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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chariots Of Fire

One of my all time favorite movies is Chariots of Fire. Eric Little is having a discussion with his sister about running or going to the mission field when he says, "When I run, I feel Gods pleasure." That is how I feel on the back on a sled, running dogs.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I arrived in Atlanta and discovered a voicemail from my sister. She was glad I was back and safe but wondered why I would want to continue doing this when I was gifted in helping others medically and needed in Haiti. Maybe it was time to quit chasing a dream and get back to work. I called her on the way to Chattanooga in the shuttle and had a long talk. The conversations behind me hushed as I talked to her about her concerns. This training had been planned for the last five years and was on track. God was not surprised by the recent earthquake in Haiti and knew it would happen before I started planning to run the Iditarod. My talents did not lie in the sport of driving dogs, but Doug and Melanie were working with me teaching and equipping me for the tasks ahead. I was progressing well. I had already considered the possibility of going to Haiti and felt guilty about not going. I had been comforted by several verses that came unbidden into my mind. “He who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is not worthy of the kingdom.” “We walk by faith and not by sight.” I felt secure that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. God could be glorified by my efforts in this sport as much as he could be glorified in my going to Haiti for disaster relief.

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race Part - 7

Monday, January 18, 2010
Doug congratulated me on successfully completing my first Qualifier. Then he critiqued my performance. He noted three areas where he wanted to see improvement. First and foremost, I needed to move faster and be deliberate in what I was doing. Second I needed to be thinking ahead of time about what I had to do next and stop doing one thing at a time and then just stand there like I didn’t know what I was doing as I tried to decide what to do next. Third, I needed to interact with the dogs more. I should have checked their feet when we stopped to snack our dogs between the first and second check points. I could have seen the split in Cobras foot and treated then and there with zinc oxide ointment and a booty.

The best compliment came from Warren Palfrey, who had come down from Canada to run the race. He had been here with his family last year the day after my injury. He told me, “ Don’t let this go to your head. For  your first time, you ran a good race. You still have a long way to go.” Then he added, “You got grit.”

After Melanie took Doug to the airport, we cleaned up our gear and started preparing for our next races. I took all the trash to the dump and we took dogs into Helena for their vet check. When we got home I stated packing for my trip back home. One (qualifier) down and one to go.

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 6

Once over the pass, things improved. We were back on the trails we had used in training. As we went past the trail that led back to the dog yard, I had to stand on the brake until they turned left, away from the yard.  I had moved several of the dogs around by this time and had put my two best leaders, Toro and Gator back in the lead. Toro had tried to head home and I was getting ready to set the hook and go to the front to turn them when Gator leaped into the air and jumped over Toro taking the team down the trail away from the turn for home.

At 6:30AM we stopped to snack the dogs and give them a rest. There was significant ground fog as we climbed the hills around Lincoln for our final descent into town. The fog left a pattern of ice crystals on everything, the dogs, the sled and my clothes. John hollered at me to pick up the mat brake and pedal up all the hills. The dogs were tired and needed all the help they could get. On the shorter, steeper ascents I had to get off and run behind the sled, pushing it up behind a team that was worn out and kept looking back at me as if to say, “Are we there yet?” Had I not been driving them forward with my own efforts to keep the sled moving, they would have laid down and quit. Doug had told me stories of teams who laid down and refused to go any further. One team had caused a well know musher to be rescued from Mt. McKinley.

I no longer checked my watch. If we made it, we made it. It was out of my hands. The dogs and I could not go any faster. I had to trust that our efforts would be rewarded by success. As we neared the finish line, I saw Doug standing there with some others, but did not see a finish line and kept moving the team forward until the leaders were past Doug. He asked where I was going and I told him I did not see a finish line. He yelled at somebody to paint a line behind me. I had finished the race in 42 hours and 3 minutes. Had I been 15 minutes later, this race would not have qualified. One down and one to go.

