Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009 National Finals

I couldn't blog like some folks were doing but I did keep a few notes daily in my journal about my trip. I'd never been to the Klamath Basin before, so I was really looking forward to it. This post is sort of long, so skip over it if you like! It was truly a "one for the book" trip, however.

Monday, Sept. 21
Finally packed and ready to go; the car is stuffed and we started out for Tulelake. It's about a six hour drive. Found the trial site after having a nice drive up. It's so very dry and plus the altitude (4000 feet); my lips are burning and my hands and fingers cracked open almost immediately. This is not good. Met with the folks who brought the puppy out from the midwest; they are great and so is she! Found the volunteer coordinator, Lora, and got myself set up for the next day's volunteer shift. Seven AM! What was I thinking? The rest of the evening was spend trying to locate food, walk dogs, and get settled at the motel. It's a tiny establishment reminiscent of the little mom-and-pop places that the folks took us to back in the 1960s on our summer vacation road trips.

Tuesday, Sept. 22
Worked in the Info Booth from 7 Am to 11 Am. Selling the Finals merchandise was somewhat of a feeding frenzy. We sold out of the vests within an hour or so, the hats and t-shirts about the same. Luckily Geri said she would take orders on the vests and would bring more hats and t-shirts the next day or so. Whew! I mostly checked in handlers and gave them their packets. It was nice to meet folks like Louanne T., Maureen R., and others. We were so busy in the booth that morning that we couldn't even turn around to watch the runs going on behind us. When my shift was over, I got to walk the puppy and watch some of the runs including Bill & Pete with a lovely run in the hot late afternoon. Everyone loves the puppy. My boys are antsy with not much action. I took them for a run in the alfalfa field after the trial runs were over. I can see this will be our daily ritual. There is a lot of walking between the trial area and where the cars are parked. It gets really hot during the day and cold at night.

Wednesday, Sept. 23
Coal and I worked exhaust at the open field, 11 AM to 1 PM, with a gentleman from Texas and his dog Josey. They were very competent, good company and our shift went like clockwork. Whew! Coal did just fine and listened well. Our crew coordinator made it clear that our number one goal is to get the sheep off the field quickly and not worry about handler sensitivities; easy for her to say! We traded off doing the dog/sheep work with operating the gate. Exhaust was a good spot to watch outrun, lift and part of the fetch but you can't see much more due to the terrain. We had to stay on our toes to know when to gear up to gather sheep after each run. It is hotter today than ever. The ewes are amazingly big up close and personal; but they are very even as many have noted. Coal and Chief had eye exams by Dr. Aclund and both passed. More whew! I was encouraged to fill out the USBCHA forms for Coal's eye test to be filed with the organization since he is my trials dog; thanks Amy. Luckily I discovered the Merino skin creme booth which solved my cracked fingers and their pain almost instantly. Nursery has begun, which interests me since that's where we ran all year; the runs are difficult and there is some great dog work but not great scores. The sheep are brought down from the open and re-run in the nursery, which is a very straightforward field, at least to my eye. My brother arrived and picked up the puppy; she is a doll but broke her collar, giving us a fright. We went to dinner at Pappy Gander's in Merrill which is another tiny establishment in a tiny town (but at least there is a gas station).

Thursday, Sept. 24th
It is a very smoky sky today; the sun was deep red at sunup out the motel back window. It's not as hot due to the haze, but still warm. Nursery continues and the scores have improved greatly over Wednesday; I don't know if the sheep have settled, or what. Bill and Mike had a great Open run but no pen; one ewe would not cooperate. Haley H. had a phenomenal run with Ross; just amazing. Again one ewe was fighting him and Ross moved her backwards all the way from the shedding ring to the pen, with her buddies facing forward. It was a sight to see. Coal and I worked exhaust in the nursery field with another nice gentleman who was from Washington and his dog Mojo. It was nice to meet people and chat with folks from all over. Coal again did fine although the nursery exhaust was longer and more complex a task. We had three people and three dogs and often needed all of us to accomplish the goal. I watched a lot of the nursery runs today; there were many very good ones. In the evening after dinner we attended the USBCHA meeting which was very sparsely attended. The new directors (including Geri for District One) were announced and a little bit of business conducted. My dogs are not happy with so much inactivity although they did get another run on the hillside and Coal took part in the doggie cold tub which is next to the "cowboy hot tub". We decided that instead of Burning Man, this is "Burning Dog" with the smoke, heat and the pervasive dust and red sun.

