Is Spring Really Here?

Last year we had the spring that never sprung.  It was cold and wet and nasty until finally, summer was here…then gone.  Our warmth passes so quickly.  I love winter, obviously, or I wouldn’t be able to live here.  But when it starts to warm up, it’s such a time of excitement and expectation.  It’s almost heartbreaking when it doesn’t happen as it is supposed to such as last year.  This year, it seems like Mother Nature is apologizing for last year as we are already in breakup.  The snow is melting, the sun is out, life is good!

I know it’s been a long while since I posted anything.  Mostly I have been hibernating so there’s been little of interest to write about.  I’ll try to catch you up with a few pictures.

Christmas came and went fairly quietly except for the kids got their first guns.  They are just little .22s.

Of course, there was always nights of chasing the auroras.

One of my aurora photos was used on a Denver station news program.  I was pretty excited.

We did a bit of entertaining and a lot of cooking.

Olivia’s very first home made cinnamon, raisin, yeast bread.

I also taught her how to make home made chicken noodle soup, with home made noodles.

Worked at Checkpoint Mile 101 for the Yukon Quest again.  This was my 5th year working there.  Needless to say, I love it.  I ended up staying an extra night and day after everyone left, just putting wood in the stove and playing my fiddle.  I’m going to plan on doing this every year as it was so peaceful and restful after all the commotion and lack of sleep that working there during the Quest brings.  I didn’t write about it this year but you can look back over the years in this blog to see some stories if you care to.

I did take some video of the two passes I have to cross coming home from the checkpoint.  The roads were actually very good even though in the videos, you can see they were icy.  Last year three of our members got stuck or left the road while trying to get out to the checkpoint.

12 Mile Summit

Cleary Summit

Did a bit of henna here and there.

I love doing bellies the most!

Of course, winter is a time to go visit friends, hang out, have fun, drink some beer, etc.

Here’s my Solstice centerpiece, complete with Yule Log.

While Olivia was working on her roller derby skills.

I got to hang out with pretty mushers in tuxs for the Bunny Boots and Bids fundraiser and Wine Tasting.

And of course, practiced and played my fiddle.

I don’t think I posted this video yet.  It’s how I have to unfreeze the drain.  Living in a dry cabin, having to haul all our water, makes us really conserve.  Of course, if you are only using tiny bits of water here and there through out the day, and it’s -40 outside, the water freezes before it clears the drain.  We have a grey water system which means that the water just goes straight from the kitchen sink to the gravel pad that the cabin sits on.  I have had to do this a couple of times each winter.  It’s not really a big deal but yea, at that cold of temperatures, one’s lungs do not want to inhales so you end up breathing very noisily as you can hear in this video lol.

So, onto the upcoming summer!  I have a camping, float trip down the Delta Clearwater planned for the kids and I.  I have a trip up to visit my friend Susan in Kavik River Camp planned for later in the summer.  I have a zipline adventure trip down near Talkeetna planned with my friend Lori.  And I want to take my kids back packing in the back country for the first time.  I have taken them camping lots of times but never into the back country.  There be bears out there you know.  Backpacking has almost always been my special solo adventures.  I keep them for myself.  But maybe my kids would like them for themselves as well.  Of course, you can’t forget my annual Fowl Adventure.  Chickenstock Music Festival then a visit to my friends’ Wayne and Scarlett who live off the Yukon River.  Can’t wait to see them!

Until next time my dearies.  I’ll be here.

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Yukon Quest 2013

Welcome to my trip report of the 30th running of the Yukon Quest, the Toughest Race on Earth.   It’s a long one so get a cup of coffee, throw another log on the fire and sit a spell.  I have the honor of working at Mile 101 Checkpoint, named due to it being located at mile 101 of the Steese Highway.  You can right click pictures and open them in a new tab or window for a better view.  I really enjoy comments and the opportunity to get to know who is reading my blog so please feel free to leave some.

The route started in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada this year and ended in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Next year it will start in Fairbanks and end in Whitehorse.  There is a 36 hour mandatory layover in Dawson City, the halfway point.  This is the only point in which the mushers can have help with their teams (other then veterinarian care).

Yukon Quest map

This map is not quite accurate. Mile 101 is actually between Eagle Summit and Rosebud.

The very first Quest had 26 entrants, 3 of which were women.  20 finished.  On this, the 30th running, there were 26 entrants, 3 of which were women, and 20 teams finished.  Pretty neat huh?  In the 30 years of the race, there have only been a bit over 300 people who have run it.  It’s a pretty exclusive list.  About a third of those entering, do not finish at all.  It’s not called the toughest race on earth for nothing, although this was a pretty mild year.

The course follows the route of the historic 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, mail delivery, and transportation routes between Fairbanks, Dawson City, and Whitehorse.

The route runs on frozen rivers, over four mountain ranges, and through isolated northern villages. Racers cover 1,016 miles (1,635 km) or more. Temperatures commonly drop as low as −60 °F (−51 °C), and winds can reach 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) at higher elevations. Sonny Lindner won the inaugural race in 1984 from a field of 26 teams. The fastest run took place in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished after 9 days and 26 minutes. The 2012 competition had the closest one-two finish, as Hugh Neff beat Allen Moore by twenty-six seconds.

In 2005, Lance Mackey became the first Yukon Quest rookie to win the race, a feat that was repeated by 2011’s champion, Dallas Seavey. In 2007, Mackey became the first to win both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a feat he repeated the following year. The longest race time was in 1988, when Ty Halvorson took 20 days, 8 hours, and 29 minutes to finish. In 2000, Aliy Zirkle became the first woman to win the race [her husband Allen Moore was this year’s champion], in 10 days, 22 hours, and 57 minutes.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yukon_Quest

Here’s my trip report from last year:

February, You Were a Tricky Wench

Yukon Quest 2011

Yukon Quest 2010

In 2009, I had the honor of handling for my friend Wayne Hall.

Adventures in Handling

The Spell of the Yukon 

“I wanted the gold, and I sought it; I scabbled and mucked like a slave. Was it famine or scurvy – I fought it; I hurled my youth into a grave. I wanted the gold, and I got it –Came ourt with a fortune last fall, Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it, And somehow the gold isn’t all.  No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)It’s the cussedest land that I know, From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it, To the deep, deathlike valleys below. Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it’s a fine land to shun; Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it, For no land on earth – and I’m one.”

Mile 101 CrewPhoto by Julien Schroder

This is our starting crew.  A few  members had to go back during the week due to work obligations.  But it was nice to have everyone there at the start.

“For all you sled dog and musher fans out there! Our film from the start of the Yukon Quest 2013 which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. 26 fearless mushers and their faithful dogs on a 1000 mile adventure from Canada to Alaska. We love covering this race, we hope this video goes some way to capturing the heart and soul of this event and the incredible Yukon.