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race Part - 6

When we arrived back at the White Tail Ranch on the return trip, we checked the time of the leaders. The winner had already crossed the finish line. We had planned on leaving the checkpoint at 6AM. After doing the math, we knew that we had to leave at 3AM or this race would not count as a qualifier for me. I had to finish in 42 hours and 18 minutes (1.5 times the elapsed time of the winner). I fed and watered my dogs. They were not getting enough water from eating snow. I removed their booties and checked their feet and gave them clean straw to lie down on, kicking it up around them. I noticed that Toro, who had a voracious appetite and always ate everything you gave him, did not eat, but tipped his bowl over and tried to bury his food. Only later did I find out that he had been secretly eating the food of the other leaders, who were tied out with him. I should have moved him to the front of the lead line, by himself. His overeating was my fault and it almost cost me the race.

I managed to get 2 hours sleep before I was awakened by Doug, who had come to the same realization that we had and drove out to make sure we got up in time. I was still holding my new watch in the position, in front of my face, that I had when I was trying to set the alarm function.

 When we left, I had Hershey in the lead with Toro, to give Gator a break. He had worked hard and exceeded all my expectations. He was the best Gee/Haw leader on my team. Hershey kept stopping as we left the checkpoint and I ended up moving him back to swing. I moved Hobart into lead. A few miles from the checkpoint, we started a long steady climb up to Huckleberry Pass. It hard pulling with me pedaling to help the dogs get through the four inches of new snow. It took a couple of hours to go 10 miles to the top. Toro kept pulling over into the deep snow and gulped snow. He was thirsty from eating everybody’s dry dog food. Doug noted later that he was the only one to have diarrhea; a sure sign of overeating (over feeding).

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 5

We left at 3:35PM and I ran in front of John until we stopped to snack and rest our dogs after running them for 25 miles. I stopped and snacked my dogs. They were all eating well. Toro, always eats well and tried to eat Gator’s food also. I had to stand between them to make sure Gator, who eats slowly, got enough to eat. When we started out again, I let John pull ahead. I would be following him for the next 25 miles into the checkpoint. I reached into my pocket and got my headlamp before we left. It was getting dark.

We ran for a while through the woods until we came to another section of road. As I dropped down onto the road one runner hit some deep snow and I fell taking the sled over with me. I skidded along the road, with the sled on its side, until the drag on the sled caused the dogs to stop. I set the snow hooks and realized that my headlamp had come off when I hit my head. I secured the sled as fast as I could and ignoring John’s advice from a few days ago, ran back to pick up the headlamp before the dogs could pull the snow hooks and race off without me. John had said, “You never go back. You never  leave the sled except to go forward to the team or ahead of the team. That way, if they pull the snow hooks and start running, you can jump on the sled as it goes by. If you are behind the sled and they pull the hooks, you are left behind, stranded.” I had no choice. I could not leave another headlamp on the trail or I would be disqualified. I got it and got back to the sled before they could leave me.

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 4

John had been waiting down the trail for me and had been told of my escapades by two other drivers who watched with some amusement. One of them had stayed until I turned my team around the first time. But when he saw me heading back to the ranch, riding on top of my sled bag, he left, realizing that I needed more help than he could offer. John came back to help and arrived just as I had finished getting the team lined out. I was ready to go, but he needed to turn his team around. I had already pulled my snow hook off of the post, before I realized that he had wanted me to leave it there and come help turn his team around. He had to turn them by himself, while I stood helplessly on my brake to keep my team from running past his.

The rest of the run to our next check point was fairly uneventful. We rested and snacked the dogs at the 25 mile, halfway point and I moved into the lead ahead of john’s team to give his dogs a break. I arrived at the Seeley Lake checkpoint, just before daybreak, two minutes ahead of him. 

It was raining when we got there and continued to rain all day. We tried as best we could to stay dry, but even the dry socks that I had sent ahead in my drop bag were wet 30 minutes after I put them on. We stayed for eight hours at this checkpoint and I was told to sleep. I still wasn’t very tired but would need to sleep before we got to our next checkpoint. I managed to get a nap for an hour or two, sitting up in the shelter. Several of the dogs had developed splits in their feet, between their pads. For the return run, all the dogs would wear booties. Interesting, since they hadn’t worn booties all season and several of them were yearlings who had never worn booties. Could I get booties on all my dogs in a timely fashion, without causing them to yelp, which might cause the Vet to come check on the dogs, to make sure they weren’t injured. I only had trouble with Hobart, a veteran and had to wrestle with him to get his booties on.

