Iditarod 2009, Part 2: Rainy Pass to Grayling
I stopped my last newsletter at leaving Rainy Pass. 1st team out. Much to my surprise the trail was great, no trouble finding it. We were quickly passed by Jeff Schulz and the Insider Video guys on snowmachines.Things got considerably slower after that. Little did I know at that point, of how much issues I would have with those snowmachines over the next 9 days.
Rick Swenson and Paul Gebhardt both passed me and we traveled within sight of each other all they way through the Gorge. Coming around one corner, a snowmachine was stuck in the middle of the trail and I completely piled into it. My gangline caught on one of the skies and we had quite the mess. Not much after that, the next machine was stuck, but this time I could get around with less trouble. Other than that, I had no issues in the Gorge. The trailbreakers had done an incredible job of building ice bridges and carving out a trail.
We got to Rohn in daylight short after 8 p.m. in 3rd place. Rick had pulled over and tried to lure me into resting with him; “ Hey Sebastian, what’s the rush, why don’t you camp for 8 hrs with me here. “ Next time I replied and kept on loading my stuff, Paul was a parked in short term parking a few yards ahead of me doing the same. Mental note to self: Next year pack my food drop, so I have a “ to go “ bag and do not have to root through all my stuff. At 8.30 p.m. we were back on the trail, only Paul ahead of us. The Kusko had a decent snow cover on it, and the infamous glacier had a fairly nice trail off on its left side. It was getting quite windy and warm. There were stretches which had little or no snow, sand and dust was swirled around, made worse by me standing on the brake with both feet.
Dust in my eyes, brake screetching over ice, rocks and sand, the team was on fire, trying to buck me off. Vasser and Grisman were in lead on this run. Yonder was beside himself each time we stopped, barking and screaming to go. We were loaded to the gills. I carried enough food for 2 campouts and almost a full bale of straw. The trail turned into big chunks of broken up ice. It must have rained here in the past and that crust now was broken up by the trail breakers. I left Rohn without any booties. There was no way to continue, without shredding the dogs feet. I passed Paul, who must have been in the same predicament and I pulled over within sight from him. The spot was not really out of the wind, but who knows how much longer I would have to go, before finding a sheltered spot and how their feet would look after that.
I made wind shelters for the dogs out of big chunks of ice, which worked very well. Making hot water was a challenge. This was well traveled water, I had it with me all the way from Finnbear Lake, and definitely wanted to make sure it would not dump over in the wind. Dogs fed I went around covering them in their fleece blankets, which had to be weighed down with chunks of ice, so they would not fly away. I wondered how many blankets I would loose while sleeping. I made myself a spot in the lee side of the sled and crawled into my sleeping bag. The first teams started coming by, I saw Lance, but only heard the others go by. Being in my sleeping bag, camping in the middle of nowhere and hearing the sound of a team go by, is one of my favorite all time things. It is a sound so very unique to racing. Every once in a while I would wake up, when a huge gust of wind would blow a load of snow in my sleeping bag. I still managed to get close to 3hrs of sleep. Right when I go up, Gerry Willomitzer came by and short behind him Greg Heister from the Iditarod Insider film crew. Luckily they first picked Paul as their victim and I was nearly done with my chores when they came over to film me. This shows how determined those guys are. 3 a.m. in the morning, windy as hell and there they are conducting interviews.
With all dogs bootied up, a cooler full of food we pulled the hook. The trail was horrible, even more chewed up by the teams which had passed. Large chunks of ice everywhere. We passed several resting teams until it dawned to me, that once again I was the first team out, passing Buffalo Camp still in the dark. Battier who had barked to go each stop, was not looking right. I ended up loading him in the sled. Ricky and Battier had a scuffle back at the last stop, maybe that had to do with it, but I could not find anything wrong with him. In the distance behind me I could make out a team, it was my buddy Hugh Neff who caught up and passed me. I eventually repassed him before heading into the Nikolai Checkpoint after a 8 and half hour run, Hugh right on my heels. This felt like the Quest and it was fun running with Hugh again. The media picked up on that fact too, and asked if we were trying for a repeat performance of the Quest. I sure would not mind. Timing was perfect, before noon, being able to rest right in the heat of the day.
Aaron Burmeister was the third team in. The vets after looking over my team commented on their great shape. They tried to convince me to keep Battier in the team but I had set my mind on dropping him, better safe than sorry. Other than him I had zero issues, not one wristwrap, no shoulder blankets, nothing. Nikolai is always a well organized checkpoint, where they know what is important to us mushers. I slept a few hours in the gym, had 2 good meals and headed out to the team. The parking lot had filled and there was a constant stream of new arrivals. I always wonder, why so many teams travel right through the heat of the day. If I would have not made it here before noon, I would have camped out again.
This time the team left a bit suggish. The run to Mc Grath has never been a fast one for me, and this was not going to be different. There is something about this run, I have not figured out yet. Hugh and Aaron had left ahead of me and only once I caught a glimpse of one team in the distance. The team ate like alligators when I stopped to snack them, always a welcome sight. I had started to listen to an Audio book again with the title “ We have to talk about Kevin “. This one was developing into an interesting story about a mother telling a life story, having a son who did a rampage shooting in a school. I got totally absorbed into the story and started to forget my surroundings, so traveling slow did not get on my nerves. At least, unlike last year, no team passed me. Before I knew it we reached Mc Grath. There were A LOT of people there, which told me that Hugh and Aaron must have just passed. I barely had enough room to snack my dogs again. It is nice to see a village being so much into dog mushing. After signing a few kids books and shirts we left for Takotna.
