What The hell are you doing here? This is a private room!"
Jeg har nettop våknet etter halvanne times hvile, en stresset dame står foran meg å skriker. Vi er på første sjekkpunkt i Yukon Quest, Braeburn. Løpet har såvidt startet, og jeg har allerede klart å dumme meg ut. "Musher sleeping" er rundt hjørne fikk jeg beskjed om fra sjekkpunktansvarlig. Vell, jeg ma ha gått rundt feil hjørnet isåfall. Jeg hadde sovet i en privat leilighet tydeligvis, og hadde å komme meg rett ut, de som hadde leid her hadde nettop ankommet. Med parkas i hendene, og sko hengende løst om fottene loper jeg ut til hundene. De ligger fortsatt rolig å hviler på halmen. Knytter skoene skikkelig på, og begynner å jobbe meg igjennom den lange rekken av hunder. Jeg har store problemer med a holde spannet igjen, så jeg kan signere ut, flere ganger drar de ankeret ut, og sjekkpunkt ansvarlig må løpe etter meg.
Braeburn til Pelly
Vell ute av løpets første sjekkpunkt klarer jeg å roe meg ned. Løpet er virkelig i gang, og foreløpig har jeg ikke gjort noen forferdelig store tabber. Jeg setter på litt Pink Floyd, mens solen sakte begynner å titte over horisonten. Tida går mens jeg nyter det vakre landskapet, og hjelper hundene med skistaven når det trengs. Inn til Carmacks sjekkpunkt begynner jeg å skjenne meg igjen, «Der campet jeg i sommer, rett der ved elvekanten» sier jeg til meg selv, ettersom vi suser forbi, på vei mot sjekkpunktet. Ved innsjekking står Sebastian Schnuelle, tidligere YQ champion, nå dommer. Han stiller noen spørsmål om Solo, en hannhund jeg har i mitt spann, som han tidligere har hatt i sitt spann, når han fortsatt kjørte. Solo var en av de beste hundene i spannet, så kun gode ord var å si. Ellers kommenterer han at jeg har «Everything but the kitchen sink, and then some» i sleden min. Vell, jeg måtte le, sleden var stappfull, selvom etappen ikke var veldig lang. Med en stor vintersovepose, dekken som ikke komprimerer bra, alt snack, koker osv tar ting plass. Itilegg var det så varmt, at jeg hadde parkasen, og Neos overskoene mine i sleden. Jeg blir ikke lenge i Carmacks, bare nok til å rive med meg litt mat og snacks fra depotbaggene mine, før jeg kjører videre. Jeg skal til McCabe Creek før jeg stopper. Sporet videre til McCabe går mye på en stengt vei, og mye slake opp og ned bakker. Det sparkes, løpes og synges. Humøret er på topp, og stjernene skinner ettersom det begynner å mørkne. Bakfra kommer Lance Mackey (4 ganger YQ champion, 4 ganger Iditarod champion), jeg stopper å slipper han forbi. Jeg vil riktignok ikke slippe ryggen hans, så jeg gjør alt jeg klarer for å beholde han i synsrekkevidde. Tidvis forsvinner hodelykta rundt en sving, men ikke lenge etter er den synlig på lange sletter. En times tid senere tar jeg helt innpå, og passerer, som selfølgelig føles helt ok.
Inn til McCabe kommer jeg akkurat idet Jake Berkowitz gjør seg klar til å kjøre ut. Vi er begge fokusert på hvert vårt løp, så vi utveksler ingen ord. Ingen av hundene mine er skadet, men jeg har tre hunder som får massasje på hvert stopp, ettersom de har vært skadet i fjorårets løp, og vist små tegn til samme skade i årets korte løp. Her tar vi ingen sjanser. Ingen av hundene viste noen gang i Quest tegn til skade, men jeg fortsatte å massere for å forhindre dette fra å skje.
Vell inn i sjekkpunktet hiver jeg innpå litt suppe og brød, før jeg ruller sammen bak vedovnen for å sove. Handleren min, Marjin er der og gir meg litt informasjon, før han må dra. Foreløpig er min handler i samme bil som Jake sine handlere, så de må løpe for å rekke Jake ved neste sjekkpunkt. Etter litt hvile, og småsnakk med Abby West, er det ut til hundene igjen. På med potesokker, koble til bakliner, avsted vi går. På vei ut passerer jeg Jodi Baily, som i år er handler for mannen sin, Dan Kaduce, mens rollene byttes om i Iditarod, hvor Jodi skal på sporet.
