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North Wapiti Siberian Husky Kennels
Iditarod 2003 - Tales from the Trail

Summer, 2003

Kaltag to Eagle Island

I was parked and going about my chores when the 2 women that had been out on snow machines as I was coming in came along to chat. They assured me that they had seen me long before my headlamp went out and that we were never in danger. That was reassuring.

They were chatting away with each other about local gossip, occasionally stopping to ask me about my cooker, what I was feeding the dogs, or such questions. It was nice to be reminded that while this is a life consuming adventure for mushers - life in the villages doesn’t stop for the Iditarod, it just continues on with a bit of extra excitement. We exchanged a pleasant goodnight as I continued working with the dogs and they headed off for a cup of tea.

The dogs were still in a great mood. They all polished off good meals and quickly settled into the straw for a nap. Even the rookies were now acting like pros.

I organized my sled a bit and puttered with my drop bags before heading off to the community center for some food and a nap – but not without taking a quick run up to the Firehall, aka Race Checkpoint for a visit to the village’s one flush toilet! * Sigh *

Many snacks (for the dogs and I), visits to the flush toilet (for me, not the dogs), and some sleep (for all) later, at just after 7 am, we pulled out of Kaltag.

I think I had been spoiled by the way the dogs charged out of the last 2 checkpoints and I was a little disappointed with them as we headed down the trail this morning. I stopped and switched leaders a few times, which was foolish of me. I was playing mind games with myself, and losing. I got passed by a few teams, which further screwed my mind up, but finally I gave my head a few shakes and got back on track. At this point Denali was up in front of the team with Draco. He actually did a pretty fine job for an hour or so, then his age got the better of him and I slipped him back into the team with an ear scratch.

In 2001, I traveled much of this trail in the dark, in a storm and half asleep, but I would have SWORN that a good portion of it was a hilly, overland trail – turns out the whole darn thing was on the river. I puzzled over that for a bit and then had a good laugh at myself. That actually explained a lot. J

Finally, I came to the part that I had seen in the daylight. There I passed Tyrell Seavey camped in a nice secluded spot. I had planned on stopping for 4 hours through the worse of the heat of the day, so I started to look for a similar spot to get out of the fierce wind that had kicked up in the last few hours.

I came to a curve in the trail that seemed to offer some shelter along the edge of the bank. I pulled the team off the main trail and fired up the cooker to get some snow melting for them. At about this moment, as my dishes and the lid to my cooker started sailing across the snow on the wind, it became obvious that I had not found a secluded spot - the wind had just had a brief lull. As I chased items across the snow and attempted to weight down others, Carla Kelly came along and thought she might camp with me. I suggested that that was a BAD idea and we should both find a better spot to stop. She agreed and pulled her dogs back onto the trail, as I hastily packed up my sled. Too hastily, actually, as I forgot that my cooker had been flaming away moments earlier and I grabbed it with light gloves on to put back in my sled. The gloves offered no protection and I knew right away that I had burned the two middle fingers on my right hand pretty bad. I jumped up and down, swore A LOT, and tried to take away some of the pain by cooling the burn down with snow. The snow worked to cool the cooker down enough to pack in my sled, but that was about it. Once we were back on the trail, I found some burn cream that Paul Gebhart had given me in Galena for some windburn on my cheeks. That, finally, offered some momentary relief.

I re-passed Carla and then came across Jim Gallea and Dexter Kancer camped along the trail. Although this was still a windy spot, at least things would be eased by having company on my break – and someone to whine to sounded like a great idea about now.

I pulled in between the two of them and Carla pulled in a few moments behind me. After the dogs were snacked Dexter pulled out his first aid kit and taped up my now badly blistered fingers. Jim pulled out a pack of small cigars and the four of us smoked, joked and had a great time. We swapped a few snacks with each other (Carla’s 2 granola bar/peanut butter ‘sandwiches’ were a great idea!) and everyone settled in their sled for a rest. I pulled my book out again and read a few more chapters.

Finally my four hours were up and I set out on the trail again. Carla was making plans to leave, although Dexter and Jim were going to stay another few hours.

The dogs were traveling pretty well, but it was still sunny and warm out, so I was just patient.

An airplane passed overhead going the opposite direction, then a few guys on snow machines. “The leader is coming!”, he shouted. “Robert Sorlie”, he replied to my question of who exactly that was. Sure enough a few moments later Sorlie and I did a flawless head on pass. He was poling along with a ski pole and his dog team looked strong and solid. We exchanged greetings as we passed by.

The dogs enjoyed the little excitement in their day and picked up their pace. Evening was setting in and the temperature was steadily dropping, and my team’s pace kept picking up the cooler it got.

We passed Ramy Brooks, who told me I had about 20 miles to Eagle Island. I mulled the math over in my mind a bit and decided I was very pleased with the run so far.

The trail actually headed off the river and onto a little island or sand bar for a bit. The dogs charged through there, especially when a cow and calf moose were spotted on the trail. After a few tense moments, Mama moose decided to move on. A couple miles later I could see a playful fox on the trail ahead. The fox spotted me and began to run TOWARDS me. He kept getting closer and closer. Suddenly he spotted the team in front of me and the little light went on in his head. I swear he did a 180-degree turn in mid air and bolted off. The team only spotted him as he was heading away from us, but they gave a spirited chase anyway.

Many of you have heard the story of my next strange encounter. By now we had been completely swallowed up by the night and we were traveling along in the narrow tunnel of light created by my headlamp. All of a sudden blaring music and flashing lights invaded our little world. I thought I was hallucinating a traveling disco! “Who’s that??”, a voice called out. To my answer the voice replied, “Looking good, Karen!”. I was still blinking and shaking my head, trying to clear it as the ‘party’ receded off into the night. Turns out that was Jeff King. The flashing lights were the bike lights that he puts on all of the collars of his dogs and he has lightweight, external speakers mounted on his Trans Alaska suit for the music!

Powered only by the music of my heart, the rhythm and sound of a strong moving dog team, we covered the remainder of the distance into Eagle Island.

Karen's Diary

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