RUNNING THE COPPER BASIN 300 – “UMA AND ME”

Continued from Mushing Magazine Nov/Dec issue on page 39I didn’t know how much time I had lost. I figured it was about 3 hours, maybe more. Things began to feel kind of surreal. Not that it mattered to me then, but I think we were in about 22nd place when I decided to leave without Uma.Jim had warned me about a really big hill, “The Dome.” So every big hill we approached I assumed was “The Dome.” We continued in this high, treeless country. I was no longer impressed by the beauty or the majesty of my surroundings. My mood was black and my only goal was to get to Paxson. After coming down a steep bank and then crossing a river, I finally saw it: The Dome. A towering, white mountain clearly visible in the moonlight. The combination of the moonlight, my mood and exhaustion threw my perception of the mountain completely haywire. It looked like a fake mountain that someone would make for a bizarre toy train display. I could see little lights slowly working their way up The Dome. As we approached the hill’s base, I could tell that this thing was huge. Up we went. It was a steep grade that just kept going, on and on and on. Even in my gloom, I was impressed that these 11 dogs actually pulled me and the sled up this hill. We climbed and climbed. When I thought we were finally to the top, another ridge appeared up ahead. We continued to climb. It got steeper and steeper until we hit the top and went down the other side.The next thing Lanier had warned me about was a big river, the Gakona. I couldn’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something about a tricky crossing. We caught and passed a team. After snaking through the brushy woods on a little goat trail, we dropped down onto the river. The markings were intermittent and confusing on the big braided river. We were only a few miles down stream from the base of the Gakona Glacier. My team followed the trail to the left. Something didn’t seem right, but I could see that other teams had been on the trail. There were markings in the snow where teams had swung around. Suddenly my team went up the river bank and stopped in a ball. They were tangled in the alders and deep snow. Another team then came up behind us. I yelled back, “This isn’t the right trail.” He pulled his team around and doubled back. I tried to excise my team from the brush. I had to double back the entire team on a narrow little trail. It was a mess, with lots of little tangles, but no fights. We then went back to where the trail came onto the river and found the correct trail, which went to the right. I could see the headlights of several teams out on the river ice. They didn’t seem to be moving. It was a big river, and the teams were further away than I first thought. When I finally caught up to the gaggle of teams, we stopped and waited for them to get by what ever was holding them up. Finally the train of teams ahead started to move, and we discovered the obstacle. It was open water, little ice ditches with open creeks. Once again, I had to pull my leaders through the water and then untangle the team on the other side. We did this over 2 or 3 of these little creeks. My boots got wet again and again. They were now caked with ice. It felt like I was wearing clunky ski boots. After the river, we passed a couple more teams. My team was getting tired. I was tired. The miles ground on and on. Finally we hit the pipeline running over the frozen ground out in the middle of nowhere. The trail along the pipeline was easy, but somewhat confusing. We snaked around some buildings and bunker type structures. We passed another team. From high on a hill, I could see a flashing light from a vehicle on the highway down below. The trail markers were confusing and myteam went left. About halfway down this big hill, I knew that we had taken a wrong turn. We kept going anyway because I was in no mood to go back up that hill. At the bottom, we went down a gravel road until we hit the highway. The vehicle with the flashing light was about 400 yards up the highway. A big diesel engine started up and the vehicle slowly moved down to where we were stopped. “Where is the trail?” I asked. “Go around that house over there and you’ll get back on the trail.” He pointed to a house on the other side of the highway. Off we went. A dog barked at us as we made our way up a driveway, around a pole building and on to Summit Lake. The markers on the lake were sporadic. Ice fog hung over the lake. It felt to me like we were on that lake forever. We had covered over 120 miles since the start. We were dog tired, no pun intended, and emotionally spent. All I wanted was to get to Paxson. So when I saw what we had to do to get off the lake, I almostcried … really. The trail ran straight up a bluff. I mean straight up. I later learned that another racer had so much trouble getting up this hill that she cut off her sled bag and left it at the base of the hill. She then ran up the hill, mushed to Paxson and scratched. They had to send out a snow machine to retrieve her sled bag and equipment. I looked at the incline. I didn’t think I could climb it, much less drive a dog team up it. With no other option, up