White Mountain to Safety
White Mountain was nothing like '01, where I was the only team there. This year it was a hub of activity with all sorts of teams coming, going and parked. I got settled in and started dog chores. Squeaky had had an episode of vomiting on the trail over from Golovin, wasn't eating or drinking now and seemed to be feeling pretty sorry for himself. Sadly, my handsome red boy was going to miss the finish line of Iditarod by only 77 miles. I filled out the paperwork to drop him, but left him in the team for the 8 hours. The chance of him perking up and eating was better if he stayed with me as long as possible.
The checkpoint routine was now well honed after over 11 days on the trail. It was bittersweet to be running through them for the last time here in White Mountain. Yet when it was done, I gratefully headed for the checkpoint building thinking of nothing but sleep. When I stepped inside it was bright, noisy and not at all conducive to sleeping. Thankfully, Doug caught me as I was dumping gear and steered me towards a nice quiet, dark room that he found that had no one else sleeping in it. Bliss. I left a wake up call and was in my sleeping bag sound asleep within seconds.
When one of the volunteers shook me awake, I didn't wake up easy. The kind person trying to get me up, crouched next to me to talk to me for a few moments to make sure I was really awake. I wasn't. While we were doing that, Doug woke up and asked why I was getting up so early, I tried to explain that I had wanted to leave time to shower, but suddenly a shower didn't sound nearly as important as sleep. He mumbled something about sleep sometimes being the most important thing and he was right. I told the checker to come get me up in another hour and crashed back into my bag.
An hour later found me in a much better mood to get up. As I was packing up my gear, changing socks and such Al Hardman came by and asked what time I was leaving. He asked if I was thinking of staying till morning because the temperature had dropped so much. I was surprised to hear how cold it was - but delighted. I had been waiting the whole race for temperatures like this - I couldn't wait to hit the trail.
Ed Steilstra stopped to check the board showing what times each musher was 'free' to leave (everyone must do an 8 hour layover in White Mountain). When he noticed my 'out' time, he made some well-humoured comment about being beaten by a team of Siberians. I reminded him that there was still 77 miles to the finish line and he remarked that he hadn't caught me in the last 1000 miles; he wasn't going to catch me in the last 77. I smiled. Folks like Ed are one of the reasons this race is so enjoyable.
Back at our sleds, Doug and I busiest ourselves purging everything from our sled bags that we wouldn't need again - and that was a lot of stuff. Our return bags were both stuffed to the brim. Turns out I got a little overeager and sent home a few things (like my ladle) that Mark was counting on for feeding and caring for the dogs in Nome but we managed to get by okay anyway. Doug was set to leave about an hour ahead of me, so I stayed down with the teams long enough to wish him a good trip into Nome before heading back up to the checkpoint for a cup of coffee.
Just before 5:30 am Grover, Moses, Chester, Gus, Herman, Hector, Crunchie, Kara, Hilda, Surge, Loki, Odie and I left White Mountain on the final leg to Nome.
It was indeed cold - and crisp - and wonderful. I stopped a few times to booties a few dogs and just because it is part of 'getting in the groove' of a good run too. On one of the stops, Hector sat down, lifted his nose and started one of his soulful songs. The remaining 11 dogs quickly joined in and I just stopped what I was doing and enjoyed the moment.
Underway again the hours and miles just slipped away. I scared a fox off of the trail at the bottom of one of the Topkok hills, wildlife assisted the climb was easy. It was at this place on the trail in '01, I was listening to the Finisher's Banquet on my Walkman. This year it was Friday morning and the Banquet was over 2 days away. Sweet.
Kelly Williams caught up with me at the bottom of the last big climb before the coast. She was in a great mood, threw in her hooks and ran back to share a candy and visit with me for a moment. The morning had turned eerily calm and we both thought we might be in for some trouble in the blowhole - that whole calm before the storm thing, was what I was thinking. But only a few snowflakes and a bit of wind hit us when we crested the hill and arrived on the coast.
My team had been moving great all morning, in fact, I was surprised at how long it had taken Kelly to overtake us - and now they were close to keeping pace with her. She remained well in sight and my mood was soaring - and then the sun came out. As soon as that happened, it was like someone had locked the brakes on on my sled. It was around noon and the sun just beat down on us. Two more teams - Karen Land and Peter Barlett caught up and passed before we finally pulled into Safety.