ICE ROAD DOG MUSHING: THE MOTEL

After the longest drive of my life, we FINALLY arrived in Yellowknife.   We endured crazy, bad roads and had a very close call when 40-50 mph winds blew our truck across the icy highway causing the truck to slip on the ice.  This, of course, happened just as a semi-truck was flying by in the opposite lane.  Lloyd handled it like a pro and kept it under control.  I watched everything in slow motion and held my breath wondering if we would wind up in the ditch or in front of the semi.   I don’t think I breathed for several hours after that.   The wind was so strong it managed to blow two complete bales of straw off our roof.  This has turned in a major inconvenience as we cannot find straw anywhere now.

The weather finally cleared up and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.  We stopped in Fort Providence for the night.  That was interesting.   Had Lloyd not been with us, we would never have figured out they had rooms at this place.  The rooms were in one of those metal buildings that reminded me of what you see at a construction site.   We got the only room left with two single beds and barely any heat.  Lloyd graciously took the floor, which I’m very thankful for since he was the only one that came equipped to do so.  Plus, I later learned there were remnants of prior visitors from years past; socks, toilet paper rolls etc.  I slept in my clothes and cranked the itty bitty room heater they gave us and, surprisingly, sometime near morning it was hotter than hell in that little room.

Fort Providence was 3 hours from Yellowknife and the road was a frost heaved ribbon through sparse trees and whiteness.  As you near Yellowknife it gets very rocky.   Then just like that you see a city pop up out of nowhere and I do mean nowhere!  Yellowknife is quite a metropolis complete with high rises and lots of people.  It is not only the capital of the Northwest Territories, but also the only city in the territories.   It reminded me of Fairbanks.   You see people walking everywhere and they are all bundled up in serious parkas and facemasks as they head to their destinations.   The current population is ethnically mixed.   22.2% of the population is aboriginals made up of First Nations, Me’tis and Inuit.  Of the eleven official languages of the Northwest Territories, five are spoken in significant numbers in Yellowknife: Dene Suline, Dogrib, South and North Slavey, English, and French. In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Somba K’e(Som-ba Kay) (“where the money is”).

Yellowknife came into existence from gold mining and today it is diamond mining.  Nearly 95% of the population is employed, which is extremely impressive.  Everything you need, except straw, can be found here.  They even have a Wal-Mart!

Upon arriving, we headed immediately to Grant Beck’s place to run on his trail.  This place was booming.  Grant looked exhausted and said that he had another 4 days to endure before it would slow down.  The touring business is getting 200 visitors a day!   Often times they arrive in groups of 50 or 60.   They had marketed the business in Japan, South Korea and China over the past year and things just took off.  They do several types of tours, but the main one is to see the Northern Lights.  They have these huge sleds in which they cram a bunch of people in the sled and take them out on the lake.  Grant said the sleds can hold, “7 Japanese or 6 Chinese, but only 5 Canadians!”

While we chatted with Grant in his room full of trophies we learned that Roxy Wright Champaigne was coming to the race this year.  She was not coming to watch either; she was coming to race.  What a thrill!   We had the opportunity to meet Roxy the year we visited Alaska and spent the evening listening to stories.  It was fascinating to hear our pedigrees come to life from the very person that ran these famous dogs.  We never imagined we would have the opporunity to someday actually race with her.   This lady is a legend and we are beyond thrilled to be here and experience this.  The rest of the roster is not confirmed yet, but it is looking like an awesome group of mushers will be here.

After the run, we got out of Grant’s hair and headed to lunch.  This was when I learned that Bruce had not made room reservations.  I had to ask the question twice because I couldn’t believe my ears.  I knew that we were on a waiting list just to get the room for the nights he had booked, which I learned wasn’t until Thursday.  It was Monday when I heard all this good news.  I’m not sure what he was thinking, but I’m sure he had some reasoning behind it.  I, however, did NOT want to hear the reasoning as I was convinced I wouldn’t get it.  Instead, I ordered a beer, left my body and immediately began my search for a room.   Shoot, I thought the Fort Providence room was cold; what in the hell would I do sleeping in my truck at 10 below?   Monica had entered the crabby zone.   After three attempts and no rooms, I gave the phone to Bruce.   He made a few calls and nothing.  Then he landed one.  It was too easy.  I’m happy, but I’m scared.  Call it instinct, but I was correct to be scared.