Sporet til Pelly er vakkert. Så snart vi kommer over noen bratte oppoverbakker, er det mye flatt og kjøring på forskjellige vann. Jeg begynner sakte men sikkert å ta igjen Allie Zirkle, som deltar i Yukon Quest 300. Kommer helt innpå henne når hun stopper for å snacke, men ikke lenge etter drar hun sakte ifra meg. Før jeg vet ordet av det er jeg i Pelly. «You shouldnt be here yet!» roper handleren min. Jeg hadde tydeligvis gjort etappen litt raskere en forventet, og overrumplet de. Vell, spannet kommer på halm, og jeg kan forberede etappen til Dawson, løpets lengste etappe.
Pelly Crossing til Første camp.
På vei ut fra Pelly er sleden stappet til bristepunktet. Foran meg har jeg 330 km uten forsyningsmuligheter. Med meg har jeg mat nok til tre campinger, pluss to snackinger per etappe. I et desperat forsøk på å lette på vekta, la jeg igjen et par ting i Pelly, vell vitende at jeg ved neste sjekkpunkt, Dawson, kunnen få det igjen. Blant tingene jeg la igjen var selskinnsvottene. Sola synker og gjemmer seg under horisonten, kun dens siste lysstråler er nå synlige. Hodelykta fiskes fram fra sleden, og trykkes på. Vi følger en brøyta vei første del av etappen, ettersom de ikke klarte å sette spor på elva - for mye overvann.
Ettersom vi er på en fin og flat vei, føler jeg meg kanskje litt for selvsikker. Idet jeg skal sette på litt musikk, legger jeg bare fra meg skistaven løst oppå sleden. Skistaven er av det avanserte slaget, med håndrem som nå også holder hansken min på plass. Med en bar hånd trykker jeg fram på iPod'en litt musikk for å holde meg våken igjennom natten. Det tar noen minutter før jeg merker at noe er galt, min venstre hånd fryser, jeg har ikke noe hanske, og hvor er det blitt av skistaven? Panisk slenger jeg ankeret i bakken, og stopper spannet. Bak meg ser jeg ingen stav og ingen hanske. Jeg prøver å ankre spannet, og begynner å gå bakover et par meter. Nei, det tørr jeg ikke! Jeg er på en brøyta vei, det er elendig ankerfeste, jeg har absolutt ikke lyst å miste spannet mitt her. Å snu spannet rundt er heller ikke fristende, da det kan være svært dumt og få en veldig effekt på humør og fart. Vell, det er varmt og "bare" 300 km igjen til Dawson. Med en hånd i lomma på parkasen, og en på sleden fortsetter jeg.
Nattemørket byr på et fantastisk lysshow på himmelen. Fargene danser til takten av potene som løper nedover sporet. Klokka nærmer seg det vanskelige nattevakt skiftet, 3-6 på natta. Øynene glir sakte igjen, før jeg røsker dem opp. Heldigvis begynner vi å nærme oss dit jeg har planlagt å campe, og så snart jeg ser et passende sted kommanderes hundene av sporet, og ankeret festes. Nå gjøres alt raskest mulig. Fra ankeret settes, til hundene får mat, bør det være kortest mulig tid, helst bare en halvtime. Går det lengre tid er det stor fare for at hundene vil være for søvnige til å spise. Front ankeret settes for å holde de utstrekt, på vei tilbake til sleden løsnes alle bakliner, så hundene har mindre dra kraft. Ved sleden rives kokeren ut, og fås igang. Det tar tid å smelte snø, så det er om å gjøre å få igang smeltingen raskest mulig. Mens snøen smelter, tar jeg potesokker av, legger ut halm til hundene og gjør klar maten i kjøleboksen. Biff strimler, kyllingskinn og tørrfor står på menyen. Så snart hundene har fått mat, pakkes sleden igjen, og det er tid for en vil. På toppen av sleden ligger jeg, over meg er en fantastisk stjernehimmel
Its incredible how much 2 hours of sleep can help out on the trail. Well, Im not really sleeping. Several teams which stopped at the last hospitality stop, where I blew through, are now passing me, including Lance Mackey. Dan Kaduce passes my parked team, and parks his own dogs just 20 feet ahead, and as I later run passed him, I see he has made a nice camp fire. If my memory serves me correctly, it is a 4 hour break I took at this camp. We are now coming into the early morning hours, wich is always a motivating thought. The dark and tiring night is coming to an end, soon the sun will rise. On the way to Scroggie Creek hospitality stop, we climb some beautiful hills, just as the sun rises over the mountains. It is breathtaking, literally! Im running up the hills, to help the dogs preserve power. Im throwing some trail mix in my mouth as we run down in a valley, and I can enjoy some easy sled driving before we close up on Scroggie. Just an hour out I pass Lance Mackey, he have parked his team on the side on the trail, and made a big bon fire. This is definitely not a planned stop, Lance is having trouble. Im so perplexed by the sight, so I forget to ask if he needs help. He comes in to Scroggie a couple hours after me, not in a good mood.He is having some problems with the team, and ends up scratching in Dawson a day later.