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 3

We left before daybreak. John had suggested that I put Herbie in the lead with Hobart. We cleared the field and started down the road. It was hard packed glare ice which made for a fast run, but left no place to set a snow hook.  I tried to ride the mat brake or pad to slow down and stay behind John.

During training, we had each put a 40 pound bag of dog food in our sleds to simulate the weight of our mandatory equipment. John had put an extra 40 pound bag in his sled to compensate for the difference in our weights. He weighed about 154 pounds and I weighed a little over 200 pounds.  I had started out with more yearlings, but we kept changing dogs between his team and mine until I could keep up with him. By the time we started the race, I had gained three new veterans, Hershey, Herbie and Hobart. They had not run with me before and had not gotten used to me as their musher. I would be tested. I would need to gain their respect.

At the first turn from the road, I was put to the test. While the rest of the team was behaving, the dogs in lead became like an unruly class of teenagers, checking out the new substitute teacher. They blew on by the turn to the right, despite my commands and protests. Grabbing the handlebar with my left hand, and squatting as low as I could, I tried to drive the snow hook into the road wit my right hand. It skipped and skidded along the ground until it finally caught something and brought the team to a stop. I go off, set the other snow hook in the snow bank beside the road, went to the leaders, grabbed the neckline, yelled at them and turned the team around. We went back the 100 yards to the turn and I tried to get them to left onto the trail. This time I was ready, but they still ran past the turn. I stopped the team and started to unhook the back lines from the wheel dogs when they took off again. I barely had time to jump onto the sled. Hanging the sled bag and facing the wrong way, we were headed back to the last checkpoint, we had just left. I could see it now, my entry back into the yard, out of control, clutching the sled for dear life, laying on the bag instead of standing behind it. I grabbed the snow hooks and tried to drive them into the ground again. At last they caught and we stopped. I quickly unhooked the back lines from all but the first four dogs, changed leaders to my trustworthy Toro and Gator and put Herbie and Hobart in swing. After turning the team again, the dogs took the right hand turn with no problems. I stopped the team and drove the snow hook into a post beside the trail, then reattached the back lines and straightened out all the tangles. 

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 2

John and I would be next to last to leave. By the time we left the starting gate it was late in the afternoon. With darkness less than 2 hours away, I decided to put Doug’s headlamp on my head so that I would not need to dig for it later. Big mistake. After we  cleared town, the trail turned to the right as we began to climb toward Martin Hill. There was a long, steep hill on the other side of the climb. The trail narrowed and made several tight turns. Near the top of the downhill my left runner got off the trail and pitched the sled over. I fell and struck my head, righted the sled and took off again. But I over corrected and fell to the right, striking my head again. I righted the sled again and made it down the hill without further incident. As the trail leveled out, I was aware that I had lost my hat. I hurried to catch up with John, who was waiting a mile of two away. As he saw me approaching, he started off again. By now, I was more than a mile away from where I had fallen. Only now did I realize that I had also lost Doug’s headlamp. It was part of the mandatory gear. Without two headlamps, I would be disqualified. I reached in my pocket and pulled out my headlamp and put it on my head. It was getting dark. It would have to do until I could get another one. We drove on for several hours, resting the dogs after 25 miles. When we got to our first rest stop, at the White Tail ranch, I got another headlamp out of my sled bag. We rested the dogs four hours. John was finished with all his tasks way before I was and was taking a nap. It took me almost two hours to get everything done. Oh well, I wasn’t going to sleep anyway.

The Seeley Lake 200 Sled Dog Race - Part 1

Friday, January 15 thru Sunday, January 17
Race day arrived. Doug had flown in last night and was here through the week-end for the race. I got up at the usual time and pulled my outer wear on over the sweatshirt and pants I wore to sleep in, before going to the dog yard to feed and water the dogs. When I got back to the house, Doug was up and there was a flurry of activity as we got everything ready to go into town. We had a musher’s meeting at 9AM followed by the Vet, check and preparations to get ready for the start of the race.

