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
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
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!
from Previous Checkpoint
( (24 hour break plus 60 minutes of start differential))