Thank you to all sponsors and fans for your support and encouragement. Without you, not only would Evening Star Kennel been absent from the 2010 Yukon Quest, but this incredible sport and these wonderful dogs would become a thing of distant memory. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I hope that you have enjoyed following this amazing event.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tales from the Trail: Part 2

Upon leaving the Twin Bears Campground, we immediately got off the trail, as did almost everyone else, I heard later.  After a few tense moments of barely controlled backtracking, we got on the right trail and continued on.  I had planned to go for 4.5-5 hours and camping.  But that was not the case. 

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...).

I managed to get my boots thawed enough to open the cinch straps to make it possible to put my new liners in for the next run.  I also manged to melt the rubber heel of one boot, singe a hole in my new sleeping bag, and pock mark my tarp.  And I was still less that 100 miles along this 1000 mile adventure.

The next morning (3:30am) I was up and prepping everything to continue our run to the Mile 101 checkpoint.  During the night, the fire had gone out and my boots had frozen solid, fortunately, relatively open.  The downside of this was that the cinch straps were fully extended and frozen so that I could not cinch them down to stay on my feet.  We headed out on one of the craziest runs with more tangles than I have ever had in one day, possibly ever, as we encountered lots of sidehill glaciers and frozen creeks and 6 foot bouldery drops.  Everytime we had to cross ice, I had to lead the leaders across.  Thank you, Magali, for the ice cleats.  At one point the dogs went the wrong way and dragged the sled on its side over a 6 foot drop onto a creek.  We weren't the first and likely not the last to take this route, but it sure was an interesting experience trying to wiggle the sled through the dense willows to get it back on the trail.

There are 2 summits early on the east bound Quest trail, Rosebud and Eagle.  Eagle is the more infamous from a rookie standpoint and is the second of the 2, just after the Mile 101 checkpoint.  The climb up the scantily snow covered Rosedbud was not too bad except for the windblown sections where the dogs lost the trail and wanted to turn around and hurtle back to the bottom.  The most exciting part was going down with little snow for braking and flipping and getting dragged and losing one of my frozen boots. 

I had to hook down, flip the sled, undo tuglines, and do one of the most taboo thing while running dogs: I walked away from my sled and behind my dog team and crossed my fingers that they would stay just long enough for me to run back up the trail and get my boot.  Luck was on my side and they did stay put.  We continued down the mountain with far less catastrophe than earlier.

As we pulled into the Mile 101 checkpoint behind 2 other teams, my dogs were still screaming to go.  We had a 2 hour mandatory layover for a vet check and I took 4 hours before heading out to climb the infamous Eagle Summit.

Despite my worries about Eagle Summit, it was relatively easy compared to the Rosebud.  I left Mile 101 with Bart de Marie but he had troubles with his runners and had to stop on the trail to fix them so we were quickly separated.  The descent was quite the adrenaline rush, but I managed to keep the sled upright and my boots on my feet.  Going into the checkpoint at Central we went through a recent burn area where there were many obstacles to avoid including large root balls in the middle of the trail, pulled up by the brakes of earlier teams, fallen trees sticking out in the trail.  I was quite glad to get to Central for a nice long break for the dogs and for me.

I got my first real rest of the trip in Central and was ready to head out on the rather boring (I am not complaining) 75 mile trip along Birch Creek to Circle City, the northern-most point on the Yukon Quest trail.  After another long rest in the firehouse, we headed out into the night, with 120 pounds of dog food in the sled and 170 miles to travel on the Yukon River to Eagle, AK.

Though the trail is amazing and the dogs the reason to be there, one of the most amazing things about an event like the Yukon Quest is the people, getting to see old friends and make new ones.  Some people you can be almost certain to cross paths with again, like Bart and Peter who I traveled with most of the way.  Others you meet in a passing moment and can only hope that you will cross paths again, like Santiago, the Spanish volunteer in Circle.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stories from the Trail: Part 1

We started our 1000 mile journey in Fairbanks, AK on the Chena River downtown.  The crowd was spectacular and went on for miles.  I never got nervous, just anxious to get on the trail.  Tensions were high as we made last minute preparations and packed the sled in the staging area.  My mom, Beverly, was there for the start and I tried very hard to keep her from hearing some of the Quest horror stories or to learn to much about the typical extreme cold temps to be expected on the trail. 

