Kamchadal International World Cup Sled Dog Race

300km, 8 dog Stage Race, Kamchatka Peninsula (Eastern Siberia, Russia) March 25-28, 2004

 

Team Sponsors:

...with special thanks to my family, and my friend and handler, Joe Sesto. My thanks also goes out to Arleigh Reynolds, Phil Russell, Bobby Lee, and Pete Sesto.


I can't say enough about how cool Kamchadal '04 was. In fact, as capable as I am at blabbing, I really haven't written a word about it... it just seems too big to recount in words and do it justice... It was the best experience in my life, so far, and I couldn't recommend it more. The best race overall that I've seen as a handler or racer. Coming back to that massive throng of people, ...and the flags, and the press.... people giving you cookies, and flowers ... and pictures of you leaving the shoot, and autographs.... it was too much. Then they had the awards ceremony right there... I was rolling when Jacques and I saw that Stanley Cup of a trophy they gave him....

...Then we did the podium thing... a little tiny thing with your flags behind you and you had to stand up there with your terrified leader and then they start handing you russian certificates, and more flowers, a trophy for you, one for the *sled*, a medal for your dog, more handshakes. The funniest was Jacques, because everything we got, he got the bigger version, so by the end, teetering on top of everything was him holding 50 pounds of stuff and his dog....he was just overwhelmed with stuff... then they wanted him to raise the massive trophy, which he did, god bless him, with 1 arm over his head, and the crowd just erupted...

...then after a minute they wanted to him to do it again, so he rearranged everything and hoisted that thing in the air again.... just then they set off fireworks behind us, which just shattered the dogs who didn't know what was going on and were considering going back on the trail by that time... so dogs start leaping and trophies start crashing, I was laughing so hard at poor Jacques, I was crying.... let me tell you, those Russians are into the protocol.... I felt like we were in the Olympics. But honestly, that was just a great ending of a great race. But there was still 'after' the race to wind back down. We all hired a helicopter to take us into the crater of a live volcano ...and then stop at a hot springs in the middle of nowhere... it was just outrageous.

The race itself was pretty tough, I think by all standards. I cracked a bone in my hand going over the wildest pass ever in heat 2 THANKS TO JACQUES AND MAGALI NOT GOING THE RIGHT WAY...hehehehe... I ended trying to hook down going off the drift side of the mountain and doing nice big circles out of control on the wind pack. Jaques and Magali actually crashed into each other on the other side and their sleds got tangled together and so they were all screwed up there too... (I tried to get them both disqualified for running their 16 dog team, but Monique wouldn't concede...jk...hehheeheh) and that adrenaline rush came after the biggest steady climb I've ever done, in the heat of the day, with a soft trail... I have no idea what it really was, but I'm think it was into 5000'+ range.... and I'll tell you one thing about Magali.... I saw her little kid footprints in the snow THE WHOLE TIME up that hill.... tough driver, that Magali, even if she looks 12:)... so finally, at the top, where I think I'm going to get to see the best view in the World (which I did for a second) I run into glare ice, lose the trail and missed the turn that sidehilled the bowl we dropped into.

In heat 4 my brake ripped off at the first bridge, so I drove the rest of that crazy night run (the fastest trail we had seen) and the next two heats, with two prongs bailing wired together, and a broken hand, that was even more swollen after I stabbed it at the previous checkpoint, trying to cut the tape off my fingers, so I could get my hand back my glove, before the storm hit..... OOOOOOH, and the bridges!!... first they started out little... the dogs didn't even know they were going over water until they were on them.... then came what Jacques dubbed 'the monkey bridge' ... between heats one and two, where you had to cross a swinging bridge with your dogs one at time, or carrying them.... but that's still nothing to compared to that night run in heat 4... I'm talking 2m wide by 25m long plank wood bridge, with no snow on it, or sides to hold you in, over black, fast moving water... and you aren't even hitting them head on, or even know they are coming, for that matter (but a little word of advice, if you see warning markers, prepare yourself) all of a sudden you hit a hard 90, do a whoop-de-do and BAM, you are looking at a boardwalk and your sled is sideways, with the dogs at full bore. I'm telling you, it was a heck of a race.... a heck of a race.


