I know that some mushers charge for their Iditarod journals or only tell the tales in books, but I feel so much gratitude and thanks to all of you
who support and follow our adventures that I think I owe all of you these stories.
As you read these entries, I ask you all to remember that none of it could have happened without the support and interest of each one of you.
Please never underestimate how thankful I am.
I know, politically, the re-start occurring in Willow is a big headache for the ITC (Iditarod Trail Committee) – but from a musher’s point of view – it is
SSSWEET! We get out on the trail faster, without all the headache and stress of the first 11 miles or so out of Wasilla – and, for us at least, it is much closer and I can actually get to sleep in.
Okay, I didn’t sleep in very much at all, but I was able to tie up some loose ends and sit down to a lovely steak and eggs breakfast (now an Iditarod tradition for us) before we loaded up the dogs and headed the short distance over to the Community Center.
It was hard to drive out of the yard and leave Hilda, Pepsi, Nahanni, Jinx, Q, and Barq behind. All are great dogs and I’m sure would have done well on the Race, but I felt completely confident in the team members I had selected.
I must say, for the first time ever, there was no knot in my stomach on Race morning – I was just plain excited about getting out on the trail. The mood in the truck was downright GIDDY as we joked with the parking volunteers that steered us towards our parking spot down on Willow Lake.
What a nice set up the re-start was this year, lots of room for the trucks, good approach to the start line and lots of room for folks to move around. It took a lot of the tension out of the day. Well-done ITC!!
In fact the only real stress of my day occurred when I got back to the truck from the Community Center after a bathroom break (I use flushing toilets every chance I can in the days before the race). Janet met me and told me the Iditarod Chip Readers were by and Moses had failed his chip scan. At first I was sure Mark and crew were pulling my leg, but it became apparent fast that they were not. Janet gave me a piece of paper listing what Moses’ chip was supposed to read and what it actually read. The problem was the last 4 digits, 3 of which should have been letters, but showed up as numbers on the Chip Readers scanner. To me it looked completely like an equipment or bookkeeping problem – well, heck, I know it was that – because I know Moses was the dog that went through all the pre race checks and that same dog was the one on the truck now. And there was NO WAY an equipment/paperwork error was going to stop one of my key leaders from hitting the trail with me. Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, but an Iditarod musher being stopped from taking a key dog the morning of the race has to come a close second.
Piece of paper in hand, I stormed off to find the Chip Readers. I didn’t have any luck finding them, but I did stumble into Race Marshall Mark
Nordman. I explained my problem to him and showed him the problem digits. “It’s not an issue Karen” he assured me. “Tell them to see me if they give you any problems about taking him”. I swear, Mark is the perfect Race Marshall for this Race. He claims to marshal to the spirit of the rules/race rather then to the letter and he does. You can always count on Mark to make good common sense decisions (as was also apparent in the excellent and fair treatment of Paul Gebhardt when he lost his team and recovered them with a snowmachine later in the Race.)
I did run into the Chip Readers on the way back to the truck and we wrote “See Mark Nordman” next to Moses’ name. When I got back to the truck another group of Chip Readers, headed by head vet tech Jan Bullock had stopped by to wish me well. I had them scan Moses for curiosity’s sake. The chip showed on their scanner as it should have. Problem gone.
My sled was packed - you know, one of the my most commonly asked questions is what exactly is in that sled, so why don’t I take a moment to tell you what is really in there. First off, underneath everything is a sleeping pad, it gives padding to everything and in an emergency, makes the sled a pretty comfortable place to squeeze into. If camping on the trail, I will dig it out to spread my sleeping bag on top of.
The key big things in there are my cooker (mandatory gear) and my cooler for mixing dog food (we only use the cooker to heat up water, never to mix dog food). Inside my cooker are 16 lightweight aluminum dog dishes and 3 bottles of HEET
(gasline antifreeze), which is what it normally takes to heat up enough water to feed the team. Inside the cooker is 8lbs of kibble, meat and fat supplement, which is a feeding for the team – and a couple snacks for them. If it is a long trail, I will carry a few more snacks on top of the cooler – and maybe an extra feeding if I’m planning on camping. Stuffed next to the cooler is my dog food ladle.
Then there are my snowshoes (mandatory), which happen to be big and rather cumbersome, but they are good ones that I could actually use in an emergency (or so I though – but that is a tale for later). I have a couple compression sacks, one with dog ‘clothing’ – a couple jackets, my checkpoint blankets, spare harnesses, a few shoulder rub shirts, and a few shoulder jackets – and one with my extreme cold weather clothing – a pair of Northern Outfitters bib pants, a spare pair of socks, a spare hat, a spare pair of
overmitts, another liner for my parka and a wind suit (actually, I forgot my wind suit this year, but it should have been in there!). I also carried my big white Bunny boots for most of the Race and a pair of Apocalypse Design wind bibs.
Of course there is also a dog and sled first aid kit – the dog one being the bigger of the two. For me I have a small bag with lip balm, sunscreen, stomach remedies, antibacterial lotion, moisturizing lotion, painkillers, and the likes. This year I also had my back brace and some heat wraps. I also had a bag of snacks and some of Doug’s fantastic smoked salmon to keep me fed – and a thermos, Nalgene bottle and some juice packs to keep me hydrated.
Buried well in a secure pocket are my trail mail packet (mandatory) and a few other small good luck items. Also in secure, but assessable pockets are my vet book (mandatory), my notebook with my race plan and trail notes, my I pod, spare batteries for it, a gun, ammunition, and a book (no kidding – I often have trouble sticking to my schedule of trail rest early on in the race and a book keeps me amused enough that I will not cut the dogs rest short. Later in the race I just sleep whenever I can. This year’s book was one by John Grisham, but I didn’t find I needed it much).
Stuffed in the toe of the sled bag is my sleeping bag (in the bottom of that bag is a small bivy sack too) – and carefully stowed in their place in the ‘nooks and crannies’ are my axe (mandatory), dog booties (mandatory) a spare piece of gangline, my ski poles, 2 headlamps, battery packs for the headlamps, some small lights for the dogs, a small Petzel Tikki light for me to use in checkpoints and matches. On the driving bow are a number of spare necklines and ITC specified cable drop lines – and finally, very securely attached to the back sled stanchion is a knife. The one I carried this year was a beautiful handcrafted one that was a gift for doing a presentation at the Ontario Federation of Sleddog Sports a few years back – it is a wonderful knife.
I don’t guarantee the list to be totally inclusive, but it is close!
Now race ready - we passed the time chatting with friends, fellow racers, race officials and spectators. We watched teams go by, commenting on others gear, sleds, dogs, etc until finally it was time to start hooking up our dogs. I have such a great support crew; they all know me well and can be relied on to do everything exactly right as we get the team hooked up. My role is just one of an overseer at that point, which gives me a great sense of calm and control at the start. I’d be lost without folks like Mark, Janet, Colleen and Doug.
I’ve got to confess, I get a real rush in the starting chute of Iditarod. For the last few days, I’ve just moved around at the whim of others. Iditarod schedules events for us - Mark, Colleen and Iditarod officials shuffled me around to get me where I needed to be, when I needed to be there. I move around flanked by others at all times, it seems. If feel all the time like I’m being ‘carried’ by others. Then in the starting chute, everybody ‘sets you down’, moves aside and sends you off on your own. For me ‘the’ moment is when the starter announces ’10 seconds’. Right then everything around me ‘falls’ away and my focus narrows down to just the 16 dogs and the trail stretched in front of me. It’s an unbelievable moment that just never gets old for me!
Here we go….