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Iditarod 2004 - Tales from the Trail

Iditarod 2004


Takotna to Ophir

It took a bit of time for the volunteers to track down a parking spot for us, while they did the dogs all remained on their feet, visiting with spectators/officials and hoping for snacks. It felt great to be in Takotna with a strong 16-dog team. Grover’s wrist was quite swollen, but based on the way he was dealing with it and the amount of time we had here, I was confident we were going to get him back on track.

Finally a runner led us up the hill into a nice quiet parking spot next to the church and between Kjetil Backen and Robert Bundtzen. (I was rather shocked to be 24’ing right next to one of the Race favorites).

The checkpoint routine began like any other one, until I removed the harnesses from the dogs. This is the only time on the Race that the dogs get out of their harnesses and the veterans know that is a sign of a long break. I also replaced some necklines with tug lines to give the dogs more room to stretch out and get away from each other.

I was thrilled to find a few of my favorite vets working this checkpoint and while I puttered getting the dogs settled in Dr. Krista Roberts worked her way through the team. Her comments were ones that I will hold onto for a long time – “Disgustingly healthy”, she said, also commenting that you would never know these dogs were in the middle of a 1000 mile race. A musher traveling where I do in the pack isn’t eligible for the ‘Humanitarian Award’ (you must be Top 20 to qualify for that) – so remarks like this I really value.

In regards to Grover’s tendonitis, Krista felt that it was not a normal case of tendonitis and wanted to try a bit different then usual course of treatment. I was game and she prescribed antibiotics and told me to continue with the massage (or MA-ssage, as she pronounces it with her great Kiwi accent).

Crunchie was also a bit of a concern. He was in great shape, but didn’t feel like eating. I felt it was just a case of a young dog being a little shell shocked and vowed to get some food into him before we left the village.

I got the dogs cared for, fed and tucked in for their first nap. Then it was down to the checkpoint to see what culinary delights awaited the mushers.

Takotna has an amazing reputation with mushers and deservedly so – the food is incredible and they refuse to let you pay for anything – which was great, as I still didn’t have my vest – and hence, my cash back (actually when Doug heard that I was broke he graciously insisted on loaning me some money – so I wasn’t going to starve! Kind man, that Doug).

Each musher is ‘entitled’ to one steak while visiting Takotna and I settled down immediately to a steak dinner. While I ate, I marveled at the other mushers I was taking my break with. Very cool to be in a checkpoint with the likes of Vern Halter, Ramey Brooks, Mike Williams, etc..!

After dinner, I decided to phone Mark. Natalie was gracious enough to accept the collect charges when I phoned the house, but Mark wasn’t there. She said he was out for dinner at Maureen Chrysler’s (our landlady in AK in ’99 and ’00). Maureen was also kind enough to accept the collect call and I finally got Mark on the phone. We had a nice chat about all sorts of things. He filled me in on race stats – including the fact that Doug Swingley had scratched here in Takotna (knock my socks off!), I filled him in on the trail, the dogs and such.

Then it was up to the church to check on the dogs and then grab some sleep. I didn’t sleep well or long (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record on this) but it was still great to get some down time and I was feeling pretty refreshed when I got up to feed the crew.

All the dogs, except Crunchie were eating like pigs. I thawed some special snacks for him, but he just turned his nose up. Grover’s wrist was looking a lot better, so I continued on with the massage and wraps.

The day passed very leisurely – eat, feed dogs, nap, eat, feed dogs, nap…. I even found time to squeeze in a very much-needed shower. A relief to everyone around me, I bet.

By this time Kjetil and Robert had long since departed (Kjetil’s leaving was missed by no one, as a number of young Norwegians were volunteering in the checkpoint – doing a TERRIFIC job, I might add – and they sang Norwegian songs and waved flags as his team pulled out! Quite the Fan Club!). The dogs and I now had a nice quiet area all to ourselves, so I took turns turning a few of them loose and letting them sniff around, mark everything in sight and stretch their legs. They wiggled and wagged their tails and bounced around. Grover is quite the character, we were parked on a hill and he flipped onto his back at the top of the hill and then twisting his body side-to-side slid down the hillside. When he got about ½ the length of the team, he popped up, trotted up the hill and preceded to do it all over again.

Crunchie really seemed to like this break in the routine and this time when I offered food he nibbled at some of the thawed meat I offered. Ta-da!

Doug and I sat down and mulled over the next few legs of the Race and how we wanted to deal with them. I was scheduled to be free of my ‘24’ at 7:55 pm and he at 8:26. We decided that we would blow through Ophir and camp somewhere between there and Cripple.

The last hours were spent gathering gear, phoning home again, re-harnessing dogs, reorganizing my sled, and other such tasks. 

Krista came over and checked the team again. She pronounced both Crunchie and Grover ‘good to go’ but advised that I have a vet check them both over in Ophir. The difference in Grover’s leg was dramatic, but how it handled the next leg of the Race would tell the real tale.

As I made final preparations to leave I was faced with a problem that I know I will have to spend time ‘fixing’ in training next year – the dogs hate to ‘dump’ in their straw beds next to where they are sleeping Fancy bunch of ‘pedigreed’ pups they are, they seem to feel that is beneath them, even when it is okay for every other dog team on the Race. While the straw beds of other teams are littered with the by products of 4 or 5 meals fed to the dogs in the last 24 hours, my dogs had a total of three piles near their straw. Why this is an issue is because once they finally get up and moving around (as when I’m trying to get them to leave the checkpoint) they are busy ‘emptying’ themselves. Sure enough, as we made our way down to the front of the checkpoint with the help of handlers, it was a stop and go procession as each dog did their business. Then once we got in front of the checkpoint, the dogs really put the local kids to work cleaning up after them as each one AGAIN took a break. The amount of poop my team was leaving on the main street of Takotna was downright embarrassing! I routed through my sled bag and came up with enough Canada flags pins for all the kids in town, so they would hopefully have nicer memories of us then cleaning up after the team. (I spent a lot of time on the trail mulling over this issue and think I have come up with some good ways to deal with it for next year).

Finally the checker gave me the official countdown and with a bag lunch as a final parting gift from the nice folks at Takotna in my sled, we hit the trail again!

After a few more miles of ‘stop and go’ the critters settled into a nice pace. It started to snow and soon the tracks of the teams in front of us were obliterated. That’s fine, as the trail runs along on a summer road, so it is pretty obvious.

About 8 or 9 miles from the checkpoint I noticed a headlight in the dark behind me. I expected it to be Doug, but it turned out to be German musher Bernhard Schuchert. We exchanged greetings and my dogs slipped in behind Bernhard’s for an easy hour into Ophir.

Place Checkpoint Time from Previous Checkpoint Rest Time
in Checkpoint
Dogs Layovers
  Ophir 2:57 24 minutes 16  24 Hr 8 Hr

Karen's Diary - 2004 Edition

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