Aroma Therapy and Moose Poop juiceWell now that I write those lines here, I am once again back in Dawson, on the same computer they chased me off 5 days back. An adventurous 5 days it have been once again. It was hard for me to leave the comforts that being a heated tent, of Dawson and to head back on the trail. The ascent of King Solomon Dome was nice, good weather and the dogs running steady. There is always a nasty side hill up there and a horde of photographers waiting for a spill, but I made it by in one piece. The sled is huge and heavy at this time, full with supplies for 210 miles, 4 complete feedings and snacks. A lot of Gear.
Gerry put up camp right on top of the mountain, I continued another hour to Mark Pearsons Mining Camp, unfortunately he was not there, so neither the warm water and bed I had hoped for. Another 5 hr run brought be till 2 a.m. in the morning, and back on a decent run rest schedule. This run is always a tough one, with Eureka Dome and another nameless mountain it has a lot of climbing in it. I got frustrated with the thought to have to go back over those mountains on the way home again. The dogs picked up on my feelings; you cannot hide feelings from dogs.
This is how a campout works with the dogs:
First I try to find a downhill spot to stop. That makes it easier for passing teams to go by, but also easier to leave once I get going again. Ideally there are some trees and some firewood to make a quick fire. To get the dogs off the trail in the deep snow is not always easy. I walk a path in there ahead of them. The more they are off the trail the easier it is once again for passing teams. Once I stop I tie down my front of the team, take all their tuglines off and booties off. They keep their harness on at all times and depending on the temperatures I put a dogcoat on them for the rest. Than out comes the dogfood cooker to melt snow. While that happens I recheck all the dogs for soreness and rub ointment in their feet. Than I completely unload my sled to get out the foamie mats which I keep at the bottom of the sledbag. That seems inconvenient, but it forces me to clean up the sled each stop but also protects my sledcontents go get wet in deep overflow. I put down one foamy, than my parka on top of that one, and another small piece of foamie over that one. The sleeping bag on top of that. Once that is done the dogfood is usually ready and I feed the gang. I keep the cooker going once again to melt snow for my drinking water. While they eat I already lay the booties next to them for when I leave. Once they are done eating, I offer all of them a snack. In warm weather fish, lots of water, in cold weather fat snacks. Before going to bed I burn my garbage, eat myself, tidy up the food and snacks ready for the next run. The snacks I will keep in my cooler (which functions as a seat). The dogfood I put in food drop bags in the sled. All this should not take longer than one hour after stopping. Than I usually sleep for 2 to 3 hrs and calculate 45 minutes as wakeup time. That is the worst part, climbing out of the sleeping bag in minus 30 and stepping back in frozen cold cloths and boots, arghhhhh. I offer all dogs a snack again, and than put them in their position in the gangline and put their booties on. There are many small details, like putting the foot ointment in your pockets before going to bed, so it is not frozen rock hard. I wrap my thermos in my fleece pullover to it stays warmer, I put some warm juice drinks (Capri suns) at the bottom of my sleeping bag before climbing in. I sleep with my headlight on my head, so I can find it, once I get up. I have 2 alarms, but that needs improvement. I am thinking about sewing one in a hat so I definitely hear it. Or take a second one which winds up instead of batteries. O.K. so much for camping.
I left at 7.30 a.m. That was supposed to be 6 a.m. but I did not hear my alarm and overslept, just to wake up seeing Gerry and Dave Dalton come by. Worse off, those 1.5 hrs oversleeping would bring me in the heat of the day again, and sure enough the run out of Scroggy Creek till I pulled over to camp with Gerry was a slog in hot weather. The campout was nice though, the dogs enjoyed the rest in the warm. Our next run brought us into Stepping Stone, one of the highlights of the race. They put on a great spread for us, coaxing us in with signs promising burritos and lasagne. Gerry, Dave and me were travelling together now. Dave made a lot of time on us, about 3 hrs since Dawson and his team looked really strong. Both Gerry and Dave had faster run times at this point than me and I knew that my chances to beat one of them were getting slimmer, and that I even would have to work hard to just stay with them.
Leaving in the morning at 7 a.m., Gerry and Dave had left an hour earlier, the trip went along the Pelly River. Flat travelling, for a change, a very welcome change. The dogs had an easy run to Pelly and we got there short before noon, still on a perfect run rest schedule. Rest in the head of the day or at night, and run mornings and evenings.
