Sometime during the fall when the dogtruck wasn't ready in time for Karen to take the team to Minnesota for their fall training, I told Karen that I would do what ever it takes to get miles on her dogs. I thought that the best way for the rookies to get race experience would be to actually race, and now that the truck can haul two teams, why not do the Knik 200? I've seen the entire trail before, there's no need for a handler and there's a bed at the half waypoint.
So with 22 dogs on the truck, Karen decided to take the twelve dogs with the most experience and run them, leaving me with ten dogs to camp with. My team was made up of Snickers, Sprite, & Jinx all in standing heat. Barq, Batdog, Junior, Q all young boys. Draco, Surge, & Mo, my experienced dogs but Mo had a suspected sore shoulder and needed to go slow.
I drew bib number one, but with a team full of rookies and a camping agenda, Karen and I decided that I would wave my starting time and start after the last musher left. So at 11:00 Saturday morning the 2006 Knik 200 started with my dogs still in their boxes. At 11:02 the first team left, and almost 2 hours later team number 1 headed down the trail.
I stood on the brake as much as I could and stopped a lot to give head scratches and the odd snack. I passed ten or so teams camping on the river, it was dark and I couldn't see who they were. I was amazed to see anybody at all, I thought that everyone would go straight through to Skwentna or at least Yentna. I had planned on stopping at Yentna Station for a break and a burger, but I missed the entrance to the roadhouse, so I went a few hundred yards past and stopped at the first piles of abandoned straw that I found.
When we stopped, I snacked the dogs and then pulled out the cooker to make them some soup. Once the dogs had been souped, I put the sled bag back together and leaned against my sled to catch a few Z's and kill the rest of my 2 hour break. It started snowing really hard and soon my team my sled and my self were absorbed by the snow and the darkness. Soon most of the teams that I saw camping on the river passed me by as I took my turn resting. Exactly 2 hours after we stopped I woke the team up and we headed off into a mini ground blizzard towards Skwentna. An hour or so later in the dark and heavy snow, Snickers took a very well marked trail off the river and into someone's yard. I knew right away that something was wrong, and when some guy ran out of his cabin and told me that I was on the wrong trail I quickly turned the team around and headed back to the river. I stopped where the mistake was made and scanned the river for another marker, sure enough a ¼ mile down the river was the elusive marker, I turned Snickers towards it and we were back on the trail again. It appears that the local cabin owner thought that the K200 markers would be great to mark his trail and was visited by at least a dozen mushers that night.
As I approached Skwentna I noticed a glitch in Barq's gait, but we were close to stopping for the night, so I just took it easy on the team until we pulled into Skwentna. I was surprised to see that I wasn't the last team in. The checkers found me a great parking spot, and I quickly fed the team, bedded them down and made sure that the boys could not get the girls. With chores done and dogs sleeping I went inside for my much overdue burger. I chatted to Karen for a while then checked on my team and went to bed for 4 hours.
When I woke up I went and fed the dogs breakfast, scratched their heads and cleaned up my sled. I went inside and had 2 breakfasts of my own. After a little bit I went to check on the dogs, I started with Mo and stretched them all out to check for soreness. They all passed with flying colors except Barq, I forgot all about the glitch in his gait, and when I grabbed his right leg he let me know that I screwed up. His wrist was sore, and if I would have wrapped it earlier he would have been able to run, but now I would have to drop him. So with Barq taken care of my 8-hour layover used up I left Skwentna just as the sun was starting to come up.
The trip down the river was slow and hot, but I didn't mind, I was supposed to take it easy anyway. As I went down the river I passed many teams camping, this time it was daylight so I could see who it was and said hi as I went by. As soon as I left the river I stopped on some straw that I saw the day before. I snacked the dogs and the quickly curled up and went to sleep. It started to get dark and cool off. I sat on my sled and watched the other teams go by. When my 2 hours was up, I woke the team up, snacked them again and moved Sprite from lead to swing with Jinx. This left Snickers in singled lead. I felt for the entire run that Sprite was holding Snickers back and I wanted to see if this was true. So with about 35 miles left to the finish line I called up the team and said "Okay babies, your not babies anymore, lets go". For the first time in the race I took my foot off the brake and let them run. When we got to hills I got off the runners and ran. We were flying.
On one swamp near Burma Road, we came off a hill and Snickers took a trail to the right, I could see headlights in front of me to the left heading up another hill. With no markers in sight I "Hawed" Snickers over and headed up the next hill. When I crested the hill I met two teams coming towards me and we discussed the fact that we were on the wrong trail and where we made the mistake. So once the other teams went by, I turned the team around and headed back to the swamp. We got back on the trail that Snickers wanted to be on in the first place. I heard a big "Yahoo" as the team in front of me passed a K200 trail marker. The rest of the run was very fast and quiet, I gave Snickers her head and didn't say a thing until we passed under the finish line at 11:00 and I 'Gee'd" her over to the Truck.
With Karen in her new role as handler the team was fed, unharness and boxed. A race official came over with a clipboard and said "sign this, where's your bib?" and with that my Knik 200 was over. Doug Grilliot was quick to mention that if I ran the Klondike in a couple of weeks that I would be qualified for Iditarod. I might some year run Knik again and some year I might run Klondike, but even if I do it will NOT be to qualify for Iditarod. I had fun on this race but you know what they say about too much of a good thing.
With Karen and myself too tired to drive home, Doug got us back to Willow sometime after midnight. While unloading dogs I slipped on the ice breaking my leg as well as shattering and dislocating my ankle. This not only stopped my plans for not qualifying for Iditarod, but will also change our plans for the rest of this year's season.