I thought I would be going back to the ranch after the meetings but Doug had other ideas. He would take John and Warren back, but I needed to stay with the dogs, who had been loaded into the trailer and driven into town. Luckily, I had grabbed my long underwear and the other gear I would be wearing in the race, and changed clothes in the pickup. Otherwise, I would have had to run the race in my pajamas.

Montana January 2010 Part 13

Thursday, January 14, 2010
I got up at 2AM. I couldn’t sleep; I guess I had pre-race jitters. I had not gone to bed until 11:30, after watching John play the new Guitar Hero 5 we had just gotten. I had gotten a Wii for Doug and Melanie for Christmas. This was no longer just a business relationship but and good friendship. I had stayed up as long as I dared, because John and Melanie were really into Rock and Roll. They knew every band and all their songs. Doug and I were old school and could not appreciate the new sound. To us it was so much noise. Melanie called them artists. We called them scream machines. John and I got our mandatory gear and drop bags ready for the race and got some of our equipment packed into our sled bags.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Montana January 2010 Part 12

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
It was 35 degrees outside and the footing was treacherous. There had just been enough rain during the night that the ground was covered with a sheet of ice. According to it was 7 degrees warmer here than it was on Signal Mountain. Initially John had said that we would run the dogs at 10AM then come home and do chores. When he went outside he changed his mind. We would do chores this morning and run dogs this afternoon, once the sun melted the ice. If we had run the dogs on ice there was a chance they could have injured their feet. In a race you have no choice but in training you do.

We got up to the yard about 1PM and got ready to go. I had three yearling females who might chew on their harnesses so I always got the other dogs harnessed and on the line before I harnessed these three. Tenille, one of my here yearling females, was not interested and pulled out of her collar after I had put her on the towline. I tightened her collar, put it back on and got ready to go. John was waiting for me to leave the yard. As we started out Hobart turned left and headed for his doghouse. John ran over, grabbed his neckline pulled him back onto the trail and yelled at me to get going before he had a chance to do that again. In the confusion, Nona had slipped out of her collar again and then managed to back out of her harness. She was running loose around the dog yard. I wanted to stop and get her but John screamed to get out of here. I was not using my track/drag. It is a piece of thick rubber with metal studs driven through it that drag on the ground to slow you down when you stand on it. I had secured it to the handle bar so that it would not slow me down. As we dynamited out of the dog yard I was out of control. The brush bow glanced off a tree as we rounded a corner and we went flying down the shoot to the first turn. As the dogs made the 90 degree turn the left the sled veered right into the deep snow throwing me to the ground, hard, on my bad shoulder. Only then did I realize that I was not wearing my shoulder brace. My hat flew off but my new sunglasses stayed on. They had survived two falls. I would use them for the race. I had jumped up, righted the sled and started off down the trail when Nona shot past me. She ran to the front of the team and caused so much confusion that I had to stop and untangle six dogs. But first I grabbed her and put her collar and harness back on her. They had been dragging and flailing around since we left the yard. I had planned to secure them at the first available opening on the trail. In my haste I had put her harness on sideways and had to take it off and redo the whole thing.  John had pulled up behind my sled and was waiting as patiently as he could. What would have taken him a minute or two had taken me five minutes. When I got back to my sled the track was down. I thought John had released it. I did not realize that the force of the fall and dragging behind the sled in the deep snow had ripped it from its securing strap. We would run 14 miles to Keep Cool Lake and back. 

As we rounded a corner on a downhill with me standing on the track to slow the team down, it happened. The right runner ran off the road over an embankment dragging me and the sled sideways and pulling the wheel dogs into the deep snow. I had to wrap my arms around the handle bar and dig with my feet to push myself up the sled taking the snow hooks with me to dig in at the front of the sled to keep it from sliding down the hill. At least that is how I had envisioned it. Actually, when the right runner went over the edge the increased drag forced the team to stop long enough for me to get off and pull the sled back up, onto the road. I have read about some places on the trail in Alaska where my scenario actually could happen.

Montana January 2010 Part 11

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
With Arrow out of the line up, on injured reserve my team had no trouble keeping up with John. As we cleared Melanie’s corner, my outside runner caught on a ridge of snow made by the snow machines and flipped me and the sled onto our left side. I hit my head on the ground and left an impression. The snow hook bounced off the handlebar and landed right in front of my face. I grabbed it and set it before the dogs could pull away, righted the sled and we took off.

