There are two types of starting line for the annual Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race events.
The first one is a timed individual start on King Street beside the Old Post Office. The ghost of Percy DeWolfe leaves at 10 a.m. on the dot, followed by the rest at two minute intervals.
When there are more than 10 teams it takes about half an hour to see them all off and makes for a nice audience event—worth bringing the kids from the school and daycares to see.
This year there were only six teams, so one of the doctors from the medical clinic, who had hoped to see a few of them take off, got there too late.
The Junior Percy and the Percy Skijor start differently, from a line of prepared chutes on the north side of the ice bridge. The skiers and their dogs leave together at noon, and the dog teams leave at 12:30 p.m.
Both are mass starts, which can be quite exciting, as the dogs, ever anxious to hit the trail, dig into the hard packed snow and joyously strive to outdo each other.
This year, however, it was something I’m calling a Mass Confusion Start.
Shelley Brown realizes that the flag has dropped and starts the Percy Junior Race while the rest of the teams haven’t noticed yet
As the appointed half-hour approached, Brent McDonald and Barry Fargie walked out on the chutes 100 metres or so, and about a dozen of us followed with our cameras, keeping well out of the way of the actual chutes.
I’ll let Brent pick up the story. He began by saying that he needed to have a little talk with the Junior Percy mushers, just to explain how things were supposed to work.
“Barry and I were walking out to where we would drop the flag. Anticipation was building. The mayhem was great. The dogs get excited and the mushers and the fans get excited.
“Barry had his watch out and I had mine out. We didn’t wanna mess the times up. So, 30 seconds, and then 10 seconds… and the flag dropped.
“And what happened? Nothing.
“There was silence. I looked at Barry, and Barry looked at me and we looked down the trail and… this has never happened before.”
So they dropped the flag again, and there was more nothing.
And they waved the flag some more and commenced to yelling, “GO!”
As the photographers out on the ice realized what was happening—or not happening— we too began to yell, “GO!”
We could hear the dogs yelping and see them leaping and straining, keen to be off, but the mushers either weren’t looking, or could not hear over the din.
Shelley Brown was running a young team and had planned to leave last to avoid the confusion of all the teams being out there at the same time, but she looked up, saw what was happening, and reasoned that she might as well pull up her hook and take off.
“Thank goodness for Shelley for pulling the hook and going,” Brent said to his audience, who were now laughing just about as hard as we had laughed on the ice that Thursday.
“I heard voices out there,” she said, “yelling ‘Go! Go!'”
One by one, 10 or 15 seconds apart, the rest of the mushers figured it out and let their teams hit the trail.
“Next year, try a shotgun,” someone yelled from the audience.
“Yeah,” said Brent. “Maybe behind all the teams.”
He shook his head.
“This was definitely the most unique start. I just don’t know what else to say about it, actually.”
And now you know why I call this one the Mass Confusion Start.