Sunday, 22 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Rohn to Nikolai

Rohn is a wonderful checkpoint for a number of reasons.

First off, it is a safe haven between two very challenging sections of trail. Secondly, it is quiet and cozy and third, it is staffed by amazing volunteers (Hey Jasper!!!).

I recently read a book by a woman that 'cycled' the Idita-sport to McGrath. I was so mad at her, I almost gave up reading when she was critical of Rohn and the people in it.

Yes, Jasper has rules (DO NOT put your gloves or hat on the table in the cabin) but they are for our own benefit, and I don't think there is a cleaner, neater checkpoint anywhere on the trail. Heck, when I walked into the cabin they were bleaching the table and kitchen area. BLEACHING!!!!

Anyway, the dogs got a nice parking spot in the trees and were very happy to dig through the leftover straw looking for left over snacks from earlier teams. I've never minded using leftover straw, I mean the dogs are running down the trail through the 'leftovers' from the teams in front of them, so if there were any bugs to catch, they'd likely have already caught them. And besides all the teams are well vetted, vaccination records checked and the dogs are dewormed before the race, so there is likely not much to catch.

The one real drawback to Rohn is that it is about a 1/4 of a mile walk (with a steep cliff to negotiate at the end) to the river to get water for the dogs. Because I HATE doing that walk, I sent bags of ice in my drop bags here. Other mushers watched and commented jealously as I threw my ice in the cooker and avoided the hike.

A couple of the dogs, particularly Q, didn't eat very well and that concerned me a bit but the vet seemed to think everyone was looking good. I spent some time just hanging out with the team in the straw. Which did us all some good.

I wandered into the cabin, hung some gear to dry and gave Jasper a couple meals to heat up in the big pot of hot water he keeps on the stove.

I was really glad to see Pat Moon snoozing away on one of the bunks in the cabin. Two years ago Pat had a horrible trip over from Rainy Pass that ended up with him being medivac'd out of Rohn. I knew he was nervous about making the run this time but now he was safely in the checkpoint with his demons well behind him. Pat's a really cool guy and I was pleased for him.

One of my very favorite vets on the planet, Dr. Justine Lee was in Rohn and she came over to visit with the dogs (she was napping when we came in).

Justine was one of the vets in Grayling in '07 when I lost Snickers. She is very, very skilled in emergency veterinarian practices and gave Snickers a great chance that awful night. She was also incredibly supportive and kind to me. I will never, ever forget all she did for us that night.  
It was great to see and catch up with her.

Bill Merchant, who organizes the Ultra Sport, was here in Rohn with his Fat Bike waiting for the last of his competitors to come through. As folks might have gathered from my blogs after Iditarod, Fat Bikes are of pretty high interest to me. Bill's bike was LOVELY and I jokingly offered to trade him my team for his bike. He declined with a laugh.

Bill turned out to be a nice contact to make and he helped me sort out exactly what Fat Bike I want - haven't come up with a way to pay for one yet, but nice to be able to put a real picture to the dream!! (Mark, in case you are reading and want some ideas for a combined Birthday/Anniversary/Christmas gift - this is the one Anyway.....I'm drifting off topic!

I hummed and hawed over how long I wanted to stay in Rohn and whether I wanted to run straight through to Nikolai or camp for a bit on the way over. In the end I think I kind of short changed the dogs here, but nothing too serious.

After a little over 5 hours rest, we unwound from the trees and headed out.

I started off with Smartie still in lead, as I wanted her to get experience leaving a checkpoint, but the trail out of Rohn is consistently horrible with lots of glare ice, overflow, rocks and gravel. It is definitely the kind of stuff you want experienced, responsible, totally controllable leaders on - so I switched back to Jinx and Tess almost immediately.

A few large, very intense fires have gone through this area in the past few years and significantly changed the trail. It is probably a bit easier, but it is kind of depressing to run through the bleak, burned-out terrain.

The Post River Glacier, which can be a major obstacle, was very tame this year and the dogs trucked up and over it with no issues.

The next 50 miles or so was shocking as in the face of all the huge snowfall elsewhere on the trail, it was utterly devoid of snow. Amazing.

Frozen dirt is actually pretty easy for the dogs to drag a sled over. It is VERY, VERY difficult for a musher to use a drag mat or brake on, which is a dangerous combination. We banged, smacked, and bumped our way along.

We ended up off the trail in trees at one point (Jinx got in her head that that was the way to go and there was nothing to hook into so I could not convince her otherwise).

And then we hit a batch of overflow with a tree in the middle of it. Half the team went to one side, half went to the other and as I attempted to sort the mess out.....

*sigh* That cost us about 20 minutes and because we were in overflow, everyone stood in water for those 20 minutes. I was less than happy.

Using a drag brake on this kind of trail is risky, as with low snow there is lots of 'stuff' on the trail for it to get caught on. Catching a drag brake can lead to mushers flying over the handlebar, broken sleds, broken mushers, loose dog teams, etc. - but flying over this kind of trail behind 16 dogs without slowing them down is risky too. My drag was down whenever I thought I could get away with it. I miscalculated at one point and caught the brake on a stump that was hidden by a corner. 'Thankfully' my drag mat was all that didn't survive the encounter. I rigged it up so I could 'sort of' use it but it wasn't great - heck, it wasn't even really 'good'.

Around dark we passed Buffalo Camp. Buffalo Camp used to be a great place to stop on the trail (See my March '10 post on Buffalo Camp) and I have lots of great memories of it. Now it is just abandoned and sad.

By now the trail was better and the team and I were back to having a good time. (I think the dogs actually had a great time watching me sweat and listening to the fear in my voice on the dirt, but they would never admit it if I asked them).

At the end of the Farewell Burn, 20 miles from Nikolai the trail crosses Sullivan Creek. Oddly enough there is a real bridge there, yet about 20 feet after the bridge there is an another open water crossing of the creek. I remembered and was looking for the bridge, but for some reason I had entirely forgotten about the open water. I was thinking about stopping to snack dogs when everything came to a screeching halt.

I flew into action fearing YET ANOTHER breeding - and somehow (I'm still not sure exactly how, as we had a horrific tangle going on) got everyone across the creek, straightened out and pointed in the right direction without a romantic encounter. Yeah!!!

I shouldn't have patted myself on the back too much, as about 30 minutes later when I stopped to snack....


The last 15 miles into Nikolai the wind was blowing HARD and it was snowing. The trail was completely shut in on some of the lake and river crossings. Jinx and Tess did a great job in lead though. Very good dogs!!!

I was having a hard time staying awake and couldn't wait to see the checkpoint. 

Finally we dropped onto the south fork of the Kuskokwim River and arrived in town.


Susan said...

These are some of the best cartoons you've had Karen. Maybe the 2013 calendar will be Action on the Iditarod Trail!!!

Bytez said...

So my question is with all of these "censors", how many of the girls are pregnant? Oh my!


Bakavi said...

OH my is right. will you be doing some DNA testing on the new pups?
or do you know exactly when and where. I am sure it got "real old" really fast after the 1st breeding.!! ):