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Iditarod 2004 - Tales from the Trail

Iditarod 2004


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 not.

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 checkpoint.

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.

Place Checkpoint Time from Previous Checkpoint Rest Time
in Checkpoint
Status: Dogs Layovers
  Finger Lake 5:30 7:00 Resting 16 24 Hr  8 Hr

Karen's Diary - 2004 Edition

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