Sunday 29 April 2001

April 29, 2001 - Finger Lake to Rainy Pass

Finger Lake is a really pretty checkpoint on Iditarod - and very hospitable!!!  There was lots of activity there too - dog teams, spectators, media… There was an incredible amount of snow in Finger Lake this year! Race folks had packed down parking spots for the team, but one step off the beaten path would you crashing though the snow up to the top of your thigh. I slopped dog food all over myself numerous times walking around the team with full dishes.  Most of the dogs ate really well, but 1 or 2 seemed distracted and not quite into their trail routine. Nor was I into mine  - despite GREAT food up at the checkpoint and a warm, quiet cabin to sleep in, I didn't feel like either. I picked at a meal of chicken, rice, and black bean salsa and then dozed in front of a warm stove in the cabin's living room. I had looked longingly at the coffee stand set up out on the Lake. I craved a Latte, but I'd been avoiding caffeine since the beginning of December and that shot of Espresso now would have sent me into space, I'm sure!  The trip to the outhouse was pretty interesting - there was so much snow, it was over the top of the outhouse. There was a tunnel with 4 steep steps to get to the door!

While I was puttering around the team Mike Nosko came by looking for extra drop lines.  Sadly, he had had an accident with a snowmachine just hours after the Race started. Although no dogs were badly injured, there were enough bumps, bruises, and soreness that he was going to have to scratch here at Finger Lake. How disappointing that must have been for him.

I did the math and figured out that if I cut my rest a little shorter then planned here I could work things so I got to go through both the dreaded Happy River steps and the Dalzel Gorge in the daylight! Seeing that I had over-rested here last year and left with a team so fresh I had lost them within ¼ mile of the checkpoint, leaving here with them feeling not so spunky really seemed like a wise plan. So at around 5pm, I pulled the hook.

The team had some 'zip' in their step as we left, but quickly settled into a disjointed effort, I kept reminding myself that it was early in the race and they would eventually gel together as a team. The trail actually seemed better then last year. It wasn't until right before the Steps that I even got the chance to dip my face into a snowbank. I had Sissy and her sister, Oreo up front. Sissy is both a name and a description of this little black and white gal. I would never put her up front for a crowded situation like a race start, but out on the trail she is a solid and dependable leader. Oreo proved herself in the Grand Portage Race earlier this season and I felt very confident that these two girls would take me safely down this trail. Shortly before the Steps, we passed some people camped out, they wished us luck for the trail ahead. I stopped and undid 10 tuglines to cut down on the dog power.

The Steps are 3 notorious tight turns combined with steep drop-offs that get you down the bank and onto the Happy River.  I thought they were a little trickier to negotiate then last year, because they seemed a little more 'bottom-less' and I couldn't get much purchase with my foot brake, but we did stay upright for Steps 1 and 2. Coming down the last Step Sissy ran into the thing she fears most - people. There was a camera crew set up to get 'disaster-Cam' footage. Sissy balked and the lack of forward momentum tipped the sled over onto it's side. In a fairly non-spectacular crash we slid to the bottom of the drop off, problem was my Bunny Boot slipped through the bar brake on my sled and got wedged in. I struggled for a moment to free my foot before a cameraman took mercy on me and came over to assist.

My sigh of relief at getting through the worst of this trail was early! After my little tip over, the sled was pulling to the right. Just my luck, the majority of the rest of the trail into Rainy Pass curves left around a mountain making for lots of side hills that my sled was going to want to slide down! Sure enough, in no time I found myself wedged against a tree in a deep well made by the abundance of snow. The front of my sled was pointing upward at a 90 degree angle. Not good. A survey of damage showed that things were bend, not broken  - phew. I was NOT going to repeat last year's broken sled incident in Rainy Pass. I went up and kicked the tree a few times for good measure, at which point I recognized it as a tree I intimately visited last year.  If I ever get a summer vacation in Alaska, I'm bringing a chainsaw!

On a nice flat lake crossing I stopped to play up the dogs and check on things. I jumped up and down on the brush bow a few times to try to get it bend back so it looked a little more like a sled - no luck. It was now pulling to the right much worse then before.  The next few hours felt like a pinball game as I bounced off trees and struggled to keep the sled up on the trail on sidehills. Finally I got the sled so jammed against a tree I had to unhook the dogs from it. I tied my snub line to a big tree to anchor the team while I worked on extraditing the sled. The well was so deep that I couldn't stand up to push the sled out. I ended up tying a snow hook line around the handlebar and muscling the darn thing out that way - the whole time berating myself for packing so much gear and making it so heavy. I was so pleased when I got free - I figured after dealing with that, I could handle just about anything - so the trail threw something at me I couldn't handle - just to keep me humble, I think! I came around a corner to find a nasty sidehill with an open creek at the bottom. There was a spot in the middle where the trail had a 'hole' that looked like it had sucked in many other teams before me. Thank goodness, as I was trying to work my sleep deprived head around a method for getting an improperly steering sled through this mess musher Ben Grey came along and agreed to help. I took the dogs and he took the sled and we safely got across!  

