Sunday, February 9, 2014

Yukon Quest 300...WOW!!

 Wow! There really isn't any other word for the awesome experience the team and I had on the trail. The whole thing seemed so surreal and dreamlike. Running a mid-distance race like this in conjunction with the long distance Yukon Quest 1000 mile race was amazing. I got to see the 1000 milers out on the trail and in checkpoints. Yes, I have seen the race as a handler and a spectator, but having just gone over the same trail as them, and not be racing them, was a different perspective. The entire race I kept thinking to myself, "Ok, what if I was going all the way to Whitehorse, what would I do?" In Circle, as the 1000 milers were taking off and heading down the river, I watched longingly, and I admit, I was envious, as I was getting ready to head back down Birch Creek to Central for the finish. 

The race start was moved off the Chena River and onto 2nd Ave. Being right in the middle of town meant that the YQ300 had a pretty good sized crowd for the start. It was very exciting to see the sides of the start chute crowed with cheering fans. It also gave us a chance to talk to fans and shop owners. I was even asked for my autograph! One inflated ego coming up! It was great to see kids giggling and squealing over the dogs and asking to pet them. 

I have a lot of pics I decided to share for this post. Most of them were not taken by me, but friends who were photographers on the race instead.  I would like to thank Scott Chesney, Albert Marquez, Bonnie Foster and Donna Quante for their awesome photos. Sorry if I missed someone. I feel like pictures are a great way to show what went on, more than my words could.
Darrin attaching my sled bib.
Apparently I laugh a lot. I didn't realize this until I saw all the pics of me looking like I am slightly manic.
The harnesses are out and ready for the dogs.
A bag of booties for the start. We decided not to boot all the feet due to the report of glare ice on the trail. We booted all the feet on the dogs in team and wheel. We booted the back feet of the swing and lead dogs. This allowed the front end to get traction, but also took some of the power from the team helping to keep the speed down and the team in control.
Harnessing and getting ready for go time!
Scooter, Kermit and Mystic....already looking down the trail.
Getting all my gear on before hooking the dogs up.
Feeling kind of plump with a pocket full of extra booties, gloves, snacks and other random items.
Every dog received a new tag for their collar. We were required to carry a bet book. I the vet book was each dog's name. Next to their name was the letter of their tag. This allowed the dogs to be tracked and made sure dogs were not switched out. Some mushers in the 300 also had their dog microchipped. Most of ours had been chipped last year in the 1000 miler with Darrin.
Nix was excited to have his new tag put on.
The moment we had been waiting for. Siscu and Fozzie were anxious to go.
Boris (the brown dog in wheel) and Glacier are all smiles as we zoom down 2nd Ave.
Deep thoughts before the start.
Kayak meditating
Zoom zoom!
These dogs put there total trust, love and faith in me to do the right thing. I and I put my total faith, trust and love in them.
Look at how many people lined the streets to see us off!
I went out second. Since I was so close to the start line, we walked the team to the line using only handlers. The volunteer army of the YQ is amazing. A HUGE thanks goes out to all the people who gave up their Saturday, and beyond, so that we can have the time of our lives out on the trail.
Last minute laugh with friends before we hit the trail.
Siscu and Fozzie