Scroggie is a small cabin, 4 beds in the corner and a table by the wood stove. I get a hot meal, before I go to bed. My legs are aching, and it feels wonderful to lay down for a moment. My feet have been soaking in sweat for the last two days, Im never staying long enough at any checkpoint to get them dry. An hour before Im scheduled to leave, I get up. Another cup of coffee, five of water and a biscuit is all I want. While I get my wet boots and gear on, I talk with Abbey West, and Susan Rogan, who is also sitting at the table. Susan is running behind, while Abby is in front of me. One visit to the outhouse, it is cold outside! The temperature have dropped considerably since I got in to the checkpoint, at least it feels that way. Cold and tired I walk down to my team, and start getting booties on the dogs. Fellow musher Cody Strathe is parked next to me. The dog lot is getting crowded, and he jokes about how he left me a tiny whole between his dogs for me to run out of. He also comments on how good my dogs look, as they start barking, and pulling on the line as Im getting ready. I get booties on my leaders, detach the front hook and start walking back to the sled, on the way grabbing a wrist wrap and a shoulder coat, throwing them in the sled bag. Pull the hook and off we go. Abbie left while I was booting dogs, probably 15 minutes ahead of me. Not long after departure, as we hit some big cross back hills, I see Abbies headlamp, just as Im getting something to eat. I shake my head, irritated because this means Ill have to wait with eating for another hour. We got alot of hills ahead of us, and I want to run all the way, to pull away from Abbie. And so we do, I start kicking and skipoling, we pass, and slowly pull away as we climb the hills. The parka gets ripped off and stuffed in the sled bag, Im getting hot. Finally on top, and after a five minute "catch the breath while the dogs continue to run", I find my snacks again, and continue the eating that Abbie "disturbed".
One more camp
I have one more camping scheduled before I will arrive to the safe haven called Dawson. A 4 hour stop, around halfway from Scroggie Creek to Dawson. The people at the checkpoint says it should be good camping at a creek, with a road crossing about half way. The front pack was planing to camp there, so I should see straw along the trail. At this point, Im slightly unsure of the trail ahead. We have already climbed a mountain, where I passed Abbie. But there was supposed to be a big summit, was that it? King Solomons Dome is the name, and its the highest mountain along the whole trail. I camp halfway, unsure whats ahead, more mountains, or a flat and easy trail. To be honest, I think its a flat trail. I camp along a closed road, and it looks like it will be a 5 hour run on some old unmaintained roads into Dawson. We are so close to Dawson, a long rest, good food, dry boots. Im having problems getting some needed rest for my self, and Im very eager to get going again. The dogs get a easy fish broth, before we rattle the forces for a last run into Dawson.
One more mountain, a big one
Well, surprise, I still had King Solomons Dome ahead. I really should have brought a trail description with me in the sled, but anywho. After another hour maybe, running on the flat road, we start climbing, and climbing, and climbing. It is the tallest mountain, but not the steepest climb, Eagle Summit has that one. But, no point in making a big deal of it, just keep on trucking. We make our way up the mountain, just a short ways from the Summit, we pass Kelley Griffin, she is parked on the trail, resting her dogs. She says something to me, but I cant catch what it was. Later, in Dawson, I found out that Kelley scratched before arriving in Dawson, not fun. We spend some time on the summit, before actually getting over it, and finally start the long way down. Im tired, very tired. I drink a 5 hour energy shot, and eats a thing of chocolate. It is dark, and a long time of down hill, not easy to keep awake. We are making our way down the mountain, stopped towards the bottom by a fallen tree, if covers the whole trail. I stop the team, and is not totally sure what to do. Should i get my axe out, or get my team and sled over it. We cant get under it, and the tree is right under my chest in hight, so we cant just jump it. I pull my team over to the left side, where the height is smallest. I start lifting one dog after the other over the tree, carefully so the dogs don't get there feet stuck in between branches. With the whole team over, its time for the sled. I give the dogs the go command, and we role. Over the tree with the sled, and back on the trail.
