Sunday 31 December 2000

December 31, 2000

A belated Merry Christmas to all!! The Nelson’s were nice enough to include me in their Christmas celebration, so it wasn’t as hard to be away from my family over the Holidays! Mark had his parents visiting, so he had company and good food for Christmas too!! 

We were back out and running on the 26th, of course. On the 28th we did a nice long, all day run with the dogs. Mine came back into the yard barking and jumping looking for their dinner - that was really great to see. 

I’ve made a couple cuts from the group of 23.  Spider and Jumper won’t be making the trek up to Alaska this time, but as Mark reminded me - both are young and will be contenders again next year!  That leaves only 1 more to cut before the trip now. 

I’ve started to do some planning for the Grand Portage Passage Race. I’m thinking the dogs I vet check in will be Butch, Sissy, Oreo, Nik, Smiley, Orion, Raptor, Chester, Gus, Draco, Mannie, Keesa, and Surge. From that I will need to pick 12 to run the Race with me. I’m not ‘racing’ this Race, rather using it as a training tool for Alaska, so the dogs were selected based on how much I thought they could use the experience.  It will be a great testing ground for up and coming leaders too!!

Jamie and I took yesterday off and heading up to Orr, Minnesota to watch a sprint race there. Ann Stead, who teaches Mushing Boot Camps with Jamie and from who I bought Visa, was there and both of us were keen to watch her run. There were some really nice Siberian teams and folks there and I was glad to get the chance to meet many of them.  No offense to you sprint folks out there, but I did remember why it is that I don’t do that style of racing anymore - all that work for under 20 minutes of mushing!!! I’m way to lazy for that! 

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!! 

Wednesday 20 December 2000

December 20, 2000

Wow - what a whirlwind few weeks!! First off, my trip to Alaska for the Rookie’s Meeting went really well. The night before I left Mark Nordman, Iditarod Race Marshall called and asked me to speak at the Meeting. He wanted me to talk about the things I felt I did right and the things I felt I did wrong as a rookie last year. So I spent the plane trip organizing and putting those thoughts onto paper. That was an excellent exercise. Although I have put much thought and discussion into this very subject over the year, it was really good to have to condense things into a few points and write it out. 

In Alaska I stayed with friends Carol Nash and John Linnehan. As always, they treated me terrific and we had a great time visiting. Carol and John have one of the most extensive northern culture/dog book collections I’ve ever seen. I found it hard to get any rest with all those books calling out to me. I borrowed a few for my trip out to Minnesota. One I have already finished and REALLY enjoyed was ‘Shadows on the Koyukuk’ by Sidney Huntington.

The Iditarod Rookie’s Meeting was held over 2 days this year. Among the speakers were Rick Swenson, Martin Buser, Juan Alcina, Andy Willis, Dr. Stu Nelson and yours truly! I actually enjoyed this year’s meeting much more then last year. One of the highlights of the weekend was getting to meet Aliy Zirkle - winner of last year’s Yukon Quest. Aliy is a rookie in this year’s Iditarod. I had heard she is a really terrific person and found that to be absolutely true.

All and all an enjoyable and educational weekend!!

I got back home on Monday night and at 6 am Wednesday morning packed up and headed for Minnesota. Folks have been pestering me to find out which dogs made the trip - so here goes J . I actually took 23, as I was unable to cut the number down to 20 and they are (in no particular order):
  • NorthWapiti’s Super Grover (Iditarod veteran)
  • NorthWapiti’s Guy Smiley (Iditarod veteran)
  • NorthWapiti’s Mr. Snuffleupagus (Gus) (Iditarod veteran)
  • NorthWapiti’s Camilla (Iditarod veteran)
  • NorthWapiti’s Orion the Hunter (Iditarod veteran)
  • NorthWapiti’s Draco
  • NorthWapiti’s Butch Cassidy SD (Iditarod veteran)
  • Chuchinka’s Torino (Mork)
  • Chuchinka’s Pathfinder (Chester) (Iditarod veteran)
  • Tumnatki’s Bosun NorthWapiti (Striker) (Iditarod veteran)
  • Chuchinka’s Nicholas II (Nik)
  • Chuchinka’s Raptor
  • Westaskiwin’s Sir Gallahad (Surge)
  •  Ch. NorthWapiti’s Oreo (Iditarod veteran)
  • Hawk’s NorthWapiti Vindicator (Jake) (Iditarod veteran)
  • Ch. Kainai’s Anchorman (Mannie)
  • The Flying Nun of NorthWapiti (Sissy) (Iditarod veteran)
  • Chuchinka’s San Antonio Rose (Kaylinn)
  • Alaskan’s Georgio of Anadyr (Joey)
  • Alaskan’s Jumper of Anadyr
  • Alaskan’ Kessa of Anadyr (Keesa)
  • NorthWapiti’s Cassiopeia
  • Kainai’s Spider
Some really good dogs were left at home this year too - it is nice to have that sort of ‘depth’ in the kennel!

Norman as gone to Red Deer to work on our friends, Jackie Wepruk and Rick Austin’s team for the winter. Jetti is heading down that way too shortly, as we are going to breed her to Norman as soon as she decides to come into season. Rick and Jackie has been kind enough to offer to supervise the breeding, as both Mark and I will probably be gone.

A few of the dogs have actually left for good. Sunny and Rowdy have gone to help establish a team in Ontario. And Sammie has also moved on to a life of luxury in Ontario, but with a different person! It was tough to watch the 3 of them go, especially Sunny - who was a real favorite, but I know they are in great homes and will get lots of love and attention.  

The trip out to Minnesota was pretty uneventful - thank goodness! We all got down here safely and the dogs are out in a section of Jamie’s yard. I keep teasing her that I’m going to take pictures and start the rumor that she is making the switch to Siberians!!

The weekend after I got here, Jamie had her Moccasin Run. The trail had to be altered a little due to snow and trail conditions, but we ended up doing right around 200 miles of running, all on sleds! It was actually my first time standing on the back of a sled since Shaktoolik last year, as there was no snow at home when we got back from Iditarod. Miles on the quad seem okay and fun until you get back on the sled. There is no form of travel nicer, in my mind, then behind a dog team in the snow!! The Run went great, with about 7 teams participating. Everyone seemed to find it an educational and worthwhile event - I know I sure did!

The dogs seemed somewhat flat after their trip and all, but are beginning to turn around already. I think maybe my expectations for them were little high too! As I mentioned in my last diary entry, training is full of highs and lows and I might have forgotten that for a bit and thought that last high was going to last forever. 

More soon!!

Monday 27 November 2000

November 27, 2000

It has occurred to me that I only have 2 ½ weeks left before I’m off on my adventures. It is scary to think of all the work still to be done!

Today and tomorrow I have a friend coming up from Red Deer to help with some things with the dogs that I want to get done. We are going to do individual groundwork with each of the 24 ‘A’ team dogs, brushing them all up on holding lines tight and reinforcing what the word ‘HIKE’ means. I’m also hoping that we can find time to get all 8 of the pups (Yahoo, Dot, Meg, Kluane, Nahanni, Terra, Kobuk, and Denali) in harness for the first time. I always enjoy working pups! It is so neat to see their instinct kick in and see them take so quickly to running in harness. 

Well, I guess I kinda' let the cat out of the bag…yes, we are down to a pool of 24 ‘A’ team dogs. Out of this pool, 20 will need to be selected for the trip to Minnesota, and barring any disaster, those 20 will be the ones that go up to Alaska. I’m going to hold off naming the dogs until that final cut is made. So watch for the announcement in the next few weeks! I must admit, there have been and will be some more tough decisions to make. 

This past weekend was another good one of running. We did around 100 miles. Unfortunately, the frozen, snow-less roads are starting to take their toll on the dog’s feet. Nothing too serious, but foot massages and some ointments were definitely called for at the end of the day. 

On Sunday we were heading down our muskeg trail when a couple whitetail deer bounced out in front of Mark’s team. We went from a good, steady pace to warp speed in about 2 seconds. A Porsche would have had a hard time keeping up us!! That bumpy, frozen ground was hard on the ol’ quad drivers – I think it took a full 5 minutes for my eyeballs to stop rattling in my head!!! Sure was fun for the dogs though! It was a weekend full of wildlife, we had sightings of a few more whitetails, a couple coyotes and a beautiful Great Horned Owl – very enjoyable!

