Friday, 17 March 2000

Rohn to Nikolai

I’ve heard varying opinions from mushers on the Rohn checkpoint, I personally thought it was a lovely spot. The checkers were helpful and friendly and there were nice sheltered spots for the resting teams. It would have been nice to spend awhile there, but seeing I had just taken my 24 – the dogs weren’t really ready for a big rest. 

I had heard that the first 20 miles or so of trail out of Rohn could be pretty tough going, culminating in an icy scramble up the Post River Glacier. I wanted to try to get to the Glacier before it got too dark, so with three hours rest we rolled out of the checkpoint. 

Not to be blunt, but the trail out of Rohn SUCKED! It had hardly any snow and we just bounced along across the frozen ground. It was dark when we hit the Glacier, but it didn’t matter. The team went up and over the frozen ice with no problems. Grover would prove himself on the ice again and again over the course of the night, as we crossed many large lakes that had all the snow completely blown off them. He never hesitated or strayed from the markers – what a boy!!!!

I did have trouble at a water crossing though – that bugged me as I spent a lot of time in the summer and fall working with the dogs on water crossings. I thought they were solid on that, but they ducked away from the crossing before I even saw it was there. We crashed around in the bush for awhile while I tried to get them back on the trail. During all this Neen Brown came up behind me. Neen and I had been sharing living and training accommodations in Willow since January, so it was nice to see a familiar face out in the middle of nowhere. She secured her team and came up and rode my sled across the water, while I walked the leaders across. I repaid the favor by going back and leading her team. My feet got drenched in the process, but my bunny boots kept them reasonably comfortable. Neen’s leaders weren’t doing well on the lake crossings, so I told her to stay close and see if they would follow mine across.  She had trouble on one crossing and I stopped to wait for her. As I was waiting I heard something moving around in the bush a little ways off.   The dogs all turned to stare and then started low, deep barks. Usually when they see game, they get excited and start barking in a high pitch, so this ‘warning bark’ kind of spooked me a little. Thank goodness Neen got moving around this time. When she caught up, I told her I wanted to get going, because we had some sort of company. She later told me that as I called my team up something dark jumped into the trees ahead of me. I’m assuming it was a wolf – very cool!

We passed a few teams camped on the side of the trail. I didn’t like the looks of their camping spots and decided to keep moving. One of the musher, Shane Goosen told me about a buffalo camp about 5 miles down the trail. He said it was a nice place to stop, it even had a wall tent you could crash in.  I was aiming for it, but lost my resolve when I came across Kevin Kortuem in a lovely spot with lots of room. I pulled in well ahead of him and made camp. As I was doing chores, Neen pulled in and decide to stay as well. As I was finishing up my feeding, Neen called over and asked what the noise was she was hearing. I listened for a moment and identified the sound as wolves. I wondered if it was my ‘friend’ from earlier on in the night.

I was trying to decide whether or not to go to the trouble of unpacking my sleeping bag and sled and getting a good sleep or just napping on top of the sled bag. My feet were wet and my pants frozen from mid calf down, so I really should have been getting out of them and, besides I thought, ‘it’ll be good practice for when I run Iditarod. I had a good giggle when I realized I was on the Iditarod. I have spent so many years training and preparing myself for this that it was hard to believe I was actually standing in the middle of the Farewell Burn. I did go to the trouble to settle in for a nice sleep in my bag. As I snuggled deep into my warm sleeping bag, the wolves began their howling again. The Northern Lights almost seemed to be reacting to the wonderful song they sang. I could imagine no more incredible place to be in the world then right were I was. I will NEVER forget that moment!

When I woke up 3 hours later, my bunny boots were frozen solid. I pulled out my spare Northern Outfitters boots and a few extra layers of clothing. Kevin and Neen were stirring too. I was the first to get packed up and back on the trail. Neen was close on my heels. Just a little ways past our spot, we passed Bill McKee and Mike Murphy camping. I wished them a good morning and kept going. Neen must have stopped to talk to them, because I didn’t see her again.  

The trail through the Farewell Burn is straight and flat – a nice treat after the awful trail from the night before. As I looked back over my shoulder I was given a wonderful treat – the sunrise casting back on the mountains of the Alaska Range had bathed them in a wonderful pink color. The sense of accomplishment at having realized that I had just driven a dog team right through them was just as glorious.

With the exception of one more problem at another creek crossing  (we would obviously have to go and spend more time on this back at home!), the rest of the long trip into Nikolai was pretty uneventful. Smiley stopped pulling a few miles out of the checkpoint. He was still easily keeping up with the team, but his tug was slapping loosely around and that is very unlike him. Nothing obvious was wrong, but I suspected maybe something similar to Spud’s shoulder problem on the way into Finger Lake.

The dogs happily nested into the straw offered at Nikolai. I was going to need to stay for at least long enough to dry out all my clothing. Seven or eight hours sounded like a good plan...

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