Galena to Nulato
Galena is a wonderful checkpoint – there is just no doubt about that. Good food, real beds and even showers for those that desire them – pretty well a musher’s paradise at this point of the Race. Before I could head inside though, I needed to have the team looked over, get them fed and bedded down.
Draco had been limping a
little coming into the checkpoint and figuring that out was my first order of business. Dray is a really honest working dog, so if he is mentioning there is a problem, it is probably not something minor. As it turns out, it was a minor problem – but a painful one – his toenail had jammed back into the nail bed but it was not something I could manage on the trail. Plain and simple, he needed a good long break off his feet. I filled out the paperwork to drop him, but said I would keep him with my team until I was ready to leave. I wasn’t really disappointed in having to drop a dog – getting to Nome with a big team was not my first goal this year, but I was disappointed that the dog was Draco. He is one of my veterans, a solid leader and a real favorite. He was also a fond connection to his brother, Orion for me. He had done a great job on the trail this year, but it was time for him to go home.
With everyone fed and sleeping, I went into the building and found some food and a bed. Oh my – what a treat.
After a few hours sleep, but still feeling groggy, I stumbled out to check on the dogs. They were all still snoozing comfortably away.
I went back in and called Mark. I don’t remember much of the call, I was still very tired – but I think they had to get him out of bed. Hmmm, first call I interrupted him at a dinner party, second one I got him out of bed – he was going to start telling me not to call home. Despite it, he sounded happy to hear from me, even if he did have to remind me what checkpoint I was in. I told him Draco was coming home. As much faith as I have in Iditarod, I trust my husband much more and I know he will make sure any dropped dogs get safely back to him. We chatted for a while longer about various things I don’t remember and then said ‘goodbye’.
The ‘plan’ for Nulato was to stay only 6 hours, but a couple hours before that Doug approached and told me he thought we needed to stay longer. The morning was warming up fast and leaving after only 6 hours would put us out in the worst heat of the day – 11am. Up until now, I had been pretty close to the schedule I had written out for myself and more importantly, still within striking distance of that Siberian record. I knew Doug was right, but it was very hard to do what I knew would take me off my goal setting pace. I phoned Mark again and ran things over with him. I had pretty much made the decision to stay longer before phoning him, but I needed words of reassurance from him that I was doing the right thing. He listened and agreed that I should stay longer. I berated myself for not thinking further ahead when making decisions in Ruby – but what was done, was done. I couldn’t control the weather. I went and got a few more hours sleep.
In making preparations to leave Galena, I had to do some rearranging in my sled for the next leg. Riding in the very front of my sled bag since Willow was the tin box containing Orion’s ashes. In the vet clinic on the day he died, I knew where I wanted to scatter them. In 2003, the leg from Galena to Nulato was one of the best runs of the Race for me – in fact, it may be the best leg I’ve ever had on any race ever. Fresh off our 24-hour break on a very cold, icy morning the dogs literally flew down the trail. I was riding my drag brake with both feet for a good part of the way. I remember stopping to snack the dogs, and although I have no memory of who else was where in the team, I remember Orion standing up in lead with his big trademark, ‘pointy teeth’ grin. He was so happy. I knew that was where he belonged.
I wished Draco a safe journey home, gave him a hug and left Galena.
The River was a pretty busy place at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. Galena was having a Winter Carnival. Lots of kids and dogs were around for the Jr. Races and everyone waved and cheered as we went by. Families piled onto snowmachines would pass me later in the day, towing sleds with crated dogs on them – Yukon River ‘dog trucks’!!
A couple snow machines I didn’t appreciate roared by at speeds that scared both the dogs and I. A lone foxed abandon an old wolf kill and scurried up the River bank. We passed Bishop’s Rock, one of my favorite landmarks on the Iditarod Trail. Other mushers caught up and passed us.
As the sky began to soften and fade, I pulled Orion’s box out of my sled. I didn’t stop the dogs; I just talked about him quietly with them for a bit. Then I opened the box and set him free on the slight breeze created by the passing of the team. When the box was empty I turned on my runners and set the Yukon sunset in my mind. It was beautiful – a fitting tribute to a beautiful dog. I would hold onto the memories, but the River and the Iditarod Trail would hold onto his ashes.
The rest of the run was done in quiet contemplation. The dogs moved steadily along, respecting my needs or maybe needing some quiet time of their own.
from Previous Checkpoint