I got a nice parking spot in Rainy Pass, started passing straw out to the dogs and taking booties off as the vets worked their way to through the team. The dogs had all seemed good coming in and the vets agreed. No problems.
As my cooker was heating up all of a sudden my team and one of the teams next to me started screaming at something off in the trees at the edge of the lake. One of the checkers came over and explained it was horses.
The Perrins, who run the Lodge at Rainy Pass, have horses that they turn loose for the winter season. At the request of the family, Iditarod provides hay for mushers to bed our teams on there instead of straw and then the horses come down and 'clean up' after we leave. Apparently the horses were keen to get at the hay this year and really didn't want to wait for all the teams to leave. The checkers were kept very busy working as 'horse wranglers' all night.
All the girls were eating very well, but a few of the boys were more interested in watching the girls than eating which was frustrating for me. My boys are usually good around girls in heat, but with SO MANY it was just too much for some of them.
I finished feeding everyone, grabbed something to drink, my snack bags, clean socks and headed up to the wonderful little musher's cabin.
The musher's cabin at Rainy Pass was put up by Iditarod a few years back; prior to that it was hit and miss as to whether we had a good, warm place to sleep. Now we have a wonderful, warm 10x10 cabin with 10 bunks in it. I grabbed a bunk and stripped down to my long underwear. Again, no sleeping bag. I had to water dogs in about 2 1/2 hours - very important since not all the boys ate well on their first feeding - and I knew if I was in my bag it would be hard to stay on schedule. I set my alarm, pulled one of my polar fleece layers over me as a makeshift blanket and was asleep in seconds.
Pretty close to on schedule I was out feeding dogs. The boys that hadn't eaten on 'round one' ate this time, so that was good. I quickly cleaned up things and headed to the cabin for another hour of rest. Honestly, I could have happily pulled out my sleeping bag and gone to bed for the night. This is always a very hard checkpoint for me to leave - not because I worry about the Dalzell Gorge, but because I am usually so tired and not in 'the routine' at this point and it is such a great place to sleep!! Discipline kicked in though and only a half hour behind schedule I pulled the hook.
Little Smartie (have I mentioned lately how much I like that dog??) was in lead with Tess and did a great job getting past the Lodge and planes that lined Puntilla Lake. We climbed off the lake, and as usual, the wind hit. Not near as bad as in '07 or '10 but still significant wind. After about an hour or so Smartie started to have trouble 'holding' the trail. (With no set trail and the wind pushing them it is easy for leaders to 'drift'. You can keep hollering at leaders to move over, but I prefer to have leaders that will do that on their own.) Time for 'The Amazing Jinx' to step in. I put her up front with Smartie and she gave her a great lesson in storm leading!!!
Rainy Pass itself is one of my favorite parts of the Iditarod Trail. The trail winds along above the tree line in the valley of imposing mountains. With the bright moonlight and some scattered storm clouds lurking the scenery was remarkable. It literally took my breath away. I hope to be able to hold that night in my mind's eye for a long, long time.
Once you crest the actual pass, the trail follows the Dalzell River as it twists and winds through the ever narrowing Gorge. On years with low snow there are a lot of open river crossings on this leg. This year there was snow and ice bridges covering all the crossings, but there was open water rushing inches under the dogs. When Smartie hit the first crossing like that she slammed on the brakes and eyed the rushing water with doubt. Jinx doesn't like stuff like that, so she wasn't going to bother dragging Smartie across.
I walked up front, gave Smarts an ear scratch, jumped across the ice bridge and called my little black leader to me. Jinx jumped after me and after a bit more coaxing Smartie followed. I made a big deal out of it and gave her lots of pats and scratches. She wiggled and smiled at me, obviously very proud of herself.
At the next crossing she slowed down and eyed the river, but made the crossing all on her own. I stopped and made an even bigger fuss over her. She didn't even hesitate at the rest of the crossings. Have I mentioned lately how much I love that little dog??
I was still hesitant over leaving her in lead for the whole length of the Gorge. At the bottom/narrowest part of the canyon there are some wild ice bridges to cross where a leader stopping or hesitating could get you into big trouble - big trouble.
In the end, I opted to trust my girl and she did not let me down. (The crossings were actually a little tamer than many years - but still a challenge). I was so very, very proud of her.
Lots of improvements had been done on the trail and the ride, while still being one a musher is wise to give respect to, was kind of pleasant.
Some of the crew that worked on the trail had a camp just before we pop out of the Gorge. I would have liked to stop and say thanks, but it looked like they were all still sleeping and waking them would have been rude.
The dogs easily negotiated the 5 miles or so of river ice and woods before we ran along the edge of the runway that announces you have arrived in Rohn.