Saturday we ventured down south to the community of Tawatinaw.  The trails were really good and except for coming close to running the team down the Tawatinaw Ski Hill the run was nice and uneventful. Coming home along a little road that winds along next to the Tawatinaw River, we were stopped by a few surprised residents that weren’t aware there were dog teams living and training in the area. The dogs always love the opportunity to visit and get some scratches and petting. Rough, tough sled dog – HA- they are a bunch of big lap dogs!!

Well, today is Election Day in Canada, so I’m off to pay my respects to all those who so bravely fought and died to maintain this right for us! I hope my fellow Canadians will do the same and vote – regardless of whether or not we like the choices presented to us! Hopefully, we will fair better then our friends south of the border and will be able to announce a winner tonight!

Wednesday 22 November 2000

November 22, 2000

First off, huge thanks to June Price of Deland, Florida!!! It was looking like I was going to be computer-less this year for the time I was in Minnesota and Alaska. I mentioned it in passing in an email to June and she emailed me back offering the use of laptop for the winter!! I’m just hoping that counting irregularities aren’t too rampant in Florida – maybe she counted that she had two laptops and really only had one! (Sorry, June I just couldn’t resist!)

Actually, I was also offered a laptop by Ann Hernandez, who is the computer whiz that helps me out with this Website.  I am very lucky to have such generous and thoughtful friends! Mark and I are really grateful to all those that are so supportive, in so many different ways!! 

We had another good weekend of training, putting a series of 30 – 40 mile runs on the teams. We did a lot of traveling on the roads and a few of the dogs came up with tender feet, but nothing serious. A little foot ointment and some booties and they were happy and working away again! Mark had fun on Saturday. We had taken different routes home and while he was heading down the road, a young yellow lab puppy started following him. The puppy got far enough from home that Mark was worried it would get lost going back, so he turned his 12 dog team around to take the puppy back. While he was up front doing this the spunky little Lab jumped up on the seat of his 4 wheeler and proceeded to bark instructions to them! The little guy seemed awful happy to accept the free ride home! Mark said it was just the cutest thing!

I had my last root canal on Monday. It was AWFUL compared to the first one. I’m really glad that is all behind me. I took yesterday off running and didn’t do much of anything. I’m reading a neat little old book called Dogsled by Slim Randles.  It the story of Slim’s adventure in Alaska by dogteam for the Anchorage Daily News. This occurred in the ‘pre-Iditarod’ days and it is really interesting to see how views and techniques have changed in 30 years! 

Today I’m going to do a short 20 or so mile run, as I have to be in the city this evening to do a presentation for the Northern Alberta Mushers Association. I quite looking forward to it!!  

Well, all for today – I need to get out the door and get that team hooked up!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 15 November 2000

November 15, 2000

Well, just like the ground, plans for the winter are starting to firm up!!  I booked my plane ticket to Anchorage for the Iditarod Rookies Meeting. I leave December 7 and will return on the 11th. On the 12th or 13th I’m packing up the 20 dogs and heading to Minnesota. I’ll be staying and training with Jamie Nelson. We are planning for a 260-mile trip the weekend I get there and then I’m running the Grand Portage Passage 300-mile race starting January 21. As soon as I finish that, I’ll be packing up for home. I’m hoping to have been home, repacked, and organized to head to Alaska by January 30, but that may be pushing it somewhat. My Iditarod food drops have to be in by February 14, so I have to be up there well prior to that. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any one able to come out to Minnesota with me, which would have made everything a little easier, but I’ll will just have a manage without!

The dogs are doing just terrific in harness. I had been concerned about a few things during training, but that just seemed to be a phase they had to work through and now they are rockin’! Happy, sassy, and strong – they are a delight to work with lately!  I know the season will hold many more ups and downs for us, so I’m making sure to enjoy this ‘up’ while it lasts!! 

So today I have chosen to introduce readers to Nik, Chuchinka’s Nicholas II. This grey and white boy with one blue eye and one brown eye came to us this summer from Robin and Ed Claussen, where he had been a member of their sprint team. Nik has crossed over to our style of running very well, however he is quite the dog to live with!! He doesn’t bark – he screams…at feeding time, at hookup, when the barbecue is turned on (don’t ask me – I have no clue why!). It drives me NUTS!!!  I think that makes it even more enjoyable for him.  Nik also has this manner of sitting on his house that so much reminds me of Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip. Specifically, Snoopy when he is pretending to be a vulture. Nik hunches his shoulders ever so slightly and peers down his nose at everything going on around him.  He also has the appetite of a vulture! Just the other day I was walking through the yard wearing a pair of gloves that were missing the tip of one of the fingers. Nik just assumed that the pink tip of my finger was something edible in my hand and made a dive for it. Luckily, I was quicker then him!! 

He ‘attacks’ every meal that is put in front of him! In fact, he lunges so keenly for snacks in harness that he usually missing catching them in the air, like most of the dogs, and it bounces off his nose and out of reach. This results in a bout of screaming and panicking until I can recover the treat and get it to him!
Although he probably sounds like a difficult dog, I just adore him!! I really love a dog with an interesting and unique personality – and Nik certainly fits that description! I really think he will make the team this year. I have great hopes for his future as a leader, but I don’t know if that will happen this season!

Monday 13 November 2000

November 13, 2000

What a weekend! We did a series of runs with the dogs from Friday night to Sunday morning, totally around 100 miles. They were terrific! I’m so pleased. Everyone still had lots of spunk and energy after!
I had Surge and Orion in lead for all but the last 17-mile leg. I decided I didn’t want to stress young Surge too much, so Grover got to go up front with Orion for that last bit.  I need to do some ground work with Orion and work on the “HIKE’ command with him. He really doesn’t seem to understand what it means and waits for everyone else to start moving before he goes. Not a good thing for a leader and something I will work on this week.

Mark had Gus and Smiley in lead for his whole run. Gus actually had his tug line break on the second leg of the weekend and took off into the dark. Luckily, when he realized the rest of the team wasn’t with him, he turned around and came back – what a good guy!!

The weather has been cool, which is nice for the dogs, but we had to get a lot of our winter clothing out of storage! The moon was full and Saturday night on the trail was spectacular. Both of us came into the yard at 1am with our headlights off, as it was so bright the dogs were throwing shadows on the snow! I love running at night when it is like that.  

My root canal on Thursday went pretty well. One down, one to go. I’m in to town this Thursday and again the following Monday for the rest of the work. Teach me to stall off on those dentist appointments for years and years!  

Well, I need to run. Mark’s car was in for an oil change on the weekend and I need to drive him into town to pick it up.

Wednesday 8 November 2000

November 8, 2000

I'm giving the dogs 3 days off, so I’m trying to catch up on all my email, website stuff, phone calls, etc. 

I’m happy to let everyone know that our 2001 t-shirts, sweatshirts, ballcaps, prints, and other fundraising items are now available to order. I’m so excited about the little Maple Foot the stuffed husky! Bonnie and Dave Lundberg donated these stuffed cuties. Bonnie put some of her many talents to work and customized this little guy so it was obvious he is a NorthWapiti kennels mascot! Many thanks to Donna Lutz for all her help with this project too! 

Well, the weather has taken a turn for the ‘better’. An inch or so of snow fell last weekend. It is just amazing - on Friday we ran the dogs 35 miles and we had to stop 4 times to water them. On Sunday, with just that inch of snow on the ground, we stopped once and they all declined the drink!! They were in great spirits on Sunday and just SMOKED through their run. I had Surge and Orion in lead – what a GREAT combination that was. I was leery as I was hooking them up, because they are both young, inexperienced leaders, but they did super. Even taking Gee/Haw commands like old pros!!  This weekend we are going to try to get in 2 nice, long, back-to-back runs. I’m getting a root canal done on Thursday (tomorrow – YIKES!), so hopefully I will be feeling up to it!  

Iditarod supplies are starting to stack up around the house. I got some neat new shoulder coats from Mountain Ridge Supplies the other day. They are designed so you can slip one of those chemical hand warmers in them, to help with any aches or pains in a dog's shoulders! Very neat! As minor shoulder injuries were the reason for dropping Gus, Spud, and Smiley last year, I expect these to be a big help on the trail.  