We hooked up the team with the sled tied to the truck and then clipped onto a snowmobile for the 1/4 mile trip to the starting line.  My mom had already headed to the starting line with (I heard later) tears in her eyes.  Brooke ran with the leaders and Anita jumped on the snowmobile.  As we eased our way to the start, the dogs were screaming and jumping in anticipation.  This was not going to be another training run and they knew it. 

Shilo and Margaret held the line tight in the starting chute, focusing on the countdown to head down the trail.  As the countdown approached and hugs were given all around, a sense of relief came over me.  Finally, this is what all this was for. 

We wove our way through a crowd that seemed an unpenatrable wall, parting just in time.  I spent the first couple hundred yards talking to Margaret, hoping that her confidence would hold and not become a public spectacle.  Once she realized that the crowd would part, she put her head down and charged.  I stood both feet on my drag mat, hoping they would slow down.  This hot little dog team was not ready to go 10 mph.  They wanted to run as fast as they could.  I wanted to also but knew that they would never last like that.  1000 miles is a long way to go.

We quickly caught Gerry Willomitzer who had left 3 minutes earlier.  I tried to keep them behind him as a way to pace the pups, but he waved us by.  We ran down the river for 20 miles or so before heading through wooded trails to come out near Two Rivers.  There were people all along the way giving cookies, hotdogs, and much appreciated water. 

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

True Heros of the Trail

Brooke and I and all the doggies made it back to Montana yesterday night.  It is good to be home, have the dogs back in the dog yard, and be able to sleep in a bed.  What an incredible adventure that I am still and will be processing for a while yet to come.  Having had a few days away from the trail, the race, and my mushing family, I have been able to take a step back and think about all that has happend over the last month or so.

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.

Voodoo was one of the smaller dogs in the team but made me laugh more than once when she caught a whiff of who-knows-what and started screaming and charging down the trail getting the whole team amped up and cruising a bit faster.  Despite being in season for almost the entire race, Voodoo was a great asset to the team.  She started to get sore going into Carmacks so I carried her the last 20 miles into the checkpoint.  She quickly curled up in the sled bag and went to sleep.  At the checkpoint, the vets and I could find no injury whatsoever so she continued on and never looked back again.  She just needed a few more hours of rest.

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.

Patron may be, in the future, the best dog in the kennel.  This big boy has such a smooth and efficient gait that he is able to avoid a lot of injuries that bigger dogs can be more prone to.  Patron never missed a beat and, like his sister Voodoo, was able to energize the team and get them moving down the trail at even faster speed.  Patron is my watch dog and is always aware of what is going on around him.  On the first leg of the race, we ran down the Chena River.  There were places we went under auto bridges or paralleled the highway.  Patron apparently likes to chase cars and would just charge down the river when he saw one.  On the last leg, he saw or smelled or heard something and got the team loping down the trail for a few miles.  If only I have 5 more of him.

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.

Charlotte was a huge surprise.  I almost didn't bring her.  She is not a leader and though she generally doesn't pick fights, she never loses them and usually leaves the other dog a mess.  But she surprised me by working hard the whole way, eating and resting well, and getting along with everyone in the team.  Charlotte was sore coming off of King Solomon Dome out of Dawson at the beginning to the second half and the longest stretch between checkpoints.  I loaded her into the sled for the descent to our day camp spot.  I decided I would drop her at Scroggie Creek where we would be camping that night.  Because it was so hilly and my load still so large, I put her back in the team planning to leave her in Scroggie in 50 miles.  She never limped again and finished with flying colors.  Charlotte is a great long distance dog as she ALWAYS eats.  She didn't lose a bit of weight and was bright and playful within 12 hours of finishing.

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.

Lightning was phenomenal.  Especially considering that 2 weeks before he was practically 3 legged.  I don't know why or what was wrong with him, but he was quite the limper.  One week before the Quest start, he seemed to be better so I ran him 20 miles and he was fine.  The next day, he ran our last 70 mile training run and hasn't looked back since.  Lightning ran in lead here and there but was absolutely essential in supporting the leader from his position in swing just being them for 800 miles.  I thought he would be one to need constant attention to keep him from getting sore but he never needed anything extra from me.  He was consistently working hard and took good care of himself.  This young male (one of 3 boys in the finishing team) has a great future ahead of him.

