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Mark & Karen
Ramstead
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North Wapiti Siberian Husky Kennels
Iditarod 2008 - Tales from the Trail

February 20, 2008

 
Goose Bay 120

Training has been going very well. In fact, so well that I've been having a tough time making cuts to the team. It was decided that we would use the Goose Bay race to help sort out a few of the rookie dogs.

So we split the teams up without really putting an 'A' team and a 'B' team out on the trail.

My team was:

Dasher and Tess
Sprite and Jinx
Nahanni and X
Watt and Crunchie
Boom and Runner
Q and Charge

 

Mark's team was:

Moses
Hilda and Spider
Holly and Bingo
Batdog and Barq
Herman and Hector
Togo and Jr

 
Just to give you some of the reasons certain dogs were where they were - Tess is becoming a key dog in the kennel and I wanted to see how she performed as a leader under the pressure of a race. X and Runner are the most promising true rookies, so a race would hopefully help me decide whether they were close to being ready for something like Iditarod. Boom has not been having great runs since we got to Alaska, but in the last week he has stepped it up a little and I wanted to see if he would settle into his normal hard driving self on some new trail.

Now, of course I had to give Mark some good leaders to ensure he had a good trip. He loves having Moses in single lead, so that was easy. Spider, Hilda and Holly were other leaders that I knew would listen to him and give him good runs (not all my leaders perform as well for Mark as for me). Bingo and Togo are probably not going to make the Iditarod team this year, so I just wanted them to have a lower pressure, fun race with Mark.

The rest of the group was just sort of divided up randomly.

I drew bib number 9 and Mark drew number 17, which gave us some time to easily get two teams off the truck.

They had give us the option of just starting off our dog trucks or being helped across the parking lot, across the road crossing and onto the trail - I trusted my leaders.well.I trusted Dasher, I wasn't sure what Tess would do, so I opted to just be started from the truck. Unfortunately, a couple volunteers stepped over to help out at the last second and didn't realize I didn't want help over to the trail. I was hollering at them to just let the dogs go, but they couldn't hear me over the other barking dogs in the parking lot. Finally, thankful, they just couldn't hold on anymore and let go. I said 'thanks' (after all they were just trying to be helpful and I appreciate that) and we shot across the parking lot and onto the trail.

It had been a couple years since I had been on the trails out this way and it was nice to be traveling them again. I played leapfrog with Julie Deloach's team, caught and passed a few teams and was passed by a couple others.

By the time we hit the 'Nome sign swamp', which is about 20 miles out the wind was blowing with an intensity that made it impossible to ignore. Around here we also started passing participants in the Su 100 - a 100-mile adventure race. Folks either travel by bike, cross country skis or walk. Each year different disciplines excel depending on trail conditions. This year the bikers were having a tough go of the warm, soft trail. I don't think I saw many actually riding their bikes; most were just pushing them along.

Tess was definitely being challenged by road crossing, snowmachines, and adventure racers. She'd balk a bit every time she met a new obstacle, but recovered quickly and was soon roaring by all sorts of distractions without a second glance.

We dropped onto Fish Creek and followed it towards the mouth of Flathorn Lake. There were ice fisherman, adventure racers and snowmachiners kicking around and behind them all a nasty looking lake. You could see the wind howling and snow blowing as you approached. "Now that doesn't look too friendly", I commented to 2 snowmachiners sitting on the side of the trail. They agreed.

Sure enough, we hit the lake and the power of the wind hit us. Dasher has seen bigger storms in lead for me and Tess just didn't seem to care. We caught and past a team whose leaders did seem to care and continued to pick our way across the lake with ease. Good dogs. I honestly never get bored of watching a couple good leaders picking out a blown in trail. It really is amazing.

It was nice to hit the little treed area on the far bank of Flathorn though. I stopped and let everyone roll in the snow and gave them all some praise. A few miles later and we hit 'the Big Swamp'. It made Flathorn Lake seem sheltered, but luckily the snow was blowing right through, so it was only drifted in in a few spots.

I figured that the rivers were going to be nasty, but we made the big drop onto the Big Su, which was GREAT this year, and things seemed to calm down. It was still windy and blowing snow, but not with near the force it had been on Flathorn or the Swamp.

The dogs moved along well and I leaped frogged a few more times with Julie before rolling into Yentna Station just ahead of her at 8pm.

Parking wasn't great and we were in close quarters with a couple other teams. Luckily, other then trying to steal a bit of food off of each other, there were no problems between them. My team devoured all their food and a bit of their neighbors. I got them all fed and settled down and then headed off to find that heated outhouse the checkers were bragging about. Sure enough, it was a lovely little tent with a heater, sanitary lotion, and even scented candles burning!! Almost enough to make you forget you were sitting on a 'honey bucket'.

I wandered over to the big tent where there was food for the mushers and chowed down on some beef stew while chatting with the Redington boys and Scott Smith. Mostly we griped about Iditarod and things we thought they could be doing better. That conversation is almost a given when you toss a bunch of Iditarod mushers in a room together.