I’m trying to remember to buy Ziploc bags every time I’m in town. It is unbelievable the number of Ziplocs you go through on the Race.  I should buy shares!! I’ve also got a few boxes of Cinnamon and brown sugar Pop Tarts that have been mailed to me. Seems you can’t get this flavor in Canada and I fell in love with them on Iditarod last year, so some internet friends have been kind enough to ship some up!!  

Well, as promised, I’m introducing some of the new team members. This time I’m going to pick on Rosie. Rosie, aka Willo’s Wildrose at N’Wapiti, may be familiar to some of you, as I have been discussing her show ring adventures throughout the summer. She is just under 2 years old and a little dynamo in harness. No wonder, her Daddy is Wayne and Chris Curtis’s Ch. Stormwatch’s Montana SDO – the only Champion show dog to ever finish the Iditarod, which he has done 2x (and finished the Yukon Quest once). Although Rosie is a few points short of her Championship this year, we expect her to one day join her Dad in the Siberian Husky history books! Lois and Bill Leonard of Wisconsin bred Rosie, who is named for her light red color.  

I have a cool story about Lois. Although I had purchased Rosie from her, we had never met in person. At the Iditarod Pre Race Banquet last year, I was going through the line that forms to catch mushers coming off the stage to sign posters and such. I spoke briefly to a lady and the woman next to her smiled and said to her “She doesn’t know who you are!” I raised my eyebrows at her and she introduced herself as Lois! What a neat surprise! This year I believe Lois is coming up for the Race again – I’m sure Rosie won’t have any trouble recognizing her!

All for today – I’m off to make dinner!!

Tuesday 24 October 2000

October 24, 2000

Man, are we discouraged! The weather here continues to be unseasonably warm. Yesterday evening I actually saw people walking around the city in shorts!!! Mark and I might be the only people in northern Alberta complaining about the temperatures! We are keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t last for too much longer!!

I was in Edmonton over the weekend for a dog show. I thought Rosie and Smiley looked and behaved great. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t see it the same way and we didn’t walk away with any wins! In 2 weeks we are doing 1 day of a Show in Red Deer, that will be our last show until sometime late next spring. 

I’ve been busy working on planning. I put my Race Plan down on paper last week. Of course, the best laid plans can get tossed out the window on Day 1 of the Race, but planning out a schedule helps me organize myself and my food drops. Last year I was very close to my estimated trail times but with the broken sled in Rainy Pass and other issues, my rest times were all off ‘the Plan’. This year’s plan has better rest times – with alittle luck on my side, I’ll be able to stick closer to it! 

I thought that I’d take some space in the diary entries to introduce everyone to some of the new dogs in the team. The first I’m going to talk about is one of our exciting young ‘up and comers’ – Wetaskiwin’s Sir Gallahad. ‘Surge’, as he is known, will be 2 years old on December 24. Two summers ago we sold NorthWapiti’s Ginger Grant to Sam and Britton Burton in Iowa. Ginger went down bred to NorthWapiti’s Butch Cassidy and part of the purchase price was that we got a puppy back from the litter. When I was in Minnesota in the spring of ’99 I met up with Sam and picked out Surge. Burton’s had been calling him ‘Laddie’, but in our minds that just didn’t suit him, so Mark came up with the name ‘Surge’. Surge and I got some quality bonding during that trip. His nights were spent curled up in my sleeping bag and even after getting back home, he shared the bed with us. That was until he got so big that the three of us didn’t all fit! After that it was out to the kennel! 

After a few eventful trips to the city with the pup, he picked up the nickname ‘Surge the Purge’ that has basically stuck with him. Although, with age he has gotten much better control of his bladder and bowels (thank goodness!!!!) 

Surge has been working hard for a spot on this year’s team. When we were back in Minnesota a few months back he decided to show us his potential as a leader. Since then he has been spending a lot of time in the front of the team. He is not the fastest dog, but he is a fantastic puller and has a tremendous work ethic. He is absolutely one of Karen’s favorites!

Surge has been sponsored this year by P. Jill Frick of Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday 17 October 2000

October 17, 2000

I’m trying to get back into the swing of more regular updates to the diary. The year everything seems to be quite behind last year, everything but the training on the dogs – which is right on schedule! And that is the most important thing!

Our limited edition prints ‘In the Middle of Somewhere’ are in and will be in the mail to Sponsors and purchasers very quickly. T-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts are in the works and should be available pretty soon! We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a REALLY neat fundraising item, generously donated by Bonnie Lundberg of Romantix. It is an adorable little stuffed black and white Siberian with a maple leaf embroidered on his foot! He has been customized with a little flag with our kennel logo around his neck and some nifty packaging. Seventy-five of these guys will be available soon!

Things in the kennel are going well. We had a great run on Sunday. It is nice to get back on some of the trails that we haven’t seen since last fall. Sunday saw us back on our ‘Muskeg Trail’. Three miles of this 20-mile loop go through a big batch of muskeg. For those of you that don’t know what this is, imagine run on miles and miles of peat moss with water and mud underneath. Some muskeg is quite dangerous for animals and vehicles as they can sink into these bogs and struggling to get out only gets you in deeper. This particular batch is not bad, in fact this is the first year I have seen any water under the surface. The trees in the area are all stunted ‘swamp spruce’, under the trees are paths made by all kinds of small rodents and their predators. It looks just like a world of miniatures. The teams seemed to enjoy being back on this trail and literately roared through the rough and bumpy terrain.

There are a few more of last year’s trails that I hope to get back on sometimes this week.

This is going to get labeled ‘Bath Week’ too (not for Mark and I, we bath more regularly then that – although, some days after wallowing around in the dirt with the dogs you wouldn’t know it!). The housedogs, Libby and Skeeter got bathed on Sunday – much to their dismay! Skeeter is 16 and deeply resents anything that takes him away from sleeping. Like a grouchy, old man he snarls and mumbles through the whole thing.

Also in the tub, probably for the first time in her life, was Jumper. Her coat has been ratty looking for awhile and she is just starting to shed, so a bath seemed like a good idea. Her eyes got HUGE when I turn the big cool air dryer on her (to blow out loose hair and dirt), but after a moment of panic, she settled right down. The tub got about the same reaction. But once she was done she was so pleased with herself – I don’t think she realized what a foxy little lady she was under all that dirt and old coat!

This weekend is another dog show, again in Edmonton, so Rosie and Smiley will be in for their baths this week too! I’m gonna have dishpan hands by the time this week is over!

Friday 13 October 2000

October 13, 2000

I always find it amazing just how quickly the seasons change. It seems like just yesterday that it was bright and sunny when we got up at 5am. The birds would be singing and everything gorgeous and green. Now, in the blink of an eye, it seems – it is pitch black out at 5am, most of the birds have migrated, the leaves have turned and fallen off the trees. Despite it all, this is one of my favorite times of year. We can run dogs almost everyday, the planning and organizing for this season’s Races are well under way, the dogs are all spunky, noisy, and keen to get working…I love that nip in the air and the smell of fall! A few weeks ago Mark and I were out on a training camping trip. We ran 13 miles, camped the teams for 2 hours and then ran 16 miles home, it was the peak of the fall leaf change and watching the sun come up over the River valley, filled with all those gorgeous colors was great!

Fall has had a few bumps in the road for us this year. First, there was the passing of Icey in September. Just a few weeks later, our first Siberian Husky, Meomar’s Miss Liberty became very ill. Libby was diagnosed with liver and some intestinal problems. It seemed touch and go there for awhile, but being the stubborn Siberian she is, in recent days she has rallied and is now doing pretty good! At 13, we know our time with her will not go on forever, so she has moved into the house full time so we can all enjoy whatever time we do have left together.

Just last week another NorthWapiti dog passed on. NorthWapiti’s Ginger Grant, mother to Surge, Norman, Grover, Gus, Smiley, and Camilla and owned for the last 2 years by Sam and Britton Burton of Iowa died unexpectedly. We are very sad, but Sam and especially, Britton, are devastated. Our thoughts go out to them at this difficult time.

