Q&A (adult version): Insights into Iditarod 2016


1. What's your overall feeling about the race? 

I am very proud of our team, and ecstatic to have arrived safely at our destination: Under the Burled Arch on Front Street, Nome, Alaska.

2. What was your least favorite part of the race?

The Burn.  We had a couple mishaps which found us off trail in a bunch of burnt trees, and then we managed to get the sled and trailer nose first into the edge of a giant hole.  I should have taken a photo.  Also, this section the dogs were on fire... possibly because of the buffalo smells/scat.  In combination with a large, wound up team, barren paths without snow and large hills (up and down), it was interesting.  Sometimes much more interesting than I would ever choose.

3. Do you have a desire to do it again?

There is talk of 2017.  Sign ups aren't until the end of June. 

4. Did the performance of any one dog stand out for you?

I am very pleased with how all of my dogs performed.  

Felon, my best leader, was totally into the race the whole time.  We leased leader support for this race from Dean Osmar, Will Matthews and Mark May.  I believe this support helped keep Felon at his prime performance level (he didn't have to run in lead for the whole race). Despite running in lead for the majority of the second half, in Safety, he was barking and pounding in his harness to continue on to Nome (while I quickly ran into the checkpoint to use the "indoor outhouse").

June finished her first race with our team, and had a fantastic attitude and appetite the whole race... despite her short little legs.

Mr Paws and Paunch are yearlings, and they blew me away.  They had a great attitude and ate well throughout the race.  And, neither had any type of soreness or paw issue.

5.  What place did you get out of how many mushers that crossed the finish line?

 We finished in 69th place of 71 mushers.  85 mushers initially started the race; however, 14 people scratched during the race. 

6. What are the names of the dogs on your team?  

Felon, Libby, June, Hunter, Eewa, Yama, Zumi, Miyuki, Bernadette, Bakhita, Chew, Falcon, Titan, Menace, Mr Paws and Paunch

7. Who made it to Nome?

Twelve of my team made it all the way to Nome!  Felon, Libby, June, Eewa, Zumi, Miyuki, Bernadette, Bahkita, Chew, Falcon, Mr. Paws and Paunch

8. How are the dropped dogs doing?  

All the dropped dogs are doing great!  I wrote up summary with more details on the "Inquisitive kids" blog post.

9. What was your favorite stretch of the trail? 

Because there was so much snow in the areas where the Happy River Steps and the Dalzell Gorge are, those sections were really fun!  Much like a snow chute.  I had originally been most afraid of those sections, so they were a pleasant surprise.  

10. What is the biggest thing you will do different next time?

Pack a lighter sled (and you can bet Jeff will be inspecting pre-race. lol)

11. How many times did you get to sleep on something resembling a bed indoors?

I remember sleeping on one bed with a real mattress, as well as in a tent in bunks that had foam pads.  Other than that, mostly we were sleeping on the floor.  Sometimes there were spare pads laying around.  Mostly, I just curled up on top of my jackets and passed out.  Thankfully, I'm a good sleeper! 

12. Who is your boyfriend? (guess who asked that question. lol!)

Jeff King.  Jeff was also an incredible mentor for the past two seasons.  Often during the race I recall thinking, "I learned this from Jeff" and "man, this would have been a lot harder if I had done Iditarod pre-Jeff".

13. Who were your other mentors?

Bill Cotter, Ryan Redington, Dario Martinez, Jake Berkowitz, Dean Osmar

14. Was there a time during the race you ever felt like you wanted to give up? And, if so, what made you get your focus back and continue?

