Reflecting on the 2016 Eukanuba Stage Stop

Gerry and the team are on the road home after a successful rookie run in the Eukanuba Stage Stop — a totally new experience for the Blackjack team. Here are some of his thoughts now that the race has come to a finish:

It’s been a blast racing in Wyoming. Not that it was easy. The notion that stage stop racers run for maybe three or four hours a day and then put their feet up and their mind to rest is far from reality.

My day usually started at 4 a.m., when my brain woke the rest of the system up, wondering what dogs to take, what plastic to put on the sled, what conditions and terrain to expect. The actual alarm was set for 5 a.m., then breakfast, dogs watered and massaged by 6, depart for the race start by 6:30. The drive to the start line could take up to an hour. When in Wyoming you want to make sure not to miss the mandatory musher meeting at 8 a.m. with race marshal Terry Atkins (the first and only veterinarian in the first Iditarod in 1973). Race until about 1 p.m., then feed and take care of the dogs: feet, muscles, joints, attitude and appetite want to be inspected, assessed, and paid detailed attention to. Overall I found that because of the higher speed of this race and the time available for dog care, the dog care requirement was much higher than in races of continuous format (Iditarod, Quest, Copper Basin, Kusko etc). Also, I found that while “any gimpy old dog” can run a 1,000-mile race, only the most athletic dogs will be able to compete in the Eukanuba Stage Stop Race. You may be running shorter there, but it’s at a higher intensity.

The afternoons were spent driving to the next town, checking into a hotel, feeding dogs again, attending a meet & greet, and then going back to the hotel to “drop” dogs again, assess, massage, tend to feet etc. In bed by 10 p.m. if lucky, trying to shut off the brain until it’s time to do it again.

We concluded the race with a couple of slower runs, which I attribute to the level of injuries in my dogs combined with a stomach bug that worked its way through the team. This resulted in no days off for the healthy dogs, and too much idle time for the rest. But we were happy with the overall result, which had us in 7th place. Also, this race has an adequate purse, unlike many other races today, which paid for the expenses and left a bit extra. This allows us to go back there next year.

Thank you to everyone who helped putting on the Eukanuba Stage Stop! You know who you are. It was a great real pleasure to have been part of it.

— Gerry

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