Pretty much right on my schedule of resting 4 hours in Yentna, I pulled the hook and we headed off into the night.
The trail ended up being fairly busy and I saw many mushers out there, including one (I never did figure out who it was) that was way off the trail along the bank of the river. From the shouts and curses it was pretty obvious that the trail wasn’t good over there and the mystery musher wasn’t having a lot of fun.
I had a great run. I had vowed not to use Grover in lead too much early in the Race – he is my best leader and I didn’t want to burn him out, however he loves leading and I didn’t want him to sulk too much about not getting a turn up front. So it was decided prior to the Race that he would get to lead on the short, easy 35-mile stretch to Skwentna. That basically set us up for a great trip down the Yentna.
There were a lot of teams still hanging out in the checkpoint. Typical to form, the dogs dove into the straw of the team next to them looking for leftover snacks. A little bit of muscling and I got them into their own spot, hooked the front end out, got their own snacks into them, and got some straw spread out. With just a little fussing they settled down while I cooked for them. After big, warm meals they were ready for their nap.
I hiked up the riverbank to Joe Delia’s Cabin for some much appreciated warmth and good food. A quick snooze on the floor upstairs and I was ready to roll again.
The dogs were quick to get up. I can’t remember which two leaders I put up front, I’m thinking it was Chester and Orion. Whoever it was, they certainly weren’t strong on their commands and ignoring my “HAW” they drifted off the trail to the right of the River. Finally they made a 90-degree turn and headed parallel to the checkpoint. The trail got slushy and wet and I couldn’t get a hook in to go up front and straighten out the problem. They barreled towards the left bank and at the last second their ears kicked into gear so they were able to hear my frantic shouts of ‘GEE’ and they swung hard to the right, which hooked us back up with the main trail. I think maybe they knew where we were headed the whole time and were just playing with me.
As everyone had said, there was a lot of snow out there. The trail was somewhat soft, but not too bad. It was pretty obvious by the high banks though that stepping off the trail might mean you wouldn’t be found till spring. A real plus was that the moguls that pounded mushers and sleds last year weren’t nearly as prevalent.
Once pointed the right direction things settled down. Lance Mackay and I played ‘leapfrog’ a few times, Danny Seavey smoked by and my team kicked it up a gear for a few miles. I finally stopped for a snack break on One Island Lake, knowing Danny would get far enough ahead that the dogs would settle back into their own pace. The trail to Finger Lake is really a lot of fun. There are some open swamps, a few creek crossings, some twisty trails through pretty forests, and some wonderful views of the Alaska Range looming ahead.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I remembered from last year. It made the trail seem shorter then last time and I was very happy as we made the journey around the Lake and into the checkpoint.