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Iditarod 2004 - Tales from the Trail

Iditarod 2004


Ophir to Cripple

The plan was to not stay in Ophir, but I did need to get Crunchie and Grover checked and rifle through my drop bags before I left so we were going to be here a bit (turned out to be 24 minutes, according to the check in sheet).

When the vet watching the teams come in asked if there were any issues with my dogs, I steered him to my two ‘problem’ children and mumbled something about Grover’s wrist and asked him to double check Crunchie’s hydration. It was music to my ears when he announced that there was absolutely nothing wrong with either dog. I explained the ‘Grover situation’ fully and we looked at his wrist again together. The swelling was indeed COMPLETELY GONE, with no pain, restriction of movement or anything else in the joint. I was walking on a cloud! To further boost my spirits when I walked by to offer snacks to everyone, Crunchie was carrying on and just about took my hand off in his eagerness to get his. There I was standing in Ophir with 16 dogs, all completely healthy and ready to rock. What a great feeling.

While all this was going on Doug pulled in behind me. I moved my team up a bit onto the out trail and asked one of the vets, Veronica Devall (another of my very favorites – and not just because she is another Alberta gal!) to stand on the brake for me while I ran back to speak to Doug. Veronica was out visiting after we were home in Perryvale and told me a story about this. She said when she was standing on my brake, 16 sets of eyes were completely and totally focused on me while I was off the sled. She said not one of them took their gaze off me for even a moment. I’m often asked by people if I can develop as close a relationship with 16 dogs, as they can with their 1 or 2 pets at home. The answer is undoubtedly YES. We are not 16 individual dogs and 1 musher – by this point, we are one unit – a dog team. It is a relationship beyond anything I’ve ever experienced with an animal before. It is magic and it is, to me, one of the most addicting parts of this sport.

In great spirits, with a great dog team, a fabulous night for running, a solid plan for the trail ahead, and a friend to travel with we left Ophir.

The dogs were running great, but I was still surprised when I caught up with Karen Land. As I was passing, it became obvious she was having some problems, so I stopped to see what was going on. Karen was fussing and fiddling with her headlamps, but seemed to have some mystery situation going on – very like problems I experienced in the 2001 Race. Sympathetic to her situation I gave her my back up headlamp on the condition that if we didn’t see each other in Cripple, she would leave it with the checker for me. She readily agreed and thanked me profusely. Doug caught up with us shortly after that and the three of us traveled on and off together for a while.

After several hours Doug and I began to look for suitable places to camp. Finally we came across Rick Mackey camped along the trail. He had a small fire going and told us we were welcome to join him. As Doug said, it isn’t often you get a chance to camp with a former Iditarod Champion and he had no intention of passing up the opportunity. It took some doing, but we finally got our teams off the trail and bedded down in the deep snow. As we were feeding and watering them, we chatted away with Rick, who really is a terrific guy.

After a few hours Rick packed up and hit the trail. Doug and I continued to play with the fire. Okay, in reality I played with the fire, Doug watched. Seems when it comes to collecting wood, Doug’s former gentlemanly demeanor stepped aside, and he was content to watch me plow through snow above my knees to find burnable wood, occasionally pointing to some good looking prospects deeper in the trees.

(I’m really just teasing Doug here, as I'm pretty sure he is reading my Diaries. I am a fire bug and I was very content to collect wood and stoke the fire to pass time :) )

It was a very enjoyable morning chatting fondly about family, spouses, and other things that were all a long way away from this remote, quiet stretch of trail on the Iditarod.

The morning was a foggy one (ice fog) and sound carried for miles up and down the trail. We could hear other teams camped further up the trail and could also hear dog tags jingling and mushers offering words of encouragement (or correction) to their dogs miles before they passed by.

Finally, after 5 hours we began to pack up. A half hour or so later, we were on the move again.

The day began to get really hot. My team wasn’t moving near as well as they had the previous night and Doug quickly pulled away, never to be seen again, I figured.

We went up and down endless small hills and through bits of open water. I stopped and snacked the dogs a few times and they all ate well, indicating that despite the heat, they were all holding up fine. I fussed quite a bit switching around my leaders – and then admonished myself for doing that. That is something I tend to do when I have it in my head things aren’t going well. It just wastes time and I have tried very hard to break this bad habit. There are times when changing leaders can pick things up, but running through all the dogs in the team, trying them up front is counter productive at this point.

I had been listening to my I-Pod all morning and decided to try listening to one of the books I had downloaded to try and make the trail go by quicker. I choose an inspirational book and listened to it for about 20 minutes before deciding it was just too darn upbeat. It is too hard to suffer and whine to yourself with upbeat stories bouncing around in your head. I switched back to music and occupied myself studying the trail to see if I could remember landmarks indicating that I was getting close to Cripple, despite the fact that when I arrived here in 2000, it was dark and I was exhausted and hallucinating.

I was surprised when I came over a rise in the trail to find Dexter Kanzer and Noah Burmeister camped. Just ahead of them stopped, but not camped was Doug. We all griped about the heat of the day, the length of the trail, etc. I told them I wasn’t sure how far it was to Cripple but that I thought we still had to skirt around the toe of a small mountain that lay ahead of us.

Turns out I was right and about an hour later we arrived in the checkpoint.

Place Checkpoint Time from Previous Checkpoint Rest Time
in Checkpoint
Dogs Layovers
  Cripple 17:44 7:07 16  24 Hr 8 Hr

Karen's Diary - 2004 Edition

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