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Iditarod 2004 - Tales from the Trail

Iditarod 2004


Nikolai to McGrath

It was really nice to be in Nikolai. After a couple very rustic checkpoints and some very rough trail, it was back to more ‘civilized’ checkpoints and more ‘civilized’ trail, at least for a while. The folks in Nikolai had opened their school for mushers, which was terrific. We had real warmth, running water, flushing toilets, decent places to sleep (I chose the noisy but dark boiler room over the bright, but quieter staff room), places to sit, and in the morning, kids cooking up a super breakfast for us. I took advantage of the privacy of the bathroom to change all my underclothes and wash up. I also got my first good look at the bruise on my hip from my encounter with the tree on the Happy River Steps. I knew it was swollen, throbbed pretty constantly and was horribly painful to bump or touch (a crash on the ice and rocks early on on the trail out of Rohn, in which I landed on that side confirmed that!) – but I was rather shocked to see just how bruised it really was. It stretched from almost my knee up to my hip - an explosion of yellow, purple, blue, red and black. I wished it were somewhere I could have shown it off better – it really was spectacular.

Many mushers were making use of the phone in the school to phone ‘home’. I had accidentally left my Cabela's Iditarod vest with my money and calling card in it back in Rainy Pass when I changed into my Northern Outfitters stuff. (I was hoping to be reunited with it in McGrath) That and the fact it was the middle of the night kept me from making a phone call. I know Mark would figure things were going badly if the phone rang in the middle of the night – and they weren’t. No need to panic the hubby unnecessarily.

When I went back out to feed the team at around 6:30am or so, I checked the sweat I had on Grover’s wrist. Again, his wrist seemed worse after the wrap then it was when we came into the checkpoint. I called the vet over and asked him to take a look at it. Turns out it wasn’t a typical wrist injury - it was tendonitis. He showed me a specific way to massage it to bring down the swelling. We discussed the fact that it didn’t seem painful, that it appeared better when he was working on it and decided he was ‘good to go’. I told the vet my plan for McGrath and 24’ing in Takotna and asked if I was going to be able to get Grover to Takotna, where we could really work on him. He didn’t feel that was a problem.

I did the massages a lot in the next 2 hours and the swelling looked considerably better before we were ready to go. When I was making my final preparations to get ready to leave, Grover stood up and began his patented motion of rocking back and then hitting hard into his harness to let me know he wanted to get going. He was the only dog with an excuse not to want to leave and he was the first to hit his feet wanting to go. I told other 15 dogs that he was putting them to shame. That is one amazing sled dog.

The trail in and out of Nikolai kind of crisscross each other, I witnessed a musher get mixed up and lost in 2000, so I’ve always been nervous about getting turned around leaving here. We, of course, were on the right trail, but worrying gave me something to do for an hour or so.

After a couple hours, as expected, Doug caught up with me. He was having trouble with a dog and we ‘leap-frogged’ each other a few times. The last time he said he was going to ‘bag’ (put him in his sled) the dog. I expected he would do just that and would catch me again, however that was the last time I saw him until Takotna.

I pulled out my I-pod and wired myself for some tunes. We bopped down the trail to Sonny and Cher, Toby Keith, and Michael Buble, among others.

As we hit mid day, the sun came out from behind the clouds and it got brutally hot out. The dogs slowed down considerably, but we still caught up with and passed Wayne Curtis, who was also struggling in the heat.

As we got closer to McGrath, big clouds blew in and we were struggling with near zero visibility in a snow squall. Weird weather, for sure. Every time it cleared a little, I could see a team off in the distance behind me. Whoever it was (turns out it was Doug) I wanted to get in and out of McGrath before they arrived – and before the dogs got the thought in their head that we were staying here for any length of time.

Place Checkpoint Time from Previous Checkpoint Rest Time
in Checkpoint
Dogs Layovers
  McGrath 6:45 3 minutes 16 24 Hr  8 Hr

Karen's Diary - 2004 Edition

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