SEELEY LAKE – If the whole point of team sports is to beat the other team, then what are we to make of sled-dog mushers?

Late Sunday afternoon, junior Race to the Sky musher Lacey Hart of Livingston hit a tree, bruising her leg in the tumble off her sled. Her dogs ran nearly a mile on before stopping. Competitor Aiyana Ferraro of Victor came up behind and gave Hart a ride until they caught up with the runaway team.

A little while later, Hart stopped to make sure Jenny Gregor’s team was OK when the Bozeman racer had taken a rest break.

Such deeds don’t often deliver good karma. Gregor wound up finishing second in the youth race to Hart’s third place. And 12-year-old Ferraro missed a turn and logged an extra 10 miles in the 100-mile trek, finishing last.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I like running with the juniors,” said Justin Fink of Gladwin, Mich., who won the division shortly after 1 a.m. Monday. “We were always helping each other out and running together.”

Ferraro didn’t offer a comment. She was fast asleep on a cot in the middle of the Seeley Lake Community Center while the other race handlers milled around. Her father, Doug Ferraro, said she crossed the finish line at 4 a.m., as excited as when she started.

“Our whole year was for that race,” he said. “She was bouncing. She just said, ‘I’ve got to come back and avenge myself next year.’ ”

***

At 100 miles, the junior Race to the Sky is just 30 miles shorter than the Junior Iditarod race in Alaska. The adult division travels 350 miles, from Lincoln along the rim of the Bob Marshall Wilderness to Seeley Lake and then to the Clearwater Lake Loop road and back again the whole way. The cooperative spirit wasn’t limited to the kids.

That was good news for Jarle Halsnes of Colorado, who hit the far-northern checkpoint just five minutes behind race leader Rick Larson of Sand Coulee. The hot (mid-40s) weather had worn the dogs out. Halsnes had set up an alcohol burner to melt snow for the water dishes when he discovered he’d forgotten the water dishes.

Not a problem, said Larson, who volunteered his dishes as soon as he finished feeding his team. Time wasn’t a factor – all the teams planned on spending three or four hours at the checkpoint to let the sun and temperature drop. The adult finishers are predicted to reach Lincoln around midafternoon Tuesday.

“What struck me a long time ago about dog-racing was the camaraderie – how they help each other out,” said race spokeswoman Pam Beckstrom. “It’s a long ways between checkpoints. And that’s just the way it is with this race. I think it’s a Montana thing.”

The Race to the Sky is in its 25th running, having started with a 100-mile leg on Saturday, then restarting in Lincoln for the final 250 miles beginning Sunday afternoon.

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