Photo By Daniel Vernon
The parking lot of the Chatanika Lodge erupted with howls of excitement as mushers prepared their dog teams for the upcoming journey. The sun was high in the sky, casting a warm light down on the dog yard. The temperature was hovering right around 15 degrees. It felt like spring considering it was – 30 degrees just a few days prior to the race.
The FTK dogs donned their Nonstop harnesses and dog booties. The sled was prepped and loaded down with necessary race gear. It was time to do what we trained all season for. The FTK team drew the 7th starting position and once Brock and Buttercup led the pack to the starting line, the dog’s excitement couldn’t be contained. The entire team was screaming and jumping to run as the race judges counted down, “3, 2, 1, GO!” I pulled the hook and like a bullet we were off, running down the snowy trails.
The first leg of the race is a 50-mile trek through the mountains and hills in the back yard of Two Rivers, AK. Almost immediately out of the start chute, the team began ascending the mountains. My plan for this race was for every hill we encountered, I would get off the sled and run behind it, decreasing the weight burden for the dogs and helping push as the dogs pulled. This is how I trained this winter and was I prepared to pull my weight on the team. The dogs and I worked together as we came into the first checkpoint at Two Rivers Lodge in third position.
After the dogs had a good meal of Inukushuk and salmon and a three hours rest, we ventured out into the darkness for another 50-miles. This next leg was a flat, hard packed and fast trail. We traversed frozen rivers, ponds and lakes. The FTK Pack came into the second checkpoint in third position at 12:33 AM.
The dogs rested here for another three hours and ate another good meal before we took off again. We were the second team to leave the checkpoint, but we wouldn’t stay in this position for long.
This third leg I made a pretty painful mistake. About 10 miles into this trip we came across a section of overflow (open water). My right runner broke through the thin ice and dropped into the water. As I attempted to pull the runner out of the water, I overcorrected, causing both the sled and myself to tip over into the frigid water. This triggered excitement to spread through the team like wildfire. The dogs picked up speed as I was being dragged behind the sled on my left side through the 15-foot section of overflow. I could feel my mukluk boots filling with water and my bibs and parka becoming soaked with ice water as I maintained a white knuckling grip on the handle bar.
Once we were through the overflowed section of trail, I was able to right the sled and call the dogs to a stop and set my hook so I could change into a dry pair of socks I had stored in my sled bag. At this point, the temps had descended to 0 degrees. It wouldn’t be long until the wetness turned to ice. I pulled the hook and called the dogs to continue down the trail towards the next checkpoint.
We arrived at the last checkpoint in third position. We went through our checkpoint routine; putting down straw, feeding and going through the team to look over each dog. When I got to Bonnie, I noticed some muscle tightness and soreness in her right triceps. After a massage and short walk I decide it would be best to drop her from the race. Bonnie did so well and I am proud of how hard she worked. She was handed over to my trustee handlers, Jeri and Atlas, to go home and spend some time on the couch.
After putting booties on the team for the last time in this race, we hit the trail once again and headed to the finish line. The dogs left the checkpoint in 4th position. This leg was over 60 miles and had the steepest climbs. The dogs and I worked together and ate up the miles crossing the finish line in fourth place.
Bonnie’s injury was nothing more than muscle stiffness. Eight hours after dropping her she was running around the kennel and back to her normal self. I did have some minor frostbite on my toes upon finishing the race, but have since healed up. The entire pack has all recovered from the race and are enjoying some much needed down time. Thank you all for being part of the Pack. Thanks for all the support, prayers, and good vibes.