One more little smack into a tree and be darned if the sled didn't start to track better. In fact, it was almost tracking true again, still Rainy Pass looked like a haven when I got there!

A quick feeding after arriving at the truck and we were loaded and headed home for my last night on a comfy bed and the dogs last night in their cozy straw filled houses.

Wednesday 25 April 2001

April 25, 2002 School Presentation

Dear Karen,

Thank you again for your visit and great talk yesterday. The kids were very interested and were jealous when I mentioned your offer to help out next year!

Attached are some of the photos taken in atrium. There will be a news article in the Western Wheel, published in Okotoks, next Wednesday. We'll send you a copy. I know your mom said she was going to pick one up, but that will probably be for herself!

Thanks again for your time and enthusiasm. Joan and I will be planning for next year and will definitely be keeping your offer of materials and visits in mind.

Take care.
Carrie Duncan-Moore
Grade six classes (6A and 6B) from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School
(South of Calgary, just outside Okotoks)

For pictures click here

Monday 23 April 2001

April 23, 2001

…And I thought things were supposed to SLOW DOWN after Iditarod….

There are all sorts of things going on around here. First off, we are expecting a couple litters of puppies. A few weeks back we bred Grover to Visa – she is due around June 7th. Then this past weekend we bred Jetti (Mannie’s Mom) to Spud. As Spud will be turning 10 this August, this will probably be his last litter, so we are especially looking forward to little ‘Tater Tots’ running around the house!

Last Friday we spent the day with a reporter from our local CTV station, CFRN. Chester, Camilla and I did a brief spot on their Noon news after which one of the producers made arrangements for them to do a piece on us for the evening news. The reporter came out and we hooked the entire 16 dog Iditarod team up to the 4 wheeler and went for a run. What a hoot that was. Most of the dogs hadn’t run since getting back from Alaska and they were KEEN to go!! 

The screaming as we were hooking up was ear piercing! Partway through the run we stopped so they could ask some questions on camera. We didn’t get too far into the talk when the team took off with the Quad – all the brakes were locked up and it still took me a long way to get them stopped again. It wasn’t quite as amusing the 2nd and 3rd time the dogs did it! After getting everyone put away, we packed up Chester and headed off to the Rochester School to do a visit. Rochester School has always been very supportive of us and I have spoken to the kids there on a couple of occasions, so it was an obvious choice of kids to include on air with us! 

On Saturday I ran a bunch of dogs into the city to get some eye testing done. Due to some hereditary problems that Siberian Huskies are prone to, it is the wise and responsible thing to do to get a Specialist to check them out before they are bred. We are happy to report that all 7 we took tested normal. 

Saturday evening was a hectic one. The community of Perryvale hosted a potluck dinner for Mark and I in honor of our Iditarod run. I did a presentation and slide show for everyone. In addition to lots of local folks, my Mom, my brother, and Mark’s parents all showed up from Calgary for the weekend – what a treat! The community presented Mark and I with a gift certificate for an evening in Edmonton at a Dinner Theater! They said that after all the time that we had spent apart this winter, they wanted to make sure we spent some quality time together. What a thoughtful and appreciated gift! We are so grateful to live in such a supportive community! A special thanks to Barb, Patti, and Phyllis for organizing the evening! 

Sunday I ran back into the city to drop Raptor off with his new Mom and Dad. I stuck around to watch some of the Edmonton Kennel Club Dog Show and to have dinner with a friend from Grande Prairie who was down for the show. 

This week is looking to be busy too. Tomorrow night Fly (my Australian Shepherd) and I start obedience classes. I’ve competed in the obedience ring with a few of our Siberian Huskies and I miss the being there. Hopefully, Fly will progress well in classes and I can get him out in the ring before winter rolls around! Contrary to what many think – he is already quite a well mannered fellow!
Later in the week, I’m heading off to Calgary for a few days to do a school visit and an on-air interview with CFCN. 

….I’m so grateful for all this SLOW TIME….

