This was a very arduous race. We started slow, pushing through 3 inches of soft snow. The dogs worked hard and didn’t eat well – their common start to a race (I’ve got to solve that!) About 10 miles past Skwentna we started to hit the potholes – up to 3 or 4 feet deep and almost as wide as the trail. Throw in a few trenches for variety and it was hard work. The drops seemed steeper this year with the deep snow (or maybe I just got a better look at them J ). The Steps evoked some fast, very devote prayers, and we rolled out onto Happy River in one piece. The Dalzell wasn’t as bad as normal, tamed by the snow, but with all the concern over deep snow, much of the country leaving Rohn had been blown bare. Some very exciting sections there - a couple where I was sure I was going to get hurt – but we came through fine. Other mushers were not as lucky.
Once we crossed the range the run to Takotna for my 24 was pretty uneventful (OK two snowmachiners caught in overflow outside McGrath – that’s the insider interview there). It was fun being in Takotna with all the front runners – only Martin and Jim Lanier went further (Ophir) to 24 – but it sure was crowded. I was the 32nd team to 24 there.
The trail to Iditarod and Shageluk was much better than we expected. The dogs were still not eating like they should and getting pretty thin. I’m in race mode, running in the high 40’s and planning to make a move in Kaltag. Then at Grayling we hit the storm. As soon as I got there Sunday everyone told me how Chad Lindner and Robert Nelson left the night before and came back because the winds were so bad. I’m getting ready to leave Sunday afternoon when an email came in from ITC – weather service advisory for wind chill – temps to -30 winds 15 to 20, wind chill to -50 (or more) from 9 AM Sunday until noon Monday – expect 12 hours on the trail to Eagle Island. Sunday morning the winds had abated and several people snuck out. We expect that same thing Monday morning. That’s a real monkey wrench in my race plans, but my dogs are thin with few reserves. Discretion is the better part of valor, and I unpacked to spend the night and leave at first light as the winds eased.
That was the start of my descent from race mode to survival mode, and it is probably the wisest decision I made that race. You know what they say about assumptions? The wind seemed like it might ease, I left, and it only got stronger. I met the frost fiend up close and personal between Grayling and Eagle Island. I’ll tell that whole story later, but we spend a pretty miserable 32 hours on the trail (12 of them in an exposed camp) following Tim and Rachael while Blaze and Rosemary got used to the idea of running into the wind forever. Thank heaven Jim Galley was at Eagle Island – he moved the dog lot from the exposed river to a sheltered slough as soon as the storm hit.
At Kaltag the dogs looked great (thin, but doing very well), coming into Shaktoolik we were back into the wind and it was like someone took a knife and cut the body fat off them. That was where we started staying extra to get more food, rest and water into the dogs. We did that the entire coast – the vets watched us very closely, and I am grateful for their caution. In the end it worked well – watch the insider video of our finish and you would never guess we had cross winds (sometime more than other) almost the entire way from White Mountain. The dogs looked great – I made the right decision. But the problem started on day one when they didn’t eat well.
Lot’s of adventures on the coast – my first true whiteout (I could clearly see the dogs and sometimes the stakes, but there was no horizon reference – I had just a little vertigo). Then team got off the trail and pulled the hooks through the soft snow. As I caught the sled the snowhook went through the side of my new boots and hit the sole of my foot. No puncture wound, but it is still sore. And the wind!
I dropped Dukat in Anvik because he wasn’t having fun (good decision), and Keiko and Pepper in White Mountain at the last minute because they were starting to get tired. They worked hard and could have finished, but it only mattered to me, not to them. They were tired enough neither dog objected.
Platinum has a little frostnip on his nose, everyone else is regaining their weight and wondering why we are not running. I have minor frostbite on both big toes and some cold injuries (I don’t think it is frostbite – more like heavy calluses) on most of my finger tips. I’ve got a Dr appt Thursday for a medical opinion.
My immediate challenge is to find either, a major corporate sponsor, a way to make money with the dogs, or an honest job to pay the bills.
Keep ‘em Northbound