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

April 7, 2003

Manley to Tanana

We settled into a nice resting spot in the checkpoint – right near the hot water that they had available to all the mushers. I snacked everyone and was able to offer a warm meal pretty quickly thanks to that hot water. Thankfully, the dogs ate pretty well when I offered them their meal. That’s a good sign that I haven’t pushed them too hard. I breathed a sigh of relief over that. The vet came over and did their check, there was a number of wrist injuries, but nothing too critical. I massaged down the sore wrists with a rosemary based massage oil, Algayvl, and then wrapped them in neoprene wraps to ‘sweat’ them out.

That done I got some of the hot water into a rolling boil in my cooker to thaw some juice packs and cook a meal. While I was waiting I sorted through my bags and managed to accomplish one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done on Iditarod. My Mom had made up ‘Clean Up Kits’ for me for the trail, consisting of a facecloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizing cream, etc. I noticed when I was doing drop bags that she had thrown the odd treat in their for me, like candy Popeye cigarettes (one of my favorites!). As I came across my Manley Clean Up Kit I noticed she had thrown a piece of chocolate in a Ziploc in there. Moms always pack the best treats, cause they know what their kids like, so I was eagerly anticipating this chocolate as I bit into it…remember me mentioning the SOAP she packed in these kits??? That’s right – what I had bit into wasn’t a crumbled piece of chocolate, but rather a crumbled half of a fancy bar of soap.

ACK…GAG…SPUTTER…HACK. Gosh it tasted awful. I spit and rinsed for about 15 minutes before the taste started to go away, but it would be hours and a lot of food later before I really chased the taste away. The positive side?? Well, I figured I could swear all I wanted for the rest of the Race – after all my mouth was already washed out with soap. 

The checkpoint building was a long walk from the team, but after making sure the dogs were soundly sleeping I hiked down to see about grabbing a nap. Cindy Gallea, Karen Land and Mike Williams were all soundly sleeping in there. I tried, but just couldn’t fall asleep. I enviously listened to Mike snoring, wishing I could fall asleep. After a bit, I gave up and hiked back to the teams. 

Word was circling around that the next section of trail could be a tough one. Ramy Brooks had told someone, who told someone, who told me (gosh, and you wonder how rumors get started on the Race) that Fish Lake, which was halfway between Manley and Tanana, was known to sometimes be glare ice with high winds. He, apparently, said that he had been stranded on the edge of the lake before, unable to get his team across until the winds died down and recommended that we pack an extra meal for the dogs in case we got stuck out there. There were also rumors about how long the trail was – some said in the 50 mile range, some said as high as 65. I fretted and worried about whether or not to break up the run with some trail rest. Oh well, at least that gave me something to do since I couldn’t sleep. 

Finally, my 8-hour rest was up and I made plans to leave. Karen Land intended to leave at the same time and I was looking forward to having her company out there. 

The dogs all woke up well and munched down their snacks. They even drove pretty nicely off their bed of straw, but once we hit the trail they would go 10 feet, stop to pee/poop/sniff…go 10 feet…stop… They were driving me nuts! Then all of a sudden they found some motivation as we plunged over a bank and onto a creek. Half of the bank was missing and the sled crashed into the void. The dogs dragged me down the trail for a bit until deciding they had pushed their luck enough. Strange how a bunch of dogs that 30 seconds prior couldn’t move 10 continuous feet, now found the enthusiasm to drag me down the trail. 

Once I was back on the runners the dogs settled back into their shuffle. * sigh * After about an hour, Palmer caught up with me and passed. I wondered where Karen Land was – turns out she stayed longer in Manley and I never did see her on the trail again. The dogs picked up for a bit and then slowed back into the ‘Siberian shuffle’. My patience was at its end. I stomped my foot down on the drag brake and said ‘Everybody HIKE’. This is a fundamental part of their training program and I hoped to get their minds back to the job at hand by reminding them of the basics.

Grover cast a quick glance over his shoulder and then dropped into his harness and began to PULL. The speed and drive of the team picked up remarkably. As each mile rolled by, they seemed to get stronger and stronger. Within no time, the ‘Siberian Shuffle’ was history and they were moving down the trail like the team I had been so proud of all training season. We passed by some old houses and shacks – Tofte, I’m told it’s called, but I don’t know if anyone lives there even in the summer now. The trail was beautiful and interesting. The dogs and I were having a blast. 

The old road through Tofte ended and we came out into an area of winding trail through some stunted spruce forest. We were really flying now. All of a sudden the dogs were on ice, Grover swung wide to avoid a patch of open water and the ice gave way beneath him. He and Orion quickly clambered out of the water, but all of the dogs got wet as we went through that section. Once we were on solid snow again, I stopped to let them shake and removed soaked booties before they froze. I decided not to put any new ones on, as I thought there might be more open water and I figured that they would do better on the glare ice of Fish Lake, which shouldn’t be too far ahead, barefoot.

As I walked through the team and gave them all a pat, they all looked at me with smiles on their faces and gleams in their eyes. “’Bout time you found us something challenging”, they seemed to be saying! They started to bang on the lines and bark to get going, so I quickly stepped on the runners and called them up.

The rest of the run was one that will be burned in my mind for all time. The dogs performed beautifully all the way into Tanana. The trail was interesting and fun – some more open water, quick challenging portages, narrow trails, wide featureless lake crossings - even the ‘dreaded’ Fish Lake was nothing to worry about. A while after crossing the lake the trail got onto Fish Creek – as we traveled along this stretch the northern lights put on a SPECTACULAR display right in front of us. It was as close to perfection as a run can get – only two things marred it. Earlier in the evening, Kaylinn hurt her shoulder and had to get loaded in the sled bag. She was a gracious and problem free passenger though.

The other incident was a little more painful. I kind of, dozed off for a brief second and was quickly and painfully snapped back into the moment when a tree hanging over the riverbank caught me on my forehead. Oh gosh that hurt. I was lucky though – if the branch had been lower, or I had been taller – I probably would have broken my nose. It also caught me just above my headlamp, so the lamp didn’t get broken and driven into my skull. I kept reminding myself how ‘lucky’ I was as I rifled through my sled bag for aspirins. 

With smiles on all our faces, and under a canopy of northern lights, we rolled into Tanana – at that moment there was no one in the world I would have traded places with and no where in the world I would have rather been. Amazing.

Karen's Diary

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