Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Last Weekend--Beautiful and Rainy

SUMMARY: In which our heroes and heroines spend the weekend at a CPE trial in Elk Grove, enjoy gorgeouseus weather Saturday, endure record-setting rain Sunday, and Ellen foolishly gives in to a speed-challenge temptation in Colors. Also in which Jake runs 4 runs and Qs 3 times while Tika runs 10 but manages only 6 Qs.


Saturday morning came way too early, as usual, at least according to the alarm, which went off (as instructed) at 3:50. Most of the previous day something had been irritating my innards and it woke me up all (brief) night every time I dozed off. So I was good and ready for a long, tiring day.

Let's Talk About the Weather

The drive out to Elk Grove was lovely, though. With daylight savings time combined with late May sunrise time, only part of the drive was in complete darkness. As I drove over the Altamont Pass, I felt somewhat like Dorothy arriving in Oz: it was night on the Bay side, but cresting the peak and heading into the central valley revealed the glow of approaching morning and the vaguest outlines of hills and mountains beyond. As I drove through the Sacramento River delta area around sunrise, waterfowl rose across or alongside my path from the fields and wetlands all suffused with an amazing golden glow, the remnants of a light Tule mist capturing the early sun's colors. Really beautiful; I don't recall ever seeing such a golden aura to everything for such an extended time. I can't tell the difference among silhouettes of various kinds of geese (graceful, long-necked) or ducks (frantic wing-batting as they fly), even though my field guide to birds shows silhouettes as well as full-color plumage. (Not that I carry my bird guide with me, and of COURSE I'd have never tried looking in it while on the freeway at the break of day.)

We (I and dogs) arrived at Starfleet Arena at Western Agility Group (photos of the facility are on their web site) just early enough to get a decent set-up spot about a third of the way along the outside fence of the outside ring. Enough to give me more than enough walking exercise but not so far that it exhausted me.

I discovered that Boost's brand new dammit soft-crate body has holes dammit in it already from where she throws herself at it in a frenzy when watching other dogs run. And it's been used only one day so far! Crap crap crap. It's because I forgot to cover her once while I was away--or, no, the cover blew off, I think. Anyway, I can't afford to keep replacing those covers, so I decided to leave her in her wire crate. The nice thing about the spot we got that morning was that I could leave Boost and Tika in their crates in the back of the car right next to my canopy. Very convenient!

But, to sleep in my van, they had to come out of the car Saturday evening--at which point I discovered the joys of being able to stack the wire crates, which had two advantages: took up much less room under the canopy (which I was sharing with Arlene) than the regular 2 crates, and I didn't have to bend (crappy back) or kneel (crappy knee) to get to the top dog (Tika, in this case).

So Saturday night I slept onsite in my van and I slept VERY well; it's so nice not to have to drive anywhere at the end of the day, and to get that extra half hour of sleep in the morning. It started to rain just as I was dressing for the morning, so I got to potty the dogs in the liquid sunshine.

We've been enjoying a month of rain-free weather, so naturally on a weekend when I'm doing agility, the weather gods chose to set a new record in rainfall for May 21. This is *May* fer Pete's sake, in *California*! It never rains in California...but girl, don't they warn ya--it pours, man, it pours.

Fortunately, one of the two competition rings was under cover, so we didn't get all that wet. And also fortunately, when we hemmed and hawed Saturday night about whether to bother putting up the rain walls on my canopy (since Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day despite predictions of rain), we decided what the heck, let's do it, so everything was protected and dry when the rain started just as people were arriving Sunday morning.

But it turns out that my old "water-resistant" jacket has apparently decided to do double duty as a sponge and got its assignments mixed up; every drop that hit me absorbed instantly into the first layer, sank through the lining, and went right into my shirt. Time for a little scotchguard, I guess.

I was dreading the drive home with the rain and the end of the weekend (usually lots of traffic with everyone returning to the Bay Area from the Sierras) but in fact it was a very nice drive, almost no backups anywhere, and I was home before dark. Exhausted. Showered and went right to bed without even turning on the computer (gasp!).