Suddenly I see street light, Oh Glory! We are approaching Dawson City, the halfway point of the Yukon Quest. Not long after I start to recognize buildings from last summer when I was here. Coming of the Yukon, there is a short and steep climb, that turns quickly around some bushes. Only half a mile out of the checkpoint, and we have to deal with this stupid thing. Luckily it isn't to big of a problem. The sled got stuck in the bushes, with the steep turn as we were going slow up the climb. I have to go off the sled, and try to drag it to the opposite side of what the dogs are pulling. Not the easiest, but after a couple of minutes, we are running along the road, and can see the Yukon Quest banner. People are cheering, and I can only smile, halfway. I sign in, and immediately gets asked if I know anything about Kelley Griffin. I tell them that I passed her at the summit, and that there is a slightly inconveniently positioned tree blocking the trail. I sign in, complete the gear check, axe, cooker, heat, booties etc. Everything is there, Im good to continue to the campsite. Oh, and the 36 hour mandatory rest is now extended to a 40 hour, because of logistical problems with getting people out on the trail ahead. I have no problem with that, I can handle a 40 hour brake. The dogs gets bedded down under a tarp, protected from the surroundings. Everybody gets a thorough vet check, a good meal and massage. Every couple of hours they get walked, fed and massaged. This is the time to really take care of the team, before its back on the trail. After my vet check, I head over to Jake´s campsite. He is laying in his Arctic Oven tent, and havent left the campsite since he got in, several hours ahead. We talk about the race so far, and he gives me some tips on how to do things coming up. Back to my dogs i gather up everything I want to dry out in the hotel room, and empty the sled, so it can dry out in the local fire hall. For the next 40 hours I have several good meals, a lot of sleep, and spends several hours treating the dogs as best as I can. I came into Dawson with 14 dogs, it is a sad decision I have to take and drop two of my dogs here. Frosty, one of my main leaders and best buddies. I waited until the absolutely last minute with dropping this guy, it was not fun. Rock, a big and red dog from John Baker, also one of my best friends in the team. I was more ready to drop him though, so that wasn't as big of a hit. Leaving Dawson with 12 strong and well rested dogs, after 40 hours of siesta. They are barking and tails are wagging. We are ready!
Out of Dawson my sled was packed for 1 camping. Exactly half way to Eagle, a stretch of 100 miles (160km) lays 40 mile cabin. A small cabin along the river, opened for the race and operated by a young couple from Dawson. This would come to be a special checkpoint for me. For the first time in the race, we were so spread out, that I arrived to an empty checkpoint (Scott Smith went straight through all the way to Eagle), and it took a few hours before the next musher arrived. This I really enjoyed, as I could take care of my dogs in peace and quiet. My team was parked right outside the door of the cabin, so it was only a few steps from my sled, to the warm cabin. Inside I was greeted welcome, and offered some delicious warm beef stew, together with coffee and a bunch of cookies. No other musher around still, so we had a peaceful conversation about this and that, before I retreated to a bed in the corner. As Abbie West arrived a couple hours later I awoke, but just stayed in bed and listened to there conversation. Abbie had some problems with here cooker which had filled with ice, so it wouldn't light properly. As I later got up, she went out to feed her dogs, and Hans Gatt's girlfriend, Susan Rogan came in. Some more small talk, coffee and cookies before I got out to my dogs. As I bootied up, Norman Cassavant pulled in next to me, a musher I would see more of later in the race. We shared a few words before I pulled the hook and headed for Eagle.
40 mile - Eagle
The run to Eagle is all continuing on the Yukon River. I remember listening to Johnny Cash as I skipoled down the trail, and eating some delicious "Kvikk Lunsj" I had gotten sent from Norway (A Norwegian chocolate similar to Kit Kat, just way better!). The trail is here pretty boring, and you are coming back and forth across the river, depending on where the ice is good. I had been in Eagle before, as we descended the notorious American Summit in the Top of the World 350 race around New Years. Even though the Quest checkpoint was held in a different part of town, I still felt I was headed into a familiar place, out of the unknown for a short period. Towards the end I would look at my gps every 20 minutes or so, to see how much closer we had gotten. A few miles before Eagle, we crossed the border. Flags and a sign declared that we now entered Alaska. I congratulated the dogs on that feat and we spead up into the checkpoint.
Again, the checkpoint was empty and I could easily pull into the big dog lot and park wherever I wanted. Straw down, booties off. As I cooked up a meal, the veterinarians at the checkpoint completed the mandatory check, after leaving Dawson. No big issues, and the vet that had checked my team in Dawson, gave me a clap on the shoulder and said they looked great, and I had done a good job working on some issues I had coming into Dawson. This was really nice to hear, and I was in a extra good mood as I later entered the checkpoint for some food and sleep. "Pick what you want from the menu, Ill make you whatever you want" says one of the voluntaries as I enter. "Oh, great, ill have a burrito for starters" is my answer, before I throw in cookies and all kind of goodies. Well fed, I retreat to the sleeping area for some good sleep.
As I get up later, Abbie is just about to go to sleep, and Susan Rogen (driving Hans Gatt's team) has apparently just gotten in and is being interviewed by the radio as she tries to get some food. I now notice a note on the chalk board, it gives some details of a cabin that is open halfway between Eagle and Slavens. They have hot water and coffee. "YAY!" Is my response, I will get a warm place to sleep. Leaving Eagle is the last stretch in the race were your sled is packed heavy for camping. I'm carrying food and snacks for two stops, one at this Trout Creek cabin, and one stop at Slavens hospitality stop. The next official checkpoint is Circle City, a good ways down river.
