Part 1 - the Skookum Parka perspective
With Iditarod out of the picture for financial reasons this year, Mark and I had turned out attention to the Yukon Quest 300.
Our training had lacked some due to weather and other extenuating conditions, but coming off a strong 200 miles in the Don Bowers race, I was confident and excited about our teams for the Quest 300.
We had originally planned on getting down to the start of the 1000 mile race, but since Mark had had to run to the airport at 1am to pick up Kelly and Markus, we decided just sleeping in was the best idea. We headed into Whitehorse in time to due some banking and grab lunch before the race started though.
Even though our bib numbers were very close we managed to get both teams to the start line without issue thanks to our excellent handlers - specifically Kelly, Markus and Chris.
My group was a pretty experienced one and predictably they stood (relatively) patiently waiting out our 2 minutes. I leaned down and warned the 4 sled holders that they would 'wake up' once the handlers let go of them at the 10 count. They assured me they would be ready. I chatted a bit with my buddy Doug, who was race marshaling the 1000 mile race before turning my attention back to my team when the countdown clock (what a neat idea!) said '10'. I motioned my handlers away and as I said they would, the dogs woke up and started to seriously hit their harnesses. I had 2 feet on the brake and was yelling 'Easy' to no avail. Three of the sled handlers fell off, the remaining one hanging on for about another 2 seconds before succumbing. The team shot off with a few seconds still remaining on the clock. I thought I heard Charge chuckling as we took off down the chute. He - and the rest of my dogs - really think that is a fun joke to play on starters!!! Hey - I tried to warn these guys!
The dogs rolled strongly through Whitehorse, passed the Walmart (the first time I've ever run dogs passed a Walmart) and onto the Yukon. The trail was lovely and there for little for me to do but enjoy the ride.
I enjoyed seeing my friends Doug and Marlene as we turned off onto the Tahanni River. They were there with a small crowd cheering the teams on. A few other spectators hung out on the river to watch the dogs roll by.
Thirty miles in we left the river and headed onto the Dawson Overland Trail. I recited a bit of Robert Service to the dogs "On a Christmas Day we were mushing on way along the Dawson Trail. Oh, the cold, through our parka fold it stabbed like a driven nail. If our eyes we closed our lashes they froze till sometimes we couldn't see..."
It was cold, though not near cold enough that I feared I would freeze to death - especially in my Skookum anorak (http://www.skookumbrand.com/)
Gerry Willomitzer and I played leap frog for a bit. I was very impressed by the unity and discipline his team showed. A tight group - very nice.
All of a sudden I began coughing. It occurred to me that I was about to throw up. "What the heck??" Two minutes before I was feeling fine. The next 20 miles was pretty much continuous bouts of coughing and vomiting.
Despite the issues with their musher, the dogs moved fairly steadily. About 40 miles out (thanks to my GPS, which is legitimate to carry on the Quest - YEAH!) there were alot of mushers pulled over , but I wanted to wait until closer to 50 miles before taking a break.
I wasn't carrying straw, so wanted to pull into one of the 1000 milers old camping spots and take advantage of their leftovers, so I was alittle scared at about 45 miles when I stopped seeing camping spots. Thankfully, just over 50 miles I found a nice little spot .
By the neatness of the spot and the tidy little fire still smoldering away I suspect it might have been Martin Buser's old spot. I've utilized his old camping spots before on Iditarod and they are always well placed, neat, clean and free of garbage. I'll confess, I'm a bit of a stalker when it comes to his camping spots!!
I fed the meal I had been carrying in my cooler, treated a few feet, and gave out a bunch of ear scratches before tromping through the woods looking for some dead wood and getting the fire going again. My stomach wasn't up to food, but I placed a few juice packs and bottles of Gatorade next to the fire. Turns out my stomach wasn't up to liquids either.
After a couple hours, I pulled on another layer of clothing (because I couldn't keep fluids down I was dehydrated and therefore cold) before waking up the dogs. They hit the trail beautifully.
A few miles down the trail I came up on another musher snacking his dogs on the trail. The dogs had picked up a bit before we saw him, at first thought it was because of the other team, but they were all looking into the trees off the trail. I shone my headlamp into the woods and saw a pair of forward set eyes (as in predator, not prey) staring back. The critter and I stared at each other a bit before he 'gave' and turned to lope off. The instant he moved, his profile and gait gave away his species - wolf. Very cool. We loped parallel to each for a bit before he veered into the woods. I'm pretty sure he was 'ghosting' the team in front of me and I startled him.
I continued to battle illness throughout the night, although most everything was out of my stomach by now, so I was mostly just dry heaving off the back of the sled.
As awful as I felt, it was hard to not appreciate the trail I was traveling on. I swear that it was the nicest groomed, best marked 100 miles of trail I've ever raced on!
I was very grateful to finally get to Braeburn though. I went through dog chores and got everyone fed and settled in before heading into the Braeburn Lodge for something to eat and drink. Drinking went not bad, but eating was not an option - or so I discovered after eating 2 bites of my 'long awaited' breakfast.
I tried to sleep, but all I could do was toss, turn and cough.
Around noon Mark showed up. He hadn't had a good run, but nothing serious was wrong with the dog nor him. (Or so we thought - turns out he had frostbite on the big toe of his left foot, which has lessor circulation due to his break in '06. He didn't discover it till we were back at our host families house in Whitehorse. The toe turned black, blistered and eventually the nail fell off, but it looks like no flesh was killed! Thankfully!!)
Mark and I spend alot of time chatting in Braeburn before deciding that it was best that we pull the plug on our race. Being unable to keep food down was a problem, but being unable to keep fluids down was downright dangerous. Besides if I completely ran myself down for the 300, I would be unable to fulfill my commitment to Part 2 of this adventure and I didn't want to let the Quest down in that regard.
Our YQ300 was over.
Part 2 to follow....