OK, Let's Talk Competition


We had fun this weekend but not quite so many ribbons as we sometimes manage at CPE trials. Jake, at 14 1/2, earned qualifying scores in 3 of his 4 runs, and the first run of the weekend we blew only because he decided that he doesn't Stay at the start line any more while I lead out to get into position, and he was so amazingly blazingly fast that I couldn't catch up to make the first turn and so were off course immediately. But the rest of that run was gorgeous and I haven't seen him run that fast on course in a while.

Tika as always blazed around the courses and had a grand time, including grabbing my feet at the end of each run, which always amuses people watching but I'm always listening with half an ear for the judge to call an elimination on us, as a dog biting in the ring is prohibited. Our first two Standard runs of the weekend were lovely--in fact, we were the only ones in our height class to Qualify on the first course--but Tika is suppose to wait at the bottom of the contact zones (the yellow areas on the climbing obstacles) for me to release her, and she wasn't waiting, so I wasted lots of time trying to do an on-course correction without looking like I was correcting her or training in the ring (making her do a Down, for example, but not saying "No!" or anything like that), so our average yards-per-second were way down.

Then on the third run I gave in to competitive temptation. I'm so easy to get going on something like this. Another handler, whose dog is really fast, up just before us, said, "I don't think anyone has broken 12 seconds on this course yet." So we roughly challenged each other, high-fived on feeling the need for speed, and she and her dog went out there and blazed through the course--turns out they made 10.5 seconds but knocked 2 bars in the process. For our personal competition, though, the problem was that this was Colors, which is a "choose path-A or path-B" course, and they ran path A--which had only jumps and open tunnels--and we ran path B, which contained slower obstacles (a chute and a set of weaves). So even though I pushed Tika as hard as I could, we were still over 12 seconds, AND Tika knocked a bar that I think she'd have left up if I hadn't been really driving her hard, which cost us a Q (qualifying score), and then the jinx was on and we didn't Q the next 2 runs or the first run the following morning.

Those 3 runs had a variety of issues. Jumpers Saturday, she didn't even pretend to wait at the start line while I was leading out past the first jump (see? once again it's the jumpers course where she did that! What is it?!), and soared over that jump while I was walking. So I was going to take her off, but as soon as she saw me just shut down and start to walk off, she calmed down immediately and started sniffing the ground. So I just told her to "Sit!" again--and she did!--and so I led out past the next obstacle, and she held her sit, and I released her--and we knocked the second bar. So we had 10 faults for training in the ring (you really can't be making the dog sit and lead out in the middle of a run, and I knew that when I did it, but what can ya do--) and 5 for the bar.

In Jackpot (Gamblers) she was not even pretending to stick her contact obstacles even though I kept trying to wait and be firm about it, so finally I made her lie down on course again and wait, and then when I finally released her, we were headed in the wrong direction when the first gamble whistle blew (actually electronic timer buzzed), so I had to rush weirdly to get into position and then didn't successfully push her up the first obstacle (teeter), and she was so wired at that point that when I spun her around to make another approach, she was just yapping and lunging at my feet, so I spun her around AGAIN, and she just kept yapping and lunging and I spun her around AGAIN and finally managed to get her up the teeter, and she did the whole gamble flawlessly but by then we were 2 seconds over time so didn't get the Q.

In Jumpers the following morning we also dropped a bar and had lots of Tika-turning-back-to-me because I was behind her. All of that, I think, because my crappy knee was really bothering me in the morning and the usual adrenaline rush didn't kick in to allow me to run full out with her. I was a bit worried about the rest of the day, but by our 2nd run the pain and stiffness had receded enough that I didn't have any problems running as usual.

However, our last 4 runs of the weekend (Standard, Snooker, Wildcard, Colors) got better and better, all earning Qs, and finally the last run of the day (Colors) we managed to (a) run the course I meant to run, (b) run together rather than me falling behind or being out of place, (c) keep our bars up, (d) hit our contacts and stick them, and (d) have no bobbles of any kind, and for the first time of the weekend Tika managed to be the fastest of all 70 dogs who ran the same course. For CPE trials, we usually manage more than that; for USDAA trials, I don't know that we're ever the fastest/highest scorer/whatever. Anyway, it was a nice end to the weekend, AND we won a free day's entry in the worker raffle for a future trial, which always helps.

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