Training has been going quite well. The dogs are looking very strong and, I think, working much better then at this time last year. I discovered just how strong last weekend! We were running in the dark when all of a sudden my team indicated there was something ‘exciting’ on the side of the road. I swung my headlight over and saw a big, fat porcupine sitting there. My futile cries at ‘ON BY’ didn’t even slow down them as they headed after him. We were already level with the prickly guy, so there was nothing I could do but watch and pray that he would waddle out of the way fast enough. My leaders ended up about 1 foot from him. He was waddling as fast as his stumpy legs would carry him. I went to get off the quad to drag Grover and Visa back to the road and the quad started to move! It was in gear with the emergency brake on – not easy to move, for sure! I ended up just able to sit and hold the rear brake on the quad and wait for Quilly Willy to trundle off. I can just imagine the mess (and vet bill) if the team had gotten hold of him!! Now I’m paranoid that every black bump ahead on the trail is a porcupine! Goodness, I hope they hole up for the winter soon!

Sunday 1 October 2000

October 1, 2000

I'm considering going out to Minnesota with the team for the months of December and January. I'd be training and doing 2 or 3 races out that way. One of the deciding factors on whether or not I go will be if I find a handler to come with me.

I would be leaving Alberta at the beginning of December and coming home after the Grand Portage Race the 3rd week of January. Ideally, my handler could drive out with me, but I would consider meeting someone on the way. We would be staying at Jamie Nelson's in Togo, Minnesota.

Duties would primarily involve daily dog care and being my main handler for races. Actually sledding opportunities would be fairly limited, although some double sledding will probably be done.

The work will be hard, long, dirty, and smelly. The pay non existent - although I will cover all living expenses (within reason - no lobster dinners!)  The food will be less then gourmet - there is no T.V. - phone access limited - computer access not available.

If there is anyone out there that I haven't scared off - I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday 13 September 2000

Gone...but not forgotten

NorthWapiti's Meomar Iceman
(Meomar's Othello x Meomar's Constitution)
 February 26, 1995 - September 13, 2000

Icey’s Tribute
It is with deep sadness that Mark and I share the news of the passing of one of my Iditarod teammates, our dear friend, and loved family member, NorthWapiti's Meomar Iceman. Icey was a leader and commonly known as our team 'clown'. We spent last evening sharing stories of the various pranks that he has pulled on his teammates and us over the years. Everything from inflicting his unique grooming preferences on any dog in the kennel close enough to him, to stealing the food bowls from the swing dogs when our backs were turned, to his preference for sleeping on his back (Icey was the dog featured in the Anchorage Newspaper during Iditarod sleeping on his back in the McGrath checkpoint). He always made us laugh!

Icey ran in harness with the team on Saturday. On Monday morning he had a sore shoulder and didn't want to eat. On Tuesday morning, he was in the vet with a fever of 41 and a raging infection through his left shoulder muscle. On Wednesday morning he quietly died at home, with me sleeping 2" from his face with my arm around him.

The battery of tests that was being done on him as we fought for his survival and the battery of tests were done on his body provided us with only partial answers. He died from a bacterial infection of Klebsiella. The method that this bacterium used to get into his muscle tissue and the reasons his system could not fight it remain a mystery.  A small bright spot in all this is that this doesn’t appear to be something that will endanger the rest of the kennel and that they are all looking healthy and strong.

Our gratitude to Jackie and Chris Marshall of Meomar Kennels. When Icey was 6 months old, they decided he was too good a dog to live out his life in their aging dog population and INSISTED he come live and work with us. You were right guys - he was a great dog. Icey was a participant in the Beargrease, Gold Rush Trail 120, Race to the Sky, Knik 200, Klondike 300, Goose Bay 120, and the Iditarod.

It is never easy to lose a friend, but to lose a young dog (5 1/2 years), in peak physical condition, so quickly, has been particularly hard.
Major Races
John Beargrease Marathon
Gold Rush Trail 120
Race to the Sky
Knik 200
 Klondike 300
Goose Bay 120
Current Working Status
Rainbow Bridge Brigade

Tuesday 12 September 2000

September 12, 2000 - Draco the ‘Moose’ Killer

When I do schools visits and ask the kids what they think the scariest thing I can run into on the trail is, I usually get answers like ‘wolf’ or ‘bear’. Surprising to many, the answer for many mushers and myself is a moose.  Whether moose see an oncoming dog team as a pack of wolves, whether they are just too stupid to just get out of the way, or whether their moose Mommies have told them they are bigger and tougher then anything else in the forest, I’m just not sure. But the fact is that often a moose would rather stand in the middle of a trail stomping and swinging their large, empty heads then move off a hard packed trail. Each winter some sled dogs are injured and in a few extreme cases killed during these encounters. This is not one of those stories.

As I was coming home with a 12-dog team yesterday, I had to pass through a quarter section of government land that is home to a herd of cows in the summer and used by us and a few other outdoor enthusiasts for the rest of the year. This is home to numerous deer, some moose, and ‘psycho’ coyote (who I will talk more about at a later date!). One of the gates was closed and as I walked up the team to go open it, I noticed Draco carrying something in his mouth. Draco is a ‘packer’. He loves to pick things up along the trail and carry them with him. I discourage this habit for fear he will swallow some of the smaller things he finds, but he sometimes finds things that I have missed on the trail. First off I tried to determine what this was I was about to attempt to wrestle out of his jaws (there is not much worse then playing tug-o-war with something dead or rotten!). I couldn’t figure it out and finally made a grab. Draco fought hard for his prize. When finally it popped out I was amused and surprised to find him packing a 4” high STUFFED MOOSE!!! Where he picked this up and what exactly it was doing in the middle of the woods in beyond me (maybe coyote pups play with stuffed moose toys – who knows), but I am very grateful that this moose encounter ended so well. 

Well, except for the stuffed moose – covered in dog slobber and missing an eye – he was definitely the loser in this battle!

Monday 11 September 2000

September 11, 2000

What busy, but rewarding times we have had of late! It all started the weekend of August 19 and 20 when Smiley, Rosie and myself went up to Peace River for a dog show. Both the ‘kids’ ended up with some more points towards their championships!

Also traveling with us that weekend was our friend Jackie Wepruk and her amazing obedience Siberian (no, that is not a contradiction!!) – Tasha. Tasha and Jackie were the real success story of the weekend, putting the last leg on their Utility title and picking up a High Scoring Dog in Trial award along the way!!!  We were so happy for them!! Obtaining a Utility title is very difficult and they have worked long and hard for this! Way to go guys!!!!!

Two days after returning from Peace River, I packed up 24 dogs and headed out to Minnesota to do some training with my friend, Jamie Nelson. The trip down was ICKY!! The temperatures through Saskatchewan and Manitoba were in the 90’s – not pleasant for furry dogs! Once in Minnesota, the temperatures were a little better. We plowed ahead with training, despite the warm weather, taking precautions to give the dogs lots of breaks and lots of water. Everyone did really well. It is really amazing to see the way my team has progressed since I first went out to Jamie’s in March of ’99. I was very proud of them and Jamie had some nice things to say about the way they are working.
I even discovered a few new leaders in the group! Surge, Mork (!), and Orion all did very well in their first few times as leaders. Cassie and Nik showed some nice potential and will be working in lead in the upcoming months.

As always, my trip to Minnesota was hard, muddy, wet, tough, educational, inspiring, and, mostly, a lot of fun!!!  I can’t begin to explain all that I have learned and continue to learn from my time with Jamie!

On my way home from Minnesota, a strange little encounter happened. Just outside of International Falls, Minnesota I ran into some trouble with the dog truck. The engine was overheating. I was pretty sure it was a leak in the radiator, but I had never really checked fluid on a radiator before. I figured it wasn’t going to be too difficult to figure out, but was wishing Mark were around to make sure I wasn’t messing anything up. At that moment, a truck pulled into the gas station. The driver stuck his head out and said ‘ Heck, I haven’t seen you since Nome’. It was Jack Welsh, who is a Race Judge for Iditarod. Actually, he is the Race Judge that I had to turn my mail packet and race bib into when I scratched in Shaktoolik. He asked what I was doing in Minnesota. I answered that I was at Jamie’s fixing the problems I had had when I saw him in Shaktoolik. He was happy to help out with my radiator and after a little visit, I was on my way again – thinking of what a small place the world really is!
On my way back through Manitoba I spent a couple nights with Brian and Brigitte Hunter. Brigitte had been kind enough to arrange an opportunity for me to do a slide show and presentation in Winnipeg. I was very pleased to have over 30 people show up, including some Internet friends that I had not had the chance to meet before!

