Waking up at 7:00 am for an 11:00 am race, the family we were staying with had breakfast prepared served with last minute advice. Ken and I arrived at the starting line located on a frozen lake. All the teams were set up like a horseshoe so when their start time comes they sled up to the line of departure. Ken knowing pretty much everyone in the dog sled community ensured we were going last so that we were not worried about other teams passing and so we could take it slow. We only have so many dogs in the kennel which three of us are sharing and can not afford to have any dog injuries.
Moments before my starting time arrived I finished attaching my last dog to the gangline and did a double check to ensure I had everything I would need. Volunteers helped lead my dogs to the starting line which gave me a few minutes to reflect. There has been a ton of money and time invested into getting to this point, and ever penny has been worth it. I get to push myself every day and live a lifestyle not many people do. I have seen incredible views and was able to build a great bond with the ten dogs pulling me. I'm living a life where I get to be excited and am so thankful for that.
As I pull into the starting shoot, the guy standing there says, "Are you ready?" With a nod of my head, the guy says, "Good luck" and "Goooo!"
My team is off! There are three-minute intervals between each starting time. Knowing Ken is right behind me I dreaded the idea of messing anything up, and Ken comes around the corner and sees me tangled in a tree.
Keeping my foot on the drag break, Ken soon caught up and sticking to our plan we sled together. Myself in the lead, I followed the blue markers indicating the correct path. Before the race, Ken and I planned everything out. The first checkpoint is about 50 miles out where there is a lodge, food, and a place to park the dogs. We planned on going there resting the dogs between 2-4 hours. Maybe catch an hour of sleep ourselves and then making the journey to our next checkpoint at Yentna Station which is a checkpoint in the Iditarod as well. Only being a short 35 miles over a frozen river from the last checkpoint there is a 6-hour mandatory layover, so we intended to nap there in the bunk house. Finally, the goal was to go nonstop on the way back.
After 5 hours of sledding, we arrived at our first checkpoint. Greeted by volunteers, we signed in and told where the park our dogs. As I drove my sled to an old runway where all the teams were parking, I stopped as soon as entering the area. I decided to wait for Ken, who moments ago was right behind me. Looking back, I didn't see Ken. Several minutes went by and still no sign of Ken. Thinking I must have done something wrong I started to worry. Thankfully as these thoughts were going through my mind, Ken comes around the corner, parks his team and then shows me a good spot to park. I later found out he made a wrong turn.
Once my team was secure, I decided to avoid asking Ken any questions and do everything as if I was by myself. I then took the dogs booties off, detached their taglines, got a pail of water and a bail of hay which was a close walk away. I put the pail of water into the cooker to start heating it up. I then poured the hot water into a cooler full of frozen meat and kibble for the dogs. Sprinkling hay over each dog, they patted it down making a bed. After walking the dogs up with a warm meal, they quickly ate everything allowing Ken and me to make our way to Eagle Lodge. There we ate a meal and caught an hour of sleep laying on the floor above the restaurant. When we finished eating I realized, I was without my watch to set the alarm. I didn't like the idea of relying on Ken however it was a learning lesson. Ideally I could just use my phone; however, most of these dog sledding races are all about banning any device enabling two-way communication which includes cell phones. In the case of emergency, we are provided a GPS tracker that has a button that when pressed sends emergency help.
Waking up from our hour nap on the floor feeling a little dazed. We made our way back to the dogs, put booties on them and got back on the trail. With our headlamps providing light and following the blue markers we soon found ourselves on the frozen river. In years past this can be a frigid section. With the temperature sitting around -27 C / -15 F I started to feel my hands become cold. I opened a pack of hand warmers, sliding them agents my skin they are covered by the three layers of gloves I was wearing. Before long my hands were feeling well, and the dogs were moving at an excellent pace. It's pretty amazing being out there, on the ice with only the sound of your sled going over the snow. There were several things to avoid when traversing the ice including what's called drum ice. Drum Ice is when the ice is not solid all the way through, and there are open gaps full of air. You know you are on drum ice when you hear a hollow sound. This becomes dangerous when the top layer falls into the next layer leaving a big open hole. Several of these were marked with two stakes making an X however just as many were not and last minute you would maneuver your sled around them. It was hard to worry about this too much when the northern lights were dancing above us and seeing the fiery entrance of a meteor making its way through the atmosphere to the ground. Arriving at Yentna Station, I parked my team, fed them and then went into the lodge to eat and then we took a 5-hour nap in the bunkhouse. Sleeping in my -40 bag reminds me of being a kid on snowy cold days and Dad yelling down that schools canceled allowing me to stay in bed.
When Ken's alarm went off, we put our gear back on, got some eggs and pancakes, fed our dogs, and we were off again. At this point, we were in last place. We were the last team to leave this checkpoint. Here's the photo I had taken before we left:
This is not a huge deal because we wanted to rest the dogs however for this to count as an Iditarod qualifying race I needed to finish in the top 75% of the finishers. Thinking this might be unlikely I was a bit concerned however knew, life always works out. On the way back we followed the same trail and decided to go the full 85 miles. We did give the dogs snacks about every two hours.
We passed through the checkpoint at Eagle Lodge and kept going. With only about ten miles left in the race, the dogs started to click and work as a team. I began to run up the hills beside the sled making it easier on the dogs trying to keep the intensity for as long as possible. As we approached the finish line, I felt so thankful to be able to work with the dogs and complete my first race.
Ken and I received one more surprise. As we crossed the finish line, we were told we are 20th and 21st out of 33 racers. Putting myself in the top 75 percentile making this race count as my first Iditarod qualifiers.
Tracker info can be found at http://trackleaders.com/knik17i.php?name=Bradley_Farquhar