My four massive dropbags were delivered next to my parking spot in Takotna and after quickly feeding the dogs, I put my head down and powered through getting everything sorted out. I looked longingly at the changes of clothes and all the little 'extras' I had sent here. No time to mess with that now - and besides, my 24 had been great even without all that stuff anyway.
I was intending to go right through Ophir and camp partway to Cripple, so I had to organize for that as well as send home my unused stuff. And of course, I had to fill out the paperwork to drop Tramp, get her ready for her trip back to Anchorage and say my goodbyes.
Everything organized and ready to go again and Tramp taken care of, I headed into the checkpoint thinking a piece of famous Takotna pie might hit the spot. The plan was changed very quickly when the kitchen staff reminded me that all mushers get a steak dinner here. Hmmm, that's right and it was going to be a bit before I got to eat again. "Sure", I said and pulled up a chair.
I was shocked to see Ryan Redington here. I asked what was up and he pulled up a chair to tell me about his scratch. One of the volunteers came by and asked if he wanted his steak dinner. "But I scratched", Ryan said. "Doesn't matter, you still are entitled to a steak dinner", she said. Ryan smiled, nodded and placed his order.
We had a nice chat while we waited for and then ate our steaks. The more time I spend around this young man, the more impressed by him I am. I think that his granddad would be so proud of the way Ryan - and Ray Redington - are carrying on the family legacy.
Stuffed from all the food in McGrath and now this wonderful steak dinner, I regretfully passed on a piece of pie and a bag lunch for the trail.
I headed back out to the team and right on schedule headed out of town.
This time the dogs left very well. This is another leg of the race that I'm really fond of. It is all on mining roads with enough twists, turns, climbs and downhills to be fun, but nothing that wants to kill you!!! Again stories of moose were circulating among the mushers and again I saw lots of signs, but no moose (I heard later that some mushers did have encounters with them along this leg though).
After about 9 miles the trail the trail stops climbing and starts to head down towards Independence Creek. When it popped out of the trees I could see the northern lights beginning to glow despite the bright, moonlit night. Within minutes the lights had burst into a simply startling display. The place, a great, happy dog team, the moonlight making the beautiful countryside visible.....I've seen alot of northern light displays in my life.... but I will never forget this one!!
The team roared into Ophir - and I mean roared. It was a true challenge to hold them while I signed in and got my vet book signed. The checkers thought that I wanted my drop bags and I was having a hard time getting across that I was set and just wanted to get going. Finally, after some dragging and some running over of volunteers we were turned loose and loped out of the checkpoint.
The dogs continued to move beautifully and the northern lights would occasionally light up the night sky, which is VERY big in this area due to the flat landscape and small trees. It was a very wonderful evening despite the fact that the temperature had been dropping all night.
And then I stopped for a minute and this.......
*sigh* I thought we were done with all 'that'. Apparently not.
After a 20-minute or so break we got underway again. I was worried that the standing around may have taken some spunk out of the dogs, but it didn't. They continued to travel very well.
I was carrying about a half bale of straw in my straw bag but I knew that lots of other mushers would have camped ahead of me, so was looking for a spot that already had some straw to give the dogs a really nice parking spot in this cold. Eyeballed up a few spots, but passed them all up till we dropped down onto the Innoko River where there was a PERFECT spot. The dogs happily pulled in when asked and snuggled quickly into the big straw piles. Turns out at least two other teams had parked there ahead of me, both contributing straw - so add mine and it was very luxurious!!!
I got them all fed, jacketed up and settle in when Mike Suprenant dropped onto the river. He stopped and asked if I had seen the cabin that Iditarod told us had been built in the area. I had actually forgotten all about that, but told him I hadn't. I did have the map that officials had given us and offered to pull that out, but Mike said he'd just keep his eyes open and headed off.
After he left I got thinking that just 50 ft or so back there had been a trail that had branched off to the right into the trees. "I wonder what is that way", I thought. The team was all sleeping happily, so I wandered off to explore.
I walked the short distance into the trees and discovered the brand new, spectacular BLM (Bureau Land Management) cabin nestled into the woods. There were a few straw beds around the cabin, so other mushers had obviously stopped here.
Inside the woodstove was still warm and had embers in it. I could actually see my team through the trees in the front of the cabin so I stoked up the stove and headed back to my sled to gather a few supplies (juice packs, snack bags, fresh socks, etc, etc).
The next three hours were rather delightful. I saw a couple teams roll by and scan around looking for my team's musher. If only they knew what a delightful spot they were missing. After 4 hours it was time to get going.
As I was packing up my sled Art Church dropped onto the river and stopped to say 'hi'. I asked him if he was going to stop on this leg and when he said he was, I told him about the cabin. He thanked me later and said that he really had trouble leaving, it was such a perfect spot!! I agreed!!!
As were were getting going a few other teams arrived on the scene, so I ended up traveling on and off with a group of other mushers for the long trip into Cripple. Traveling with other teams has pluses and minuses - it is nice to have the company, but I find that it keeps my dogs from finding their own 'traveling rhythm', so this leg ended up being a rather frustrating one for me. Plus the last 40 miles or so into Cripple always seems like the longest 40 miles on the planet. It just goes on and on! Add to all that the fact that it had warmed up A LOT and the sun was beating down on the dogs and all the 'magic' was gone from the team!
I was so grateful when we finally rolled into the checkpoint!