Music:
‘Dirty Paws’
Of Monsters and Men”

I got to the checkpoint on Saturday.  I’m glad I didn’t attempt it on Friday because 3 of our crew who did, ended up in either the ditch or a snow drift.  Once again, the DOT guys helped us out.  I had brought them cookies.

Then it was time to get to work.

wood burning stove
Piia collects wood for some of the other cabins.

Travis installs lights.Travis hangs some lights.

Peter, our Checkpoint Manager.Peter, our Checkpoint Manager

Drop bagsDrop bags are ready for mushers.  These are bags previously packed and sent out by the mushers.  They contain dog and people food, extra gear, parts and pieces, socks, gloves, batteries, etc.  They are put in alphabetical order.

Icicles

Icicles, it was a warm year.

Kerry BarnsOne of our trail breakers, Kerry.

Comm ShackThe other trail breaker Dave, Julienne our Communications Guru, and Travis, one of our yard guys.

Lukas and Piia kill some time.

“You come to get rich (damned good reason); You feel like an exile at first; You hate it like hell for a season, And then you are worse than the worst. It grips you like some kinds of sinning; It twists you from foe to a friend; It seems it’s been since the beginning; It seems it will be to the end.  I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow, That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim; I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow, In crimson and gold, and grow dim,Till the moon set the pearly peeks gleaming, And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop; And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming, With the peace o’ the world piled on top.”

Pink MountainsI love our pink hills.

LucasLukas, keeps the fires in all the wood stoves going as well as doing what ever else needs to be done.  He is Peter’s son and has been coming to work at the checkpoint for years.  He’s pretty handy to have around and a great Farkle player.

Pretty skyWe normally have some very interesting skies at least once while there.

Jullien working on the chainsaw. Julienne doubles as chainsaw mechanic.

Kevin Abnett and GinnyKevin Abnett is our normal Communications Manager.  He came to help get us set up then had to go back to work.  He brought his fun girl friend Ginny for us all to meet.  Good luck you two.  You make such a cute couple and it’s nice to have your cheerful happiness around.

“Hugh Neff arrived five minutes ahead of Allen Moore at Mile 101 and left four minutes after him.
Interview by Emily Schwing (KUAC Fairbanks)
Video by B. Dannenhauer, M. Grosch, P. Kamper and S. King”

Hugh NeffHugh Neff, first into the checkpoint.  He only sat there about 2 minutes total and finished eating standing up on his way out the door after he saw that Allen was going on through.

Emily Schwing from KUACEmily Schwing, Reporter for KUAC.  She’s a regular here at the checkpoint.  Piia updating the leaderboard.

Mark Sass, Mike Ellis, Joe Brent’s dad , Mark Sass.  Mike Ellis and Joe Krueger (another part time yard guy).

Solitary HandlerBeing a handler can be lonely business if you are doing it alone.  Their job is to meet the musher when s/he comes into the checkpoint, direct them to where the straw, hot water for dog food, drop bags, and dog parking is if the checkpoint personnel doesn’t tell them.  They cheer their musher on and pick up after them when they leave.  All the straw has to be picked up as well as any drop bags left.  They also care for any dogs the musher drops.

Brent Sass and Jake BerkowitzBrent Sass and Jake Berkowitz being interviewed, all while eating our famous bacon and eggs.

“Brent Sass lends a hand to fellow competitor, Jake Berkowitz to help get his team over the infamous Eagle Summit in the 2013 Yukon Quest.”

“A Go-Pro Camera view of Brent Sass helping Jake Berkowitz to bring Jake’s team up the final stretch of Eagle Summit. We are posting this simply for the ‘high five’. The camaraderie between mushers is rarely better shown than here.
Go-Pro footage by Kerry Barnes (Mile 101 trailbreaker).”

“Brent Sass and Jake Berkowitz arrive at Mile 101 and talk about their climb up Eagle Summit and the final miles of the race into Fairbanks.
Video by B. Dannenhauer, Michael Grosch, Peter Kamper and Sui King.”

IMG_5487The view out of the Comm Shack window.

IMG_5507

We have a generator to run the lights in the cook shack, another one to run the comm shack and a final one down at the checkers’ cabin to run the lights where the incoming trail enters the area and the checker checks in the mushers.  Occasionally they would run out of gas or be off while the guys performed maintenance on them.  No problem though as we would just fire up the Coleman lantern.  It lent a nice ambiance lol.

“Darin Lee and Cody Strathe help each other to bring their teams up the steep northern slope of Eagle Summit on their way to Checkpoint Mile 101. The weather on the summit is rarely as nice as it was on that day. The sound has been muted because of loud wind noise.yil
Video B. Dannenhauer, M. Grosch, P. Kamper, S. Kings”

IMG_5509One gets rest where and when one is able!

IMG_5510We have a sleeping cabin for the mushers but this one didn’t want to walk all the way down the hill when he really just was planning on a short nap.  Besides, as he said, if he had an actual bed, he’d be out cold.  These guys get very little sleep.

20 minute napThe bottle of “101” next to my head was completely coincidental hahah.  Yes, I also have a bed in the back room but I was waiting on a musher who had just come in.  They get checked in, take care of their dogs, come in and eat, then take a nap themselves.  I feed them then as well as once again before they leave if they have the time.  If they only get a two hour nap, so do I.  The one above was 45 minutes.  Any longer then that and I would have laid down in my bed.

IMG_5518

Abbie West arrives in Mile 101, talks about Eagle Summit, her team, her hopes for next year’s race and past the last great hurdle: How to get her dogs past her kennel along the YQ trail in Fairbanks to the finish without a dog team strike.
Video by B. Dannenhauer, M.Grosch, P. Kamper and Sui Kings.

When a musher enters a checkpoint, they sign in on the clipboard.  Their arrival time in entered next to their name.  The Checker (Piia) supervises this as well as checks off that all mandatory gear is in the musher’s sled bag.

The following items must be presented to the checker before checking in at each checkpoint:

 1.  Proper cold weather sleeping bag.
 2.  Hand ax with an overall length of at least twenty-two (22) inches/56 centimeters.
 3.  One pair of snowshoes with bindings, with an area of approximately two hundred and fifty (250) square inches/1612 square centimeters each.
 4.  Veterinary records (loss will incur a five hundred dollar ($500) fine.)  The veterinary book must be returned to a Race Judge upon completion of the race or when withdrawing for any reason.
 5.  Any promotional material that YQI has asked the driver to carry…
6.  Functional cooker
7. Eight (8) booties for each dog, either in the sled or in use and in the sled, are required when a driver signs out of each checkpoint.

