First the feet.
As I believe you are all aware, I began having feet issues with my team in Galena (first we thought it was Ruby, but turns out Olena probably stepped on something on the trail and had a puncture wound in her foot that was unrelated to the issues the others had.). Anyway, leaving Galena I was battling some infected splits on the feet of Skor and Kara. These splits were in the webbing between the pads.
Kara ended up riding in my sled for the last 25 miles of the trip into Nulato and both she and Skor where dropped as soon as I got into the checkpoint.
As the vets and I began checking all the feet on the team, it became apparent this was no longer a 'one or two dog' deal. Seven of the remaining 11 dogs on the team were affected. (One more became infected later on too) We were all puzzled and concerned. To make a very long story shorter...at about 3pm the vets came up with a plan to try a strong antibiotic combination on the dogs to see if it would bring down the swelling on the feet. It is important to note that, despite the feet condition, the dogs were all still in very good spirits at this time. Everyone was eating, drinking and resting well. Had that not been the case, the decision to pull the plug on this race would have been the obvious one.
Anyway, after 6 hours the feet showed no improvement - not after 9 hours either, but when I checked them around 3am, the change was startling. I decided to feed and water again, giving the dogs even alittle more time to respond to the drugs before leaving.
When ready to go, we again rechecked all the dogs. Batdog didn't respond as well to the antibiotics, so the decision was made to leave him behind.
I knew the race was now a 'checkpoint to checkpoint' thing for me and that there was still a good chance that I was not going to finish, but we were going to give it our all.
We had one small setback in Shaktoolik, as the vets in Unk recommended a slightly different protocol of treatment that the dogs didn't respond well to (you do never know until you try), but once we got them back on their 'pink' foot ointment, things improved again.
The vets on the Race were great to deal with. They were phoning ahead to the vets in my next checkpoint and bringing them up to speed on the problems I was having and how they were being dealt with.
The dogs did great - although we did lose alittle of the drive and speed that they were showing earlier in the event, they ate and drank well and stayed in good spirits.
Many folks have commended me for continuing on in the Race despite these problems - I deserve not one bit of credit for that. I simply stuffed pills, massaged feet, applied ointment and bootied. It was the dogs who got up and willingly hit the trail checkpoint after checkpoint. If at any one point they had told me they had had enough, I would have been happy to respect their decision - but they didn't. They are amazing creatures. Driving them along the sea ice outside of Nome, I was having a real hard time fighting back the tears this year - not something I had to deal with on either of my previous finishes (yeah, I cried in '01 - but not in the same spot and not really for the same reason). This year it was all about pride for an amazing and inspirational group of dogs.
As to what the problem was - that is still up for discussion. I, and most of the vets I've spoken with, seem to be leaning towards a zinc deficiency in the diet. Siberians do need more zinc then alot of breeds and the thought is that now that we are asking the dogs to 'give more' on the trail, their zinc requirements have outstripped even the top of the line Alaskan Husky diets. Some more testing will be done on zinc levels to sort this out - but I am completely confident we will sort it all out.
In hindsight, this is looking like this was the same problem we experienced last year on the trail, although at the time, the strange weather seemed as good a thing to 'blame' it on.
So, that is the feet thing....next up ...the night on Little McKinley.