Everyone, except those already qualified, gets a little anxious on the final day of qualifying at Soldier Hollow. There are but fifteen spots. Lots of good handlers and dogs are vying for them.
Wyatt Fleming started the day with an 84 that lead for a while until Dennis Gellings and Tess laid one down for a 91. The prospects for runners that followed diminished as the hot weather overtook the trial. Then a few made it happen. Beverly Lambert and Nan delivered a very good run in the sweltering afternoon, for an 80. Barbara Ray ran an 85 with Maverick, both changing around the leader board for the top five
Dorey ran in possession of the course, Her pen work was her forte, dashing from foot to foot and checking my side too, just in case I was going to let it down, She scored a 90 at three o’clock in the afternoon, not leading but close.
Tomorrow she runs third, Howell is sixth. Everyone is eager for double gathering and the big show.
No one here got up that early, lingering over a perfect cup of Nicaraguan coffee. I had drawn up at mid day. These extreme trials in the west cannot be discussed without the temperature weighing in. The cold mornings, that tempt the neophyte to turn on the furnace, silly, because the day became the furnace itself–so hot, well before noon.
Scott Glen laid one down early in the day, scoring 90–8:00 am to be precise, the first run of the day, Everything that came afterwards was difficult, sheep challenging dogs, dqs, retires. Angie Coker-Sells ran a 79. Ron Enzeroth did too.
Sometimes, in a sheepdog career, someone says something that meets all the work done to date, that gratifies all aspirations, all goals, all focus for the last thirty years. Such was the case today. Tommy Wilson marched across the back of the lower grandstands to where I waited to exhaust my group. I saw him. He marched purposefully. He came to me with arms outstretched. A hug. He said he had watched Dorey’s run from the VIP Centre and loved it. That I had let her go like a sheep, with the sheep. That I had no stops and starts. That she had taken care of the sheep but most of all that I had let her. I tried to tell him what a high compliment that meant to me. What an honour his comments had been. I don’t know if he knew. Don’t know if he understood. These are emotional moments in sheepdog trialling. Where a respected peer cites admiration for work. Work to which I have applied myself to longer than I can recall. Dorey didn’t catch Scot Glen and Alice but she ran a respectable 86 at high noon, finishing second on the day.
Later in the evening we went to the Tree Room at Sundance. The wine was Kosta Browne, the food was great and the company better.
I have been having some trouble with my onboard Onan generator. Call me a blond, but when the thing is haywire enough not to stop priming on its own, I have to wonder where the gas is going. Danger. Danger. Calls to Onan had produced offers of a repair date after I was back in Canada. But one resourceful certified Onan technician called to say he had a job in Meeker and could look at the generator before. Jubilation. He spotted the problem, an internal computer gone south, and made a sacred promise to order the part and bring it to Meeker next week when he had to go to a job in Steamboat Springs. Too bad for whoever wanted the maple syrup, as I gave it to him. I love this man.
Fishing guides would have been cheated out of there own, if Roger Trout had not been a guide In one of America’s richest trout rivers. the White. We went upstream, to a babbling part of the river that was the meeting waters of a few branches. The water was cold. The footing difficult. He pushed me onward in my red icebreaker skirt. A demanding guide. I have never measured the success of a fishing trip by the number of fish caught, but his trade relies on ensuring clients catch them. And catch them I did— six or seven jewell like trouts which swam happily back for more, and a pair of big ones slipped away, Of course, the biggest fish got away. But this one stayed for the photo op, in all his glistening, sparkly glory. I wish I could have sauteed one in a bit of butter, not so much a sportsman as a foodie.
It was too hot to sit around so I jumped behind the wheel of my trusty pickup and rode westward to Soldier Hollow, following through on a forced affair with the open road. Deer, elk and antelope traverse this route at night, much better in broad daylight, at ninety five degrees, than smashing in the front of a perfectly good pickup truck with wild game.
Everyone is Soldier Hollow bound, for the big show.