Abbie West

Abbie using our hammer to break the ice off of the clasps of her boots.

IMG_5529

IMG_5532My friend Jodi Bailey.  She got to spend some time with us while waiting for her husband Dan Kaduce to get over the summit.

IMG_5549We had a break in between mushers that was long enough for us to make a run up the road to the Summit and watch the next musher come over.

Drive to Eagle SummitThe Eagle Summit weather station.

Emergency shelterThis is an emergency shelter off the road up Eagle Summit.  The road is often closed in the winter due to drifting across the road.

Eagle SummitThere is a musher coming over the saddle.  Right click and open in a new window for a larger view.

Wolf tracksEvery year many people see hundreds of caribou that come through here.  I never see more then 3 or 4 at a time.  I assume by these wolf tracks that they ran off to a new area when they were being hunted.  That’s a pretty big paw print.  This is the same pack that Dyane Bergen talks about being chase by in her video below.

Carribou tracksThe hill side is covered with caribou tracks!

Gee haw bunny boots

Mile 101

Mile 101 HalibutMake sure to tell Ivory Jacks thanks for sponsoring us with bacon, eggs, and halibut.

Veggies, oh how I love thee!Kerry brought some veggies which I threw in a pan to fry up with some butter.  Yum.  Asparagus, red, yellow, orange peppers, jalapeno, onion, a lemon, a clove of garlic…  After a week of no fresh veggies, this was a real treat.  Next year I’ll bring some myself, a lot more though.  This little panfull didn’t go far hahaha.

sky lanternsI buy sky lanterns by the case.  We have started a tradition of lighting them off on the anniversary of Justin’s passing.  I had a couple left over and I think I’ll bring some every year.  I know we wont have as still of a night every year but we can try.  They are beautiful as they float away, a wishing light in the sky.

Northern LightsWe also got quite the light show!

I put my pictures together so you get a bit of a time lapse.

Northern Lights

“Dyane Bergen reaches the finish line in Fairbanks to claim the red lantern award. 26 mushers started the 1600 km/ 1000 mile trek and 20 teams pulled through to the finish. Congratulations Dyane !
Video by B.Dannenhauer, M.Grosch, P. Kamper and S.King”

Fiddle caseI brought my fabric glue with me so I could put my newest volunteer patch on my fiddle case before I even got it home.  I can hardly wait till I have no more room!  Next year will be my 5th year up there.  I’m looking forward to it and trying to think of something special to do while there.  Do you have any ideas?  Come on, I know I have some very creative followers.

“The summer – no sweeter was ever; The sunshiny woods all athrill; The grayling aleap in the river, The bighorn asleep on the hill. The strong life that never knows harness; The wilds where the caribou call; The freshness, the freedom, the farness –O God! how I’m stuck on it all. The winter! the brightness that blinds you, the white land locked tight as a drum, The cold fear that follows and finds you, The silence that bludgeons you dumb. The snows that are older than history, The woods where the weird shadows slant; The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery, I’ve bade’em good-by  – but I can’t.” 

LeaderboardThis is the final leader board.  It keeps track of which musher came in when, with how many dogs, and when he left and with how many dogs he left with.  Then it shows what time he reached the next checkpoint and the finish line.  Of course I could not pass up a big empty spot on the dry erase board without decorating it with a bit of henna type design.

“This is the ‘live’ version of the Yukon Quest Finish Banquet including sponsor recognition, all awards and musher talk. Enjoy…, you will find a lot of stories and humor in this 2 1/2 hour audio.
PS: No, …. you don’t want the video version. It would take us a day to upload it from where we are.
Until 2014: Happy Trails from all of us at the Yukon Quest!”

“A video/slideshow of the 30th running of the Yukon Quest that captures the mushers, dogs, handlers, volunteers, sponsors, vets and directors that made it all possible.”

“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless; And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There’s a land – oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back – and I will.  They’re making my money diminish; I’m sick of the taste of champgne. Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish, I’ll pike to the Yukon again. I’ll fight – and you bet it’s no sham-fight; It’s hell! – but I’ve been there before; And it’s better than this by a damsite –So me for the Yukon once more. There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting; It’s luring me on as of old; Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting, So much as just finding the gold. It’s the great, broad land ‘way up yonder. It’s the forests where silence has lease; It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace. ”                                         R. Service

Steese HighwayThen all of a sudden, it was over for another year.  This is always a bit of a melancholy time for me.  I love it so much out there and have such a good time.  The lack of showers and sleep quickly fade into vague memory while the friends and camaraderie, as well as the stark, extreme wilderness remain sharp and clear.

CarribouI did see a few caribou grazing down in a valley so peacefully.

OverflowThis is overflow.  It occurs when the weight of the ice on top of the water grows so heavy it sinks.  Liquid water then flows over the top of the ice and the top layer freezes too.  Rinse, repeat.  This is what mushers often have to go through on the trail.  It doesn’t show very well in the picture but the ice is really a beautiful sage green.

Steese HighwayThe drive home was uneventful though I did stop and take a few pictures of the lovely sky and scenery.  I take my time when I have the opportunity to “commune with nature”.  I also pulled my fiddle out at a lovely little pull out.  I play the best when by myself.  It was too cold to play for long but it was certainly good for my soul.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Summer Fun, or, the Story of the Lawn Mower.

Well I should say summer work, but work is fun when it comes to playing in the dirt.

 I used to have a nice lawn mower.  But when we lived in the cabin I didn’t have a yard, just woods and a gravel pad which the cabin was built on.  So one year when my friend Morgan watched my kids for a week while I went and worked at Mile 101 check point for the Yukon Quest, I gave her my lawn mower in payment.

When we moved into this house, it was November and already had snow on the ground.  Winter passed, spring passed, summer arrived and I still had no lawn mower.  The grass grew and grew.  I finally got up enough spare money to buy a lawn mower and every one in town was sold out.  Well there were still plenty of the $300 variety but really, who needs a $300 lawn mower?  Not I.  After all, this isn’t “lawn”.

On Saturday I took Olivia over to a co-workers house for a Pox Party.  Yes, that is Chicken Pox.  (Funny that this is coming up right after Chickenstock and our Fowl Adventure.)  Her children had them, mine as of yet, have not.  We do not vaccinate for Chicken Pox because I choose to not use my children as guinea pigs.   I prefer the natural, lifelong immunity obtained by actually getting the Chicken Pox.  Ok ok, sorry for the side ramble.  While at my co worker’s house, exposing my daughter to her children with the pox,  she was showing me this huge generator they had just bought for $100 from the garage sale across the street.  I was duly impressed.  So we walked over there to see if they had a lawn mower.  The young man said he didn’t, then said, “Wait, hang on a minute” as he went digging around in his garage.  As he brought one out of the depths of his full garage and started dusting it off, he stated that he forgot about this little one.

