Thursday, May 28, 2009
It is 240 miles from Coldfoot to Deadhorse with no services in between. That is the longest run. Gas was $3.70 / gal, about $1 more than Anchorage. Carry your food for the whole trip with you. There is a store in Deadhorse, but it caters to the workers there. They all have access to cafeterias to eat, so there are no staples, only snack items.
Beautiful country, lots of critters (far more north of the Brooks Range than I had ever seen in the state before), and friendly people. We saw Moose, Caribou, Squirrles, Dall Sheep, Red Fox, Musk Ox, Snow Geese, Loons, Ducks (I think some Eiders), Tundra Swans, Trumpter Swans, an owl, a golden Eagle, Bald Eagles, Ptarmigan, and a Crane.
Only one adventure. The Subaru has two switches to turn on the parking lights. I bumped one that I didn't know about and left the parking lights on. With the midnight sun I never knew until we had a dead battery at Galbraith Lake. Luckily there was another camper there who gave us a jump.
I always thought the Arctic was a cool place. With clear skies the midnight sun was relentless, beating down on us 24 hours a day. We slept in the back of the Subaru and it was impossible to stay in bed past 7 AM. The poor car went from plesantly cool to ovcn. Guarenteed to wake even me.
I hope you enjoy the pictures.
Unimproved BLM campground just north of the Yukon River where we spent our first night. There is an outhouse just out of sight, but little else.
There is only one reason for a trash can like this. It is very furry and much larger than we are. I really wanted to see a bear on this trip, but preferred it to be from the car while we were driving :-)
This bridge over the Yukon River carries both the pipeline and the Dalton Highway.
Early bloom on Finger Mountain
Finger Rock on Finger Mountain is a famous landmark that points the way to Fairbanks. It was used by early bush pilots as well as nomadic hunters.
The Arctic Circle stop on the Dalton Hwy
Looking north from the stop on the Arctic Circle
Grayling Lake on the Dalton Hwy.
The post office at Wiseman Alaska.
Sukakpak Mountain, a landmark south of the Brooks Range seen from the south.
The Chandalar Shelf, the headwaters of the Chandalar River is mile long plain on the south side of Atigun Pass.
Glacial carved cirque near the top of Atigun Pass
Dall Sheep on Atigun Pass.
Overflow (water flowing over ice) on the West fork of the North fork of the Chandalar River flowing south down Atigun Pass.
One of the peaks that surround Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway.
Red fox running across the tundra north of the Brooks Range.
The road to Galbraith Lake. That is a small stream flowing across the road. When we drove in the night before it was deeper :-)
The view from Galbraith Lake campground on the North side of the Brooks Range.
The north side of the Brooks Range catching the light from the "setting" midnight sun.
Hill north of the Brooks Range catching the light of the midnight sum.
Franklin Bluffs on the Sagavanirktok River south of Deadhorse
Caribou running on the tundra south of Deadhorse
Snow Geese on the tundra south of Deadhorse
Tundra Swans on a backwater of the Sagavanirktok River at Deadhorse
Sagavanirktok River at Deadhorse Alaska
Musk Ox grazing at Prudhoe Bay. Taken from inside the tour bus.
Frozen Prudhoe Bay (Arctic Ocean) looking north from East Dock. This is the end of the Prudhoe Bay tour.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
As I’m getting ready to leave I decide to drop Keiko and Pepper. They could finish, but they were starting to get tired coming into White Mountain. I had to slow the team to accommodate them (you are only as fast as your slowest dog). If I leave them here, they should have better memories of the trip for next year. At 8:47 Tim Hunt, the current red lantern, arrives in White Mountain to start his mandatory 8 hour rest. That finally get’s my attention. I shift into high gear and leave 20 minutes later.
