Skwentna to Finger Lake
The dogs were so wild for their Eagle Ultra kibble when I got into Skwentna
that I fed them another meal once they were all bedded down. They all
polished that off with extreme gusto too.
The vets went carefully through the team. Odie had an older injury to one
of his pads that they were able to fix up really well. It wasn't painful
for him, but this probably made it more comfortable to run on. Other then
that the dogs had no problems. They snuggled into their straw and I headed
up the steep riverbank to the checkpoint. On the way up I exchanged a few
pleasant words with Rick Swenson, who was heading down to his team. When I
walked into the checkpoint building, there was Martin Buser. I had thought
these 'big guns' would be long gone when I got to Skwentna - apparently
The folks at Skwentna are a terrifically hospitable bunch to mushers. Not
only do they have hot water and fresh baked pies available for mushers down
on the river, they have great food available up in the checkpoint. I
inhaled a huge plate of fantastic chicken stew with mashed potatoes and
then found a spot on the floor upstairs to grab a few hours sleep. Sleep
didn't come easy, as I wasn't yet tired enough that a bare chunk of floor
is a welcome rest, but I did manage to get a little bit.
When I wandered back downstairs at about midnight, I was pleasantly
surprised to find Mark, Ted Norris, and Constant hanging out. The three had
talked about a trip up to Skwentna by snow machine, but I was a little
skeptical that it would come off. It was nice to have company, though Mark
and I had seen each other only 12 hours ago and we didn't have too much to
say. (Interestingly enough, the trip was a real eye opener to Mark about
how hard it is to see a dog team from behind when you are traveling by snow
machine. The musher blocks all the reflective stuff on the harnesses and
the lights. For next year, I will be sporting a triangle of reflective tape
on the back of my parka and on my legs - as Cabelas currently outfits their
Trans Alaska suits).
We wandered back down to the teams and I fed the dogs yet again. They
barked, screamed and inhaled every last bite.
I wandered off and found Doug Grillot to see what his plans for leaving
were. Turns out we were both planning on leaving around 2:30.
I suppose I should 'sidebar' here and 'introduce' Doug to everyone, as he
will appear frequently in the 'Tales' from now on.
Way back in 1999 I came up to Alaska to run my qualifiers. My first one was
the Knik 200 (Knik was Doug's first 'big' race too. He has gone on to
finish the Yukon Quest twice and an outstanding 2nd place finish at the
John Beargrease Marathon, among other accomplishments). Early on in the
Knik I had a less then pleasant encounter with another musher. I ended up
getting sworn and yelled at for things that were not my fault. Turns out
that Doug had witnessed the event and later took it upon himself to
apologize on behalf of the other musher. I thought that was a particularly
nice gesture on his part and over the years since then Doug and I have
remained on friendly terms, exchanging the odd email and seeing each other
at the start of Iditarod. Each year I'm up in Alaska, Doug always invites
me out to train, but we never seem to hook up. This year I took him up on
his offer and we ran out of the Willow Community Center together. Doug
provided maps and took a lot of time to show me the trails, so I could run
out of there on my own with confidence. A very nice guy!
It was never our 'Plan' to travel together on this Iditarod, but that ended
up being what happened.
Anyway, back to Skwentna.
On schedule, at 2:30 in the morning, I kissed Mark goodbye with a "See you
in Nome" parting and called the team up to head to Finger Lake.
The dogs left Skwentna well and after a mile or so of 'stop and go' travel
while they emptied themselves, they settled reasonably well into traveling
mode. I passed a couple mushers camped just outside of Skwentna. It looked
cold and lonely, I was glad to have partaken the hospitality in the
As we were traveling along I noticed a very disturbing thing about Hilda,
who was running in wheel - she was getting bigger and bigger as we went
down the trail. I stopped the team and was horrified to find out that she
wasn't the only one; Chester was sporting a bloated belly too. I thought
back to Skwentna and slapped myself in the head - I had fed them 3 full
meals and a number of snacks in the time I was there. What had I been
thinking?? I was so thrilled to see how great their appetites were I had
overfed them. What a stupid rookie mistake that was. I know better!
Luckily, neither dog's bellies were tender to the touch and both had had a
bowel movement, so I knew things were still moving safely through. We'd
just have to take it easy and let them work through it.
I kicked myself repeatedly the whole way into Finger Lake.
Traveling in the wee hours of the morning is hard on mushers - some, like
Jeff King, say it is hard on dogs too. I drifted off a couple times on the
sled before snapping back. A number of teams were camped between the
checkpoints and that at least provided some distraction to help keep us all
focused. This section of trail can be a challenging one, but this year
lighter snow machine traffic and an abundance of snow left us with only one
or two tricky spots.
The trail seemed to go on for a long time, especially because it was still
dark and I couldn't see the landmarks that would let me know I was getting
close to the Checkpoint. Finally, the sky started to brighten a bit and I
was able to make out the distinctive mountain, which meant the Lake was
right around the corner. At 8am we rolled (okay, Chester and Hilda waddled)
into the Checkpoint.
from Previous Checkpoint