Long story short,  he started it up and after being totally dry for storage, gassed up, it started on the first pull.  He sold it to me for $40.  It doesn’t die when the handle is let loose but you can manually shove the lever on the motor to kill it.  *Sigh, the mowing ensued.  It took two tanks of gas and a couple of blisters to get this monster mowed but I did it.  Oh my aching back.  There are ruts in the yard from when the land lord drove his truck into the yard for several days last fall.  Then someone felt the need to fill the ruts with sticks…  ARG!  So, I still have a few piles of sticks in the yard but after a few more times of mowing, this yard should start looking nice.

We also went and gathered up rocks from a rock site, some dirt from a secret dirt spot, and built more beds.  I found a half off plant sale last week so bought some squash.  My garden is very small this year but considering it is a rental with no dirt but old river silt, at least we’ll have some fresh veggies.  Olivia and I had a really nice day out in the yard today.  She said she “felt very healthy spending so much time in the yard” lol.  Yes!  We were not ready to go inside yet when it was such a beautiful evening so grilled out on the old grill that had been left here from the last tenants.  I’ve been cleaning it up….  Grilling is a learning process for sure.  Really, how hard can it be?  Start the charcoals on fire, put the food on, cook, eat.  Guess this is why Justin always did the grilling.  But we are learning…

 Porch flowers

Porch flowers from the half off sale.

raised beds

 This is the newest part of the garden spot that we just built today.

 Tomatoes, basil, and squash.

 I didn’t have any BBQ sauce on hand so made some from a bunch of schtuff in the kitchen.  Ketchup, A1, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, wine, olive oil, Tony’s Cajun Seasoning, garlic powder, onion flakes, salt, pepper, maybe some other stuff that I’ve forgotten.  It was yummy.

Fiddling Around

This is the newest song I am learning and I am quite in love with it.
http://soundcloud.com/alexandermitchell-fiddle/03-track-03

Can you imagine playing it on top of a mountain with a view like this?

Denali National Park backpacking
Denali National Park, take a few years ago with my much crappier camera.
But THIS is where I am taking it next week. This will be the fiddle’s first official back packing trip. Eagle Summit,  about 125 miles north east of Fairbanks.  For those of you familiar with the Yukon Quest, yes, this is THAT Eagle Summit.
Eagle Summit, Alaska
I’ll have to find a way to strap it on my pack but I’m confident I have enough straps to do it lol. I’m not going very far.

Oh yea, I took this picture at 11:45 pm a couple of years ago.  They don’t call us the Land of the Midnight Sun for nothing.

February, You Were a Tricky Wench!

Yes my dear readers, I know it is now half way through My Favorite Month of March, but I have either not been inspired to write or when I was, life has just been too busy.  So onward we go and I’ll try to catch you up.

After a bitterly cold January, February actually wasn’t that bad.  The -40 and colder at my house made me long for my cozy little waterless cabin.  It did get to -50 but then my temperature gauge broke so I don’t know exactly just HOW cold it got.  Being on the river means that we are often colder than the surrounding hills due to inversion.  Trying to keep water and septic fluid in those temperatures is exhausting, and expensive.  I’m still paying on my electric bill as are many in the area.  Heat traces on water lines still don’t keep the water pumps themselves or even the septic lift pump from freezing.  This is my 9th winter here in the magic land and by far my most difficult in many aspects.  It’s ok though.  Not once did I ever consider moving to warmer climes.  I am still in love with the Interior and awed at our extremes.

As always, working on the Yukon Quest was one of the highlights of my winter.  So here are some pictures from that.

While I didn’t have a flat in a blizzard like last year, my tires were very much on my mind.  I was very thankful for the studded snow tires my friends Jan and Eric helped me get as I journeyed 100 miles up the Steese Highway.

Steese Highway

Steese Highway

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon Quest

Checkpoint Manager Peter Kamper and his son Lucas who kept the fires burning in all the cabins.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestThis is the couch that is normally in the cook shack.  They took it out to give us more room and it made a nice conversation piece as well as a place for the checkers to sit.  The checkers spend long hours waiting for mushers to come into the check point and to check them out before they leave.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon Quest, northern lights, aurora borealis

We did get a very nice aurora show.  I didn’t bring my tripod so here is a picture from my camera sitting on a bale of straw.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestCheckers waiting for mushers to come in.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestBrent Sass coming in.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestI know most of the mushers running the Quest but some of the rookies I still do not know.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell who is the musher and who are the handlers. This year all that one needed to do was look at their boots.  If their boots were covered over in frozen ice, they were a musher.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestBrent Sass of Wild and Free Mushing. Brent is known for being a pretty cheerful guy.  Even tired, this guy is happy.  He’s just one of those people who is fun to have in the cookshack.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestAllen Moore of Skunk’s Place Kennel, being interviewed by the media.  I don’t know him well but he seems to be a really nice guy.  He’s married to Aliy Zirkle who is the only women so far to win the Yukon Quest.  She also just got second place in the Iditarod.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestEveryone knows Hugh Neff, this years Quest champion.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon Quest

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon Quest, Lance MackeyLance Mackey cutting off the frozen bottom portion of his pants.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestBrent’s interview.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestAbby West of Cosmic Canines. 

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestSonny Lindner, who I must admit I do not know much about.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon Quest Sue Ellis, wife to Mike Ellis who ran the Quest.  They have Team Tsuga Racing Siberians.  Sue’s just about the nicest person I’ve ever met at the checkpoint.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestMy friend Scott Chesney of Loco Lobo Photography. 

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestIs this a future leader that came to visit?  We’ll see.  It sure was nice to have some puppy love.

Mile 101 Checkpoint, Yukon QuestWe had some amazing sunsets and sunrises.

Josh Cadzow, Yukon Quest, 2012Doug Grilliot, YQ300 Race Marshall and Josh Cadzow, winner of this year’s Yukon Quest 300.

Yukon Quest, 2012Norweigian Joar Leifseth Ulsom, what a cutie!  He was racing for Team Racing Beringia, a distance learning program.

Yukon Quest, 2012The always awesome Sebastian Schnuelle, of Blue Kennels.  He was not racing this year.  Instead, he was the “Armchair Musher on the Trail” for both the Quest and the Iditarod.

Yukon Quest, 2012Race Manager for the Beringia Team.  Yea, sleep is hard to come by, especially with 3 teams.

Yukon Quest, 2012My German friend Sui and his “Goat Team”.

Yukon Quest, 2012Jimmy Lebling and my friend Jan Denapoli-Cosmuto.  Jimmy was running Jan’s dogs in the Yukon Quest 300.