The wind is still blowing, but after the last few days it is more a annoying than a real threat. We come off Fish River and cut across some low country with sparse vegetation. A flock of Ptarmigan flush out of the brush. This is the first time I’ve seen them anywhere besides Rainy Pass. Pretty cool. We cross a low spot where the brush is thick enough to break the wind. I stop for a short break and snack the dogs before going over on. The run over the Topkot is windy, but nothing like my rookie year where we got blown off the trail when I stopped. I don’t even pause at the shelter cabin at the base of the hills where we holed up in 2006.
The blowhole is alive and well, the wind coming strongly from right to left. I’m swapping Platinum and Blaze in lead as first one and then the other gets tired of fighting the wind. Finally Platinum breaks out and the worst is over. We run along the beach and pick up a road with mile markers about 30 miles from Nome. This is the first time I’ve done this part of the trail in the daylight and it’s nice to actually see the country. I’m almost to Safety when a red fox runs across the trail in front of the team. Amazing! This is the first wild mammal I’ve seen on the trail (except for a couple shrews) in four Iditarods. We pull in and out of Safety about 3:30 PM.
We go over Cape Nome about 10 miles out of town, the last climb of the race. I stop just before the crest to talk to the dogs. This has been a tough race, but I have mixed emotions about finishing it. It will be nice to finally get out of the wind, but I’m going to miss the time on the trail with the dogs. With my feet and hands feeling the effects of the cold, I probably will not recover in time to run them again this season. These are good dogs. They worked hard. It might not have been pretty, but we made it! I take some time to tell how much I appreciate what they have done.
WE come down off Cape Nome and shortly pick up the KNOM spotter car. As we get closer they sound the siren to announce our arrival. I remember my first race, telling Bass that siren was for him. This time it was a team effort. I sure missed Bass going into that wind on the Yukon.
It is about 6 PM, school is out and people are off work. There are families walking on the ice, kids sledding down the inclines. Everyone waves and shouts congratulations. This is my first daytime finish and it’s pretty neat. We come up off the ice, onto Front Street and pick up our police escort. I can see the arch in the distance. Platinum and Rosemary drive down the street like the veterans they are. The team looks good – like they are ready to keep going. Then I pass under the arch in 50th place and it’s all over.
Marti is still here, along with my sister Penny and nephew Adam. They were supposed to leave Sunday, but got caught when they cancelled flights for the volcano. This is a real treat. Ten hours later Tim Hunt crosses the finish line and Iditarod 2009 is history.
It is obvious the run from Grayling to Eagle Island was the turning point for my race. It might not be as evident, but it really changed when I spent Sunday night in Grayling because of the weather, rather than pressing on through the storm. Before then I was racing, after making that decision and giving 14 hours to my competitors, I never quite got back into race mode. In hindsight it was the right thing to do. My leaders stalled the next morning. I had to follow Tim and Rachael into Eagle Island. But for me it changed the race into an expedition. I tried to rejoin the race in Kaltag with the long run to Unalakleet, but blew it when I went out to dinner and took a long rest there. The wind going into Shaktoolik was the final straw, dehydrating the dogs and mandating longer rests on the coast to keep going.
The good news is that I learned a lot from this race. We were not that far from moving up into the 30’s. If I had strong storm leaders we would have pushed into Eagle Island Sunday night. That is a training issue. If I had worked harder to get the dogs to eat at the beginning of the race, rather than counting on their appetite to kick in later, they would have had more reserves on the coast and we would not have had to rest as long. I think that is all it would have taken. Next year I’ll find out if I’m right. :-)
Keep ‘em Northbound
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tumble out of bed and stumble outside. Brrrr. Baby it is cold out there. It was a clear starry sky when I went to bed and I know that means it will cool off, but I’m dropping things and the thought never entered my mind. The thermometer on the sled says -24, one of the volunteers say it was -32 earlier. I regret not putting coats on the dogs when I bedded them down last night. I could put the coats on now, but the day is will get much warmer as the sun comes up.
