Monday, 16 April 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - The Trail to Yentna and Skwentna

I've said many times that one of my favorite parts of Iditarod is that moment when all the volunteers and handlers let go of the team and the journey just becomes about 16 dogs and myself. For me that moment just never gets old. I suppose because for me, that is what Iditarod is all about - reducing my world to myself, the dogs and the trail. It is the ultimate escape!

The first 10 miles of the Race can be a real rush with fans lining the trail, cheering, waving, and generally having a great time. It can jazz the teams up to and make for a very fun hour or so.

Not so this year.....

First off was that overflow in the start chute. It was likely better for the first teams, but after 55 other teams had chewed the trail up, it was pretty slushy and wet for us. Jinx backed off a bit and I didn't notice fast enough, tangling the whole front end of my team. I wanted to throw a hook in and straighten them out, but the hook likely wouldn't have held, so I just rode the brake giving Jinx the chance to work it out herself, which she eventually did.

My problems weren't over though.Turns out little Boo was less than impressed with all the festivities. She was pulling hard to the side trying to get away from the crowds or backing off on her neckline trying to drag the team backwards.

When I had a good spot to plant a hook I went up front to offer her some reassurance, but that actually seemed to make it worse, so we went back to moving. We weren't moving well or fast though.

Jinx didn't seem happy with the situation, so I stopped to put Bang up front with her, making one fan's day when I asked him to stand on my brake as insurance the team wouldn't take off. His friends ribbed him and took pictures of him on the runners while I messed around with the girls.

The leader change improved things only marginally and I'll admit, I began to get very frustrated. I did my very best to remain upbeat for the dogs but it wasn't easy. I smiled and waved at folks all the while wanting to stop and bang my head on a tree for a bit.

Thankfully, as we had started near the back of the pack and fallen further back due to the troubles I was having, the crowds began to disperse quicker than normal.

Just past the infamous 'Corral Hill' (which we do in training most days, so I'm never really worried about) my friend Dan Rehak was taking pictures. It was nice to see a familiar and friendly face, so I stopped to chat (okay, maybe VENT) for a minute. Thanks for the ear Dan!

The last big party was at 'Scary Tree' at the joining of the Big Su and the Yentna Rivers (there used to be a big tree there that was straight out of a horror movie. The tree has since fallen down, but the name remains!). After that the team all settled into their groove. I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Just before dark I stopped to snack everyone and put some of my wonderful flashy lights from Adventure Lights on the dogs.

This stretch is known to have lots of snowmachiners on it - many moving VERY fast and some sometimes a little (or a lot) inebriated. I was making sure we were VISIBLE!!!

Sure enough, just after dark a pair of snowmachines went ROARING down the trail. A ways away from me the front machine stopped and the driver began stomping around and swearing. The woman driver jumped off the second machine and began to urge the irate man to tell her what was wrong. I could hear their very personal issues for close to a mile down the otherwise quiet river. I urged the younger dogs to cover their ears, but I don't think they did. Yikes!!!!

I was so grateful to finally hit the big 'S' in the Yentna River that means you are arriving at the checkpoint, but my long day wasn't over yet.

Just as I came in site of Yentna Station someone began shooting fireworks off on the riverbank. "YOU MUST BE FRICKIN' KIDDING", I thought (okay, I really didn't think 'FRICKIN' - but I'm sure you get the idea).

My dog team, still smarting from the sound of gunfire from our moose incident 10 days or so prior, didn't even hesitate - they executed a perfect 180 degree turn and headed back for Willow.

I got them stopped and began the tricky process of turning 16 reluctant and freaked out sled dogs around. More fireworks went off. From events earlier in the evening I knew sound carried well on the river so I loudly and strongly suggested that the people on the bank stop the fireworks - they didn't. I briefly debated firing my shotgun at them, but that would have made things even worse for the dogs. I was not a happy musher.

Eventually I got the dogs straightened out and convinced to go forward. We finally pulled into Yentna Station.

(Note - I heard from a checker later down the trail that the folks from Yentna Station went over and spoke to the folks shooting off the fireworks. Things were eventually worked out and apologies were exchanged.)

My stop in Yentna was brief - I signed posters for volunteers, turned over my bib, had the vet sign my vet book, bitched about the fireworks, thanked everyone and pulled the hook.

I had Jinx back up front, as she is good at negotiating checkpoints and going through them and the team rolled out well. A couple bangs of fireworks behind us just moved them down the trail faster.

I usually stop to snack after going through a checkpoint, but I didn't want to risk being off the sled if more fireworks went off.  Richard and I had camped 5 miles or so past Yentna a week or so prior to the race and I knew the dogs would remember that spot, so I drove them past there before stopping to snack. They snacked like wolves and rolled happily in the snow. I took the time to play with and mess around with them all. That firmly put the earlier events of the day behind us!

I put Tess up in lead with Jinx - she is a great leader but doesn't like crowds, so I didn't have her up front earlier in the day - bootied most of the dogs and we were off again.

My stomach was kind of growling by now, but every year there are folks at a big bonfire along this stretch handing hotdogs out to mushers. I was so disappointed to find that they had already packed up for the night.  Late bib draws suck.

The night was cold and the dogs were covering ground at a pace I was happy with.

We pulled into Skwentna just before 1am with 1 happy, but hungry, musher and 16 happy dogs!



Anonymous said...

Karen, thank you for doing this! Your "Tales of the Trail 2012" are absolutely amazing. Can't thank you enough. Looking forward to reading more!

Shirly said...

I enjoyed hearing about your run so far. You don,t get that much when your just on the iditrod and hear check points a word or two. I never did long distance, but on training runs I sure had experiences I think now I am older how did I do it.

Anonymous said...

Since I read your Q&A blog I now would like to ask a question: When do you decide to put on booties? Do the dogs like them?

Nannette Morgan said...

A question Karen: So having a fan stand on the brake doesn't count as accepting outside help per the rules? I know in checkpoints no one is supposed to help w/the dogs etc. Thanks!

bakavi said...

Having someone stand on the brake for the safety of the team was never a dq in sprint racing. Hope it is the same. Karen?

Bakavi said...

I so enjoyed the account of your 1st day on the real trail. Good you could stay focused with all of the distractions of the day! Good job. Fireworks!? Geezy peezy,OMG.