The race is a blur but I will try my best at writing a summary. First off a special thanks to the awesomest of handlers, Greg Newby! Without Greg following me around from checkpoint to checkpoint and cleaning up after the StinkyPups I could have not done the race!
A lot of hours went into preparing for the race– cutting meat and getting drop bags ready. Turns out I over packed my drop bags– but that was okay because I tried not to overpack my sled too much.
We left Fairbanks on Jan 10, 2014 at around 8:00am and arrived in GlennAllen at 3:00 or 4:00pm. Road conditions were good. We found race headquarters and they told me I needed to drop off my drop bags first and then register. I did just that. We “dropped dogs,” which means we take them out of the truck and put them on chains so they can pee & poo. Of course we had escapees– Moe, Bear, and I think Nikki. There was a vet check where the vet and a vet tech examine the dogs– check their feet, weight, and listen to their heart and lungs. All was well (Stella had some cracks on her left back foot).
After the vet check we found the hotel, stopped at the store, and then went to the 6:00pm mandatory musher’s meeting. We were both falling asleep due to our travel the day before, so I didn’t remember too much of the trail description. I was thinking that I’d scratch after Meier’s Lake anyway. I felt very much out of my league and was wondering why I was even attempting such a long distance mush.
On race day we woke up at 6:00am, fed dogs and started packing. The race started at 10:00am and I was bib 17. I left the starting chute at 10:32am with 12 dogs:
- Nikki & Wayne (lead)
- Stella & Shrek
- Zeus & Moe
- Capella & Phanty
- Siren the puppy & Recluse
- Bear & Spike
GlennAllen to Chistochina (52 miles)
The first leg was GlennAllen to Chistochina and was approximately 53 miles. The snow was deeper than we’re used to training in and it felt like we were dragging. All of the teams passed me– some sooner than later. I found it interesting to see the responses of the top mushers as they passed. Usually when someone is behind me I put in snow hook and run the the front of the team to hold Nikki and Wayne. I do this because I don’t use neck lines on my leaders and sometimes when I stop they take up the entire trail. Right after H.G. passed me he got tangled. I was back at my sled and my team started to go. Nikki ended up on his sled and had unharness herself. He threw her aside and was off– no “thanks” or any acknowledgement I existed. Compare this with A.Z. who said thanks, had eye contact, and a big smile on her face.
The trail was hilly and it was a slog. It was warm for the StinkyPups. Shrek vomited and fell down at 9.52 miles. He often does this when he’s working too hard and overheats, so I wasn’t concerned. He did it around 7 miles later.
Somewhere at mile 30 or 40 M.P. caught up to me. I kept asking her if she wanted to pass, and she didn’t. Finally she decided she would. I placed my snow hook into the soft snow and ran up to my leaders to hold my team. Her team was having difficulty passing so I grabbed her leaders to help. My team decided they didn’t want her to pass and took off with the snow hook dragging in the snow. I hopped on the runners with M.P. on her sled and then eventually I rode on top of her basket. We kept catching up to my team, but her team wouldn’t pass. Then her team would get tangled and she’d stop and my team would take off. I was very worried– I wasn’t sure if there were any more hills. We played this game, catching up, not passing, getting tangled, for several miles– which felt like eternity. Note, all the while my snow hook was dragging in the snow! Eventually my hook made it’s way under the brake and my team stopped! I secured my sled, helped M.P. pass, and checked the dogs– who were having a great time without their musher. We continued onto Chistochina.
I arrived at Chistochina at 7:10pm with a run time of 8hours and 38 minutes. I wasn’t tired at this point, but the dogs were because we ran without stopping. I took a 6hour and 48 minute layover. When I checked dogs, I noticed Phanty’s wrist seemed swollen, so I massaged Algyvyl and wrapped it. I had the vet look at him. She said it was swollen and that I could try to work through it with the wrap, but I decided to drop him. That left me with 11 dogs.
