Iditarod 2015 Recap: Galena to Koyukuk

Lots of traversing narrow portages from slough 
to slough before entering more open country.
Out of Galena on Day Five of the 2015 Iditarod!
Traversing one of many wide open swamps on the 80+ mile run to Huslia.
Snack break. Ripp rocking it in single lead. Ruby busy taking off her booties and doing something, I don't know what, behind Vader.
This is a picture of one of the dumbest things I did on Iditarod 2015. Although we were told there was a shelter cabin 30 something miles out of Huslia, I was hell-bent on going at least half-way (40-45 miles) before stopping and giving the dogs a break. I saw the cabin, saw the headlights of other mushers milling around outside it, and kept going. I debated stopping, but it looked like a crowd there and we had six more miles to go before reaching approximately half-way. That will be the LAST time I bypass a warm shelter cabin in lieu of a cold camp six miles up the trail!  It was cold,  -50F when you dropped out of the hilly little portages we were traversing onto the lakes, according to the thermometers affixed to sleds.  At this point, I hadn't taken my 24 yet, so I was sooooo tired. I was almost nodding off just walking around. It occurred to me that, with this cold, this could actually be a pretty dangerous situation. It was too cold and we weren't going to be stopped long enough for me to go through all the effort of unpacking, shedding layers and crawling into my sleeping bag. Besides that, I didn't trust myself to wake up from a short nap, and especially didn't trust my alarm clock, which was useless in the cold and not loud enough to hear tucked inside a jacket. Besides that, I didn't want my feet to get cold like they did outside of Manley. So.... I stomped around, built a fire, walked around in circles, checked my watch, affirmed to the mushers who passed me by (who all thought I was crazy for bypassing a warm cabin in -40F) that I was ok, walked around in more circles, fed my fire, and checked my watch. "Poor sucker," I'm sure all the mushers fresh off their cabin stay thought. But the worst part of my cold camp came when Christian Turner stopped to make sure I was ok. "There were two skijorers at the cabin asking about you," he said. What!? Noooooooooo!!  It was Wendy & Laura, two friends who were skiing this section of the trail with their dogs. I had SO been looking forward to seeing them. And I had passed them right by. That's what made me feel dumbest of all. This is what this experience taught me (which, like most things learned the hard way, seems obvious after the fact) --when an opportunity to spend some time at a warm cabin in the cold in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness presents itself within 10 miles of a planned stop .....  STOP. 

The dogs in the early dawn of a difficult (for the musher) night. After we left our cold camp, I just could not stay awake. I kept nodding off, my knees would buckle, and I would jerk awake. The trail was monotonous: up and over gentle rises and down onto lakes/swamps, up and over gentle rises and down onto lakes/swamps. In most spots the trail was narrow -- about the width of a snow machine track and lined with black spruce. I fell asleep once and got hit in the shoulder by a tree branch. It knocked me off my sled, but I had my cooler attached to the back of the runners, so it just scooped me up as I fell over. I yelled at the dogs and they stopped. I was up quick and falling asleep again just as fast. It got colder as we got closer to Huslia. When we dropped onto the Koyukuk River, it got even colder. Some people say there is no difference between -40F, -50F and -60F. They are wrong. There was a slight breeze on the river too, so I have no idea how cold it was with added windchill, but it was confirmed when we got to Huslia that it had been -60F on the river.  I knew it was cold because the chill penetrated all my layers -- which have kept me warm at -50F. I wasn't actually cold though. Peddling kept my feet warm but I was a little worried about my hands. The insides of my lynx overmitts had become coated with frost that had been brought in each time I took my hands out to fiddle with something. I had put hand warmers inside and as they heated up, the frost melted and my liner gloves became soaked. The wet gloves froze when taken out from the overmitts and my hands began to get cold. Fortunately, I had a spare pair of fleece-lined wool mittens that I had made when I had taken my friend Laura's wool-mitten making class (same Laura I missed seeing on the trail). They were not wind-proof, but they sure were warm! I switched between keeping a hand in a pocket, behind me out of the wind, or swinging it around to keep the blood flowing and managed to keep my hands toasty all the way to Huslia, where I would be able to hang and dry my soaked fur mitts.  
Mist burning off in the sun in the swamps outside Huslia. The dogs wore boots and jackets atop their thick coats. They wolfed their snacks and seemed to be fine in the deep cold (of course, their ancestors did come from Siberia !!).
Cute, frosty dogs in -40F.
Vinnie & Pete.
Major & Goofy.
Ravni & Papas.
Blackie Lou & Vinnie.
Fezzik & Linnea.
Georgie & Frigg.
Beautiful Brooks Range in the distance. Running on Huslia sprint trails here. Training grounds of many famous Alaskan mushers ! 
Frosted up in Huslia !
The dogs on their 24 hour break in Huslia.

