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.

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