They LOVE to go!!
Off we go!
Head-Lites....these LED collars are awesome. The dogs were seen and safe for the duration of the race as we zoomed in and out of checkpoints and crossed roads in the nighttime hours.
After leaving the start line, we went onto the Chena River and made our way to the Two Rivers trail system and onto the Two Rivers Checkpoint (which is out past Angel Creek).
Here we are leaving the road and heading down onto the river.
As we traveled down the river, there were people all over the place! They were yelling and cheering us on as we went by. The dogs were getting more and more excited each time we saw people. I was given a sack lunch that had a sandwich and a brownie, bags of cookies and all sorts of other yummies from people along the way to the first checkpoint.
I spent 4 hours at the first checkpoint. I dropped Jackie who had a sight wrist injury. I felt uncomfortable taking her on knowing that we had some serious up and downs ahead. The first huge obstacle laid in wait for us...Rosebud. No one ever talks about Rosebud. The 20 miles to the base of Rosebud was tight twists and turns that were icy side hills, and did I say tight twists and turns!? All I could think about was, "They do this with 14 dogs?" We reaches the base unscathed.  The trail was very well marked. We were in blowing freezing fog, which iced up everything right away. The trail markers leading up to what seemed like the top resembled a runway...a runway to the stars. Straight up we went. Just when I thought we were getting close, the markers went up even more. Up and up and up we went. From there is was a rolling up and down as we went along the ridge line. We made a final decent and ended in the trees. One down and one to go. The rest of the trail into the next checkpoint, Mile 101, was wet and icy. Kermit and Siscu were rock stars. They gee/hawed through and around every obstacle thrown at us without as much as batting an eyelash. There were times that the reroute around some exceptionally wet spots took us onto the road. Luckily, I had an confident front end and we navigated it easily. Once at Mile 101, I quickly fed and bedded the dogs. We stayed for our mandatory 2 hour  rest allowing the vets to check out the team. The vet crew is awesome and very thorough. At Mile 101 I decided to drop Fozzie. He had a sore wrist and had a noticeable limp.
Zoee, Sicsu, Kernit and Mystic enjoy some straw time before hitting the trail to Central.
Glacier and Boris get some shut eye in Mile 101
After our mandatory 2 hour break at Mile 101, we pulled hook and headed out to tackle Eagle Summit. The wind had really started to pick up, but I knew I had lots of day light and was ready for what was waiting ahead for us. The dogs left the checkpoint like pros and navigated the overflow and glare ice without hesitation. The climb was immediate, but slow and gradual. We trotted along up the valley, gaining elevation with each step. It was a beautiful day, despite the high winds and the dark ominous storm that seemed to lay in wait for us. The lighting, the contrast of the bright sun and the dark storm, only added to the potential drama of the situation. Once above trees that had been providing some relief from the wind, I was blown around like a rag doll. The trail was hard and icy. The dogs didn't have booties on and were able to dig in and march up. I walked/kicked besides the sled when I could to try to keep the sled inline, but blown to the side each time. My wheel dogs were amazing. They kicked into that extra low gear and hauled the sled over to where the trail was. We ran into Scott Chesney who had snowmachined up to capture some action shots. The weather and lighting was so poor at the summit, he had to come down some. Onward we climbed. Wind bashing us as we went. We turned up another valley and headed for the final pitch. It was at this point my left eye froze shut. I stopped the team and quickly removed my hand from my seal mitts and pulled the chunks of ice off. I cinched my hood a little tighter and off we went. The final pitch was steep, but short, and was nothing compared to what we had climbed just hours before when we went up Rosebud. The trail was in great condition. The team walked up. Here we encountered a couple of ladies snapping pictures. They cheered with me as we reached the top. Then I did what they had recommended in the mushers meeting..."Just tip over and go." I had the team at a nice controlled walk and over we went. Two feet on the bar brake, hands griped firmly on the handle bow, winds whipping continuously, snow swirling all around us. The deep snow on the first decent was deep and allowed the brake to keep the team at a manageable speed. It was a quick and steep downhill. We went through the saddle then up a wee bit and got ready to "tip over" for the final, longer decent. By the time I had reached Eagle Summit, the 1000 mile racers had all already gone over, making a nice deep trough. My team hates troughs and jumped to the right side, fortunately taking the sled with them. We walked down the backside, nice and easy. I felt in control the entire time. Once again the snow conditions allowed the brake to keep us safe and slow. The wind wasn't blowing on this side and the downhill ride was rather enjoyable. I could look around and take in the beauty which surrounded me (without having my eyes freeze shut again!). Once we reached the trees at the bottom, I looked back in awe of what we had just done.
Trying not to get blown away going up Eagle Summit.
Sorry little trees!
The rest of the trail into Central was much of the same. Ice, overflow and some tussocks covered in sugar snow tossed in for some fun. Once again I was in awe of the team as they made their way through in style.
We traveled through mining country. The trail was wide and the views were breathtaking.
Teams crossed the road a few more times heading into Central. Drivers on the road had these cute warning signs to be on the lookout for mushers and teams crossing.
In Central I took a 5 hour break. This allowed me to take good care of the team, get an hour of sleep as well as change the runner plastic on my sled. The sled was caked up pretty good with ice and the runner plastic was pretty beat up from the trail. I was the first 300 team to arrive in Central. This was not exactly the plan, but is what happened. By taking only 2 hours in 101, I was able to leap teams that had arrived at 101 ahead of me. I was getting ready to take a nap when Aliy and Chase came and went. I watched their awesome looking teams come rolling in like freight trains. They both made short order of getting organized and then took off down the trail again. As they were on the runners and then camping out on Birch Creek, I was snuggled up in a nice warm bed at Central. I love that place! I never saw Chase again until we arrived in Circle. We passed Aliy at her camp site booting up her team. Later she ended up passing me. Birch Creek was not very exciting that night as we made our way to Circle. More freezing fog limited my view to only the butts in front of me. Not having anything to rest my eyes on or to stimulate my vision made it difficult to stay away for the last bit into the checkpoint. I was very happy to get off the river and zoom through town to the fire hall. We were greeted by super friendly volunteers and got a great parking spot. We had 6 hours and 28 minutes in Circle (6 hours plus time differential). My run to Circle took me 10 hours. I had overfed the team in Central and then again on the trail. I took this into account as I fed and watered dogs in Circle. I was able to get 1.5 hours of sleep as well as dry out all my gear. It was a nice and relaxing stop. I got to chat with some more 1000 milers and see teams take off down the river. The thought of going back down Birch Creek was not thrilling, to be honest, and was the joke amongst mushers. "I am happy I am heading down the Yukon instead of that creek again!" But what I thought was going to be another boring run turned out to be an absolutely stunning run! The run back was an hour faster than the run out. We moved well and could have kept on going!
The team resting in Circle.
We left Circle around 1pm. It was a beautiful sunny day. The trees were loaded down with thick blankets of snow. It was like running through the clouds. Here's Glacier (left) and Siscu (right) out front of the gang.
Casting shadows

