Tuesday, March 19, 2013

AKC National Championships, Tulsa Oklahoma

Wow, what a whirlwind trip to the 2013 AKC National Agility Championships for Team Teller/Team Magica. This was our second year qualifying for the event but with last years event held in Reno, Nevada I just couldn't figure out how to make that work. This years event was held in Tulsa - a mere 1,600 miles from home. Teller is running in his prime this year - we had to go!

The original plan was to pack two humans and two dogs for the journey - Easy-peasy! Just Teller and Ali in a mini-van with plenty of room for luggage, coolers, gear and a general inefficiency of packing. Well, that just didn't work out quite as planned and suddenly all three of my dogs AND the delightful princess Ali (a border collie) are headed to Tulsa. In typical Erica fashion we had a car-load of everything I thought we might possibly need - including 45# of raw dog food, two dozen bully sticks, nine polo shirts, fourteen pairs of socks (and that was just my suitcase), bowls, buckets, bedding, crates for their stall, more bedding, trailmix, snap-peas, chocolate, gum, protein shakes, bottled coffee, trash bags and two rolls of papertowels. We were clearly prepared!

For your viewing pleasure here's our seven day trip condensed into a 5:52 video clip. We had an absolutely phenomenal time from start to finish. I'd forgotten how much fun roadtrips can be when you have hours in a car with good company:  lots of laughs, we made great time, the dogs held it together more or less until the very end, though when we arrived home at 11:45pm last night they were all too excited to gallop wildly around the yard until they remembered that they still hadn't been fed their dinner.

For those of you playing AKC agility - you've got to go to nationals at least once in your lifetime. I had debated not going this year, saving the money to qualify two dogs (Kip and Teller) for the 2014 AKC National Championships rumored to be held on the east coast next March (Harrisburg, PA?). I entered before closing (first week of January) figuring that gave me more time to decide whether or not to go - figuring in the worst case I had just bought a $140 t-shirt. Then a friend of mine suddenly lost her MACh3 golden retriever Ben to hemangiosarcoma. Ben was to her what Teller is to me - he's my heart, he probably knows me better than any human ever will. Yes, he's a dog - but we have souls that sing the same heart song. Next year is a promise- this year was a guarantee. Maybe we'll all qualify for 2014, maybe we'll all be healthy and sound enough to go, maybe we'll have the finances to go - maybe we won't. This year was certain; next year is a gift not yet wrapped.

So last Tuesday afternoon we packed that rental van to the gills (thank god for rear-view cameras) and went to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Leaving Tuesday early evening we made it all the way to Buffalo, NY (400 miles). Wednesday was a big push from Buffalo, NY to Springfield, MO (1000 miles) and a smaller (200 miles) 3 hour push from Springfield to Tulsa. On the return trip we went all the way from Tulsa to Indiana on Sunday (400 miles) and then Indiana to home on Monday (1100 miles).

The 20" T2B class.
The 20" class had 444 dogs entered. Yes, that included regular and preferred dogs - but the number is the same: four-hundred and forty-four dogs! Friday's warm-up round for the 20" dogs took over 8 hours to run, with time to beat taking about the same and each dog had to run warm-up before T2B. On Saturday half the dogs (groups 4-5-6) ran round two (standard) before round one (JWW) in two different rings in two different buildings. Sunday's hybrid round was split into two adjoining rings with half the 20" class in each ring - each ring with three walk-through groups.

From a statistic standpoint (and you know I love statistics), it was not our best weekend of agility. Teller picked up a T2B leg on Friday afternoon - which happens to be the only leg that counts for anything (it counts as a real T2B leg). In each of our other three runs we had one mistake each run, which cost us a lot of time and knocked us down to #215 overall. I would have loved to come home with three clean rounds (JWW, Standard and Hybrid) - which would have put us in at least the top 50, but it just wasn't to be.

I am pleased with how he ran - nothing phases this dog - people, announcers, packed in dogs, hanging out in a horse stall - he just runs as he runs anywhere else. My perfect Teller, thank you for giving me such a memorable first trip to national championships. If I'm lucky enough to dance 2014 with Teller and Kipling I'll go in with a successful 2013 behind us.

Here's my advice for all the folks contemplating a run to qualify for 2014:
- Rent a stall. AKC gives you free crating for one space - these crating spots were in the arenas that while the dust was kept to a minimum were still dusty. With three dogs, I needed to be in a stall (unentered dogs were not allowed in crating area unless dogs fit in same space (sharing a crate or stacked). The stall gave us a dust-free area to keep our dogs that was relatively quiet, dust-free and secured - we locked our dogs in the stalls with a combo lock when we weren't there, so we knew they were where we left them.
- Baby wipes. Silly things right?
- Pack your EZ-Pass. We used the one in our rental car, but there's a transaction fee for every toll. So a $25 toll will cost us $28, still worth it - but given the fact that Sharon and I between us own 4 ez-passes for our personal vehicles, we could have saved about $15 by using our own (but actually only saved $2-3 by paying tolls with cash).
- If your trip has stop-overs, pack multiple overnight bags. I dragged my HUGE piece of luggage out of that van on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday nights (and loaded it back up Wednesday, Sunday and Monday mornings). My luggage was over Murphy's rear crate, and was super awkward to get in and out of the van. If I had packed two bags (one for the road and one for the trial) I could have rotated bags out of the van and brought a small pack in and out of hotel rooms.
- Do it - you never know when you won't have another year. I've nursed my knee along for a few weeks, I don't know if I'm looking at a torn meniscus or something else - I could lose a month or three of trialing this year if I have to have knee surgery, that puts a lot of 2014 in jeopardy for me - especially Kip's 2014 as it'll take him longer to get his 500 points.
- Shop around for rentals. We saved over $400 by going through costco travel - of all things. Didn't have to pay for unlimited miles or a second driver. With all of those pieces 'free', plus the discount through costco, we put over 3,200 miles on our van for less than $300 (not including tolls).
- oh, and just do it!

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