Actually, I feel like I had a great attitude during this whole race.  I was thrilled to simply be there, and there were so many highlights, surprises and friends along the way.  I was sent off with so much love and support... and I forged ahead to my Skwentna Sweeties.  My arrival in Skwentna was a homecoming, and so much fun.  I repeated Jeff's mantra, "Calm, Assertive" as I navigated my way through the steps, the gorge and the burn... to celebrate in Nikolai.  Jeff had told me to do a cheer when I arrived in Nikolai in one piece.  A mom and her daughter, Marina, visited the team and I in Galena. Marina had all sorts of great questions. And, she sent me off with life savers and a homeade fruit roll. Very sweet! I was welcomed in McGrath by Pam Aviza who my dogs and I know well because she also lives at Bacon's Acres with her team.  One of the families I used to work with greeted me as well.  Very cool!   I hadn't seen them in many years.  Next focus was my 24+ hour rest in Takotna - awesome people, fantastic food, calm, quiet place to rest, beautiful spot... and a surprise box from Jeff.  And then, I focused on arriving in Nulato where I've worked for the past approximately 6 years.  The Special Education teacher I work with, Michele, was there to cheerfully greet me at 1:30 am.  And the boys I work with bundled up to send me off, as well as many of the other school employees I have gotten to know over the years (THANK YOU!).  I looked at the map in Kaltag and thought... jeez, we still have a long way to go.  I was relieved when Kim Franklin asked if I would like to run together as we forged ahead toward Nome.  That eased a lot of stress, and was wonderful companionship for the final 1/3 of the race.  Mary Helwig's parents were a fun surprise to find in Unalakleet and Elim giving out hugs and good wishes.  Also, Jeff surprised me in Koyuk.  That was fantastic, and a relief to see his smile as I hadn't gotten to talk to him since the snow machine incident his team was involved in.  Jeff gave me a little warning, but I also got a surprise visit from the "Bacon Bits" in White Mountain.  That was wonderful, and perfect timing!  The checker there says he doesn't remember ever having such a visit from friends at that checkpoint before (I'll post a photo below).  I'm a very lucky girl!!  After Kim and I managed to drag ourselves out of our sleeping bags the final morning, the stretch to Safety and Nome went relatively quickly.  I was eager to see all the people in Nome waiting my arrival!  :) ... some who had been waiting for days.

I mentioned above "perfect timing" when the Bacon Bits arrived in White Mountain.  There was a very windy section for about 5 miles outside of White Mountain that was eye-opening.  The dogs and I worked hard to keep the sled moving forward against the winds from the North. I still had my trailer on at the time, and realized how much of a sail it can be.   That was the scariest moment of the race, and it wasn't life-threatening, just eye-opening.  I dropped my trailer in White Mountain, in case we had to battle the wind all the way to Nome.  But, the "Bacon Bits" were a really fun distraction from the anticipation of wind that we may encounter on the next run.

There were lows on the race...  My good friend, Mary Helwig, and I had decided to run together through the Steps, Gorge and Burn.   We breezed through the Steps, and made it to the Happy River water crossing which we decided to help each other through.  Mary helped me get my team across, and I tied them off well.  And then we started working on her team.  Unfortunately, during the process, her dog, Ajax, got loose.  I knew from when they lived here at Bacon's Acres, he is a very shy dog.  Two snow machiners arrived, and were helping Mary.  My dogs were screaming to run, and chewing lines and trying to hump each other.  After it was apparent there wasn't much I could do to help in comparison to the two folks on snow machines, and it wouldn't be a quick process for Mary to get Ajax back in her team (she couldn't continue the race without him), I decided I needed to continue on.  I was worried and sad to leave her and her team.  I was very happy to still be in Rohn when we heard the good news that Ajax was caught and would be reunited with Mary.   

The hardest part of the race was arriving in Cripple and hearing the news about Jeff and Aily's teams.  I was heart-broken and very worried about them.  I was able to write a note to Jeff, that was transferred to an email by a race official and delivered to him when he arrived at his next checkpoint.  

Also, on the trail, I heard the news that Norma Dehlia passed away.  It was her home in Skwentna that I volunteered all those years, so I had gotten to know her very well.  I was happy she was still around to see the news of my homecoming with the team in Skwentna.  Norma, you will be missed.  Perhaps, you have joined the herd of guardian angels I have that manages to keep me safe on all my crazy adventures.

And, a note about my musher friends, new and old.  Connecting along the trail makes all the difference too.  I am grateful for all the kind words, the hugs, the help, the companionship.  You all helped make this a very positive adventure for my team and me.  

Mary, thank you for hanging in there... You did it!!!!  (I told her she wasn't allowed to scratch, as I needed her hugs at every checkpoint)  

I also want to say a special thank you to the all the volunteers/vets/race committee/community members/fans.  I believe you all gave your best to make us feel welcomed and supported.  I was very pleased to feel how supportive the race committee, checkpoint staff and vets continued to be even for those of us in the back of the pack.  Thank you for your extra time and attention! It was very obvious everyone wanted us to succeed. :)