Tuesday 10 July 2001

July 10, 2001 Eagle Island to Kaltag

Eagle Island is not much, it's only inhabitants living in a small cabin on the banks of a tributary of the Yukon. The cabin is so small that it is not used as the checkpoint, a canvas tent on the river serves that purpose. For sleeping quarters a workshop worked into the bank had plastic hung around it and straw laid on the ground. The outhouse was the 'highlight' of the place! It perched on the edge of the bank and had the most spectacular view - no wonder they didn't bother with a door.

The dogs came in grouchy and ready for a rest. They dived into a pile of straw used by another team, looking for interesting leftover snacks. A few of the cockier boys got into a little scrap over some frozen treasure. Like kids, they get cranky, especially with their 'siblings' when they are tired. No one was injured and they soon settled down to rest.

The clouds from the night had blown over, leaving a spectacular sunny day. I sorted through my sled bag until I found my sunglasses and sunscreen. The sunscreen was frozen solid, I guess most manufactures don't even put a moments thought into the freezing point of their products! After a good rest for the dogs and a terrific meal of eggs, sausage, and toast (vacuum sealed by my friend Lynda earlier in the year) for me I started to get ready to leave. All the dogs watched me out of the corner of their eyes. They all knew the routine by now and realized I was starting to get ready to go. I should say - all watched me out of the corner of their eyes but Kaylinn. When I started packing the sled, she popped up and started barking every now and again to speed me up. When Dave Tresino asked if I had every tried her in lead, I had just been thinking the same thing! I thought leaving a checkpoint was a bit much for an untrained leader, but vowed to try her out somewhere along the trail.

Under a spectacular blue sky and warm sun, we rolled out of Eagle Island. Okay - rolled was a bit of an optimistic verb - let's try shuffled. Under a spectacular blue sky and warm sun, we shuffled out of Eagle Island. Looking for a little more enthusiasm, I switched Kaylinn into lead with Grover. That worked and our shuffling switched into rolling! Kaylinn was amazing. She has not had 1 mile of training in lead, in fact she was introduced to running in harness last April. I was so surprised she actually made the Iditarod team, the fact that she was leading us down the Yukon River was incredible! Yeah Kaylinn!!!

After about 2 hours on the trail, I stopped to snack the dogs. I took the opportunity to put on another layer of clothes, as the wind was starting to blow and it was getting chilly. Off to the west I could see some dark clouds gathering and moving in. I hoped we could get off the river before the storm really moved in.

I passed a couple Idita-sport cross-country skiers. It is sadistic fun to sneak up on those guys and then cheerfully call out 'TRAIL' just before you run them over!!

As dusk closed in the storm caught us and snow started blowing and swirling around. I was really tired and dozed off on the sled a few times. It is quite startling to snap back to reality and not be sure whether or not you are on the right trail. Because the snow was blowing, there wasn't even tracks from Clint, Buck, and Beth who weren't that far ahead of me. Around this time I spotted a light off in the distance. Lights at night on the trail are horrible things, they tend to look closer then they actually are, giving mushers false hope that they are closer to a checkpoint then they actually are. For the longest time, it looked like we were moving away from the light, then SLOWLY the trail turned towards it. Still the trail went on and on with that light looking tantalizingly close.

Blowing snow and dark nights always gives me the feel of being in a cocoon with my dog team, but this cocoon felt like something was hanging around on the very edges of 'our world'. Sure enough, I was up working with my leaders when I noticed a single set of very fresh, very large wolf tracks traveling the trail just ahead of us. How cool! I figured the wolf was only a few minutes ahead, but never did catch a glimpse of it. When I got into the checkpoint other mushers had stories of running into locals on snowmobiles that were out wolf hunting. They had seen numerous wolves on the trails that night. I silently wished my traveling companion of the night before safe journeys.

Again on this stretch I had that bizarre feeling that this wasn't the first time I had been down this trail. As that light came very close to driving me CRAZY, I kept reminding myself that it was the same the last time we traveled this trail - only we had never been down this way before. It was kind of creepy and I was grateful when, finally, we arrived in Kaltag!

July 10, 2001 Grayling to Eagle Island

Grayling was a neat community, although I learned quickly not to turn my back on anything - my clean socks and later, a bag of herring vanished right from under my nose while I was there. Okay, in reality, anything could have vanished from under my nose without me noticing - but I did have checkers, who are somewhat more alert, help me look for them!

The dogs ate veraciously! That was really neat, especially when I looked at the piles of uneaten food in front of dogs in other teams. My whole team was looking really good. I gave ear scratches and some belly rubs and then headed to the Community Hall. We had to be out of the Hall in time for the Bingo game that night (Grayling obviously has their priorities figured out! VBG!), so I grabbed just a few hours rest. If I had planned for a longer rest, maybe I could have stayed and tried to recoup some of my Race expenses! After my nap the communications guy offered me one of the satellite phones to call home. Mark and I had a great, up beat chat until the satellite moved behind a mountain and abruptly cut us off!

While I was resting, Dave Tresino passed through Grayling without stopping, so when I pulled out of the checkpoint at dusk, for the first time, I was officially the last musher on the trail!