Friday, Sept. 25th
Nursery finals today, so mostly I watched that field. Most of the finalists came from Thursday's runs and very few from Wednesday's. That must be frustrating to those who ran on Wednesday. The sheep are fighting being penned though, in Nursery. From 3 to 5 PM Coal and I worked exhaust at the open field. We had several wrecks and our shift was anything but clockwork. Coal is doing OK but getting a bit headstrong and sticky; I feel I might be in trouble for tomorrow. Unfortunately he was the more experienced dog of this afternoon's work pair so he had to do more than his share of the work. At one point a handler's sheep got away from her and went running off to the north into the stubble. One of the judges told me to go out and help (this was even before the clock ticked down). I knew it was a lost cause with the sheep running away and me having such an inexperienced dog. But we walked out to the shedding ring anyway. Coal did not see the sheep where he had been picking them up all week so he was puzzled. Everyone was yelling at us this and that. Finally some crew members hopped on a 4-wheeler with a dog and took off after the errant ewes who by this time were out of sight. It was a relief to me to be called off that duty which was way beyond our job description! We've been chatting at the motel with a very nice lady handler from Washington. It is just amazing all the folks that we have met and what a small world it is. Rime is getting pretty good about calling off all the many distractions at the trial site. After the runs are over, literally dozens of dogs are taken out to run together on the hillside, 99% without mishap. It is quite a sight. We went out for a lovely dinner at Captain Jack's which is south of Tulelake.

Saturday Sept 26th
Today is the Top 40 Semifinalists Day, and Tough Enough to Wear Pink day. It is a sea of pink literally everywhere you look. Coal and I worked exhaust again but he was really misbehaving, indulging in too much eye, and not taking my stops. Luckily my partner from British Columbia had a very competent dog so I asked if she could take over the dog/sheep work while I worked the gate. We also had to remove the red collars from the sheep as they came in, since a marked shed was part of today's course elements. Up close and personal the ewes are very big, wild, and will whirl around on you. They could take a knee out very easily without hardly trying. I heard they were about 175 pounds each. We had to sort of "whisper" them into accepting our removal of the heavy nylon collars which had both big buckles and keepers; you couldn't just whisk them off like velcro. The sheep demanded respect, which we gave them. They were hot, the pen was very dusty and I think I got dirtier than I have ever been! At the end of the day we attended the Tough Enough to Wear Pink benefit dinner which was quite good although I was very tired by then. The awards and Calcutta were all great fun with lots of good-natured kidding.

Sunday Sept 27th
Top 17 Finals day. Bill and Mike ran first with a lovely run. The 30-minute runs included the International Shed which was approached in as many different ways as there are handlers. All of them gave it their best shot. We stayed until the end including the driving championship which was very interesting. For the driving championship, four handlers competed; they were to do a mini-outrun for 50 sheep set in front of the fetch gates, turn them around the post, and then drive them out in a straight line about 800 yards up the field to a white bucket. You could barely see the bucket and this was a very difficult task. Two of the four handlers retired, getting their sheep beyond the fetch gates but having trouble with the number of sheep at that distance. Alasdair and Haley were successful with Haley & Ross taking the championship score. It was incredible to watch on top of what had already been an incredible day and week. I had no volunteering scheduled which was nice after having worked every day all week; I was getting pretty tired. I've had fun and it was an honor to watch these handlers and dogs who are the best of the best. My dogs are stir crazy and I'm sure they will be thrilled to get home and back to some freedom. It will take weeks to get the dirt out of our vehicles and various belongings, but it was sure worth it.


Linda said...

I really enjoyed reading your journal, what an experience! I'm sure it would have been nicer without the "hot" and "dirt" ;-)

Bob Towner said...

Billy, Enjoyed your blog entries for the finals! Exhausting those sheep...baptism by fire training! I'm jealous! It's rainy, wet, & getting cold in good Ole Ill. Will call you soon.
Bob T.