we went. The dogs lookedback at me, questioning our route. “Up, up” I grunted as I pushed the sled straight up over my head. In all likelihood, the hill was probably not much more than two hundred feet high, but it was steeper than any hill I have ever run with a dog sled. The dogs clawed up the steep incline. I scrambled to get my footing on the slippery slope. My lungs burned as I pushed the sled with all my remaining might. When the dogs finally got to the top of the hill, they simply disappeared over the edge; I couldn’t see them because they were at almost 90 degree angle from me. Once I crested the hill, I had conquered the last obstacle on the Chistochina to Paxson leg, and I knew my race would soon be over. In three miles, I’d meet my fate and be disqualified. I felt humiliated to have come all this way only to lose a dog. I wanted to fly back to Minnesota and forget that this whole race had ever happened. Oh, the shame. Poor me. I didn’t ever want to run a dog sled race again in my life. I imagined that after a rest, I’d probably end up borrowing a snow machine and return to the creek crossing to look for Uma. Would this nightmare ever end? We ran down the snow covered Denali highway into Paxson. The dogs loped downhill, sensing that a checkpoint was nearby. I was completely resigned and depressed. We pulled up to the checkpoint, and the checkers came over to sign me in. The first words out of my mouth were “I need a judge.” So, I waited while the checker ran off to find a judge. It was 7 a.m. In a couple of minutes, the checker returned with a judge.“I need to scratch,” I said quietly. “I lost a dog.”“Hum, let’s see. You’re Gunnar Johnson?” the Judge asked. “You don’t have to scratch. Your dog is here. Another musher brought it in.”My mind started spinning. I had spent the last few hours resigning myself to scratching from the race and never having to go back out on that cruel trail again. None of this made any sense. “Are you sure?”I asked dumbfounded. “Yes, I’m sure,” he replied. So, I signed in and Anna arrived to lead the team to our parking spot. We stopped in front of the food drop, I threw the drop bag on top of the sled and sunk my hook into my bale of straw. “Welcome” Anna said. “It is -40°F and you are in 19th place.” As soon as she mentioned it, I felt the cold. We parked the dogs and started on the checkpoint routine. I pulled off all the booties. Then I spread the straw and went up tothe lodge for some water. I fed the dogs and soaked some more food. The dogs ate fine. I was anxious to get inside and thaw out. I had been out in the subzero weather for 12 hours and had been awake for more than 24 hours straight. I quickly organized my sled and headed into the Paxson Lodge. Paxson is basically a truck stop that had its hay day during the construction of the pipeline back in the 1970s. The Paxson Lodge is a drafty, old hotel-restaurant-gasstation-gift shop. As I walkedinto the lodge, I saw mushers sleeping in the former dining room and bar. Lanier was sitting on a chair with a pained look on his face as Anna strained to pull off his frozen boots. I found a little corner and started to peel off layers of damp clothes. First I removed my big wind parka, which was caked in frost. Then I pulled off my parka. The area around the neck was soaking wet from the condensation of my breath. Off came my soggy face gator and wool hat. The wires from the battery pack to my headlamp had to be pulled out of my old fleece sweatshirt before I could remove that. I then unzipped the bib overalls that were iced up to my calf. The boots were the hardest. They were frozen solid. I untied the icy laces and pried my feet out. I hung my gear so it could dry and then limped into the restaurant. It was morning, so I ordered breakfast, some juice and a big glass of water. I really wanted coffee, but did not order it because I knew I wanted to sleep later. I guzzled the drinks and wolfed down the food. Lanier stumbled over to my table and told me that he was the musher that “caught” Uma. When he left me at the creek, he had thought “that poor SOB.” He proceeded to run over the dome and down by the Gakona River. He went left instead of right after getting onto the river. His team got all tangled up, and he had to unclip a few dogs and untangle the mess. Later, crossing one of the little creeks out on the ice of the Gakona, he had another big tangle. When he finally sorted out all the dogs, two empty collars were hanging on his gangline. He looked around and caught those two dogs. He noticed that one of the dogs didn’t have a harness. As he looked closer, he realized that he was holding Uma. He was at least 20 miles from where I lost her. So he pulled out an extra harness and put Uma in his team. The only explanation Jim could think of as to how Uma became clipped to his gangline was that she was running with the team when he had the first tangle. As he unclipped and then reattached dogs, he clipped her in without realizing it. Thus, that crafty Uma beat my team to Paxson by almost an hour. It wasn’t that Uma didn’t want to run; she just wanted to run with someone else. It kind of reminds me of a girl I knew in high school. “So Jim, you were the one that went the wrong way getting onto the Gakona River?” “Yes,” he acknowledged.