Doug must have been pleased with our run the day before, because he had Melanie run six of her dogs with me following running ten of mine. After applying zinc oxide and booties to all my dogs, they were put in harnesses and tethered to the towline. Melanie took off and as I was getting ready to pull my snow hook and follow her, Hazer lunged and broke the snap on his back line. Doug ran over and tied a knot in it and told me to get going. This was a harbinger of what would be the worst day of my life. I pulled the snow hook and stood on the runners with my heels on the mat brake but did not apply the steel brake. The dogs shot out of the yard and I fell off into the deep snow beside the trail. It grabbed me like quicksand and dragged me down as the dogs dragged the sled out of my grasp. Without a driver, my dogs ran wildly down the trail and quickly overtook Melanie. She had heard the commotion and just had time to stop her team, set a hook and turn to catch my leaders as they went by. I got up and started running, but John quickly passed me and got to Melanie first. Doug followed him and got there just before I did. They turned the sled on its side and told me to sit on it while they straightened out the team. I fell two more times before we got to the main trail and each time Melanie had to help me stop the team. I was not bending my knees as I should have and was leaning too far to the side and back which caused me to fall every time I went around a corner.
Doug finally got on the runners behind me, grabbed the handle bow and yelled for me to lean forward. Because of my inexperience and anxiety, I had been standing with my feet too far forward, which forced me to lean back instead of forward over the handle bow. John later told me that what I was doing was standing like a sprint racer. By leaning back, I was lifting the front of the runners off the snow, making it run faster and turn quicker; but I was loosing control.
|Doug and John Stewart before the Race to the Sky|
As we got to the main trail, Doug stepped off and we headed up the hill. Everything was fine until I cut a turn too short and the sled tipped over as the inside runner went into some deep snow. I was dragged about thirty feet and lost the team again. Melanie stopped them and in frustration, she yelled back at me, “You cannot do this! You cannot let go of the sled! I cannot catch your dogs for you.” I felt badly about putting her in that position. It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to use my right arm. We straightened out the team and the rest of the trip up the mountain was uneventful, until we hit Melanie’s corner. It is a sharp turn to the right as the trail we were on comes down the hill and the other trail makes a 180 degree turn.
Melanie had crashed on this corner, been thrown from the sled and knocked unconscious by a snow hook a few years before. Once again I cut the corner too short, got one runner into deep snow and tipped over. This time I did not let go, because Melanie had told me to wrap the snub line around my arm after my last fall. I had done this and the force of the fall along with being dragged behind the sled caused my right shoulder to come out of joint. With a sickening feeling, I could feel the humeral head sliding over my upper rib cage like the hammer of a xylophone sliding over the wooden keys. It came to rest between my shoulder and right nipple. I lay there for what seemed like an eternity trying to get up. The struggle to get up caused my shoulder dislocation to be reduced as the head of the humerus slid back into place. All the stuff that had been in my pockets was laying all over the trail behind me and a couple of snow machine drivers stopped to help me pick it up. I got back on the runners and we took off. I completed the loop without falling off and we headed back to the ranch. I got separated from Melanie, fell and was dragged one more time, missed a critical turn, and was still on the trail after sunset with the temperatures dropping, without a headlamp or cold weather gear.*
I had laid my gear out the night before and was expecting to go back to the house before running dogs, but the plans changed while I was in the dog yard. It was early enough that we could run the dogs and be back way before dark, so I didn't mind leaving without all my gear. I DON'T DO THAT ANYMORE.
* You can learn more about thermal injuries and how this training run turned out by reading "My Great Alaskan Adventure"