Monday, 23 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Nikolai to McGrath

Nikolai is another checkpoint that I'm very fond of. Parking for the dogs is great and they have boiling hot water available for us. They also open the school for the mushers which means we have access to a bathroom with a REAL FLUSHING toilet (first one since Willow!) and sinks where we can wash up. Such a treat!!

In addition they cook for us at the cafeteria and have a dark, warm sleeping area for us off the gym. Kinda close to heaven for an Iditarod musher!

Thanks to the available hot water, I was able to get the dogs fed quickly. It was snowing pretty hard, so I covered as many as would let me after tending to the few issues they had (mostly feet on Trampie, Astro and Roscoe).  Jinx likes it best if I completely cover her up and rarely moves under her blanket until I come take it off her. The younger dogs like Smartie and Boo fuss a bit more and don't stay under their blankets for too long.

copyright Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News

The boys seemed to be resting a bit better if I covered up the girls - out of sight, somewhat out of mind, I guess - although they always seemed to have a bit of an eye on the girls. Charge screamed every time I touched Boo or Tramp.

I asked Race Judge extraordinaire, Rhoadie if she could ask if any of the locals had some baling wire. I figured with that I  could do enough of a repair job on my drag brake to get me to Takotna. She said she'd ask around.

At the school I beelined for the washroom. I washed up, changed clothes, and brushed my teeth. Ahhhhhh......

I was disappointed to find the school cafeteria closed. I guess I had never arrived this early in the AM before (although I was convinced I was actually behind schedule) and had just assumed the cafeteria was always open for us, so hadn't sent any food out here. Not that I would have starved, my snack bags (provided by friends/family) had been exceptional so far and I would be able to feed myself quite easily, but a hot meal would have gone down well. Very kindly Travis Cooper stepped to my rescue and offered me one of his extra meals. I selected a yummy Mexican style dish that hit the spot wonderfully!!

I slipped into the sleeping room to find a lot of BIG snoring happening. I ended up walking down to my sled and grabbing my iPod so I could play some 'elevator type' music which is on there for specifically such an occasion. I grabbed a hour or so of sleep that way.

I usually phone home from here. It is always a big relief to be over the toughest part of the trail and into Nikolai and I always feel the need to 'debrief' and share a story or two with 'my' people. I knew from the time I wasn't going to be able to catch Mark, but I tried calling Richard. No luck. That was a disappointment.

I knew that I needed to repair that brake, change runners and do a few more things before I left for McGrath, so I made sure I was headed down to the team in plenty of time.

Sure enough someone had tracked down baling wire for me, so after the dogs were fed, I did a MacGyver job on my drag (as it turned out the repair fixed one part of the problem, but created another, so I ended up not using the drag much at all on the trip to McGrath).

My runners were in pretty rough shape from the rocks and dirt we had dragged over on the way to town, so I swapped them out too.

The snow had stopped, so I took off the blankets, shook them out and stuffed them back into their sack best I could.

After 6 1/2 hours we hit the trail again.

For the first time this race the team didn't leave the checkpoint well. I suppose they weren't 'horrible' but they had rested well and eaten well and I was kind of expecting more out of them.
I turned some happy, upbeat music on my iPod (a bit of Bruno Mars, I believe it was) and just enjoyed the sunshine, sparkling snow and pretty day.

This leg was one that I expected I might see moose on. It is usually a leg with lots of moose signs. I had actually double checked my gun before leaving Nikolai just in case. But as it turns out there were absolutely no signs. I was quite surprised (I asked when I got to McGrath what was up with that and was told that all the moose were either dead or hanging out in town where there was some packed roads to move around on! Very sad).
The trail was a little different than most years due to the heavy snow but there was absolutely no way to get lost, as there was only one trail with deep, deep snow on either side of it.

We crossed the Kuskokwim River and popped up into McGrath at just around 5:30. I was planning to pull the drag brake off my second sled and get out of town, heading the short distance to Takotna for my 24-hour layover!

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