This was a very exciting weekend for all of us at Flint Sky. Not only were we once again heading off on a long night of driving to get to the weekend’s rally, but we were heading up for our first ever rally in Sherwood Pines Forest, at the inaugural AMWA Sherwood rally event. Due to unforeseen circumstances that many clubs faced this season in getting the Hick’s Lodge venue for the mid-February race, organisers Chris and Philippa Lamerton quickly changed tact and organised a rally for Sherwood Forest instead.
For many mushers losing the Hick’s Lodge event was a sad moment as I know the windy trails are a great favourites, but equally for many others it was a huge relief to get to have an AWMA race on the Northern circuit and the well-regarded trails of Sherwood without having to deal with the crowds and bustle of the Hick’s Lodge event.
For us, this was very exciting. Scheduling rallies this year was so tough to choose with so many overlapping events from different clubs, and though we’d heard multitudes of good reports about the trails at Sherwood, unfortunately scheduling earlier in the year meant we’d not made it up to any of them. So this was a great change for us and we were very excited to put in our entry for this fifth and penultimate event in the AMWA Championship calendar.
It was made doubly exciting by the special appearance of some of our northern mushers, in particular Bob Wadey and his two-dog Malamute team of Jinx and Jenson, who made it a full house for our Memphis’ Northspirit littermates, at the first ever rally where all five puppies from the litter were in attendance and racing on the day.
With so much ado about the weekend we decided to splurge on not just one, but two hotel nights so that driving through the night was done before we were so tired, and we arrived at our hotel half an hour from the venue on Friday night just weary enough for a bucket of chicken and some bad television, before collapsing into a restful sleep in preparation for the following days’ events.
This AMWA rally was once again sponsored by Alpha and was run in the same format as rallies earlier in the year, though with special consideration for the malamutes given to the temperature with the large teams going out first, followed by the large M2 class and M1 with the day ending with the CS and DS classes, bikejor, scooter and Junior.
The directions as listed on the event flyer were excellent and we had no trouble whatsoever finding our way to the site which was well marked coming in. The venue we very quickly realised was excellent. One of my very favourites of the season so far. There was ample parking with lots of cleared areas for staking out the dogs. Everyone had plenty of space and with a side road leading down to a huge field with loads of room. Everyone gave each other plenty of room and the area for walking the dogs before and after racing was superb. You could either walk them along into the field (once again though many of the bigger teams were staked out there the path and the area was so spacious that you never had any trouble getting past) or down to the Sherwood Forest trails where you found the bulk of the visitors, tourists and cyclists.
The weekend – despite being very nice weather at the tail end of half-term holidays – was remarkably free of traffic and dog walkers. I know I heard some mushers say they’d seen dog walkers on the trails but on both runs that our two teams made over the weekend the trails were completely clear with the exception of a few cyclists.
The trails were – exemplary. Simply fantastic trails for the dogs underfoot and good fast trails with enough changes to keep the dogs interested. My own run in M1 was somewhat marred by my own foolish mishaps and the distraction of passing several teams with a single young dog, but even so I was constantly aware of how well laid out the trails were. They began in a slight uphill through forest with a bit of mud and leaves underfoot, lots of turns and corners at the start, turning into long, leafy straights and going on to some fire roads and paths. The original trail length for all the teams but bikejor, scooter, veteran and Junior was 3.7 miles, a length which would have been excellent except that the temperature did rise just enough on the first day so that some of the malamutes struggled a little. Overall though the weather was good, the trail was amazing and a few mushers had really great runs.
Corinna Clarke did extremely well in M2 with a finish time on Saturday of 21:59 finishing first overall for the weekend and Portia Morgan running her Malamute, Peaches in S1 came in first on both Saturday and Sunday with times of 16:15,77 and 9:57,82 respectively.
I myself came back a bit battered and bruised after a few silly falls and an unfortunate near collision with a cyclist at the finish line running in M1, but still managed the decent time of 27:57,47 very excitedly taking my first ever first place with my Malamute Sawyer.
The sun came out near the end of the runs, so it was really lovely weather for stretching the dogs and clearing up the site before heading off to our respective campsites or hotels for the evening. After the day’s racing I was very keen to get back to a warm shower, an ice pack and a beer or two!
We ended our first night in Sherwood with the particularly sociably and brilliant evening at the local Maypole Hotel with nice food, drink and a massive puppy reunion 3 years in the making.
On Sunday the sky was overcast but the temperature and the humidity had risen noticeably. We all arrived at the site worried about the day and the length of the course and how the temperatures would progress, but the organisers were extremely on the ball about this watching it closely and in what I found to be incredibly efficient style, had the trail changed quickly in time for the Malamute classes to go out to a much more suitable 2.5 miles. This was a huge relief for us all and I have to say the second day’s run was even better. Though I took it a bit easier after the mishaps the day before, I still got around the trail in a nice time and even with the rising temperatures never felt that it was too much for my dog to run. Further, the trail changes they made meant that we were in the trees and shade much more of the run than we had been the day before, meaning the temperature was far less of an issue. They organisers were incredibly conscientious and efficient in dealing with this, so many thanks to them on behalf of our teams!
The second day runs were good for a lot of the teams. In particular for Adam Sammells who running his two-dog team of Mason and Qisxa in their rookie year together came in first place in the very competitive M2 class on Sunday with a time of 14:25,36 taking second place overall for the weekend! There was a mere 20 second between the top three M2 teams on Sunday – very well done to you all! Also a big well done to Jessica Wright who had a cumulative weekend run time of 24:01,56 in DS and Pete Jones who won both BS and CS classes over the weekend with respective times of 26:25,43 and 21:55,40.
Overall it was an interesting weekend with great trails, excellent company and amazing organisation. The event went as smoothly as any I’ve been to this year, and I cannot thank Chris and Philippa enough for the effort put in to make it all work as well as it did. To date this has been (even with my scrapes and bruises!) one of my favourite rallies this season, and I sincerely hope AMWA continue this venue in the future.
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 used with her kind permission.