Tuesday, 10 July 2001

July 10, 2001 Eagle Island to Kaltag

Eagle Island is not much, it's only inhabitants living in a small cabin on the banks of a tributary of the Yukon. The cabin is so small that it is not used as the checkpoint, a canvas tent on the river serves that purpose. For sleeping quarters a workshop worked into the bank had plastic hung around it and straw laid on the ground. The outhouse was the 'highlight' of the place! It perched on the edge of the bank and had the most spectacular view - no wonder they didn't bother with a door.

The dogs came in grouchy and ready for a rest. They dived into a pile of straw used by another team, looking for interesting leftover snacks. A few of the cockier boys got into a little scrap over some frozen treasure. Like kids, they get cranky, especially with their 'siblings' when they are tired. No one was injured and they soon settled down to rest.

The clouds from the night had blown over, leaving a spectacular sunny day. I sorted through my sled bag until I found my sunglasses and sunscreen. The sunscreen was frozen solid, I guess most manufactures don't even put a moments thought into the freezing point of their products! After a good rest for the dogs and a terrific meal of eggs, sausage, and toast (vacuum sealed by my friend Lynda earlier in the year) for me I started to get ready to leave. All the dogs watched me out of the corner of their eyes. They all knew the routine by now and realized I was starting to get ready to go. I should say - all watched me out of the corner of their eyes but Kaylinn. When I started packing the sled, she popped up and started barking every now and again to speed me up. When Dave Tresino asked if I had every tried her in lead, I had just been thinking the same thing! I thought leaving a checkpoint was a bit much for an untrained leader, but vowed to try her out somewhere along the trail.

Under a spectacular blue sky and warm sun, we rolled out of Eagle Island. Okay - rolled was a bit of an optimistic verb - let's try shuffled. Under a spectacular blue sky and warm sun, we shuffled out of Eagle Island. Looking for a little more enthusiasm, I switched Kaylinn into lead with Grover. That worked and our shuffling switched into rolling! Kaylinn was amazing. She has not had 1 mile of training in lead, in fact she was introduced to running in harness last April. I was so surprised she actually made the Iditarod team, the fact that she was leading us down the Yukon River was incredible! Yeah Kaylinn!!!

After about 2 hours on the trail, I stopped to snack the dogs. I took the opportunity to put on another layer of clothes, as the wind was starting to blow and it was getting chilly. Off to the west I could see some dark clouds gathering and moving in. I hoped we could get off the river before the storm really moved in.

I passed a couple Idita-sport cross-country skiers. It is sadistic fun to sneak up on those guys and then cheerfully call out 'TRAIL' just before you run them over!!

As dusk closed in the storm caught us and snow started blowing and swirling around. I was really tired and dozed off on the sled a few times. It is quite startling to snap back to reality and not be sure whether or not you are on the right trail. Because the snow was blowing, there wasn't even tracks from Clint, Buck, and Beth who weren't that far ahead of me. Around this time I spotted a light off in the distance. Lights at night on the trail are horrible things, they tend to look closer then they actually are, giving mushers false hope that they are closer to a checkpoint then they actually are. For the longest time, it looked like we were moving away from the light, then SLOWLY the trail turned towards it. Still the trail went on and on with that light looking tantalizingly close.

Blowing snow and dark nights always gives me the feel of being in a cocoon with my dog team, but this cocoon felt like something was hanging around on the very edges of 'our world'. Sure enough, I was up working with my leaders when I noticed a single set of very fresh, very large wolf tracks traveling the trail just ahead of us. How cool! I figured the wolf was only a few minutes ahead, but never did catch a glimpse of it. When I got into the checkpoint other mushers had stories of running into locals on snowmobiles that were out wolf hunting. They had seen numerous wolves on the trails that night. I silently wished my traveling companion of the night before safe journeys.

Again on this stretch I had that bizarre feeling that this wasn't the first time I had been down this trail. As that light came very close to driving me CRAZY, I kept reminding myself that it was the same the last time we traveled this trail - only we had never been down this way before. It was kind of creepy and I was grateful when, finally, we arrived in Kaltag!

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