Fezzik. Fezzik started blowing his coat right before Iditarod, then it got cold and he figured he better hold onto it. July 31 and he still hasn't completely gotten rid of it !!! 
Sweet little Linnea.
Ruby stole a partial straw bale left by a departing team and made herself a bed. The dog's harnesses  (lying in front of the sled) come off during their 24 hour break, so they know we are not going anywhere anytime soon and can really settle down & get some quality rest.
The team in front of the log round house that served as the main checkpoint building. The people of Huslia were incredibly welcoming & hospitable. I loved the time I spent there. I was an hour late leaving my 24, which baffled folks watching the tracker, because, you know, I had had a WHOLE DAY to get ready. Warner Vent, a famous Huslia musher, and his wife were standing by watching as I made the final preparations to get ready to go. I admired his beautiful black wolf ruff, which had been made by his wife. She mentioned that she had had a few ruffs for sale at the little market held at the checkpoint earlier, and that she had managed to sell all but one. "Oh? What kind?" I asked. I needed another ruff. My face was always in danger of freezing because my big ruff was sewed onto my big parka, which is too cumbersome and warm for me when I am kicking and ski-poling in not -40F weather, which is most of the time. "White wolf and wolverine," she said. It was beautiful. And because I had abided by the advice of the Collins Twins in Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher, I had brought "cash (lots)" with me. So I bought it! She offered to sew it onto my down parka for me, and although my 24 hr mandatory rest was just about up, I thought that was worth waiting for. Even in spite of the ribbing I got later for being probably the first musher to be late to leave their 24 because I was "shopping," it was worth it. My Huslia ruff no doubt saved my face from the same frostbit fate as last year (which was painful and pussy and permanently damaging). 
My new ruff. 
Cruising on the Koyukuk River outside of Huslia. Dropping onto the river was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done in my life. In the 2014 Iditarod, I had no idea what kind of conditions we would encounter, so I didn't know to be scared. In Huslia, a snowmachine led us from the checkpoint parking area through town to the riverbank. I watched the snowmachine drive slowly halfway off the bank, then tip 90 degrees and disappear down the bank. "Oh. my. god." I thought as I then watched each set of dogs disappear down the bank in front of me. As my sled tipped off the bank after the team,  I saw my leaders jumping from the vertical slope onto the river. I rode my brake all the way down and managed not to run over any dogs. Now I can say I've driven a dog team off a cliff. Not recommended. 
Beautiful, diverse scenery, including some burn. 
Dogs & musher feeling good after 24+ hrs rest ! 
Snack break ~30 miles out of Huslia.
Bluebird skies, pristine snowfields. Pretty gorgeous !! 
Blown in trail. Got pretty windy in the open swamps on the way to Koyukuk.
Ruff at work in the wind. 
Trail breaking. 
Caught up with Monica! We traveled together from here all the way to Nome :D
Beautiful day !! 
Evidence of a lazy dog musher. If Iditarod figures out who did it, they get penalized for leaving litter on the trail. 
Sunset camp about half-way to Koyukuk. Rohn Buser ahead. 
Coming off a big break, the dogs aren't very tired.  
Back on the Koyukuk, "almost" to Koyukuk.  
Yukon River rock.
Lost on the way to Koyukuk village. Again. Monica and I turned around three times before we found our way off the river and onto the correct road that went to the village. Turns out all the markers had been mowed down the night before by errant snowmachiners. 

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