Yukon Quest, 2012Did I mention that our checkers are the most dedicated people!

Yukon Quest, 2012Me, Jan, and Eric.

All in all it was a very nice race.  The mushers had a lot less heartbreak and difficulties from the area this year.  That makes me happy.

Now on to the rest of the month.  We have been having awesome magnetic storms producing some magnificent aurora shows.   Unfortunately I have been missing most of them since taking myself off of Facebook and having access to the Aurora Notifications page.  But I still am able to track them on our Geophysical Institute Page.

Auroras 2012, AlaskaJan, Eric, and I, along with my daughter Olivia and another friend set up an arctic oven tent out on one of the ponds we normally drive dog teams to.  Wow that was an awkward sentence.  I was using one of Jan’s cameras because she has a wide-angle lens.  Well of course, most of my shots did not turn out as well as I would have liked but here is one so you can see the setting.

Auroras 2012, Alaska, arctic oven

We had fun playing with light drawing while waiting for more auroras to show up.  This is Olivia and I, walking like Egyptians.

Me throwing a lightning bolt.  Ok ok, I know Batman doesn’t normally have lightning bolts at his disposal but I’m assuming Alfred came up with a contraption to harness all the electromagnetics in the air.

Home made chicken noodle soup has been a favorite this winter.  Ever wonder what cabin fever looks like?  Well, this pretty much sums it up.  Yes, we are crazy in Alaska.  What would you expect to happen with a swimsuit, feather boa, and fur boots at -45.  And with that, I am going on a diet.  Last year I cut out Cokes from my diet and lost 20 lbs.  I ran all winter long, some weeks every day but at least 3 days a week.  I didn’t lose any more than that first 20 lbs.  So now, I will diet.  I’m not a “dieter”.  But then again, I was never a runner before either and thoroughly enjoyed that.  I refuse to end up a fat old lady!

It’s almost Yukon Quest time.

http://yukonquest.com/

There are 24 mushers signed up for this year’s Toughest Race on Earth.  I think it is going to be another cold one.  Then again, it’s almost always brutally cold on the Quest.

I have been really looking forward to this.  Well, I look forward to it every year of course but it seems like this is the ONLY thing I have had to look forward to this winter.  That’s not correct really as March IS my favorite month and it is tiptoeing our way as I write.

Here is last year’s fine adventure, Yukon Quest 2011. 

Here is my Adventures in Handling from 2010, if you care to see the other side of the job.

Here is what the checkpoint looks like in the summer.  4th of July and Mile 101 Fun. It’s really beautiful.  I plan on going back packing up around Eagle Summit this summer.  Anyone want to go with me?

Being a cook at the checkpoint is a unique experience to say the least.  I try not to feel like “the lunch lady” as I really don’t fit the bill.  But I do like my job at 101.  Other then the awesome co-workers I get to hang out with, I think the main reason is that it puts me in a place to care for the cold, tired, hungry, and sometimes heartbroken mushers (and the occasional handler).  It feels good to do it, even if “it” is as simple as handing them a bacon and egg sandwich on their way back out into the cold.

The checkpoint is between the two main summits of the race, the formidable Eagle Summit and the devious Rosebud Summit.  Such a pretty name isn’t it?  Here is a story of the rescue that took place in 2006 where mushers had to be rescued by military helicopters.

http://www.newsminerextra.com/quest06/news/2006/02/15/seventh-musher-rescued-by-helicopter/

Being at Mile 101 gives one a unique vantage point.  The stories that we get to hear and see are as varied as the mushers who are living them.  Meeting the mushers when they are high and on top of the world with their success, down in the dumps with fatigue and frustration, frostbitten, or angry as a wet hornet’s nest certainly makes for an interesting work environment.  As I have said before though, these sometimes are a person’s private story, not to be callously shared with a blogging public.  That would be up to the individual, to share their own story.

I’ve bought a laptop from a friend.  He shipped it 10 days ago.  I just hope that it shows up on time.  If it does, please feel free to follow what happenings I am able to post on my Facebook page.

Georganne Hurt-Hampton

Anyways, that’s all for now dearies.

Yukon Quest, Adventures in Handling

Yukon Quest, the Toughest Race on Earth

In 2009 I had the honor of handling for Wayne and Scarlett Hall, Bush Alaska Expeditions, on the Yukon Quest.  They are my friends that I went to visit this summer out of Eagle.  You can read about that trip here:  A Fowl Adventure.  I never wrote the full trip report as I normally like to do when returning from an adventure because frankly I was exhausted and just wanted to spend time being a normal mom person for a while.  The Quest that year started in Whitehorse on February 14, yes Valentine’s Day.   In January we had a cold snap of 3 weeks solid where the high never got above -40F.  So I was pretty sure we were going to have a cold race too.

A handler’s job is to drive the dog truck, be waiting for the musher when s/he comes into each checkpoint, be encouraging, clean up after your team leaves, raking and bagging straw and poop,  and caring for any dogs that are dropped due to injury or illness.  There are a lot of other details but these are the main responsibilities of a dog handler on the Yukon Quest Trail.

Yukon Quest Race History The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race gets its name from the “highway of the north,” the Yukon River, and historic winter land routes followed by prospectors, adventurers and later mail and supply carriers traveling between the gold fields of the Klondike and those in the Alaska interior.THE ORIGINS OF THE YUKON QUESTIn 1983, four men, all mushers, sat at a table in the Bull’s Eye Saloon, in Fairbanks, Alaska. The conversation turned to a discussion about a new sled dog race and “what-ifs.” What if the race followed a historical trail? What if it were an international sled dog race? What if the race went a little longer? What if it even went up the Yukon River?As early as 1976, a Fairbanks to Whitehorse sled dog race had been talked of. But it wasn’t until this conversation between Roger Williams, Leroy Shank, Ron Rosser and Willie Libb that the Yukon Quest became more than an idea. The mushers decided to name the race the “Yukon Quest” to commemorate the Yukon River, the old highway of the north. The trail would trace the routes that the prospectors followed to reach the Klondike during the 1898 Gold Rush and from there to the Alaskan interior for subsequent gold rushes in the early years of the 1900’s.The first Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race tested both race logistics and the talents of all involved. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that February day in 1984. Over the next 16 days, 20 teams made it to Whitehorse, with six teams forced to drop out along the way. Sonny Lindner became the first Yukon Quest champion, completing the race in just over 12 days.

http://www.yukonquest.com/site/race-history-and-background/

Trail info quoted from Mushers’ Guide to the Yukon Quest Trail. Which is a really interesting read.

