Monday, March 11, 2013



It was looking so not good on the Yukon River. Warm temperatures and rain made the river a slushy mess.  Deteriorating trail surfaces and overflows made the trail an exhausting pull.  It looked tempting to move off the trail, but any weight punched through and put us into a soup. Poor Woofie Monster.  He worked hard to get us from Grayling to Eagle Island through the night and into early morning. We had to stop in the “heat” of the day, a concept that seems foreign to those creatures who live in the daylight, but remember we’re both carrying fur as thick as Bob Marley’s knots – good for cold raw winds, but not so much in a white reflective bowl of a river basin. Once the low pressure moved through we roasted in sunshine.

Woofie Monster looked worn out. I honestly feared he'd collapse. I was sleep deprived (a horrible situation for a cat use to napping 16 hours a day) but he was running in a trance.  Beyond exhaustion.  I had to stand in front of him, look him in the eye.  Now standing directly in front of any dog is not something any sane cat would do.  The last time I went nose to nose with a dog the pup ended up with a bloody gash.  Goddess’s Mom was not pleased when I swiped her sheltie con claws. 

Anyway, there I stood looking the Woofie Monster right in his dark eyes.  The dog could do little more than stand there with his tongue nearly dragging the frozen ground. His eyes were glazed over.  He totally ignored me.  All his attention was fixed on the far horizon up river.

“Woofie,” I yelled. His panting began to subside, but he kept his eyes locked in the distance.  Again I yelled at him, this time I yanked his leash.  He snapped out of his trance.

I asked, “What are you looking at?”

semi-photo by Sebastian Schnuelle
“Elephants. Gray Elephants. They’re coming this way. See them?”

I didn’t expect to see them, but I looked over my shoulder anyway.  I saw nothing but long dim shadows cast on the river melting in a weak daylight.  I blinked twice just to be sure there were no elephants. Remember I’m sleep and TUNA derived.

“Woofie, I think we need to stop. You’re hallucinating. You’re out of it. Lost. Can you make it to the next checkpoint? We can quit there. Fly out You’ve run into the ground.”

The dog stood still. Panting lightly. Then he sucked up his tongue for a few seconds. “I got my hedgehog. I got a dream to run the Iditarod.  On to Shaktoolik.”

Shaktoolik wouldn’t be any easier. It’s mile 777.  Maybe if we were playing slot machines on an Indian reservation this would be lucky.  In Shaktoolik we would be off the Yukon River, but finally on the Bering Sea Coast.  Nothing but raw winds that spin around low pressure systems faster than a dog circles a bed of hay before he falls asleep. 

“Are you sure?” I thought I might refuse to participate. It wasn’t my dream, but it was his. Could I deny him?   

“Sure as the rain on the Yukon River.  Isn’t this strange?”

"As strange as your elephants, my friend."

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Mandatory 24 Hour Rest

We’ve been running since Sunday afternoon, the official re-start of the Iditarod. Woofie Monster and I are taking the mandatory 24 hour rest period in a little hole in the wall called Don’s Cabin.

That's about thirty miles south of the ghost town of Iditarod.  Once gold was discovered in the area surrounding Iditarod, a thriving little gold town bloomed to nearly 30,000 people. Once the gold ran out twenty years later the miners left taking most of the buildings with them. Today, no one lives there. Too bad the government didn’t do bail outs back in the day. Imagine what Iditarod could be now. Grown bearded men wearing Levis and plaid shirts sitting around the river banks collecting monthly checks? That's not what any self-respecting Alaskan could tolerate.

Although Woofie Monster and I have garnished no respect for being out here among the elite mushers of the world, we do play by the rules. Well most of them anyway. So we will rest.

For the Woofie Monster the break is much deserved.  His little paws are tired and sore, but thankfully he has been wearing the booties I got for him. At first, he was a bit taken aback with the idea. But I reminded him that this race is not a romp in a Chicago dog park.  When he saw other teams wearing booties of neon green, shocking pink and a more conservative black, he agreed to wear black. Honestly, he looks no tougher. He’s still a house dog bred for existence in the family packs of humans, not for trotting and loping long endurance miles like the Alaskan Husky.  Nevertheless, the pup is faring well, despite a bit of homesickness. 

Our toughest challenge has not been weather or daylight – or lack there of. Our natural equipment has kept us warm and on trail. The abilities to see in the dark, and sniff out bacon drifting over forty miles of frozen terrain have kept us in contention and ahead of all other cat teams.  (Don’t bore me with the details that there are no other cat teams on the trail.)  

The biggest challenge is getting enough food. Fuel, that is. Always a problem at home in the kitchen, getting enough food is amplified when the dog is running and possibly burning 10,000 calories in a day. He keeps saying he is an elite athlete and he needs the protein.

We’ve had drops from @bicdelou  but bad weather grounded all air craft until just a few hours ago.
Jeff Schultz's amazing photo

We had a little incident crossing a ice bridge over Dalzell Creek. After the leaders had crossed the packed bridge the under-footing was compromised. Woofie Monster  found himself chest deep in the stream.  I scrambled to the tippy top of the sled looking for a quick exit toward a more stable stream bank. At that moment the water sounded like a wild raging flood. But the shock of the icy water did not deter Woofie Monster’s forward momentum. He kept pulling and we popped out the other side. A quick shake off and a few wide-eyed stares at each other and we mutually acknowledged we survived. Woofie Monster asked me to check on the hedgehog’s condition. Finding the spitty dog toy safely dry (sort of) we continued on the trail.

It is a good day to rest.  The winds have been blowing like stink and the trail has been a little deep.  The masses rested in the tiny town of Takotna.  FYI: One of the largest TV satellite dishes I have every seen is located in this town. It’s so big it could draw in alien TUNA.

I don’t understand how or why some dogs run away from their sleds. One dog ran from the Jamacian musher, Newton Marshall. Despite an attempted round up the canine by the trail committee the dog disappeared and the poor chap had to scratch from the race. Among the rookies give credit to a young Norwegian who has boldly moved within the top 12.  Go Joar Leifseth Ulsom. The 26 year old won the Nadezhda Hope Race in Russia, considered the toughest race on the Eurasian continent. Watch him!

The biggest challenge is yet ahead. Blasting winds off the Bering Sea. I might have to put rocks in my pockets to keep from blowing away.  Oh, got no pockets!