Eagle - Trout Creek Cabin
I leave the checkpoint in the dark, and is quickly back on the Yukon River. I'm lucky, and get treated to a beautiful show of Northern lights as we run down the river, and leave Eagle behind. The river, well, it is a river, just as I've been travelling on for the last days now. Easy to get sleepy on such a trail. I do my best to stay awake and keep the speed up. I'm not able to remember to many details from this trail though. After some time I get to a small sign "Trout creek cabin", that must be my resting place. I "haw!" my dogs off the main trail and onto the trail leading to the cabin. After some zig zagging in the bush, we arrive. Again, checkpoint empty. I hook the dogs down, booties and straw undone and put down, then I take my big water pot into the cabin. The guy is sleeping, but wakes up and welcomes me. I help myself to the dog water on the stove, and gets back to the dogs as quickly as I can. The meal gets cooked as I walk back and forth to keep warm, it's a cold morning in the Alaskan interior.
Back in the cabin I make some chicken curry from my sponsor Eldorado, and a cup of warm coffee. The guy gives me the updates, Jake following Brent Sass at some distance (or was it the other way around?). The leaders was here about a day before me, at that point I believe Hugh Neff arrived before Allan Moore, and Allan also banked a bit more rest, before he continued the chase of the defending champion. This update received, the conversation continues on to the man himself. I notice an accent in his voice, and he proves to be German. He moved to Alaska many years ago, and lived in this cabin as a trapper for many years in the 70's(?). Now he lives in Fairbanks (?) and took plane and snow machine out here solely to support the race. A great guy! Retreating to the loft, I get some sleep before its back out to the dogs. Abbie takes over my bed as I leave, and as I bootie the Susan Rogan and Norman Cassavant duo pulls in. I begin to fear if this Norman guy can do something scary. Therefor I make sure to tighten my lobens as tight as possible, before leaving. I'm gonna kick and run all what I'm worth.
Trout Creek - Slavens
Another run without to much detail, and a lot of river running. We get treated to a bunch of pai plate signs along the trail, wich I though was great fun. Phrases as "you can do it", "Go doggies go", "you can't stop now, you are so close" is placed out along the trail. As we close up on Slavens cabin it gets really cold, I don't know how cold, but later they say it was the coldest it got on the race. The wind also picks up. I take on everything I got of clothing, and kicks to keep warm. I give out a big cheer as I see the sign "Slavens Hospitality Stop - 1 mile", and I thank the dogs for yet again doing the job with such awesomeness. Arriving at the checkpoint I take them by surprise, I wasn't expected there for at least an hour. Apparently my spot tracking unit was maybe not working, and I had run the distance from Trout creek faster than Jake and Brent. The race judge noticed me pull in mostly by accident, as he had gone out to pee. I'm tired and cold, I do my dog care as efficient as possible, and get inside. What a nice place! I get a super good ham and cheese sandwich, thinking about it my mouth still gets filled with water and I instantly get hungry. I eat until I can't eat anymore, and drink until I can't possibly drink much more. As I do this, I overhear an interesting conversation between the veterinary and some of the volunteers. They had worked on Greenland, and several places in the arctic doing bird studies. They serve some, probably very interesting facts about some bird only hatching at some specific place, or something like that. The details slip my mind now though..
Well fed and humoured by interesting conversations I crawl to bed.
We roll out of Slavens in the early hours, it's dark and cold. We are heading for the checkpoint of Circle City. The first place since Dawson were handlers are available. While we have been running on the Yukon River into Alaska, all the handlers have to backtrack from Dawson, down to Whitehorse and into Alaska.
We roll out of Slavens in the early hours, it's dark and cold. We are heading for the checkpoint of Circle City. The first place since Dawson were handlers are available. While we have been running on the Yukon River into Alaska, all the handlers have to backtrack from Dawson, down to Whitehorse and into Alaska. My sled is light, almost empty. Just some fish snacks for the dogs, and all my mandatory gear. I have managed to eat all the snacks I brought from Eagle, and my iPod battery is empty. I have been told the trail goes back and forth on a very windy river, I can't remember much myself. Somewhere between Slavens and Circle I'm starting to have some problems staying awake. I hallucinate and think I'm running dogs with Jake, and that we are shuttling gear for Lance Mackey. He is apparently running a tourist operation, and we are helping bringing the gear in to the first camp. Several times I have stop the team and focus my eyes as to figure out what's happening. I have never experienced anything like it, I really had to think hard to remember I was running the Yukon Quest, and had to continue to the next checkpoint. In my head, we were running back and forth between the truck and the campsite, so I'm very glad I actually didn't turn my team around.
