I woke up this morning to snow falling. It looked like a good few inches had fallen since 11pm last night. We had heard through the grapevine that the groomer had gone out on the trail but wth the warmer temps and high levels of snow machine traffic I knew the trail would be pretty chewed up.
We moved the staging area this year to the main trailhead parking lot cutting out our rolling start from the old one. This made for a larger area which is very handy as several mushers have big outfits. I had arranged early to have a snow machine so that I could go out on the trail and get some splits and video some of the teams. Alpine is a fairly straight forward out and back trail with some rolling hills and long flat sections. Both the 12 dog and 8 dog have small teardrop loops just off the main trail. Its also a great deal wider than many of the other trails which allows for easier access for machines to pass dog teams.
Once I got Liz Stewart and Alix Crittenden away from the start line I headed out on the trail. Being the last day of racing for the 8 Dog Classic I was excited to get out there quick and see how those teams where getting on. I made it to 7.4 miles where I stopped to get a feel on how the top 5. I had also passed April Cox before this point. Jenny Greger was the first to pass me. She was really moving and had already made up over 3 minutes on last years champion Thad McCracken who followed close behind her. Jenny was sitting a little under 6 minutes behind Liz after day 1 and I was sure that it was her goal to try and catch her. Jenny had a fairly good lead over Thad and having passed him by this point she still seemed to be running fast. Next to pass me was Liz and after calculating I noticed she was 3 minutes down on the day to Jenny which I wont lie, made me anxious. We had raced against Jenny at Soda Springs the previous weekend and Jenny’s had not finished as strong on the second day as I’m sure she would have liked. I started to wonder how Jenny’s team would hold up. Alix and Dave were the next to pass with Alix a minute up on Liz and Dave a minute up on Alix but all of them falling to Jenny who was the fastest to this point by 45 seconds.
I moved my machine further up the trail to the 16.7 mile mark of the 8 dog course and waited for the teams to pass me on there way home. Not much had changed at the front as it seemed the front 4 had leveled out. All split times were around the same apart from Jenny taking another 30 seconds off of Liz. Young Spencer Bruggeman had a very nice looking team and I hope to see him back again. Amanda Bartlett and Gabe Dunham were also running very close with Laura Daugereau running between them and Spencer.
Heading further down the trail I stopped at an open section of the main trail at around 37 miles to get some video of the ESSR competitors passing me. Jeff Conn was the first to arrive and yet again his team were moving down the trail very nicely indeed. After his hard run yesterday I was happy to see that his dogs still had good speed and that his previous run had not taken much out of them. Bruce Magnusson was next and his team also seemed to be moving along nicely. I think one of the dogs in his team either doesn’t like photographers kneeling down, snow machines parked or race analysts. The Magnusson second team came after that. Al Borak is a fantastic character out on the trail with his bright yellow ski pants and handfuls of chocolate to give to hungry bystanders. The two Streeper Teams were next both moving very well down the trail with Bud Streeper sporting the yellow bib for the first time in the race. Dennis Laboda passed right after this followed by the happiest man on the trail Jerry Scdoris who pointed out how beautiful the day was. He always has the ability to make anyone smile out there and I hope he continues to be part of this race.
I moved back to where the 8 Dog turn around was which was about 42.3 miles on the ESSR course. I managed to get split times for everybody except Austin Forney and Chris Adkins. Bud and Alex were setting the pace for the day. Jeff Conn was about 4 minutes back from Alex and Bruce Magnusson was a little over a minute down from Jeff at this point. Gerry Willomitzer once again having a steady run rounded off the top 5 at this point in the trail and it was to stay that way until the end. Bud retains the yellow bib and has extended his lead to 14 minutes over Alex Stegmann in second place and Gerry Willomitzer in 3rd by 28 minutes.
Back in the staging area they were ready to announce the results for day 2 of the 8 Dog Classic but also the final positions. I had not heard how any of them had finished especially Jenny Greger who had been chasing Liz. Final positions can be found on our website and Facebook as I will round up the Top 5.
Finishing in 5th Place overall and 5th place on the day was last years champion Thad McCracken from Mosier and Portland Oregon. Im sure Thad would have been wishing for more favorable training conditions this year as his lack of speed training runs showed. He has a fantastic kennel of dogs and I am sure he will strive to improve and come back for a chance to regain his title. I would also like to wish Thad all the best in the Copper Dog this year.
Finishing 4th Place overall and winning the Alpine Leg was Jenny Greger from Bozeman Montana. Hats off to Jenny for a super run in Alpine and proving that her dogs do have speed. We wish her well in the rest of her season as I believe she is competing in the Race to the Sky 100. Training dogs and being a Pre-Veterinary Student is hard work
Finishing 3rd Place overall and 4th place on the day was my beautiful wife Liz Stewart from Bondurant Wyoming (thanks for the mild heart attack at 7.4 miles when Jenny was 3 minutes up). Along with Alix Crittenden these girls have been training our young group of dogs since early December out of Bondurant at Granite Creek. They have surpassed all our expectations in every aspect of being sleddogs and we are so fortunate to have them this season. Liz is a clever musher and much credit has to be given for her ability to control and guide her dog team down the trail. I think I should be worried as before long I will not be the best Stewart musher out there.
Finishing 2nd Place overall and 3rd place on the day was our kennel partner Alix Crittenden from Bondurant Wyoming. Alix is a fierce competitor, no doubt about it and we have had so much fun training and racing this year. She is also a natural with animals and she has bonded very quickly with this group of dogs. Alix’s father flew in to help handle for the race and he was a true asset to Jacobite Racing Sleddogs. Her husband Sam was in Alpine today also to support us and I thank him for letting her live her dream. I am lucky to be able to work with both these girls.
This years champion is well known on the race circuit with many competitive showings in the ESSR in previous years. Dave Turner from Sandy Oregon is a driven competitor and with his small group of dogs he is respected all over for his ability to make strong displays. He is also one of the most travelled dog mushers across the country in his converted fifth wheel horse trailer with living quarters. His goal this year was to run a faster group of dogs to carry forward into the Canadian race circuit culminating in Yellowknife for the 150. He has stated to me that he intends to win here for the first time. Congratulations to Dave and look forward to repeating our training and racing next season already.
I want to extend my thanks to all the 8 Dog Classic competitors this year. We hope to see you all again at the 8 Dog Classic or the Eukanuba Stage Stop and all the best of luck in your future races this season.
The ESSR now has a travel day while we all head to Lander Wyoming for Stage 4 on Tuesday. There is also a Musher Meet & Greet held on the main street between 4:30 and 6pm on Monday which is always a fun experience for the local supporters of the race and the kids. Look forward to seeing everyone at the Louis Lake Trail Head on Tuesday when the flag drops for another day of racing.
See you there