Friday, 25 May 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Kaltag to Unalakleet

A few years of late Kaltag seems to have gotten in on the 'Paris Hilton', 'pocket dog' trend. Little dogs were running around EVERYWHERE. Most of them were brave to the point of stupid and were challenging the dog teams. I was concerned that this could end badly and mentioned just that to one of the locals. "I doubt the owners would care", he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Oh......
Thankfully, no small dogs were harmed during my stay in Kaltag.

The dogs didn't actually eat well here. That was bothersome. When I offered food a bit later, they still weren't that interested but I got at least something into everyone. I treated some feet and preventatively wrapped a few wrists and shoulders.

Again I was humming and hawing over how long to stay here. The dogs weren't where I wanted them (mentally), but extra rest didn't seem to be helping and I didn't want to 'give away' time if it wasn't going to have some positive effects on the team.

In the community building that was set up for mushers, a few other mushers and I had a VERY interesting conversation with the local drug dealer. He was very upfront about his occupation. He seemed well regarded in the community and actually was donating money to a few community projects. As I've said, you really can't understand these communities till you have visited them - and really, I don't know that I 'understand' them - but I've learned not to judge.

The wind in town was picking up and the little dogs running around were not particularly conducive to my team resting well, so I decided to just get going.

The dogs actually left as well, if not better, than they have ever left Kaltag. I was very pleased and really enjoyed the winding trail through the trees after all those miles of river running!
Whenever the trail darted out into the open the wind would hit hard. I knew we were coming to a stretch of open hills, so I made sure to stop, snack and get everything 'buttoned up' before that happened. While I was doing that Hank DeBruin caught up with us. We traveled together through the hills and when the wind backed off a bit, he took the lead for awhile. Both teams were traveling very nicely at this point.
We passed by Tripod Flats cabin, where I've taken a few breaks in the past when things weren't going quite to 'plan' on this leg. It's a lovely little cabin tucked in a beautiful spot on the trail.

After we stopped to snack Hank's team seemed to lose their 'groove'. I took the lead back for a bit, but I was really tired and just couldn't stay awake, so I asked Hank if he was willing to go up front again and he did.

Old Woman Cabin is at the base of Old Woman Mountain, a very distinctive mountain. As always, the last 5 miles to the Cabin seemed to take FOREVER.
As we passed the original 'Old Woman Cabin' (known to mushers as 'Old Old Woman Cabin'), which has been GREATLY redone in the last couple years, I made sure to toss a candy bar out onto the side of the trail as an offering to the 'Old Woman'. Legend says you will face bad luck if you don't!!!

Finally, the trail popped out into the clearing at the 'New Old Woman Cabin'. I directed the team into an empty, but well strawed parking spot and set about my chores. There were over a half a dozen teams already there. Some sleeping, some with mushers in various stages of chores.

I LOVE Old Woman Cabin. I honestly can't imagine running this race without some kind of stop here. I know that some of Susan Butcher's ashes were brought out here by her family and I totally get that. It is a special place.

After the dogs were taken care of (and thankfully they ate pretty well here) I started a meal heating up in the pot of hot water on the wood stove and hung clothes to dry.
As I was crawling up the ladder to the sleeping loft Art Church reminded me how hot it got up there. I vowed to be careful. I laid out my alarm and headlamp before stripping down to my long underwear for a nap.
When my alarm went off, not only could I not figure out where I was, it was pitch dark and I couldn't figure out which way was up or down. It's not an entirely unheard sensation for an Iditarod musher, so I knew enough to just lie still until my brain caught back up with my body.
When that happened I groped around for my headlamp and managed to send a bag of gear crashing down onto the bunks on the main level. I peered over the edge of the loft praying that it hadn't hit Hank, who was sleeping there. Thankfully it missed him and the sound of it thumping next to him didn't seem to have even made him stir.
I slid back into my layers of clothing, scurried down the ladder, gathered up my outer layers and got the heck out of the cabin, which was indeed blistering hot!!!!

The dogs and I all left the cabin badly. We all seemed groggy and 'out of it'. I kept dozing off on the sled, which always means slow runs for us. I knocked back some 5-Hour Energy, but it seems that I was working outside its intended application now.

It took about 3 hours for us to all to find our groove. Wasted time I was kicking myself for.
When we dropped onto the Unalakleet River the dogs didn't pick up like I expected, but they were moving pretty steady now. On one of the portages I managed to hit a big hole in the trail and smashed down HARD onto my left hip. Well, if I hadn't been awake by then, that would have certainly snapped me to alert!! Ouch!!!

The dogs were happy to see the village of Unk appear on the horizon and traveled well the last bit into town.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I wonder if we will see the village of Kaltag on "Alaska State Troopers" now that we know there's certain activity going on there... Must have definitely been an enlightening conversation. Thanks for your updates.