Understandably it was a great relief when we finally came into Circle. I sign in, and my handler helps to lead the team to my parking spot. The dogs gets quickly laid down on beds of straw, and gets some food. I head into the checkpoint building to get some food and sleep. As I wait for my awesome food (can't remember what it was, other than the guy who made it was a professional chef, so it has to be good) I talk with Jay Cadzow. I ran with him in the Top of the world race, and now he is handling for Abby West, who is 1-2 hours behind me. As soon as I'm fed, I set my alarm clock for two hours later, and find a dark room to get some much needed sleep.
Circle - Central
Out of Circle my sled is packed to do one camping along the trail, halfway to Central. Eager to get to Central and the last stopping before Eagle Summit, I miss my turn. We run 1-2 miles to far on the road, before I realize my mistake. Irritated I turn the team around, and we are quickly back on track.
Just 20 miles out there is a warm cabin for camping. For the longest time I try to argue with myself to find a logical reason to camp there, instead of halfway. Luckily I'm not able to convince myself, and pass the cabin, sending a longing stare towards the smoke that comes from its chimney.
Along the race trail, there is several snowmobile trails leading of, and coming back onto the main trail 50 feet longer down. Its a local trapper who is checking his traps along the river. Right before the halfway point I see such a trail, I gee the dogs off, and set the hook as soon as my sled is out of the race trail. I grab my extra snow hook and walk along the team to anchor them down in front. As I do so, my foot goes through the ice, and into the water bellow. Luckily I'm wearing my overboots, and my toes are no more wet then what they already were. I check the ground where my team is, and I conclude its safe. The big positive is that now I have access to running water, and I don't have to melt snow for the dogs and myself. I take my big pot and thermos and fills up with water. The cooker is lit and I sit down to warm myself by the fire. The dogs get a good meal with beef, kibble and chicken fat, I have one portion of Spaghetti Bolognese and one of Curry Chicken from my sponsor Eldorado. The weather has warmed considerably, and I'm very comfortable where I now sit on top of my cooler, eating and drinking as best as I can. As I lay down to sleep on top of my sled, Norman Cassavant and Abbie West passes by. They are both running straight to Central without camping. It's hard to see them pass, but I bite my lip and try to get some sleep. Four hours after setting the hook, we are reenergized and ready to run again. It's not long before I see Abbie's headlamp far ahead, and 1 hour out of Central I pass her again. She is carrying a 70 pound dog, and not very happy obviously. The trail into town follows the highway in the ditch. Oh how tempted I am to command my team out of the ditch, and onto the highway. I only see one car on the road, and the trail in the ditch is horrible. Sugary snow and lots of bushes sticking up, making the dogs jump around to find best footing.
Central - Mile 101 : Eagle Summit
Into Central I'm met by the checkers and race judge Sebastian Schnuelle. Sebastian informs me that its blowing very hard on the summit. Saying its possible to get across, but its gonna be tough. After informing me that Scott Smith was the last to make it over, a couple hours before, he continue to ask me how long I camped on the river, no doubt trying to do some math in his head.
As I grab a steak to eat in the bar, I start talking with Norman Cassavant. He offers me to run the summit together. With how the weather is reported to be, and him having more experience, I happily accept. It means I have to rest a bit shorter than originally planned, but I figure I will hopefully gain that by helping each other over. I also know that he ran straight from Circle to Central, while I camped 4 hours halfway, my team is strong and should be ready to go.
We catch some sleep and dry our boots, before we get up at around 3-4 am. Our teams is parked next to each other, and we start to prepare for leaving. As I'm done booting earlier, I get to exchange some words with my great handler Marijn before I take off. Norman signs out first, and then me a minute later. I follow at his back as we start climbing towards the summit. My dogs eager and chasing his team, so I have to stand on the drag pad up the hills. As we stop to snack the dogs, we can hear the wind howling on the summit. The sun is just starting to light the day as we close up on the foot of the mountain. The first part of Eagle Summit has a lot of side hilling, so I'm running on the up side of the sled, and trying to steer it along the trail. We keep a good pace up, breathing heavily and extremely tired in our legs, we finally reach the first "summit". The trail goes a bit to the side, before we run a small down hill. We stop to snack the dogs again, and cheer them up for the final and steepest push to the top. Ahead is a short, but extremely steep hill to the summit. I take a second to enjoy the view, before I lift the hook, and follow behind Norman's team. Everything is going fine, and we're trucking along up the mountain. As we reach the steepest and final climb, Norman's team stops. He tries to get them going again, without much luck. The snow is deep and sugary, with several snow machine tracks leading of in different directions to both sides, while the race trail goes straight up. I try to get my team to pass his team, but its gonna take something to pull that off. We have already been standing behind waiting for some time. I get my team to come up alongside his team, but not any further. (At this point I obviously keep wondering if I would have made it up without problems, if I would have been alone, and not behind his team. But in the end, I'd doesn't really matter).