On the way back I had to really slow my team on the down hills. As a result I almost slid off the side of the road down the steep embankments that dropped away to my right at a 70-80 degree angle. Some of them dropped off for hundreds of feet. I worried that one of these trips, they would be calling for a helicopter to save the dogs and remove my body, if my runner dropped over the edge.

Montana January 2010 Part 10

Monday, January 11, 2010
 I had the day off, since we run the teams two days in a row and then give them a day of rest. John was running two teams, so he was running everyday. I spent the day cleaning dog poop In the puppy pens and broke the hoe trying to dig a weeks worth of poop out of the frozen ground. First I broke Doug’s truck and now I broke Melanie’s hoe. I could tear up an anvil. Jeremy Gebauer stopped by to get some things for the race and said hello. I couldn’t see who it was until he told me. I had been looking at dog poop on the bright white snow that I could make out the details of his face.

I left early for Missoula. I had some shopping to do before I picked Melanie up at 7PM. John called when I was almost there to tell me she got in at 7:20PM and that she had emailed him to tell me to be nice to her car. I stopped and got it washed when I got to Missoula. What girl didn’t want to get cleaned up if they were going into town? I stopped at Target and purchased a Wii. Melanie had wanted to get one for Doug for Christmas, but decided she couldn’t afford it. It would be my Christmas present to both of them. I got some new sunglasses, a camelback water bottle and insulator at REI and went to Wal-Mart to get some cash from the ATM and a sandwich from Subway, then headed to the airport. On the way out of town we stopped at Wal-Mart to get groceries. Melanie was in a hurry to get home and prepare for her next day of instruction as a personal trainer for her clients. On the way home we talked about how training had been going and my frustration about not being able to keep up with John on the up hills. I also told her a complete story of how Arrow had been behaving. She told me that I needed to tell Doug about her. When we got home we called Doug and I told him the entire story. He said she had probably reinsured an old injury and that we should remove her from the team. 

Montana January 2010 Part 9

On the way back from our turn around at Reservoir Lake. Something was wrong with Arrow, she kept backing off her backline and dragging Gator, my other leader causing him to slow down. Toro, who had caused the tangle leaving the dog yard had been running up behind her the entire run. He caught up to her several times and once she got her left hind leg wrapped in her own towline.

 I had been standing on the brake or the track for most of the run to keep the gang line from dragging on the ground. As a result, we could not keep up with John. Gator must have finally had enough, because my reliable leader surprised me by turning right and darting down a snow  machine trail we never took. Six dogs were on this trail before I could stop the team. It was too late. We were in a thick stand of trees and deep snow all around. I drove them down the trail to the first clearing, stopped, set the hooks and unhitched the backlines of the last six dogs, then took the leaders and turned them around. I had to untangle another jangle after I got the team lined out, then reattached the backlines and headed back the way we came. When we got to the road, Gator wanted to go left, which would have taken us back the way we had come, in the opposite direction from where we where going. I had to get off and turn the team. This meant that the last six dogs and the sled would have to be untangled and lined out. I found John waiting at the clubhouse; he had been there about 30 minutes. I had wasted so much time that we had to abort our planned 50 mile run and do a 34 mile run. I told him about my problems with Arrow and he agreed I should switch leaders. I put Hobart up with Gator and moved Arrow into swing. Things went better after that.

When we got back to the house, John noticed how much clothing I had on and made a comment to that effect. I said we should wait until he was my age before we discussed the matter. He said that would never happen, implying that I was so old that I would be dead when he was my age. So I told him that getting old was like moving into an old house. I pointed to my head and said, “The wiring is going bad.” Then I pointed down and said, “The plumbing doesn’t work and it costs an arm and a leg to heat.”

