Thursday, April 8, 2010
Out of Dawson City, we had a short jaunt down the river and through the outskirts of town before we started heading up to the top of King Solomon Dome. I was a little nervous that the dogs might balk with such a heavily loaded sled and such a long climb, but they were happy and fresh after their long rest. They never looked back to question me and I never stopped running, pedaling, and poling. I quickly started taking off layers and opening the vent zippers on my bibs. So much for the showers in Dawson (yes, I took 2 just because I could). I got to see the sun come up over some of the most beautiful and little traveled mountains I have had the privilege of climbing.
After getting my team taken care of, I visited with the boys and helped them get the fire going a little better. They were planning to take off 3 hours ahead of me. We discussed how to get on track with our timing so we could hopefully travel together again. When it was approaching their time to leave, about 2:30 pm, Bart declared it too warm. It was warm and sunny where we were camped, which is good for resting; not so good for running. They stayed for an extra hour and a half and departed just over an hour ahead of me.
We leap-frogged with Jennifer Rafaeli several times on this run, and I passed her a several miles outside of Scroggie Creek while on a river. The Northern Lights were the most incredible I had ever seen. There were all shades of green, highlighted with red. The was a hugh rope of green from horizon to horizon, arching over us. It seemed so close. If I were just a little taller, I could have touched it. It was quite difficult for me to pay attention to the trail as all I wanted to do was turn off my light and look up. Absolutely beautiful
Thursday, April 1, 2010
It was a long climb up and up. And even though we were finally off the river, we still had a headwind. The trail was well packed but the shoulders were very soft. I had to be careful not to doze off or lose focus or one runner would drop of the hard pack and I would be sucked into the snowbank requiring a lot of choice words and elbow grease to get back on the trail. Peter followed us most of the way up the mountain giving his leaders a little mental break. Once he passed us and we took a snack break, I caught glimpses of them on some of the long descending switchbacks.
After bedding down and feeding the dogs, I joined Bart in the tent to warm up, rest, and feed myself. Bart had arrived 2 hours before me and thus left 2 hours before me. Peter missed the turn and ended up camping alone on the river. I headed out at dark for the 50 miles on the Forty Mile River to the old 40 mile town site and cabin. The run was uneventful except that we crossed into Canada.
We arrived at the old 40 Mile cabin in the wee hours of the morning where I fed and bedded down the dogs are got some sleep myself. I woke up feeling under the weather but decided to ignore this fact as I pushed on to Dawson. This 50ish mile run was back on the Yukon River and seemed to take forever. I was ready to be in Dawson City, where I could shower and sleep in a bed, and the dogs were ready for a long rest.
Just as we were nearing the end of the run (or so I thought), we ran into some knee deep overflow coming off the river. How do I know it was knee deep? Because, again, like the first night out of Two Rivers, I got to spend some time standing in it trying to get the dogs to go through it. At least it was light out this time and I realized what was happening before they got too tangled. We made it through after some work on all our parts and I decided that since we were off the main body of the river we must be almost there and I would wait to wring out my boot liners until I got there. This ended up being a bad call as it was another 30 minutes or so before we got to Dawson. After 15 minutes, I stopped to squeeze out the liners and they wouldn't come out of the boots. They had already frozen in place.
After standing in water inside my 10 pound (apiece) boots, I was most definitely not in my cheeriest mood of the race when we arrived in Dawson. I got checked in, asked Anita if they had some dry boots in camp, and headed across the Yukon to our campsite. What a relief to get out of my boots and get the dogs bedded down for a long rest.
Having been so bundled up for the last 6 days, it was a wonderful relief to get out of the layers and a bit shocking to look in the mirror and see new bulges here and there from all the heaving I was having to do with a heavily loaded sled. We managed to find a late dinner and then I got to sleep for 8 hours straight. Brooke and Anita were kind enough to head back to the dog lot at 3am to feed and walk the dogs and make sure everyone was still tucked in for the night. I woke up the next morning with a cold and in the most physical pain of the race. Apparently, 8 hours was too long for me to stay in bed. I was so sore and stiff.
The three of us headed to the dog lot to feed, harness, and bootie the dogs, pack the sled, and make all the last minute preparations. I had to pack for 200 miles or 4 runs and 3 camps. I was carrying close to 150 pounds of dog food for this stretch. Plus a bale of straw. It was a heavy load. I also decided to drop Miss Cleo at this point as she was still having a hard time recovering from the big that she had gotten on the way to Dawson. Brooke told me she just needed 12 hours more than I had and was eating, drinking, and bouncing around shortly after we left.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I had never seen jumble ice before and didn't quite understand what I might be in for. Jumble ice is the rough sections of the frozen river caused by an early freeze breaking up and refreezing. The broken up ice "jumbles" up and when refrozen forms a very rough surface. From talking with regulars of the trail, we had a relatively mild jumble ice year. But it was still rough going.
After 5 or 6 hours of running, our mild headwind, a usual expectation as you head up the Yukon, turned into a stiff headwind and we lost the trail as the wind exposed the glare ice. I had to tip the sled over and become lead dog for a while trying to find trail markers. One advantage to running on a river is that you have to be really out of it to really get lost. Even if you aren't on the established trail, you can keep following the river in the right direction and eventually you will find the trail again.
I ended up staying at Slaven's a little longer than intended so as to wait for the guys to get their full rest. We all travelled that night in fairly close proximity with Peter just ahead and Bart and me playing leap frog. The Northern Lights were spectacular. I turned my headlamp off to get a better look and ran into the back of Bart's sled. Apparently this story got told to one reporter and then made the papers all over.