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:

Etna was the first working sled dog I bought when I started my own team.  She was sold as a team dog but quickly showed she knew what to do up front.  Although she has always been a great command leader, I have never quite come to trust her to be there for me when the going got tough and tensions rose.  But she proved me wrong on this trip.  Etna took charge and pulled the team safely across glare ice, sidehill glaciers and overflow.  She put her head down in the wind and carried on.  Etna never needed any extra care except for her windburned belly.  I am excited to harness break her pups from last year and see if they are as good as the mom and pop (Lightning).

Annabel (sponsored by Beverly Davis in memory of another Annabelle) might have had the greatest transformation of all the dogs in the team.  She has always been shy and skiddish with strangers. I have always thought it such a shame that no one but me ever got to see her hilarious personality.  Annabel had a hard time in the first half as she was very sore.  She got lots of massages and heat packs.  She always had a shocked look for me when it was time to get up from a sleep and go again.  After the 36 hour in Dawson, she was a completely different dog.  She was no longer so and she was a phenomenal leader.  She led 250-300 of the last 450 miles.  She was always ready to go and the last to fall asleep at the checkpoints, making sure we really were stopped for a bit.  After the race was over, Annabel decided Brooke and Anita were both friends.  She solicitied play from both and even approached my dad, who she had never met, on her own.  Annabel has always been hard to keep weight on but she didn't lose a bit on this race.  Once Annabel got over the hump and figured it all out, she only looked at what adventure might be ahead.  Watch out for Annabel for years to come.

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.

Shilo is the queen bee.  She now has 3 1000 mile races to her credit.  Shilo was my crutch and the only dog in the team with a 1000 mile race to her name.  Although the others stood up and showed that I didn't need a crutch, Shilo was essential to the team's success.  Although she still doesn't like standing water on the trail, Shilo lead the team over mountains, over jumble ice, through tight winding trails, and into the head wind on the Yukon River.  When not in lead, Shilo would answer any command I gave with an exasperated scream if the other leaders didn't respond fast enough.  Shilo rode contentedly in the back seat of the truck all the way home.  Shilo won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
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.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bittersweet End to the Adventure

I find myself at a loss for words to describe the experience of the last 2 weeks, 2 months and year.  We made it to the finishline and now all that I have worked so hard for and planned for is done.  I thought perhaps this trip would shed some light on what happens next.  But I find that instead of finding clarity of thought, everything has become more blurred.  Maybe that is just the sleep deprivation.

The dogs did an incredible job and there is something changed in them now, especially the younger dogs.  They know they have done something.  They aren't just your average dogs anymore (if they ever were).  They are Quest veterans and have traveled 1000 miles over rugged terrain.  12 of 14 starting dogs finished the whole race.  Boggle was dropped in Dawson as he just wasn't having fun anymore.  Miss Cleo stayed there as well.  The whole team had had a bit of an intestinal bug that Cleo just couldn't seem to shake.  Brooke and Anita took great care of her and she was back to herself in 24 hours. 

We saw some beautiful scenery but spent a lot of time in the dark wishing for a full moon.  The Northern Lights were spectacular and at times seemingly touchable.  I traveled a lot of the first half with Bart De Marie and Peter Fleck.  We had a lot of fun on the trail and in checkpoints.  Going out of Eagle toward Dawson City, we got spread out and I traveled most of the second half by myself just seeing the boys and Jennifer Raffaeli at the occassional checkpoint.

I am having technical difficulties adding pictures and now am heading out the door for the rest of the adventure: 4 days in the truck to finally return home.  I will work on some stories to tell and hopefully be able to make a post en route or as soon as we return home.  Thank you to all you sponsors, supporters, followers, friends, family, Brooke and Anita for believing in me and offering you support in so many ways.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Team has Crossed the Finish Line