We decide we will have to take one team at a time. I pull my sled up sideways, and anchor down my leaders. Then with Norman in front, I go behind his sled and push all I can. We get the team moving, and after a couple of minutes, we have them anchored to a tripod up on the summit. I'm beat! I sit down in the snow for a minute to catch my breath, before I walk down to get my team up. This time Norman at the back, and I'm in the front with my leaders, holding on to my snow hook. In the combination of understanding that we are close to the top, and that Norman's team is up there, they start firing on all cylinders. Barking and launching into there harnesses. No pushing the sled is needed here, and for the most part the leaders literally pull me up the mountain with the snow hook, as I'm unable to keep up the pace. We run my team in front of Norman's team, before we park them. If I was tired after leading his team up, that's nothing to how I feel now. My dogs got "to excited" and I used all my energy trying to keep up there pace. Once I can breath again, we let out a big cheer and waving our hands in the air - We made it! We thank each other for the work, I thank the dogs, and take of some booties. From the summit, it's just a short ways to Mile 101, and I'm ready for some warm coffee and food! I pull the hook, and prepare for the descend.
With all my power I stand on the brake, trying to keep the speed somewhat under control. Without to much problem we get down, and start making our way to the checkpoint. Some overwater and glare ice makes it interesting for a short period, but not long after can I spot the YQ banner, and a group of people waiting. Happy and relieved I sing and thank the dogs as we enter, I sign in and park my team. Since the highway was closed during the snowstorm, my handler has not yet arrived. I start with my dog care, feed them and get a veterinarian to look at a dog. As quickly as possible I leave my dogs, so they can get as much rest as possible. Inside I find warm burritos, coffee and cookies galore. I'm in heaven! For a long time, I'm just sitting there, eating and drinking. Stopping to answer a question or two, and then eating some more.
As I get out to look after my dogs, the sun is shining beautifully. The highway has opened and my handler arrives. It's great to see him, and I get to talk a few minutes with him, telling him about the summit, and hearing how Jake got over it. I also learn that Allan Moore won the race. Abbie West arrives, and I welcome her to the checkpoint and exchange a few words about the summit. I'm tired, but in a great mood. The weather is beautiful and its only a short ways to the finish line.
Mile 101 - Two Rivers
I don't really get any sleep at Mile 101. I spend to much time eating and drinking, that by the time I wanna sleep, it's only 20 minutes until I have to start preparing to leave. So I end up just getting a quick power nap under the table, before I start gathering up all my clothes and head out to the dogs. By this point, my movements are pretty slow and sluggish. My handler comments that I look kinda tired, and I say something like "Yeah, I think you get tired in a 1000 mile race, I read something about that somewhere.." Tired, but happy I yet again pull the hook. As I was preparing to leave, Norman was still sleeping. I overheard the checker saying he had a wake up call in 10 minutes, so I made sure to be out of the checkpoint before that.
Again, my knowledge of the trail was failing me. I had asked the checkers about "this Rosebud Summit" that was ahead, and understood that it was about halfway on the way to Two Rivers. I don't really know what to expect from the summit, but I guess there is only one way to find out. The dogs need some time to warm up out of the checkpoint, but a group of hundreds of caribou helps that process. Suddenly we are flying along as the caribou cross the trail just few feet ahead of us. What an amazing sight! I'm awe struck, and feel truly blessed to get to experience it. As we run along the trail, I talk a lot with the dogs. And I very kindly inform them that this is the next to last run of the race, and it would be fun if we could do it fast.
I don't know how far back Norman is, and I get the feeling of having him right behind me all the run. As we cross a small river I start to see the mountain ahead, what I can only presume is the mighty Rosebud. Slowly, but surely we start climbing. The snow is deep and its heavy going. When I stop to snack the dogs, I sink down to far above my knees as I walk up to my leaders. It's a warm day, and as we near the summit it actually starts to rain. We get enclosed in a thick fog, and I do my best to keep moving fast, I don't wanna get stuck up here in thick fog. As we work our way over the mountain, I remember some information I've heard. One of the summits on the Quest have several "fake" summits, and this must be the one! Just as we reach what I believe to be the top, and start descending again, I can see a trail marker far ahead, and the trail is going up another summit. This goes on for a while, summit after summit. We are all tired, and the bad weather obviously doesn't help the mood. I do my best to cheer up, and keep moving. Finally we reach the final summit, or "finally" is the wrong word. The descent of Rosebud is, well, it goes straight down. It is perfectly comparable to sitting in a roller coster. As you reach the top, and see the wagons in front of you disappear down the big descent. My team just disappears in front of me, and half a second later we are flying straight down the mountain. I scream some obscene words, almost in disbelief that the trail actually goes down this steep. I quickly try to calm down, so i can calm the dogs down and keep the speed safe. But its almost impossible. I get the feeling that I'm gonna tip head forward. With some luck I manage to keep on the runners, and get down the mountain without any injury.