thCAR79C7KWe found the room right smack in the middle of downtown.  Trust me when I say that Yellowknife’s downtown is no different than any other downtown.  There were a handful of rooms.  The place looked a tad run down and there were obviously folks that LIVED in this motel.   We took the only parking spot.  On the window of the room directly in front of our truck was a sign taped to the window, “DO NOT KNOCK, I’M SLEEPING.”   Great, I’m sure this person will be totally understanding of the dog’s happy feeding barks.   We grabbed our gear and headed to the room.   As I opened the door I was assaulted with the most intense smell of smoke.   We had landed a room in a literal ash tray.  There were burn marks everywhere on the carpet, in the bathroom and even on the bed spread.   My mind was freaking.  I could barely breathe in the room.  reh991207clx_tnbMy quick scan of the room had images of bed bugs, roaches and other things running through my mind.   I started to feel as if I might cry.  Bruce thinks this is funny; bad move on his part.  I made a mental note to deal with him later.  I went into survival mode; how in the hell was I going to survive the evening in this hole?  Suddenly, -10 below in the car didn’t sound too bad.

While Lloyd and I were waiting downstairs for Bruce to fill water buckets, we got to meet several of our new neighbors.  There were a couple guys standing outside smoking who were the first to engage in conversation.  The drunkest one assured us he would be at the race to cheer us on, BUT we had to beat the Streepers and the Becks if he was going to root for us!  Alrighty then, no small task there; note sarcasm.  I’m not sure how you guys lost this fan, but we’re more than willing to give him back!  I hope he forgets that he ever met us.  We were saved when some woman came and drug him away.   Then the guy with the window sign came out eating a sandwich in his t-shirt in -10 below.  “Oh, you gonna let them doggies out?”  This turned into a fascinating conversation in which he expressed how much he loved the Yukon Quest.  We asked him if he had run it and he replied, “OH HELL NO, I would have had to eat my dogs before the halfway point!”   OMG, I’m seriously freaking now.    Then we discover there are at least two other people in the room with our sandwich eating fella as they emerge from the darkness.   I hoped he had plenty of sandwiches in there since my dogs would be right outside his room.  Then in the room next to sandwich guy there was a lady yelling at someone in the room who was yelling back.  They seemed like a very happy couple.   I, on the other hand, was seriously not happy and told Bruce we needed to go get some locks for our dog truck.

On the drive to Wal-Mart I pondered what would happen to me after staying one night in this room.  Would I be screaming at Lloyd and Bruce just as our lady neighbor was?  Or would I be eating a sandwich in -10 below in my t-shirt the next day?  I couldn’t see that so I concluded that I would be the drunk standing outside.  I would have to drink just to sleep there and I would have to be outside for the only fresh air.  I realized I just entered the movie, “Psycho” and I was staying at the Bates Motel.  Yes, I could foresee my future just from one night.  Thankfully, I was spared this future of doom as Bruce made the decision ON HIS OWN to seek another room.   He must have caught my vibe when I was making mental notes!   We got lucky and one opened up at the Super 8 just minutes before we called.   We were willing to take a hit on the other room, if necessary.  It wasn’t about money at this point; it was about getting as far away from there as we could.   We went back to retrieve our stuff and Bruce told the lady at the desk that he should have looked at the room, as she had offered, because his wife was allergic to cigarette smoke and there was no way we could stay in that room.  Yes, we’ll probably burn in hell for the lie and if hell is worse than that room, I’m screwed.   The lady was absolutely wonderful and fully refunded the room.  Thank goodness as rooms around here don’t come cheap.  They wanted $130.00 for that ashtray!

We spent the evening tucked away at the nicest Super 8, I’ve ever been in.  Not sure if my viewpoint is skewed or if it was truly that nice.  We never even met one of our neighbors at the Super 8.

Today we investigate the city.  Stay tuned!

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