North Wapiti Iditarod 2000 Journal
Finger Lake to Rainy Pass
After feeding, checking over the dogs, massaging Spuds shoulder
and putting a jacket on him, I went up the bank to find the loveliest Roadhouse. A warm kitchen, wonderful food and the offer of a
real bed was unbeatable - although, the bed didnt last for long. A number of guests
checked into the Roadhouse and the mushers had to give up the cozy mattresses oh
well, even a spot on the floor underneath the kitchen table is good when you are tired!
I had decided to stay 11 hours in Finger Lake. I had to give Spud at
least 6 to 8 hours rest for his shoulder and if I went then, I would be doing the Happy
River Steps in the dark with a fresh 16-dog team. I figured if I waited 11 hours, I would
leave the checkpoint in the dark, but not hit the Steps until just after daybreak.
Spud and the rest of the dogs looked good as I prepared to leave
in fact, a little too good. As I hooked up the last two tuglines, all 16 dogs began
barking and pounding at their harnesses like they were standing in a starting chute. They shot out of the checkpoint when I pulled the
hook. The trail took a sharp left turn off the lake, as I rounded the corner I hit a rut
in the middle of the trail. With the combination of speed, corner, and rut I was unable to
keep the sled upright. While clinging desperately to the handlebar, I struggled to plant
one of my snowhooks with my elbow. It worked and brought the circus to a screeching halt.
I quickly scooped out some of the snow that got down my pants while I was being dragged
(as it turns out, I frostbit my stomach where the snow contacted my skin. This probably
makes me the only musher in Iditarod history to bear permanent frostbite scars from the
Race ON HER BELLY!) As I worked to quickly sort my sled out, Trish Kolegar came barreling
down the trail behind me. I asked her to give me a second and I would be on my way
no problem. Im not sure exactly what happened as I pulled my hook out of the snow,
but within a split second I was once again being dragged down the trail only this
time I was unable to hang on. Off went my crazed, 16-dog team down the trail
without me. As Trish went by, I told her I was going to run back to the checkpoint. Race
rules state that you may use whatever means necessary to catch a loose team. I
knew the checkpoint had snowmachines and that was going to be the fastest way to get a
hold of my dogs. I arrived back at Finger Lake frantic and covered in sweat and snow
frankly, not a good combination. The checkers were great at trying to keep me calm
and getting things organized to go after my team. In what seemed like hours, but in
reality were probably mere minutes, I was on the back of a snowmachine headed after the
dogs. The ruts in the trail proved to be just as difficult for a snowmachine as they had
been for me. Twice we crashed into the bank. The second crash was to avoid Trishs
team. It seems Trish had missed a corner on the trail and her sled was quite
literally up a tree (In fact, she later told me she had to chop the tree down with her axe
to free her sled!). We stopped to make sure she and the dogs were all okay - they were. She said she could hear my team
barking up ahead, which meant they were stopped hopefully everyone was okay.
We came around a corner in the trail and there was the most beautiful
sight my 16 dog team barking impatiently wanting to go, but the sled upright, still
on the trail and not one dog even slightly tangled. My Rusty Hagen rollover snowhook had
once again more then paid for itself, catching in the snow and holding the team. I checked
the team over everyone was just fine. I
shakily climbed on the runners and headed out to deal with the Happy River Steps.
The dogs ran harder then I would have like jazzed from their
earlier adventure. I was still shaky, cold, and feeling really clumsy on the sled. Despite
it all, I do remember that the early morning sky was spectacular millions of bright
stars peering over the peaks of majestic mountains, with vivid streaks of Northern Lights
dancing back and forth. The trail was tough
right from go it twisted, turned, and dipped. Deep ruts from snowmachines and
previous mushers brakes were everywhere. I feared that, despite my planning in
Finger Lake, the dogs were moving faster then I expected and we were going to hit the
Steps in the dark. I was right.
They say that there is one of the legendary Iditarod Dangerous
Trail Conditions signs at the top of the Steps I never saw it, but the second
the trail did a 180 degree turn and dropped off the face of the earth I knew where
I was. The ruts on the Steps were 2 ½ to 3
feet deep if you hit it right, you just hang on and ride your brake for everything
you were worth. After leveling out only long enough to take a deep breath, the trail
swings 180 degrees back on itself and straight down again. I remember thinking as we
plunged down this step hey, this looks exactly like it does in the Iditarod videos.
One more turn and plunge and we dropped onto the Happy River. I felt like the
weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders I had made it down the Steps.
I looked back down the trail and grinned the biggest grin!
The rest of the trip into Rainy Pass was certainly no piece of cake.
We bounced and crashed over moguls and through ruts. Several times I tumbled to the ground
and once wedged my sled so badly into a tree well, I thought I would still be there come
About 5 miles out of Rainy Pass, I heard a snapping noise from
somewhere on the sled. I gave a quick survey as we were moving and didnt see
anything amiss, however the sled was not handling well. I think I spent more time on my
butt in that 5 miles then I did on the runners. I figured I was just tired from my rather
As I pulled onto Puntilla Lake, I was surprised to see Jamie Nelson
still there. She grabbed my leaders and steered them into a parking spot next to her team.
As I stepped off the sled, I noticed that the left rear stantion was snapped in half. I
was halfway relived to know that there was some sort of excuse for my inability to drive a
sled for the last bit. As it turned out 5
mushers arrived in Rainy Pass with broken sleds countless others with damaged ones.
said her team had come down with what the vets thought was kennel cough. She was going to
be staying awhile. She offered to help me repair my sled. I grateful accepted. It looked like I was going to be staying here for
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