Oh what a difference a trail makes!
What an interesting and anticipated rally this was and the last rally event for us and many others of 2016 in the lead up the holiday season. This year’s Crossbelts rally was the fourth AMWA Championship rally of the season and was held on the Salisbury Plain at the site of the AMWA Fun weekend, an event with such intrinsic nostalgia and fond associations throughout the Malamute community that it was with wide sweeping anticipation we all welcomed this new event. Scheduled to happen last year at a similar time, but unfortunately cancelled at the last minute due to unavoidable military activity in the area, we were all very excited to see the rally going ahead this December.
And as such, I decided to make this my first ever rally as a participant and not just a Musher’s Mate and spectator. With slightly trepidatious hands I filled in the forms entering myself in M1 with my youngest dog Sawyer.
This was the fourth AMWA Championship rally of the season, thanks to the kind permission of the Ministry of Defence, sponsored by Alpha and organised by John Binding, Steve Whitfield and Kevin Aiston.
Not being a far drive and just a few minutes up the road from our normal training ground we headed into the foggy darkness of the plains very early on the Saturday morning, and found ourselves in the all too familiar Fun Weekend field setting up to run our dogs.
The rig inspection and musher’s meeting was set to be at 7:00 and 8:00 respectively, but we all arrived to a deeply penetrating fog which made it almost impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you and slowed down the process and the start of the day. It was no matter though because armed with warm coffee from Solstice services just a few minutes away and with an entire field to stretch the dogs in it made for a nice and relaxing start to the rally, even if some first-rally nerves were beginning to creep in for me a bit.
However it did mean that once things got going the start times were all fast approaching so once the rigs were inspected and the musher’s meeting gone it was all hands on deck to get ready.
And so it was that the first stage of this new rally began.
However, as sometimes happens with new events, the Saturday runs for pretty much everyone I talked to was extremely hard going. Some were issues with ironing out a new trail, some were external factors beyond anyone’s control, but either way it made for a very long, hard first day and a trying one for a first rally. There were some issues with markers either being moved or hidden in such a way that quite a lot of mushers ended up going the wrong way at some point. The trail as it has been laid out had suffered a lot due to the recent heavy rains and had washed out and gotten incredibly sticky and muddy in places making it hard for some of the teams to maintain a good pace. And there were a lot of issues with dog walkers on the Saturday which didn’t help with times. The fog was a major issue at the start of the rally and I later heard had almost called it to be cancelled as it was so hard to see. Though this luckily cleared before the first teams went out it did warm up and the humidity was quite high so the dogs didn’t have the wonderful frosty temperatures they had at Greatwood the weekend before.
It also seemed to be one of those rallies that just had lots of unfortunate things which cannot be calculated or planned for, lots of tangles and flat tyres, quite a few people came off their rigs (though I didn’t hear of any serious injuries thankfully) and due to the mud in some areas and the length of the trail at 3.2 miles we all found it very hard going.
I did find this a very tough run, but can’t blame all of that on the trail as my dog’s concentration was well and truly broken by the large group of runners and their five off lead dogs who swarmed the start line just as I set off, add to that the rather large hill we had to then go up and a few teams passed and from then on he was a bit disinterested for the next three miles. He came in fine – but I very quickly realized just how unfit I have become!
So whilst it was a tough day for many, we all went away to regroup and came back the next day hoping for a bit of better luck from the Mushing gods.
As it turned out, this was helped greatly by the organisers who took all of the events of the first day into account and whilst the rest of us either camped out over the evening or went home to recoup, they stayed out and re-organised the trail for a better run the second day.
I always think the mark of good event organisation isn’t necessarily getting it perfect on the first attempt, but listening to the participants and making adjustments where necessary. The fact that these changes were made so cleverly and so efficiently overnight was very impressive and when we arrived the next morning to hear that the trail had been cut and slightly changed and that a second mushers meeting was to walk us through the changes – we found ourselves once again hopeful about having a good rally day.
And in this case we couldn’t have been more right. What had been one of the hardest going rallies for most of the mushers we’d spoken to this season so far; the second day rapidly became the best. The atmosphere instantly lifted and was much improved as teams and dogs came in with good, happy runs. The trail was shorted at 2.5 miles and though it still included the huge hill at the start, it took out the worst of the sticky muddy areas as well as the highly trafficked dog walking areas which allowed the teams to build real momentum and speed and have much happier, cleaner runs. And whilst my own run wasn’t perfect – we had a much nicer run than the day before and made a better time, and though I was equally knackered at the end, as a team we were very happy indeed.
And I wasn’t the only rookie musher there that weekend. There were a number of us in our first competitive season or having our first race, and all of us had enjoyable runs on the Sunday. Lindsey Hale who only ran on the Saturday ran her girl Roxy in M1 and boy Chuck in Scooter class. Richard Clay, who also ran in M1, finished 5th overall at the weekend as well Portia Morgan who was running her first in Scooter Class with her Malamute Peaches and said this about the weekend “I really enjoyed my first rally and coming second in my class was a huge bonus! The first day was awful for me personally as I took a wrong turn, got the line in my wheel and got a flat tyre out on the run, however I enjoyed the course and its twists and turns but not the first hill! Everyone at the rally was hugely welcoming and gave me lots of help and information. Sunday's run was awesome it was colder and everything went to plan I couldn't be prouder of my Peaches as it was her first event too! It was a well-run event with toilet and catering van and any problems seemed to get sorted out swiftly, and I had a thoroughly good time and felt welcomed.”
So whilst is may not have been the most auspicious start, the rally ended with an absolute bang. The dogs were so happy running the trail the second day, the start line was an interesting place with incredible excitement all around and there were lots of happy faces returning at the end of the day. Kevin Aiston won both the MS and the Scooter class while his son Zach took first in Junior class. Stuart Murray incredibly took first place in CS, DV and ES class and I believe (though it’s a bit hard to be certain with the trail changes) he also took the fastest full trail time of the weekend at 11:23.
It was also a big weekend for working malamute kennels with the podium for the M1 class having First, Second and Third place all from Articrainbow. Further Tom Wheeler and the Northspirit kennel took first place in M2 overall while the fastest malamute time of the weekend went to Tim Anderton-Tyers running Northspirit siblings Memphis and Sam. Huge congratulations to you all!
The rally ended in very high spirits all around and there was more good will and generally happy atmosphere by the end than any rally I’ve been to yet this season. With just a few little changes it became the highlight of the season so far.
Wishing everyone running their dogs a very happy 2017 running season and a huge thanks to the organisers for all the work that went in to making this event a great one!
For full rally and championship results, please see the AMWA website: http://www.amwa.org.uk/events/event-results/
"The opinions, observations and comments included in these race reports are solely from the writer and do not necessarily reflect the position of either Snowpaw Store or of any specific club. These reports are written from the point of view of a spectator and/or participant and though every effort is made for unbiased, factual accounts, they will likely not represent everyone’s experience of the event. You are warmly welcomed to attend events for a more first-hand experience!"
All photos taken by Red Anderton-Tyers And Katie Clay and used with their kind permission.