     It has been such an adventure!  All the superlatives you can think of will apply...It has been a bonding experience as well, kind of an exclusive club.  They are not ROOKIES anymore!  We are so grateful for the friends we have made on this trip.  It is heartwarming to see you all show up at the finish line after midnight when you could have been enjoying a nice warm bed after all those miles. Thank you Bart, Stefaan, Marc, Karine, Darryl and Cindy, Richard and Mary, Peter, Gary and all the rest.  We are also happy to see that Katie's father; John made the trip up to see the finish.  Katie was pleasantly surprised - she didn't expect so many at that late hour.  It really meant alot to her.
     There are two teams still out there on the course, Pierre-Antoine Hertier and Jocelyn LeBlanc.  Hopefully they'll be in tomorrow and will be able to participate in the events to celebrate the Quest.
     Katie is winding down, it is a roller coaster.  Kind of hard to believe that it is over.  It is fairly late now - time to catch an overdue shower and try to make up for a bit of the sleep deficit...
     Note:  It is now midday, on Friday.  The first paragraphs were right after the team came in.  This will be my last post...I'll let Katie reclaim her blogspot.  Thank you so much for allowing me to share my observations with you.  Thank you Katie and Brooke for allowing me to share in this wonderful experience.  I am a bit sad that it is almost over - I have had so much fun and am so impressed with the sport, the dogs, the scenery -  and the people.   Anita.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

8 Hours In Braeburn and ON TO WHITEHORSE!!!

     Have we taken an opportunity on this journey to thank all of you for taking interest in Katie's race?  It seems we haven't - and we really should.  Because without all of the support this endeavor would not have been possible.  Katie hasn't seen the blog since she started in Fairbanks, but we do keep her updated as your comments come in and we let her know that this blogspot has received more than 5,000 hits since its inception.  1200 of those have occured in the last 7 days.  Once again thank you for your kind words and please know you have helped Katie to accomplish her dream.
For all of you folks in the Whitefish area a few of Katie's nearest and dearest want to welcome her home in style.  Please join them for a reception at the Great Northern Brewery on Saturday, Feb. 27th at 7:30 pm.


So, back to the Quest.  The stop in Braeburn is really a wide spot on the highway!  There is a fuel station and a cozy restaurant.  They do have hamburgers the size of the plate as are the cinnamon buns, and the smell of the fresh bread baking was not fair!

     Bart made really good time from Carmacks.  He crossed the highway first - still in daylight.  The next team in - arriving at 6:35 was Jennifer Raffaeli followed by Peter Fleck just before all light faded at 7:02 pm.  (The daylight has increased a great deal since we have been here.)  We enjoyed some videos and kept checking the livetracker...some took naps and some were afraid to go to sleep for fear of not waking in time to welcome the team...the greeters were all on hand when Katie came down the hill and crossed the highway at the last minute of the midnight hour.


  Each team made the best use of their 8 hour layover and did not waste a minute getting back on the trail.  Bart left at 1:35 am as Katie was settling her dogs in for the night.  Peter was able to leave at 3:02 am.  Next out was Jenn Raffaeli at 3:06 am.  Katie was able to leave at the very sensible hour of 9:10 am. 
                                                                                                   And they are off to Whitehorse!!    

 On to Whitehorse our final destination!  Bart wasted no time and arrived to great fanfare at 1:14 pm.
Peter Fleck finished his race at 3:22 by rewarding each of his beloved dogs with a steak!  Jennifer and her team came into view and finished at 4:17 pm.  Congratulations to all!  Now we have to go because Katie is about 20 miles from the finish line and we need to be there!!!  More to follow from Whitehorse...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pelly Crossing to McCabe Creek to Carmacks

