Sunday 20 March 2005

March 20, 2005 My Race

First off, my heartfelt thanks to all of you that have taken the time to email kind words and thoughts on my scratch in Unalakleet. Of course, I am very disappointed, but I'm far from crushed. For me, a decision made for the best interest of my dogs is not an agonizing one - it is simply what needs to be done. There will be other years for us. Maybe not next year - but there will be other Iditarods down the road.

I do however want to address a thought that seems to be cropping up every now and again on the list - the thought that I am somehow 'superior' or 'more caring' because I scratched rather then continued on in the Race this year. That deeply bothers me because it simply is not true. The situations and circumstances that lead to me making the decision to halt my Race in Unk this year were MY team's situations and circumstances - they were not the same for everyone else. Not everyone else runs dogs suited to much colder conditions, not everyone else got that nasty bug this year, not everyone else's leader pool got decimated, etc, etc. The combination of these things (and a few others) meant that the responsible and humane decision for MY team was to withdraw - it does not mean that the other mushers remaining in the Race needed to be making the same decisions. 

Heck a few dogs on my team were totally unaffected by everything the Race threw at them this year. If I had had more of those type of dogs on my team, I would be in Nome today - but I didn't and I'm not. 
Yes, it was a tough Iditarod this year - but due to many, many variables in each musher's life, each one comes into the Race in a different situation. Some this year had their best Iditarod ever and I'm sure they will be hoping and praying for somewhat similar Races down the road - I will not. As Susan Butcher probably bemoans the '91 storm that stole her 5th victory right from underneath her nose - Swenson celebrates it for giving him his 5th win.

That folks, is one of the things that makes this Race so interesting. We as mushers face whatever nature decides to toss at us - some years it might favor us, others it might hinder us. That is just the way it is. The option of scratching if the conditions are too unfavorable for your particular team are always there. The year it is -40 through the whole Race, I'll be screaming bloody murder if they cancel it because while those conditions may not be do-able for some teams - they are definitely do-able for mine.


Friday 18 March 2005

March 18, 2005 Logistics

Good morning,

Just thought I'd drop you a quick post to let you know what is going on.

I'm still in Unalakleet. HOPEFULLY I will get out later this afternoon (6pm or so). The dogs were luckier and got out on a flight  last night. Jamie very kindly was at the airport at 11pm waiting for them. Mark is still in Nome, but I believe he gets out today at 5pm.  The long and short of it is that we should all be together again in Willow tonight. I'm looking forward to it. 

I haven't had much time on a computer, but did scan the list mails this morning and want you all to know how much your very kind and supportive words mean to me. Many thanks.


Thursday 17 March 2005

March 17, 2005 The Decision

Mark tells me he did a post from the Library in Nome today, but I don't see it on the list, so I will do a quick post from Unalakleet. I came into the checkpoint this morning after 24 hours on the trail with Loki in the basket. He was tired and dehydrated from a storm we came through this side of Old Woman Cabin and as a precautionary measure was put on IV fluids. Of course he was dropped. Never before have I dropped a dog that required such a level of vet care - that didn't sit well with me.

Mark (and Jamie West) and I had nice talks about the team and the troubles we were having. Mark and I made the decision that I would rest here 12 hours before heading over to Shaktoolik. I went outside and napped on the straw with the dogteam (specifically Herman) for a few hours. When I woke up I noticed that Odie was panting pretty hard. I called a vet over and his recommendation was to drop him, as he felt it well could be the start of pneumonia. Although he did tell me I could take him if I was 'careful'. 'Careful' with a Siberian team does not involve a small team, big hills, warm temperatures and punchy conditions. 

Odie was not the only dog with issues on the team either - 5 more are on antibiotics for one thing or another. 

Faced with driving a 7 dog team through more of the same when it came to trail conditions and weather we decided to scratch from the Race. My first and biggest priority will always be to my dog team. I want - no need - to always be able to look them in the eye, knowing that I have always strived to put their best interests first. This decision allows me that. 

More once I'm back in Willow - which I'm told will be 2 or 3 days. My spirits have been tremendously 'buoyed' tonight by all your wonderful words and wishes.

Thank you,

PS. And yes, I had pizza tonight. Doug Swingley's wife, Melanie Shrilla and I shared a Greek pizza from "Peace on Earth" for dinner tonight. It was wonderful.

