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North Wapiti Siberian Husky Kennels
Yukon Quest/Iditarod 2006 - Tales from the Trail

Finger Lake to Rainy Pass

I know that some mushers charge for their Iditarod journals or only tell the tales in books, but I feel so much gratitude and thanks to all of you who support and follow our adventures that I think I owe all of you these stories.
As you read these entries, I ask you all to remember that none of it could have happened without the support and interest of each one of you.
Please never underestimate how thankful I am.

FingerLakeRohn.jpg (413841 bytes)

This chunk of trail is perhaps one of the most infamous in the sport – and rightfully so! Everyone knows of the Happy River Steps themselves, but what many don’t realize is that the trail is challenging right from the moment you pull out of Finger Lake and almost the entire way to Puntilla Lake, on which Rainy Pass Lodge and the checkpoint reside.

In fact, whenever something particularly challenging or intimidating faces me in my life (behind a dog team or not), the pep talk I give myself is the reminder that I have driven a 16-dog team over this particular piece of trail. Honest.

The trail dips, winds, and twists. It is often filled with ruts – back-breaking, nasty, wheel-dog pounding, sled-bashing ruts - and trees hanging out particularly close to the edge of the trail. Sometimes this is good, because sometimes they are the very things that will keep your sled from plunging over cliffs.

For the last 2 years I have had various sponsor patches literally ripped off my parka by close encounters with these trees. Had a knife ripped off my rear stanchion in ’05 too – despite having been securely attached with zip ties and electrical tape at the starting line.

For those reasons, I never rest too long in Finger Lake (that was a lesson learned in ’00) and have no issue leaving in the warm daylight hours. So, hitting the trail at 4:30 after a four-hour rest in Finger Lake was about perfect – sometimes going slow isn’t a horrible thing! Turns out the precautions weren’t really necessary, as for the first time in my experience, this trail was a gem!!

Of course, it was still challenging, but rather then muscling the sled and hoping luck was riding with me, I just had to stay on my toes as we scooted around sharp corners and over hill and dale.

I even found myself humming a few times!! What was up with that??

I thought I had left during a ‘lull’ at Finger Lake and didn’t really expect to see any other mushers on this leg, but a couple teams passed me shortly before the Steps. When the second team passed me, I noticed another team a bit behind them, but they seemed content to hang back. I stopped just about a ½ mile before the actual Steps and waited for them to catch up. I wasn’t familiar with the musher, but they had that ‘rather worried, slightly panicked’ look that I well remembered from the 2000 race, so I asked if they had been over this trail before. It turns out the musher was rookie Randy Cummins and he admitted he hadn’t. I told him that if he was inclined to undo any tuglines in anticipation of the Steps (some mushers will do this to decrease the power of their team for this tricky bit), now was the time. I told him what to expect ahead and warned him he shouldn’t follow too close for the next few miles (getting in a pile up on the stretches of the trail like this only make things worse!). He thanked me and I wished him a good ride – all the while hoping for the same thing for myself.

The Steps turned out to be in the same condition that the trail leading up to them had been. A few quick turns, a few quick drop offs and we were spit out onto the Happy River – in one piece and UPRIGHT – always good!

I moved the team a bit down the river and stopped to pet everyone and see how Randy did on his descent. He did just great and we exchanged a few words while his eyeballs returned to their normal size.

My team managed the sharp climb up off the Happy River with no problem. We glided and slid through the tight trails with hardly any issue – I did however brush hard against a big old tree and tore my ‘SOS-SRF Siberian Rescue’ Patch ¾ of the way off. This was really turning into a trend.

As the trail dropped off onto Long Lake I glanced over my shoulder and thought I saw a dog team closing in on me. It was dark now and I was confused over who would be trying to negotiate the trail behind me without a headlamp – and why?? Something wasn’t right. I asked my team to ‘whoa’ and watched the trail for a second. Sure enough, it was a team coming down the trail behind me, but the musher wasn’t traveling with their headlamp off - the musher wasn’t there. I solidly set both of my hooks and waited for the team to catch up with me. By this time I could see the bobbing light of a musher running on foot coming through the trees. Turns out it was Randy’s team and I visited with his leaders for a couple minutes waiting for him to catch up. He got his hook firmly set and I moved my team forward out of his way and then headed off down the trail.

