North Wapiti Siberian
June 6, 2001
Rohn to Nikolai
The overview – BUMP, BUMP, BUMP, CRASH, SCREAM, BUMP, BUMP, ‘WHOA’, BUMP, BUMP, SCREAM, ‘PLEEEEEASE WHOA’, ‘EASY’, BUMP, BUMP, CRASH, SCRAPE, BUMP, BUMP, SCREAM,…….get the picture???
I love Rohn. It is so picturesque, quiet, and secluded. Traditionally, mushers can breathe a sigh of relief that the worst of the trail is behind them when they are here. The thought kept popping up in the back of my mind that last year I thought the trail to Nikolai was the worst part of the trail, but I couldn’t quite remember why I thought that (I believe this is the same thing that allows woman to continue to have babies – we have really bad memories when it comes to pain!!) Pushing the nagging thought back, I tended to the dogs and myself. I tried to grab a few hours sleep, but just couldn’t fall off. The checker gently reminded me at one point that, in order for them to wake me up at the time I had requested, I first needed to fall asleep!
Just before nightfall the officials helped me disengage my team from the trees and we headed out. In no time at all I was on my side, wet, and body surfing behind my sled down a river. I tried ‘WHOA’ but that just announced to the dogs that I was in trouble. I swear Grover had a sparkle in his eye as he drove into his harness and led the team off the trail and down the river. We seemed in no imminent danger and I was overcome by a case of the giggles as I tried several different body positions to get comfortable as we slide down the ice. Every now and then I tried ‘WHOA’ – I swear they picked up speed each time! Finally, I heard ice cracking. That quickly chanced the picture. Lucky for me, Grover realized it too and knew ‘Playtime with Mom’ was over. Without a command, he swung hard to the left and led us up over a bank and out of danger. Game over, they stopped on command and I was able to upright the sled, brush off some indignity and verbally steer them onto the marked trail.
The next miles were dirt, ice, and rocks, with a small spattering of snow for color. We bounced and bumped along. Bob Chlupach and Buck Church passed when we had a break from the narrow path through the trees. We came to a big spot of overflow that was so deep that my smaller dogs, like Nik, Striker, and the girls were literally swimming. The trail was a little confusing and with no ability to really stop the sled, I allowed Grover to make the decision as to which way to go. As we rounded a clump of alders, still in about 5 or 6 inches of water, I heard Buck yelling ‘Whoa’. As it turns out many teams had taken the trail to the right, which explains why Grover had gone that way, but it was the worst way to go! The trail made a quick uphill climb as it came out of the water, the water dripping off the sleds and dogs had frozen into something that best resembled a bobsled run! The approach we were making on it came at it from the side and a large tree stump where it joined into the correct trail added to the excitement. Buck was still trying to get his team up the slope and my leaders had run right into him, tangling with his team. Things were so slippery that I literally could not stand up on the hill. I know for fact that without the help of Buck and the solid foundation of pull training on my dogs (courtesy of Jamie Nelson) we might still be on that hill! I dreaded the Post River Glacier ahead, but it turned out to be only a glacier of rocks and gravel this year!
At one point during the night a headlamp appeared ahead of me on the trail. It was Art Church. He was having a bad time – he had temporarily got separated from a few of his teammates, he was feeling ill (turned out to be pneumonia and he scratched due to that in Nikolai), and blood was dripping from a good size cut on the bridge of his nose. We chatted for a bit and just before I left, I asked him if he had something to clean up his face with. He looked incredulously at me and asked what was wrong with his face!! Turns out he was unaware of the injury!!
Grover was invaluable over the many snow-less, icy lakes that we crossed. After the last big lake, I stopped and camped with Bob Chlupach for about 4 hours. It was nice to ‘chat Siberian’ for a bit. Other teams passed by on a pretty regular schedule. All of us had horror stories and near misses to tell about the trail. I vowed that I was finishing this Race, so I NEVER had to come back and do this piece of trail again.
As the sun came up the next day, things were looking up. The trail through the Burn had snow, the dogs were moving pretty good, thoughts of never running this Race again were banished as I played over early run/rest schedules and thought about what I could do better in future Races. (See – bad memory about pain!)About 12 miles outside of Nikolai Oreo quit pulling. She stuck her ears out the side of her head to let me know she was unhappy about something. Oreo is the Queen of acting pitiful. When she is unhappy, she makes sure everyone is aware of it. All I could find was a little pain in her lower back. I moved her around in the team and gave her a massage. Despite that she seemed to become more unhappy and uncomfortable. I stopped and loaded her into the sled about 9 miles out. About 1 mile out of the checkpoint, I re-hooked her up to see if the rest made her feel any better. She came into Nikolai under her own steam, but she wasn’t pulling.