Wednesday 16 March 2005

March 16, 2005 Unalakleet Update

We have spoken with Karen.

She will be scratching in Unalakleet. 

Everything is fine! She was going to have to drop at least one more dog, plus stories of mushers being up to their arm-pits in water and almost needing to be rescued led to her and Mark to decide ending it here would be the best for the dogs. 

Once again, she has made me so proud to be Karen Ramstead's brother. 

I'm sure you will get the full stories later on. 

Thanking you for Karen for all your support and prayers. 
Jim Murray

March 16, 2005 Still to Go

Big hills between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik...

Norton sound crossing on the ice this year to Koyuk...

An easy run to Elim on the ice or low ground with little terrain...

Lil McKinley - off the ice it is a steep climb and then several  roller coaster type steep hills (The view at night includes Golovin  and even Nome on down the coast, awesome). Then a really fun descent down the back side on to another ice covered bay into sleepy Golovin  and the across more ice/low land into White Mountain.

The hills in the next area towards Nome are big and get harder and  steeper as you head for the Bering Sea. After that an unplowed but  sometimes bare road complete with mileage signs (backwards to denote  how far you are from Nome) and then Safety Road house.

The last 22 miles changes from year to year. this year they are going  over Cape Nome which adds one more climb and about 2-3 miles.

Quite a challenge any year, but even more so with some of the worst weather (warm) in the Iditarod Trail Committee's 33 years.

Wayne Curtis
(Multi-Iditarod Finisher)

Tuesday 15 March 2005

March 15, 2005 Draco in Lead

I was jarred awake at 7:00 this morning by a ringing phone, on the other end was my little ray of sunshine. The normally talkative Karen was quiet, when she did talk she sounded tired and beat up. Her plan today is to leave Kaltag and run until it warms up then stop and camp. When it cools off she will continue on to Unalakleet. Once chores are taken care of I’m sure that she will order a pizza. She says that the pizza in Unalakleet is best pizza in the world, maybe this will pick up her spirits.

I think that Hugh Neff summed up the race best in today’s newspaper, “This has been horrible.”
Karen did mention that she was running Draco in single lead out of the checkpoints then swapping him out with Moe when they were down the trail.

I screwed up yesterday, the dogs that I picked up were Grover and Dasher. Skor, Surge and Kara still haven’t showed up at the prison. As I was driving to the prison yesterday, a guy passed me on a motorcycle and I saw someone driving a Corvette convertible.

I leave for Nome tomorrow morning. I should be there in plenty of time to see the winner cross the finish line. I’ll have time to check out Fritz in the museum, and above the museum is a library with computers and high speed internet access, so I’ll be able to do some surfing in Nome.

Later, Mark

BTW: When I said goodbye to Karen this morning she said “see you in Nome.”

Monday 14 March 2005

March 14, 2005 Deteriorating Trails

What a difference a day makes.  Record breaking temperatures, rain and deteriorating trails have taking their toll on our team.  Since I posted last, Karen has dropped 5 dogs, Grover, Skor, Kara, Dasher & Surge.  All were dropped for muscle or shoulder injuries caused by the soft punchy trail.  The dream of a 12 day race has evaporated and Karen’s Iditarod has quickly turned into a salvage mission.  Every checkpoint that Karen makes from now on will be a bonus, she will take as much rest as she can while she watches the trails disappear and the back of the pack pass her by.  I’m very confident in Karen’s dog driving abilities, and I’m positive that she will do whatever is best for her dogs.

Gus and Snickers are recovering nicely and the babies are doing fine. I’m off to the prison today to pick up two more dogs, I think that it’s Grover and Skor.

Well that’s all for now, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what today brings.