It started snowing, and the trail was slower than anything I had seen before on this run. It did not help, that we were passed by 6 snowmachines in three different groups, my friends the photographers and film crews again. I could tell where they passed Hugh and Aaron, as each time it was a huge mess where they tried to go around on the narrow trail. My leaders were getting confused, tried to follow the fresh bottomless snowmachine trail, than figuring out that it was even worse than the old trail and trying to jump back into it. I had several tangles. About 2hrs into the run, all 6 snowmachines came back from Takotna. You gotta be kidding was my thought, did somebody pay them to do this to my team? I got pretty frustrated. Again little did I know what was still going to come in the snowmachine department. In Takotna I was greeted with: “ Sebastian we hope you don’t plan to go through, there is no trail past Ophir. “. My team was braking and lunging to go and I thought about continuing to Ophir but that did not seem wise considering the trail conditions.
Also I like Takotna. Best food around. Food works for me. I am willing to do ( almost ) anything for good food. I parked in the same sheltered spot as last year. Instead of Jeff King, Hugh was parked next to me. Also the weather was almost a repeat. It started snowing heavily. The dogs were eating well again. I actually had to watch that Gas, Diesel and Nemo were not getting too fat, that is a nice problem in a 1000 Mile Race. Even Rick´s gourmet dogs Grisman and Vasser must have finally accepted the fact that I would give them the same old meal every time: Beef, Dryfood, Canola Oil, Fishoil, Psylium.
Best of all. The Team was 100% injury free. Well that was a first. I still gave everybody a good full body massage once, but that was it for the whole 24 hr stop. Nice, more time to eat and sleep. I got the same quite inside sleeping space same as last year, looks like I am real creature of habit. Maybe that is why I get along well with dogs, them being much the same, creatures of habit. Not only I, but also the dogs overate in Takotna. I fed them a 4th
meal at 2 a.m. about two and half hours before leaving. I even had second thoughts about it and did not follow my own routine. If in doubt, don’t do it and decide to the safe side. I fed them anyhow, just to be crawling along now, the dogs looking like little piglets ahead of me. It took me over 3hrs to get to Ophir, Lance passed me along the way and that after a 24hrs rest. I loaded some straw in Ophir and kept on going, listening once again to the Kevin story. I opted for not snacking the dogs, so they were going to eat at my rest stop. Before Don’s Cabin I saw a bale of straw being ditched to the side, as well where a team had passed another. I assumed it was Lance, which later on turned out to be a right assumption as Hugh and Aaron were both camped out at Don’s Cabin. I also pulled over. It was getting warmer. On the other hand I had thoughts about continuing, as the dogs finally started to move a little better and is was overcast. Short after arrival Jeff King came through. The team ate well and I made sure to go a bit easy on food this time. Don’s cabin is a pretty crude shack, but nice straw on the floor made for a good 2hr nap and we left at 5 p.m. About an hour into the run we arrived at the Deshna River, where Cim Smyth, Hans Gatt and Jeff King were camped out. Jeff was leaving right when I pulled up and we traveled together for a while, before he left me in the dust. I always like this stretch of the trail, it is remote with beautiful scenery.
We came into Iditarod at 11 p.m., I was happy to be on a good schedule. I had send enough stuff here to do a 24 hr layover, so I had to sort through all the gear and send stuff home. The Checkpoint was quite, not may teams here. Lance left about 45 minutes after I had arrived. A pattern I would have to get used to. I immediately started regretting not running here in one straight shot. The rest was short, we left after a bit more than 4rs to continue on to Shageluk. I was glad not having to spend any time massaging dogs, there were no issues. The team left sharp, when I called them up after their short nap. Needing some speed for this run, Vasser and Nemo went in lead. Knowing this trail had just been broken out, I was anticipating a slow trail, but was pleasantly surprised, that it had just set up enough to make for a good run. The team was on fire, and it is windy and twisty. We crashed once pretty good. Sorting out the mess, I used my chance to snack them right there. They were not really interested in food, just barking and lunging and I could not get my damn snowhook off the tree. I tied another piece of rope to it and than cut if off and managed to hang on to the hook and take it with me. Needless to say we got to Shageluk a bit faster than I thought and pulled in around 11 a.m.. The whole run I did not see a soul. Nice perfect timing again for the dogs, rest through the afternoon sun. It seemed like the whole town was out to greet the incoming teams . Aaron came right behind me, Mitch a while later and than Jeff. Lance had gone though but not reached Anvik yet. I debated to take my 8 hr layover here, but continued after 5hrs. The dogs were sitting up again, and I could not sleep myself. Waste of time, better get moving.
Much to my surprise Jeff pulled out ahead of me, he could only have rested a bit more than 3hrs. The race seemed to be on. Aaron was right behind me. Our convoy of 3 traveled the whole way to Anvik together, Helicopters overhead, Snowmachines passing, cameras rolling. I am sure not used to this media attention. In Anvik we quickly checked in and out. Lance still had to serve some time of his 8 hr layover, so Jeff was in lead and me and Aaron were second and third now. I snacked the gang right after leaving town, as usual all food disappered. It cooled down nicely the dogs were solid. I was debating to skip Grayling. My mind was going wild, playing chess, wondering what piece to move. Which piece I moved? Stay tuned to the next newletter…..
Most of the pictures in the album from Jeff Schulz or Anchorage Daily News can be ordered as prints or on mugs, etc.