My route went eastward to the Thousand Island border crossing and drive that took south of the Great Lakes. As one raised on the north shore of the lakes, the creeks and rivers that flowed northward to our shared lakes always seem a contravention of all things natural. At Lake Erie, they could be seen coursing to their lake, bottlenecked for the violence of Niagara Falls and onto our Lake Ontario, a congregation at Kingston for a surge to the Atlantic, down the St Lawrence River. We will have watched that water at Kingston Sheep Dog Trials, perhaps without a thought of its origin.
Once a day of driving is behind you, all thoughts of turning around dissipate. You are committed. I stopped for the night in Ohio, making an early start to pass Chicago at the least traffic infected time. It worked.
Why there is no fanfare at the Mississippi will always be a puzzle for me until someone does something about it. A river whose name is uttered with similar reverence to Amazon, Nile, Danube Yangtse, MacKenzie—no lights, no special brass section playing. It was somber this time, with dull chilly weather and a rain storm passed over just before I did. The water roiled along, oblivious to all the chaos it would meet at the Gulf of Mexico, where Harvey was on the rampage.
For a Sunday, one would have thought the traffic on I-80 would be light. It was always heavy, all the way past Lincoln Nebraska. No breaks for the driver. The plains were well watered and showing how bountiful they be. Iowa was top heavy with corn. I nearly made it to Wyoming in one day, stopping twenty miles short. Next morning, I turned south off the interstate at Laramie, Wyoming, winding down an untravelled road for me, to Steamboat Springs, Craig, and on to Meeker. A breached credit card needed remedying and I needed altitude for blood building in the dogs. Lake Avery, up towards the flattops from Meeker, took me to 8,000 feet, the perfect place for a day’s respite and fortification from within.
For those who believe us to be out living the dream, forget it. The last couple of days have been fraught with bitter disappointments. Howell made it through to tomorrow in good style. Dorey did not make it to the semis. I consider her my first string dog. None of my regulars could console me as there was no cell device here. You get the picture. The car park diminished rapidly today. Handlers headed home to all places in North America.
Bridget Strang is practised at throwing a party. Great barbecue. Horse arena turned party hole.
Opening ceremonies at seven tomorrow morning. Double lift final afterwards for top seventeen.
Ever since we left Meeker, connecting with the world had been difficult. My computer is still dead after Sammy tipped the water onto it . No cell service is available at Strang Ranch, so Internet junkies are agitated and in withdrawal.
Meeker is splendid trial to win. The Merino sheep are magnificent athletes, descending from the rarified air of the flattops at ten thousand feet, to take on our sea level dogs. Two of mine made it to the semi-finals, Dorey and Howell. Howell set the pace early in the day with 104 of 110 points, a marked single and uncollared shed. Howell was back to his old self, after a course of Doxy. He marched them in style. Dorey had a difficult single at the pen, swinging around three times before we got them in. The same uncollared single wrecked havoc on the shed by running everywhere out of the ring and never giving us a chance to take the collared single. Only Howell made the final, but that was enough.
Howell drew up just before noon, which in high-desert-speak means heat of the day. From frost at seven to 80 an hour or two later. His first gather was very good. The spotters lost his sheep for the go back and Howell went tight for a couple of redirects. He picked up the second group and fetched smoothly save a few kinks. He drove well. His shed was a twenty pointer. But I lost a few taking risks at the pen. They did not get back together.
A few competitors nearly caught us, but none ever did. Howell’s second Meeker championship. You can never win that honour enough times. It was my turn to buy at the Meeker Hotel.
We got up next morning to work young dogs at Ila’s and ride on to Carbondale for the US National Finals.
On Monday we went about parking in the rough terrain of the carpark, with sage brush stumps, cactus. Leveling up is a big job. The biggest handlers meeting in North America ensues, with all anticipating their best ever finals. Mary Minor and Feist turned in the first run of our gang, She is still sitting eighth after two days of qualifying. Barbara Ray ran well with Stella and Howell will be back for semi-finals on Saturday.
he sheep were very different to Meekers’s Merinos–much more Rambouillait type, but difficult and demanding. Lots of good hands fell by the wayside under their pressure.