Finally, I wandered down to see if Mark was in yet. He actually met me on the pathway up to the tents. Not only was he in, his dogs were all fed and bedded down. I was pleased to hear he had gotten in just 55 minutes behind me. He reported that he had had a good run, everyone was doing well, and raved about how amazing Moses was.

We wandered up to the Roadhouse to get a meal for Mark. I figured we might be able to dry out some clothes up there and although we would have to pay for Mark's meal, it never hurts to spend money at the roadhouses that put up with us mushers on these races.

I was shocked that owners Dan and Jean Gabryszak (www.yentnastation.com) remembered me. It had been 7 years since I actually stopped and went up to the roadhouse when I passed through Yentna, but then again, I did spend a lot of time here in '99, '00, and '01!!!

We passed a pleasant few hours in the nice warm roadhouse before strolling back down to check on dogs. Everyone was sleeping soundly. I puttered and cleaned up around my sled, wandered down and pestered Mark and generally killed time until it was time to feed dogs again.

At 4:44 am it was time to go. As there was a stack of mushers leaving within minutes of each other, things were pretty chaotic but thanks to some help from Mark I got off down the trail with just minimal problems.

The team was roaring to go and took off at breakneck speed. I had Sprite up in lead with Dasher, just because Tess wandered a bit too much in the checkpoint with the extra space her leader line gave her, so I moved her back into swing for our break and kind of forgot to move her back up before I left.

We settled into a nice pace and the dogs moved lovely through the early morning. Occasionally I'd get glimpses of headlights ahead, or hear a few dog barking, so I knew I wasn't far off some of the teams in front of me.

At the beginning of the big swamp, I passed a musher that had stopped to load a dog. The swamp was windy again, but the wind was at our backs this time!

Flathorn Lake was REALLY blown in. There was only the occasional sign of where the trail was. Now, there was trail markers, but the packed trail ranged from right next to 20 to 30 ft from the markers - and if you were traveling off the trail, you were wallowing in snow! So it was up to the leaders to keep us on the packed trail, which was now buried under a pile of blown snow. Dasher and Sprite did it flawlessly and without hesitation. I felt for the mushers that didn't have leaders that could do this - or didn't trust their leaders and kept trying to second-guess them. Experience has shown me that we just end up exposing our human shortcomings when we second-guess a good dog in conditions like this!

Once we got back into the woods, I stopped to snack dogs and to ruffle their fur. Everyone was in great spirits.

Back in the swamp before the 'Nome sign' (a famous landmark on the Iditarod Trail), we came to a spot where sled tracks went straight, but my dogs were sure we headed right onto a blown in trail that I could barely make out. I really thought the dogs were making a wrong choice here, but as I said, experience has shown me that second guessing them is usually a dumb move.

I was kinda nervous until a marker showed up about a mile down the trail. I'm pretty sure Dasher shot an 'I told you so' glance over her shoulder as the marker came into view.

Turns out that Vern Halter had second-guessed his leaders there and the sled tracks I saw were his as he went off the trail and lost some time!

A while after that I stopped and put little Tesla back into lead with Dasher. That picked our speed up a bit. Occasionally, I thought I might have caught sight of a team on the hills ahead of me, but I convinced myself that it was just trees hanging over the trail I was seeing. So imagine my surprise when we popped onto 7-Mile Lake and I found 2 teams stopped on the trail. We passed the first one, but the second one was Julie, who I had been playing leapfrog with most of this race and she pulled the hooked and headed down the trail. Now Julie seemed like a really nice lady, she had said some really nice things about my team, and I had enjoyed traveling with her this race, but I WANTED TO BEAT HER. I know she felt the same way. She asked if I wanted to pass and I declined. Really I just wanted a chance to judge her speed, so I followed along behind her for a bit. After about a mile or so I figured my dogs could hold a lead on Julie, so I asked for trail. Julie and I spent the last 7 miles of trail racing each other hard. I wasn't sure what position were we in, but I knew it was nothing in the money; still it was fun to see what the dogs could do. I hadn't called up my team all race, I had just been letting them do their thing, so I was curious what they would do when I asked them for more. I chirped and whistled at them and they responded wonderfully. Julie hung with me until we turned into woods for the last mile or so to the finish line. I could hear her dogs barking behind me, so I knew she had stopped and I didn't see her again.

Harry and Jamie were waiting at the finish line and we got the dogs hooked onto the truck. They looked a little tired after their finishing push and I thought they might not eat, but they inhaled everything that we offered them.

Turns out our finishing time was 11:41, which put me in 12 place of 27 finishers with a time of 22:41.

Mark showed up at 7 minutes after 1, for a total time of 24:07, which was good for a 21st place finish.

All and all a nice weekend!!!

Karen

Karen's Diary - Iditarod 2008 Edition


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