Monday, February 9th, we started our trip to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.  We had to go early because we all had meetings to attend before hand.  Wayne had the mandatory mushers meeting, Jan and me to the mandatory press meeting, me, Amanda, and Robert to the mandatory handlers meeting, and the Start-Draw Banquet at the Yukon Convention Cntr.  We stayed at Sebastian Schnuelle’s house.  He’s also a very famous musher.  He won the Quest this year so that was very exciting.  

I think if you click on the map, you can better see where we were.

Beaver Creek.  We dropped the dogs, fed them, fed us, then got back on the road.  February 9.  Left to right, Amanda, Robert, Wayne and Scarlett’s friend that is a border patrol agent there at the Canadian border, Wayne, Jan.   This is the little road house after the border crossing.

Ketchup potato chips.  They were uh, yuck.

This is me and Hombre.  He is my favorite out of all Wayne and Scarlett’s dogs.  He was also one of the, if not THE biggest dog  in the whole race, and he finished the whole thing.  The truck has “outriggers” that come out so we can drop the dogs. We got to Sebastian’s about 2 in the morning.  His long driveway wasn’t plowed and there had been a lot of snow.  We were afraid that if we tried to get in, we would get stuck.  The dog truck is an F550 with a huge dog box.  So we back tracked to a roadside pullout to drop the dogs and then sleep the rest of the night.  The following morning, Wayne and Scarlett hiked into his house and he came out and drove us in (about 1/4-1/2 mile).  We almost DID get stuck.

This is the cabin at Sebastian’s we stayed in.  Wayne and Scarlet slept up at his house and the rest of us stayed here.  It is the shower house.   Sebastian lives about 40 miles outside of Whitehorse.  This is the beautiful drive into town. The dog truck in front of a big mural.

Another big mural.  There are many of these in downtown Whitehorse.

Meet the Musher night at the Yukon Convention Center.  This is where fans can come and meet their favorite musher, get autographs signed, and visit with old friends.

At the start/draw banquet, Wayne drew bib #28.

This is my foot steaming in our cabin.  We had a wood stove but it was seriously cold.   It was funny at the time.

Jan and I had our bedrolls on the floor right in front of the woodstove.  My job was to keep it stocked all night.  We still froze our asses off being on the floor.  Robert and Amanda, up in the loft was toasty warm.

We even resorted to sleep aids in the form of some Baileys.

Coffee set up for the morning.  That’s the shower to the back and right of the table.

This is the “cook shack”.  There is a family that lives here and cooks and feeds Sebastian and all his handlers.  They are nice and have fun kids.

Getting the dogs out to stretch their legs.

February 14th, Race Day!

Here is the gangline stretched out ready to put the dogs on.

I think we were the first people there that morning.  We found our assigned space and started getting ready.  Very shortly, the lot was full of dogs, mushers, handlers, fans, media, and race officials.  It’s difficult to describe the excited chaos of a race day dog lot.  Dogs are barking, people are visiting with new and old friends they may only see once a year or even less, fans are taking pictures and trying to meet their favorite mushers (who are most often too busy to chat), vets are doing one last check on the dogs, mushers are obsessing, ensuring none of their last-minute details have been overlooked, and handlers are grinning!

Last minute vet check and checking for micro chips.  All dogs must be microchipped.

Hombre looking over his team.  Booties out and ready to be put on.

Waiting for our turn.

“At the start, you will help to make sure your musher gets out of the gate cleanly — and with all his supplies, etc. packed well. The start is very exciting and working behind the line is especially exciting. At this point, the musher will bark orders and you just obey. The musher will have a particular plan for harnessing and booting their team, and you need to be able to respond quickly to the musher’s directions. You can take pictures before you hook up the team, but once you hear the order to put dogs on the line, give the camera to someone else. You are about to become a human anchor.

When 14 Quest dogs are all on the line, it takes at least 14 people to hold the team and sled back – and that’s with two or three people on the runners and an extra person on top of the loaded sled! Those dogs will be eager to get going, and they are amazingly powerful. The start of the race, and the first 100 miles, represent the highest risk for a team. With the dogs so full of energy, amidst the excitement of the start, they are at greater risk of injury. It will be your job to help calm them down until they are released from the chute.”

From “Handling in the Yukon Quest” by Anne Taylor

(I don’t remember Wayne ever “barking” orders.  He can get serious and very down to business, but still remains friendly.)

Walking to the start line.  Lots of people are needed to hold the dogs back.  Normally the sled is also tied off to a snowmachine.  Though these dogs are so well-trained, they are pure power and excited to go!

Me behind the start line.

29 teams start their grand adventure!

Wayne started with 14 beautiful Alaskan Huskies.

Since it was Valentine’s Day, Wayne had a special package of a heart of chocolates which he threw to Scarlett as his team took off.  Talk about a romantic!

Whitehorse to Braeburn: (Long 100 trail miles)

Scarlett and Jan.

Braeburn Lodge is famous for its humongous cinnamon rolls.  Handlers hang out inside waiting for their mushers to come in, checking in on their laptops, and visiting.  As a handler, it is common to make friends of other handlers.  After all, you are all sleep deprived, and on an excellent adventure together.  It was about -40 when Wayne came in.  Robert, Amanda, and I took half an hour shifts standing with our team.  We would just get thawed out before it was our turn to go out again.  But there was a wonderful show of northern lights to entertain us.  This early in the race, most of the teams are still bunched up so the dog lot is crowded.  We make sure the dogs don’t get into fights or get distracted by some dog going into heat.

Handlers can only stand at the head of the team or behind the sled.  We are not able to touch the dogs or the sled unless a fight breaks out (not real common).  When the musher comes in, he feeds his dogs, puts down straw, checks them out and takes care of anything that has to do with the dogs and his supplies.  After all, this race is about the relationship between the musher and his dogs.  Then he is able to go inside and eat, dry his gear, sleep, get trail and weather reports, or whatever.

“Once the race starts, your best resource will be other handlers, as you will all spend a lot of time hurrying up and waiting-waiting-waiting. You will need to rest whenever you get a chance – twenty minutes power napping is worth far more than 3 hours of pacing. Likewise, jump in the shower when you get the chance. The one time you skip the chance to sleep or shower, will turn out to be the one time when you end up unable to do either for 48 hours. You don’t need to “spot” for your team all the time. After a while, you will recognize the alarm, “TEAM”, even if you cannot hear the words. You will sense pending arrivals by the way people in the next room start to shuffle around and reach for parkas. And, trust me on this, if you have been waiting several hours longer than expected for your musher, and finally decide to go to the bathroom (on a forty-below night, with all the clothing that entails), you will hear the haunting cry of “TEAM” just as you get your pants down… and this time it will indeed be your team.”

From “Handling in the Yukon Quest” by Anne Taylor

Braeburn to Carmacks: (Approx. 70 trail miles)

Carmacks to Pelly Crossing: (Approx. 75-80 trail miles)

Michelle Phillips

Jan, checking her camera.