“Were you, by any chance, the guy who took the wrong turn before the highway coming off the pipeline?” I asked.“You took that too?” he replied. Everyone takes their eight hour layover at Paxson. It was mid-morning and I was scheduled to leave at about 3:30 p.m. I went back out to check on the team. All the dogs were resting comfortably in their beds of straw. I fed them a second meal and then organized my sled. The sky was starting to brighten up. The light of day helped pull me out of my melancholy. I was back in the race with 150 miles to go, but the pressure was gone. I was no longer in the hunt for a top-ten spot. We were about four hours behind the leader and stuck well in the back of the pack. About this point, something clicked deep inside me. My attitude suddenly hardened. I did not feel nervous about the trail, the dogs or my ability to persevere. We were going to run the rest of this race hard, and we would finish. From this point on, I barely spoke to anyone else. I resolved to channel all my energyinto caring for the dogs and moving down the trail. I knew that the last 150 miles would be physically and emotionally grueling. But we were going to keep pressing all the way to the end.I went back inside the lodge and tried to sleep. I scrounged up an old chair cushion and used my parka as a blanket. The musher on my left was snoring and the musher on my right was talking. My mind was so busy that I could not sleep. After laying there for an hour or so, I decided to have some coffeeafter all. As the day wore on, teams began to leave and the checkpoint quieted down. The weather warmed up and it started to snow. I didn’t feel hungry and had to force myself to drink a can of coke. My gear was not drying very well. The boots, in particular, were still very wet. I went back outside and changed the runner plastic on my sled. Lanier packed up and left. I did all my pre-run chores such as putting on booties and repacking my sled. Anna was going to help me getback onto the trail, but I still had to wait another 15 minutes until my eight hours and thirty eight minutes of layover had run. From Paxson, we would run 17 miles to Meier’s Lake Roadhouse and then another 35 miles to our next stopping point at Sourdough Creek. Lanier said little about the trail to Sourdough Creek, but had only bad things to say about being at Sourdough Creek itself. We left Paxson right at 3:32 p.m. The food and rest had brought new life into the team. Uma was back in lead. This time I ran a neckline from her harness to her collar. The trip to Meier’s Lake Lodge was relatively uneventful. The trail ran down Paxson Lake. It was dark by the time we pulled in and out of Meier’s Lake Lodge. Almost immediately, we passed a team. The trail out of Meiers Lake heads up into the high country. We made a long, long, steady climb up a densely forested hill. The trees thinned out the higher we climbed. Eventually we crested a hill, high above the treeline. Icould see the light of homes high up in the hills to our east. I wondered about what kind of people would live way out here in the wilds of Alaska. The team was running well. They didn’t have a blazing speed anymore, but felt strong even on the grueling hills. After a while, I realized that it wasn’t lights of homes I was seeing but stars. This was the first sign that my mind was starting to go. The 35 miles to Sourdough Creek were up and down most of the way. The narrow, snaking trail through the pines was beautiful and interesting. Eventually we dropped out of the brush onto some small lakes, back into the woods and along the pipeline again. The trail jogged to the left along a big industrial building lit with bright sodium lighting. The checkpoint was on the bank of a river. We pulled into the Sourdough checkpoint at 9:30 p.m. in 17th position. Anna helped me pull the team down onto the river next to Lanier’s resting team. It was cold, really cold. My plan wasto stay at Sourdough for four hours. Ideally, we would have rested as long as our last run. But to stay competitive we had to cut rests until the finish.After pulling off all the booties and feeding the dogs, Lanier gave me two juice boxes he had thawed in his cooker. I sucked them both down. Then I looked around for someplace to lie down. I felt very tired. The only shelter was an unheated little tent with no floor. I went back to my team and spread some straw by my sled and topped thatwith an insulated ground pad. I fell asleep almost immediately. Almost as quickly, I woke up chilled to the bone. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was too cold. I lumbered over to the fire and stood in the cold for an extremely miserable hour and a half. When I put my feet near the fire, steam rose from my damp boots. Exhausted, I went back to the team, rebootied, packed the sled and watched Lanier leave. The trail out of Sourdough seemed confusing. It looked like the trail went outonto the river, into the woods, dropped back onto the river, went under a bridge and then went up the riverbank into the woods. I pulled the team off the straw and hooked up all the tug lines. The team’s pep was gone. The dogs were tired and sore; I could relate. I was worried the team would not want to leave the checkpoint, so I waited for Hugh Neff to leave and let my team chase him out of the checkpoint. We left at1:20 a.m. and shuffled along up into the woods and up a long incline. Hugh let us pass. Soon after we were passed by two of the race leaders who had burned all their rest time at Sourdough and planned to run nonstop the final hundred miles to the finish. They were using the Lanier strategy.According to my map, it was 48 miles to Wolverine Lodge. We were dropping down out of the high country and into a lake region. The snow wasn’t as deep and the trail was harder. I began to feel extremely tired. We had been racing for about 40 hours and I had hardly slept. The next 30 miles were a blur. I would fall asleep and topple over, stopping the sled. Then I started to hallucinate. I knew I was hallucinating, but couldn’t make it stop. I saw signs everywhere: street signs, road signs, bill boards and signs like you would see in 19th century England. The moon was full, so it was amazingly bright out. I also saw old cars parked in the woods and at least one unlit, multistory building. I think it was a hotel. My hallucinations weren’t all visual. I was hearing voices andbarks. I’d hear a sound behind me, turn, and find nothing there. It seemed like we had been running for hours and hours. I had filled my thermos back in Paxson. Now it was frozen solid, so I had nothing to drink. I could tell I was extremely dehydrated. All I wanted was something to drink and to be able to sleep. Luckily, the team was running as if on autopilot. We dropped onto a large lake. It was still dark, but I could see a light on the far shore. My dehydrated mind tried tofigure out if this was the next checkpoint. Something didn’t seem right. The dogs perked up, thinking we were coming to a checkpoint. I clung to the back of the sled, in a state of half-slumber. I opened my eyes and there was a person, bathed in the moonlight, standing next to the trail. “Would you like some soup or water?” the person asked. I looked at the person thinking I was in the middle of another hallucination. “Soup,” I replied to the strange apparition. The person handed me a paper cup full of a red liquid and noodles. I drank the lukewarm liquid and ate the noodles. Meanwhile, the dogs assumed that we had arrived at a checkpoint and were eager to hunker down for a nice, long rest. Before I could hook down, they had pulled us off the ice, into the brush and were trying to settle in behind a shed. I kind of freaked out and tossed the soup. “Grab my leader and help meget back on the trail!” I commanded the soup guy. He scurried up and grabbed Pluto andthat troublesome little Uma. We got back onto the trail, but the dogs kept trying to get back behind the shed. I didn’t want to get stuck here, so I decided it was time to head down the trail. The soup guy was confused and seemed miffed by my erratic behavior. He asked: “What was wrong with the soup?” And: “What number are you?”I grabbed the cup of water he had been holding and said, “I’m number nineteen.” Then it was back to the dogs. “Hike, Hike Hike. No, Haw. Uma, no.” Reluctantly the dogs trotted across the lake. It would be 25 miles until we reached the next checkpoint. The soup guy – if there really was a soup guy – probably thought I was a complete jerk. The soup and the water were just what I needed. My mind cleared and I wasn’t nearly as sleepy. Lanier had warned me that I might have some trouble finding the Wolverine checkpoint on Lake Louise. He had trained the dogs in that area earlier in the season, but was based out of a different lodge. The dogs remember those kinds of things and would probably want to go back to the wrong lodge. Plus, the Lake Louise area is popular with snowmachiners, which means that there are side trails going every which way. Lanier also talked about a big red strobe light. I could not remember if we were supposed to go toward the light or away from it. Once we got onto Lake Louise the trail was confusing. We picked our way along. It was still this oddly bright nighttime. There were lots of markers on thelake. The trick was figuring out which ones were for the Copper Basin race and which were for something else. I thought I saw another team up ahead, but wasn’t sure. Eventually, we straggled up to the Wolverine Lodge. It was about 8 a.m. Once again, Anna met us and led us back down onto to the ice, next to Lanier’s resting team. The run from Sourdough had taken 6 ½ hours, which was an hour and a half longer than I had expected. We had only 3 ½ hours to burn of the original 20 hours of mandatoryrest. Once again, I pulled booties and spread the straw. Then I shuffled up to the lodge to get a pail of hot water. I fed the dogs and soaked up a second batch of food. The dogs were tired and merely picked at the food. It was cold, probably -20°F, so I put dog coats on all 12 dogs. Before heading into the warm lodge, I checked all of their feet. In mushing, if you are going to stop, feed and rest you really want to stay at least four hours. Otherwise, the dogs don’t really recoverenough to