Once I got home, I had 2 days to get the Minnesota mud off Smiley and Rosie to get them ready for another show in Edmonton. Rosie did GREAT, picking up 6 more points. Smiley was rather distracted by Rosie being in heat and wasn’t on his best behavior, but managed to pick up another point anyway.

Phew – I get tired even typing all that! And to think – this is my ‘slow’ time of year! LOL

Monday 24 July 2000

July 24, 2000

What a week! We had plans for last week to be filled with company, but around here things never seem to go as planned! Early, early (even for me!) on Sunday morning Mark was experiencing severe abdominal pain. The second he agreed to go to the hospital, I knew he was seriously sick! Sure enough, it was his appendix. They ended up sending him by ambulance to the city of Edmonton. After over 7 hours of waiting in the Emergency room, he went in for surgery and had his appendix removed. He was allowed to come home on Monday.

Once again, big thanks go to our friend Roger Morey, who at the drop of a hat rushed over to feed the puppies on Sunday morning, fed the whole yard on Sunday night and then drove to the city to pick me up from the hospital. I don’t know how we would ever get by without Roger and his wife, Pauline!
My best friend, Lynda and her daughter were going to be in the city on Monday and had planned on staying the night at our place, but that was cancelled. Mark spent the whole week basically sleeping. He started work this morning, but will be restricted to ‘light duty’ for another week or so.

Thursday my 2000 Iditarider’s parents, Lara and Alice Baker stopped by the kennel for a visit on their way to Alaska from New Mexico. Lara has been an Iditrider himself on a couple occasions and I had met them both at the start of the Race last year. It was nice to get a chance to visit without all the commotion!
Friday friends of ours from Ponoka were supposed to be bringing their 6 dogs out for the weekend. Jackie and Rick are just starting out with their team and wanted to run with us for a bit. Unfortunately, Mark still wasn’t feeling up to par, so the visit had to be rescheduled. Jackie did come out for Saturday and Sunday and brought one of their dogs, Hugi, who is a NorthWapiti dog, out of Striker and Breezy’s 1999 litter. What a treat it was to see the handsome boy again! The weather turned out to be too warm to run anyway, but I was grateful for Jackie’s help around the yard! Especially when it came to giving the 'computer litter' their shots and removing Surge’s stitches (he had his dewclaws removed a few weeks ago). We also spend some time getting some pictures of Keesa’s litter of puppies – so hopefully I will get some of those up on the site soon! The pups are 8 weeks and so cute!!

Today I have some friends bringing their children out to play with puppies (good socializing for the pups!) and need to get into town for some more dog food – other then that, it should be a nice relaxing day!

All for now

Thursday 13 July 2000

July 13, 2000

Well, here we are – at the start of another season of diary entries! As I sit here in 30C (85F) heat, in a T-shirt and shorts, Iditarod and Alaska seems so very far away. But in reality, almost every day I am working on something to prepare for 2001.

The weather here has been very humid and warm, even in the mornings. Usually, if I get up at 5am, I can get a team out for 7 miles or so before it gets too hot. But the last week or so it has stayed warm right through the night. There is still a lot to do in the yard. The best ‘chore’ is spending time with the puppies. We have 4 – 3 month old pups out of Jetti and Mannie and 5 – 7 weeks old babes out of Keesa. All are doing really well. Jetti’s litter is our ‘computer’ litter – Crash (NorthWapiti’s System Crash), Yahoo (NorthWapiti’s Do You Yahoo), Dot (NorthWapiti Dot Com) and Meg (NorthWapiti’s Megabyte). Yesterday I put a kiddie’s pool out in their pen to help them keep cool. Crash delights in prowling through the water like a shark, attacking any of his littermates that think they want to venture in for a swim. Mark tells me he will be a star when it comes to water crossings and overflow – maybe!! Keesa’s litter will be our National Park litter. We are favoring Kobuk, Denali, Kluane, Nahanni, and Terra Nova for their names, but nothing for sure yet.

I had a lovely drive out to Jasper National Park on Tuesday (yes, I know Jasper would have been a good name, but seeing that the park mascot is a black and white bear we felt none of our grey/white pups fit the bill!). I met up with Loreen Bridges to do a dog swap. I had had a few on ‘try outs’ for the 2001 team from them, two of these were going back and Bridges had two more for me to try. This is the end of adding dogs for this season – if they are not in the yard now, they won’t be on the Iditarod team for this year!

Anyway, back to Jasper. We had a lovely visit and the Park was incredibly beautiful. With the wet spring and summer we had, the wildflowers were everywhere. I saw some many mountain goats and a couple of big bull elk with their antlers in velvet. Those Park bull elk are so big, they look fake! Magnificent animals! For those of you that are not aware, that is where our kennel name comes from. Wapiti is a native Indian word for elk.

Iditarod entries opened June 25. I was one of 51 mushers that signed up on the first day. Unfortunately, finances did not allow for me to go up to Wasilla and take in all the opening day festivities. I was though, making good use of my time - I was at a dog show in Grande Prairie. A couple exciting things happened that weekend. First off, I was able to do my Iditarod slide show and presentation while up there. Grande Prairie was my home for 9 years, and it was such a treat to share my adventure with so many of my close friends. The other exciting thing was that Mannie finished his Championship, so he is now officially known as Ch. Kainai’s Anchorman. What a fun time that weekend proved to be!

Well, that’s the news for right now!

Wednesday 7 June 2000

Post Race - June 7, 2000

Well, the decision has been made for sure – I intend to go back and run the Race again next year. We had originally hoped to take 2001 off of Iditarod and recoup financially, but now this seems like unfinished business that we need to take care of sooner rather then later.

Sundance, Norman, Rowdy, Slik, and, possibly, Sammie are also looking for new homes.
Gilligan has moved into a retirement home down the road from us with Roger and Pauline Morey. Roger is the gentleman responsible for our great looking dog boxes.

Buddy, Spud, Howl, and Breezy have all also retired. They will all be living out their retirement years with us. Breezy actually went out a few weeks after we got home from Alaska and took a Best of Opposite Sex win at a regional Siberian Husky Specialty in Edmonton. Not bad for an old, workin’ dog.
Oreo turned out not to be pregnant. Sissy was, but sadly her 2 pups died shortly before they were born. That was a sad thing – we were looking forward to Iditarod babies. She is doing well – we had her spayed, so I won’t run into the same problem next year.

Keesa whelped 5 adorable pups on May 27th. In addition, we had had Jetti bred while we were up in Alaska. Her 5 babies are now almost 8 weeks old. I’m having a blast playing with puppies!
I like to thank everyone that has been so supportive of us over the last year. I hope that telling some of the stories of the trail has, in some small way, paid back some of this.

We will be starting our 2001 fundraising shortly. Denise is working on a new limited edition print for us. This one will depict one of my favorite memories from the 2000 Race. Please keep watching this site for all the new information! The diaries will continue, after all, I’m already training for next year!

Wednesday 22 March 2000

March 22, 2000

Hello again and thank you for following our Iditarod adventure!

You may have read that I had to scratch from the race, some were concerned for our well being.
The Iditarod was truly the most WONDERFUL experience of my life. Every day was filled with wonderful, unforgettable moments and challenges. I will try over the next few weeks to share some of the 'tales of the trails', but first off - I'll share the final story.

By the time I left Shaktoolik, I had dropped five dogs. Four of them were key leaders: Spud (dropped in Nikkolai), Gus (dropped in Cripple), Camilla (dropped in Cripple), and Buddy (dropped in Shaktoolik). Spud and Buddy are my veteran, main leaders. The simple fact of the matter is that when I went to leave Shaktoolik, I just didn't have a 'strong' enough front end to get out of the checkpoint. Leaving checkpoints is usually more difficult later in a race and Shaktoolik is legendary for being difficult to get out of. I struggled with the team for close to two hours on the ice and then turned back to the checkpoint. I gave them another six hours rest and tried again. This time I spent over five hours out there, much of the time walking in front of the team to get them going. During this time, three teams passed by and when I couldn't get my team to follow them - I knew my race was over.