     In case you haven't noticed there are alot of stops along this trail.  I have heard that the distances between checkpoints on this race are greater than that of the Iditarod.  The mushers often choose to camp along the trail in between checks.  My information is that some prefer to rest along the trail instead of at the checks.
     There are some checks that have mandatory rest requirements; such as the 36 hr. at Dawson City.  The check our teams are heading for at this point is a mandatory 8 hour rest at Braeburn.  Where our sources tell us they serve hamburgers of enormous proportions and also the 'world's largest homemade cinnamon rolls'!!!
     We are currently waiting a bit before we leave Carmacks, where I have enjoyed maybe not the world's largest but a very tasty cinnamon roll from the kitchen of Dale.  She also whips up a fine breakfast.  These folks have been manning these checkpoints round the clock for more than a week and they are as welcoming to us as they were to those guys that blew through the front half of the race.  Imagine the logistics to staff the entire race with officials, teams of veterinarians (from around the globe) and masses of volunteers!
     The first of our travelling party to reach Carmacks was our friend, Bart.  He arrived at 5:56 pm with 10 dogs.  Peter pulled in at 6:30 pm - also with 10 dogs.  Jennifer Raffaeli pulled up at 11:05 pm with 13 dogs and Katie made it here half-past midnight with her 12 team members.
     The teams approach from the river - we could see the headlamp of our team from more than half a mile out.  There is a steep climb up the bank right out onto the road surface.  There is a nice 'snow curb' to help funnel the dogs along the trail toward the check.  Some other teams had a bit of trouble there - the dogs instinct was to bust straight over the curb and head for the crossroads.  Katie and the dogs handled it with little fuss and then we just had to guide them in to their 'parking' area.  We did have to assist in turning the team to face the direction of the trailhead.  Interesting for me due to my lack of experience handling them.
     What we (novices) also don't realize is how much work it is to care for the dogs once they are off the trail.  They have to spend a great deal of time unhooking lines, offering water, removing booties, bedding them down, heating water, unloading supplies from the sled, preparing food, feeding them...and then the musher has to take care of themselves - because as Katie said;  "Who will take care of the dogs if I don't take care of myself?"  And on the other side of the coin - read the list sort of backwards to get an idea of the prep this morning to get ready to head back out again!
     So, not too long after Katie arrived Bart prepared to leave.  His team headed out at 2:11 am this (Wed.) morning, then Peter left at 4:53 followed by the Jenn Raffaeli team at 5:15 and Katie and our 12 rocked on at 9:20 am.  Now they are heading toward Braeburn (about 80 miles) and beyond that the finish line in WHITEHORSE!  (About 110 miles)
     We expect her there on Friday as it stands now. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Over the River and thru the Bush!

     Today is Tuesday, Feb. 16 and Brooke and I are in Pelly Crossing.  Another beautiful ride surrounded by breath-taking vistas.  The scenery is phenomenal.  Once again I can only imagine what Katie must be experiencing from the trail.  We have seen the Northern Lights several times and while we feel we are in remote locations there is still light pollution from the towns that washes out the colors.  The view that the mushers must have! 



     We arrived yesterday afternoon and did what handlers do best, waited on the teams.  We also ate and laughed and cared for the dogs on the truck and ...waited.  Katie's livetracker was not operating (Brooke is addicted to following by this method) so it becomes a guessing game as to when she may arrive.  You listen to the teams arriving ahead of her and assess their travel time and trail conditions, etc.  Bart De Marie came in about 2 am, followed by Peter Fleck and then Jenn Rafaeli and then just before 5 am YK time our team pulled in.  This was a good bit ahead of the time we estimated last night.  They (the team) made up about 2 hours on the folks that had gone from Dawson City ahead of her.
     So, I was sleeping when they pulled in but here is the report that Brooke has gleaned from Katie while she was bedding down her dogs.
     Katie chewed an entire pack of gum on the way here.  She doesn't ordinarily chew gum but has found that it does help keep her awake while on the runners.  I am really happy to hear that she is very pleased with the recovery of the team since she pulled into Dawson City.  They are motivated and she feels she 'got her team back' is so important!
     There is a condition out on the ice referred to as 'overflow'.  I have only learned about it on this trip - and Katie's dog have learned about it on this trip as well.  It is where water comes over the ice and may be deep or may be shallow but sometimes it is standing water.  The first encounter was just outside of Two Rivers...the very first checkpoint of the race.  Another musher that ended up in it, Kelly Griffin, described it as;  "an Olympic sized swimming pool..."  Bear in mind that they are travelling in the dark.  They do have very bright headlamps that shine ahead - but the team is on a line stretching more than 30 feet ahead of them.  At speed.  Those of you that ride horses know the accordion effect when one horse at the head of the line stops suddenly...or driving a car if you don't ride : )  So, there have been a couple of  overflow encounters along the way.  While the weather has been very warm for this time of year - it is not pleasant to go swimming or get your feet wet! 
    Sometimes the overflow is from melting snow crossing a down-slope.  It then refreezes into a slick glacier that these dogs aren't accustomed to either. Etna is a new fearless leader!  She confidently powered the team right across frozen overflow.  She earned some brownie points with this newly aquired skill!  Much to Katie's relief.
      On this leg she had  Etna in front for awhile and of course Whitney and Shiloh did alot of leading.  Katie mixes up the pairings she says so that no two dogs spend too much time together.
     The terrain is changing now.  While the just completed portion was described as hilly once they got past King Soloman's Dome, it will level out somewhat.  Lots of river ice to cover - travel along roads some, etc.
The amount of food Katie left Dawson City was enormous!  Her sledbag was stuffed tight and the weight of the food for the dogs changed the way the sled handled.  Big impact on the musher.
     Oh and by the way - the race was won yesterday!  Broke all kinds of records this year.  This is the first year ever that all teams have checked in to Dawson City with no scratches.  More teams are finishing with less dogs dropped.  This is really a science.
     Katie reports that the Northern Lights were so impressive last night that she felt like a tourist!  She had her eyes to the sky - one of the rewards for being on the trail in the middle of the night going over the river and through the bush!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pictures from the Trail