make it worth the investment of time. That is why a number of the teams had elected to rest seven or eight hours back at Sourdough and then run straight to the finish. I wondered whether my team would get up and go on less than four hours rest? As I shuffled back up to the lodge, my mind was busy listing all the things I needed to do before leaving again: dry my gear, eat, drink and sleep. The first thing I did was strip down to my long johns and spread my gear over a table in thewarmest corner of the lodge. My boots were still wet and the rest was damp from wear. Then I went over to the bar and flagged down the waitress. She was serving drinks to a few locals and was dressed in a small tank top that showed off her extensive tattooing. I didn’t have the energy for much small talk. “I’d like breakfast, a big glass of orange juice and a big glass of water.” A few minutes later she returned with my order. Needless to say, I didn’t linger over breakfast. Next,I calculated in my head how much time I had. I’d need at least 45 minutes to bootie the dogs, pack and sign out. That left me with exactly one hour to sleep. I found Anna and asked her to wake me in one hour. In the rear of the lodge was a room for the mushers to sleep. I found an empty bed and crawled in. I immediately fell into a deep, deep sleep. Exactly 59 minutes later, I woke up in a complete fog, not knowing where I was. As I crawled out of bed, I realized that my body was in rough shape too.I gingerly made my way out into the lodge, just as Anna came to wake me. Lanier was just about to head down the trail. He and I talked briefly. I told him that the leg from Sourdough to Wolverine seemed like a long 48 miles. He chuckled and said, “It is really more like 60 miles.” Anna came over and gathered the exhausted 65-year-old Lanier and led him out the door. It was time for him to hit the trail.I lingered putting on my gear. The sun was now up and it was a bright, sunny day. The temperature was still cold, but there was no wind. Oh, how I would have liked to just sit there for another 3 or 4 hours. Anna soon appeared and told me I had to get going. I rallied and went back out onto the ice. The dogs were all sound asleep. I bootied them, packed my sled for the last time and signed out with the checker. It was 11:30 a.m. I pulled the whole team off the straw, more than 100 feet down the trail, jumped on the back of the sled and said, “Hike.” The team didn’t move. Annaand I led them another 100 feet down the trail. I switched leaders, ran back to the sled and said, “Hike”. The team went about 10 feet and stopped. They seemed reluctant to leave Anna, their owner, caretaker, and the person that leads them to food and rest at every checkpoint. I suggested that Anna go back to the lodge. So she walked back up the trail. I walked the team yet another 100 feet down the trail, gave each dog an encouraging rub and jumped back on the sled. We went about20 feet and stopped. We repeated the drill again, this time going about 30 yards before the team stopped. I switched leaders again, trying to put the most eager dogs in the front. By now we were far enough away from the lodge that the dogs began to accept that we were going to head down the trail. The team kept moving, slowly at first. As their sore bodies started to warm up, we moved a little bit faster. After a couple of miles we got off the lake and headed into the woods on a snowmachine trail.The route was relatively flat, but moguled by snowmachine traffic. We weren’t going very fast, but we were moving. There were 28 miles to Tolsona and then another 24 miles to the finish. The sunshine, and the fact that we were in the home stretch, helped pick up my spirits. As we closed in on Tolsona, the team was moving at a healthy clip. I had Pluto and Uma back in lead. I still had all 12 dogs and only Waylon was lagging. He had diarrhea and kept stopping to relieve himself. We dropped down through a beautiful pine forest onto Tolsona Lake. Up ahead I could see another team. The musher was wearing a red coat. We were rapidly gaining on them. As we approached the checkpoint, we were only 20 yards behind the team with the red-coated musher. I was excited, maybe too excited. My team was running great and we were only 24 miles from the finish. I planned to chase the team ahead out of the checkpoint and pass it soon thereafter. Then I saw Anna standing next to the checkpoint. The dogs saw her too. Seeing Anna signaled to them that we were going to stop, have a meal and rest. They knew the routine, all they had to do was follow Anna to comfort and rest. I quickly signed in and dropped Waylon. He could have made it the rest of the way, but I saw no need to tax him. “Hike,” I commanded. Uma led the entire team to the right, up the hill toward the Tolsona Lodge and away from the trail. “Haw, haw!” I barked. They kept going. Anna ranup and led the team back to the trail. She released the leaders and they swung back up toward the lodge. Anna led us down the trail a 100 yards and released the team. They tried to turn back to the lodge. The dogs did not want to leave Anna or the checkpoint. This was serious. I had a full mutiny on my hands. We had only 24 