Dawn was just breaking as I came into McGrath. The checkers had a great system worked out in the checkpoint with teams 24'ing in one area and those staying for shorter amounts of time in a different area. They manhandled my rowdy crew into a parking spot and I got busy laying out straw and taking off harness. This would be the only time on the trail that the dogs actually got out of their harnesses. I was speaking to one of the vets, when I noticed someone standing off in the background intently watching the team, - it was Mark! I was thrilled to see him, but the best reaction belonged to Sissy.
Sissy has always been one of Mark's favorites and she absolutely knows it! She locked a stare on him and didn't take her eyes off him for the entire time I was doing chores. Where some of the other dogs might have been puzzled by Mark's not coming over to say 'HI' (it is against the rules for Mark to offer any help in the checkpoint, so we make it a point that he stay completely away from the team) - she was RIPPED. That stare let him know it! There would be lots of time for him to make it up to her in Nome!
For the first hours of my break things were pretty much 'normal' - eat, nap, care for dogs, eat, shower, nap…The dogs looked GREAT! No one even had to have wrist wraps - what a good sign. Since I didn't have to spend time pampering any soreness or injuries, I used up the extra time playing and rubbing down the dogs.
I switched over to my second sled. My starting sled was well, alittle bent, and I had planned to switch to my Bernie Willis sled here anyway. My B.W. sled is like a Cadillac, it tracks so nicely and steers on a thought, - I couldn't wait to get it out on the trail. I sorted through the things in my bag, looking for places to reduce the load, but everything seemed necessary. That is one area I really want to work on - efficient and organized packing of my sled. I'd love to get a chance to rifle through Swingley or Dee Dee's sled bag - just to see how and what they pack. Mark and I wandered through McGrath. As we passed by the airport on our way to a cafe for yet another meal I glanced over at the dropped dogs waiting to be flown to Anchorage and there was Oreo!! We went over to say "Hi". She was delighted to see us, bouncing and jumping. Hmmm, she didn't look nearly as miserable as she did 18 hours ago. I think I had been had by a little black and white furball con artist. Oh well, I gave her a good ear rub and wished her a safe flight home.
As night came around, and after the dogs were again fed, Mark headed off to his room at Joe's Bar, I went upstairs to have a good, long sleep. Sleep didn't happen - I just couldn't stop coughing. I had been battling a bad cough since about Rainy Pass. It had worsened to the point that I couldn't even fall asleep. I went downstairs and talked to one of the vets, who I really respect. He suggested I get into the Health Center for a checkup.
I knew I was in trouble the second I stepped into the Health Center, the nurse practitioner was MAD - mad she had been woken up and mad that I had waited so long before getting medical attention. It became really obvious, really fast that she didn't understand Iditarod mushers (okay, who does?). She was concerned that my face was so red and that I had experienced chills out on the trail. Hmmm, I had been living outside for almost a week - of course my face was suffering from exposure and I had been chilled. Thank goodness she didn't notice the cracks and splits on my hands. Finally she said that if 'I was going to continue on with my little journey' I was going to need some major antibiotics so this didn't develop into pneumonia. She mentioned needle and everything came to a SCREECHING halt. Confession time - send me out in the woods, I'll battle off angry moose and hungry polar bears, careen down the side of icy mountains and inch across thin ice, but come near me with a needle and I turn into a shimpering fool. I'm TERRIFIED of needles. It took awhile to convince the N.P. that I was serious, finally I held out my sweat soaked palms to speak for me. She vanished to consult with a doctor in Anchorage. She came back and announced that I had 'cold weather induced asthma'. WHAT??? She bustled around preparing treatments while my head was in a fog - I just had a cough. I endured a few hours of treatment that made me jittery and uncomfortable, thinking all along - I should be sleeping! Finally I said 'ENOUGH'. She wanted me to come back before I left McGrath, I said no. I didn't agree with their diagnosis and was happy about the treatment. Dying on the trail seemed like a more pleasant option then another round of inhaling steroids! A checker showed up to rescue me (did I mention that the nurse practitioner locked me in the clinic with her once the checker left us!). It was know close to 4am, time to get another meal into the dogs. I had blown most of my sleep time on this 'wild illness chase'.
The dogs ate well and I began to get everything organized for the trail ahead. I need to deal with the headlamp issue. I was suspecting a short in either the battery holder or headlamp, but different combinations of both didn't seem to resolve the problem. I tightened some wires and checked connections. Mark had come back down to the checkpoint. Watching me fumble with the lights was very frustrating for him. One of his trades is an Electrician. What would have been a quick and simple task for a rested, skilled tradesman was an awkward and painful to watch job for a ill, sleep deprived musher. Rules state that although Mark can't help me, another musher can and musher, Roy Monk eventually came to my rescue - loaning me another lamp, battery pack, and new batteries. Bless him.
Eventually, I got all packed. The dogs were rested and ready to hit the trail. The checkers helped me get to the top of the riverbank that leads to the main trail. As I got tugs done up and the team ready, I looked up for Mark - he was headed straight towards me. We gave each other a big hug and kiss and promised to meet up in Nome.
The trail to Takotna is quick and fun. It has got open swamps, rolling hills, and winds through the trees. The dogs did it much quicker then I expected, despite the fact I was riding my brake most of the way.. .