I had a few dogs with sore feet, but nothing really worrisome. Again, I preventatively wrapped a few wrists after feeding and got some jacketed and covered with blankets before heading up to the Lodge. (Just for the record, Crunchie rarely, if ever, gets jacketed and he gets completely disgusted with me if I try and put a checkpoint blanket over him. He's hardcore, that boy!)
Carl at Winter Lake Lodge always puts a GREAT meal out for the mushers, so I walked up to the Lodge for that. Chicken, beans, rice with tortillas...worth the walk!!!!
I've never really slept in Finger Lake. The checkpoint doesn't have a heated sleeping area for mushers and I hate to haul out my sleeping bag for a short nap, as I tend to sleep too well in it and then oversleep.
A few other mushers and Greg Sellentin from MUSHING magazine were there, so we chatted awhile to kill time.
I also never take a very long break in Finger Lake as I don't like to take a team that is too fresh through the challenging trail to Rainy Pass. After almost exactly 4 hours rest, a bit after 4pm I called up the team and headed out.
The trail to Rainy Pass from Finger Lake is a pretty legendary one. This year it was in the news a lot prior to the race as Iditarod had first decided to route around the infamous Happy River Steps, instead using a mining road with a more gradual descent to the Happy River. Then the day before the start when trail breakers were actually putting in the trail they determined that the original route down the Steps was going to be a better option than the new route.
I've always said that the Steps are just one part of an overall challenging trail. Take them out and the run to Rainy Pass would be easier, but only marginally so. Almost that whole trail is jaw clenching, toe curling stuff.
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This year I was pleased to find that the huge amounts of snow had reduced it to 'sporty' rather than 'horrific'. Phew!!
The 10 miles up to the Steps were a rather pleasant and fun run. The Steps themselves were the same. In my 9 trips down them I can think of only one or two other occasions when I had my head up and was looking around as I negotiated them. There weren't even camera crews around - a sure sign the trail wasn't too challenging. On Iditarod when you see folks with cameras, things are usually about to get tricky!!!
We crawled up the steep climb up off the Happy River and plunged and twisted through the trees for the next few miles. I tipped my hat (but not my sled!!) to a tree that broke my sled in '00 and badly damaged it in '01. It's been 10 years since I crashed into it, but I always keep a close eye on it in case it decides to jump out onto the trail again as it did those first 2 years.
I think the last 10 or 15 miles into Rainy Pass offers up some of the most technical trail on Iditarod. The trail works its way along the side of a mountain with numerous toe curling drops, dives and curves. This year, like many years, there are deep, nasty, dog sled wide trenches carved into the downhills. Not hitting them dead on is a recipe for disaster, but the dogs generally don't like being sucked into them, so they try to avoid them, making things even trickier.
Then there is the little glacier that has no name or anything, but that all mushers seem to know. It ended Doug Swingley's Iditarod one year and broke Dee Dee Jonrowe's fingers a couple years back. I have had challenges on it too, this year was no exception. I thought everything was 'under control' but at the last moment I over-corrected and sent my sled flying off the slope and into the willows. A large willow went through my handlebar and brought the sled and team to a screeching halt.
I couldn't really step into the deep powder next to the sled to gain leverage to drag it off the willow and as I was trying to sort my dilemma out Jaimee Kinzer came flying into the scene. It's a bad place to have teams backed up, but it wasn't like I chose to stop there. Jaimee was super nice and she tied off her team and gave me a hand.
As we were working on my sled, she asked if this was the Steps. "Nope", I said, "you did them long ago. They were a piece of cake."
"Well this is tougher than anything else so far in the run", she said. I readily agreed.
Just as we got my sled free, Lachlan Clark came down the trail. I only stalled him up for a minute or so, but again, it was a bad place to have to stop. Thankfully, all our teams got going again and through the mess I had created!!!
I ended up getting ahead of Jaimee and Lach again, but when I stopped to snack the dogs well....Boo was just ahead of Wifi in the gangline and when I called the team up, she didn't get moving right away and well.............
......thankfully, the hold up only lasted 5 minutes or so.
The rest of the run into Rainy Pass was pretty uneventful. I enjoyed the nice moonlight that was lighting up the corner of the Alaska Range that we were traveling through.
The steep drop onto Puntilla Lake was harmless due to all the snow. We edged along the lake and into the checkpoint.