It was quickly getting cold in Cripple with extreme cold in the forecast for the night time, but I was warmed by having some of my favorite checkpoint folks around. I've known Jim Gallea since he was 17 years old and we were both traveling the trail following mushers. I was with friend Karen Adam following her husband, Ross Adam, and Jim was with his Dad, Iditarod finisher Bill Gallea, following his Mom, Cindy.
Since then I've traveled and camped on the trail with Jim, ran races he was a marshal on and enjoyed his company in many a checkpoint. He is now a doctor living in Maine and engaged to a Canadian woman (proof of his intelligence and fine taste!!!). He is a fine young man with a sharp mind and quick smile. Seeing him on the trail always gives me a 'pick up'.
Cripple used to be a miserable little hole of a checkpoint. Ten years ago when I first ran the race there wasn't even so much as a tree to duck behind to pee (you had to wait for dark or be shameless) - now the checkpoint has a number of little cabins for mushers and volunteers and some of the nicest outhouses on the trail.
This is a 'melt snow' checkpoint though, so chores always take a bit longer. That done I slipped up to stake out a sleeping spot in one of the toasty warm cabins, headed into the 'comms tent' to heat up a couple meals for me, drink some coffee and a lot of Tang, and do a bit of visiting. All good.
When I first went to the mushers sleeping cabin to toss in my gear, only the Berington twins were there. I'm kind of convinced they aren't really mushers, as they don't snore - it seems all mushers snore!!! When I got back to the cabin it was very definitely full of mushers and the walls were practically moving due to all the snoring. I hung gear to dry and lay down for a few hours sleep. Despite the snoring and the hard plywood bunks, I got a few good hours sleep.
From the huge gust of cold air blowing in every time someone walked in or out of the cabin, I knew the forecasted cold had arrived. Despite every inch of my tired body wanting to stay snuggled under my jacket in the warm cabin, I layered on my clothes and dragged myself out into the dark.
I needed to change runners to something better suited for the cold before I left and it turns out that even Matrix runners aren't easy to change in these temperatures. I struggled and swore for quite awhile before getting this normally 3-minute task accomplished.
The dogs left the checkpoint pretty well, although I did end up with a rather giant tangle in the first few miles as I wasn't paying attention and didn't brake fast enough when Tess stopped to go to the bathroom. Undoing tangles at -30 something is not a lot of fun, but it warms your body (but not your fingers and hands) up pretty quick!!!
Hank DeBruin and his nice team of Siberians had left right after me and we ended up traveling together for this leg of the race. When we stopped to snack, we chatted for a bit and I could hear teeth 'chattering' on both of us when we spoke. Despite that, I was pretty comfortable. My Skookumbrand anorak was a new one this year (my old one was miles too big on me and I was having issues 'cinching it down' enough to stay warm). It features Skookumbrand's new WindPro material and is significantly lighter than my old one. I was impressed with it on the Don Bower's race earlier in the season and even more so impressed this night. What an awesome piece of cold weather clothing!!!!
The team moved well through the cold and I was pleased with their performance on this long and rather challenging run. They were not as nice as they had been out of Takotna and Ophir, but still solid.
When the sun rose and began to beat on us it warmed up drastically. That seemed to take a bit of the edge off the dogs and I was messing with some foot issues with a few of the dogs, but still they were doing well.
The last 20 miles to Ruby has some big climbs and with the sun now pounding down on us I began to have some issues with leaders. Finally, I just put Tess in lead on her own and things began to 'work' again. What a good girl. I was so pleased with her.
Finally we hit the long, downhill, plowed road that indicates we are only a few miles from town. Mushers must be cautious and ride the brake hard through this section. Letting them 'rip' the last bit into Ruby, as we ALL would like to do, is a sure-fire way to injure dogs.
I rode the brake hard, safely negotiated the 90-degree turn at the end of the road that always worries me (I haven't always 'safely' negotiated it) and climbed the last hill to the checkpoint!!!