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Yukon Quest/Iditarod 2006 - Tales from the Trail

Rohn to Nikolai

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.

Nikolai to Unalakleet

I love Rohn. I think most Iditarod mushers do, actually. It’s a great little cabin in a beautiful spot – surrounded by mountains and nestled in the trees, manned by helpful and friendly volunteers. What’s not to love?

There was an extra special treat waiting for me in Rohn this year too. One of the vets was a 'neighbor', well, neighbor on a middle-of-Alaska scale. Dr Markus Barth lives and works in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Many of you may remember that before living in Perryvale, Mark and I lived in the Grande Prairie area. Although Markus wasn’t there when we were, we have a number of mutual friends, including my very best friend, Lynda. So after the dogs were checked over and as I was going about my chores Markus hung around and visited.

Being out in the middle of Alaska is so far from everyday life, hearing the names and chatting about the happenings of friends back home, especially after the winter I had been having, was like getting a big hug it was so grounding and comforting.

The dogs didn’t eat big here, but all ate something. Draco and Surge still seemed a bit grouchy and out of sorts, but nothing seemed really wrong with them. The swelling in Dra’s face seemed to be responding to the antibiotics and he was not having any problems eating.

I finished up chores and headed into the cabin. Jasper and Terry run a tight ship in the cabin. It is crowded, but always neat and clean. They will help you find good drying spots for your gear and help you warm up your meals in pots of hot water on the stove.

They were gracious enough to send a message back to Rainy Pass about my wind bibs, which they assured me would catch up with me somewhere up the trail.

I was tired, but I didn’t plan on staying long in Rohn, so I didn’t try to catch any sleep here.

Just before 4:30 in the afternoon, volunteers helped unwind my team from their snug resting spot in the trees and helped manoeuvre us onto the out trail. I thanked everyone for their fantastic hospitality and waved goodbye.

Once again, the trail was as good as I’ve ever seen it. No overflow, no dirt, no dead moose - all good! I had the iPod humming along and the dogs and I were ‘bopping’ down the trail to all sorts of great tunes.

At the Post River glacier, which was a piece of cake compared to previous years, I found my buddy, Bob Jones camped along the side of the trail. I first met Bob in ’00 at the Tripod Flats cabin between Koyuk and Unalakleet. He and a friend were camping there when Melanie Gould and I pulled in for a break. Each year Bob and a friend travel the trail by snowmachine and each summer Bob will email me a few of his pictures, which I always enjoy receiving.

The dogs were traveling very well and I was having a most pleasant trip. It was snowing lightly and the lighting was kind of flat – at least that is what I’m blaming what happened next on. We were scooting across a bunch of little lakes and portages near Farewell Lake when a moment of inattention and that flat light caused me to not notice a rut in the trail. I caught an edge and felt the sled tipping over, really no big deal EXCEPT as I was about to hit the soft, fluffy snow I noticed a small tree directly in front of me. I could do little more than squint before my face hit the tree with that sickening smack a watermelon makes when it falls onto pavement.

Right away my left eye started to swell. I packed a little snow on it and off we went. Darn, it sucks to have a visible injury with no good story to accompany it!

Each year John and Marty Runkles leave their ‘Buffalo Camp’ open for mushers and other travelers of the trail to stop at. The Runkles guide buffalo hunters in the area and set up a very cozy camp. I’ve never run into the family there, but I have warmed up in their cozy tents a number of times. Little did I know what a treat awaited at the Camp this year.

As I came over the hill and dropped into the Camp, young and very enthusiastic PJ Runkles jumped out to greet me and offer to help me park my team. I agreed and as he helped me steer my leaders onto a pile of leftover straw, his parents joined us. They pointed out the sleeping tent and invited me to join them in their main tent for moose stew. Saying ‘no thanks’ never even crossed my mind.

I fed the dogs and packed up all my extra bottles of HEET, any extra trail food and the majority of my snacks to give to the Runkles as 'thank-yous'. Turns out many other mushers had done the same and I found PJ sitting on his sleeping mat surrounded by piles of candy. That explained the ‘very enthusiastic’ – I bet he didn’t sleep through the night for a week after ingesting all that sugar!

The stew was fantastic – it rates as the best meal I ate on the race this year – and I snarfed up a couple bowls.

John told me it was pretty crowded in the sleeping tent and offered me a spot in the main cabin to sleep. The kids all helped me clear out an area and I was asleep in no time. I had wanted to stay 4 hours, but messed up the math before falling asleep and set my alarm for later than I had really wanted. Unlike Rainy Pass though, I had such a good rest here, I didn’t regret the extra time.

The trip from Buffalo Camp to Nikolai was pretty uneventful. I generally don’t like traveling in the dead of the night, but a happy dog team, some northern lights, and some good tunes on the iPod made it more than bearable.

I should say, a happy dog team, except for Draco and Surge. Neither one seemed lame or ill and they were working okay, they just didn’t seem happy. When I’d stop and go through the team petting and praising everyone they’d wag their tails, but not enthusiastically. They were eating their snacks too, but again, it seemed liked they were just going through the motions.

I figured we would get to Nikolai and I’d spend some extra time with them to see if I could perk up their moods.

It was cold as day broke and we pulled into Nikolai.


Updated:  Wednesday 11:38am AST

Pos Musher Checkpoint Time In Time Out Dogs Rest Travel Previous
Time Out
Speed Status
1 Doug Swingley/5 Takotna 3/08 02:25:00 3/08 08:19:00 15 5:54 2:07 McGrath 3/08 00:18:00 10.80  24   8
2 Jeff King/30 Takotna 3/08 03:00:00   16   2:13 McGrath 3/08 00:47:00 10.40  24   8
3 Aliy Zirkle/26 Takotna 3/08 04:59:00   14   2:38 McGrath 3/08 02:21:00 8.70  24   8
45 Jamie Nelson/79 Nikolai 3/07 23:32:00 3/08 08:02:00 15 8:30 11:51 Rohn 3/07 11:41:00 7.80  24   8
61 Karen Ramstead/76 Nikolai 3/08 08:05:00   16   15:43 Rohn 3/07 16:22:00 5.90  24   8



Karen's Diary - Yukon Quest/Iditarod 2006 Edition

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