Wednesday, 8 March 2017

2003 Memories

My goodness, it has been FOREVER since I've blogged.

It's been a miserable winter and there are lots of changes going on in my life, so just haven't been in the mood to 'prattle'.

However, my mind has been wandering down the Iditarod Trail a bit - okay, maybe a lot - this week and I felt inspired to post.

As I'm sure most of you know, the Iditarod had to move the start to Fairbanks again this winter. This is the third time it has happened - and the first time I've sat at home and watched it.

In '15 I was judging in Tananna and we were so very busy that I didn't have a single moment to reflect on my memories of running to and from there in '03. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday morning, when I was (rather wistfully) thinking about what the current mushers were going through that it actually occurred to me that I had run that trail.

Since then bits and pieces of it have been drifting back to me and I thought I'd share some of them with you.

So here goes -

I don't have much recollection of the start (forgive me, it was 14 years ago) which was on the Chena River that time, other then the 'reassurance' that if our trucks went through the ice - which seemed very 'saggy' - we wouldn't sink above the wheels. ;)

A few miles down the Chena, Susan Butcher was sitting on a snow machine watching teams go by. She said 'Hi Karen' as I trotted by and I was thrilled she actually recognized me.
I remember wondering what she was thinking, watching all of us head out - for the record,  I think I know the answer to that now.

Rick Swenson caught up with us and chatted a bit as he passed. I pretty much idolized Rick (then and now) and was delighted to answer his questions about my team. "Looking good", he said as the distance between us increased.

I don't remember details of Nenanna - what I remember was general chaos and, after a rest, my delight to be out of there.

On the long run to Manley the stress and excitement from the start caught up with me and I struggled to stay awake. All I recall is swamps, lakes and passing by Charlie and Robin Boulding's cabin. And be aware - in the state of mind I was in - remembering swamps, lakes and cabins doesn't mean there was swamps. lakes and cabins.  During the '04 Iditarod I was shocked to find that Golovin was on a spit on the Arctic Ocean - I would have SWORE I ran along a tree lined river to get to it in '01.

In Manley, sprint musher Don Cousins, a fellow Albertan, was there helping park teams. Despite living about an hour from him for over 10 years, we had never met. He patiently introduced himself a few times before who he was actually sunk in to my groggy brain.

I remember a lovely dog lot and a terrific warm 2 storey building for mushers to sleep in. I'm surprised it is still standing though as a few mushers were snoring so loudly that I swear the walls were moving (names are being withheld to protect the not so innocent!)

There was some talk of a hard to find trail across a local lake and I have a vague memory of picking my leaving time to accommodate that bit of trail - which was ultimately no problem.  There was a SHARP drop just out of Manley that no one had said anything about - that had the distinction of being the ONLY bit of sled on the 'new' trail that you actually had to 'drive' a sled on. My fancy brand new Gatt sled and I handled it with more grace than I thought possible.

Nighttime came and lack of sleep again caught me. Following a narrow creek I got NAILED by a nasty 'sweeper' (tree branch hanging low over the trail), knocking my headlamp off and leaving a nasty bump on my head. Now WIDE AWAKE I took a few moments to sort myself out and give my head a shake.

Like 2015, Tananna was excited to have Iditarod visit and rolled out the red carpet for us. The sun was shining and we all had a lovely rest there. One of my FAVOURITE people to share the trail with, Palmer Shagoonik shared some 'Eskimo Ice Cream' with me. That was my first taste of 'eskimo' food and it was pretty good (missing John Baker's 'eskimo salad' this year. He knows I like it and if he has leftovers in his drop bag will leave it for me in checkpoints I'm judging in).

I believe the decision to move the start was done later in '03 than '15 and this year and in all the 'confusion' the village didn't get enough HEET for everyone. We had 2 options - wait for a plane that was due to arrive 'soon' or use 'red bottle' HEET. "How different could the 2 types of HEET be", I thought.
For any of you that might find yourself in that situation one day, let me be clear - WAIT FOR THE PLANE. Red bottle HEET does not burn NEAR as clean. My cooker was a MESS and I don't think my lungs will ever be the same.
And oh.....I watched the plane circle and land from down on the river within sight of town. I'd like to say I've conquered my impatience in the 14 years since, but I really haven't.

Many hours into the 120 mile run I passed a cabin at the on a small island on the river. There were a BUNCH of teams camping. I stopped and chatted with one of the mushers for a moment, but it was sooner then I wanted to stop and it looked really crowded, so I kept going and camped at a small pullout on the river a few hours later. We camped uneventfully till well after dark.

My next memory is one of the most memorable in my Iditarod 'career'.

It was about 2am and the trail had drifted out more into the middle of the Yukon River, far from the banks. The dogs were traveling nicely and I was getting into the 'sleep deprivation zone' and felt pretty awake - though I wasn't sharply focused on the trail as nothing needed me to be. River running usually doesn't require a lot of attention. I think I was listening to music, although I didn't get my first iPod till '04 so didn't listen to a lot of music prior to that.

Anyway, we were cruising along when something BUMPED me on the back of my calves. Mushers often travel without headlamps on on nights like this - and if another team comes up behind you on a narrow trail, the leaders may bump into you, at which point their amused musher will flip their light on and holler 'TRAIL' (yeah, we can be a sadistic bunch when it comes to dealing with each other). I turned around to see whose team had caught me to see ....NOTHING. And I mean nothing. I could see a long way back in the moonlight and there was no one for miles and miles.

I glanced around a bit more, shrugged and turned back to my team.

A bit later - the EXACT same thing happened.

I didn't feel threatened or scared - and my dogs seemed oblivious (and I've had another 'odd' encounter in '04 where they were absolutely not oblivious). I consoled myself thinking that 'whatever' presence I was hanging out with on this trail likely hadn't seen a dog team here in a LONG time - and was most likely not displeased to have us back.

Several hours later Gerry Sousa caught up with us. I was going to ask him if he 'felt' anything out there, but he was in a pretty bad mood and I just got out of his way. And just for the record, I had never met Gerry before and was a bit put off at our encounter. As soon as I pulled into Ruby, Gerry found me and apologized for his demeanour on the trail. I was impressed.
I've shared the trail with him many times since and he has never since been anything but pleasant and easy to be around!

From Ruby on my memories blend with many other years of moments and memories - well, except for the moose soup with Palmer in Nulato, the bad burn on my fingers from my cooker (and the vets popping the blisters for me in Eagle River), having cigars with Jim Gallea and Tyrell Seavey on the Yukon (don't think your Mom will mind reading about it now Tyrell), the traveling disco that was Jeff King, and that case of Giardia - but those are stories for a different day.

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