Well, we are back at home. I can't even begin to tell you all how good it feels to be back. Being sick sucks anywhere, but it is worst away from home. I curled up in my own bed last night and slept for 10 hours - that might be some kind of record for me. Anyway, let me back track a little and fill you all in on what has been happening in the last week.
As you all are probably aware by now, I scratched in Unalakleet after coming down with an illness in Eagle Island. I will go into more detail on this when I do my checkpoint by checkpoint diary entries, but suffice to say it was a disappointing end to our race.
Once the decision to scratch was made the logistics of getting the team and I home became priority. Although it was, personally, very helpful to me that Mark happened to be in Unk visiting, it made things a little more confusing in regards to getting the dogs home, as there was no one in Anchorage to meet their plane. I am blessed to say that one phone call to Jamie Nelson, who was still in Alaska, and that issue was resolved. She tells me that in no time she had no less then 8 dog trucks and drivers offering to pick the dogs up for me. As I told Jamie on the phone, it is so very nice to have such a tremendous support group to fall back on when times are tough. I am so lucky.
Anyway, all that turned out to be unnecessary, as the dogs flight was cancelled and Mark flew home ahead of the rest of us.
I spent the night alone at the Unk airport, so I could keep an eye on the team. It turned out to be a very good evening, despite the lack of sleep, hang up phone calls and police spotlights being shone in my face, as I was able to spend a lot of quiet time thinking and putting our 2003 race in perspective. At 2 am, as I looked out across the sea ice at the beautiful bright night, complete with faint northern lights dancing overhead, I was overwhelmed with a desire to be out on the trail with my team. My insides quickly cramped to reminded me why that wasn't a good idea and sent me scurrying to the bathroom - I knew I had made the right decision for this year.
At 7 am, I could wait no longer - I phoned Mark and got him out of bed to announced to him my list of reasons why I needed to hit the Iditarod trail in 2004 instead of taking a year off. It goes something like this -
- #1 - (This wasn't the first reason I gave Mark, but those that know me well have pointed out that this is probably the true #1 reason, and when I really think about it - they are right.) If I run in 2004, Grover will probably still be young enough to make the journey with me and I still need and want him to go to Nome one more time.
- #2 - I like the northern route of Iditarod better
- #3 - I've never finished the northern route
- #4 - With 11 young dogs coming up, I will have the biggest 'pool' of dogs I've ever had to work with.
Poor Mark, I think he was still asleep and would have agreed to just about anything, so about this time he called my list to a halt and told me I had his support IF I would let him go back to bed. I may be sick, but I'm not stupid, so I agreed and said 'Goodbye' :)
As things started to come alive at the airport, myself and Lachlan Clark, who was still trying to get home after scratching in Eagle Island, again began to look for ways to get the dogs and ourselves back to Anchorage. The problem was that a musher must load their team onto the cargo flight before they can leave town and the cargo flight and the one passenger flight per day both left at the same time. At around 2 o'clock, Lach and I came up with a plan. There was one seat on the passenger flight, we would flip a coin for that spot and the winner would get the seat and the loser would be responsible for loading the winner's team onto the cargo flight. We flipped and I lost. Lach quickly gathered up his stuff and hopped on his flight for Anchorage, I would be stuck in Unk for another 24 hours. Oh well, at least they had flush toilets.
Not 15 minutes later there was a phone call for me. It was the charter pilot that flew Mark out of town the previous day. He asked if I was still trying to get out of town. I told him I was. He asked if I wanted to fly to McGrath with him and then I could catch a commercial flight back to Anchorage. I inquired about the cost and he replied that he was flying to McGrath on personal business, so I would only have to pay the $175 to Anchorage. After informing him numerous times that he was my hero, I agreed! This was PERFECT! I could load Lach and my team, catch the flight and be back in Anchorage to pick up the dogs, saving Mark a drive back to Anchorage.
The flight to McGrath was wonderful - I've never been a brave flyer, but I love flying in small planes. Jim pointed out a lot of the Iditarod checkpoints as we passed over them. Some, like Eagle Island, I had figured out before he brought them to my attention. We passed over the junction in the trail where the north and south routes split. As I looked at the thin, snowless ribbon of trail that headed from Ophir to Iditarod I marveled at how such an insignificant, tiny trail can so consume the lives of myself and so many others. From the air it is just a small line in a large wilderness, but in my reality, it stands for so much more.
Mark was waiting at the airport and we headed right over to pick up the critters. They were so bouncy and full of beans - you would never have know that they just finished over 800 miles of Iditarod. That's frustrating, as I really feel I did a good job of getting them to the coast ready to race. It is so disappointing not to see things through. At the airport in Unk, I went through and apologized to each of them for being the 'weakest link' this year. I promised them all that it would not happen again.
It was good to get back to Norris'. Natalie's handler, Janet had a 'Welcome Home' basket made up for me - toilet paper, baby wipes, baby powder, distilled water, etc. (Okay, that was REALLY FUNNY at the time, but is now getting OLD - FAST!). It was nice to be reunited with my dropped dogs - they all looked terrific.
Mark and I were hoping to now get out of Alaska a little early, meaning our trip home wouldn't have to be so rushed. That was not to be, however. Neither of my sleds had arrived back in Anchorage. I wasn't too concerned about leaving behind the spare sled that I had sent out to Galena, I knew Jamie West would pick it up and hang onto it until next year, but my Gatt sled had my parka, cooker, dog jackets, etc - all things that I would need prior to Iditarod next year. Frantic phone calls to ITC didn't help matters.
Finally, on Friday morning we loaded up and headed for home. On our way out of Wasilla, we made one last stop at ITC headquarters - thankfully, my Gatt sled was there and got to come home with us.
The drive home started off fairly uneventfully. Even the border crossing was a snap. In Beaver Creek, Canada (home of our favorite eating spot on the Alaska Highway) we ran in Lachlan Clark and his wife, Linda. Their drive home wasn't going as well. Two wheels had fallen off their dually truck. Thankfully, dogs and humans were fine, but they were stuck in town until parts could be shipped in from Fairbanks! We had a nice dinner with them before hitting the road again.
Then in Fort Nelson, B.C. my illness decided to make a comeback. It got to the point that I couldn't even keep a glass of water into my stomach for more then 15 minutes. Poor Mark, I was a less then wonderful traveling partner for the remainder of the trip. Home has never looked so good.
Well, that is about it for now. I'm laying low for awhile and hanging out near the house. Once I get caught up on all my emails, mail, unpack, etc, I will start working on my Iditarod journals. It was a fantastic trip, despite the less then perfect ending, and there are some neat stories to tell that I hope you all will enjoy!
On a final note, I want to express my sincerest thanks to everyone that has taken the time to email me. Your kind words and thoughts mean so much. I am in deep debt to you all.
With deep gratitude,