Mushers defy mild weather and lack of snow at Caledonia Classic

There was tough competition in the Caledonia Classic stage race on Feb. 23 and 24.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad competes in the Politician’s Race.

There was tough competition in the Caledonia Classic stage race on Feb. 23 and 24.

It was a neck-and-neck race for Saturday in the stage race, with Fort St. James musher Craig Houghton and Sam Palfrey of Quesnel fighting hard for first place on Friday and Saturday.

Houghton had finished less than 27 seconds ahead of Palfrey to take first place on Friday. On Saturday, Houghton was poling hard from his sled with his team one dog down. One of his younger dogs was played out, and Houghton put him in the sled to finish the race, adding to the weight the others must pull.

The depleted team, helped along by Houghton’s poling, lost their place as Palfrey pressed forward at the finish, the two teams vying for position right up until the final metres.

“That was kind of neat actually,” said Houghton. “I’d never had a race finish like that.”

Houghton went into the third stage on Sunday with a lead of less than 30 seconds separating him from Palfrey, but he had to leave behind his main lead dog due to a sore wrist.

While Houghton struggled to get his team organized in the first miles of the race, changing things around to find a new dog to lead the team, he did manage to catch up to Palfrey, but could not maintain pace with Palfrey and over the final 20 miles, Palfrey made up 12 minutes on Houghton.

“He just had the stronger dog team,” said Houghton.

In the end, Palfrey took first in the stage with a total time of 14 hours, four minutes and 34.01 seconds.

“He deserved that first place without a doubt,” said Houghton.

Houghton took second with a total time of 14 hours, 16 minutes and 31.62 seconds.

Houghton will now be heading to Yellowknife just before spring break to race in the Diavik 150, a 150-mile race, and in a 50-mile seven-dog run after.

But Houghton said the Caledonia Classic is a unique race in some respects because it is so well-supported and almost every musher always finishes their race, while in some up to 20 per cent of racers do not finish.

Every year Houghton looks forward to the race day “like a 10-year-old at Christmas” and said the race is a highlight of his year.

The entire three-day event, in its 14th year running, went off well, despite pre-race concerns over warm temperatures and lack of snow, and Houghton credits the crew of volunteers who bring it all together.

With not only great local volunteers who put in work throughout the year, but also a dedicated class from the UNBC Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management Course which has come out each year to help.

This year, 18 students and their instructor came, and students from all over were able to enjoy a unique northern experience.

There were students from France, Germany, Mexico, Norway and of course B.C, and they helped with everything from dog handling to building the steps to the viewing platform for the announcer, Joanne Vinnedge, who kept up an animated commentary on everything from dog sledding action to humorous anecdotes.

There were many great highlights to the dogsledding action in addition to the tight stage race.

Junior World Champion Rachel Kinvig of Whitehorse, Yukon, took first place in the six-dog sprints both Saturday and Sunday. She also took first in the four-dog sprint on Sunday, but lost out to Dave Johnson by 15 seconds on Saturday.

Dave Johnson won the 10-dog race against Fort St. James musher Ian Kitchen.

The fourth annual Politician’s Race was won by Mackenzie Mayor Stephanie Killem, being driven in a sled by Petra Perrino.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad put in a solid run this year finishing his race running a sled himself, after falling off the sled in two previous years.

Rustad only had three dogs (where everyone else had four or the six for Perrino and Killem because there were two people to pull) he still came in with a smile on his face.

Mayor Rob MacDougall came in third in the race also running a sled himself, and it was the first time he had been on a dogsled.

Reining champion Tom Greenaway of the Regional District came in second running his own sled.

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