A French baker, 31 dogs and a giant blue bus train in the Upper Green for an upcoming sled dog race
On a recent winter morning in the Upper Green, just north of Pinedale, Remy Coste stood behind his sleek dog sled in a tan snowsuit. His partner Aurelie Delattre stood by wearing a red flannel peppered with blonde dog hairs, likely from the team of 10 lean, hound-looking dogs hooked to Coste’s sled.
“He's going out for a…,” Delattre paused and spoke in French to Coste. “Twenty or 30 kilometers depending on the trail.”
Coste and Delattre are from France but now live in Sweden. Coste and the dogs are here to compete in the upcoming 29th Pedigree Stage Stop sled dog race. It’s one of the hardest races of this type in the world – between the length, elevation and weather conditions. It’s a stage format. So teams race a total of about 225 miles, but in seven legs – each day is in a different western Wyoming or eastern Idaho community.
Coste, Delattre and the dogs have been training in Wyoming for the last couple of weeks to acclimate to the elevation and conditions.
As Coste readied for his training run, one surprisingly couldn’t hear the dogs – like, there’s no barking. Delattre said that’s intentional.
“Less stress we have for them and for us,” she said. “We have time to take care of them, put the booties on and everything.”
Coste gave them a cue and they took off silently into the cold winter morning.
Coste doesn’t speak much English, so he isn’t quoted much in this story. But, as Delattre explained, he’s determined and dialed.
“Remy starts at like four o'clock in the morning to feed dogs,” she said.
There are 31 dogs. So Coste usually takes three teams out for a training run every day. The care for the dogs is around the clock.
It’s a lifestyle, but also a career. Coste is one of the best in Europe for mid-length sled dog races that average about 28 miles per day. So now, it’s time to compete in the states.
“If we wanted to keep winning, we would have stayed in Europe,” Delattre said. “We wanted to learn more and to change things to continue improving.”
They flew all 31 dogs here and shipped their blue, live-in bus. It’s literally the size of a city bus.
“It's a European horse truck that is adapted for the horses at the back and the humans to live in front that we changed to be able to have the dogs at the back,” Delattre said.
It’s their first time racing in North America and their first time in Wyoming seeing cowboys.
“We went into the small restaurant and one guy came and he had a cowboy hat,” Delattre said with excitement. “And he was like, ‘Oh, I had to catch my horses that ran away.’ And we were like, ‘Oh, this is so cool.’”
Coming over here, across an ocean isn’t common in the sled dog world. Usually, racers stick to their continent.
“Because it's so expensive. And it's so crazy and everything,” she said.
They had to save up and take out loans to make it work. The hope is to stay for at least a year – competing here and in Alaska, training for the summer and competing again next year. All while living in their big blue bus.
“So we are in the middle of our kennel,” Delattre said as we walked single file between the dog crates. The dogs let out a bark here and there, and the occasional paw reached out through the crate.
It’s a mobile dog kennel in the back of the bus. There are two dogs per crate – it’s pretty pristine for housing 31 dogs.
“They have their little toys that they love,” Delattre said as the dogs fittingly ground their teeth on the dog chews. “And this is also my massage table.”
Delattre is a vet. In fact, that’s how she and Coste originally met. When they’re in the middle of racing season, Delattre massages the dogs every day – up to 30 minutes each. Each dog is treated like an athlete, but also like a family member.
“Every litter we choose a name. We have a theme like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars,” she said. “So this is Frodo.”
Frodo is black and white.
“Frodo,” Delattre called to him, speaking soft French words to him.
With a little coaxing, Frodo shyly climbed out of his kennel onto the table – immediately lying down, awaiting his massage.
Back outside in the winter wind, Coste and the team return from their training run. The dogs are panting, and ready for water.
Coste talked to Delattre about the outing in French. He said he wanted to change the wax on his sled’s skis for the next training run.
“Because it's not the same snow that we have in Sweden,” Coste said. “Here you have more wind.”
After waxing, Coste diligently feeds the dogs that just ran. It’s a mixture of raw meat, kibble and supplements.
Coste will get the next team ready for their training run. Only pausing to drink a cup of coffee and maybe eat a cookie…
“We found the best cookies ever in the little supermarket. Like, the pumpkin and chocolate chip,” Delattre exclaimed. “Oh, the best cookies ever.”
Which is saying something, because before being a top sled dog racer, Coste was a baker. In fact, he was named one of the best bakers in France. When he puts his mind to something, he gives it everything.
“And I think this is what makes super athletes or a super person that reach their goals whether that’s in baking or sled dogs, or maybe in 15 years, it will be something else,” Delattre said matter of fact.
But now, it’s just grocery store pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and sled dog racing. Coste will keep training until the Pedigree Stage Stop race kicks off on January 26th in Jackson, where 15 teams will compete for a $165,000 purse.
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