Local musher ready for 517 kilometre race in Saskatchewan

By DAWN BOOTH, Connect Weekly

Christina Traverse of Mush McMurray was out training her team of dogs on December 28, 2015. She’s been out four-to-five days a week for the upcoming Canadian Challenge. PHOTO: Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

Christina Traverse of Mush McMurray was out training her team of dogs on December 28, 2015. She’s been out four-to-five days a week for the upcoming Canadian Challenge. PHOTO: Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

The slow start to winter has caused a few setbacks for outdoor enthusiasts around Wood Buffalo, but it hasn’t stopped local musher Christina Traverse from getting out on the trails.

Traverse of Mush McMurray has been out four-to-five days a week training her team of Alaskan Huskies for Canada’s upcoming premier dog sled race – the Canadian Challenge.

“The warm weather definitely puts us back with regards to training, but we’re caught up now,” said Traverse, a 25-year-old born and raised Fort McMurray resident. “Longer freeze up means we can’t access longer trails, and it’s difficult to run the dogs in warm weather because you don’t want them over-heating.”

Traverse with two of her 29 Alaskan Huskies. She competes in the 12-dog race on February 23. PHOTO: Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

Traverse with two of her 29 Alaskan Huskies. She competes in the 12-dog race on February 23. PHOTO: Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

With seven years of mushing experience, she heads off for her seventh competitive dog sled race in Prince Albert, SK. on February 23.

Traverse explains how the lack of snow will make the 517 kilometre-long run more challenging. She has hopes for more to come to keep up with consistent training, but also to ensure the race will still take place in Saskatchewan.

“If the trail doesn’t have as much snow, it makes it really rough and challenging,” she said. “I am hoping for more, not only here, but in Saskatchewan. If there isn’t enough snow, or if the conditions are too dangerous, the race will be cancelled.”

The first time she competed in Canada’s premier dog sled race was in 2012, where she claimed the sixth place title. This race will be Traverse’s third attempt, as last year she had to back out and rush one her dogs to a vet due to a respiratory condition.

As for this year’s competition, Traverse is up against six Canadian mushers for the 12-dog race; including two other Fort McMurray residents, 55-year-old local Randy Mackenzie and 38-year-old Darren Haas, as well as, 45-year-old Steven Laviolette of Ste-Lucie des Laurentides, QC, 31-year-old Kyle Job of Rimbey, AB, 55-year-old Jacob Heigers of Whitehorse, YT, and 38-year-old Jill Lawton of Rocky Mountain House, AB.

According to the official rules for the 2016 Canadian Challenge, the 12-dog race will finish at 6 a.m. on February 27 and any team still on the trail as of that time will be disqualified.

During the race, mushers are restricted from outside assistance with the exception of their designated handler. (A handler is a person who can help a race musher at the start, at all assisted checkpoints and at the finish line). The rules further state: “The handler may only assist after the musher has officially signed into the checkpoint and until he/she has signed out. No assistance from the truck driver, if separate from the handler, will be allowed.”

The race is projected to take five days and four nights. And while some may fear sleeping outside in the wildness, under a cold Canadian winter sky, Traverse explains as a musher, she looks forward to it.

“Sleeping outside, if I can sleep, is not as bad as some people think. My sleeping bag is rated for minus sixty and I add extra layers to make it warmer,” she said. “It is really peaceful and I enjoy bonding with my dogs. It’s just us in the middle of the bush and the experience is really great for the soul.”

“Sleeping outside, if I can sleep, is not as bad as some people think. My sleeping bag is rated for minus sixty and I add extra layers to make it warmer,” she said. “It is really peaceful and I enjoy bonding with my dogs. It’s just us in the middle of the bush and the experience is really great for the soul.”

Though mushers are able to use a GPS unit to help assist in their progress, they are restricted from the use of two-way radios, cell phones and satellite phones. Traverse said this is the best part of the experience.

“You’re not allowed two-way communication. It’s just me, my dogs, and a beautiful trail to explore with my best friends,” she said. “It’s peaceful, exciting, challenging and extremely rewarding.”

Residents are welcomed to join Traverse at her Mush McMurray Send-Off Party at Townhall Public House (8104 Fraser Avenue) on Thursday, February 4. The fundraising event starts at 6 p.m. and will be emceed by Mix 103.7’s Shauna MacKinnon. With 50/50 draws, door prizes, and a silent auction, tickets are $20 per person and include a burger and pint of beer.

The public event can be found on Facebook by searching: Mush McMurray Send Off Party/Fundraiser. To make a donation to help fund Traverse on the Challenge, visit her website at www.mushmcmurray.com/support-us.

– Connect Weekly –