Alaska; The Big Wild
Another story, un-embellished !!!!
New Years Day 2013
The trail conditions in Knik had all but evaporated, making it necessary to travel elsewhere to train the dog teams. The decision had been made to travel north to Willow, to join Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson and her handler Miriam Osredkar for a run on their snow covered training trails.
I got my team of 12 dogs harnessed up and at the ready in order to follow the other mushers out of the yard. For this run, I had two new leaders I had not run together before. These two female dogs, Patsy and Straight, had been run together as leaders plenty of times by others, but I had not had the opportunity to run them, until this day. My usual leaders Shred and Right Eye had been switched to another team.
Just before leaving the yard, Karin, very thoughtfully took the time to give me a brief description of the trail. She explained the trail immediately took a very sharp right hand turn after leaving the dog yard, followed by twisty, windy, narrow trail through the woods, then across a couple hundred feet of glassy ice, followed two road crossings.
I wasn’t worried, I had learned to navigate many sharp turns and was ready for this one. With Karin and her team leading the way, I was the third out of 4 teams to leave the yard. I handily maneuvered the sharp right turn by taking my foot off the break lever allowing the sled runners to skid, smearing the cold-dry snow around the turn and continued on down the trail. My team was fit, fresh, ready for a nice long run on new trails. They pulled hard, charging strongly, pulling into their harnesses with strength and determination, ready to conquer the world.
We moved along quickly, following the narrow serpentine-like trail through the piney forest, when suddenly my lack of sled skills came shining through when I hit a snow covered stump on the inside of a turn. In a split second, the sled turned over, as the left runner hit the stump, flipped, and came to an abrupt stop. The momentum, tossed me over the sled while my foot got caught up in the skinny rope used to raise and lower the stomp pad. It all happened so fast that one moment, I was on the sled and then next, I was on the snow. No big deal, this happens a lot. I sunk my hook in the hard packed snow of the trail, by stomping on it with my bulky arctic boot, to hold the team until I could get my sled upright, jump on the runners, pull the hook and off we went again in no time at all.
By this time, Miriam had caught up with me, which I was very happy about as I was feeling uncertain about the trail. I had lost sight of the teams in front of me and I didn’t want to take a wrong turn. I let the team chose the pace, which was fast, in order to catch up to the leading teams. By the time we got to the ice section that was described to me earlier, we had caught up with the teams leading the way.
Things started to deteriorate, in earnest, with the run at this point. My leaders were proving to me they did not want, nor did they care, to show me any respect. My directional commands were being ignored, creating more difficult situations. If it were just me on the training run I would not have minded but when the other mushers had to wait for me to get sorted out, it made a tense and unpleasant situation. It was not fun any more.
Up ahead, I watched as Karin’s team made their way across the road and then turned right as the trail ran parallel to the road along the other side of the snow bank. The trail did not cut straight across the road, instead it crossed at an angle. My team made the way up and over the first snowbank and instead of staying on the trail and completely cross the road, ignoring my commands, they made a beeline down the pavement.
The other mushers, their voices, I could still hear yelling over the scraping sound of the hard tungsten steel brake tips, as they etched lines on the pavement. They were yelling, screaming in fact, “stop the team, stop the team”. I stood on the brake bar with both feet, and with both arms under that handle bar, I pulled up, with all the strength I could muster. This is a technique used by mushers in an attempt to make the brake points dig in deeper to the ground. It had no effect on stopping the team. Thinking, perhaps I could create more drag, I flipped the sled on its side and held the handlebar with my hands as tight as I could. The team kept going, dragging me, belly down, along the cold-black pavement.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was dragging face-down over the pavement, a compact pickup truck had come along. Recognizing the situation, thankfully this dog-smart driver knew what to do. She accelerated merging into the on-coming lane, inching ahead of the leaders and with percision driving veered her vehicle into my traveling lane, nearly hitting the leaders, but stopped them. With their long-glistening tongues lolling long dangling near their knees, they seemed to look around with question, while all I could do at that moment was lay on my belly, death grip on the sled handlebar and pant in an effort to regain myself.
I flipped my sled upright, I stood on the sled runners as my leaders were led to the the snowbank and encouraged to take the trail, following my fellow mushers. They did as encouraged and off we went, continuing on our 40 mile training run.
While running along, smart Karin made a call to her husband from her cell phone she had tucked away in an inside pocket, arranging to meet us on our return run to save me from the second, potentially hazardous, homeward bound road crossing. At the intersection of the road and trail, there he was, looking at me, imploringly. to get off the runners, saying “I’ll take it from here”. In hindsight, it was a smart and necessary decision to prematurely relieve me of my musher duties that day, but I felt like a failure and felt the downward spiral of grief and heartache in my soul and spirit of total and complete failure that was painful and humiliating.
The silver lining came when the teams came sluicing back into the the yard. I learned Karin’s husband, all 230 pounds of him, on the return road crossing, was also taken down the road. No one really wanted to say, but I was able to eventually draw it out that he had a challenging time as well.
2013 has came roaring into my life with more trials and tribulations, but, with it come welcome change and anticipation of the next stage of Iditarod training with my new musher/mentor, Jim Lanier