The Skwentna checkpoint was filled with teams. Up in the lodge mushers were catching naps all over the place. The ‘Skwentna Sweeties’ provided excellent food. Conversation revolved around who was leading the Race and strategies for the trail ahead. Although the trail from Skwentna to Finger Lake is a pretty uneventful stretch, the other side of Finger Lake is home to the legendary and dreaded Happy River steps. Jamie, race judge Terry Hinsley and myself were discussing whether it would be better to go through Finger Lake and do the Steps with a tired team in the dark or rest there and run it in the daylight with a fresh team. Terry and Jamie agreed – a tired team in the dark.
The dogs really weren’t all that tired and weren’t resting well. Every time I peeked out to check on them, one or two were looking up the bank watching for my return. Flattering, but I would have rather they settled down and slept! As time came to start getting ready to leave, I headed down to the team and ran into Harry Caldwell. I was sure I had seen him leave earlier and inquired what was up. I was sad to hear that he was having trouble with his team and had returned to Skwentna to scratch from the Race - how sad.
We left the checkpoint at the beginning of the hot time of the day – not good planning, but I had done lots of training in warmer weather and was confident my dogs could handle it. I played leapfrog with Rich Bosela’s team for a ways out, then Jamie passed both of us and my team settled in. We passed lots of teams camped out to beat the heat. About 15 miles out of Finger Lake my leaders decide to try out a piece of trail that was running parallel to the main trail. It was not well packed and they quickly jumped back on the better-packed surface. As they crossed over the loose snow between the two trails, Spud, who was running in swing seemed to misstep and began to favor a leg. My stomach churned at the thought of having to leave him in Finger Lake – Spud is a long time main leader in my team and has never been dropped from a Race. I stopped and massaged the leg and shoulder, it improved a little and he kept his tug line tight, but I could still see he was favoring it. I slowed everyone down to a pace more comfortable for him and did the remaining miles into Finger Lake.
Pulling into the checkpoint, I was really bummed out over Spud. As soon as the vet came over I had him look at the shoulder. Happily, he felt it was only a minor strain and thought with massage and some rest, he would be 100% again. So Plan "A" was out the window - I was staying in Finger Lake to rest and would have to deal with the Steps with a fresh team, but it would be worth it to have Spud still in the team.