Previous part: Yukon Quest 2016: Central – Eagle (Part 3/8)
From here until American Summit it is full climb. The sled is loaded for 150 miles. I plan to do two camping. The going is slow. I have to help all the way. It is a long climb. On the top there is some wind. Nothing big but enough to move some snow. Due to the snow drifts it is full side hill travel for a while. It is tough on my left knee but I am amazed to see how much I can achieve on it (my tibia has been broken the last week of August). With no more cross ligament and a damage meniscus I think it works not too bad.
After a while we start to go downhill. But not for long. We are going up and down and any downhill will be followed by an uphill. So the going is slow all the way. It is quite discouraging. At some point I see Dona looking back towards me. There is something wrong. We are still about 6 miles or so from the river. I go towards her and check her. She has some soreness to the shoulder. We did already 7 hours run so I decide that making camp here would make more sens. This way I can massage her and hope she will recover instead of loading her in the sled (that is full by the way). As I do my camp I see Seb and Tore passing me. Hopefully for them they will reach the river.
I let the dogs rest about six hours. On this camp I decide to sleep in my sled. I am able to fit in the big sled bag built by Jane. I just close the bag and find some sleep.
As I wake up it is snowing. As I approach from the river, I meet Seb who is starting his team at the same moment I am coming. He follows me. A few hundreds meters away I can see Tore travelling ahead of us. I can see his camp soon. It is quite a coincidence that three teams get going together without communicating!! Tore didn’t see us.
As we reach the Forty Mile river it starts snowing. Dona is doing good. Bunny too. But the snow keeps coming with no end in sight soon. As we progress the thickness is increasing. Tore is opening trail in front. As we stopped for snack we lost sight of him. Seb is now in front of me. After a few hours we catch up with Tore. His team is stopped. I see Seb passing him. Than I pass him and propose him to help his dogs to get going again. I grab his leader neckline and control my brake to get a smooth start. We succeed and Tore is now following me. At some point later in the day I see his leader trying to pass me. I think maybe he wants to pass me. I look behind and see that Tore did fall asleep and is sitting. I shout at him to wake him up :o)
This is slower and slower. More snow more work. Seb did open trail a lot. About 10 miles from Clinton Creek a few snow-machines are coming. These are Earl and some of his neighbours checking out. He is worried that the organization would penalize us as he is helping. I don’t see how it should be as we didn’t call him. We have no Satellite phone. We didn’t ask for help. But we are sure happy to see them. And a mile later these are two snow machines coming from Eagle that pass us. They have big skimmers and they look like they are on a mission. I pass in front of Seb and lead the last part. At some point the snow did completely cover the trail and the machines are guessing to where is the trail. Some places they open a new trail. The fresh broken snow is now nearly two feet deep. I swear at one point. It makes Seb laugh! Luckily it is not too long before we connect again with a better trail. The snow has stopped falling.
At the end of the day it is a 11 hour run for my dogs in hard condition. As we park we chat. We agree that it was a good accomplishment. Now is time to rest the beasts. To feed them first and to plan to feed them twice or more!!! They all eat well. Considering the work they did I feel that the situation is not too bad. Looking ahead I feel that the Top of the World Highway might be our next challenge. I hope that it stopped snowing. I hope it did not blow too hard neither.
It is time to enjoy the wonderful reception we have at Earl and Sandy. Earl is a log Builder and the house they live in is just a beautiful piece of construction. There is plenty of room to dry our closes. Food is cooked for us. A delicious meal is served. These guys are such generous hosts. It really helps to keep the morale high. I have a two hour sleep. Before I feed myself I go feed the dogs one more time.
Back inside for some more food for us. It would make sens to go for more sleep but the kitchen is a happy place. Earl is cooking us some pancakes! We share stories. We enjoy the moment. We also discuss a plan on how to help each other if it blows up the Top of the World. There is a shelter cabin at the junction of Clinton Creek road and Top of the World Highway. In case if blows we would gather there.
It is very early morning. As we get ready to run I feel that the dogs are willing to go. Good news. WE pretty much go all together. First I lead to get out of the property. Soon on the road I can see that they are faster than I am. I let them pass. I have to help their dogs to do the passing.
Up we go. And it is constantly climbing. Not a steep grade but in soft snow. That is again a hard workout for the dogs. It takes five hours to reach the Top of the World. And we did 25 miles of climbing from the river to here. There is no wind so it is good news. Seb and Tore are gone. I am by myself. I still mush for an hour. The going is the slowest we ever went. I am not super happy to do another monster run. We did 11h the last run. There is still 30 miles or more. At this pace it is another 6 hours run. I decide to do a little rest. It is warm and not much wind. I try to relax.