There was alittle bit of snowmachine traffic on the trail for the first few miles, but quickly things quieted down. From this point to Kaltag, I found this the most desolate, remote feeling piece of trail I had ever been on. The wind was blowing pretty hard. The moon and northern lights peeked out from behind the quickly moving clouds. The temperature dropped rapidly and harshly throughout the night. Two or three hours out we passed Dave Tresino camped next to the trail. He had hunkered down into his sled bag to get out of the wind. My stint as the Red Lantern musher was over - for now!
During the night I had a 'hallucination' (I guess that is what you would call it) that reoccurred a few times during the Race - I was POSITIVE that I had been on this trail before. I seemed to be familiar with the terrain and know what was coming up. On the odd moment, I would 'pop' back into reality and remind myself that I hadn't been there before. It was spooky and the hair on the back of my neck still stands up when I think about it.

Just before dawn, the team got sluggish. They wanted a break and I wanted the warmth of a checkpoint. I played around with a few different leaders, hoping to get some rhythm going. All of a sudden the dogs picked up and there was Beth Manning camped. I stopped and snacked while talking to her. I thought we were closer to the checkpoint then she did and shortly after I got going, I saw her headlamp coming down the trail. The dogs picked up a bit knowing there was another team behind them. Eventually, I stopped to fix a few booties and Beth passed. The dogs weren't much interested in chasing and we moved down the trail, although lacking direction and fluidity - we were moving forward! Always good news!!

Finally, the checkpoint of Eagle Island came into view. I remember thinking as we pulled up to the tents and camped teams - 'Hmmm, this will be good practice - it is set up JUST LIKE an Iditarod checkpoint'. I almost laughed out loud after reminding my foggy, sleep deprived, easily amused brain that this WAS an Iditarod checkpoint.

July 10, 2001 Anvik to Grayling

After settling the dogs in, I tried using the phone in the checkpoint to make a call back to my friend and mentor, Jamie Nelson. I couldn't get a line to charge to a calling card and no one seemed to know how to make the satellite phone work. I was ready to scream or cry (or both) when one of the checkers graciously got the call through for me (actually, I think they were scared to be stuck in the practically deserted checkpoint with a crazy person and he figured I might leave if I got the call through!)
For those of you that know Jamie, you know that it usually takes days of trying to reach her on the phone. The chances of her actually being there the first time you call are practically NIL, but yet she picked up on the 2nd or 3rd ring. I whined, I sniveled, I complained - she tolerated none of it. DARN! She reiterated the discussion we had prior to the Race about focusing on running 'from tree to tree' instead of to Nome. She reinforced that I needed to keep doing what I had been doing leaving Shageluk, letting the dogs work through things, and be confident that they would 'come together' as a team later. Jamie told me what I needed to hear.

A couple hours later, now on an 'up' on the roller coaster of moods and emotions otherwise know as Iditarod, we hit the Yukon.

I had alittle treat in my drop bags in Anvik. Unlike most mushers, I don't carry a Walkman with me on the trail. To me they are an 'escape' from the quiet and solitude and that is one of my favorite parts about distance racing. I love having nothing but my canine companions and myself for company! However, I had thought I might be needing a 'pick me up' for the river. So I sang and danced on my runners while traveling down the Yukon to music picked out for me by my brother. I also had a great tape done up by a group of school kids I know from the Internet! They read poems and sang great songs like 'The 12 days of the Race' to the tune of 'The 12 Day of Christmas'! That was a lot of fun. Despite my amusement, I only carried the Walkman for another few checkpoints and never used it again - some old dogs are hard to teach new tricks! I was in pretty good spirits when I pulled into the cozy little village of Grayling!

July 10, 2001 Shageluk to Anvik

Shageluk apparently translates to 'Village of the Dog People" - and that it was! Dogs in yards throughout the village barked their welcome. We got parked right across from the 'Washeteria' (a very Alaskan term for a Laundromat - but appropriate in that you can wash people as well as clothes there)! Hot, running water was a treat we hadn't seen in a long time! I gazed longingly at the showers, but didn't figure I had the time to dry my hair and such before I wanted to leave.

One of the checkers was giving back massages to the mushers. Pedro's groans of pleasure echoed all our feelings at this special treat!

A couple of the dogs weren't eating really well. They were all taking their snacks (in fact, I still had to count my fingers after handing food to most of them) and would pick at their meals, but they weren't diving into the bowls as per usual. I took extra time snuggling, massaging, and whispering loving words in all their ears. That really seemed to do the trick, but for the first time this Race, the dogs left the checkpoint badly. As I had been training all season, I put my foot down on the brake and let them work through it - just like training, they popped out of their funk in no time. It seemed like we were making really good time for the short trip over to Anvik. I was in a great humor, that is, until I saw a sign that said 'Anvik - 9 miles'. They had to be kidding or just plain wrong. There was NO WAY Anvik was that far away. As I passed each successive sign counting down the mileage, it became less and less likely that they were wrong. By the time I hit the Yukon, fatigue and frustration had taken over. At one time, I had thought about going right through Anvik, but that didn't seem wise now - if the dogs were moving as slowly as our times showed, maybe they needed more rest. I definitely needed a mental pick me up.