Yesterday Mark was coming off of nights, so he slept till noon and we intended to do a night run. The plan was for a (roughly) 50 mile run, rest the dogs in harness in the yard for 4 hours and then do a 15 – 20 mile run with them.
The weather kid, Josh (I swear, he is 22 if he stretches it) on the Edmonton TV station we watch was predicting a forecast that well complimented our plans – it was to warm up through out the weekend, reaching a high of 2C (28F) on Sunday. Sure enough as we started to hook up at around 5 pm it was –5C (22F) and with a light, wet snow falling and a bit of a wind blowing. It was warm enough that we were sweating while working and I shed a layer of clothing into the trunk on my 4 wheeler. At the last second I ran to the house and grabbed my lined raincoat (the one I bought to take on Iditarod last year!). I put it on and stashed my anorak on the 4-wheeler. I was grateful I had put on my lightweight –20 NEOS overshoes, rather then the –40 ones I had been wearing earlier in the week (If you have never heard of these things – they are TERRIFIC!!! Take it from me – I may not collect high heels and dress shoes, but I do have a bit of a winter footwear fetish – or so I’m told! *G*).
As the dogs moved strongly up the hill and out of our valley, the winds picked up – of course they were coming from the direction we were headed – so most of the time we were traveling straight into this sharp breeze. A couple times as my leaders, Olena and Kaylinn, rounded a corner and felt the full force of the storm they would allow it to push them over into the middle of the road and I’d have to get off and move them back to the right side. Despite the exercise, at about 6 miles out I stopped and put back on the layer I had shed while hooking up.
We stopped at about 14 miles out and let the dogs roll in the snow while we sipped on some hot chocolate and munched on trail mix. The spot we choose was sheltered and I was actually warm while moving around petting and playing with the dogs. “That Josh,” I was thinking, “He’s a clever one. This wind is going to die down and it will be a lovely evening. Just like he predicted.”
A few miles later I noticed the moon peeking out from behind a few clouds and sure enough when I roused from the narrow tunnel of vision (dogs, road) that my hood allowed, I could see stars starting to sparkle. The cloud cover was blowing off. As we pulled into the Forfar campground (our turning around point) the wind was all but gone and now it was getting chilly. I wrote off my shivers to having gotten chilled by the wind but after we snacked the dogs, I pulled my anorak on over my raincoat and other layers. I noticed Mark putting his insulated coveralls on and by gosh, now that I really looked the dogs were starting to get a little frosty. Strange for such a ‘warm’ evening.
The teams set a blistering pace for home and that gave me a nice warm glow for a while! They are doing so well this season!!!
By now it was well into the late hours of the night, somewhere around 11 pm. I wanted to stop and let the dogs roll, but didn’t want to do it near anyone’s house and risk waking them up. I picked one spot and was about to ‘Gee In’ the team (the command for getting off the trail and into the snow) when a deer bounced across the road in front of us. The dogs picked up her scent and charged down the road – the stop would have to wait. A couple miles later there was another nice spot. This time the break was spoiled by a moose’s meanderings. When I finally was able to get pulled over the dogs had sparks in their eyes and were glancing around hoping for more exciting things to chase.
They all looked fresh and keen, despite the fact that they had already come over 35 miles pulling those big, heavy 4 wheelers.
Mark and I both commented on the temperature and checked to make sure the other was warm enough. Not like we could do much about it if we weren’t, we were both already wearing every piece of clothing we had brought along and were still over 10 miles from home.
About 7 miles from home we go through a section of ‘muskeg’ on the trail. Muskeg is a type of swamp. Actually, it is soaked peat moss! In the summer it has a definite spongy quality to it and traveling across it you run the risk of sinking in a big way. We learned about the stuff after ‘sinking’ Mark’s horse, Shooter in it when we first moved north. Shooter got out without incident, but was always leery of any soft footing after that. I’ve heard that D-9 Cat tractors were lost in the muskeg, never to be found, while they were building the Alaska Highway. Dangerous stuff in the summer – great, but bumpy trails in the winter.
Anyway, as we hit this humid part of the trail the temperature really seemed to take a dive. Draco, in wheel, was so frosted up his normally dark gray coat looked as white as Moses’. Now my feet we getting cold and my knees (hey, I know it is weird, but they get really cold on those darn 4 wheelers) felt like blocks of ice. I was glad the dogs were still moving strong and quick.
As we cleared the muskeg, I peeked out from under my hood (while strongly wishing it was my hood with the toasty warm fur ruff) and was treated to the Northern Lights starting up. I must admit, the moon was now set and the clear, cold night was inky dark and the lights did look wonderful.
Finally, at 1:30 we pulled into the yard. I worked my way through the team, petting and fussing about them and after telling the girls what a wonderful job they did in lead, veered straight for the thermometer. Minus 22 (-12F) was what it read. That is a 17 degree DROP in the temperature in 7 hours – VERY different from dear little Josh’s forecast!!
As we prepared the dogs ‘after run’ meal for them, we discussed our plan for the rest of the night. Neither one of us felt that we would be able to get the 4 wheelers running in four hours if they sat outside for that time, plus when we rest the dogs in harness in training we do it without straw (they get all the luxuries during a race and therefore learn to LOVE racing) and I wasn’t in a hurry to make them sleep on the bare snow at this temperature, and finally I was in NO hurry to sit on that big chunk of cold metal for another 3 hours tonight. We decided to just put them away and do our next leg later in the daylight.
The dogs barked and fussed and farted around while we unhooked them. They looked so good for a team that had just done 47 miles. Like I said earlier – that warms me up – but if I get my hands on that Josh…….