Saturday, March 24, 2012

Iditarod 2012

My immediate Iditarod family
     I've mentioned that I had a lot of help with putting together a run / rest schedule which made sense, and for the most part I stuck to it.  It wasn't always easy to adhere to the schedule, but with some good advice along the way I was able to sit on my hands when I needed to.  Over the years I've compiled a list of memorable Iditarod quotes, and this one is going right to the top of that list simply because it had a direct impact on the outcome of my race.  I had been sitting in Finger Lake for about four hours, I'd previously spent six hours outside of Yentna and now the yellow, "write in the rain," pad which was sort of like my bible, told me that I needed to stay in Finger for a total of six hours.  Ugh.  It's painful to watch team after team leave, and I felt like my schedule had set me up to be in last place right out of the gate.  Along came Iditarod Champ Joe Runyan.  He asked how it was going and I told him that I was a little frustrated with hanging out for so long.  He said, "Mike, no one ever made a mistake while resting."  Simple enough.  As we proceeded through the next few checkpoints, I started to realize that my run times were quite a bit faster than most, and due to the amount of rest I was giving the dogs, they were covering the distances with very little effort.  I began to have a lot more faith in my little yellow bible.

The one that got away was this big

     Much of my run to the coast was typical Iditarod dog mushing, run six hours rest six hours.  So for interest's sake let's jump forward to the good part.  Just outside of Unalakleet the trail climbs up and over a short series of hills known as the Blueberry Hills.  This was my second time traveling this section of trail, I had done this stretch back in 2008 on a sno-go.  Then as now, the weather was remarkable, pleasantly warm, with skies so clear I too thought I could see Russia.  On the 08 trip, when I got out of the hills and back down to sea level, it was as if I had somehow went through some sort of time / space portal and had arrived on another planet.  Winds gusting thirty plus mph, drifts alternating between rock hard and spindrift soft, visibility practically zero.  It would be no different today.  A dog sled in a cross wind is a rather pathetic piece of equipment, and steering a sled which is at the mercy of the wind is most frustrating.  The dogs, at least mine, seem to think that anything that is remotely different than what we've just experienced, is fun.  A new game.  Something to get excited about.  They love to negotiate obstacles, in this scenario, the obstacles being drifts crossing and/or blocking the trail.  What really seems to turn them on is when I don't have any preference as to which way we go around an obstacle and I just let them collectively decide.  "Hey, what do you all say we go left around this one? Yeah, yeah, yeah, leftWhat do you think fellas, straight through this one? Straight through it is."  I swear they exude a self satisfied smugness simply because they guessed correctly not knowing that there was no wrong answer.  The game of drift dodging / drift diving thankfully got us to Shaktoolik rather quickly.  Too quickly perhaps.

     With the help of the local Shaktoolikians, "the most remarkable people on the planet by the way," I got my team parked behind the armory which serves as the checkpoint.  I quickly went into checkpoint mode, which this far into the race is an unconscious ritual of bedding down the dogs, removing their boots, and firing up the cooker.  Somewhere in the middle of this process a rather familiar, and to Iditarod fans a famous, Swiss accent cut through the sound of the wind, "You're having the run of your life, huh."   What the h***.  I look up and low and behold I'm parked next to Martin Buser.  On the other side of him is Rick Swenson, and coming out of the armory is none other than Lance Mackey.  Now, despite the fact that I could've sworn that days ago, somewhere back along the trail, I heard that Aily Zirkle had already won this darn thing, I was sort of expecting her to come strolling out of the armory at any moment.  "One aspect of the Iditarod that astounds me is how confusing it is to know where in the grand scheme of things you are.  I swear I kept passing teams that were days behind me, and that I kept catching teams that were days ahead of me.  The worst part of the whole thing is that everyone involved, checkers and race officials all seem to have a better grasp of how it's all playing out than you do.  Soon you start to look at these folks like they've got some sort of revolutionary secret to share with you but they don't."      
Iditarod's biggest fan, Willie.
Only because he gets the recliner all to himself 
for two weeks. 
     As the sun began to set on Shaktoolik the temperature started to plummet, and the wind only intensified making for fairly dangerous conditions which forced a large portion of the race field to wait out the weather. 
Great!  There I was just having the time of my life playing with my puppies along the Iditarod trail, and all of a sudden I'm stuck smack dab in the middle of a race.  Yikes!  What to do?

       Keep coming back and I'll keep writing.  


     Until the next time, I hope you're having as much fun with your dog or dogs as I am with mine.

1 comment:

  1. So were the Happy River Steps uneventful, with all the snow?

    I imagine with all the sleep deprivation it would be even harder to make rest/run decisions and recalculations on the trail!