Previous part: Yukon Quest 2016: Two Rivers – Central (Part 2/8)
The trail that connects towards Birch creek is quite good. I expected it to be challenging. Once on Birch creek I will run two more hours before making camp. I expect to find some straw from other mushers and take advantage of it. But it doesn’t happen. The trail breaker are doing some parking area every mile or half a mile. They just go off trail for a little while to make some spot for us to park our team out of the way. I do my usual chores. All the dogs are checked and are fine. I finally get my Thermarest on the ground and crawl in my sleeping bag on top of it. I leave my Parka on top for extra warm. At first I am shaking. But I calm down, stop shaking and find two hours of sleep. It sounds like a short sleep but to me it is a huge bonus. It is very hard to find decent sleep in the first checkpoints as there is too much excitement and activity.
The run leading to Circle is on a beautiful trail. Well packed and groomed. We are all mixed with the Quest 300 mushers. We do have some head on passing. Finally I arrive in Circle where I am greeted by Olaf the checkpoint manager. We have been volunteering together in the past in Pelly crossing, just three guys running a very busy place in 2009 I think. When the Quest started in Whitehorse. I have great memories and it is a special moment to meet him again!
I check the dogs and Mega has some pain in a front wrist. I massage him and put a wrist wrap on it. I discuss with the vet and we will wait until before departure to decide if he is on or not. Circle has some good food and some beds to relax. It is also the last time we will see our handlers before Dawson. There is a 160 mile run to Eagle. So I want to use my time in Circle to be sure my sled is properly pack with enough food and fuel to go the all way.
The recheck on Mega is not good. There has been no improvement so the decision is to drop him. An other leader is out. The positive thinking is that I still have twelve dogs, which is good.
Out of Circle we hit the Yukon river and go pretty much right away into Jumble Ice. The first section is quite challenging. We will have many like that but the first one seems rough. At some point my leg slips below the seat under the runners. I manage to get back up. I am happy to not be injured. I am happy my left knee is still holding (I lost my ACL and damaged the meniscus last august)!!!
Five hours into the run I see the Smith Cabin. I decide to have a short stop there. I am by myself and enjoy two hours of rest with my dogs. In hindsight I think it was a bit stupid to do that, but at least it was an enjoyable moment. This way I did cut the run towards Slavens. I just have a two or three hours run to get there.
On my way to Slavens I start to see things. I see a bridge, I see a building, a barn. In truth there is nothing, but I think I want so much to reach Slavens that my imagination is creating the vision that I want. I also see my dogs becoming transparent and the background is blue like the ocean. A pretty scary vision. I understand that it is an hallucination. But. Each time we enter a new “Jumble Zone“ I am awake again. No more hallucination. Just some technical driving to avoid a crash or injury on the dogs. It is important to go with the flow, to brake or to get speed to go around the corners. It can be quite fun actually … when everything goes right.
Finally we come into Slavens. It is quite a pretty place. I find myself a spot to park and check the dogs, feed, and meet with the veterinarian. Timy and JJ have some wrist issues. They are swollen.
But they have no pain when I bend them. The wrist from Timmy seems to be more swollen. So we decide with the vet that it is a safe decision to drop that big friendly beast. He will enjoy some flying adventure (the plane is the only way to get out of here, other than with a dog team or a snow machine). I will take care of JJ, massage him and see how it evolves. I decide to not put a wrist wrap. I prefer him to crawl down to sleep and have his wrist warmed up by his body. The vet was suggesting the Wrap. But he recognize that I have some argument and he is curious to see how it will go.
Inside the cabin the volunteers are spoiling us with food and drinks. A trail breaker give us some info about the trail leading to Eagle. It seems like the worst of the jumble ice is behind us. We share some Jumble stories with Laura, Luc and Sebastien. I manage to have some sleep despite that the cabin is massively overheated. It is a bit chili outside now. It is time to put dog coats on for the next run.
We check on JJ wrist and it is surprisingly doing way better. We have now a hundred mile or more to reach Eagle. I am calculating the risk to load JJ in the sled. Now that Timi is out he is the biggest guy in the team. I decide to keep him.
I leave and as I go down to the river, I see Tony Angelo who comes in. The trail on the Yukon is quite good. We have jumble ice every time we cross the river. But nothing as tough as the first jumble we had out of Circle. It is better and better. Later in the day I have sometimes the feeling that I am travelling downhill. Is that because I am tired or because the dogs are fast?
The run seems long. I nearly loose patience. I could do a camping stop right on the river. I
decide to keep going. At some point I see a sign telling: Trout Creek 5 miles! That’s cool, but it is still
45 minutes away probably.
