Thursday, 19 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Checkpoint Routines

Checkpoint Routines

Every musher has their own 'checkpoint routine'. Although it varies from checkpoint to checkpoint depending on length of rest, availability of water, and a few other factors, the 'guts' of the routine most of us can do in our sleep. In fact, with all the sleep deprivation on Iditarod often we are doing it in our sleep!!!

Here is a look at a 'typical' checkpoint for me.

When we come in first order of business is to sign in. Checkers will give mushers the 'rundown' on what is available for us in the checkpoint and where everything is. They will tell us about where our drop bags, HEET and straw are, sleeping arrangements and food, but the most important information is what is available for water. We may have hot water available (as in Skwentna, Nikolai, McGrath, and Takotna), cold water (Ruby, Kaltag, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, etc.), a hole in a nearby lake or river (Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, Rohn and White Mt) or have to melt snow (Cripple). That will greatly affect checkpoint routines.

Volunteers will help park the dogs and the first order of business is to get a good snowhook in and secure the front end of the team. I have two snowhooks on my sled and one is positioned so I can quickly get it off the carabiner and that is what I use to tie off the front of the team. Usually later in the race I don't need to tie off the front end as the dogs are tired enough to behave, but with all those girls in season, my front end was secured in every single checkpoint this race!!

That done I get my straw and start spreading it out to the dogs. As I do that I undo tuglines and juggle around a few of the dogs so everyone will rest well and comfortably. Often at this point I will offer a snack from my sled bag if I have any leftovers.

Then I work my way through the team taking off booties and making sure everyone is comfortable.

Now that the dogs are resting, if we have to melt snow or only have cold water available, I will pull out my cooker and start that to get working on hot water. If hot water is available I will go straight to tracking down my drop bags.

The first bag I open is my 'FREEZE' bag which has all my meat in it. On top of that bag is a ziplock with a garbage bag and a 'return' bag in it. I use a neckline to secure these bags to my handlebar so I can sort and keep my parking area reasonably clean and organized as I work (although fastidious Richard may disagree that I keep my camping areas organized). 

A feeding of meat is put in my cooler and hot water from the checkpoint or my cooker will be added. In the spare time while the water is warming up or as meat is thawing, I will check feet, talk to the vets about anything they might have found checking the team and double check any areas of concern on the dogs I may have.

Meat thawed, I add kibble and then dish out food to the dogs. After they are done, I remove bowls (otherwise they eat them or play with them and don't sleep), refluff straw, give massages, treat feet, put on jackets and checkpoint blankets, and give any meds that might be needed.

If I'm staying for longer than 4 hours I will start another batch of meat thawing, finish sorting through my drop bags, reorganize and clean up my sled bag, gather my personal stuff and head off to find somewhere to sleep - and maybe grab something to eat, if I haven't warmed up a meal and eaten while tending to the dogs.

A little longer than 2 hours before I want to leave I will go back out to the team. I'll finish preparing the meal (somewhere between a full meal and a hearty soup, depending on how long we are staying), remove blankets and wraps from the dogs and feed them.

This time I pack up my sled, finish sorting gear, close up my return bags, and my garbage bags. Usually I'll kill a bit of time doing odd chores (like repairing anything that needs it, washing bowls, brushing my teeth, sorting through the 'corners' of my sled bag, etc.), nap, eat, or visit.

When I start getting ready to leave depends on how many dogs I'm booting. Once booties are all on, I will wake the team up for good (some know the routine and get up while I'm booting), start doing up tuglines and then get moving.


Shirly said...

The one thing that I don,t think even when I was young do is lack of sleep like you do. I think I would fall asleep on the sled and that could be a hugh problem I can see. The race I think is very hard actually, but I do realize you love it and running the dogs do love. Glad you made it to Nome and have that satisfaction. All the team deserves some kisses for that trip so long and especially Crunchie my favorite boy did great something you should be very proud of for his age and how good he did.
I guess it is the great shape he has been in all his life.

Anonymous said...

Karen you and your dogs are amazing!

The Retirees Jovo, Mandy and their mom JoAnn