I don't really think that the sea ice was a factor in this. The sea ice is not glare ice (which we had been over many times during the course of the Race, and which my dogs excelled at), but rather a flat, vast, featureless terrain that can be mentally intimidating to mushers and teams. But for my team - at that particular time, I think a winding, treed trail would have been a insurmountable obstacle as well. Of course, I am very disappointed that I was unable to finish the Race - we were so close, but I am proud of my dogs and blame them for nothing. They did the very best they could.

A few of the dogs will be retired and a few others are for sale to select homes. The rest will be back with me NEXT YEAR - yes, we are juggling the finances and getting ready to kick off our fundraising for next year. Originally, the plan was to spend this year recouping financially from the Race, however Mark and I both feel that this is now unfinished business that needs to be taken care of sooner rather then later. I thank you all for your interest and concern about the dogs and I. It has been very touching (and healing) to read many of the messages that have shown up in my mailbox and on the various lists. Stories to follow soon!

Friday 17 March 2000


When we landed in Nome, Mark, my brother, Jim and Jamie Nelson’s husband, Ken were all waiting for me. Many hugs and tears later we got the dogs loaded up and into the Iditarod dog lot in town. Everyone was so good about telling me how proud they were of what we had accomplished, but the knowledge of what we hadn’t was still a little too fresh in my mind. 

Over the next days we spend in Nome, I went through about every emotion in the book. Seeing Jamie Nelson again for the first time was really difficult. Jamie has helped me so much over the last year and become a very good friend – I really felt like I had let her down.  She assured me I hadn’t and helped me get focused on looking forward, instead of backwards. It was also her who insisted I attend the Finishers Banquet. I thought that was a pretty dumb idea, but I went and after a rough start, things improved.  Going was the right decision. I was really happy to be able to watch these people, many who had become friends go up and receive their belt buckles. I was especially glad to be there to be able to stand and clap for Jamie. She did something truly amazing – she finished with all 16 of her dogs in harness. I’ve heard rumors that that is the first time in 15 years that that has been accomplished. Remarkable – but she is a remarkable lady, so I guess it was to be expected!

There was only one thing I, religiously, avoided doing while in Nome – and that was to stand or walk under the burled arch. That is for next year when I intend to drive my dog team under it.

There is a good reason to not want to wait a year – in the eyes of Iditarod, I am still a rookie for 2001. Unlike the Quest, which drops the rookie status once you have completed over 500 miles of the Race, Iditarod considers you a rookie musher until you have finished. That means I have to re qualify to run. Qualifiers for 2001 must be run in 2000 or 2001, so if I run in 2001, I can use the 2000 Klondike 300 as one qualifier and will only have to do one 200-mile race. To be honest, I’m not quite sure of what 200 miles of the Knik 200 (which is probably the qualifier that I will run – and a race that I successfully completed in ’99) will teach me that 900 miles of Iditarod didn’t – but rules are rules!

We have had some dog happenings since the Race. Doc has taken up permanent residence in Alaska. He is living with our ‘landlady’ and friend, Maureen Chrysler. One new Siberian came home with us – Earl and Natalie Norris of Howling Dog Farms, whose dogs Blake Freking ran the race with this year, sold us Jumper. A lovely 3-year-old bitch that we have very high hopes for! They also leased us a 2x Iditarod finishing female, Keesa. Before we came home we bred her to one of their males, Skookum.

Hawk has also left us. He is living with Denise and Scott Linley. Denise is that artist that did up our ‘Nightrunners’ print for us!

Thanks for reading!

Shaktoolik - Nome

Well, this is the entry I’ve been dreading. I’ve told this story a hundred times, it seems and this part never gets any easier. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my decisions of that day nor do I blame the dogs for what happened, but Shaktoolik is still where my dreams came crashing down – and that makes it difficult to tell. But here goes…

One of the vets noted that Buddy was somewhat dehydrated upon arriving in the checkpoint. She said it wasn’t bad and as long as he ate and drank well during our break, he would be fine to go on. He and everyone else polished off their meals, snacks, and soup – a very good sign.

The group that I had been travelling on and off with during the Race, which included Melanie, Trish, Bill, and James Wheeler, had all made the trip over from Unalakleet much faster then I had. I debated cutting my rest short to go out with them, but eventually decided that giving my team their deserved break was more important.

As I started preparations to leave, I had the vets check Buddy over again. They gave him the go ahead, but something just didn’t seem right to me. After they left, I went and sat in the straw with him. When I looked in his eyes, I could see all of his 8-½ years of age – he looked old and tired. Buddy has been an absolute ‘rock’ in lead for me since his first season in harness - solid and dependable. I owe him a lot and I have tremendous respect for this wonderful canine and true friend. The only decision I could make was the one that put Buddy’s best interest first – he was staying in Shaktoolik. When the team left, Buddy just lifted his head from his cozy straw bed on the drop line – a sure sign I had made the correct decision.

Our exit from the village was not quite as bad as leaving Unalakleet, but it wasn’t pretty either. And this time, as we got further away they didn’t slip into ‘trail travel mode’ at all. I tried every combination of leaders I could think of, but with Gus, Camilla, Spud, and Buddy out of the team – my choices were extremely limited. Over 1 hour had passed and we had gone less then 3 miles. I weighed my options – there is a shelter cabin about 10 miles out, maybe I could make it there and rest or I could shut down right where I was and give them a break, maybe then if another team passed, my guys would want to follow. The problem was that, according to the information I had got before leaving the checkpoint, there was no team due for 12 or more hours.

I didn’t have enough dog food in the sled to wait that long especially considering I would still have to travel the 50 miles into Koyuk before being able to restock. Realizing that I was taking one GIANT step backwards from my goal of Nome – I turned the dogs around and went back to Shaktoolik. The dogs didn’t even go back down the trail with much eagerness – a bad sign. Interestingly, they didn’t want to go up into the village either, they wanted to go back down the trail towards Unalakleet.
I think they had it in there heads that once we got where we were going, I was going to turn them around and run them back – it is a darn shame sometimes that dogs don’t speak better English.

I bedded the dogs down for another rest. Over the course of the next hours I did all the things a musher should do when in this kind of situation – I got some rest, drank a ton of Tang, talked to my ‘support team’ and regrouped. The plan was to leave ahead of the teams that were behind me. Then when I was a way out on the trail and they passed me, my team would be more likely to want to go. To make a very long story short – it didn’t work. After another 6 or so hours rest, I got the dogs back on the trail. I walked in front for a few miles and got them about 3 miles out before Lynda passed me – they showed a small amount of enthusiasm for chasing her team, but that quickly vanished. Hours later, we had progressed only a few more miles and the last two teams passed. The dogs showed no interest in following and it was then that I knew my Iditarod was over.

The checkpoint was dark and quiet when I got back in. Doug, the checker, asked if I wanted him to wake the Race Judge for me to scratch. I said that I wanted a few more hours sleep and wanted to talk to my husband again before I would make any final decisions.

I remember waking up and realizing that the last hours had not been some bad dream. After talking to Mark, I filled out the paperwork to scratch from the Race. Signing my name on that piece of paper was more intensely painful then I can explain.

I am so, so very grateful to all the volunteers and Race Officials in Shaktoolik, as well as Race Marshall, Mark Nordman. Part of what makes the Iditarod such a wonderful event is the terrific and special people, like them, that are involved in it. I will always be thankful for the support and compassion that they all showed. To give you an idea of just how great they are – I was mentioning that every time I talked to someone on the phone, looking for Mark or making plane arrangements, and mentioned my name – their voices would take a sympathetic tone and they would ask how I was. I commented that I would probably have to answer that question a million times in the next days.
They quickly whipped up a button for my jacket that said BEEN BETTER. They told me that next time, when I finished, I could add a NEVER in front of it. (I still have the button on my bulletin board at home and I intend to send it out in my drop bag to Nome next year – where I will do just that!)
I ended up having to fly the team into Nome. I didn’t really want to go there, but airline travel in Alaska, especially with 11 dogs and a sled, doesn’t offer a lot of options. While I was waiting at the airstrip for the Bering Airplane to arrive, a mother and daughter showed up to wait also. The daughter bounced all around the team, asking me the name of each of the dogs. It was pretty tough to stay in a down mood with this cheerful child there! As I loaded the last dog into the plane, her smile vanished when she realized there were no more dogs to pet. She stretched to see into the plane and called goodbye to each dog, then she turned and asked me if I would be coming back next year. The answer was yes.

