I first heard mention of the Copper Dog 150 Sled Dog Race in August, the week we moved here. It made the Keweenaw feel more alive to me that there was a sled dog race here and reminded me of the best weekend of the year in Duluth. I loved the Beargrease weekend because of the Cutest Puppy Contest, but that’s another story.
Anyway, I kept the CopperDog on my radar and meant to volunteer as soon as I heard the radio ads about it. It took me until the week before the race to finally go online and sign up to be a volunteer. I decided to take a road crossing in the middle of nowhere, so I could enjoy some peace and not have to deal with crowds or traffic. Luckily, Bryan agreed to do it too, and we were able to recruit Leah, Diego, and Riccardo too! We packed some warm [spiked] beverages and headed out into a very cold night. Mukluks, check. Snowpants, fleece pants, and long underwear, check. The Big Downer jacket, check. We were set. We met the other volunteers out there at the intersection of Gay Road and Coal Dock Road (the middle of nowhere a good half hour’s drive from our place). We arrived 15 minutes early, but the Trail Boss (it even said it on his neon vest) had been worried no one was going to show. It was good that he was there, because all 10 or 11 of us were new to this, so we took a lot of directions. He wanted someone to take charge of the group and he heard my teacher voice and chose me.
We got organized, which meant sending two people down the trail (the race is on snowmobile trails) into the woods. Those people were in charge of alerting us as soon as they saw a sled coming by yelling “SLED!” Then our light guy (very important job) would wait to hear either “CLEAR!” or “STOP!” from our DECIDER. She stood in the road and made the decision about whether the road was clear or not. If the light guy heard clear, he waved a flashlight in a circle, indicating to the musher, even from pretty far back, that he could keep the dogs running through the intersection. If our decider yelled “STOP,” which only happened a couple times, then he would stop the musher by signaling his flashlight from left to right. The rest of us created a wall of people all along the road, so that the dogs wouldn’t try to veer along the snowbanks and follow the road and get off course.
The first three times teams came through, our wall didn’t work! The dogs nuzzled their way through the wall and tried to head down the road! We felt awful, though I’m sure it wasn’t a big deal. The mushers weren’t upset; they seemed to take it as par for the course. When they did get off course, the musher put the sled’s brake on, and one of the wall people would help lead the dogs back on the path. Sometimes fights broke out between the dogs, but off they went before we knew it! We moved people around and added people to that side and then we were golden.
It was exhilarating every time a team came through because we were just feet from them! They rushed by, and since I was one of only two on my side of the wall, I would slide my way down with the teams. Because I didn’t have my headlamp on, sometimes the dogs would see me moving in their periphery and look at me like, “What the?”
We were out there from about 8:15-10:45, and by the time the last team came through, we were all freezing! I was sad to call it a night, but I’m really glad I did it! Leah also volunteered as a dog handler at the start and it sounded right up my alley, so next year I am going to do both!
Saturday we didn’t make it out to any of the events, but we did go for a nice ski with Leah and the pups. Sunday we deliberated. Sundays are rough for teachers, what with the grading, planning, grocery shopping, and the rest of preparing for a week that we all do. I really wanted to get some photos of the final finish in Calumet, so we decided to go for it. We only went for about 20 minutes and watched about 6 or so teams finish. It was FREEZING, but I’m glad we went. Watching those dogs and mushers roll into town all red-faced and smiling, made both of us want to do it someday! One guy’s face was honestly the color of the top of the building in the picture below. My favorite part was when the mushers would put on their brake at the finish line and the dogs would start pulling at their harnesses and jumping up and down in place, like “Let’s go! More!” I’m not sure Klue would have quite that same enthusiasm in the traces! Nitsa, maybe.