(Editor's Note: Although it is disappointing that warm weather and poor trail conditions have lead to the dropping of key dogs from previous Iditarods. The remaining nine dogs, although a smaller team, are still very good team:)
The dogs still running towards Nome with Karen are -
  Dog Status DOB/
Sex Finished
Son of Iditarod Finisher Butch
4 Time Iditarod Veteran 11/5/97
7 yrs
M 2 Time
Son of Iditarod Finisher Striker
3 Time Iditarod Veteran 7/27/99
5 yrs
M Iditarod 2004
Daughter of Butch
Rookie 7/1/01
3 yrs
Son of 2 Time Iditarod Finisher Grover
Iditarod 2004 Veteran 6/6/01
3 yrs
M Iditarod 2004
Moses Iditarod 2004 Veteran 1/4/00
5 yrs
M Iditarod 2004
Herman Iditarod 2004 Veteran 8/28/01
3 yrs
M Iditarod 2004
Herman's brother
Iditarod 2004 Veteran 8/28/01
3 yrs
M Iditarod 2004
Denali Iditarod 2003 Veteran 5/27/00
4 yrs
Son of Striker,
Loki's brother
2 Time Iditarod Veteran 7/27/99
5 yrs
M Iditarod 2004

Saturday 12 March 2005

March 12, 2005 The Dark Side

Last night while goodness slept, there was a disturbance in the dark side...

Like a scene from a bad Tarzan movie, Willow fell silent, only the sound of the melting snow could be heard dripping from the roof. Then as the first demon seed hit the ground, all the kennels within earshot erupted in unison with mournful howls knowing that the world would never be the same again. As I approached the whelping pen, ravens circled above, knowing that the air was the only safe place to be. I lifted the roof of the doghouse off exposing a cozy little nest with only Olena inside and the familiar sound of nursing pups. I slowly stuck my hand in the house afraid that I might end up with a right hand like Martin Buser. I pushed back Olena’s head to reveal 5 little wiggly worms, 3 boys and 2 girls, all grey and white. May God have mercy on our souls.

On a lighter note, Gus is looking much better. He didn’t need all his painkillers, so I’ve been slipping them into my beer, it’s the only way to even come close to giving American beer the same kick as Canadian beer.

I haven’t heard from the prison yet, it takes a little longer to get a dog home from Ophir than McGrath.
If everything goes okay we shouldn’t hear from Karen until Unalakleet. It looks like she hooked up with Judy Currier in Iditarod. It would be nice for her to have some company for part of the race.

It rained here for part of the day yesterday, the high was 42F and it was very windy. We lost a lot of snow and what’s left is pretty rotten. No one is running dogs around here.


Friday 11 March 2005

March 11, 2005 Princess

I talked to Karen yesterday (A LOT). It appears that a computer was not the only piece of technology that was available to mushers in Takotna, Karen managed to find a satellite phone. The time delay was so bad that we had to keep talking for two minutes after we hung up. I hate the 24 hour layover. When you put a bunch of tired mushers in a room together with nothing to do but whine and complain about everything, nothing good can come of it. So I am guessing that when the conversation started to fade off, Karen decided, “Hey lets get Mark involved”. She was very bummed about the heat and the way that it was sucking the energy of her very powerful team. This year’s team is much better than last years, but she is not being given the venue to display their talents. I told her that a lesser team would have scratched by now and to “SUCK IT UP PRINCESS”. This did not go over as well as you might have expected. I quickly asked her if she had seen any moose and she said “a few, but nothing like on our training runs”. She forgot all about the whole “Princess” thing, phew, close call.

In years past when Karen has stopped her team for their 24 hour rest she has had a problem. I guess our prissy little show dogs are opposed to crapping where they sleep. This means that when Karen leaves the checkpoint the dogs spend the next 5 miles leaving “used dog food” all over trail. So this year our friend Bob Chlupach lent Karen a cable stake out line, which she sent to Takotna, it worked perfect. Karen said that many of the other musher commented on what a great idea that was, thanks Bob.

Gus is home now, Karen dropped him in McGrath during her 13 minute sled changed. She had to bag him on the way in, and it didn’t make sense to carry him all the way to Takotna. He’s still sore today, so he wouldn’t have been able to continue even after the 24 hour lay over. A few days of lounging in the sun and he’ll be as good as new. I’m pretty sure that the dog that Karen dropped in Ophir was Snickers. Snickers is a young dog and Karen said that she just wasn’t having fun anymore.

Karen’ team was on the CBS news last night, she was shown coming in and out of McGrath, there was no audio but Karen said that they caught up with her later and did an interview so keep your eyes open. 
Olena didn’t eat breakfast this morning so it looks like she’s getting close.

Well that’s about it for now, Karen has left Ophir and is on her way to Iditarod. She will stop half way at Don’s Cabin and rest the team for 4 or 6 hours. Unfortunately this means that the last half of the trip into Iditarod will be made during the heat of the day.