As the pilot was readying the plane for takeoff, he asked what had happened. I gave him the short version and he made a comment about how great it was that I was still getting to Nome, one way or another. I mumbled that I didn’t really want to go there, seeing that I was unable to finish the Race. ‘ Are you kidding?’ he said ‘Don’t you realize how far you did go? There is a party going on in Nome – and you are a part of it. You’ll have a great time.’ Are Alaskan’s just born with the ability to say the right things at the right time?

Unalakleet to Shaktoolik

In Kaltag I was telling the other mushers about a great pizza place that I had been to in Unalakleet when I was there following the Race in ’98. So after all our dogs were fed and bedded down we decided a call to the ‘Peace on Earth’ Pizza Place was in order. Imagine the disappointment when I phoned and found that they were closed from 2 – 4 in the afternoon – it was 2:10. There was, however, a number to phone ‘for emergencies’…well, we had traveled close to 900 miles for this pizza - that had to qualify. I phoned and explained the situation. The owner laughed and agreed it was an ‘emergency’.
In no time, pizza, salad, and soft drinks were delivered to the checkpoint for us (and people have asked why I budgeted for cash to take with me on the trail – well, for pizza – of course!!). Our eyes proved to be way too big for our stomachs, so we shared with everyone who was hanging around the checkpoint! It was a terrific meal! If you ever find yourself in Unalakleet, wondering what to do for dinner – visit Peace on Earth Pizza. I highly recommend them!!

After 6 hours rest, the dogs seemed in good spirits, so I was very surprised when I had a BUNCH of trouble getting them to hit the trail. The snow was punchy and I was having trouble getting a snowhook to hold so I could get up front and get them back on the trail. They realized in no time that I was pretty much at their mercy with these snow conditions. We must have done about one dozen circles as I tried to talk them into going forward. Finally, they realized I just wasn’t going to let them have their way and they started out of Unalakleet with much less enthusiasm then when they had arrive.

We had been warned that the trail out of town was not well marked and other mushers had gotten lost! I could sure see that, trail markers were almost non existent. We spent ages working our way back onto the trail on the numerous occasions that I got off it. At one point the dogs ventured into an area that had a lot of wire and debris and little snow on it. I got them back onto snow and my stomach heaved when I saw the bright red footprints they were leaving. I thought they had walked into something that had cut up their feet! I ran up front and began to laugh, it seems they had stepped in some of last season’s berries and it was berry juice that was causing the footprints in the snow! What a relief!
I think most Race fans perceive that once the Iditarod hits the coast at Unalakleet, the trail is flat, boring ice. That is far from the truth. In that stretch from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik is the Blueberry Hills, which is some of the biggest climbs encountered on the Race. The dogs were okay on the hills, keeping the forward momentum going, but they lacked spark.

A few hours into the night we hit the worst overflow I had encountered so far on the Race. The trail was very confusing leading up to it and I was very grateful for Bill McKee stopping and waiting for me. He called out as he saw my headlamp approaching, so I was sure to take the right route. Our crossing was pretty comical. I kept walking onto the ice, pulling my leaders behind me. We would get so far and they would start going backwards. I was unable to find any footing on the glare ice under the water, so I would slide helplessly back behind them. We did this a few times before I gave Grover a good push into the overflow, he decided he was far enough out that the other shore looked pretty appealing and he and Buddy dragged the rest of the team to the opposite bank. My feet got very wet, but thanks to my bunny boots and the hills that I ran up behind the team, they stayed pretty warm for the rest of the night.

Finally, the trail descended the Hills before coming out onto the sea ice. My brake had broken earlier in the evening and I had a hairy ride down, hanging off the side of my sled, trying to slow the dogs down with my snow hook. I was amazed I stayed upright!

I could see the lights of Shaktoolik, tantalizingly close, when a snowmachine roared up behind me. It was about 2 or 3 in the AM and my visitors were obviously very drunk. I was nervous sharing the trail with them – drunk driving accidents aren’t exclusive to city streets and automobiles! I exchanged greetings with the pair and asked how far it was to the village, about 13 miles, they told me. I was sure we were closer, heck the lights were right ahead, I blamed it on the effects of alcohol. As it turned out, they were right – the lights just seemed closer then they were.

We arrived in Shaktoolik in the wee hours of the morning. The trip over had been the dog’s most lack luster performance of the Race. I wanted to give them a good rest before continuing on.

Nulato to Kaltag - Kaltag to Unalakleet

Obviously, my improved state of mind rubbed off on the dogs. They had a mere moment of hesitation going out of Nulato and back onto the river, but after that, the trip was smooth and quick!

I was in a great mood at Kaltag, my problems of the previous day seemed well behind me. Trish Kolegar, Melanie Gould and myself had decided to ‘run together’ to Unalakleet. We decided on breaking the 90-mile leg into three sections, stopping at the Tripod Flats cabin, 30 miles or so out of Kaltag, and again at the famous Old Woman Cabin, a further 30 miles down the trail. This nice easy run/rest schedule should really pick up the dog’s moods!Leaving Kaltag was tough sledding. The trail was one mogul after another. The constant pounding was agony on my tired back and I’m sure no picnic for the dogs either! The moguls ended and a long stretch of side hills took their place. About the time our frustration levels peaked, the trail broke into the rolling Caribou Hills. Some year’s mushers are lucky enough to encounter caribou along this stretch of trail. There were none this year, but I did see a really neat antler shed under one of the trail marking tripods. I loved this section, it was pretty and interesting country. The hills were big enough to keep up our interest in what was over the next one, but not too big!

The dogs seemed to enjoy themselves too and rolled along at a good steady pace! Just before Tripod Flats I passed Melanie. When we pulled into the cabin it was occupied by two snowmachiners that had passed us earlier in the day. They said that Trish had decided not to take a break at there and had continued on to Old Woman. Melanie and I opted to stick with our game plan and fed the dogs and took a 4-hour break there. A warm cabin and nice company made the time pass quickly! The snowmachiners told us that Old Woman wasn’t the 30 miles away that we thought it was, it was actually closer then that. Melanie and I discussed not stopping there and going straight into Unalakleet, but when we arrived at the cabin early in the morning and found a bunch of teams parked there and a equal number of snoring mushers inside the toasty cabin, the temptation was too great! A few solid hours sleep felt great! The dogs obviously thought so too, even though they had had plenty of rest in the last 24 hours, they didn’t want to leave. Lynda Plettner gave me a hand getting them straightened out and back on the trail. True to form, once they got going, they traveled well.

A few miles outside of Unalakleet, a snowmachine with two people drove by. The passenger yelled out that she was my friend, Barbara ‘Dog Drop’ Schaffer, and wanted to welcome me to Unalakleet!
What a nice welcome! The dogs came in strong and happy. The vets and many race volunteers commented on how good they were looking. I was delighted! They did look good and we were to the Coast – Nome was just a hop, skip, and a jump away!!

Galena to Nulato

Just like Spud, the vets figured Buddy’s shoulder wasn’t very serious and a little rest would put him back in the team (they were right, of course). Everyone else was looking and feeling good.

What a treat Galena was. The checkpoint was located in a hotel, so in addition to lots of food and a warm place to hang out – there was real beds and showers!! I took advantage of both! In the bathroom, I got a good look at the frostbite on my stomach. What I saw wasn’t good, it was infected and oozing. Rather disgusting! I cleaned it up as best I could and put some antibiotic ointment on. I vowed to start watching and taking better care of it.

I left Galena in the early, early morning hours. The dogs left well, but I made an error leaving the checkpoint and got on the wrong trail. I knew almost right away that I had made a mistake, but I still traveled for about ½ mile down to see if the trails joined up. I stopped and turned the dogs around. I could see instantly that I was in trouble – the dogs thought we were going back into the checkpoint. They smoked back down the trail, but when I called them onto the right trail heading back out onto the river they balked. The next few hours were a battle with little forward progress. I had put the idea of turning around into their heads and they weren’t going to give it up easily. We had some amazing tangles and messes as they kept trying to whip around and go back to Galena. Eventually, we came to a agreement and got moving out towards Nulato.