>I've noticed in these pictures of the race that some of the teams seemed to be running fairly large, heavy boned dogs.
yeah, there were some tough old school dogs there for sure... but their were also Redington lines and I think some Arleigh Renolds stuff.... the guy behind me was running Alaskans and had a some hounds in his kennel and drove a Danler, so there were all kinds of dogs there. I bred Mugsy and Bear (my wheel dogs) to two, smaller, females that were village dogs, so they now they have some Canadian sprint lines in the mix now too. Personally, I don't think it was the dogs, because looking around before the race, I was nervous... I think it was the training..... I don't think those guys put the miles on those dogs, but I think they know that now too, so I expect them to double their efforts next year.

>Also, what were the trails like? Hilly? Flat? Lots of trees?
Well, it was varied... but basically, while we were waiting in AK, the trail was leveled by 3-4' of snow and 40mph winds... the race was then rerouted to bypass an avalance danger... so the trail was put in front of us, as we went. That's why I think of this more as a distance race than a 'stage race'.... coming from a sprint background and moving into middistance, I'm used to either groomed trail or catted super-highway, in either case, I'm used to a trail with a base... even if it snows 10", we still have a base... here it was the opposite.... packed surface on top of sugar snow, but what else can you do with such volitile weather? My dogs had trouble punching through, so it was frustrating at times to hold them back for stretches when you knew they were conditioned enough to run it. Magali and Jacques had smaller, 45lb-50lb dogs, and maybe they run smoother too... they had some difficulty but I dont think like me. Maybe being third through, the trail deteriorated some too, once the crust was broken.... had I known that then, I surely would have made my move to pass them:)

>Did you have to do any trail breaking yourself or were the trails packed fairly well?
Jacques did most of the real breaking... he had some good leaders that could find the blown over trail.

>Were the trails marked well (you mentioned Magali and Jacques getting lost)?
yes, the trails were very well marked and reflective.... plus, once we got into it, it was pretty much just the race trail, so the problem wasn't getting lost because you were confused which trail to take, but lost because you were in ground storms... but even then, the open spots were marked enough to get you through. I thought they did a great job here too.
Oh, they werent 'lost'.... once you hit the glare ice on top, the trail went away... the dogs just kept going straight when in fact the trail turned hard right and sidehilled.... of course the dogs didnt see that. I think Jacques' actually did do it but it was magali that dropped over first.... then their tangle happened after she caught back up to him.... but they didnt get lost.

>What was the temperature like during racing?
pretty pleasant, in the 20s(?).... good thing too because we had some pretty serious wind... first time ever I looked down my team and all their tails and ears were standing out straight sideways to the left. Right after we got back their was a cyclone (called a hurricane in our hemisphere).... and that was something.... never seen anything like that... we kenneled the dogs in the crates outside until they covered over with snow but then, as it blew harder, they started actually getting filled up with snow to the point that we had to evac them into little sheds and old cabins until it blew over. Like I said, I've never seen anything like it... It was difficult to move in and the ice from the ground stung your face...... what can I say? to be called a cyclone it has to blow 70mph....


you know, I don't want to make this out to be something it isn't... we had some nice runs and good trail and weather too. Part of it is, I've never seen anything like this, so it was a real eye opener to see a trail like that and race the way we did... those of you who have seen the coast in the artic have undoubably seen worse. I could easily imagine worse weather, but I have to admit I was hoping for fast and hard. Weather there is unpredictable... I think we hit it at one point, but it could have easily hot and slushy or anything in between... if you go, be prepared for anything and personally I would bring dogs light on their feet.


Overall, I thought me and the dogs were way better off for it.... these conditions were our worst case senario and all 9 of us came back in fine shape.


