I get breakfast, a nap, and lunch and head back to the dogs. This is the first time I’ve cut rest, running 10:53 to get here from Rohn and only resting 8:53. My plan is to run through to Takotna and take my 24 to make it up.
It has been warm enough I take my fleece top off and get ready to go in my t-shirt and thermal top. The dogs eat a nice breakfast. Their stools look good. Rosemary even gets up off the straw so I can bootie her. The team is coming together and I’m feeling good. At 2:18 PM we are back on the trail. I’ve still got Blaze and Thyme in lead and they are doing well.
The trail from Nikolai to McGrath is like a vacation. We are portaging across swamps and wooded areas as we cut off loops on the South Fork of the Kuskoquim River. The trail is heavily traveled by the local people. It is well established with a good base. The top of the trail is a little soft and keeps the speed down. I can almost take a nap.
At the driver’s meeting we were warned about a record number of moose in the area, but I see no wildlife. I’m grateful because with the deep snow, many moose will not get off the trail. We do pass an Idita-sport walker and then a biker (and people think we are strange to do the trail by dog team). Dukat isn’t feeling well and hasn’t been pulling since we left Nikolai. I guess it is intestinal and give him some metronidazole. Within an hour he is back to work.
About an hour out of McGrath there are two snowmachines pulling sleds stuck hard in overflow. There is about 3 feet of snow on the frozen river. The bottom ½ is saturated with water with good snow on top. If you don’t stop you can go through the bad section and never know it is there. For some reason they stopped and sank into the saturated layer and now the water is freezing around the snowmachines. Not a nice situation. There is no warning until you start to sink into it. The dogs go around the stuck machines and we are fine. When I get to McGrath I tell the officials about the snowmachines – they captured that on insider.
I shipped my extra supplies to 24 to McGrath, figuring I could haul them to Takotna if I changed my mind. This way I could 24 at either location. Takotna wins the debate. The volunteers lead me and the team around the back to my drop bags, I grab everything I need (I packed with that in mind) and strap it on the back of the sled. For three years we have taken our 24 in McGrath. I wonder how the dogs will adapt to leaving without a rest. No problem. We swing around the building and drop onto the river without a second thought. We may not be fast, but this really is a nice team. I stop, tell the dogs how proud I am, and reward them with frozen beef from the drop bags.
Another short, easy scenic run and we pull into Takotna just before 1 AM. I am the 34th musher to arrive and the 32nd to 24 here. It is so crowded we have to park in the overflow area. Martin Buser and Jim Lanier have gone on to Ophir but that is it. Nobody wants to break trail to Iditarod. At the drivers meeting we heard horror stories about the trail breakers taking over 3 days on snowmachine. There was talk about needing snowshoes to break out the trail through the deep snow. No one is looking forward to that.
From my perspective it’s pretty cool. All the front runners are here – Sebastian comes over to congratulate me. Jeff King says “hi” as he walks by. Ramey Smyth comes by. I’m parked next to Dee Dee, and I see Lance in the checkpoint. I’ve never seen the front of the pack on the trail before. Then it hits me. If I kept going just 25 more miles to Ophir to 24 I would be in 3rd place! It’s not real, just an artifact of run/rest schedules, but I would frame that update sheet and hang it on the wall ;-). Reality sets in, the dogs have run far enough and deserve their rest, and Takotna has better amenities than Ophir, but man oh man…
Keep 'em Northbound