Scarlett checking her email, the weather, trail reports or something.

Pelly Crossing checkpoint is at their community center.

Pelly Crossing to Dawson City: (Approx. 205-210 miles)

 

Dawson City

February 17

The Halfway Point!

Mushers have a mandatory 36 hour layover in Dawson City.  This is the only time in the race that handlers can have access to the dogs.  Normally the dogs get pampered at their own camp while the musher gets pampered at a hotel in town.

Here is a little interesting article by the Quest about what happens in Dawson.

Crossing the Yukon River ice bridge. The campground where the dogs are set up is across the river from town.

Since there is only one bridge that crosses the mighty Yukon River, the bridge on the Dalton Hwy in Alaska, there is a ferry that crosses here in the summer with an ice road that crosses in the winter.  This road continues on to the Top of the World Hwy that goes into Eagle, AK from the east.  It’s closed in the winter.

Our spot.  We were only allowed to drive the truck in for unloading our gear then loading back up.  So everyone had to park out by the road and hike in.  It was a long walk.  I’m terrible at distances so don’t know how long it was.

Arctic oven tent.

The dogs can not be in an enclosed space but can have a two sided and roofed cover for their 36 hour rest.  Scarlett and I made a doggie palace.  We dug down in the snow for a walkway for two reasons.  One, it’s easier to work on the dogs if you don’t have to get all the way down on the ground bundled up in all your winter gear.  But the more important reason is to raise the dogs up where they will get more warmth.

Snow benches.

Frosty work.

After we made camp, we headed back into town to wait for Wayne to get in.

Me, Jan, Amanda, Robert, Scarlett.

CFYT Dawson City Community Radio. Listen live here. I expected to hear Chris Stevens playing some old jazz.  I love listening to these little local radio stations.  You can really get a feel for the community’s’ personalities.

Jan takes a break during a busy day.

Handlers waiting at the checkpoint, a place for gathering, and free wi fi.

Some adventurous soul parachuting in.

Northwest Territories Visitor Center

Traditional dress.

And the mushers start to arrive!

Brent Sass

After the busy day, Robert, Amanda, and I hiked back to the tent.  Robert looking at some trail maps.

The stove, while tiny and needing to be stoked often, kept us warm in the tent.

I was going to stay out here but Jan and I ended up being invited to stay at one of the race judge’s house in town.  That was a sweet score!  Showers on the Quest trail are pretty rare.  I felt pretty bad about leaving Robert and Amanda to do all the work that night but they are young and probably enjoy some time alone with each other.

February 19th.

Wayne was 18th into Dawson.  That’s a pretty good gain from the 28th position.  He came in on Feb. 19th at 3:15 AM.

Amanda fixing breakfast for the dogs.  This is dried fish in hot water.

All fed and snuggled down.

While we can’t enclose the dogs, we can provide wind shields.

This camp belongs to another musher.  You can see how low their enclosure is.  I’m sure it helps keep the warmth from the dogs’ body heat in but it has to be hell on tired backs.

Handlers hanging out at dog camp while their team rests.

Colleen Robertia just coming in.

The dog trucks parked alongside the road before the turn into the camp area.  You can see down at the bottom of the hill is the river and across that, town.  Dog trucks were not allowed into camp after mushers started to come in to ensure the safety of the dogs.

There is such a variety of dog trucks from luxurious to shoe string budget.

Sleds often get broken on this race.  Mushers can replace their sled if they have an extra.

The Sourtoe!

Our team is in and safely snuggled down for the night.  Time for some fun and relaxation.  February 19th after getting the dogs settle for the night.

Established in 1973, the Sourtoe Cocktail has become a Dawson City tradition. The original rules were that the toe must be placed in a beer glass full of champagne, and that the toe must touch the drinker’s lips during the consumption of the alcohol before he or she can claim to be a true Sourtoer. The rules have changed in the past twenty-seven years. The Sourtoe can be had with any drink now (even ones that aren’t alcoholic), but one rule remains the same. The drinker’s lips must touch the toe.

The guy on the left is the one “performing the ceremony” and reading the rules.

“You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow– But the lips have gotta touch the toe.”

The Sourtoes are actual human toes that have been dehydrated and preserved in salt. Swallowing one is not suggested (though it has happened, more than once!)

That’s the toe in his mouth like a cigar.  Yes I did it too but only have the certificate to prove it, not a picture.  Boo hoo.  What we wont do to gross out our friends, I don’t know.

Wayne sorting out gear and dog food from his drop bags.  Trying to figure out what to pack next.

Kibble, chicken, sheep, horse, fish, fat balls (the pale yellow squares).  protein and fat are what these dogs need.  Dogs don’t convert carbs well into energy, they need fat!

Future fish soup.  Yes, I saw an eyeball floating around in there.  The dogs loved it like it was gourmet though.

Robert chopping up the frozen blocks of fish into smaller pieces to make soup for the dogs.

Amanda scooping the fish soup into bowls.  Wayne is adding some supplements.

Wayne feeding.

Jan giving doggie massages.  Ohhh they were loving that!

Getting ready to go back out again.

Top of the World Hwy border crossing back into the US.

We took a little trip up on the Top of the World Highway.  This is overlooking Dawson City.  This is the road that short cuts over the mountains to Eagle, AK.  It is closed in the winter.  It only takes a few mile to see where it got its name.

This is what happens when you build on permafrost.  The heat from the building thaws the ground underneath.  Once thawed, it moves.

Robert Service Cabin

The Cremation of Sam McGee

by Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun By the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, But the queerest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee. Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows. Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows. He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell; Though he’d often say in his homely way that he’d “sooner live in hell”. On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail. Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail. If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see; It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee. And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow, And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe, He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess; And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.” Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan: “It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone. Yet ’tain’t being dead — it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains; So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.” A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail; And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale. He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee; And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee. There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven, With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given; It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains, But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.” Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code. In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load. In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring, Howled out their woes to the homeless snows — O God! how I loathed the thing. And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow; And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low; The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in; And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin. Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay; It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May”. And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum; Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.” Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire; Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher; The flames just soared, and the furnace roared — such a blaze you seldom see; And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee. Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so; And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow. It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why; And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky. I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear; But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near; I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside. I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”; . . . then the door I opened wide. And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar; And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door. It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm — Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.” There are strange things done in the midnight sun By the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, But the queerest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee.

Back on the road.  We spent the night driving.  Well, Jan drove, I kept her entertained and awake.  Robert and Amanda snored away in the back but they had stayed up to get Wayne and the dogs into camp the night before.  We were exhausted and the road was drifting in with snow, but we had many miles to go in order to get to the next check point before Wayne.