Katie had a few spare moments out on the trail to take a few photos.  She reports that the trail is rather rough and technical.  She has incountered several obsticles and has prevailed.  Now she is over half way finished and looking good.  Enjoy her photos.

The team moving throw snow ghost.
Bart De Marie tending to his team.         

The team resting.

          Jumble ice on the river.
                                                                              A beautiful sun rise on the river.


Happy Valentine's day from Dawson City, YK

     So glad that Brooke and I arrived in Dawson ahead of Katie and had a chance to catch up on some rest.  The Fifth Avenue bed and breakfast is the place to do it - very comfortable and the folks, Tracy and Steve are great hosts.
     Once Katie and the team arrived it was on!  With half of the race complete there are alot of used and used up supplies to manage.  Not to mention some tired and travel-weary dogs and a very wired musher.  This mandatory 36 hour lay-over is for the dogs, for sure.  Because while Katie was able to make a small dent in her sleep deficit, she still had to unpack her sled - assess its condition -make the necessary repairs - dry the sled bag and other drenched equipment - account for supplies -  (remember the stolen drop bag?!) go over and over and over her lists and plan her next leg of the journey.  There is also a great need for food.  She freezes alot of vacuum sealed meals for the trail but the requirements are quite high to make up for the caloric drain the race demands.
     The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have a station here.  There is a heated area that was generously donated for the mushers to use as a drying room and also a place to work on the sleds indoors.  The Mountie (Dave) was very amenable and engaging and we got to meet his lovely daughter Haley as well.  I am still very impressed with the genuine kindnesses and hospitality we have encountered along the trail!
     We let Katie sleep the other night and tended to the "crew" until almost 3 am and then we bounced out of bed yesterday to get all of our chores done. ( Also, not to miss breakfast served by our afore-mentioned hosts...)  Katie and Brooke saw to the team while I spent about four hours at the laundry...lots of dog blankets and coats and harness and musher attire with a few miles on them.  Got to meet some interesting local folks there - even made a new friend that I hope to be able to come visit durng the summer months on her 260 acre farm on the "Other side of the Klondike River" - Someday.  Thanks for the invite Anja!
     We didn't finish the preparations for Katie's departure this morning until well after midnight last night.  Then the alarm goes off at 3 am and back to camp we go to get ready to send the team on their way.  Katie had hoped to finish the race with the 14 dogs from the start.  She made the decision to leave two of them with us - Boggle and Miss Cleo.  That's okay.  It is hard for the mushers to drop dogs - but they do it for the benefit of the individuals as well as the rest of the team.  It sometimes has an adverse effect on the others when one dog cannot perform optimally. If the musher has any question it is better to make the decision at the checkpoint rather than out on the trail before the question becomes a problem.
     So the vets checked Cleo out at 5:15 this morning and then the girls 'bootied up' the team.  We followed that by hitching up the pairs to the gangline on the sled and just after 6 am they were off!!!  Brooke and I were actually able to see part of the trail this morning.  We stood on the ice bridge where the trail crossed and watched them glide on their way down river.  It is surreal.  The northern lights were glowing overhead and across the tops of the mountains and the team is so smooth.  There is a hush and you can hear them puffing and Katie calling out directions.  Then we follow the glow of the headlamp until it is out of sight.
     Five hundred miles down - (+-) five hundred to go!!!  
Notice how loaded Katie's sled is, she has everything she needs for her and the dogs for the next 200 miles of trail.  She will resupply at Pelly Crossing. 