Chistochina to Meier’s Lake (73 miles)
I left Chistochina at 1:58am. The plan was to run around 40 miles, cross the river and then either camp or continue on– depending on how spunky the dogs were. The trail was much better than the first leg, but somewhat hilly. They call it “the hump.”
At around mile 27 I passed a group of mushers who were camping out. I didn’t think they were part of the race because it was too early to camp– turns out they were in the race. At around 30 miles I crossed Excelsior Creek. I was only ankle deep, but I had to run up to grab Nikki and Wayne and drag the team across because they wouldn’t cross on their own. At around mile 32 I passed M.P. camping on the side of a hill. I asked her if that was the river crossing and she laughed and told me it was still ahead. I was thinking about camping, but wanted to stick with my plan. Also, the snow was so deep on the sides of the trail it would take me an hour to fish out my snow shoes and stomp out a camping area and I was too lazy to do this. I kept looking at my GPS. Mile 40 came and no river. Grrrr.
Finally at mile 45 the Gulkana River arrived. I got to the river grabbed my leaders and tried to drag them across. Nope. They weren’t going. They bunched up in a ball and started backing out of their collars and taking off their harnesses. I tried again. No luck. Capella was very cute because she took of her harness and collar and was running around. She stepped onto an ice ledge and went plunging into the freezing cold water. She is all white, and a bit chunky, so she looked like a baby polar bear!
I stood there thinking, “How am I going to get across. It will be an hour or so before M.P. arrives.” I decided to drag them across. At first I thought I’d drag them and let them be free on the other side, but I didn’t want anyone running off, so I took a snow hook and my axe, walked across the river (which was up to my thighs) and made a picket line. One end was my axe and the other end was the snow hook. I used extra tug lines and attached them to the line and then I walked all 11 dogs across the river.
The biggest challenge was dragging my sled across. When I got to the other side there was an lip of ice. At first I thought I was going to have to unpack my sled, but I mustered up enough strength to get it over the lip and onto the shore. The entire process took over an hour so I told the dogs what I used to tell my Outward Bound students on long portages– “you rest on the walk back to pick up more gear.” Here the dogs rested while I dragged everyone across. So it was time to go. Only 28 more miles.
My feet were very wet and there was water sloshing around in my boots. I had an extra set of socks (3 pairs of socks is one set) but the zipper on my bib was frozen and I wasn’t sure how to get my boots off. I mushed for around an hour until I told myself that I needed to take care of the musher. I pulled my boots off, changed socks, and after my feet feeling very very cold, they warmed up. Up, up, up we went. There was one hill that looked like a black diamond ski slope from afar, but it wasn’t too bad when we ascended. Down wasn’t bad either. Up, up, up. We followed the never ending pipeline. Up, up, up. I was tired of going up. Surprisingly the dogs weren’t! They were having a great time. Nikki was checking out the scenery. Finally, we arrived at the Meier’s Lake checkpoint at 3:06pm with a run time of 13hours and 8 minutes.
I think I was tired. I don’t remember much of the race after this checkpoint. I took booties off, gave the dogs meat, put down straw, put on dog jackets, fed the dogs and went inside to rest. There were many stories from mushers on how they crossed the Gulkana River. A lot of mushers helped each other. I think one other musher dragged dogs over individually, and one musher went for a swim (accidentally). There was a dryer to dry wet clothing while we rested, and there was even a boot drier. Unfortunately, my wonderful handler didn’t remove my GPS from my bibs and it got ruined in the dryer.
My layover at Meier’s Lake was a long 9 hours and 52 minutes. I left Meier’s Lake at 12:58am.
Meier’s Lake to Sourdough Creek (33 miles)
This leg was supposed to be 43 miles, but word on the street was that it was a fast 33ish miles. I don’t remember much of this leg, except that when I started Capella wasn’t keeping her line out. I considered turning around and going back to the checkpoint, but soon we started going uphill and the team slowed down and Capella warmed up. I arrived at Sourdough at 6:14am with a run time of 5 hours and 16 minutes. I took a 6 hour and 11 minute layover. I recall getting a couple of hours of sleep in the musher’s cabin.
