North Wapiti Siberian
Iditarod 2008 - Tales from the Trail
April 5, 2008
Tales Of The Trail -
Rocks In Places You Don't Want Them & Sleepy
Well, this story (or at least a shorter version
of it) was told around the musher's table in Takotna and it was
the one I told at the Red Lantern Banquet in Nome (it went over
so well there that a gentleman approached me at the airport
later that evening to shake my hand and tell me how much it made
him laugh) - so I guess it is time it gets told here.
As many of you have heard the trail out of Rohn, through the
Buffalo Tunnels and over the Farewell Lakes all the way to
Buffalo Camp was pretty light on snow. In fact, it was mostly
ice, rocks, grass, water, and MUD! The Iditarod Trailbreakers
did a phenomenal job of putting in the trail and I thought it
was much safer then previous low snow years, but it was still a
I left Rohn with Spidey and Jinx in lead and was more then
impressed with the job they did picking their way across the
frozen Kusko River. It was so icy and windy that I was
completely at their mercy and they kindly worked with me to get
us across the tricky parts of the trail.
We skidded and bumped along while I fretted about the Post River
Glacier. The Glacier can either be a piece of cake, or a true
nightmare. We had been warned this year it was pretty bad - and
although I'd survived bad trips up it before - worrying is
something I do well, so I was focusing on that.
Of course, because I spent all that energy fretting about the
Glacier, it wasn't too bad at all. The warm daytime temperatures
had made the top layer of ice alittle slushy, which allowed the
dogs some decent footing and they powered up the ice with no
problem. I told them all what stars they were and their little
tails all wagged as they trotted along.
It quickly became apparent that rather then worrying about the
Glacier, I should have been spending some time fretting about
the Buffalo Tunnels, especially now that I had just 'talked the
team' up telling them all how brilliant they were. I was
actually getting air off some of the clumps of mud and rock
when Lachlan Clark's team roared by mine. They were rocking
along so well, I expected to see Lach's feet flapping in the air
behind him. "They are trying to kill you Lach!", I called out.
"At least I'll die with a smile on my face", he quipped as he
Of course, my already happy group of pups fell in line behind
Lach's completely ignoring my pleas of 'easy, easy'. In close to
horror, I watched Lach's team hit a small SUV sized mound of
dirt, hang a hard right at the top and shoot off into space. All
landed intact on the other side - I doubt fated had the same
thing in store for me.
My team hit the mound, the hard right and then shot off into
space.I held my breath. We hit the ground, upright and intact. I
glanced behind me and marvelled at what we had just successfully
negotiated (I hear many teams had less then positive experiences
in this spot and about every musher I spoke with after the race
knew EXACTLY what you were talking about when you said 'that
giant mound of earth'). I was actually kind of gloating - a bad
way to tempt the fates - when one of my feet caught a small
clump of dirt and knocked me off the runners. I found myself
hanging onto the driving bow of the sled with my feet dragging
behind me. Well, so much for the gloating.
To be honest though, this isn't a position uncommon to most
mushers. Unfortunately, what made this situation slightly more
unique is that what I was being dragged through was rocks and
mud. I was stressing about my lovely new Skookum parka getting
torn (which it didn't) and muddy (which it did) when things got
worse - much worse. My pants which were getting grabbed by the
rocks slid down towards my ankles. Joining them on the trip
south were my long underwear AND my underwear. I was suddenly
having parts of me exposed to the rocks and mud that no musher
should have to. I was pleading with the dogs to stop and keeping
my ears peeled for Discovery Channel helicopters and
snowmachines at the same time. Thankfully, it appeared that I
was alone, even Lachlan was out of sight now.
I couldn't let go of the driving bow to grab at my pants
without risking losing the team, so I had to figure out a way to
get them stopped. I opted to tip the sled over, hoping more drag
would slow my charged (and I'm sure laughing) dog team down.
They slowed down a bit, but showed no sign of stopping until the
driving bow smacked into a rock - the fact that my hand was
between the sled and the rock seemed like a minor inconvenience
at the time.
I pulled my pants mostly back up, then righted the sled, brushed
some rocks out of my underwear, picked up the left over shreds
of my dignity and continued down the trail.