For years I’ve heard stories about the hills on this next section of trail. Words like “never ending” and “enough to drive a tired man insane” ring through my mind. Hills are not our forte, but this is the road to Nome and at 10:40 AM we hit the trail. The trail leaving Iditarod is hard, fast and worn down into the snow. It reminds me of a luge run as the sled bumps off one side and then the other. We come around a corner and the sled slides forward heading straight for a tree. At the last moment the wheel dogs hit the end of their tugs and jerk the sled around the corner, just missing the tree. It’s actually kind of fun.
As we left Iditarod I swapped Platinum and Mocha into lead to give Blaze and Thyme, who have done yeoman’s duty, a break. That lasts about ½ hour. I move Rosemary up for Mocha and we get another ½ hour. I don’t know what the problem is, but move Thyme back into lead and off we go. That girl is having a great race.
This is rolling country and swoon we start to hit the hills (actually a series of ridges). The bottoms are forested and the combination of green trees against the blue sky with the white snow underneath is absolutely beautiful. The first few are fairly steep, but the dogs do well. As we continue to Shageluk the ridges get broader and the sides are not as steep. I’m enjoying this run and I think the dogs are also.
A couple of ravens follow us. One lands in the trail in front of the dogs. He waits until Platinum’s nose almost touches him before he flies off to a tree beside the trail. I swear he laughs as we go past. Then he flies ahead to repeat the process. He does this a half dozen times before another raven comes by and they fly off to find new amusement.
At the driver’s meeting we were told that after the trail breakers put the trail into Iditarod it snowed 2 feet and they had to re-stake it. It must have made an impression because many of the trail lath on this section are placed in trees between 4 and 6 feet off the ground. It looks pretty silly and took me a while to figure out what was going on.
I’m spending a lot of time driving the sled, horsing it around corners and working on the downhills so I don’t lose control. I’m working up a pretty good sweat, even at -20. I break out my prescription hand cream and it’s frozen inside my pocket. Funny how one part is sweating and the other is cold. About halfway to Shageluk we cross the Big Yentna river – a broad flat valley. I enjoy the break, but miss the views from the ridge tops.
All good things must come to an end and just before 7 PM we pull into Shageluk. The dogs are feeling good and root through the remnants of straw from previous teams looking for something to eat. I quickly put two cups of dry kibble down for them to eat while I fix a hot meal. Platinum takes his nose and pushes straw over the kibble to bury it for later. He looks so silly I laugh, but skipping an opportunity to eat is a bad thing. I fix a hot broth with salmon, add kibble and everyone eats. This time I put coats on the dogs before settling in for the night.
Brrring! Brrring! What is that obnoxious sound! I’m trying to sleep here. It takes a while to realize that is my alarm. Maybe I’m not as sharp as I think I am… I get another good meal down the dogs and at 4:46 AM we leave for Anvik. I had wanted to be out by 3:00 AM, but fixing the dogs a meal and packing the sled takes a lot longer than it should.
I’d heard the trail to Anvik went through the swamps and was pretty boring. This is actually a nice run through the trees. Then we drop onto a river and it is cold! Brrrrr. I stop to dig out an extra layer. Dukat hasn’t been pulling since we left Iditarod. I thought the long rest in Shageluk would make the difference, but he just isn’t feeling well. I was going to drop him in Grayling, but as we go through Anvik I see no reason for him to run another 18 miles.
Anvik is bigger than I thought and we drive through the village for several minutes before reaching the checkpoint. Art Church, a friend of mine, is the race judge and has everything organized. He hands me my lithium batteries (specially delivered to Anvik and 3 other checkpoints because you cannot mail them), take Dukat and we are gone before most people even know we are there.
The Yukon River is large and flat. It can be a little intimidating, but the short run to Grayling is uneventful. There is no hint of the adventures to come.
Keep 'em Northbound
Thursday, May 7, 2009
During my 24 I got 12 hours of sleep, three good meals, and put 4 solid meals down the dogs. Before I left, we got word that Lance was in Iditarod having taken less than 10 hours from Ophir. So much for the concerns about a bad trail. Andy Anderson, the race judge in Takotna, looked at me and said, with a grin, that a couple of hundred mile runs would put me right in the thick of things. He said one year Doug Swingley ran from Takotna to Iditarod, then a shorter run to Shageluk, then ran all the way to Eagle Island. Wow!