Sourdough Creek to Lake Louise Lodge (59 miles)
Unfortunately I don’t remember much of this run either. I do remember hearing a trail report that wasn’t anything like the trail. I thought we were going to be doing a lot of lake travel, but there were a fair number of hills. We left Sourdough at 12:25pm and ran straight through with short stops for snacks. I think on this leg I listened to my iPod. I know I was very tired. We arrived at Lake Louise Lodge at 9:09pm for a run time of 8 hours and 44 minutes. I remember the lodge was very nice, but there was nothing for a vegan to eat, so I had a peanut butter and jelly on toast. There was a musher’s cabin where I got a couple of hours of sleep. I decided to drop Capella because she was the slowest of the StinkyPups and it took her a while to warm up and get going. Rest time at Lake Louise was 7 hours and 26 minutes.
Lake Louise Lodge to Tolsona 1 (26 miles)
Again, I don’t remember much of this run. I left Lake Louise at 4:35am and arrived at the Tolsona 1 checkpoint at 8:41am with a run time of 4 hours and 6 minutes. The lodge at Tolsona made us an awesome plate of french fried and onion rings– which Greg and I gobbled up. I rested at Tolsona 1 for 3hours and 27 minutes and left Tolsona 1 at 12:08pm.
Tolsona Loop to Tolsona 2 (30 miles)
This leg was fairly flat. There were a few hills in the beginning and a nice dome of frozen overflow that the Stinkers were able to cross. I recall being so exhausted on this leg. I was taking cat naps and hung over my handle bars to get some zzzzzz. I also remember Zeus looked like he was limping. I checked his paws and he had a huge ice ball. I removed it and after that he seemed okay. It was either this run or the previous one where my drag pad broke. The rubber that holds the screws on the left side ripped, so I tied the pad up with cord.
I arrived at Tolsona 2 at 4:16pm with a run time of 4 hours and 8 minutes. The dogs were tired, but would have gone on. Since they didn’t eat much at Tolsona 1 I decided to give them a rest, soup them and go. Actually, the plan was for another musher (G.B.) and I to rest 4 hours and leave together. Another reason why I wanted to rest is because I needed to get some sleep. I was very very very tired. I curled up on the couch and rested for an hour when Greg woke me up and told me that G.B. was going to head out. I decided to head out as well. I only bootied up dogs who needed booties– Reculse, Zeus, Moe, and Stella and left before G.B. at 6:32pm for a total rest time of 2 hours and 16 minutes.
Tolsona 2 to GlennAllen Finish (24 miles)
The Stinkers were tired leaving Tolsona 2. We left at 6:32pm. 10 minutes into the run Zeus collapsed. I ran up to him and unhooked him and tried to put him in the sled bag. He refused to go in, so I put him back on the line. I thought about turning around, but decided I’d just keep a close watch on him.
I knew G.B. had a faster team than I did, so during this leg I peddled as hard as I could. We were making great progress. The trail ran along the highway and every now and then spectators pulled over to cheer us on. Greg passed us in the dog truck and Phanty and Capella barked “hello” to the team. One part of the leg I was worried about was a steep hill around 3 miles from the finish. Turns out it wasn’t too bad because there was snow to pound the break into. Around 2 miles from the finish Zeus collapsed. I ran up to him and told him he was riding in the sled bag. I tied my cooker to the front of the sled and shoved him in the bag. He kept trying to get out. G.B. passed me and I knew that I was going to win the Red Lantern. With Zeus somewhat secure in the bag, we continued on. 1/16th miles from the finish there were big trucks with shiny lights parked parallel to the trail. I guess Nikki and Wayne thought it was a checkpoint, or they just like big trucks, but the ran over to say hi to the trucks. Zeus jumped out of the bag and the dogs were in a ball. I untangled everyone and put Zeus back and minutes later we were at the finish! We arrived in GlennAllen at 10:09pm with a run time of 3 hours and 37 minutes.
We had an amazing time and I’m so proud of the StinkyPups!