I hope that there are no satellite phones in Iditarod.

Thursday 10 March 2005

March 10, 2005 Musher Online

Yup, it is me. Technology is a wonderful thing and Takotna actually has limited internet access for mushers! Cool!! But this will be my only post, as there is alot of things (like sleeping) I need to do before I leave.

The dog dropped in McGrath was Gus. He had been off coming into Nikolai, but the vets could only find a sore paw. Within 5 miles of leaving, I knew it was something else and with about 15 miles left in the trip I had to give him a ride. He was quite the character and literally lounged in the sun as he rode along. A couple days rest and he will be back to his wonderful self, I'm sure.

Everyone else is doing very well. Snickers is nursing a sore shoulder and Hector a sore wrist, but with 24 hours to rest I would expect that all 15 dogs will leave here with me. A few dogs have diarrea, which is unusual for my team, but I'm thinking I either overdosed them on fat in Nikolai or they ate some meat that was off. Nothing to really worry about though...

Grover and Kara have been doing most of the leading, but just about everyone has been up front at one time or another. Denali did a super job with Grover leading through the Buffalo Tunnels and the Burn.
My 'stars' so far this trip are Herman, Crunchie, Sprite, and Odie. Awesome dogs.

The trail has been tough. Lots of snow and horribly warm temps are about the worst for my team, but we are hanging in best we can. (Doug Swingley just walked through the room looking for information on his wife - neat to be 24'ing with the top mushers).

My eyeballs are getting heavy again. I got 6 1/2 hours sleep last night - upping my total race sleep time to 10 hours. I was up at 4 am, fed dogs, massage a few, had breakfast and am heading back to my sleeping bag. I'll probably be up in another 4 or 5 hours to work on a few more chores - like repacking my sled bag. I changed sleds in McGrath and just tossed everything from one bag into the other. Anyway - sleepy and starting to lose my train of thought....

I've got some good stories for you all when I get home...

Wednesday 9 March 2005

March 9, 2005 Sixteen & Hot

I just got off the phone with Karen, she was on her way out the door to leave Nikolai. She said that it’s tough sledding out there and it was HOT HOT HOT!!. Its so hot that when she’s crossing lakes she stops the team in ankle deep water so the can have a drink. She’s been adjusting her race plan on the fly, hoping that she can make some time back if it cools off later in the race.

The dogs look good and all 16 are expected to make it to Takotna were she will be taking her 24 hour break (which is actually around 25 hours and 25 minutes this year).

Karen’s original plan was to blow through McGrath on her way to Takotna, but it seems that the Happy River steps decided to make a few trail modifications to her sled, so she will be making a quick pit stop in McGrath to change over to her second sled. She will need to stop, change the sled and leave before the dogs decide that McGrath is a good place for a nap. I hope that she’s been paying attention to Jeff Gordon’s pit crew while I’ve been watching NASCAR.

If you go to “Race Updates” on the Iditarod page and select “Favorite Musher” instead of “Current Standings”, you while see a more detailed listing of Karen’s run.

Today I’m taking the truck into Wasilla to wash it and get the oil changed. I’ve been spending some of my time packing up stuff and getting organized for our trip home. AH the thrill-a-minute life of an Iditarod Handler.


Tuesday 8 March 2005

March 8, 2005 Alabama Oops

For those of you who are new to following a long distance race, you have to realize that updates are slow, and servers go down from being overloaded. Mushers do not have to sign out of checkpoints unless it has a mandatory layover. So if the Checker isn’t paying attention a musher may be missed until they show up at the next checkpoint.

I haven’t heard from Karen, that’s a good thing, but I got calls from Marlene Daniels and Doug Grillot. Doug was in Skwentna and Marlene was in Finger Lake. Both of them said that Karen and the dogs looked good, hot but good. The dogs were drinking lots and some of them wouldn’t even wait for Karen to put the soup in the bowl and were drinking right out of the ladle.

Karen is now in Rohn, so the Happy River Steps and the Gorge are behind her. It’s clouding over so maybe things will cool off.

