by Donna QNow that I've had a day to get myself back together, here's what happened over the weekend from my point of view. (For more pictures, see Donna's Sheep Mountain Photos)
I left Willow at 6 am, picked up Jamie West and off we went for the 100 mile ride to Sheep Mountain. It was cold and dark and the Glenn Highway is narrow and winding for most of the way. It wasn't snowing then, so that was a good thing.
We got to Sheep Mt. Lodge at 9 am. Found Karen and Mark out on the landing strip where the race would start. They had parked the truck and were taking care of dogs. We dropped off the food and frozen sausage we brought and took my car back to the lodge parking area. Put our stuff in the new cabin Karen and Mark rented...boy, very nice. We all agreed we could live there. I remember seeing them being built as I drove by when I moved in September.
I found the other musher I had brought stuff for and delivered his packages. Then it was musher meeting time. Jamie and I weren't allowed in for that. When that ended, we had a few minutes before it was time to head out to the start area. While Karen, Mark and Jamie stayed at the truck, I took my video camera and headed up the hill...way up the hill. The start would be along the landing strip and then climb the hill and off into the mountainside. I stopped where the trail took a turn so I would have a nice side view of all the teams after watching them head on as they powered up the hill. I must tell you, it was very cool to watch them all look so strong and vibrant as they climbed. Just beautiful.
Click on the image to start the video or right click to download
Karen was number 11 and the team looked fabulous! They paid no attention to me and glided on by. Karen waved. I did miss Mark's team. My own fault. I knew he was number 26. I knew when he was next. I had paused the camera after number 25 and was adjusting my stance to get the best shot I could. Now you have to understand all the clothing I was wearing and the bear bag covering the camera made me look like the Michelin man with a big sack. I must have accidentally hit the start button and not known it. SO, when I put the camera to my eye and hit the button again, the tape paused. I am so bummed, because the shot of Mark and the puppy team was lovely. They all looked great and moved on by very smartly. You'll just have to take my word for it.
Next, Jamie and I take the truck and head to Eureka Lodge to wait for the teams. It is truly a surreal place. In the pitch black all one can see are musher headlights, firelight and once in a while the headlight of a snowmachine. There is smoke from the fire. The headlights silhouette the mushers. It's pretty quiet except for the rustling of clothing and the crunch of feet on the snow. Once in a while a dog howls, or maybe growls or maybe has a tussle with his neighbor dog, but mostly I remember quiet. The whole thing reminded me of a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Karen gets in just as she predicted around 5 hours later. Her team still looks jazzed and not at all tired. Since the race is following Iditarod rules, Jamie and I can do nothing to help Karen. She has to snack the dogs. Unhook tug lines. Go get water. Cook them a meal. Feed them. Pick up bowls. Check feet. Distribute straw...not necessarily in that order. Once the dogs are snuggled into their straw we go inside the lodge for dinner. We can eat with her and we all have halibut and chips for dinner. Yum. During this time, Karen gets a bit worried about Mark not being in. Zack Steer, the race organizer, tells her they have to go check some trail markers and will be on the look out for Mark.
Karen gets kisses from Q before leaving the final checkpoint
A while later, we hear Mark is in. We head to the truck and he's there with his team. He has scratched. Turns out, the transition lens in his glasses never went back to clear mode when it got dark. He literally could not see the trail. He trusted Draco in lead to keep him out of trouble, which he did. But he knew when they had gone around the same lake twice, he was not going to find the trail out. So, in my opinion, he did the best thing possible. He stopped the team. He fixed them a snack and waited to be found. There was no reason to continue if he couldn't see. Why risk a dog or himself getting hurt. I know he was disappointed, but said the dogs had a great run and they don't know they didn't finish, so who cares?!
We stayed around for a few more hours and it was time for Karen to go on the second leg of the race. The team was up and ready. They were having a great time. They stepped out smartly into the darkness. The rest of us took Mark's team and went back to Sheep Mt. to get a little sleep. Well, two people slept and I listened to snoring. HA!
At 4 am, Jamie and I got up and went back to Eureka. We took the dog truck and the dogs, just in case. Mark slept in. We got to the checkpoint about 20 minutes before Karen returned. They had a good run. A tough run, but a good one anyway. Lots of hills if I remember correctly. Karen went thru the same routine with the dogs while we waited. Then she and Jamie went in the lodge to eat. The kitchen wouldn't open till 7, so I opted to take a nap in the truck. After an hour or so, Jamie came out to drop Mark's dogs and feed them. I got out to help. While they were eating, I poured myself a huge glass of orange juice from my cooler of drinks. I put the glass down to help load dogs and by the time I got back, my drink was almost frozen. That's how cold it was there.
About 10 am, Karen came back out to get the dogs ready to leave again for the last leg. It was now light out so much easier to do things. The dogs were happy and spunky. I was able to give them all hugs and pets. Karen got them to sing. The one thing I do remember is all the race officials who help with getting dogs to the line and/or parked in their spot, is that they all loved Karen's dogs. So many mentions of how sweet they are and how beautiful.
Olena, Hilda & Jinx, Q & Crunchie, Moses & Barq, Herman & Jr
They are breath taking when they head out to the line. At 10:45 they took off for the last leg. Jamie and I cleaned up their sleeping spot, helped two other mushers with dropped dogs and then headed out.
We got back to Sheep Mt., dropped Mark's dogs again and fed them. When they were safely back in the truck, we went in and feed ourselves. The Van Zyles stopped by to visit, which was a thrill for me as I never met them. I have several Van Zyle posters and a pair of mittens that Jona did bead work on. Really nice people. Then we went back out and repacked the truck so the Ramsteads could leave early the next morning.
Karen returned just after dark. Said they had a great run. Since the race was over we could help her with everything. First the dogs got snacks. Then they got kibble and warm water. We took the dogs from the gang line and attached them to the truck. We removed harnesses. Everyone got lots of hugs and pets. They have such wonderful personalities. Karen went to shower while we finished up. Mark had to load all the team since they went in the top line of the dog box and neither Jamie or I could lift them that high. They settled right in. We all went over to the banquet. Then Jamie and I drove back to Willow. Two days that felt like a week, but so were so interesting and fun. I slept like a rock last night and for me, that is amazing!
Creator of the DVD "Pretty Sled Dogs" featuring Karen and the dogs of North Wapiti