Montana January 2010 Part 8

Saturday, January 9, 2010 continued

The wee people must o been working a bit o mischief. Getting the dogs ready was no problem, but as I left the yard the one leader, Arrow, and one of my swing dogs, Toro, bulked and I had to set the hook then go untangle a mess of dogs at the front. John was coming up from behind and had to dynamite his team to a stop to keep from running into me. We just got started when, Nona, one of my yearlings broke her neck line and was heading back to the yard. If she had been a veteran I could have run her without the neckline until we got to a safer place to pull over. Because of the deep snow on either side of the trail, she was trying to get back to the yard by running through the team. Somebody was going to get hurt if I didn’t turn her around. We stopped while I snapped a new neckline on her. The rest of our run went smoothly considering there were snow machines everywhere and we had to constantly make sure they didn’t get too close to our dogs. By the time we got to Melanie’s corner I had let John get a good distance ahead of me and could see him through the trees waiting on the road below. Standing on the brake, I was slowing my team when we took the corner. Good thing. There were two snow machines parked right at the point of the turn and my leaders were trying to decide whether to get past on the inside or the outside of them. They were eating sandwiches, oblivious to the whole problem they had created. I told the girl, who was following a guy she called Vic, that they had picked a bad place to stop. She said they didn’t know that to which I replied, “You know now.” Vic got up and walked between his snowmobile and my line of dogs as I inched forward. He acted like he didn’t want them near his prized machine. He could care less about the dogs. My brush bow finally cleared the track on the girl’s machine and careened up over the front of Vic’s left ski causing my sled to tip over on its side taking me to the ground with it. As the dogs dragged me down the trail I climbed up onto the side of the sled, stood on the track dragging behind and righted the sled then stood on the runners and kept going.

Montana January 2010 Part 7

Saturday, January 9, 2010
There was a dark foreboding about the weather outside. Although it was 10 degrees warmer than it had been yesterday morning, I felt colder. I would dress according to how I felt and not the temperature. Six degrees above zero was still plenty cold. Unlike the last few mornings, when the skies were clear and you felt like you could touch the moon and the stars as they hung high in the sky, the stars were invisible and the moon looked like a faint light smudge surrounded by high dark clouds. Except for the light from my headlamp there was no other light source as it struggled to overcome the darkness.

The dogs were in a festive mood and wanted to be petted as I watered and scooped the yard. I was a little uneasy being out so early in this thick darkness. What if a Brownie (Grizzly) or a mountain lion were to attack me. I knew that the dogs might keep the less aggressive ones away and they would warn me if anything approached. I felt secure. Deer were all over the place and would come within 50-100 feet in the summer to lay down on the dog pile in order to escape the black flies and mosquitoes. As I finished scooping the back of the yard the dogs went crazy, running around and barking. I looked to see what was going on in the area where they were looking. A dark shadow was moving in my direction. It was not a deer! It was Hoover, one of the house dogs, coming up to explore. He is a large black Lab that Doug says is the best bird dog he has ever seen. Hoover likes to chase the stick and is constantly bringing one to you to throw. He is quite intelligent and loves to watch TV. One night I saw him get up, walk over and look behind the TV to see where the dog was that he had just seen on the TV.

Montana January 2010 Part 6

Wednesday, January 6, 2010
We ran dogs 25 miles over Martin Hill loop and I could not keep up with John. Doug made some comments about me standing like a statue on the back of the sled instead of pedaling or getting off and running. He made me mad. He was not there and didn’t see me pedaling and running. But he did have a point. He wanted to see results (i.e. me keeping up with John) and I wasn’t able to do that even with all my hard work. I was after all paying Doug to get me up to speed to run the Iditarod. I prayed for humility and held my tongue. If they wanted results to show them I had changed, I would give them results. I started dragging all the morning feed and equipment up to the dog yard on a sled. I was getting a workout dragging over a hundred pounds of stuff up the hill behind me. It got easier with each new day. The first day I had to start and stop with every other step and had to turn around, face the sled and drag it up the hill while walking backwards. By the end of the week I was walking up with no stops switching hands as I went.

I had fallen on Contour road, had been dragged and lost my cocoon sunglasses. At the rate that I was losing stuff on the trail, they would be able to outfit another musher by the end of this season, if they found everything I had lost.

