Cripple to Ruby
Iditarod 2000 was the only other time I had been in Cripple. The trip in that year was miserable and I remembered the checkpoint as being much the same. Boy, had they ever improved things for 2004!!! Now, ‘improvement’ is certainly a relative term – it is still a tent checkpoint with very few amenities – but having somewhere decent to sleep and a somewhat private place to pee really are big pluses in my book!
It took some doing to park my big dog string – by this point I was one of only 2 mushers still traveling with their full 16 dogs. My team stretched up off the slew and my leaders were tucked into the trees – pretty nice for them!
Off the trail, the heat of the day was now a very enjoyable thing and I was able to shed a few more layers of clothes while I did chores. The dogs suntanned in on their straw beds – I always feel the sun is healing when they can stretch out in it in checkpoints, if not for the body, then for the soul.
I rifled through my food bags and came up with a few ‘not so great’ choices for my dinner. After starting some juice packs and water bottles thawing in my cooker, I wandered over to visit with Doug. When he offered up a package of lasagna, I snapped it up. As some of you know, in previous years my friends, Lynda and Dwayne did up all my trail meals for me and they were amazing. This year, for a few reasons, they didn’t do them and I was surviving on McDonald’s
McGriddles, Mac and Cheese, checkpoint food and Doug’s extra lasagna! (I have already told Lynda and Dwayne that they HAVE to do my food for next year – no offence to your lasagna Doug! It was much appreciated!).
Cripple had a couple tents set up for mushers to sleep in. The tents had bunks and a stove in them – heaven. Rick Mackey was lying on a bunk that had a foamy mattress on it. As I was stripping down to my long underwear, I eyeballed it longingly and when a checker came in to tell Rick there was a commotion in his team, I asked if he was coming back. He said he was, but offered me the bunk with the foamy anyway. SWEET!! I was asleep in seconds and seriously considered ignoring the checker when he came in to wake myself and a few other mushers up an 1 ˝ or so later. That was undoubtedly the best rest I’d had yet on the Race.
It was hard to get moving again, but still, at midnight Doug and I hit the trail together. The dogs seemed to feel my desire to head back to that foamy and were also sluggish leaving, but in a mile or so they had worked out most of the kinks and were back in the game.
The first part of the trail dips, twists and winds in spots - made even worse this year by some changes made by large downed trees from a windstorm a while back. It helped me stay awake – which I was having some trouble doing. A few mushers caught up and passed us during the night and we passed a few others stopped along the trail. Some mushers camp on this leg, others push straight through. Doug was kind of wanting to stop for a bit, I was keen on pushing through to get to Ruby before it got too hot.
We came across Rick Mackey camped almost in the middle of the trail. He apologized; explaining that he hadn’t thought there was anyone behind him for quite a while. Doug went up to straighten out a problem in his team and my leaders were stopped next to Rick. I had Kara up front, Rick looked down and pronounced that she was so cute “you couldn’t help but smile when you looked at her”. I’d like my dog team to be remembered for being tough or disciplined or…. Well, just about anything else rather then CUTE, but he’s right, she is really cute. I smiled.
Doug and I continued to travel together as daylight broke, but then he decided to shut down for an hour or so. I just didn’t feel that was the wise choice for my guys, so I pressed on.
As the day warmed up, the dogs definitely slowed up a bit, but I knew it wasn’t far now till we hit Ruby. I put Chester and Surge up front. Chester is quite the character. When he is in lead, I swear all he hears is what we hear when adults talk to Charlie Brown –
“Wa..Wa..Wa..Wa..Wa” It seems he listens to NOTHING I say, but he will always keep a dog team moving forward. This trail had no real decisions on it, so I was content to let him to his thing – besides if I really needed the leaders to listen, Surge was not afraid of standing up to the big, mouthy black and white beast and seeing that my instructions were followed.
The dogs really perked up as we skirted around the edge of the village of Ruby. There is a pretty good hill as you arrive in town (actually the whole village is on a hill, so everything is uphill or downhill there!). The checkers were standing at the top, calling the dogs to encourage them.
“Wa..Wa..Wa..Wa..Wa”, heard Chester, so when he spotted a young boy just off the road, he saw no reason we shouldn’t go visit – Chester loves kids.
Sixteen dogs have trouble swinging around a 90 degree corners, especially going uphill (speed sometimes can help carry you around corners), so before I could do anything Draco and Loki where smucked into a
snowbank. Draco figured it was all Loki’s fault and pounced on him to teach him a lesson. A couple sharp words from me and everyone settled down – but not before Loki got a small wound inflicted under his eye. I ran up front and straightened Chester out – and we finally got to the checkers – although it was a much less gracefully entrance then I had hoped!
from Previous Checkpoint