For those of you that weren’t at the Musher's banquet you missed a funny mistake during Karen’s introduction to the stage. Carey Caragane is a local weatherman in Anchorage and has also served as the MC for the Iditarod banquet for as long as we’ve been coming up here. When he announced Karen he said, “here is Karen Ramstead from Perryvale, Alabama”. Now I don’t know if it was the collective giggle from the crowd, or if he realized that Alabama is not a hot bed of mushing, but he turned towards Karen shaking his head and said to her, “that’s not right”. After a brief discussion he returned to the mike and apologized repeating the introduction using the proper province and country. During Karen’s run through Anchorage on Saturday, some fans were jumping up and down when Karen went by yelling, “we’re from Alabama too”.

I got Olena’s whelping area ready yesterday, so now she has some place to have her puppies. I don’t expect them before the weekend, but judging by the size of here it could be any day now.

That’s all for now


Monday 7 March 2005

March 7, 2005 Fly-Over View

Just to let you know, I was SO lucky to be able to fly over Karen on the trail yesterday. She was traveling down the Little Susitina to the Yenta River. Karen had arranged for myself, Jeanne Stinchcomb and Karen's sister-in-law, Melissa to fly with Doug Grillot. Doug, you may remember, traveled the trail last year with Karen. He is an Iditarod finisher as well as an excellent pilot and just a really nice guy.

Karen and the beautiful sled dogs looked really good traveling down the river. We circled them several times. She even waved to us a one point. It was just an awesome sight. So amazing that they can travel in this vast countryside of Alaska. The views were spectacular. And of course there were spectators at various spots cheering the teams on down the river. It's a party on the Iditarod trail for many miles.

Morna...I had tears in my eyes for you as I gave Karen a last hug before I ran down to get video of the team coming into the chute. I heard so many cheers about the pretty dogs and there's a team!! What a happy moment.

Go trails and happy huskies all the way to Nome.

Donna Q
NorthWapiti Yahoo Group Member

March 7, 2005 Traditions & Decisions

I guess that I have to go all way back to Saturday to get started. At 4:45 Karen, Marcus and myself woke up, loaded the dogs and left for Anchorage. Once we arrived we headed to the same restaurant that we’ve gone to for our past four Iditarods for our traditional Iditarod start breakfast of Eggs Benedict. Once breakfast was done we headed back to the truck were a crowd had already gathered. Several hours of dropping dogs, feeding dogs, and schmoosing with everyone, Karen was heading down to the starting line again this time with her brother Jim in tow on the second sled. She took her time running to Campbell airstrip, stopping along the way to grab hotdogs, muffins and to let kids pet the dogs.

With the start stopping at Campbell airstrip instead of Eagle River, we had plenty of time in the afternoon to get ready for the restart. One of the final decisions that Karen had to make was whether to take the Defender shotgun or the .44 Magnum handgun. While I was putzing around that night a HUGE moose wondered into the dog yard. I ran to the garage, were Karen was packing her sled. I grabbed the shotgun and told Karen that if she wanted to practice shooting the new gun that she should come outside now. By the time we got back to the dog yard the moose had already vanished over the hill. Karen still took the opportunity to fire several shots into the air, and the decision was made, the shotgun is in the sled.

Sunday morning was pretty relaxing compared to past starts. Iditarod changed the restart from Wasilla to Willow and from 10:00 to 2:00, this meant that we were able to take our time getting ready. We even had time to have our traditional restart breakfast of steak and eggs.

The short 3-mile drive to the community center was a breeze, dog trucks get waved though and put in pre-assigned parking spots. This year our spot was in between the Norwegians and the Swingley’s. With former champions on either side of us, there was always a big crowd. The dogs got fed, pee tested, chip scanned and then put away out of the commotion for a nap. Karen’s sled got checked by officials for all the mandatory gear. Before we knew it, it was time to start hooking up dogs.

This year Karen choose experience over enthusiasm and put Gus and Grover in lead to get her out of the starting chute. The rest of the team in no particular order is: Snickers, Kara, Sprite, Hector, Herman, Surge, Skor, Loki, Odie, Denali, Draco, Moses, Crunchy, Dasher.

Well that’s all for now, Karen is right on schedule, don’t forget about “Root For Your Musher” on the Cabela’s web page.


March 7, 2005 Open House, Restart, Iditarod Images

  Images by Donna Finner
Thanks to Donna & Doug for taking such great pictures and for sharing with the rest of us!