This is being written on Monday morning….the morning after the Mail Run weekend…..another great success! Perhaps the whole experience can be summed up with two words…BLUR and BRRRR! BLUR for the fact that there was so much packed into four days of non-stop sled dog and wilderness outdoors events and BRRR for the fact that the thermometer kept dropping, actually down to below -30C on both Friday and Saturday nights.
First of all some stats. There were 28 participants in the Mail Run from Quesnel to Wells with an additional 9 participants in the Dash from Barkerville to Wells. Among these were 6 skijorers, four snowmobilers, with the rest running sled dog teams…it was an outstanding turnout. Those who travelled over the trail were supported by another group of participants, just under 80 volunteers who did everything from hand-cancel envelopes to stand out in the freezing cold for hours as spotters along the trail. This number of volunteers does not include a group of Boy Scouts as well as a group of Girl Scouts. The support and enthusiasm was fantastic.
Conditions were outstanding. Along with the cold weather came hard and very fast trails. The scenery was truly spectacular, with lots of snow on the trees as well as heavy hoar frost all along the route. The cold temperatures were tailor-made for the dogs as they all performed exceptionally well. There were no dogs carried in baskets or sled bags, they all seemed to love the whole experience. The cold weather did claim a few casualties however, a few diesel pick-up trucks were rendered powerless until things warmed up and a couple of teams chose to sit out the second stage of the run to rest up for the next two stages. The beauty of the Mail Run is that participants can take part in all or some of the stages, they do not have to participate in every stage.
The Thursday night Mushers’ Meeting at the A&W was a real success. The restaurant was packed as old friends renewed contact, everyone picked up their bibs and the trail was reviewed, questions answered and hamburgers and poutine consumed. The gathering actually started at 4:00 p.m. and it wasn’t until over four hours later that everyone started making their way home or to their sleeping accommodation. There were several participants who were new to the Mail Run, including five who were aged 16 and under, the youngest is 10 years of age while the oldest volunteer is 70 years of age. Folks came from Alberta, Washington State, Vancouver Island as well as from throughout British Columbia, there were also participants who were visiting from England. Among the group were experienced mushers training for the upcoming Yukon Quest 300 Race and other major races, as well as novices who had just received a week of intensive instruction to prepare them for the Mail Run. There was more than one family group. In addition to the newcomers there were those who have participated for each of the 17 years that the Mail Run has been an entity.
The Official Swearing In and Sendoff on Friday morning in front of the local post office was a lot of fun. Everyone was in great spirits as a record number of mail carriers took part. Twenty bags of mail holding 2700 envelopes were distributed to the official mail carriers. Some envelopes were actually hand-delivered to folks who lived along the route while the bulk of the mail was safe-guarded over the trail and turned over to the Postal Superintendent in Wells, where it was then placed into the regular mail system for distribution throughout the world. There was a great deal of enthusiastic support from the general public this year and virtually every envelope was sold.
The take-off on Friday over the first stage of the trail required some detailed co-ordination as the staging area was actually in the centre of an active logging operation. The co-operation from the logging companies was wonderful – they ensured that there would be no active hauling on the logging roads so that the likelihood of any traffic mishap was removed. This represents a significant concession on the part of a major logging company which is often having to work with time constraints or deadlines in order to complete their logging while the weather co-operates. In fact there were two major logging operations that showed their understanding by modifying their operations to accommodate the Mail Run…..and there were no mishaps of any kind.
The Stage One run from Umiti Pit to Cottonwood was fast and glorious with a beautiful trail and a bright blue sky. The temperatures remained cold but the dogs loved it…although more than one musher was wishing for an extra layer to keep warm. There were volunteers at every decision point to help teams make turns and the finish was over about 3km of brand new (and very exciting) trail through the bush and leading right into the checkpoint at the Cottonwood Trading Post.
Friday night was the inaugural get together in the brand new Maverick Manor, home of the Café del Mar….this tent and tarpaulin structure rivals BC Place in downtown Vancouver as an architectural marvel….it was a great sight to see the Manor jammed with 60 people dressed in all the warm-weather clothing they owned, eating a fantastic BBQ/Potlluck meal of hamburgers, shepherd’s pie, salads, soup, chile, buns, dessert with coffee and root beer….there was a wood heater and a propane heater warding off the almost -30C temperature, it was lots of fun as over 80 people took part in this free event. By now everyone was on a first-name basis, the campsite was well-established with folks staying in trailers, campers, tents, sleeping in cabins and even in truck cabs while others had rented motel rooms, some were staying at Troll Resort and some went home. A big thank-you to the people who prepared this great meal, especially Glynnis Hopkins, Sheila Phinney and Julie Gabert….this is a great addition to the Mail Run tradition that is sure to be repeated.