The trail further into Mile 101 goes through a swampy area with some glare ice and overflow, before we follow a old road for the last part. Buildings start to appear, and suddenly a road with driving cars is visible through the trees. Yet another time I thank the dogs for the great work they did, and prepare for arriving at the checkpoint.
Two Rivers - Fairbanks Finish
Pulling into Two Rivers I see nobody. A big empty dog yard, and no sign of any humans. I stop my team in the middle of the dog yard, and look around for a checker. Up on the hill I see the veterinarian, and soon enough the checker comes running out of the tent. He had gone in to see how I spelled my last name, before he figured he might as well just ask me how to do it. He says I had a good and fast run, but as usual I don't take much notice, and assumes he's just trying to be polite. Looking at the numbers later, I actually had one of the fastest times among the front teams.
My handler comes down and welcomes me, as I start preparing food for the dogs, and emptying out my sled. Only the few mandatory items will be brought to the finish line, and a big pile of stuff gets left behind.
The sled emptied out, runner plastic changed and dogs taken care of, I make my way to the checkpoint tent. More food than I can manage to eat, and lots of delicious hot chocolate is presented to me. I get a trail report for the last stretch, some overwater at different places. Shoot, I can't leave my overshoes behind! I hate to wear my overboots, as they make my feet heavy and hard to run, but with reports of overwater I don't have much choice. My wool Lobens won't hold water out for a second.
Well fed I make my way to the sauna of a sleeping area. Ripping of my clothes as fast as possible, so I won't melt away completely, and finding the coldest corner in the building I fall asleep.
I sleep as long as possible, and get up just in time to bootie my dogs, and leave on time. Before leaving I sign out, and receive my bib that I have to wear when I cross the finish line.
The trail is broad and easy driving. No big hills up or down, nothing to interesting to be honest. After a while we drop down onto the Chena (?)River that we are gonna follow all the way to the finish line. At this point it feels like your almost at the finish line, as the river curls its way into the outskirts of town, and passing several houses. You are certainly close, but I think it still took me 2 hours to reach the finish line, and those two hours felt really long! As we are running along, several helicopters fly right over our heads, apparently there is a big military practice going on. As we get closer, we start passing fans along the river that cheers us along. What a great feeling! My co handler and partner in crime Alex Beutow's family has a house just a 1-2 miles from the finish line, and I'm curious if he will be there. Sure enough, as I round a corner in the river, I see two people sitting along the river, and as I get closer they start jumping up and down. The dogs gets excited, starts barking and goes into a full lope as we close up on them. A pad on the back and a beer in my hand, we are close to the finish line. I'm smiling form ear to ear, and start tearing up thinking of how well the dogs have done. The beer tastes awesome, and for the last mile I stop kicking, just relaxing and drinking my beer. Around another bend, and there, the big yellow Yukon Quest banner is hanging, and the metal fencing leading into the finish line. I pass under a bridge, talking to my dogs, thanking them and telling them how amazing they are, as we run into the finish line. A small group of people have gathered on the outside of the fencing, as well as the media, veterinarians and the Apex crew awaits me. Hook down, "Welcome to Fairbanks!", "Thanks, it's nice to be here". I do my best to keep any tears away, as I make my way to the dogs with some well deserved snacks. Jake congratulates me and hands me a bottle of champagne. Again, I thank all my dogs, and gets my sled checked. All my mandatory gear is there, I'm an official finisher of the Yukon Quest, coming in at 6th place. I'm trying my best to answer the questions from the media, but I'm not sure how good any of my answers were. It was an unreal feeling, not quit sure what to say or do. After a couple of minutes, I pull the hook again, and we run to the dog truck waiting. The dogs get a warm meal of beef, kibble and chicken fat, before they get loaded into the trailer. We all go out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, before Co handler Alex drives all the dogs back to the kennel in Big Lake. Just hours after finishing, the dogs was back at there comfortable dog houses in the yard. The perfect way for them to rest and recuperate after the long race, and extremely nice for us left in Fairbanks, being able to just relax and sleep, not having to drop dogs several times a day.
We stay in Fairbanks for a small week, until the Finishers banquet is held. We manage to relax, take many showers, sleep many hours, eat lots of good food and visit some bars. We had a great and relaxing time, so thanks to Alex for taking care of the dogs!
Big thanks to Jake and Robin at Apex kennels for letting me run the B-team in the race, and my handler Marijn who came all the way from Belgium to help. Thanks also to my sponsors: Eldorado, Idium and Alfa.
It was a great race, giving me memories for a lifetime. I hope to someday come back and run the race again!