Unalakleet to Shaktoolik
Last year my visit to Unalakleet involved lots of disappointment, a trip to the doctor and many visits to the bathroom. That was all behind us now though!
The dogs were looking great and the vets were very kind with their compliments. The only issue was that Olena had vomited a bit on the trip from Old Woman Cabin. The vets listened to her lungs and cleared her to stay in the team. Everyone ate well and they even got some snuggling time in with a few locals before drifting off to sleep.
I hiked up to the checkpoint and talked Doug into ordering a pizza with me. As you all must know, one of my primary reasons for running the Iditarod is so I can have a pizza at the best pizza place in Alaska – Peace on Earth Pizza in Unalakleet. It was great!
I phoned home and chatted with Mark for a bit. Sleeping sounded like a good idea, but they really didn’t have anywhere set up for us to lie down. I tried sleeping on the uncomfortable linoleum for a bit, but it just aggravated all my existing aches and pains, so I headed back down to check on the dogs.
While I was down there a few mushers left and others were getting ready to leave. One of two things can happen when a musher leaves Unalakleet, the team gets up easily and heads off down the river or they don’t – usually they don’t. For some reason, Unk seems a hard place for teams to leave and many balk. Once they get rolling, everything is fine, but it often takes a bit for that to happen (much like me around the house in the morning). The fact that the trail out is very open and often icy adds to a musher’s headache. In ’00 I left Unalakleet doing big circles as Buddy kept trying to point us back to town, and then would swing back around to the trail when I’d holler at him.
As I watched this year Ellie Claus’s well cared for, happy team moved easily out of town but others had trouble. I begged quietly into Grover’s ear for a performance like Ellie’s team.
When it was time to go, they did get up and readily leave town, but not with any great amount of speed. Doug’s team looked super leaving. Doug and I had planned to travel this section together (most legs we just did our own things and ended up at the checkpoint close together, but a few legs we planned on running together for the whole time) – however, it quickly became obvious that my team was a little flat and his team was on a roll. I told him to go ahead and I’d see him in Shaktoolik.
The Blueberries Hills, which lie between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik offer some of the hardest climbs Iditarod has to offer. With a flat team, things were especially slow going – and then things got significantly worse. Several miles before the ‘summit’ of the hills I heard a large ‘CRRRRRACK’ from my sled. I looked down to find my right runner completely broken. That is just not supposed to happen to these high tech metal sleds. The next miles were horrible as I struggled to balance the weight of the loaded sled through the dips and rises on the trail. Thankfully the major downhill down to the coast had good snow and that helped me control the sled a little. It was dark when I hit the coast and the wind was howling. It wasn’t a major storm, but it was windy enough that I was having an awful time keeping my crippled sled on the trail. Many of the trail markers had been blown or knocked down and there were spots on the ice that I could spin in a full circle with my headlamp and not catch a reflection for a single marker. I was completely trusting Chester and Grover to keep us headed in the right direction. It was a very exhausting 13 miles to Shaktoolik, both mentally and physically. I checked in totally spent and really bummed. The officials were all bundled up against the storm when I signed in and it was hard to recognize any of them, but I was pretty sure the checker was a friend of mine. After doing the official stuff, I leaned over and asked if that was Palmer. Palmer and I have traveled the trail together on a few occasions and he is one of the people involved in Iditarod that I have the greatest admiration for. In reply he reached over and hugged me. EXACTLY what I needed.