A stop at Buffalo Camp and many miles of trail meant that it was
early the next morning before I reached Nikolai. I worked my way
through dog chores before finally heading up to the school,
which was offering fabulous hospitality to the mushers. In the
cafeteria, I plunked down at a table and started stripping off
layers of clothes. When I pulled my gloves off, which I had not
done since my 'incident' in the Buffalo Tunnels, I was in for a
big and rather blue surprise. My middle finger was very swollen
and discolored. A big part of the issue was that I wear a ring
on that finger and it was pretty obvious that the ring was now
cutting off circulation. I headed to the bathroom to clean up
and tried to get the ring off myself - no luck! But I did use
the opportunity to clean up the remaining bits of rock and mud
in my pants!
Because I'm very good at ignoring things, I got something to eat
and grabbed a bit of sleep before stopping to look at my finger
again. Seems the swelling hadn't magically vanished in the last
few hours - go figure.
Cindy Gallea, who is a nurse in real life, was sitting across
from me when I took another look at my finger. She very clearly
indicated that I should get it looked at. I like and respect
Cindy, so I headed over to see if I could find a doctor or
physician's assistant. Turns out there are neither in the
village, but in no time I had the school's maintenance man with
a pair of side cutters on the problem. As my finger really
didn't fit inside my ring anymore, it should come as no surprise
that a pair of side cutters didn't really fit in there either.
As this was going on, one of the vets popped up from the
checkpoint to look over the situation. She got on the phone with
the P.A. in McGrath and they started strategizing.
Turns out that they had a special tool in the Clinic in McGrath
to cut rings off, but the consensus was that it couldn't wait
till I got over to McGrath to by dog team to get taken care of.
I'll shorten this telling up a bit by saying that a lot of
discussion ensued about what to do.
Finally the vets got some rubber surgical tubing and wrapped my
finger as tightly as they could starting at the tip and all the
way down and under the ring (yes, that took some doing). The
thought was to force some of the swelling out of my finger so
they could get the ring off. I could say that wasn't painful or
uncomfortable, but, well.. that would be a lie - however, by now
it had been impressed upon me that this needed to be dealt with
and if this didn't work, other solutions would involve me
staying in this checkpoint longer then I wished to. So, I
gritted my teeth and kept telling everyone that what they were
doing was fine. After about 15 minutes sitting in the vet
building with my wrapped finger held over my head (to also help
get the swelling out) they soaped my hand up, then tugged,
twisted and yanked until the ring finally departed my finger. I
tucked the ring in a pocket, massaged my finger a bit, thanked
the vets, and headed out to get back to my chores. What a
So, now the postscript to the story..
My finger actually didn't bother me for the rest of the race and
after I confessed to Mark on my next phone call that he was
right and I should have taken that ring off before the Race, I
thought the incident was behind me. However, a day off the trail
the nerves in my right hand started to be a problem. They felt
stretched, out of alignment and very painful. My trip to 'Dr.Phil'
(the chiropractor in Nome) for my back helped the finger a bit.
He also advised me that I was still kind of dehydrated and that
that messes some with nerves. He recommended lots of fluids and
time. I did both and the pain eventually subsided but now my
middle and ring finger were numb all the time.
One of the first things I did when I got back to Perryvale was
make an appointment to see my doctor. I'm happy to report that
all is going to be well with my fingers. She tells me that I
killed the main nerve that runs up to those to digits. However,
nerves regenerate when given time. She says in 6 - 8 months, I
should be like new. In the meantime, I need exercise my hand a
lot, but be careful with the numbness, as I won't feel pain,
hot, cold, etc like I normally would.
So, if anyone sees me standing around this summer with my hand
in the fire pit and not noticing it, could they mention it to
me??? I'd be grateful!
As for the lessons I learned from this incident - well, there
are a few. Let me summarize -
4. Never tempt the fates when on the back of a dogsled
3. Don't put off seeking medical attention when you arrive in a
2. Take all jewelry off before heading out on a race
And the Number 1 thing I learned from this incident -
Karen's Diary - Iditarod 2008 Edition
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