Kaltag to Unalakleet
The vets in Kaltag were doing double duty, parking teams as well as checking them in. They were all a little giddy – probably due to lack of sleep – a common problem on the Iditarod Trail! Veronica Duval was one of the vets there and we had a nice, enjoyable chat as I puttered around the team in the sunshine doing chores. One of the other vets came by and asked if I would snack one of the dogs so he could take some pictures. The whole, frozen herring I feed the dog are not only a dog favorite, but a spectator favorite too! Hector jumped to his feet to volunteer when I pulled out the snacks – what a keener!
The warm afternoon was perfect for the dogs to catch a good snooze in the snow bank and for me to sort through and re-organize my sled bag. That done Doug and I treated ourselves to a burger, fries and Diet Coke at what passes for a ‘restaurant’ in Kaltag. It was wonderful!
I had been a little discouraged that the dogs were not coming together more as a team. They were healthy, eating great, strong in number, and in good spirits, but they just seemed to lack that ‘spark’. The art of ‘peaking’ a dog team still seems to be somewhat eluding me.
After grabbing a way, way too short and pretty uncomfortable nap – I headed out to the team, determined to be upbeat and enthusiastic about the upcoming run. Maybe it would rub off on the dogs.
The strategy showed good promise right from the start, as Hector led his teammates in a group howl as I started to prepare to leave. A few of the other musher’s dogs joined in, but they were definitely outclassed by the voices of the Siberians. Siberians are wonderful singers! Everything stopped in the checkpoint for a brief moment to listen – it was very cool.
The team’s song seemed to really pick them up, they left Kaltag better then any other team I’ve driven out of there – and definitely better then they had left the last several checkpoints. Three teams passed me right after leaving town, but that was fine – they were stronger teams and I expected it. My dogs were doing well for them and that was the only yardstick I was holding them up to.
This piece of trail is one I really enjoy and the run was a pleasure as the afternoon slowly turned into night. Nighttime brought many more issues though, the lack of a decent nap since Galena was catching up with me and I was really having a tough time keeping my eyes open and the sled on the trail. I was gratefully to finally arrive at Old Woman Cabin.
A half dozen teams or so were camped in the clearing that surrounds this wonderful refuge on the Iditarod Trail. Doug had got there a while before me and was as taken with the Cabin as I was. He said it would be nice to have the time to stay and explore some of this area in the daylight. I told him if he could see the spot in the daylight, he would want that even more. The dogs were quickly fed and I settled in the cabin for a much needed nap.
Traditionally I have had some of my best rests ever on the Iditarod in this spot. This year was no different. My sleep was short and some world-class snoring serenaded me, but I felt very refreshed when I got up just over 2 hours later.
Kelly Williams had pulled in while I slept and I visited with her for a bit while getting ready to leave. She is such a nice
Again, to my delight, the dogs hit the trail pretty strongly. A ways out, I stopped and fiddled a bit with leaders, finally settling on Chester and Grover. That was a combination that really clicked and I was thrilled with the way we were moving down the Trail. I had my I-Pod going and was having a wonderful time.
All of a sudden the middle of my dog team started tangling and darting around. I was completely puzzled by their behavior until a small black shrew (or something similar) darted out of the middle of the team and dived into the safety of the snow. How embarrassing that one little shrew outsmarted 15 Siberians and managed to get away from them. I had a great laugh at the dog’s expense!! Hilda was mortified and grabbed at every black speck on the trail from that moment on till Nome. She was not going to let the next one escape!
Just before we got up to the Unalakleet River, Doug caught up and passed me. His run seemed to be going pretty well too. When both teams hit the river, they broke into an easy lope, always a treat at this point of the Race. Doug’s team eventually outdistanced mine, but I was just happy to be moving along well.
There was a plane parked and a couple tents set up on the banks of the river and someone waved their arms and called out my name as I passed by. I smiled and waved back. What a nice morning.
In a scene much different then my 2003 experience, we trotted into Unalakleet – strong spirits and in great health!! I don’t think the grin could have been wiped off my face!
from Previous Checkpoint