Around mid morning the wind picked up considerably. The swirling snow across the River made for a cool visual effect, but the wind bit into our faces. I knew we were getting close to the checkpoint, small signs of civilization, such as cabins every now and then and snowmachine traffic told the tale. I began to get dozy in the warmth of the day, but had no idea how tired I was until my head bounced off the ice of the Yukon River. Ouch that hurt! And to make matters worse, the dogs were headed down the trail without me!!! I called, I begged, I pleaded – I’m almost positive I could hear the dogs snickering under their breath as they continued down the trail without me. When they were about ½ mile ahead of me, they tired of their game and slowed to a stop. They were all watching my plodding progress down the river with obvious amusement. I had visions that I would get an arm’s reach away from the sled and they would take off again! About that time an Eskimo man on a snowmachine showed up. Was I okay? Did I need a ride? I told him I was fine and I would continue my walk, but if he could just stop at the sled and drop a snowhook into the ground – I would be very grateful. He did and with a wave was back on his way.

Ten minutes or so later the dogs and I showed up, together, in Nulato. As the checker signed me in, he commented that he heard I had done some walking out there. I was amazed, after all it had just happened. ‘What did that man do?’ I asked, ‘Run straight in here to squeal on me?’. I was informed he had and with a wicked grin the checker told me he had come up with a new name for me – Karen ‘Runs-instead’.  Very clever!

With my swollen eye from my crash, still smarting from the struggle on the ice and the disappointing run in – I was not in good spirits. I needed to talk to Mark. I ended up not only talking to him, but also getting a pep talk from Lynda Plettner and a particularly helpful call from Jamie Nelson who was in Unalakleet. I am so lucky to have the support crew I have! By the time I settled in for a nap – things were looking much better!

Ruby to Galena

As soon as the dogs were taken care of, I hustled into the checkpoint and told the Ham radio operator of my stupid mistake in Cripple. I wanted him to radio the checkers and have them get the gun out of my mailbag. The radio guy just stared when I told him my tale. With a weak smile, I blamed it on my lack of sleep – feeling very much like an idiot.  He tried to get the message through to Cripple, but the radio signal was bad and the message never got through. (My gun arrived safely back in Willow in my mailbag – still loaded!) 

I briefly talked to Mark from Ruby, advising him to watch for Gus and Camilla. After a few hours sleep and another good meal for the dogs we set out to tackle the Yukon River. 

The Yukon is nothing short of amazing, up to 1 mile across in places! We were shuffling along in the heat of the day again. We took frequent rest stops and at one point I stopped and tousled and played with the critters for awhile. I was messing around with leaders, trying to give Grover a break, and had settled upon Buddy and Chester as a good combination. Chester is young and has a tremendous ego. He doesn’t work well with many of the dogs up front – his swelled head seems to irate many of them and they just flatly refuse to work with him, but he seemed to click with Buddy and the two of them worked well together on the river. That is until Buddy began to limp. I ended up having to put him in the bag – very much against his wishes. He struggled and complained as I loaded him into the sled. To make matter worse, I was having trouble finding a combination of leaders that had been working as well as those two. Finally, I ended up with Grover back up in front with Doc. Buddy resigned himself to riding, but he serenaded us along with low, pitiful and continuous howling from the sled. 

Again Lynda Plettner passed me just outside of the checkpoint. As usual, she was cheerful and her dogs were traveling quickly and happily down the trail. I came into Galena, once again, just behind her.

Cripple to Ruby

I ended up spending a good long rest in Cripple. I was toying with the idea of dropping Camilla. Gus was a little sore on a shoulder too. Lynda Plettner recommended that if I had any doubts about them, I should drop them. She was right and I sent both dogs home. I had been told that the trail into Ruby was mostly uphill and that clearing out extra baggage in my sled bag would be a good idea. I sent home a whole whack of stuff, including my gun – I had been told that if you don’t see a moose by McGrath, you are pretty much out of the woods. 

We left during the daylight, it was still warm, but I knew it would quickly cool off. I was planning to stop four or so hours in for a little break as well. The dogs had a lot of trouble leaving the checkpoint. They shuffled along without much enthusiasm for the first little bit, but as the miles passed by they picked up and by the time they came to where I had intended to stop they were roaring down the trail.  I didn’t want to interrupt them while they were moving so well, so I decided to forego the rest. Thinking back, that might have been a bad move, but who can know for sure. 

Along this stretch of trail I saw more moose signs then anywhere else on the Race. I was wishing I had my gun when it occurred to me that not only had I MAILED my gun back to Willow through the US Postal System, but also, it was LOADED. My stomach lurched at my stupidity! I was going to have to advise Race Officials of my mistake when I got to Ruby.

I had lots of company on the Trail. I traveled with Vickie Talbot and Kevin Kortuem for a bit and Edward De La Billaire and I were together for the last bit into the checkpoint. The school kids of Ruby have the greatest treat for mushers as they come into town – beginning 10 miles or so prior to Ruby, the kids line the Trail with signs of encouragement for the mushers. The good luck wishes and cheerful drawings can help even the sleepiest mushers along the Trail. 

The last bit into Ruby is a plowed, icy road. I was stomping on my brake for everything I was worth to keep the dogs under control, but to no avail.   They missed the corner into the checkpoint and ended up coming in via a back way. My brake was bent all to heck, and my nerves frazzled from the out of control ride, but we had made it to the Yukon!

Ophir to Cripple

My night in Ophir turned out to be the coldest on the trail. Temperatures dropped to around –30. The sun was just starting to rise as we pulled out. I was so happy with the dogs, when it was time to go I just had to ask them to get on their feet - they all rose, shook off, and headed down the trail with no help from the checkers. 

The day was bright and sunny. I had taken some painkillers for my leg in Ophir and the pain had diminished considerably. The team wasn’t moving great – I was attributing it to the heat, but the performance of Camilla was concerning me. Camilla is a tough, hard working little girl, but for the last several miles her tug line had been slapping loosely around her legs. I went up and checked her over but could find nothing wrong. I thought maybe she was pouting – she likes to run lead and I hadn’t had her in front at all on this race. I stuck her in lead for a bit, but that didn’t seem to help either. I tucked her in front of the wheel dogs and kept a close eye on her. 

The trip over to Cripple was a long one, so we had planned to camp awhile on the trail. The day was hot and we found a nice ‘pullout’ and stopped. I fed the dogs and we all settled down for a short nap in the sun.  About 3 hours later, I was awakened by the sound of a helicopter overhead. It was obviously looking for mushers, as I could see it circle over the approximate areas that I had passed mushers camping earlier. It made 3 passes by me, each one lower then the previous one. I gave up trying to sleep. I puttered around for another hour or so, letting the dogs rest before hitting the trail again.
Later on, as night fell, I experienced my most vivid hallucination of the Race. The trail was straight and fairly boring until we came across Candy Land - that’s right – Candy Land. Right smack in the middle of the Iditarod Trail. Complete with slides made out of Candy Canes.  I wasn’t surprised or amazed, in fact, it seemed perfectly normal to me! About a mile or so later, I started to see a bobbing light ahead. It didn’t move like a team and I was puzzled when I came across 2 people walking along the Trail. They were participating in the Extreme Iditasport. They asked if I was running Iditarod and I was hard pressed to come up with an answer.  Gosh, I was tired! I asked these folks if they were a hallucination too and they assured me they weren’t. It wasn’t till I passed them the next day on the way to Ruby that I actually believed them though!

Lynda Plettner passed me just outside of the checkpoint. I rolled into the halfway point of the Race shortly behind her. 

My night in Cripple is one of my most favorite memories of the Trail. Cripple is simply a few wall tents stuck up for the Race. The area around there is mostly open, but the dog teams are nestled into the trees. After caring for the dogs I was lying in the straw with my leaders watching the most remarkable display of Northern Lights I have ever seen. Bob Hempstead was camped in the next spot over and was likewise spending time watching the Lights with his leaders. ‘You know’, he called over, ‘thousands of people would kill to be where we are right now!’. They would be justified – what a spectacular night!