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Iditarod 2004 - Tales from the Trail

Iditarod 2004


McGrath to Takotna

The official results show I was in McGrath for a total of 3 minutes. I know it wasn’t long, but don’t think it was that quick. I signed in, had a vet check Grover while I ran over to my second sled (shipped there prior to the Race) and grabbed a few things – my seat, my ski poles, some extra Karen food and dog booties. As I was stuffing things into my bag, I asked if there was a package there for me – hoping my vest had made it up the trail. It hadn’t, but there was a small package that had been mailed to me. I stuffed that in my pocket, signed out and left. 

Kara and Olena were in lead and they weren’t pleased with this change in the routine. The figured they were entitled to a break in McGrath and tried a couple times to take side trails back to town. I finally gave in and just put Grover up front with Ollie. Kara has turned into a surprising and nice little leader, but she won’t drive a team out of a checkpoint like Grover. Nobody in my team does that like Grover – yet!

I fished around and pulled the package that was delivered to me at the checkpoint out of my pocket. This wasn’t the first mail I received on the trail – back in Nikolai there had been a really cute card waiting for me from friends and sponsors, Travis and Alice Fitzgerald of North Stonington, Connecticut. This package was a Snickers bars and a note from Barbara and Jerry Lake. It certainly picked up my spirits to get it, even if I did drop and lose the chocolate bar while trying to open it (only if it is an item of EXTREME importance will a musher stop and walk back behind their team to retrieve something).

* Sigh *

As I was about to lose sight of the village, I looked over my shoulder to see if the team that had been behind me had stopped or blown through the checkpoint. I saw a dog team moving towards me at HIGH speed. That team seemed to be moving way too fast for an Iditarod team at this point of the Race. I shook my head, trying to clear my vision, and looked again. It was still closing in quickly and it looked to be a rather small team. The mystery was quickly solved when a young local boy and his 4-dog sprint team pulled up behind me. Demonstrating excellent trail manners he stopped to hook down behind me. I asked him if he’d like to pass and he politely said, “Yes, please”. His well-disciplined team took his commands wonderfully and passed mine with hardly a sideward glance. He thanked me, called them up and off they went. I was very impressed.

As we dropped down onto a river the dogs seemed somewhat confused about which way to go. I called to them to ‘Gee’ onto what I thought was the right trail. We hadn’t gone far when I realized the problem – the track to the right, that we were on, was that of the sprint team, the Iditarod trail veered left, indicated by a few markers. Grover and Ollie were very good about plunging off the trail we were on and breaking trail to get back onto the Iditarod trail.

Weather wise the day continued to be a strange one. One moment the sun would be beating down on us, causing me to run without my hat on, next moment it would be snowing like crazy and I was bundling up. Kept me busy, if nothing else! It was also fun to watch the dark clouds drifting into different shapes and moving across the sky. Pretty country! A plane made several low passes over us. I figured it was photographers or spectators and waved. Turns out it was official photographer Jeff Schultz and one of those photos is currently gracing the desktop of the computer I’m typing this on.

I was used to doing this section of trail fairly quickly – in 2001 I had 24’d in McGrath and my fresh team fairly roared over it. This year they weren’t as spunky and things seemed to be dragging on. Finally we reached the summit of the trail and began the descent towards Takotna.

Grover seemed to be having some trouble with the downhill running. I swapped him around in the team until I found him a more comfortable spot for him (swing) and slowed everybody down. I wasn’t going to try to bag him, the injury wasn’t that bad and Grover would never go for that unless he was in real distress. An extra ½ hour to get to the checkpoint was well worth it to keep Grover happy.

We dropped onto a river, which we traveled along for a bit. Finally we rounded a corner and there was Takotna. On three Iditarods I had strived to make it to Takotna to take my 24-hour break, this was the first time I’d made it!

Place Checkpoint Time from Previous Checkpoint Rest Time
in Checkpoint
Dogs Layovers
  Takotna 3:10 25 hours
( (24 hour break plus 60 minutes of start differential))
16  24 Hr 8 Hr

Karen's Diary - 2004 Edition

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