easy miles to the finish line and the dogs were physically fine, but they had decided, as a group, that this was where we should stop. It was looking pretty bleak. I knew if we stopped in Tolsona it would be hours before we would leave again. My mind raced. “Anna, you have to leave.” She trudged back up the trail. It was all I could do to keep the team from following her. I switched leaders. The entire team laid down. I pulled the team down the trail. They laid down again. It was clearly a battle of wills and I was outnumbered 11 to 1. Bob Hickel and his buddies came up the trail from the checkpoint. They helped me assess the situation and pointed out the one dog that showed a slight willingness to go. I switched that dog into lead. We led the team down the trail. The team stopped again. We led them further down the trail and around the bend where they could no longer see the checkpoint. We started to move a little. Then the new leader stopped to pee and the whole team ground to a halt. I switched leaders again. This time I had little Moon and Libra in front. They ran for about 100 yards until we came to a fork in the trail. They went right. The choice seemed wrong, so I said, “Haw.” They swung left and headed down the trail. As soon as we had gone about 30 yards, I realized I had made the wrong call at the fork. I turned the whole team around. That was too much for Moon and Libra. They quit. So I put Pluto and Zoro in lead. They puttered along at a walking pace. We were out by the highway running in the ditch. The dogs started to pick up the pace a little bit. The sun was setting and the stars started to appear in the sky. We went down into a river valley and had to climb back up the other side. I knew that this would be the last test of the race. If we made it to the top, we would make it to the finish. Slowly, ever so slowly, we made it up that hill. By now, Uma was back into running. I put her back in lead. Once we made it to the top of that climb it was literally all downhill from there. We enjoyed 18 miles of downhill into Glennallen, the team was moving at a light lope. As we nearedtown, the trail markers directed us to the left, but we went right. I noticed the “don’t go this way” markers, just as the sled launched off about a six-foot embankment. I hung on and came crashing down onto the trail. Once again, I could see the musher in the red coat up ahead. I turned on my headlamp and tried to close up a draft along my jacket zipper against the cold. We ran across a restaurant parking lot. I had no idea where the trail was. The dogs seemed pretty confident, so I let them pick our path. In a tree was the sign for No Man’s Land. This sealed our fate. Before No Man’s Land I could have called for trail and passed the team ahead. But there was no way we were going to pass a team, on the fly, with all the road approaches, cars and a tired dog team. We caught up to the team with the red-coated musher and followed immediately behind them. Suddenly, we were at the finish in the Glennallen public library parking lot. It was 5:15 p.m. Anna and Jim helped leadthe team to the truck. I helped a little bit, but mostly stood there in a stupor. The race was over. Somehow we had managed to find our way to the finish. I gave each of the dogs a little “thank you pat.” I could swear I saw a mocking look in Uma’s eye as I gave her a little hug. It was -25°F, so we didn’t linger outside after feeding the dogs and putting away all of my gear. We had managed a 12th position finish. Lanier had finished about an hour earlier in 10th place. Eventually, 23 of the original 32 teams completed the race.It is hard to describe the elation, fear, cold, thirst, beauty and exhaustion one experiences on a race like the Copper Basin. Months later, the lingering numbness in my big toe serves as a reminder of the experience. Starting out, I was apprehensive and, frankly, scared about my ability to complete the race. Trekking 300 miles through the frozen Alaskan backcountry in the dead of winter at -20°to -40°F is serious business. Loosing Uma at that creek-crossing was a turning point for me. After that ordeal and our surprising reunion, no obstacle seemed insurmountable. Having been down so far, I left Paxson confident that we were going to finish. It was just a matter of how much discomfort I would have to endure to get there.The dogs were pretty amazing. They ran 300 miles in 54 hours. It takes a strong dog team to be able to breeze through some of those obstacles along that trail. I was honored that the Laniers entrusted such a fine team to me and provided invaluable support along the trail. When I reflect back on the race, I think Richard Beattie had the right attitude. At Paxson, he explained, “that trip from Chistochina to Paxson was a blast. I loved the obstacles. I get so bored on just a plain old trail. The hill climbs, creek crossings and sloppy trails are fun. It is just great to be out there with my dogs tackling the challenges of the trail.”After I arrived back home in Minnesota, my mother called. She asked how my trip to Alaska was. “Oh, it was fine,” I replied. “How was everything back here?”

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