After two hours I notice there is a little breeze going. I am just anxious that the wind starts blowing again. I decide to go. And that is where the trouble begins. The dogs are not really willing to go. It is hard to explain them that it is not a good idea to stay.
So I try different combinations of leaders. Than I try to run in front with them. It takes me
nearly an hour to get a reasonable pace. But as soon as I stop too long to change booties or switch leader I have to motivate them again to get going. If I mush too slow they stop. If I go to fast they stop. I decide that I will not change booties anymore until Dawson. I will push the sled when a wheel dog pee or poo in order to keep the team moving. I will kick downhill in the snowdrift if I need. In some snowdrifts I have to run in front of the dogs. They view the surroundings from a low point so they might not locate where the road is so easily. It is extremely slow. Some negative thoughts are going through my mind. Why do we have to combine American Summit with Top of the World. That run would be easier if we would not have done 500 miles of racing just before! … It is important to stay positive with the dogs. I need to keep their trust.
This is a real learning experience of mushing. If I read 58 kilometers on the signs I can make a plan. I now that the last 12 miles (19 km) are going downhill. I am left with 30 km of up and down. I can make a plan on how to distribute the snacks. I know that we are going to Dawson and that we will have a 36 hour layover. But how to transfer that info into the heads of the dogs? I believed that Scarlet (the dog from Brian who lives in Dawson) would know where we are going and that she could help leading us to Dawson. But no motivation from her to take any responsibility. Coffee is not really helpful neither. Bunny is in heat and he knows it. He stop and turns his nose too often. It does brake the rhythm and I fear to have a shut down. Dona is now leading just by herself. I have to motivate them and make them feel that I know what we are doing and where we are going.
We finally reach the famous and awaited downhill towards Dawson. The darkness of the night is coming. The dogs are picking up speed. The sound of my brake scratching the trail is louder and louder. We can see the lights of Dawson from above. The dogs are excited again. We arrive on the river and the speed and energy is insane. I pass through the arch with a happy looking dogs team. And that is where is the confusion. How can anybody can understand or believe what we were experiencing up high on the Top of the World!!!
Anyway my morale is high. My team is there ready to help. Hendrick has the snacks ready and tells me the soup is ready in the campground for feeding. Virginie is jumping and happy! Felix holds my leader. He has a big smile on his face. Same thing for Emerick and Faustine who probably feel proud of their contribution to train the dogs and help me through the all winter.
After finishing the check in and all the interview it is time to mush to the campground. My fear to have the team shutdown at the checkpoint had no reason to be. The dogs are charging back to the campground. Once there they eat their meal voraciously. That’s good news. Even if some are skinny I have good hope to fix some of it here. I can see that Hendrick did a fabulous job putting up the camp. All my feelings since I came in Dawson are super positives. I am now really enjoying the moment. We will check the dogs. Have a vet check. Have a little meeting and than go eat something at Girdies.
At Girdies Virginie is blocked at the entrance. She looks too young and needs to show her ID, that she did leave at the Hotel!!! Faustine is blocked too but is lucky to have her ID!! We all enjoy a beer and a Meal before I go for a shower and a good nap.
We agreed on a schedule to feed the dogs. I trust everybody on my crew. Faustine and Emerick have been there for the all winter. Virginie and Hendrik have worked with dogs before. I can just let them do. The next day during the day I will be there for one feeding. I will listen to their comments and we will readjust. I did find some Pepcid and some Psylium in Dawson, so it is good news. Some dogs still have diarrhea. Bunny is one of them.
I go for another sleep and we will meet two hours before my departure.
Early morning I wake up and go to the Eldo Restaurant to have Breakfast. I eat with Hayden and Dona from the vet team. I learn that due to the snow fall the flight didn’t happen in between Slavens and Eagle. Because of that Timi had to fly to Fairbanks first. Than to Eagle before the last flight to Dawson. Heyden tells me that he was looking the landscape through the window on all three flights. Good to hear Timi the dog had some fun, as I will pay 50 bucks for his trip. I will also pay for Jo and Cute who came back from Eagle.
Emerick and Faustine will bring back the dropped dogs to Mendenhall. That is a challenge considering that they have they two siberians, so five dogs traveling in a pick up and dealing with personality issues that these dogs have in regard of each other.