Friday, February 12, 2010


     So, just after the last post I headed outside to scout out the route Katie and the team would have to take from the check-in on the road back down to the river crossing to the camp ground...then I checked in with the officials to see if they had any folks down river to call in when teams were approaching.  The answer was that they would step out periodically and look.  Okay, I can do that!
     Just before 5 pm I can see a little spot on the white ice field.  Just near the spruce grove that goes right down to the rivers edge - and yes! It is moving!  It's the TEAM.  Finally.  Brooke is so prepared.  She had me drop her off at the camp around 4 pm to get the water heating so the dogs can have warm soaked kibble on arrival...
     A stop at the gate on the street - a tow to the ramp and there they go across the ice again.  Finally to camp,  icy booties off, good warm dinner, pull blankets and harness, vet check (each dog was handled thoroughly and kindly) lead into our wonderfully crafted shelter ;) bedded down for the night...(Brooke and I will go back later and walk, massage and feed again) then load all the stuff, then drop some off at the RCMP garage drying station. Now, Katie has had a wonderful hot shower and we need to feed her.  Hey we get to eat too!  Bonus.  Later!

Dawson City Checkpoint - waiting...

     Good day from this picturesque, historic goldmining village on the banks of the Yukon River!  We are still waiting and following Katie's progress via the live tracking feature.  This creates alot of speculation as to how fast she may be travelling and when we should expect her to this point we think it may be as soon as 5:30 this afternoon, maybe sooner we shall see.  Bart De Marie just arrived a short time ago and as I am posting this Peter Fleck just pulled in to the check.  Live tracker says she is 20 miles out.
     This is the fun part- the waiting, the anticipation!  The live tracking has been wonderful, but it is not exact and still leaves room for error.  We want to be on standby to provide the optimal assistance for the team. It looks as if we won't be sitting around camp or the check in the dark as she is making a really good run today. 
     I was trying to post some handler stories earlier today and the page on the computer I was using at the B&B shut down without saving. (Crap!)  So let me try again.
     Since the start of the race the pace of the mushers has sorted itself out.  The front half is comprised of alot of veterans and very competetive teams setting a burning pace.  If you have been following you have seen that they have broken some records this year.  There is a middle group that is a day (give or take) behind the front runners and then another group running about the same rate together.  As a result we often find ourselves with the same group of handlers at the check points.  You get to know these folks pretty well.  Everyone is so nice, and from such diverse realms with one common denominator - the mushing.  The dogs.  The sport. I don't want to single anyone out because I don't want to overlook anyone - certainly don't want to do any name dropping.  For example: Alex handling for Dave Dalton or Megan and Jenn with Terry Williams or Darryl travelling with Cindy Barrand...Brooke and I have had the pleasure of spending time with Stefaan De Marie, brother of Bart and their friend/handler Marc.  The De Marie brothers are from Saskatchewan where they have a kennel.  They are from Belgium originally;  as is Marc - he is here for six months to assist with the kennels, run dogs and help with the races.  I believe Stefaan told me that he and his brother alternate on the training and racing of their teams.
     We arrived in Dawson about 7:30 on Wednesday evening.  We immediately checked in and arranged to pick up Katie's supplies that had been trucked in. There were nine check bags and five bales of straw. We offloaded them from the tractor trailer, went back inside for a moment and then pulled the truck around to pick up.  Brooke began arranging our trailer and I dropped dogs for a break. (Remember Detour and Herbert have been travelling with us...)  Suddenly a local woman came running up and informed us a large dog had absconded with one of our drop bags!   She and Brooke ran around for a bit hoping to locate the thief - but he is a town dog and was not to be found.  One happy town dog we imagine.  Fortunately, our Katie is very organized and we have a book that lists each bag and it's contents by number.  Brooke was able to repack a bag with all of the food that Katie will need on the trail with extra supplies we are carrying.  Boy, Brooke was pissed.  We didn't expect that.
     On a different track, since we were in Fairbanks Brooke has been talking about a bar in Dawson that is very well-known for a special cocktail.  The "SourToe".  She said we had to go there and join this special club...seems that sometime back in the 70's these folks found a severed frostbitten digit on the floor of a remote cabin and came up with the idea that people would love to pay for the honor of taking a shot of whiskey with the "Toe" floating in it.  There is a special ceremony and you have to sign the registry.  And if you successfully imbibe your beverage the "Toe" has to touch your lips!  This is a real, gnarly, human toe folks - I looked at it!  There are more than 40,000 people that are registered.
      So, last night Brooke and I stopped in for dinner and we were joined by a fellow named Jack from a town way north of here(!) by the name of Old Crow.  He was interesting but had been enjoying the bar all day if you know what I mean.  After a bit we were also joined by Stefaan and Marc and Darryl.  Some hardy souls in the bar took part in the "Society of the Toe" proceedings including Darryl and BROOKE!  No, I did not and will not be joining up with this group thank you very much.  Way too real for me!
     Somehow we coerced the guys into trying out the locals favorite spot; the Pit.  It was fairly quiet - but we had another round and got into a few more stories.  Stefaan was telling us about their accomodations in town.  The lady of the house is a friend of his sister-in-law or something.  She is not here this weekend but they were to make themselves at home as they wished.  She did caution that the dog was going to be left inside and Stefaan was a bit worried because they hadn't seen the dog.  We were joking around that he shouldn't worry about him going hungry as he was probably the scoundrel that made off with forty pounds of kibble and frozen meat in a drop-bag.  We were going over the story again and included the fact that the local lady said;  "It's probably So-and-so's dog; he runs around all the time!"
     The look on Stefaan's face was priceless - it was the owner's dog!  Right now I don't know if they have seen him yet.  I wouldn't worry too much about him - he is very resourceful!!!
    Okay, the tracker says she is ten miles out on the river now!  We can't wait to see her and how they are faring...Bear with us as we will be busy for awhile.  We will post photos - this takes some time as electronics are a bit challenging the closer you get to the North Pole!!!  Later!!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

