Friday, 7 February 2003

February 7, 2003

As I alluded to in my earlier post on the Race, originally I had planned a conservative race in the Knik 200. I was thinking of running to Yentna - resting 4 hours; running to Skwentna - resting 6 hours; running to Yentna - resting 4 hours and then heading home. When I talked to Jamie Nelson, she encouraged me to do a more aggressive plan - running straight to Skwentna, resting 6 hours and then coming straight home. We talked at length about the reasoning for this and, in the end, I could see it was the best plan to get my team ready for Iditarod.

Saturday morning I got up at 5 am, watered the dogs, did my last minute packing, and showered. Jamie West showed up at 7 am to help Janet and I load dogs. Surge, Camilla, Odie, Loki, Pirate, Nahanni, Denali, Squeaky, Kara, Freya, and Olena were all in the boxes - the only dog left to load was Grover. Grover had been a little 'off' on his last run and didn't eat all his breakfast that morning, so after giving Grover an extra long hug, Gus got loaded into the truck for the Race. No need to push Grover if he isn't 100% - I already know what he is capable of. 

On the drive to Knik we quietly listened to the awful reports on the Columbia tragedy. How very sad for the family and friends of those brave explorers whose lives were lost. My heart goes out to them.
There was lots of excitement around the start of the Race. Friends, new and old, stopped by to wish me well and offer help getting the team to the starting line. In no time at all they were counting me down and we were off down the trail.

My heart always soars when I get back onto the Iditarod Trail. I love that trail and feel truly 'at home' when I'm slipping over it by dog team.

As described, the trail didn't have a lot of snow and was pretty bumpy - but I felt it sure could have been worse. Some of the steeper downhill drops into some of the outlets for Flathorn Lake were a bit of a challenge, but we managed just fine. By the time I got to the Big Su River, I had been passed by a few teams and had, likewise, passed a few myself. 

A race volunteer was standing by the drop onto the Big Su, and it was a good drop off, but the straight shot at it make it a very uneventful cliff to plunge over. Once hitting the River the trail skirted around a big channel of running water. That was quite unnerving, but it was well marked and fenced to prevent problems. 

The dogs continued to move steadily down the trail. I knew what they didn't - that we were in for a long haul, so I rode my drag track to keep them from burning themselves out. 

When we came to Yentna Station, about 10 teams were camped there. I thought the dogs, especially Camilla, Surge and Gus, would want to stop and do the same, as they have camped at Yentna many times in the past (in fact, there have been times in the past when I was camped at Yentna so long, I was afraid I'd start getting mail there), but they kept moving right along. What good dogs! A further 2 or 3 miles down the trail, I stopped and gave them all a snack and a scratch for listening so well. 
Three and a half hours after passing Yentna the dogs rolled strongly into Skwentna. I rubbed my eyes and blinked a few times at the checkers sheet as I was signing in. I knew we had a good run - but we were in 15th place. Amazing.

The dogs are all used to the camping routine and they acted like old pros (although only Camilla, Gus, Surge and Odie were) - patiently waiting on their beds of straw while I cooked their meal. I was a little worried they were too settled, actually, but when the food dishes came out they all hit their feet and sang for their supper. After picking up the spotlessly licked clean dishes (mainly I pick them up because Pirate has a rather disturbing - and expensive - habit of trying to eat the lightweight aluminum racing bowls if I don't), I puttered around my sled till the last dog (Olena) settled in for a nap.
At around 1am when I came out to offer the dogs another light meal, the Race Judge commented to me that I should remember to look up while I was outside - the Northern Lights were putting on a spectacular show. While I waited for the cooker to warm up, I lay in the straw with Surge, Camilla, Gus and Olena and enjoyed Mother Nature's artistry. 

Again the dogs polished their bowls - that is so nice to see! I went through and massaged them all, checking for any aches or pains while I was at it. I found nothing but happy dogs. 
I had thought about spending 8 hours in the checkpoint, but after 7 hours, at 3:30 am, spurred by a refueled, healthy dog team and a fabulous display of Northern Lights overhead we headed home. 
The dogs weren't barking and carrying on, like many other team where when I prepared to go - but when I said "All right", they hit their harnesses hard enough that I had to ride my brake out of the checkpoint! :)

The trip home was more eventful then the trip out. 

About 2 miles before Yentna, we came over a little pressure ridge on the river and a couple of the dogs stepped in a bit of a crevasse. Denali and Squeaky each had a little 'glitch' in their gait after that and I rode the brake harder the rest of the trip home so as not to aggravate their injury any more. Then 5 or 6 miles past Yentna I got lost. It took me a while to realize I was off the trail - the markers had been somewhat sparse in spots, so I didn't clue in when I went a long time without seeing one. Finally because of the narrowness of the channel I was on, I figured out my mistake - I had drifted to the right of a island I should have gone around on the left. I assumed that if I continued on, that trail would eventually hook up with the main trail again. 

And I'm sure it would have, if not for the open water .... we turned around and backtracked back to where we had lost the main trail. I figure that cost me about 45 minutes. Camilla shot me a few dirty looks turning that time. Seems she forgot that it was her that drifted off the main trail and was trying to pin the blame on me. Little witch! 

In the hills after Flathorn Lake, I let Denali ride in the sled. He seemed pretty unimpressed with that and after about an hour of it, but his paw down and demanded back in the team. I moved him to the other side of the gangline and that and the rest seemed to help him out a lot. Somewhere around here I decided to try Olena up front. She did great and along with Gus, lead us all the way onto Knik Lake. 
I think my eyes must have popped in my head when I signed in at the finish line - I had finished 13 of 32 teams!!!!! Even more exciting was the fact that the dogs barked for their snacks and finished off all the soup offered to them at the truck! 

Jamie West and I loaded up the dogs and headed back to Howling Dog Farm. I actually had enough time to go home, tend to dogs, and SHOWER before the banquet! How COOL!! 

At the banquet, as I accepted congratulations (and a little bit of, very appreciated cash) for my race results, all I could think was those wonderful dogs snoozing in their houses back in Willow. What fun we all had and surprising so many of you with our race result was a real extra bonus! hehe

"Patience is a virtue......."

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