Pelly was a great run checkpoint, good food for us a quite place to sleep. That is basically all we ask for. Knowing that the next run would be a longer one, I left early shortly after 4 p.m. behind Gerry, ahead of Dave. Dave would catch me after 2 hrs, clearly manifesting that he had a faster team. Thus mentally I settled for 6th place, one place off my goal which was 5th. Along the mining road we travel along, I pulled over to camp at 22.30, a bit to early in hindsight, but I wanted to stay within the trees and not go out in the open (a big burn went though the area), afraid it would get really cold to camp. The campspot was nice I untied a few dogs and they could curl up under some big spruce trees, I spread my sleeping bag under another and putting down my parka for Tang and Chevy to sleep on. We also carry some straw with us on those long runs, but Tang and Chevy always prefer my Parka. I wanted to leave at 2.30, but once again overslept my alarm, I figure that with the cold the batteries are getting to weak for it to beep loud enough. This time I woke up when Michelle Philips passed me, definitely getting me on my toes, as I did not want to loose my 6th place at all. Once again we were in Mountain Country, not much flat out there. Very frustrating at time. I passed Michelle along the trail and knew now that my team would be faster and that I should be able to hold on to 6th place, if I stop oversleeping. For the dogs we melt snow, same for our drinking water. It is normal that our drinking water is full of pine needles and other plant stuff, but once I spotted a piece of Moose Poop in my water this time, I decided to rather die of thirst, and dumped it out. It was a long long run to Scroggy Creek, were we were supposed to take our mandatory 8 hr rest. Gerry and Dave were a few hours ahead of me by now but still here.
They pitch up some walltents for us to sleep in, a rather crude setup though. I hung up the dogcoats my dogs were wearing. While drying out they started dripping liquid on the stove, but not water, dogpee and the tent was quickly filled with thick smoke. Gerry woke up questioning what was going on. Once I told him, him he just chuckled and said: Dogpee dripping on a stove that is aroma therapy for mushers, very well put. The dogs ate well and Nene de Wolfe the vet and me mused about how much my dogcare skills have advanced since she first met me in my first Quest Attempt in 1999. Now she noted in my vetbook that my dogs are fata, always a nice compliment for a musher after 900 miles on the trail. Indeed there were certain dogs I had to ration the food, Jack, Libby and Diesel as they were too fat. My time to leave was 8 p.m. and I planned on not running a straight 15 hrs to Dawson, instead to camp about half way.
It was a cold run, about 30 below but also windy, especially over Eureka summit. The trail was totally blown in and I had somewhat of a hard time to find it again, falling of in the deep snow a few times. Once I left a perfect sled print in the deep snow, which later at the finish line, Kelly Griffin questioned me if I saw that. Sure I replied, very closely I saw that, I made it. My camping spot I had in mind was unsuitable, too windy. I did not want to go all the way down the Indian River valley either fearing it would be even colder down there. Finally in a long bend on the downward trail of one of the countess mountains I found a good spot, next to no wind, and pulled over at 2.30 in the morning, exactly after 7.5 hrs. Good timing. The northern lights were dancing and this was to be the last campout of the race. The feeling that the Quest would be over soon crept in, on the one hand feeling nice, on the other hand a sad feeling. My team had finally become a good unit. They were not the team I had in mind to drive before the race at all, as with the poor snow conditions in Whitehorse I injured many of my key dogs. Than the dogs I dropped were main ones too, like Gas, Coon and Popcorn. The dogs I was left with, were hard to fit into a unit. They were hard to pair up and find a smooth running rhythm. Finally now toward the end I had that solution though. Tang and Marmot in lead, Wondar and Suhmo behind (perfect match), Chevy and Rat the puppy behind (not a nice match, but when I tried to run Rat alone and put Chevy which Herring, Rat the pup would start goofing off and be all over the place, Chevy would not let that happen, the grumpy old man), Herring by himself, than Libby and Jack (the nicest pair in the team, perfect match and eating like alligators) and Franky and Diesel in wheel. They were the perfect wheel dogs, easily switching sides without getting tangled in tight corners.
We left the camp spot at 8 a.m. after another 5.5 hr break. Neither Michelle nor Kelly did catch up in that break, and I was getting confident that I would keep 6th place. One more big climb up King Solomon dome. The dogs ran very nicely, normally that run takes 8hrs to the finish but we made it 45 minutes faster, finishing at 15.16, the dogs looping onto the Klondike and than onto the Yukon was a very pleasing sight for me, they came together after all. Lance won the race as I expected, and among many other people he was there to greet me, a nice gesture. Lance is a hell of a nice man and musher.
Finishing in Dawson was nice for me, as I did not have to go by "home" in Whitehorse. I also like Dawson a lot in the winter and was looking forward to soak in some more of the race atmosphere. After praising all the "monsters" I headed back to the camp spot on the campground. The dogs settled in quickly, many of them heading for my tent and not their shelter. That left me with very little space to sleep, but somehow I found a nice and we all had a nice snooze. If felt good, 950 miles behind us, definitely the hardest of the 1000 milers I have run to this date. From no snow, to raging winds, to snowstorms, to a wild freefall of Eagle summit to cold lonely nights on the Yukon River, all topped by endless Black hills times 2 made for a good challenge.
11 dogs made it to the finish line, although they were not my favourites, I am now debating to take all 11 of them with me to the Iditarod, but have to also look at the team Roland finished 2nd with in the Quest 300 and come up with one gang on 16 for the Iditarod.
While I write these lines, Pierre and John are taking down camp and than we will drive to Whitehorse tonight. Friday an office day, Saturday will be busy with packing once again and the Quest Banquet at night. Sunday on the Road to Anchorage again, maybe I wait till Monday but than it might get tight to make it to the vetcheck and blood work in time.
I am very fortunate to be able to live this dream this winter and like to thank all the people to make this possible and help me out in so many different ways. Happy trails to all.