yukon quest adventure!

     It looks to be another gorgeous day in the Klondike...We (Brooke and I) are currently in Dawson City in a beautiful bed and breakfast enjoying hot coffee, equally hot showers and a wonderful warm bed.  I have to say though it has not been too rough sleeping in the truck as Katie prepared it with comfort in mind.  She travelled solo with the sixteen dogs over 2300 miles and it was their rolling hotel the entire trip... 
     The hospitality we are experiencing along our journey is unbelievable.  These folks at the checkpoints and in the towns along the trail are fantastic and so enthusiastic.  The community of mushers is also very impressive.  It is truly an international event as the musher profiles illustrate.  All the handlers and other support staff are interesting and engaging and it is my good fortune to be a part of this.
     The Alcan highway lives up to its reputation.  It was quite a haul from Circle around to Destruction Bay (first leg) and then on Wednesday we arrived here in Dawson about 7:30 pm.  Brooke has done most of the driving...I may have lost points on my driving abilities because of a 'minor' mishap on the Alcan...I lost the right hand trailer tire. Completely.  Flattened the rim.  We pulled into the closed gas station/hotel parking lot and assessed the situation - suddenly two other dog trucks whipped in...three wonderful men jumped out finished jacking the trailer, changed the tire (laughed alot) dropped the trailer off the jack like a NASCAR pit crew! Then they were gone- trucking on down the highway!  Bonus!  Thanks Clinton and friends!!!
     Now.  About Katie and the race!  The team left Circle at 1:35 am Tuesday morning.  They arrived at their next rest at Slaven's cabin at 10:18 am.  From there they headed out at 8:15 pm.  The website indicates the arrival at the Eagle checkpiont was just before 5 pm on Wednesday.  We were following the race on the radio about this time and heard that Hans Gatt was on the river close to Dawson City...His was the first team to arrive at 6:02 pm Wednesday and they will receive 4 ounces of gold for this feat.  While we were picking up Katie's supplies for the next HALF of the race, I saw Lance Mackey arrive at 8:49 pm and also had the luck to see the third team to arrive - Hugh Neff at 9:04 pm. 
     We at this point are following Katie through the live tracking on the website.  We have a greater responsibility here...this is the only point in the race that we can provide hands on support.  It is not allowed at any other time.  We will set up the camp and have warm water going and enable Katie and her team to rest as completely and comfortably and quickly as possible.  This is a mandatory reststop of 36 hours for all teams.
     We see that Katie left Eagle at 4:11 this (Thursday) morning.  Two other teams/handlers that we have been enjoying time with: that of Bart De Marie left Eagle at 1:18 am and the young Brit; Peter Fleck followed Katie by a few minutes at 4:14 am.  We expect our team to arrive late this evening  - maybe early Friday just depends on the conditions and how Katie feels the dogs are handling them. 
     Sometimes this is very challenging for us - we have an idea of her run/rest schedule, sometimes she may be three hours ahead of her plan or maybe six hours behind...Ah!  That's racing, just gotta be able to roll with it!   As we are internet connected for the next few days we will try to update a bit more often...Later!