One of the things about running a race like this that most people don't realize until they have been there is how comfortable we get with people we hardly know. I, like most of my fellow mushers, would regularly strip down to my long underwear in checkpoints while eating, sleeping, and drying things out. But the outhouse at Trout Creek takes the cake for smothering any facade of modesty. The said outhouse was actually not a house at all. It had 3 half walls barely hiding the hole and an open front facing exactly where Bart was repacking his sled. I realized this as I was walking over, toilet paper in hand. What could we do but laugh? Bart was kind enough to "give me a minute" and hightailed it over to talk with Peter. I wish I had taken the time to take a picture.
Eagle is the only remote checkpoint where we had drop bags for our resupply. It is not road accessible in the winter and so I did not see Brooke and Anita at this checkpoint. They had great food for us and beds to sleep in.
Friday, February 26, 2010
We had about 20 uneventful miles where I felt the team was moving along great. That's when we hit the Olympic size swimming pool of overflow. Not only was it an expansive pool, it was also mid-thigh deep on me. I know this because I spent more than 10 minutes standing in it trying to untangle the most massive tangle I have ever had. As soon as I got one dog free from the mess and let go to go after another, the first dog jumped back into the cluster and wound round and round again.
This seemed to go on forever. I had 2 teams waiting behind me wondering what could be taking me this long. Finally, Abbie West came up behind me, irritated that all our dogs were just standing in water but quickly realized that I was too. She helped drive my sled across the pond while I dragged the 14 dog ball through. She and Sam went though and on down the trail while I spent a very long time untangling my dogs. Everyone was fine and no worse for the wear. My boots weighed 10 pounds apiece before I pulled out the liners to wring them out and pour the water out of the shells. After sorting out the dogs and myself, we headed down the trail..
I wanted to go for a couple more hours but started getting really nervous about my feet. I stopped twice more to wring out the liners as gravity pooled more water around my toes. After an hour, I finally stopped, bedded down the dogs, and built a fire. I was so thrown off by the overflow that I couldn't seem to get anything done. I finally got the dogs fed and fire wood stockpiled so that I could sit down and try to dry out my feet and boots (and mitts and bibs and gloves and...).
Thursday, February 25, 2010
We came into the Twin Bears Campground, our first checkpoint, just behind Lance Mackey. This was the only place we saw this 2010 2nd place and 4-time former Champion. We rested for 4 hours. Well, at least the dogs did. I was too amped up like almost every other musher there to really sleep. I visited with Brooke, Anita, and my mom for a bit before heading out into the night... the night the adventure truely began.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I am so proud of my dogs for their accomplishment. Without them and their ability and desire, we never would have had this opportunity. I had the privilege of watching pups who were born on the floor next to my bed become accomplished veteran dogs. And not only that, they shone in a team of dogs with more age and experience.
Margarita is a big girl and did an excellent job. She is sponsored by Dotty Webster of Landrum, SC (thank you Dotty). Margarita actually gained weight in the first few days of racing as she is a very effective bowl cleaner. If someone else didn't finish their meal, Margarita made sure the dish was clean and ready to go back in the sled. She had a sore wrist for a few early days on the trail but worked through it and finished with no issues at all. Being a young dog, Margarita got more tired than some of the older dogs, but she never gave up or stopped pulling her weight in the team. I see a bright future for this girl and expect to see her in the lead next year.
Sneezy is the fourth yearling, though he is 5 months older than the other 3. Sneezy led at least 250 miles of the Quest and ran in swing, just behind the leaders, a good portion of the rest of the time. Sneezy was a maintanence-free dog, never needing wrist wraps or shoulder rubs to keep him primed. The only thing Sneezy ever did that wasn't perfect was get in a fight with Lightning coming into the Mile 101 checkpoint because we had to wait 5 minutes to park as we came in behind 2 other teams. They didn't want to stop there at all.
There were also 4 two year olds in the finishing team. They contributed so much to the team and even surprised me at their staying power. Boggle was the 5th two year old who was dropped in Dawson as he was tired and not having fun anymore.
Goon did a great job and lead one of the earlier legs. She was consistent and ran wherever and with whoever I needed her to be. She never needed any maintanence and never missed a beat. Goon was always the first to get up off the straw when it was time to go and never needed any extra encouragement to get out of bed and hit the trail. She learned a lot on this trip and I expect to see her leading the team a lot more in the future.
Margaret led from the start with Shilo. It was a crazy maze of people for the first mile or so. I was really worried that it would back her off. But after the first 100 yards or so of reassuring her, she hit the end of her tug and wove her way right through the middle of the crowd. Margaret was one of my best leaders early on for ice, overflow, and wind blown trails. She is serious about her job in lead and works hard no matter where she is in the team. Margaret so impressed me with her leadership, showing up some of the older dogs, she earned her royal title "Milady Margaret" and will be leading the team to great successes to come.
And lastly, the ladies who deserve the most credit for leadership and staying power:
Whitney is worth her weight in gold. That would be 41.3 pounds of gold. The smallest dogs on the team but most deserving of praise, Whitney led more than half of the race. Despite being tired and sore at times, she always got up when it was time to go and led the team out of camp and down the trail. Once she figured out ice and overflow, she never balked at anything. This little dog gave 200% at all times. Whitney led the team into Whitehorse with Shilo where I heard comments on how amazing it was that they continued to hold the line tight even though they were done and there were people milling about. Even when all the other dogs had got to the truck, Whit and Shilo did their jobs and kept the line tight until their turn to walk to the truck and curl up for a much deserved sleep. I hope to have Whitney in my team for any race I ever do.
So those are the real heros of the story. They are happy to be home and have a different look in their eye. They have been somewhere and done something and are now stronger and wiser. These dogs are my friends and travelling companions and for that I give them my love and care and respect. Now we all get a much needed and deserved break and we're going to go have some fun in the hills of Montana.