Montana January 2010 Part 5

It was dark when we got back and Doug was waiting for us. My headlamp was glowing with a faint yellow light that was useless for seeing any but the closest dogs. As Doug ripped it off my head and threw it on the sled bag he said, “Get rid of that worthless P.O.S. and get a real headlamp.” I finished putting the dogs away and went back to get my light. It was gone. Doug had it in his hand. He had no use  for anything that was useless or did not serve his purpose. I was afraid he was going to throw it away and told him I used it to walk my dog; to which he replied, “You are not walking your dog, you are running my dogs.” I got it back and put it away.

When we got back to the house, we replaced the worn out alkaline batteries in my head lamp with new lithium ones and it worked just fine after that. The alkaline batteries bleed off and get dimmer while the lithium ones continue to give a full 1.5 volt charge until they die.

I had just completed my first run behind a 12 dog team and survived.

Montana January 2010 Part 4

We took the turn. I had been warned to get as low as possible. Had it been summer, I would have had to wash the grass stains out of the seat of my pants. I had squatted low over the track, which would be useless until we cleared the turn, and leaned all my weight to the outside runner in order to throw/steer the sled out away from the corner. The corner is a hard right hand turn at the bottom of a long hill that allows the dogs to build up speed. As the leaders take the turn, they cut it short and become the pivot point that slings the back of the team and the sled, with or without a driver, like a sling shot around the turn. On a 12 dog team there is about 60 feet from the leaders to the back of the sled. There is a sign that marks the road which is approaching up the hill and forks into a Y. I had just come down the upper right hand branch, gone around the point and was heading up the left hand branch when I saw John waiting patiently. He flashed a smile and a thumbs up then took off; no doubt relieved that he did not have to catch my team or sled as it roared by.

The rest of the trip took us through some remote areas of beautiful mountains, forests and some sheer drop offs if you got too close to the edge. Near the top of the pass we turned around in what Doug called the helicopter pad. If it was a landing zone, it was big enough to land and park three helicopters. The snowmobiles had been up here and had a field day running up the pass and taking a jump from the road to the pad. John had already taken the turn and was approaching me, heading back to the ranch as I got to the area. I did not see his trail as we turned in and my leaders cut the turn short dragging the back half of the team, the sled and me into the deep snow beside the trail. The last six dogs were up to their bellies with their feet uselessly flailing in the deep snow. I got off the runners to turn the sled and immediately went down through the harder top crust into the soft snow below. The snow was up to my chest and my feet were still not touching anything solid. It was like quicksand sucking my boots off and beckoning me to stay through the spring thaw in June or July. I would have no part of that! The dogs, the sled, me and all my
equipment would leave this mountain. It would not win. I climbed, clawed and pulled myself out of the snow and back onto the runners. We were too heavy for the leaders to pull. I had to inch us closer to the road. As more dogs made it to the road, they were able to pull us. I turned the sled over on its side and lay across it to keep the dogs from jerking it away from me. That is what had happened last year. When I fell off the sled, it had stayed upright on its runners and the dogs had no trouble leaving me behind. Doug had fashioned a safety loop on the handlebar that I put my left hand through so that if I fell off, I would pull the sled over on its side. The drag would cause the dogs to stop long enough for me to get up, right the sled and get back on. As the last dogs cleared the deep snow, the safety loop was getting tighter and tighter around my left wrist. Back on the road and heading home, I checked he time on my watch. The mountain had won; they almost always do. It had claimed it’s prize, my watch and with it, my wedding ring. I had been wearing the ring on the watch band to keep it from getting lost. I had lost so much weight that it slipped off my finger easily and frequently at the wrong times. Until now, the watch band had been the safest place to keep it.

Montana January 2010 Part 3

Just before we left, the back line on one of my wheel dogs broke as he lunged ahead. He wanted to get this show on the road. Not a very comforting sight. The same thing had happened on my last run last year. It had to be fixed before we could leave. This delay just incited the other dogs to pull harder, bark loudly and jump around as if to say, "Hey, it's time to go." Doug had told me that the first 2 miles of any trip behind dogs is the scariest and most out of control thing you will ever experience. They will run with total abandonment until they get into their rhythm. Even experienced drivers can be a little apprehensive at the start. You have no control. The dogs will take you where they want to go. They can accelerate from zero to 15 or 20 mph almost immediately.

