Over winter break I went on a solo mushing trip to Quiet Lake. This was a big deal for me because I hadn’t gone on a long unsupported solo trip since 2011 in the White Mountains in Fairbanks. The White Mountains trip was a success, except for the fact that when I got back to the dog truck after our 80-mile trip I couldn’t put the sled on top of the dog box, so I left the sled at mile 42 of the Steese highway and Greg had to drive 1.5 hours (each way) to rescue the sled. Putting my sled on top of the dog truck is challenging for me due to my height.
For this December 2023 trip, after packing the truck, dogs, and sled (Greg put the sled on the truck for me) I drove 2hrs & 45min to S. Canol Road. The drive was uneventful. In the S. Canol Road parking lot, I saw two vehicles– a truck with snowmachine trailer and Michelle’s truck. It was nice to know that someone else would be on the trail.
After unloading the truck, packing the sled, and harnessing/bootieing the dogs we left the parking lot at 2:45pm. The team was:
- Striker & Justice
- Kia & Axel
- Rev & Sniper
- Snowflake & Yukon
- Amy & Haines
The goal for this trip was to see if the team would be faster when I had more dogs on the line. When Vico and I ran this route a couple of weeks before we had a team of 6 and a team of 5, and our average speed was 6.4 miles per hour.
The outcome of this trip was we were running at 7 miles per hour until we hit the part of the trail with unbroken snow.
Soon into the run, two snowmachines passed us– they were on their way back to the parking lot. Then Michelle & Ed passed us– they too were headed back to the parking lot. I thought this was good news because I would be able to follow their tracks to Quiet Lake, as I’ve never been there before. In the winter, S. Canol Road is a pretty obvious road to follow, but there are turnoffs and trapline trails that one could accidentally turn onto.
We were moving at a good pace for the Stinkers (7mph — this is slow, but Canol Road has a lot of hills). Around 17 miles into the run I saw that Michelle and Ed turned gee (right) down to the river instead of going haw (left) following the road. We went haw. After that, the trail wasn’t broken out well. It started snowing. At mile 34 there was no longer a trail, so we broke trail for 11 miles to Quiet Lake and our pace slowed down to around 6.4mph.
I was super happy when we arrived at the Quiet Lake campground at 10:30pm– approximately 7.5 hours from when we started mushing. We were ready to stop at the first campground, but Striker said “No, we have to keep going, it’s just around the corner.” I told Striker okay, and that we could go a little more, but would stop in 5 minutes. Striker (who is from Michelle’s kennel) led us to Michelle’s campsite. Good boy Striker!
We stopped and I took care of the dogs– snacks, booties off, got the cooker going, fed the dogs, strawed the dogs, and then even though it was warm (17F) I gave them jackets.
Michelle had mentioned that I could use her site/wall tent, and originally I wasn’t going to, but like Goldilocks, I couldn’t resist looking inside– where I saw a stove and a cot. Once I looked I couldn’t resist sleeping inside because it was snowing outside. Bad things happen to mushers who sleep inside– like resting on a comfy cot and staying 10 hours instead of 4-6 hours. (OMG I can’t believe I stayed that long!).
I set my alarm for 3:30am — which was 4.5 hours from when the dogs ate at 11:00pm. I was going to rest for 7 hours and a bit since that’s how long it took us to get to Quiet Lake. The plan was for me to give them a light soup at 3:30am, start getting ready, and leave between 5:30am and 6:00am. That plan didn’t happen. At 3:30am I convinced myself to soup at 4:30am. That didn’t happen either. Eventually, I woke up at 6:30am, souped the dogs, and started packing. We departed at 8:00am.
The trip back was uneventful and pretty slow due to the Stinkers’ usual pace, fresh snow, windblown areas, and hills. 10 miles from the parking lot I started stressing about how I was going to get the sled on top of the truck.
We arrived at the truck at 3:20pm and mushed around 91 miles roundtrip.
I took care of the dogs–tied them to the truck, snacked them, took their booties off, started the cooker for soup, and then began unpacking the sled and packing up the truck.
Finally, the big test was here– could I put the sled on top of the truck? I assessed the situation and decided that I could push the sled up instead of getting on top of the truck and pulling. I used a small wooden stump as a stool to step on. Success! The entire process of loading the sled onto the truck took less than 1 minute. I was super stoked!
I tied up the sled, loaded the dogs, drove for 2 hours and 45 minutes, and we were all very happy to be home.