Nenana to Manley
Mark was waiting at the top of the riverbank to guide the team into a parking spot. The dogs didn’t want to stop for me to check in and it took some doing to hold them while I did so. I was so pleased with their energy level. I patted myself on the back for sticking to my race plan and taking it easy on this leg. Little did I know that in no time I’d be kicking myself in the butt for sticking to that very plan.
We got the dogs parked and some snacks into them. Mark had a great sandwich waiting for me that I munched on while stuffing more junk into my sled for our planned trail break ahead.
I ran in to use the washroom. Musher Rule #4 (Numbers 1 – 3 are “Never let go of the sled”) – Never pass up a flushing toilet.
I replaced some booties on a few dogs, put some on a few others and took some off yet a few more and then we were ready to go.
It was a pretty straight shot out of the checkpoint, so Mark and I figured we could get the team without having to bother the checkers. He snapped a neckline and leash on Draco and Gus and began to lead them to the out trail. I was standing on the brake for everything I was worth and it wasn’t making much of an impression on this pumped up team. I couldn’t even stop them so Mark could get the leash and neckline off, he had to run along side them and work at it. He managed to get the leaders free and get his hand up for our ‘traditional high five’ as we roared out of the checkpoint. We were both grinning about how great the dogs looked. Worries created at the Ceremonial Start were firmly SQUASHED!
We sailed around a corner and back onto the river. I was riding my drag brake with both feet and verbally urging the team to ‘settle down’. Thankfully, after realizing I wasn’t going to let them sprint, they settled into a beautiful pace.
The trail was littered with camping mushers. The first I passed is one of my favorites, Aliy Zirkle, we exchanged a cheerful greeting as my team rolled by. Some of the other mushers I recognized, some I didn’t. Some were rolled up in sleeping bags, some still tending to chores. Mike Williams was sitting on a cooler, sipping something from a steaming mug. “What a beautiful trail”, he called out. It was – a beautiful day and a beautiful trail.
The next musher I passed caused me a small amount of concern - it was Jeff King. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the same checkpoint as Jeff, forget passed him, even if he was resting on the trail. I tried to mull over in my mind what his race strategy would be for so early a break.
A little while later I spied Martin Buser’s team pulled off along the bank of a little creek. Okay, now I was getting really worried.
I briefly stopped to confirm the length of the trail with Jason Barron. He thought the distance was actually
a little less then I thought, which settled my flip flopping stomach somewhat. My race plan was to go 2 – 3 hours down the trail and then take a 4-hour break. After 2 hours on the trail I came across Sonny Linder and Rick Swenson camped. I asked Rick how far out we were. “Halfway between Fairbanks and Manley, Karen”, he said. He also commented that there were no good camping spots past the big hill that loomed ahead of me, so I decided to pull over.
The spot I picked on the side of the trail turned out to be not as great as it originally looked, the dogs and I punched through the snow with every step, but I managed to get them in, fed and bedded down – all while not looking like too much of an incompetent fool in front of Swenson (who was probably busy with his own team and not paying any attention to my crashing around anyway). I wiggled into my sled bag and tried to close my eyes, but all the teams I had previously passed were now on the move and there was a constant stream of mushers passing by, most glancing over at the team as they passed sending a headlight beam glaring into my face. I pulled my parka over my head, but curiosity kept getting the best of me and I kept peaking out to watch the teams pass by – not very restful, but it was fun watching the top teams!
After about 3 hours I heard Rick making preparations to go. It took him around ½ hour to get ready and his team moved strongly onto the trail.
About that time I decided it was time to start making my preparations. I repacked the sled, snacked the dogs, and put on a few booties. I was worried the dogs wouldn’t like crashing through the unbroken snow to get back to the trail, so I walked it to give them a path to follow. When asked they very willingly pushed through the snow and back onto the trail.
The night was lovely for travel and so was the trail. It was fairly straight, but with a number of rolling hills to keep it interesting. A few other mushers, like Cali King were camped along the side and a few others like Ted English and Palmer Shagoonik caught up with and passed me during the night. After awhile we came to a really large swamp. A lot of mushers were camped in this area. Things were going very well and I stopped to snack and ‘pet up’ the dogs.
Eventually we dropped onto the river. The trail wasn’t as good here, in some spots the snow was blown away and it was hard and fast and in others it was drifted in and heavy going. I worried about the dogs injuring their wrists and shoulders on this unpredictable trail.
The night was now dragging on. I began to think that the checkpoint should be coming up soon. At one point I could hear dogs barking on the far riverbank. That was Charlie Boulding’s dog yard and I tried to remember how far from Manley that was supposed to be, but that tidbit just wouldn’t come to mind.
We had been on the trail for close to 7 hours now and I began to worry that maybe the dogs should be getting another break, they were really slowing down, obviously thinking the same thing I was, but I didn’t have enough food for another major break, so I pushed them on, hoping Manley would magically appear. At around daybreak, we passed a sign that indicated Manley was 7 miles away – so much for right around the corner.
Just before we came up off the river, Charlie Boulding and Jim Lanier passed. Finally, Manley came into view. The dogs had been on the trail for 9 hours, certainly within their ability, but not the wisest thing to ask them this early in the Race. I mentally kicked myself in the butt for not breaking up the run better or planning for 2 trail breaks.
The dogs came into the checkpoint strong, but I knew they were owed and deserved a good break here.