Dinner Plain Day 1

The Altitude 5000 (A5k) at Dinner Plain is a highlight of the racing season. After an early scramble to rent dog friendly properties, to order gear that gets shipped from overseas specialists, to train up dog teams, the anticipation builds as everyone watches the snow reports carefully for that 2nd weekend in August.
For J and I, the other question was the one that had been plaguing us all season - would we have a team to run? With both Ishka and Frankie retired, and Bolo unsuited to a 2 dog team, that left only Czar. A5k has no 1 dog class, so we were stuck unless we could borrow another dog.
Fortunately, our kind friends at Snofall Siberians were able to loan lovely Layla to us, so J entered a 3 dog team. We scrambled to fit in a bit more training. He was also asked to fill in as time keeper for the race, after A from Idigadog broke his shoulder and was forced to skip A5k for the first time in 14 years. That meant some quick work on an appropriate spreadsheet to calculate times for multiple mixed classes (2&3 dog teams running together, then 4&6). Most important chore on the list was getting the sled ready.
Based on his experience last year, J had decided to reinforce his sled and add a drag mat to help with speed control. A drag mat is a rubber mat that drags behind the sled (obviously!) A musher can stand on it to increase the drag and slow the sled down, without using the claw brake which tends to bring the sled to a dead halt. Being J, he had all the skills and tools for the job, but, being J, he also made the biggest drag mat ever seen!
We got the car and dog float loaded and took leave for the Friday. The plan was to drive up on Thursday night, through Bairnsdale and Omeo to Dinner Plain, which is a slightly longer trip (by ten minutes) than travelling through Bright and Hotham, but much nicer roads. Of course, our trip ended up being much longer - stops for Frankie whose medication was making him drink and pee much more than normal, stops for forgotten gear, stops for petrol, dinner , and to replace the electric plug when it fell out of the socket and was dragged behind the car. Our trip was more like 2 hours longer than planned!
Not that it would have mattered, since we had forgotten one very important point. We knew we needed to buy alpine diesel to safely travel up the mountain, and had deliberately only half filled the tank in Melbourne. Alpine diesel is only available in the alpine areas, and we were going to fill up in Omeo, last town before climbing the mountain. Unfortunately we didn't take into consideration that the petrol station in Omeo shuts at 7pm on a Thursday night. We were stuck in Omeo until the petrol station opened again at 7am Friday morning. Thankfully in a nice warm motel room!
Once we were on the road, it was exciting to see snow, not just on the distant mountain tops, but right down in the rolling hills outside Omeo. Once we got up to Dinner Plain, we were delighted to see the pretty village blanketed in snow. It was also exciting to see how many chalets and lodges had dog floats, with sleds on top, parked out front. Our beautiful and dog friendly cottage was lovely and very well suited to our purposes for the weekend. We settled in and J finished preparing his spreadsheet for the drivers' meeting. I walked dogs and said hello to friends passing by, lovely the feeling of knowing so many folks in the village.
After lunch, we took Frankie and some gear and went up to the ski hire shop. I borrowed a pair of cross country skis and boots and we went around to the flat section by DP Hut, where the tennis courts and playground are. I tentatively put the skis on and had a couple of trial runs up and down the road. Once I felt like I had got my balance (as much as I ever would on such narrow skis), J went and fetched Frankie, a harness, a line and his dog walking belt. We got Frankie all hooked up and I had my first go at skijorring! Very exciting!
More recent training runs with Frankie had been incredibly frustrating, as he had stopped wanting to run within the first 750m. Skijorring with him was totally different! He was eager to trot along, keeping a constant pressure on the line. I was able to keep pace with him and my balance improved with his weight in the walking belt round my waist. It was delightful, feeling that wonderful connection of shared purpose with Frankie again.
We travelled up and down the road a couple of times, and then I asked him to go left and he plunged into the deeper snow under the trees, perfectly picking the little walking trail that I was aiming for. I gathered a little speed and called 'easy easy' as Frankie started to pull harder. We got through to the other road and turned left again, and continued trotting along waving to friends at the Australian Sled Dog tours at the Cattlemen's Hut. We went out the Start Chute, back under the trees and climbed the slight incline of the road back to where J waited. The whole time Frankie was attentive to my commands, happy and moving well. It was a great success! I can't wait to do it again!!

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