Vineyard Classic Set Up and Saturday Morning Racing

Course set up day for Ridge Runners Sled Dog Racing Club Vineyard Classic in Napier, is Friday 28th July. To take part in this, I drive up Thursday night, with my friend Jane tagging along for company. We settle into our unit at the Kiwi Holiday Park, a handy 10 minutes from the venue. In the evening nature treats us to a beautiful double rainbow over the water.

Double rainbow
Set up Linden Estate Winery

Mid-morning Friday I follow Eric, Gaby and the race marshal, Darren Scragg from Australia, to the Linden Estate Winery. Once there all the helpers were assigned tasks and I hop in the vehicle with Eric, Hayden, Darren and young Tyler, to go round the course setting out all the markers, signs, flags. Generally making sure the course is in good condition and passes the Race Marshal’s inspection.

In the feature image above you will see the cars at the far right, which is the parking paddock and control base. There is a dark line that goes from the start/finish line at base control, veers left, then along a straight before a right turn to loop around the vines at the top of the photo. The punishing hill and muddy downhill you will read about below are to the left of this picture.

The homeward run, indicated by the red line, comes in crossing at the bridge (bottom left), sharp left, sharp right and through the vines back to the start/finish line. The sheep were moved to another paddock before racing began wink

Today is overcast, a little bit of dampness in the air yet thankfully not freezing cold. First section as you take a right turn into the vines was very soft and muddy. Hayden’s four-wheel drive ute nearly gets stuck so he backs out and we trudged round that section on foot.

Next it’s down to the bridge area at the centre of the almost figure eight course, then it was up the steep hill.

This hill is amazing!!! Once over the bridge the trail veers right, then a sharp left takes you onto the hill proper. This part is steep and long. When you get to where you think it is the top and begins to flatten out, only a few metres further round the curve and up it goes again. Then it repeats this tease once more before the true summit. It will test both dogs and mushers to the max!!

Looking down steep hill
Downhill section

Once at the top there is a downhill which is tricky. Clay, soft and muddy. Flags are hammered in with Hayden, Darren and the helpers using an unconventional gumboot method to even out the muddy clay.

Gumboots in mud
Muddy wheels

At this point I hike down to the bottom and leave the crew to continue setting up trails. Stopping on the way to take landscape shots of the open vineyard.

By the time I make it back to the parking paddock I’ve completed three hours of tramping the vineyard. Everyone is gathering around after successfully putting up awnings, tables, start line shuts etc. I enjoy a chat with those I am getting to know and see regularly at race meetings, then make my way back to my accommodation.

 

It’s race day!!! Up, excited and heading to the venue by 5.45am. Car external temperature gauge says two degrees, a good temperature for racing. I’m prepared for the cold with three wool layers plus heavy jacket. Gloves and beanie.

First goal of the day is to capture the teams arriving in the paddock, showing colourful light streams from the vehicle.

 

Morning arrival light streams

Next, I set myself up for start line shots before heading out onto the course. Rigs are first up this morning. Once they are all away I hike out to capture them flying home.

Love the excitement and power of the lead dogs as they start.

Then the joy on their faces as they fly through the vines.

Dogs leaping at start
Pwer off the start line
Dog teams racing
Flying down the trail

Time to change position and capture scooter teams coming over the rise towards the bridge and on up the steep hill.

 

Trail across bridge
Trail towards hill
Grinding up the hill

Once all teams are through I change position, hiking back by the bridge to capture teams in the distance along the vines as well as coming straight towards me.

 

Vineyard switch back
Racing down the straight

Next to race are the veteran and junior teams. For this I position myself at the end of a stretch of vines near the homeward straight. The same place as the rigs ran down in the finishing photos above. This time though, to take video footage on my mobile.

Everything is set up on my phone video, I do test videos, all looks good. Here they come through the strip of vines, I get my phone up, push the start button, follow them perfectly all the way through the vines, around the corner and off into the distance towards the finish. Switching my mobile to gallery to review the videos . . . my heart sank!!! In my excitement, I pushed the photo button not the video record button, doh!!! Didn’t get any video ☹ Thankfully, this was the only fail of the whole weekend.

Feeling gutted, I pack my gear together and wander back to base.

Helena gives me the nod that canicross is about to start. Canicross is where a person wears a special belt with a harness attached to them and their dog, and run the course together. Helena mentioned how fun it can be watching them come in, flailing behind their dogs. This sounded like a great way to end the morning.

Canicross start line
Canicross start
Canicross finish

Phew, what an action packed morning. I’m exhausted. A very happy and contented exhausted though 😉 Time to go rest, take notes and prepare for the late afternoon racing.

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