For the most part, the run went smoothly. John passed me at the top of the hill and from then on I hardly ever saw him. His team was much stronger than mine, carrying a much lighter load and pulled away with ease. I saw him at Melanie's corner. So named because Doug's wife, Melanie, had wrecked there a few years ago when her team took the turn so fast that she and the sled were thrown sideways and she was jettisoned from the sled as it rolled over, releasing one of her heavy metal snow hooks that hit her in the head and knocked her out. After she got home and put the dogs away she went into town to get some stitches. John had been told to take the turn and move ahead a safe distance, stop and be prepared to catch my team as they ran by without me. 

Montana January 2010 Part 2

Fear usually involves the unknown.

Fear is good in small doses and for a short period of time. But it is uncomfortable and it can paralyze us into inactivity when things need to be done.

I would be facing all my fears in a few more hours.
They have a saying in the south, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Doug had been busy while I was gone. Not only had he kept up with all the chores around the ranch and run the dogs 35 miles a day, he still had time to put a sled together for me. It is truly a thing of beauty. It is a basket sled; the kind trappers and back country people use. It is made of wood lashed together. To be sure, he made some modifications screwing essential pieces in place and fitting it with what he called "Jim Bardoner runners." They are wider, thicker and practically indestructible. There was only one hitch, it only came with a 12 dog towline. I guess I would have to take the good with the bad. Prior to this, I had been training with a toboggan. It is a cumbersome, clumsy freight hauling kind of sled with no ability to steer and totally indestructible. 

Today would be my day of reckoning. I would be traveling behind John Stewart, the boy from Scotland, who trained with me last year, qualified and would be running the Iditarod this year. If I hadn't gotten hurt I would have been running it with him. We would each take 12 dogs and run up over Huckleberry Pass before turning around and coming home. A trip of 35 miles on the same trail that messed me up a year ago, to the very day. The butterflies in my stomach were churning as we harnessed and hitched up the dogs. I would leave ahead of John and run to the top of the first hill then pull over, stop and wait for John to catch up and pass me. That way my dogs would not go screaming out of the dog yard trying to catch John's team. I would be running the puppy team with some veterans. John would be running the same dogs he would run in the stage race in Wyoming and take to Alaska. Doug would stand on the runners behind me until we safely left the dog yard, then step off and send me on my way. 

Montana January 2010 Part 1

Montana  Jan. 2010
In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
 The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 14: 26, 27

Saturday, January 2, 2010
As we flew into Missoula Montana, the weather beneath our plane was an adequate barometer of my mood. Normally I am upbeat and look forward to my trips to Montana with reckless, child-like abandonment. The swell of dark grey clouds that enveloped the earth and our plane as we descended highlighted my somber mood. I was afraid.

There were many reasons for this fear.
1. While I had made some half-hearted attempts at working out every day while I was home, I had not thrown myself into the exercise program Melanie (Doug’s wife) had outlined for me. She is a personal
trainer and a good one. She works out HARD everyday. I once told her I appreciated her knowledge and help. Her reply was that if I truly appreciated her, I would do what she told me. Now I would be seeing her without having done what she told me. I was afraid of her disapproval.

2. I would be driving a much bigger team when I got back than I had when I left. The repeated falls that had torn my right shoulder out of the socket and totally severed three of the four rotator cuff muscles had happened with a bigger team. The injury had occurred  January 3, 2009. I would be back on the sled for my first run of the new year on January 3, 2010. I was afraid of getting hurt again.

3. My biggest fear, however, was seeing Doug for the first time since I tore up his truck while he was in Arizona. The truck had been parked outside in the deep snow and required 4-wheel drive to be engaged until I got to the highway. I needed to disengage it before accelerating on the main road and I thought I had, when the shift lever shot forward into neutral as I accelerated to 35 mph. When I returned to the ranch I could not engage the 4-wheel drive again and kept getting stuck in the deep snow, but finally managed to get it back to the house. I later learned that I had destroyed the transfer case. Boy, that was going to cost me some money. But my bigger worry was the look on Doug’s face when I saw him again.

Fear is one of God’s gifts to us. It makes us stop and think before doing something stupid and it prepares our bodies for the consequences should something go wrong. Our blood vessels constrict, our pupils dilate, our heart pumps harder, our muscles tighten.