At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, the first team left over Stage Two for Troll Resort. More teams had joined in overnight and the trail was exciting, very fast and it was another really clear day with temperatures slightly colder than the day before. It was basically an effortless trip for participants over the 15 mile route that takes teams up the backside of Pinegrove Mountain before the exciting descent into the resort. This route starts out on the newly-built trail to the 3500 Road and then follows inactive logging roads and bush trails, over beaver-made lakes, through some breathtaking scenery as elevation increases and then suddenly the downhill sweep into the ski resort with skiers coming and going, music playing and spectators waiting.
There was a fun weight pull with dog food prizes for all participants and then the much-anticipated Mushers’ Sports contest. This year’s winners were “THE BAD AXES”, a team of bush-savvy mushers and handlers. Events this year incuded trap setting, cigarette rolling, moose calling, fire lighting, bannock baking and tea boiling. The judges were Jan Robertson and Lin Macalinden…both took their role very seriously and participants and judges deserve a great deal of thanks….it was cold but it was a huge amount of fun and there were many people standing out in the cold until everything was over. Hats off to the Boy Scout team which actually succeeded in lighting their fire without the help of kerosene or deisel and they produced some excellent cinnamon-flavoured bannock. The Girls Scouts were very impressive, finishing second…who taught those little girls how to set a trap so quickly? Unfortunately there was some underhanded cheating on the part of defending champions, the Verge family…fire starter was detected!
The Saturday evening dinner, auction and entertainment was a fun time. There were about 140 people in attendance, we all enjoyed a meal of salads and chile with a great dessert of cake and ice cream topped with Troll Mountain Huckleberry Sauce, the auction raised approximately $2000.00 for the Holger Bauer Forest Safety Fund and the fiddle music was just what all dog mushers enjoy. Awards were presented in a number of categories. There was real competition for the “Best Mushers Hat Award”…Laura Vinnege had a unique creation that looked a great deal like a duck…it was both eye-appealing and functional. Jeff Dinsdale had an old lead dog stuffed and made into a hat which he wore with the floppy ears serving as ear warmers. There were several outstanding fur hats, among them those worn by Dennis Wittner, Rick Broswick, Ken Schendel and others…Delmer Phinney wore his Papa Smurf toque, Mona Penner had an eye-catching “convertible” mitts/hat creation…but the winner was Rick Wittner who looked great in his traditional fur hat….with the weather this year, these hats were needed.
Sunday morning the weather was even colder and this is when the diesel pick-ups bit the dust. Many folks had camped overnight at Troll Resort and the first team left the Stanley checkpoint at 9:00 a.m. The 15 mile trail to Barkerville is a marvel…one of the finest trails that a dog team will every travel over. The amount of work that was required to put in the trail this year is now the stuff of a Cariboo legend…..it is a tough climb with lots of twists and dips and turns…but also some absolutely beautiful semi-alpine country…with lots of history to boot. Then the teams sweep down the wide groomed trail into Barkerville and down the main street right through the heart of the 1860’s gold rush town to the waiting vehicles in the parking lot.
A rest until 1:30 p.m. and then the Barkerville Dash over the last 9 km. of trail to Wells is on…Dog teams with passengers, skijorers and skiers all compete together…it is exciting to see the competitors (this is now a race) spread out over the route after the mass start….many people where getting their “first ever’ ride in a dog sled….the spectators can drive along the highway following the teams and there was a great crowd waiting at the heli-pad in Wells to greet everyone. The weather got warmer and warmer as the day progressed and with bright sunshine the day was glorious. Many spectators had traveled out from Quesnel to watch the teams come into Barkerville, some merchants had opened their businesses…it was a great day. The Dash to Wells was the top-off…the mail was handed in to Postal Superintendent Ron Potter, there were a few closing words and it was time to hit the road for home.
Again, a big thank you participants, parents, volunteers, local businesses and other supporters. Mail Run #17 is now history.