April 23, 2001 - Yentna – Finger Lake

Pretty much right on my schedule of resting 4 hours in Yentna, I pulled the hook and we headed off into the night. 

The trail ended up being fairly busy and I saw many mushers out there, including one (I never did figure out who it was) that was way off the trail along the bank of the river. From the shouts and curses it was pretty obvious that the trail wasn’t good over there and the mystery musher wasn’t having a lot of fun.
I had a great run. I had vowed not to use Grover in lead too much early in the Race – he is my best leader and I didn’t want to burn him out, however he loves leading and I didn’t want him to sulk too much about not getting a turn up front. So it was decided prior to the Race that he would get to lead on the short, easy 35-mile stretch to Skwentna. That basically set us up for a great trip down the Yentna.
There were a lot of teams still hanging out in the checkpoint. Typical to form, the dogs dove into the straw of the team next to them looking for leftover snacks. A little bit of muscling and I got them into their own spot, hooked the front end out, got their own snacks into them, and got some straw spread out. With just a little fussing they settled down while I cooked for them. After big, warm meals they were ready for their nap. 

I hiked up the riverbank to Joe Delia’s Cabin for some much appreciated warmth and good food. A quick snooze on the floor upstairs and I was ready to roll again. 

The dogs were quick to get up. I can’t remember which two leaders I put up front, I’m thinking it was Chester and Orion. Whoever it was, they certainly weren’t strong on their commands and ignoring my “HAW” they drifted off the trail to the right of the River. Finally they made a 90-degree turn and headed parallel to the checkpoint. The trail got slushy and wet and I couldn’t get a hook in to go up front and straighten out the problem. They barreled towards the left bank and at the last second their ears kicked into gear so they were able to hear my frantic shouts of ‘GEE’ and they swung hard to the right, which hooked us back up with the main trail. I think maybe they knew where we were headed the whole time and were just playing with me. 

As everyone had said, there was a lot of snow out there. The trail was somewhat soft, but not too bad. It was pretty obvious by the high banks though that stepping off the trail might mean you wouldn’t be found till spring. A real plus was that the moguls that pounded mushers and sleds last year weren’t nearly as prevalent.

Once pointed the right direction things settled down. Lance Mackay and I played ‘leapfrog’ a few times, Danny Seavey smoked by and my team kicked it up a gear for a few miles. I finally stopped for a snack break on One Island Lake, knowing Danny would get far enough ahead that the dogs would settle back into their own pace. The trail to Finger Lake is really a lot of fun. There are some open swamps, a few creek crossings, some twisty trails through pretty forests, and some wonderful views of the Alaska Range looming ahead.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I remembered from last year. It made the trail seem shorter then last time and I was very happy as we made the journey around the Lake and into the checkpoint.

Tuesday 3 April 2001

April 3, 2001 - The Restart to Yentna

The real deal! At the last minute the restart had been moved from it’s usual location in Wasilla to the community of Willow. In 1998, when I was ‘Chasing the Race’ the restart was held here, so I pretty much knew what to expect. For mushers, the Willow restart is a delight. No double sledding, no roads to deal with, you are out and right onto the trail! 

Our morning started really early. Vivian was wonderful enough to get up and cook steak and eggs for breakfast. What a treat, especially when I didn’t know when or where my next meal was going to be.
As we were sitting in the Willow Community Hall a reporter from the Anchorage News came over and asked if he could talk to me about my Siberians – gosh, I find it sooooo hard to talk about my dogs ;) We had a nice interview and it resulted in, what I thought was a good article in the Anchorage paper the next day. 

When I eventually wandered out to the dog truck, Mark told me that the drug testing crew had been by and collected urine from some of the dogs. We laughed and wondered if they knew something we didn’t – usually they only test the top teams. 

Microchips were checked on the dogs, the sled was packed, checked and rechecked and eventually – it was Show Time!

I made a last minute decision to put Camilla in lead with Gus instead of Oreo. It wasn’t a good decision, as Camilla seemed preoccupied with the crowds. Sure enough, they felt like a herd of cattle thundering out of the chute – which was confirmed by a picture that ran on the front page of the A.D.N Sports section the next day. The dogs looked happy and enthused, which was cool – but you couldn’t even tell who was supposed to be in lead! Oh well, it was still a LONG way to Nome. 

The team didn’t feel good right from the start. They seemed to lack the focus and power that I had come to expect from them through out the season. I vowed to be patient and let them work through it. In no time at all Dee Dee’s team BLEW past us. She brightly called out ‘Thanks Karen’ as I stepped on the brake to allow her an easy pass. Shortly after Rick Swenson’s crew passed too. I still find it quite the thrill to share the trail with teams of this caliber. 