It has been snowing lightly the whole time we are in Takotna, with the high right around 32 degrees. Everything got soaked with the wet snow, and now it’s all frozen – sled bag zippers, snaps, the works. It takes me an extra ½ hour to get ready to go. We leave the warm bed and hospitality with reluctance, but the dogs and I are eager to get back on the trail. We sign out at 1:22 AM (14 minutes late). It is a shame to run this beautiful trail at night. You leave on a road that climbs past gorgeous summer homes with sweeping panoramic views of the Kuskoquim valley. It looks more like the Anchorage hillside, than the middle of bush Alaska. We drop down the back side and run mining roads into Ophir. It’s funny to see bridges out here with weight limit signs. I tell Throttle to step lightly or I’ll have to put her on a diet J.
We pull into Ophir at 4:30 AM. I grab my bags, load the entire freeze bag (with dog and people snacks) on the back of the sled, then pull some extra kibble out of my number one bag and throw it in the sled just in case the trail doesn’t hold up to the traffic ahead of me and is slower than I expect. I can’t forget that in 2007 it took the last group of mushers 38 hours to go from Ophir to Iditarod. At 4:51 we are back on the trail, Blaze and Thyme still in lead.
The trail is in great shape. We run through the hills at night and get to Beaver Flats just at sunrise. I find the creek crossing were I got my feet wet in 2007, but can’t be sure I’ve got the place where I broke my leg. We arrive at Don’s Cabin at 10:15 AM and I settle into the routine of fixing the dogs (and me) a meal. I promised Will Peterson (who led the trail sweeps 2 years ago) that I wouldn’t go into the cabin. He remembers the night we shared that cabin as one of the coldest he’s spent. The cabin looks a little the worse for another 2 years wear anyway. The plywood over one window is missing and was replaced with a couple of 2x4’s. I sleep outside with the dogs and do fine. Just before I doze off, the insider folks come by and interview me .
I’m still doing equal run rest (I’m planning on that until Kaltag, then cutting rest to move up), so we leave after 9 hours at 5:50 PM. I’m estimating Iditarod at 1 AM. There is supposed to be a water hazard 10 miles up the trail, so I don’t bootie the dogs leaving Don’s. When we get there, it is a creek crossing that I recognize from 2007, somewhat interesting, but well frozen and covered in snow.
With good snow pack, the trail to Iditarod is pretty routine. Just before we get there we drop onto another stream. The trail obviously goes right (downstream), but both Blaze and Thyme turn left. “Gee”. Blaze turns right, but Thyme (and Platinum in swing) pulls her back to the left. Strange! I think I see tracks going upstream. Maybe they are following someone else that went that way. I have to bring Thyme around by hand, but when she sees the other trail she agrees to go downstream.
We get into Iditarod at 40 minutes after midnight. In the dark I can’t see much of the old ghost town. They park us on the river and I ask if there is a hole to get water. Nope, the water here isn’t safe due to all the mining. We will need to melt snow. I’m planning to leave at 7 AM, deciding to cut rest a little since we are so slow, but the vets say the dogs are thin and suggest I give them extra rest. Everyone eats, but I wish they ate a little more. Kevin, the race judge comes out to coach me a little and tells me to go through the trash pile and see if I can find something the dogs will eat. I spend a couple of hours tempting them with one treat after another and get most of the dogs to eat a little extra.
The Iditarod Official Finishers Club built a heated cabin here for the mushers to sleep in. Pretty sweet. I wonder in, claim a bunk (just 2x4s and plywood but it’s off the wet floor), and look around. There is a race update tacked to the wall – this is service with a smile. I check it and Lance is in Elim. Wait a minute, he was less than 24 hours ahead of me in Takotna. How could he be in Elim already? My head is starting to spin when I notice the update is from the 2007 raceJ.
Keep 'em Northbound
Keep 'em Northbound