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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tales from the Trail: Part 3

Upon leaving Circle, with over 100 pounds of dog food in the sled, we quickly headed out onto the Yukon River for about 160 miles to Eagle, AK.  The reports were that the jumble ice was the worst for the first 15 miles.  I think whoever wrote the report must have been highly optimistic.

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. 

Mostly we would follow one river back that was relatively clear and then cross the jumble ice to the other side of the river when necessary to find smoother trails.  Occasionally, we would portage across a bend in the river to avoid the river entirely.  One of these portages followed some beaver sloughs and was very tight and windy.  I was very glad the dog team had toned down a bit for this as it took constant effort on my part to keep the sled out of the scrub along side the trail and ducking to avoid low hanging branches. 

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.

We got back on track and headed on into Slaven's Roadhouse.  This is not an official checkpoint and therefore no resupply, but it is a place you can drop dogs that do not need to continue.  When I arrived at Slaven's, they informed me that it was -22 degrees.  I didn't think it felt that cold, but the wind can change everything.  I bedded down the dogs and went inside for some food and a nap.  Shortly after I arrived, Bart De Marie and Peter Fleck pulled in as well.  These guys became my travelling companions for a good portion of the remainder of the race.

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.

We ran a long 8+ hour run that night to Mike Sager's cabin at Trout Creek, enduring a constant headwind and blown in trails.  We arrived at the cabin around 4 am where we rested and slept for a few hours.  All three of us sprawled out on the floor in the loft and I don't think anyone moved until the alarm went off.  That was a tough morning to get going.

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.

The run from Trout Creek to Eagle was more river and jumble ice.  Although I knew we had a 36 hour rest coming up in Dawson City, another 150 miles, I decided to take a longer break of 12 hours for my pups to reset at the checkpoint before heading out on another 150 miles with a heavy sled.  The advantage of running a young team who needs more rest is that I get a bit more rest, though I still averaged less than 4 hours a day on my 12.5 day trip.

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. 

1 comment:

  1. The one thing I noticed about this race is that there are a lot of friendly way places to compensate for the lack of villages, such as you have along the Iditarod trail. I've read some of the history of the mail routes, but it still just boggles my mind that people settled these regions, living along the river to form a communication and trade route as the gold rush brought in settlers.

    I think it must have been busier in those days, actually - and you were traveling with ghosts of times past.

    But I got very interested in Slaven's Roadhouse, thinking it would be fun to boat up river from Circle to it and spend the night in the summer.