Every time I pull into a checkpoint, I apologize up front to the checkers. See, if there is one thing that my team knows how to do it is to hit the gangline at once and MOVE things. Every time checkers or volunteers go to help me park the dogs decide to show off this particular skill. I can ride my brake for all I'm worth, drag my snow hook, tell them 'easy' but in the end, the volunteers end up looking like they have been run over by a train and my team is looking all smug and content. (If you are an Iditarod volunteer reading this, let me once again say 'I am truly sorry').
So, we pulled in, I apologized, checkers got run over, and we eventually ended up in our parking spot.
With all those 'in heat' ladies up front I secured the front end of the team well and moved Tramp up front with the rest of the girls. (As I had an uneven number of girls and boys I had to run one mixed sex pair, so I opted for Tramp, who should have been mostly out of season (she was bred to Crunchie 10 days before the race) and Wifi, who was a well mannered boy around girls, and had never been used at stud.) I got everyone fed, got meat thawing for a watering in a few hours, jacketed and blanketed a few dogs, wrapped wrists on See as she sometimes has issues, sorted through my bags, and repacked my sled before heading up to the checkpoint.
This was the first winter that Joe and Norma Delia weren't present at the Skwentna checkpoint, as they moved into 'town' early this year. Although everything was fabulously run as always, it just seemed like 'something' was missing!! We all missed you Joe and Norma!!!!!
I peeled off layers of clothing at in the arctic entry and then made a quick trip to the outhouse before heading inside. As I walked through the door a volunteer asked if I wanted a hot facecloth and handed one with tongs just like airlines do in the first class section. What a fantastic idea!!!!!!! I thought I had died and gone to heaven as I wiped my face, neck and hands.
I polished off a nice meal, guzzled about 6 glasses of Tang, grabbed a little orange numbered pylon to set next to me (How the volunteers know which musher to wake up when. Hard to tell us
all apart in the dark without shining lights in our faces!!) and headed upstairs for some shut eye. I have never actually slept in Skwentna, but I always lie down and stare at the insides of my eyelids for a bit here.
After about an hour I was back downstairs drinking Tang, chatting with a few other mushers and volunteers, visiting the outhouse, drinking a bit of coffee, changing socks, putting layers of clothes back on and heading down to the river to water the dogs.
Once down with the team I went through and woke up the pups, watching them all move around, looking for any aches or pains that might have cropped up while they rested. Everyone looked good and they all drank their soup great.
I finished sorting gear - we don't have drop bags in Finger Lake, so I had to ensure I had everything for the trip all the way to Rainy Pass - sealed up my return bags, walked them over to 'return pile', vegged out on my cooler (my checkpoint chair) for a bit, bootied dogs, closed up my sled, reorganized the team, there was a brief...ummmm....interlude.....
.....I did up harnesses and hit the trail.
The first part of this trail is one that I always see lots of moose signs on, so I was on 'hyper alert' for the first few hours. Thankfully, we saw nothing worrisome though. The snow was incredibly deep. There is one spot where the trail does an often tricky river crossing and then passes a little cabin before heading off into the woods. The crossing was a piece of cake and I only realized where I was when I saw just a stove pipe jutting out of the snow on the side of the trail!! The cabin itself was completely covered!
The trail was in great shape and I enjoyed watching the day lighten up over the Alaska Range. It was too overcast for a nice sunrise though in fact, it started to snow pretty heavily. There are always a few diehard fans hanging out at 'One Stone Lake',
the halfway point on the way to Finger Lake. Someone was skiing along,
fires were still smoldering and at one spot a man was standing next to
the trail. As I passed and called out a 'Good Morning' greeting he
identified himself as Will Petersen. Will is on the Iditarod Rules
Committee with me, but I don't think we have ever met in person. I
didn't stop to visit or discuss rules, but it was nicely to be able to
put a face to a name now!
Richard, former NW handler Chris Smith, and my kiwi buddy Tony Turner had all talked about flying out to Finger Lake that morning. So I watched small planes buzzing around and wondered if my friends were on one of them (turns out they were, but the weather was too bad for them to stay in Finger Lake long enough to visit with me *sniff*).
The last few miles before the trail drops onto Winter Lake always seems to take forever, but this year I hit the lake a bit before I expected. The dogs saw the checkpoint and picked it up a bit as we worked our way around the edge of the lake and into the Lodge.