relaxing drive (even within the speed limits!) and I was able to enjoy the very beautiful winter wonderland!

Finally, after a countless number of stops to get gas and pee, we reached Dawson City and installed ourselves in the hotel, since the race was about to start the next day. Sebastian became really concerned about me having to pee ever other hour on our way, and how I was going to do the race like that… I explained that I wanted to start well hydrated, which is very important, because there will not be much of chance to drink while under way. Consequently I drank lots and lots of tea and water the last few days, hence all this fluid had to go somewhere.

Then the big day came and welcomed us with a blue sky, sunshine and icy temperatures, which were about to drop lower than –30°c by the forthcoming night. First we helped out at the start for THE PERCY with holding dogs etc. Afterwards we drove down to the ice bridge of the Yukon river were our mass start was about to take place. Nervousness started to show, not only with me. Sebastian gave me detailed instructions how the whole procedure will go, and we prepared our sleds with the necessary gear, harnessed our dogs and were ready just in time for the start.

A last GOOD LUCK and 13 teams left the starting line at the same time. I took my time because I did not want my dogs to run too fast at the beginning (risk of injury) and I could still roll up the field from behind.

Therefore we mushed all the way down to FORTYMILE on the frozen Yukon river. Shortly after we left Dawson City an icy North wind blew into our faces, which turned the river landscape into an arctic region. I hid behind my sled most of the time to avoid the cold wind and to support my dogs by not being another surface facing the wind. I still had the chance to enjoy the fascinating and beautiful landscape along the river.

I travelled mainly in company of Lisa and Jerry, a couple from Dawson City. We changed the lead once in a while since we had to break the trail anew sometimes as a result from the flying snow. I enjoyed the company very much as I did not only feel not lonely on the trail but also had the chance to see and learn from other mushers. Sebastian followed us behind not far away due to a very young dog team and some quest dogs, which had not recovered completely yet.

After about 4 hours Lisa called out to me that I should give my dogs a snack. I was rather surprised for I was not sure why she should tell me to do so. I stopped anyway and when she passed me, Lisa said that obviously her husband, who followed behind, received the message from Sebastian a few kilometres ago and asked to pass it on to me… that is called bush-phone J and it worked!

Although Sebastian told me it would not be necessary to snack the dogs, he changed his mind according to the circumstances. Since we faced very strong headwinds the race was taking longer than first expected, we therefore had to take a short break. Being a rookie I did not know very much about things like that so I was very grateful for all the tips and tricks given, and I had the tutor directly behind me after all.

Finally, we reached Fortymile after more than six hours, me shortly before Sebastian. Fortymile consists of mainly one cabin and a few old disintegrated buildings and sheds (okay, the outhouse is worth mentioning as it offered a wonderful view over the Yukon river!). We’ve been offered a wall tent with an oven to stay in overnight.

First thing after arriving in Fortymile was of course to care for our dogs. Therefore we checked each one of them for possible injuries, massaged when necessary and prepared their food on our stoves. Excessive tender loving care, praise and appreciation for the dogs was not to forget as well, because I was very, very pleased with the performance of my team. It consisted of Eman and Paula being in the lead, Merlin, Alex, Bazooka and Eagle as swing-dogs, and Padon and Gunner as wheel-dogs, whereas Eman, Paula and Eagle were from Sebastian’s kennel and the rest I was allowed to use from William Kleedehn’s kennel. I felt very honoured to be allowed to run Kleedehn’s dogs, who is a great musher, even though he would never give his best dogs for people like me. Anyway, I have never run dogs before, which were so focussed and concentrated like them. I felt a great joy running these dogs while training for the race and during the race itself and had never major problems either with injuries or motivation of the dogs.

We made our way back to Dawson City the next morning after a short and rather icy night in Fortymile. The team that had reached Fortymile first the day before, was to leave at 10 o’clock. All the others would depart the exact time later that they had arrived in Fortymile the night before. This meant that I would start in sixth place, Sebastian following shortly right after me. Sebastian and me agreed on me waiting just after the (hair-raising) start for him since he was not sure whether he was able to reach Dawson City on his own. Some of his dogs did not eat at all in Fortymile and therefore were in a weak constitution. After we mushed a few miles together, Sebastian passed me with the comment that I was too slow and he obviously faster… from then on I only saw his heels going around the next bend of the river for the next 35miles… no way of not being able to reach Dawson… Anyway, I drove my team exactly the way I believed was good for them and me. The weather was much better than the day before, although we had not the wind in our backs as we hoped for.

As I left the woods about 15miles before Dawson City I had surprisingly moved up to Sebastian again. Going through the forest was a much-welcomed change for the dogs, which obviously turned them on. I guess I had a few advantages with my size and weight (compared to Sebastian) going uphill and therefore was able to catch up with Sebastian. Immediately he made it clear with the help of obvious gestures that I should pass him… well, since I had not been able to keep up with him on the river before, I was not sure how I was supposed to be faster… he showed me unequivocally that pedalling was the right thing to do. Okay, I put on a brave face and started to pedal. I even managed to pass Sebastian (barely I have to say) and from then on had my tutor directly on my heels. Of course this put me under quite some pressure and I tried hard to do everything right. But honestly, pedalling for 15miles did not seem very attractive to me and I stopped it after a while and supported the team only sporadically.

Sebastian closed up to me shortly before reaching Dawson City and asked whether we should have a head-to-head showdown at the finishing line. I only managed a grin and answered that I did not believe my dogs were capable of doing any sprint after running almost 100miles. And then he told me that he had to work really hard to keep up with me after I had passed him… well, if I had known that I could have spared myself the trouble of thinking: maybe he thinks I should pedal more, she is too slow… etc. One should be able to read the minds of others once in a while… (Lisa explained to me later on, that by telling me that he had trouble keeping up, Sebastian actually made me a compliment… male musher’s language).

A head-to-head finish would really be cool I thought, and tried to give my best once more. I tried to motivate my dogs with shouting okay guys we are almost there, you are the best, we can do it …. and as they understood, they really started to speed up for the last kilometre, and Sebastian did not have a chance against us. This, of course, gave me a deep satisfaction! (Sorry Sab!)

Although, I like to mention again that Sebastian did not have his usual racing team together, because otherwise I would have seen him only shortly at the start and he could have waited for me for a long time at the finish line in Dawson.

We stayed a couple more days in Dawson to attend the awards banquet, which was great. There I even had the chance to talk to some great and well-known mushers, which was actually quite entertaining. Additionally I was able to get my 100CDN$ price money which I have won by reaching the fifth place !!

Overall, it was a great and instructive experience, and I learned a lot especially through the very interesting talks with Sebastian! And it is likely that the Percy Jr. 2004 was not the last race I did…

Right now, while typing this report, it is +30°C outside and I have already itchy fingers again and can’t wait until the winter comes!

There is much more to tell, but that would have gone beyond the limits… I hope I was able to give you a little insight anyway. And you never know, maybe we will meet up one day somewhere in the Yukon while Mushing!

I would like to thank Sebastian very much for everything!! Geeeeilllle Sache!!  And of course many thanks to Jocelyne and the whole Bluekennels team, as well as William Kleedehn and Catherine Pinard for letting me run their dogs!