I don't know if they are going to make this an Iditarod Qualifier, but even if they dont, I'd take my young dogs there at the end of the season to see how they hold up... I was especially pleased with how my leaders grew from the experience.


As far as what happened in the race itself, with respect to us the drivers, I can only tell you a little about what happened to me....


Second out of the shoot, we quickly caught Sergey P..... he was supposed to lead us out of town, so I held the team back by making them trot through what had to have been the softest trail of the race ... the dogs were just killing themselves to run through it, and it scared me... I knew once we hit the main trail it would get better, so I backed off... I cant remember the order of the people passing me but I think it was Sergey F that passed me first... then I remember I tried to let magali pass by pulling the sled to one side and my leg punched through and I face planted in the soft snow beside the trail.... she of course politely asked if I was ok as she passed, which besides feeling like an idiot, I was. Then Jaques passed with his quiet 'thank you'... and that was the last I would see of those two.


Then we hit the main trail about 5 miles in... it was dark by then and the wind had picked up and the trail was slowly blowing over.... and the city lights were behind us and a big black Siberian frontier and 180miles of trail was ahead of us.... and there I was, hunkered down behind my sled to get out of the wind... and I was scared:) Here I am, thousands of miles from home, wind blowing like hell, passed by 3 teams, and looking out of my hood at 2 huge volcanoes on my right.... we weren't in Kansas anymore:) But I decided the day or so before that I was going to take it easy that first heat, run my own race, keep my mouth shut, and make sure I finished what I started (and paid for.) About 10 miles down the trail I heard dogs barking... which was a little unnerving, but when we came around the corner the two Sergeys were there.... maybe they had a tangle? I passed both, then they faded back and that was the last I saw of them.... in fact that was the last time I saw another team the entire race.


That was a weird heat for us... the trail was full of whoop-de-dos and when I train and we hit that stuff, I hold them back to prevent injuries... well, they held back. The other thing is we had trained on that trail once and turned the dogs around 10 miles out.... so we had to pass that turn around and go another 35 miles... my dogs thought at some point they would have to turn around, so they were taking their time. One of my biggest failings was not taking them on any one way trips ever... we always come back, so they weren't ready for that heat. I also stopped 2X and pet them because I could feel they were worried too. In the end I lost 41 minutes to Jacques that day in a 72km heat. I lost another ~42+ minutes in heats 2-6 combined, never losing by more than ~11+ mins after we got back on our feet. There were times when we were running very strong but in every case there was something that caused a slowdown.... for example, I think we made some time on the big mountain... my dogs have done hundreds of tours, so tour gear kicked in and we just powered up it.... but then after we got ourselves straightened out (after the pass incident) we punched through all the way to camp, which was exceptionally frustrating... I lost 11 mins in that heat. I think our strongest heats were 4 and 5, but by heat 4 I knew I wasn’t going to catch them unless they screwed up (which I wasn't counting on) and I wasn’t going to get caught unless I screwed up (which was more likely) so I just kept us all together and ran without worrying about racing, if you get me, which was a good thing and just allowed me to focus on what we were doing.


Anyway, that was about I know about what happened between racers.


Quicktime 5 Videos

The main kennel

Night before the race

Camp #2 - Nalychevo Camp - nice camp and facilities, plus hot springs.

Camp #3 - Tent Camp - got in late at night, ground storm all night.

Tent Checkpoint - between heats 5 and 6 on the last day..... check out the wind

Finish Line - standing in the staging area

Volcano #1 - flying over the first volcano

In the Crater - hanging out in the crater

Volcano Steam Vent - intense little vent

 


under construction: Photos

leaving Utah (Phil in background)

 

transportation from airport in russia to kennel

 

Pre-race

 

Race

 

Finish Line

 

Awards - 3rd Place

 

Back at Kennel

 

Random shots in city

 

Helicopter to visit volcanoes

 

Customs

 

Anchorage Ground Crew: Joe Sesto, Bobby Lee, Pete Sesto and Rob

 

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