Thursday, February 5, 2009

300 miles, 3 days, 4 hours of sleep

The mutts and I finished up a 300 mile race this weekend, our last before launching on the 1,100 mile Iditarod. Temps were 20 above to 30 below – quite pleasant after our 60 below epic at the first of the year.

The trail was super technical, with tight twists through trees, 10-15 foot drop offs and vertical cliffs that the dogs could barely scramble up. Of ten teams, only 1/2 finished the race. I ran this as a training run, never pushed the dogs, and still finished in 4th place, so I was pretty happy with the outcome. Plus it was just a great run!

There is nothing quite as fun a zooming through sled-eating trees behind a 40 foot string of dogs. The only way to do it clean is to shoot past the apex of the turn, then stomp on the brake just long enough to swing the sled onto the new trajectory. Hit the brake at the wrong time or with the wrong amount of pressure, and you make a sudden acquaintance with a tree.

The cliffs were another challenge altogether. Going down is not tricky but can be hard on the sled (I broke 2 bolts and split a wooden stanchion, but was able to cobble it back together to finish the race). Going up was a different story. I never thought I’d be out ice-climbing with my team. I have to say that my arctic mushing boots are crap for front-pointing. On one 25 foot high ‘hill’, we stalled out half way up. The dogs were fighting to keep the sled from pulling them backwards, and I could get no traction at all. I slid all the way to the bottom and then spent 10 minutes trying to kick, smear, or edge my way back up the nearly vertical face. I ended up climbing some trees at the side of the trail.

When we race, the dogs run 6-8 hours, then we rest an equal amount of time and get going again. So we are running around the clock. While the dogs rest on nice straw beds, I am busy cooking their meals, massaging their feet and legs, packing the sled up for the next run, and taking care of everything that needs to be done. In a 6 hour rest I am lucky to lay down for a couple of hours. This race I got a total of 4 hours sleep between 5:30 a.m. Friday and around noon on Monday. Try to picture shooting through trees, diving off cliffs, and scaling steep faces with a bunch of insane and incredibly powerful dogs, all while semi-functioning in a fog of fatigue. Haven’t had that much fun in a long time!

Of course there is never anyone out there in the crazy parts to take a picture, but here are some of the team camping, and just getting going on the final leg.

Next time I post will be after Iditarod - if I survive.

Karin Hendrickson