Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Tales of the Trail 2012 - White Mt to Safety!!!

The crew working White Mountain was a lot of the same folks I '24'd' with in McGrath. They knew by my times (and likely the look on my face) that the run over had been a tough one - and because they are awesome, experienced Iditarod volunteers, they knew just how to handle me.

My friend/checker Rick hung around while I did chores. I was inclined to ask him to leave me alone so I could wallow in self pity, but I like Rick and didn't want to be rude, so said nothing. As it turns out, he likely knew what I needed better than I did. I started to open up and talk about some of my 'issues' and he just listened. Pretty soon things didn't seem quite so bad.
Volunteers that you meet on the trail are often one of the best things about this crazy race.

Dogs and a few chores taken care of I headed up the bank to the checkpoint.

Pretty much as soon as I walked through the door, the woman doing drug testing approached me. "We are going to need to get a urine sample from you while you are here".

Now, let me explain a few things. First off, I understand and agree with the drug testing - if we want sponsorship levels to be comparable to other professional sports we must hold ourselves up to the same standards as other sports.

And furthermore, agree or not, when we signed up for the race we agreed, by virture of our entry fee, to adhere to the rules.

All that said, actually providing a urine sample is easier said than done by a exhausted, dehydrated dog musher.

I looked rather balefully at the woman and she quickly prefaced her comments "Drink, sleep....when you are ready I'll be here". Good news - 'cause right at that moment it would have been like getting water from a stone!

One of the volunteers (Janis - who I just LOVE!!!! We are TOTALLY hiking the Chilkoot together one day Janis!!!) approached and told me she had a new tracking unit to put on my sled.  She mentioned that my missing tracker was causing some stress to fans (Hi MOM!! Hi Penny!!!).  Not at all surprised, I laughed. 

I went and ate, drank ALOT, had a quick (kind of whiny) conversation with Richard in Nome, and headed for the sleeping area.

My mood had improved quite a bit in the last few hours - and I was relatively optimistic that the next run would be okay. On races like this a good run often follows a bad one...but still, I lay on the sleeping mat fretting over past mistakes and 'what ifs', not sleeping at all.

Finally my 8-hour rest was up and it was time to get going. It was cold, but sunny and I was looking forward to hitting the run over to the Topkok hills and along the coast.

The dogs left BAD, really bad. I debated turning around and heading back into the checkpoint for more rest, but ended up deciding we just needed to get this over with.

We PUTTERED down the trail. I was actually hoping for a moose to show up to pick things up by this point.

The good thing was they didn't seem to be thinking of quitting at all, they were content to move down the trail, just REALLY slowly. 

When we hit the Topkok Hills they again didn't back off, they climbed steadily but slowly.

When you crest the last of the Topkok Hills you can see the whole coast spread out below you. There is a series of 3 shelter cabins along the start of the coast. The deadly 'BlowHole' occurs along this stretch and the rule of thumb for mushers is that even if it is perfectly calm at the top of the hill, if you can't see any of the cabins, prepare for the worst.

It was just getting dark, but it was obvious that my run of good luck (in my 4 previous trips through it, it has always been calm) with the BlowHole was over - I could not see the shelter cabins. 

It is hard to believe standing up on that top of that hill in perfectly calm weather what you are about to descend into.

When we hit the first cabin, the legendary one where Rick Swenson holed up on his way to his 5th Iditarod victory, the storm was really starting to pick up. Sadly, at this point the trail really deteriorated.
The dogs did an admirable job of  finding the trail, but with the ice, wind, my level of frustration and lack of markers I was not able to sort my way across and ended up backtracking to the shelter cabin.
There were two pretty drunk, but very nice 'Nome-ites' there who encouraged me to stay awhile. They warned me that the trail got much worse further out. I gracefully declined, but accepted some guidance in finding the trail.

The dogs were NOT happy to go over the same bit of bad trail again but they did it. I figured I had messed around and cost myself at least a couple hours by the time I got across the 'pond'. More reason to be frustrated with myself.

As soon as we crossed the pond things did indeed get worse - unbelievably worse actually. I was so sick of wind, the dogs were so sick of wind, but they actually ran pretty darn well through this section. I think they just wanted out - me too!!!!
Just before the last shelter cabin, Jaimee Kinzler passed me like a freight train. Her dogs were flying. I was unbelievably jealous.

We passed out of the Blow Hole in the blink of an eye. It was kind of creepy actually.

Without the challenge of the storm, the dog team really fell apart. I messed around with leaders, snacked, loved everybody up, and tried about everything else I knew to get them back to no avail.
A few miles from Safety, all our frustration levels exploded into a quick dog fight. Crunchie - who NEVER fights - and Astro were the key players but everyone was on edge.
I stopped, rearranged everyone, and kind of got things settled again.

In 'BANG-my-head-on-the-driving-bow' fashion we crawled into Safety.


The Heartbeats said...

I swear, I try telling people that dogs get grumpy just like humans and they never believe me. Sounds like your team was just as tired and grumpy as you! LOL My dogs get grumpy and we always have an altercation...I've got a scar to prove it.

Hope things pick up!

Mamma Heartbeat

Anonymous said...

Wow! what a really rough ride that one was.


Jenny Glen said...

Do you ever have dreams, "nightmares" where you are on the trail and the dogs won't go forward? When I used to do protection training with my dogs, I would have dreams where I was being attacked by a stranger and the dog would bite but not hard enough to save me. It just reminded me of that when you said you laid down to sleep and I was wondering if you had that kind of a nightmare - or maybe you were too tired to dream? :)