Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - Elim to White Mountain

That's the sound of a dog team imploding.


It was really windy in the checkpoint. The team was nestled against a snow berm, but it wasn't doing much to block the wind.

The dogs had come in very strong, but they didn't eat very well. I struggled with the wind as I went about chores and tried to get the dogs comfortable.

The same volunteer crew that worked the Cripple checkpoint was in Elim, which was a treat. Dave Monson and his party that we met on the trail to Koyuk also showed up while we were here.

David's children, Tekla and Chisana Monson, especially Tekla, have so many of their Mom's characteristics and body language that it is spooky. I never had the privilege of sharing a race trail with Susan Butcher, but I was an avid race fan during her heyday and met her many times as she hung around the race and worked it as a correspondent.

The Monson family's engaging presence and all the great Elim volunteers made the energy in the checkpoint very positive despite the miserable weather outside.

The warmth and laughter over the cribbage board was begging me to stay longer, but when you leave Elim you are, as a rule about 24 hours away from finishing, and the lure of Nome was definitely greater!!!

I finished up chores, readied the dogs to leave and layered on wind clothes, knowing that I was in for a storm over Little McKinley.

The dogs left badly. I was patient and hoped/expected that, like the trip over from Koyuk, they would find their 'groove' after a bit of time. Although this time they just got worse and worse instead of better.

The night was cold, windy, dark and lonely. I was frustrated and disappointed. I knew a 'crash' in the team had been looming but I had hoped the solid 12-hour break in Koyuk had fixed things. I replayed my race over and over in my head trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could do to pick up the pieces now.

The winter had its share of challenges and I did feel that I didn't get the quality training I wanted but still, they had good miles and good experience on them. I also knew that the 7 in-season girls had seriously comprised the quality of rest the dogs had been getting in checkpoints and then the storm coming across Norton Sound had further tapped them....but none of that mattered -  I needed to find a way to get us all to Nome. I did my best to be cheerful and upbeat, but it was SERIOUS acting and they likely saw right through me.

The climb up Little McKinley was slow, but reasonably steady. The girls did a solid job of keeping on the trail despite some ferocious winds. Normally my guys really step up in storms, but this time they seemed to have just had enough of bad weather. They were steady, but with no spark.

The dogs picked up a bit when we came down the backside of the mountain but the run to Golovin Bay itself seemed longer than ever.

The dogs were happy to hit the village of Golovin, but didn't want to leave town. Now I was getting frustrated. They know better and normally are better. On the trip across the Bay they kept drifting off the trail. The Bay was windswept, so being on or off the trail didn't really matter as for ease of travel, but the drifting and constant correction of direction of travel was increasing all our frustration and destroying what scant enthusiasm we had left.

To make things worse, I was exhausted by now and was fighting to stay awake. When we finally got across the Bay and onto the river I was horrified when I looked at my watch and realized how long we had been on the trail. I knew the run had been bad, but this was riduculous.

I've had a couple 'bad' runs over to White Mountain over the years, but this dwarfed those. This was, actually, one of the worst legs of Iditarod I've ever had.

We pulled into White Mountain. I was beat - mentally and physically.


Shirly said...

But you did make it to Nome and hopefully this next tme will go better. I followed you very careful and when you lost your tracking deal wondered where you were. Still Karen you did good you made it.

Nannette Morgan said...

I can only imagine how frustrating that was for you AND the dogs! You and the dogs are so lucky that you have each other and such a good relationship to get through such trying events!