Birch Creek
Beautiful and chilly run back to Central from Circle for the finish
The sun shone down on us
Central Checkpoint a sight to see after being on Birch Creek for 9 hours.

Zoee ROCKED the YQ300. She ran in swing for the entire race.
Glacier brought us home in lead like a freight train! She was AMAZING!
(Out of order picture) Giving the dogs some loving before we took off from Circle.
Giving a wave bye to Bonnie and Albert as I left Circle.
At he finish! There was such a large and enthusiastic crowd. I was super surprised. The folks at Central are awesome and know how to treat mushers (and everyone else) like kings and queens.

The most awesome part of it all was going back to school the next day. I was SHOCKED when I opened up my door to find it decorated like a party! Signs, cards, streamers...the works! It was even more fun when the bus came and all the kids poured out giving me hugs. They were so excited. That was the best feeling! They told me stories of watching the trackers, reading comments and looking for pictures. They were trying to figure out how long it would take me to get from one checkpoint to the next. I love these kids. I am so very lucky to have kids, co-workers and parents like I have at Slana School.

Having seen the first bit of the Yukon Quest trail from what is considered the more difficult side, running along teams that were going the distance, experiencing the full support that the Yukon Quest has to mind now thinks of 2016...the next time the Yukon Quest will run from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. I plan on being on of those mushers that will be going the distance.


  1. Congratulations Heidi on a great run. Enjoyed reading every bit of the blog and seeing all the great photos. The experience gained will be a big plus next time out. Good luck in your future and have a great Quest run in 2016,

    Jim Parsons... aka Woodenarrows

    1. Thanks Jim! The more I get out in racing situations, the more experience I gain. I want to put myself in as many different scenarios as I can before "the big one." :)

  2. After following you on the CB300 and the YQ300, me thinks, you are ready for the YQ1000 in 2015.

    1. Hahaha!! Thanks! The dogs are ready to go 1000 miles now, but I think I need a few more miles of racing under my belt before I tackle 1000 miles. We will be headed to Kotzebue for the Kobuk 440 in April. Lots more racing ahead!