A big sled dog race like the Dinner Plain A5K Sleddog Challenge attracts a lot of photographers, a lot of audience. After all, its an unusual race - a race that runs in daylight, in gorgeous snow country, with beautiful dogs. Last year, I dragged both my brothers along, promising them a race that they could see without squinting in the dark early winter evening or getting up at 6am. Having a crowd of folks who've never seen a dog race before standing around, is unusual and a big challenge, in and of itself.
The committee and the Alpine Shire do a fantastic job at working with as many folks as possible, and most of the locals are really understanding and helpful. At other times of year there seem to be lots of dogs roaming loose around the village, but when the sleddogs descend on the village, other dogs are kept confined. We felt happy to stake our dogs out near our lodge, without worrying about small dogs approaching and getting hurt by an excited, prey-driven husky or mallie.
However, there are always going to be people who won't understand the urgency of keeping themselves and their dogs away from the race. And as the race winds over several km around the playground, tennis courts, toboggan run and eastern outskirts of the village, there are plenty of spots where organisers, marshalls and crowd controllers can't keep watch over the track. I discovered this myself on the short skijoring track.
Firstly Czar tried to visit someone in the crowd before we'd even left the start chute. This first gentleman was standing quietly, hands in his pockets, just near the end of the chute bunting. I have no idea why Czar found him irresistible! Then we headed along the road-side straight, past numerous dog floats, cheering friends, and photographers... including J. J always tries to ensure that he keeps his face covered with the camera to avoid making eye contact with the dogs, and stays quiet and low, but he is still Czar's daddy.
J says Czar paid no attention to him, but Catemac, sitting a little way away, said he absolutely started heading for J, until I told him to get back on task. As we approached the first corner, Czar was concentrating on chasing and/or passing other teams, both those that had started before us and after us. There was a line of marshalls and organisers standing at the corner, blocking the alternative fork. They were also standing quietly, and Czar passed them comfortably.
At the next corner, another fork in the path which had proven difficult for several other teams, Czar was keen to follow the team that had just passed us, and took me round the corner smoothly, again ignoring a row of marshalls and other folks. We then took the final stretch, about half a km, winding around the water tower and through the trees past the tennis courts. Various folks along the way kept a respectful and appropriate distance, and Czar only looked, even when we passed Smudge's mum, whom he knows very well from Obedience. One wonderful photographer even went to the effort of hiding behind a tree, and I think he was the one who took this gorgeous photo.
However, as I approached the final straight, there was one man, walking along the trail towards me, who made no effort to get off the track. He wasn't directly in my way, walking along the side of the trail, leaving me plenty of room to pass. We were too far from the finish chute for a group of marshalls or anyone to stop him. As we drew closer, he still didn't move off the trail. He just kept walking. I was really puzzled and a bit upset. Fortunately, Czar kept going, so I tried to avoid panicking. As we came almost face to face, I said to the man "Can you get off the trail please?" He just looked at me quizzically, and Czar and I swept on down the trail.
As we approached the finish chute, I relaxed a little. Sure, the crowds were thickest here, but they were behind the bunting and Czar is accustomed to people around the finish line. Of course, as soon as I relaxed, he tried to sniff someone alongside the bunting. Sigh! He responded to my call of "On by" and headed cleanly down over the finish line.
At Dinner Plain, the clearly marked trail skirting around the village, running the race in daylight, and having a multitude of great volunteers, helps minimise any issues with the general public. At Falls Creek, where the race is run through the village, along the dark village roads, without bunting or people to guide the public away from the dogs, creates far more problems. In both situations, the general public need to be alert and active in avoiding racing dogs. Both for the safety of the public, and to avoid upsetting the mushers and the dogs, who are trying to run a race, just for one weekend of the year. Then everyone else can have the trails back!