Another mile or so down the trail Surge really began to back off. I had noticed earlier that his line was loose leaving the yard and now he was really lagging. I stopped to check him over and noticed his front right foot was swollen and he was favoring it. It was bad enough that I did something I rarely do in training and loaded him in the sled bag. Surge, being Surge, handled it pretty well, even though he has never ridden in the sled before. His eyes got big when the sled first started to move, but I gave him an ear scratch and he settled in. In no time he was lounging around in my, mostly empty sled bag. It was actually kind of comical as he came up with various comfortable contortions, usually with his head sticking out so he could watch the landscape roll by, occasionally looking back over his shoulder to check in with me.
As we turned off the 'Intertide' Power line I was greeted by a strange sight that I had seen the day before too - 4 ravens 'bathing' in the unbroken snow. Yesterday when I came in from my run, I had shared with Natalie my strange story of watching a couple ravens dipping, shaking, and fanning their wings in the snow as if they were taking a bath. She admitted that was unusual and something she had never seen in her years. And there they were again today 'splishing and splashing' away in the snow. Weird!
As the trail merged with the trail to Steven's Lake I came upon Darrin and Andy out with their teams. Hector and Denali needed a little extra encouragement to pass, but they did eventually manage to get it right.
We hung a right to go counter clockwise around the Lake and I noticed a few moose tracks along the side of the trail. About the same time Surge's nose shot out of the sled bag, wiggling like crazy - then he started struggling to get out. The dog team picked up their pace considerably too. As I wrestled Surge to stop him from jumping out of the sled, a light bulb clicked on in my head - we are chasing a moose. Sure enough, we rounded the next corner and in the trees along side of the trail, I spotted 2 moose calves trotting up a hill. Still juggling a wild and struggling passenger, I scanned the landscape for Momma. "Please let her be ahead of them". Lucky for me she was leading her kids out of our way.
The team continued along at a good clip and I wondered why they weren't slowing down any. Surely there wasn't another moose ahead - in the 4 years I've trained on these trails, I'd never even seen one moose while running - 4 in 10 minutes would be wild. Surge, who had briefly quit attempting to free himself, resumed his struggles, so it came as no surprise when another moose came into view. This one was on the trail. He turned and trotted along ahead of us. I firmly stuffed Surge down into the sled bag and Velcro'd it closed while standing on the brake with both feet to slow the team from catching Mr. Moose. The moose finally bounced off the trail and into the trees.
Now I'm looking around for Darrin and Andy. They hadn't seen a moose since arriving in AK and I was anxious to show them their first one. Turns out they had gone clockwise on Stevens Lake, so they didn't get to share in my moose viewing but at least Darrin had caught a distant glimpse of the one that we chased.
Hector passed Darrin's team without incident, but lost his nerve when faced with a second team in a row and tangled my group up as we passed Andy. I went up and sorted them out, as I stepped onto the runners and called up the team, my sled bag suddenly came to life - seems Surge had had enough of being trapped in there and wanted to see out again. I opened the dog so he could once again look out. He fussed a few more times on lake, making me think there either were or just had been other moose nearby, but I didn't see them and he finally settled back down to be a cooperative rider.
We passed a couple people 'dragging' the trail with snow machines. The beautiful trails around here take a lot of work to maintain and all the mushers in the area put time in running heavy metal 'drags' over the trails to pack it and smooth them out. Denali did an admirable job of leading the team by. Last year he was petrified of snow machines and watching him pass them now reminds me how much he has grown up in the last 12 months!
My ride along moose detector started to act up again as we crest a hill near the Windy Lake turn off. I was busy stuffing him back in the bag when I realized we were almost upon the corner and I better give a command to make sure they didn't take the 'Haw' over to the Lake, so I opened my mouth and said "HAW". What??? That was exactly the way I didn't want to go. It was too late now, as Denali and Hector had turned the second the command was out and we shot around the corner and down that trail. No real harm, but it added another 8 miles or so to our run.
We were finally close to home when Surge started to mutter at me. I realized he probably had to pee, but we were so close to home, I urged him to hang on for just a few minutes. He was wiggling around and had squirmed forward enough that I couldn't quite reach his collar, especially seeing I had just called the dogs up and they were now loping towards the dog yard. In one second he managed to go from 'dog in sled bag' to 'dog on the trail'. I slammed the brake on and he lifted his leg and peed and peed and peed. In fact, he took so long that Denali started the team into banging on their harnesses. I hustled Surge towards the sled bag, nervously watching my snow hook all the while hoping it would hold. It didn't. As I was loading him in (imagine legs sticking out in all directions and me trying valiantly to stuff them all into the bag) the hook popped and the team shot down the trail. Luckily I was able to swing on, but Surge was ½ in ½ out of the bag, so I reached over the handlebar and tossed him free of the sled into the soft snow on the side of the trail. He shook himself off, took a few limping
steps and then broke into a lope and followed us up the remaining bit into Norris' yard.
The dogs were still full of beans and bouncing around after their short 20-mile adventure. I was just glad to be home in one piece!
Post run note - Surge's foot does not appear to be anything too serious. It looks like he has a good bruise on the top of his middle toes, from what - who know, but some fluid has built up over it. He is on crate rest right now and I'll speak with the vet this morning - just to be sure!