February 21st.

Dawson City to Eagle: (Approx. 150 trail miles)

This is the loop we had to make.  You can click on it to see it better or right click and open in a new window so you don’t have to reload this whole page.  The arrow points to the Top of the World Highway out of Dawson which is closed in the winter.  So we had to drive all the way back down the loop and back up to Circle which is the north end of the line.  The mushers cut across country here and go north west, with a checkpoint in Eagle while we follow the road and go south east.  Scarlett is the Checkpoint Manager in Eagle so had left us to be flown home to Eagle to get ready for the teams to come in there.   The regular handlers don’t go there obviously, but they have checkpoint volunteers to take care of any dogs that need to be dropped and feed the mushers.  Out of the several weeks I was gone, I’ll say this was the most difficult part of the trip, starting a long drive when already sleep deprived, through bad weather and bad mountain roads, and only stopping in at home on our way through Fairbanks for a quick shower and to kiss your kids before hitting the road again was hard.  By this time we are all feeling that weariness deep in our bones.

But the rewards of the scenery are worth it all.

The Wrangells are some of the most magical mountains in this state.

Destruction Bay

Some checkpoints have fires for the handlers to hang out at and get warm.  You end up becoming friends with many of them.  I hope to see these guys again next year if they are handling, as they go through Mile 101 checkpoint.

“Handlers are generous to one another with advice and support, so don’t be afraid to ask. Every year, there are innumerable instances of one crew helping another – in everything from auto mechanics to Internet connections to dog food to specialized care of an injury. While the race itself is competitive, the actual care of dogs is not. Everyone is committed to providing good dog care, regardless of what team a dog may be on.”

From “Handling in the Yukon Quest” by Anne Taylor

I’m not sure what happened to my pictures from Circle and Central Checkpoints so I’ll just use some from the previous year when we handled for Eric Rogers.

Eagle to Circle City: (Approx. 160 trail miles)

Circle.

Population: 94 Circle is located at the end of the Steese Highway on the Yukon River, 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and 161 miles from Fairbanks. Originally named Circle City, because the early miners thought it was located on the Arctic Circle, the town began as a supply point to the new gold diggings on Birch Creek in 1893, and grew as a hub for various gold camps in the Interior. Circle City was the largest gold mining town on the Yukon River, before the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 created Dawson City, YT.Today, Circle serves a small local population and visitors coming in by highway or by river. There’s a lot of summer river traffic here: many Yukon River travelers put in and take out at Circle.Gas, groceries, snacks and sundries are available at the H.C. Company Store, which also has the only gas in town. Free camping available at unmaintained parking area alongside the Yukon River.Attractions: The old Pioneer Cemetery, with its markers dating back to the 1800s, is an interesting spot to visit. Dip your toes in the Yukon, Alaska’s largest river. The 2,000-mile river heads in Canada and flows west into Norton Sound on the Bering Sea. Excerpt from The Milepost

The checkpoint was in the fire house.

Dogs at rest.

A village store has everything.  Well, has a lot of things.

This is an old storage tank that had been converted into living quarters at one time.  There were two of them.  They weren’t being lived in.  I imagine they were from many years ago.  It reminded me of the movie Cannery Row.

Showers, food, sleeping space, and internet are all available at the school.

Circle City to Central: (75 trail miles)

Central

This is the leader board on the wall, showing the musher’s standings.

This thermometer was stuck at -20.  It was definitely colder then that!

Mile 101 Dogdrop!

This is where I worked last year for the Quest.  It is now an official checkpoint.  I love these little cabins tucked into the mountains.  As a handler though, they are difficult because there is no room to hang out inside.  But we were fed, bacon, eggs, and halibut!  It’s the traditional food of Mile 101.  Food is donated by one of my favorite local places to hang out, Ivory Jack’s. I plan on working there again this year.

The difference between a dog drop and a checkpoint is that at a checkpoint, the mushers have their drop bags to resupply from.  These are bags that are prepared by the mushers ahead of time and shipped to each checkpoint.  They contain dog food, people food, batteries, snacks, extra gear and sled repair items, etc.  A dog drop is just a place that a musher can leave any dogs that are no longer able or wanting to race and they will be cared for by the musher’s handlers and brought along by them to the finish line.   This is where a lot of mushers scratch due to the infamous Eagle Summit!

This is overflow, flowing over the road.  They try to keep it off but still have to plow it off the road occasionally.  It’s just a solid wall of ice creeping out to cover the road.

Central to Two Rivers: (approx. 115 trail miles)

Twin Bears Camp Checkpoint

(Two Rivers)

February 26th

Wayne came in gaining 3 more places, in position #15.

Wayne dropped a dog here.  She was a bit dehydrated and was not enjoying herself any more.  Since this was a young dog, it was very important to stop once it was no longer fun for her.  That way she is always excited to run again.  She got an iv for some fluids.

The vet, fixing her up.

Wayne and Scarlett

Poor Wayne, I could tell he was just exhausted by this point.  Of course, they all were by this point.  It really makes you just want to do something for them, though there is not much to be done.  That is why it is called a race, and not a camping trip.

The dogs resting with some shelter from the wind.

Harnessing up and putting booties on after their rest.  One more leg of the journey to go!

Two Rivers to Fairbanks (approx 44 trail miles)

February 27th!

Back in Fairbanks, Scarlett had rejoined us for the finish.  We had a fair idea of when he would be coming in so we hung out on the Chena River (finish point) for a couple of hours waiting with the few race officials there to check in mushers as they crossed the finish line.  The problem with finishing in the middle of the night, there are very few fans that are that dedicated.  It was about 15-20 below zero, farenheit with a bit of wind which made it cold.  Standing on the river, any river, always adds to the cold though.

Wayne came in 15th place from a total of 29 mushers who started, on February 27 at 2:33 am.  His total time was 12 days, 15 hours, and 9 minutes.  He finished with 10 dogs, dropping 4 on the trail at various points.

Out of 29 that started, 11 scratched during the race leaving only 18 finishers.  That is just how tough the race it.  It’s not called the Toughest Race on Earth for nothing!

The race official makes sure he has all his required gear; sleeping bag, ax, snow shoes, booties, vet book, cooker, etc.

The finish banquet is always a fun time.  Listening to the mushers speak, telling tales, visiting with friends while NOT dressed up as the Michelin Man, all a good time.

Wayne’s World.

From left to right:

Amanda, Robert, Wayne, Scarlett, me, Jan.

What an excellent adventure!

Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

I really appreciate comments and would love to answer any questions you may have.  This is just a small portion of what handling in such a race entails but I had to stop somewhere.  I’ve spent the last month or so working on this, adding links, making clarifications, etc.  I hope you enjoy it.