Finally I come into Trout creek. I enter the area where a few trails have been put in to be able to park the team. There is already some straw so the dogs will have a good rest. Mike Sager greets me as I park my team. I thank him for hosting us. I take care of the dogs. Jo has some wrist issues so I have to massage him. Him and Cute are not eating too well. The rest of the gang is doing great. I go inside to meet with Mike and receive a good moose stew. I drink some water.
I have a conversation with Mike. He tells me that the Cabin is forty years old. He did build it in
1976. That is where I realize that It was build in 1976 too and that I will be 40 years old in April like the cabin. I ask him how he did connect with the Yukon Quest. He tells me that he decided to offer some hospitality to the mushers. His thinking was that if the Mushers would have some water and a heated shelter they would take better care of their dogs. He explains that the first mushers running the Quest didn’t know too well how to take care of their dogs. He felt that the stretch between Eagle and Circle was long and that his cabin would help the musher to have a better rest. Mike is very generous. It is a very inspiring moment of my Yukon Quest. A real strong souvenir.
I go upstairs to find some sleep. I just lay on the floor. Mike knows how to heat a cabin. It means that the temperature is perfect. I fall into a good sleep. I will even oversleep. Two more hours than expected. I have to say it is the first real good sleep I have since the start. There is no noise as he is just by himself. When there is a conversation it is not loud. I am not the only one to oversleep. Rob and some others did too.
Before I leave I watch the piece of paper that have the time in and out of previous mushers. He also noted the temperature. When the front runners went by it was +10 F (-12 C). Now it is -30 F (-35
C). So I don’t understand when people are telling us that the Quest is too warm. We have some warm days and some cold ones, nothing unusual to me.
I leave the place at the same time that Sebastien. He is in front. On the river it seem that he has some leader issues. I pass in front and run ahead. I don’t look backward for a while so now he is not right behind anymore. I am worried that I might have run in the wrong direction on the Yukon. I guess if it is the case I will see the sign: Trout Creek 5 miles. I pay attention to the tracks and I can see that a dog poop has been run over by a sled. It shows me which way the team was going. So I feel better.
Suddenly I see a sign on the trail that tells: Brownies 1 mile. Than there is different signs to encourage Wild And Free or Laughing Eyes Kennel. Than a new sign with: Brownies 1/2 mile. I pay attention and when I see the sign “Brownies here” I stop my team ahead of the box. I steal 3 brownies as there were still plenty of them. I eat the first one right away. So delicious! That’s another magic moment. Some people living in the bush decided to be generous and offer us that gift. I can’t even see a cabin on the bank of the river. There is just a trail towards the bush.
The last part before Eagle goes off the river onto some bush trails. The river is so bad that they decided it was safer for us to go via inland trails.
Back to the river for the last miles. There are some tricky moments on ice. It didn’t snow much here this winter. At one point I see a snow machine away on the river. I understand these are medias and they want to film my arrival in Eagle. I think somebody from the village must have told them that it was the place to go. Suddenly I arrive on a huge plate of ice big like a basketball field. This plate broke during the winter and is on an angle. My dogs originally took the wrong azimuth so I have to give them a new direction on the left to find the trail at the bottom of the plate. I start to slide and I have to tip the sled to avoid blocks of ice. So they knew it was the right spot to film ;o)
I do receive a warm welcome arriving in Eagle. The team is parked conveniently and my food drop bags are delivered to me. Jo and Cute are not eating. I try with Salmon. That works for now. But for Jo it looks worth as his wrist is swollen. He is slightly dehydrated. As I speak with the vets the decision is done quick. Jo leaves us here. We speak about Cute. She is skinny. She didn’t eat well neither in trout creek. I will keep her on the line and try to get her appetite going. Bunny has a small issue on her shoulder and has a slight limp. I start right away to massage her.
A couple hours later I massage Bunny again and give her a walk. She is doing better but not perfect yet. More rest will help. Cute doesn’t eat so there is no point to keep her. There is no chance to survive what is coming next if she doesn’t go for food. I call the vet to drop her. At my surprise (a good one) they put her on IV. She will than recover faster. I have full trust in the vets to take care of my dogs. So here we go I have now to focus on 9 dogs. A bit like at the Percy De Wolf (another race)!!
I have a good chat with Luc. He gives me a bit of Psylium for my dogs. It is something I didn’t plan to use. A big mistake I think. Well Luc is down to 7 dogs so he doesn’t need the full amount of psylium he did pack. He is quite generous to give me some.
We ask the locals some information about the trail. They tell us at which mileage the forty mile river stands. I plan to run until a mile or so before the river.
A last check on Bunny before I leave. She is doing fine now.