We went out to a Carbondale restaurant called Town. It was grand.
A long wait through the night for the Nursery to start. Haley Hunewill, Faansie Basson, and Joni Tietjen are leading the pack. I put Quark on the line at the pen after an OK run around the course. She grabbed one under duress and it was game over. I have Zola, tomorrow morning and Dorey on Friday morning. If I can get to wifi, you will hear from me.
My mother’s terrier knocked over my flowers on the table. My computer was in the way and now will not light up. Mich lent me hers.
Yesterday the scores went upward. Handlers speculated as to why—the caliber of runner, or the increased agreeability of the sheep. Who knows.
Dorey had an intelligent run. A fluffed shed attempt. But the pen was once again intense and successful. 82. Ron Enzeroth tied her score in the lead, with a similar good run. We watched the running most of the day, with the sheep telling us stories, good and bad, about the dogs.
Meeker poured it on in the evening with Michael Martin Murphy entertaining the event at night, a lamb cook off, and the art show. We grazed leftovers with great wine.
Today is maintenance and young dog training day. I see a walk at Avery Lake in the later afternoon. My pals are running dogs today and I look forward to watching them take on the Meeker sheep.
Mittens, sheepskin boots and winter jackets are required first thing in the morning, but within a few hours, it’s back to sandals and dresses. Maybe those radical temperature changes do not affect the nature of the sheep. A dog’s ability to cope at mile high altitude is definitely changed from one part of the day to another.
Howell had a crappy go today with a good outrun, decent lift and sheep that despised him the balance of the way around the course. We made it with a couple of missed gates and a decent finish. The trial takes back the top eight from each qualifying day, to Saturday’s sami finals. Howell lives to play on Saturday. Shauna Gourley lead the day with an 80 score. Barbara Ray showed us it could be done properly with a good go around the course but no finish for a 72. Beverly was disappointed. There are two more days of this tough running. 47 dogs a day.
We all went to the White River for a dog swim. A mob of dogs. Afterwards, I got in some training time with the young ones. All part of growing up, but their being cooped up on a long road ride like this, is harsh by any measure. I took Hazel out to watch for awhile. She spotted the sheep way up the big Meeker field and longed to be the one who brought them in. Her turn will come.
It was steaks on the barbecue for our camp, with all the accoutrements
The day started like any other one here, chilly, delicious Nicaraguan cafe, the handlers camp buzzing with generators and excitement about the finale.
A strong final it was, with everyone turning in decent runs–no competitors whose dogs didn’t go back. Ron Enzeroth and his admirable Mick started the day with a run around the course that could have demoralized every other competitor. But things went south in the ring. Any run missing the final thirty points could not make it to the top. Not at this one.
My runs were quite good on the course and tidy sheds for both. Dorey made a couple of good saves—one collared she handled smartly while I tried to make sure I had enough collared ones behind her to let the saved one go. With eight collared sheep, only to keep five, this is a confusion peculiar to Soldier Hollow.
But it was the pens that were the take aways. Howell took his five to the pen, but while we were working them in, the discards showed up. I did not look to see. The crowds’ swoons told me they were coming, but the patter of their hooves on the dry ground behind me let me know how close. “Howell. C’mon. Now or never.” It worked. Handlers had a laugh. The thousands of spectators went mad.
Dorey’s was different. She had an exploder. Only she and I knew about it, as she kept it under such good control with a list left and right to answer all its ideas about leaving. I had seven minutes to pen. I wish the moments could have lasted all of it instead a couple, as they were so enjoyable and intense.
Soldier Hollow is an honour to win. The event makers, Mark Peterson, Karen Stanley, Donna Eliason, The Utah Stock Dog Association, the setout crew, the throng of spectators, the hardened sheep dog trial fans. I hope I can honour them with a couple of golden runs they won’t forget, any more than I will.
Today we drive on to Meeker, through the long sweeps of highway across eastern Utah with its climbs and descents, and the warm embrace of the eastern slope of Colorado.