The weather did not cooperate for the start of the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog race. Rain poured down all day Thursday and into the night. The rain on packed snow at lower elevations turned the precious three inches of white stuff into slush and ice, neither great for sledding.
Wallowa County was represented by three mushers this year, but Susan Parraga, scheduled to run the 2 day 31-miles-per-day Pot Race with her purebred Siberian Huskies, scratched on Thursday morning.
“It was not worth getting sick or hurt,” she said.
Wallowa County’s other two competitors accepted the challenge. Morgan Anderson, graduating from the youth division to run the Pot Race and veterinarian Jereld Rice, who was running his first-ever race in the 200, made it through.
Rice was last in the 200 and Anderson third in the Pot Race, alive and experienced and glad to have run.
Jane Devlin of Bend, known for singing to her dogs, apparently knew the right tune and slushed on to win the Pot Race in 7 hours and 9 minutes.
“I guess there’s a reason I keep coming back,” she said. “Thursday was dirt, rocks, ice and a little bit of snow. But the thing about this race is they keep it safe. Here, it’s dogs first, its one of those races where they really get it right. Friday was a whole different race, the dogs were happy. I’ll be back, always.”
The rain didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the dogs, but the mushers didn’t do as well. Most went through all of their clothing changes at some point and often mushed in freezing weather in soaked clothing.
Several of the mushers had just gotten out of bed from bouts with the flu.
The rain continued to fall on the mushers and dogs all the way to Ollokot, the 50-mile checkpoint, and mushers checking in for a possible night of rest were thinking twice.
“I looked around at all the slush and asked the dogs, ‘do you want to try and sleep in this?’” said two-time 200-mile winner Brett Bruggeman of Great Falls, Mont. “And they were willing to keep going so we mushed on.”
Hugo Antonucci of Adin, Calif., didn’t have an option.
“The dogs were fine, but the sled was broken,” he said.
Broken in three places, and side to side, as it turned out. He had to scratch.
“This probably just means I’ll have to come back next year,” he said with a grin.
Race veteran Josi Thyr of Catlado, Idaho, came a cropper at Ollokot as well, sliding on the ice into a tree. “It was raining and the dogs took off and wanted to visit the tree,” she said.
That tree is now officially named “The Tree of Doom.” But Thyr was able to mush on thanks to the surgical application of a packet of zip ties, which held the sled together for another 150 miles.
Iditarod veteran and the winner of this year’s 200-mile race, Miriam Osredkar of Fairfield, Mont., was getting a taste of her first Eagle Cap and learned why it was called the toughest pre-Iditarod race. Her legs, she said, were conditioned now.
“There are no hills like this at Iditarod at all,” she said.
Trevor Warren of Council, Idaho, ran and won his first 100 at Eagle Cap in 20:06 and was on a musher’s high the entire distance. Five of his eight dogs were puppies (18 months and younger) and it was their first race as well.
“My puppies did awesome!” he gushed. “They are some of the best dogs I’ve every run.”
Dr. Kathleen McGill and her team awarded the coveted “Best Cared for Team” awards to Bino Fowler of Bend, Ore., for the 100-mile race and Laurie Warren of Council, Idaho, for the 200-mile race.
Clayton Perry won the “Sportsmanship Award” for sacrificing his bid for a higher placing to hang back with novice Rice.
Rice literally got out of his sick bed after five days of debilitating flu to complete the race and that alone gave him his bona fides as a musher. It gave his wife Alina some bona fides as well.
“Alina didn’t have any idea we’d be doing this when we got married,” Rice said. “She was my handler –– and we’re still married. I was sick, sick, sick in advance of the race, and Alina took over the logistics.”
In a move typical of the community spirit of mushers, Perry decided to support Rice’s bid, sticking with Rice to the end of the course.
“This is all about friendship,” Perry said, when accepting his award. “I only do this for the community and the people.”
Rice and Connie Star of Cle Elum, Wash., took home the Red Lantern Awards for their divisions, an award reserved for those who refuse to give up. The tradition is based on the practice of “leaving a light burning” for the mushers still out on the trail after most others have come in. Star was already thinking positively about next year’s race and wanted to make sure the next last place finisher was properly honored. She turned her lantern back in to “make sure there was an award for the following year.”
The final tally of racers was 18.
EAGLE CAP EXTREME PHOTOS BY ELLEN MORRIS BISHOP
200-mile race (time at Ollokot and finish)
• Miriam Osredkar, mushing a Skinny Legs Sleddogs team owned by the Bruggemans, 18:21, 32.44 hours.
• Brett Bruggeman, who fielded three teams this year, came into Ollokot a minute earlier than Osredkar at 10.20 and finished his race just three seconds behind her with 32.47.
• Laurie Warren, 17:50, took third with a total time of 33:44.
• Josi Thyr, 18:11 and finished in 35:35.
• James Pilcher, running another Skinny Legs Sleddogs team, 18:22 and was seconds behind Thyr at the finish 35:35:053.
• Clayton Perry, 18:29, 41:01.
• Jereld Rice 18:52, 47:01.
100-mile race (time at Ollokot and finish)
• Trevor Warren 18:40, 20:06.
• Gave Dunham, who Warren credited with “keeping him competitive,” beat Warren into Ollokot in 18:36 and finished with a time of 20:27.
• Bino Fowler, 19:35, 22:36.
• Rex Mumford, 19:21, 23:21.
• Christina Gibson, 19:24, 26:39.
• Connie Star 21:32, 31.24.
• Hugo Antonucci scratched at Ollokot after coming in with broken sled in 19:34.
2 Day – 31 miles each day – Pot Race
• Jane Devlin ran Thursday to finish in 16:32. She completed the race Friday for a total time of 7:09.
• Dina Lund ran Thursday in 16:46 and finished in 7:39.
• Morgan Anderson ran Thursday in 16:38 and finished in 7:44.
• Larry Roxby ran Thursday in 16:37 and finished in 8:10.