The sun was out and the day quite lovely in Unk. Nice, as it is often windy and miserable there during Iditarod. I set about settling the dogs in and getting them fed when one of the checkers cruised by and mentioned that there was a hot pizza just delivered up to the checkpoint with my name on it. "Seriously???", I asked.
Luckily, we had to walk up to the checkpoint building to get water for the dogs, so I had an excuse to check out the pizza rumor.
Sure enough, as I walked through the door at least two people mentioned that there was a pizza on the table for me.
Still hot, cheesy, and EXACTLY the pizza I would have ordered for myself. The BEST pizza EVER!!!! I inhaled way more than I thought I could actually eat, but still had some to share with a few volunteers. BEST treat EVER!!!!!! (Another blog with the full 'pizza story' will follow this one!)
I grabbed water and headed back to the team to get their meal ready. They were snoozing deeply in the sun and I don't think even noticed my absence.
I was surprised to find teams here that I hadn't seen in a long while - and some like Justin Savidis's team that I never expected to see after the first day or so of the race. Justin and I had run the Don Bower's 200 earlier in the season and I was very impressed with how his team was looking when I saw them on the trail. Justin explained that there had been some really bad weather in Shaktoolik and many teams had taken extended breaks here. When I still expressed surprise at seeing him in Unk, he went on to tell me a heartbreaking story of a moose encounter that he had had pre-race that had messed up his team and his head. My heart broke for him. He is a super nice man and that team had looked solid just a month back - but then again, I think my team looked much more solid then too.
People often forget that the race doesn't really start at the beginning of March, it starts way earlier in the season and we often are dragging a lot of excess training season baggage with us when we pony up to the start line in Willow.
Most of the dogs ate really well, but a few of the girls seemed to be getting a bit stressed by the amount of pressure I was putting on them as leaders. Sadly not much I could do about that with so many girls still in season. I gave them some extra loving and covered them up with blankets, hoping a good, warm, quiet nap would perk up their mood.
After chores were done I popped back up to the checkpoint, had a bunch to drink, munched some M&Ms (available in virtually every checkpoint), and roped one of the local young men into running down to the store and buying me some more 5-Hour Energy shots (thanks Kermit!!!). Pat Moon was here and had gifted me with a bunch of his shots too, so I was set for the rest of the race.
I was actually very disappointed to see Pat here, as he had arrived by plane after scratching in Ruby. I knew that getting to Nikolai and past the Dalzell Gorge where Pat had injured himself in '10 and been forced from the race was a big personal victory for him. I was very glad he had accomplished that, but he really is a fine man and I would have liked to see him get all the way to Nome.
Next time I have no doubt he will.
When I found out there were REAL beds with REAL blankets with REAL pillows for the mushers here, I headed for a quick nap. What a treat, but the nap was just not long enough. Before the sun began to set I was back down with the team preparing to head out.
Unk is always a difficult checkpoint to get a dog team out of, it seems. We leave on a big expanse of ice and the dogs don't seem to enjoy that a lot. My team gave me no issues leaving, but I expected them to pick it up and settle into their nice traveling pace after a few miles and they really didn't. That was frustrating and even worrisome.
As darkness fell, I turned on my iPod and chose some upbeat music to try and perk things up. Worked for me, but not so much for the dogs. The moon was out lighting up some of the coastline we were running along as we climbed the Blueberry Hills and then dropped down onto Norton Sound. It was a beautiful evening!!!
When we moved away from the land and onto the 11 miles of sea ice we had to travel to get to Shatooklik, the wind hit us pretty hard. It was nothing like what the front runners had experienced, but it was certainly significant.
Rocky was completely unimpressed with the boring landscape and the wind and staged a mini mutiny. I took some time messing around with him and perking up his attitude before we got underway again. He did okay for the rest of the run, but he still wasn't thrilled.
Jinx and Tess did a fine job shouldering into the wind and keeping us on the trail, but still we somehow ended up 'off course'. That became perfectly clear when I ended up at a fence surrounding a big satellite on the edge of town. I didn't want to turn around and the girls knew we were close to the checkpoint so I just let them pick their way 'cross country' into Shak!! Problem was that the earlier storm and this one had left HUGE drifts all over the place. The girls didn't care, they scrambled, crawled and clawed their way up them, while the sled and I banged and bashed our way down them.
Next thing we knew we were in front of a bunch of surprised race officials.