The night was lovely. I was definitely having my most fun run to Rainy Pass ever! I had Kara and Junior in lead and they seemed to be having as much fun as I was. Junior had excelled in lead on winding trails on Copper Basin and was just now confirming that this was his ‘thing’.

NorthWapiti's Long May You Run

Ch. NorthWapiti's Valkyrie Kara

Of course, this was Iditarod and everything can change really quickly out there. I missed my brake on a steep downhill plunge and all of a sudden was out of control. For a minute I thought I was going to be able to pull off the upcoming corner, but in reality, I never stood a chance. All I had done was stayed upright long enough to build up some momentum to make my crash more spectacular. I plowed to a stop with my face, clinging on to my driving bow for dear life and spitting snow.

Before I had even cleared the snow from my face or properly planted my snowhook, another team came barrelling down the trail towards me. I had had no clue anyone was right behind me. I yelled out “WHOA” to them, as my team and I were spread right across the trail. The musher (I know who it was, but I’m going to be polite and not name names) asked if they could get by and I told them they were going to have to give me a minute. They then proceeded to berate me for picking a ‘bad spot’ to crash. Well duh!!! That was why I crashed – because it was a ‘bad spot’. “Can you speed things up?” they yelled. I replied, rather sarcastically, that if they wanted to come hold my leaders while I pulled my sled out of the snow bank, it would probably speed things up. “I can’t get a hook in” they replied. “Then I’ll be clear when I’m clear”. You have to understand, I was stopped for all of maybe 2 or 3 minutes - tops – and it wasn’t like I did it on purpose. GEESH!! The musher was bitching and griping the whole time I was pulling my sled back onto the trail. Can’t say I’ve ever had such a rude encounter on the trail before. Not like I expected them to help me out, but show just a little patience.

Once back on the trail, my team pulled and stayed ahead of the rude musher and their team. A nice moving team and a gorgeous trail on a gorgeous night soon restored my scene of peace and calm. We pulled into the checkpoint about ¾ of an hour before midnight.

Junior had never been in lead coming into a checkpoint before and he seemed rather taken with his new sense of control. The poor rookie checker they assigned to my team was in over her head with this group. Next thing I knew Junior had his head in one of Ken Anderson’s drop bags and was helping himself. Immediately after parking and securing the hooligans, I went back to Ken’s parking spot and offered to replace anything Junior had devoured. Ken shrugged and said the dog hadn’t gotten much, so it was no problem. Phew!

Dr. Denny Albert was the vet assigned to check my team. I really like and respect Denny and was very pleased to be working with her. Snickers and Denny had a bit of ‘history’ from the Sheep Mountain race (Snicks had actually tried to bite her when she went over her in one of the checkpoints), so I took the time to make sure to point her out, so Denny could be extra careful when examining her. Of course she was a peach this time, but Draco and Surge took the opportunity to get into a scrap. Quite unlike them. We checked them over and found no injuries, but a few minutes later I noticed Draco’s face was swollen. Denny checked him over again and we could find no puncture wounds to explain the swelling, but it seemed too big a coincidence that it had happened right after the fight, so we put him on some antibiotics.

Finally, everyone was fed and bedded down and I headed up to the promised warm sleeping spot.


Rainy Pass to Rohn

Updated:  Tuesday 2:18am AST

Pos Musher Checkpoint Time In Time Out Dogs Rest Travel Previous
Time Out
Speed Status
1 Doug Swingley/5 Rohn 3/06 22:32:00 3/06 22:45:00 16 0:13 3:48 Rainy Pass 3/06 18:44:00 12.60  24   8
2 Jeff King/30 Rohn 3/06 23:06:00 3/06 23:23:00 16 0:17 4:09 Rainy Pass 3/06 18:57:00 11.60  24   8
3 Ramy Brooks/16 Rohn 3/06 23:50:00 3/06 23:59:00 14 0:09 4:27 Rainy Pass 3/06 19:23:00 10.80  24   8
35 Jamie Nelson/79 Rainy Pass 3/06 17:21:00 3/07 00:15:00 16 6:54 4:28 Finger Lake 3/06 12:53:00 6.70  24   8
55 Karen Ramstead/76 Rainy Pass 3/06 23:14:00   16   4:44 Finger Lake 3/06 18:30:00 6.30  24   8



Karen's Diary - Yukon Quest/Iditarod 2006 Edition

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