The trail winds along a river until it hooks up with the Yentna River. The weather was great, the trail lovely – a great day all and all. 

Well before dark we pulled into Yentna Station. Last year I had gone right through here, having stopped earlier on the trail, but with the change in distances due to the restart being in Willow, a 4-hour break seemed wise. I got the dogs settled in and fed and got up to the Roadhouse for a great feed of spaghetti! Sure was tastier then, say – extra firm TOFU would have been!! 

There is a little inside joke to this. Lloyd had been trying to convince me the entire time we were in Alaska how good Tofu pancakes were. I was thoroughly unconvinced (and still am). This led to a lot of jokes going around about Tofu. When I pulled into Yentna and started unpacking my sled to cook for the dogs, what did I find in my sled bag but a package of extra firm TOFU. Seems Greg and Marie Stevens from BASH thought this would get a good laugh out of me – and it did. The checkers probably wondered what that twisted musher was doing over there, laughing away to herself!

Monday 2 April 2001

April 2, 2001

Yesterday morning, as I lay in bed with the window open I heard a Canada goose fly overhead. That and the lack of snow on the ground here are good signs that winter is over and spring is arriving. And so brings to close an amazing and never to be forgotten winter.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to make an effort to get all the stories down and online. I hope you will all enjoy them and that in this small way, I can repay everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support and good wishes that I’ve been overwhelmed by.


The story begins…..
Ceremonial Start
As last year, the Ceremonial Start of Iditarod is a well-organized circus! And one I thoroughly enjoy! We arrived early and got the truck parked in our designated spot. In no time at all the street was packed with other teams, fans and volunteers. Arriving late was Charlie Boulding. The crews had dumped a lot of snow on 4th Avenue this year, much more then last year. Great for dog teams, not great for dog trucks. Charlie spun and slid his way around the corner and up the street, sending Mark and I SCRAMBLING to rescue dogs from the side of our truck. He slid by us and inched by Devan Currier’s truck with his wife, Robin yelling out apologies as they went! Trust Charlie to add flavor and excitement to the morning!!!

Waiting to Start
Our helpers this year were a lot of fun – friends from the Bay Area Siberian Husky Club (B.A.S.H.) had flown up for the start. They were terrific, helping out any way they could and taking lots of pictures!!  One favorite picture was when Libby Riddles came over. Any of you who have followed my diaries since last year know that I am a big fan of Libby’s.  Her book, Race Across Alaska was one of the things that got me hooked on the idea of Iditarod. Libby came and asked about my training this year and what I had done different to prevent the problems I ran into last year. Always gracious and friendly, she posed for some pictures with my Idita-rider Liz, and myself.  Definitely, a highlight in my mind!
 lib.JPG (33817 bytes)
Libby & Karen

lib2.JPG (33952 bytes)
Libby & Karen


In no time at all, it seemed, the dogs where hooked up and we were standing in the starting chute. (Did everyone see the spiffy looking red and black bandanas with the maple leaves on them that the team was sporting at the Ceremonial Start? They looked so good. Our thanks to my terrific ‘landlady’, Nancy Black for sewing these up for the dogs!)  

Starting Chute

It seemed just as special this year as last.  This time Mark had opted not to ride the second sled for the Ceremonial start and had passed the honor on to our friend, Lara Baker. As the team shot out of the chute, I gave Mark the ‘high five’ that we have exchanged so many times in so many starting chutes. (This tradition arose from a late entrance into a chute at one of our early races. I missed the chance to get a ‘good luck smooch’ from Mark and had to settle for a high five as the team rocketed by – it has become sort of a ‘good luck’ ritual for us.)

Our ride to the end of the shortened course was solid and uneventful. Lara did a fine job on the tag sled and Liz was an engaging and interested Idita-rider. She and I chatted almost none stop along the way!  I was very pleased with the dogs, they pulled solid and strong, if not fast through the 11 miles.  The only ‘incident’ of the trip was my leaders attempt to ‘clothesline’ official Iditarod photographer, Jeff Schultz. I run my leaders without a neckline hooking them together. Each leader chose a different direction around Jeff’s legs as he stood on the side of the trail taking pictures. Luckily, I saw it coming and was able to stop everyone before I had to foot the bill for a bunch of very expensive camera equipment! 

A quick feeding after arriving at the truck and we were loaded and headed home for my last night on a comfy bed and the dogs last night in their cozy straw filled houses.