To Hell & Back

So you thought Hell was a hot place with brimstone and fire. Well, we’re here to tell you that is wrong. It is a cold, windy, punchy trail in the mountains of Kemmerer. As always, Kemmerer didn’t disappoint and we are happy to say that we survived the trail from Hell. We’ve been coming here since 2006 and this was the worst conditions Bruce has seen in Kemmerer.

Temps were in the mid-twenties and it was windy as all get out. After yesterday, we are officially down 3 key players and there are a few with dings and dents that I don’t know if I can get back for Evanston or not. We managed to piece together a 10 dog team and they were all in fine spirits. We led with SikSik and Sedona who were supported by Pickme, Cora, Perry, Piney, Drift, Puff, Durbin and Prince. You could tell from the parking lot that the trail was going to be punchy and the snow was like crystalized sugar.

Our team took off and the first of several problems ensued when the leaders immediately didn’t follow the trail to the right and instead went left. A spectator helped get the team back on track after a minute of messing around.  The team got rolling and a mile and a half into the trail the team ran right into an exposed cattle guard that had not been covered or marked and the front four dogs went in right to their chests. We were damn lucky none of the dogs broke a leg. Sedona decided she was done leading after that and Bruce put Cora up front after checking everyone out. He was as mad as a hornet and almost turned around, but decided no good would come of it. So the team took off and they were on fire. Yesterday’s run was a sluggish mess and it was not the team we had trained. We thought we knew what the problem was and immediately set forth to correct it and it was a relief to see we had figured it out. They made great time to the halfway point and had caught everyone in front of them. He had caught Warren in the turn around and made the pass. The team was now leading, which meant they had to break trail. They were doing a great job, but then they crested the top of a hill and the trail had disappeared. It was blown in 3 weather_blizzardfoot deep and the winds were gusting to white out conditions. The leaders got balled up and it resulted in a huge tangle. It was impossible to help them as you couldn’t hook down and you couldn’t walk to them. At one point the dogs in front of wheel were leading. Finally, Warren came by and saved the day. He got Bruce’s leaders to follow him so they would string out. This gave Bruce a chance to get them untangled. They got moving again and caught Warren again. They crested a ridge and the wind was blowing majorly across them. Bruce couldn’t see the leaders and they just allowed the wind to guide them right off the trail into waist deep snow. They were out of the wind at this point and to get them back on trail Bruce had to gee them back into the wind. One of the leaders laid down and curled up to get out of the wind. This is an instinctive action and when this happens sometimes there is nothing you can do to get them moving. Thankfully, our 2 year old leader; Cora started taking Bruce’s commands and drug the other leader back to the trail. He said it was a very awesome experience to watch this young leader step up to the plate and literally save his ass today. Bruce had lost Warren enough that his trail had been blown in and they were breaking trail again. They started closing the gap, but it wasn’t enough to catch him before the finish.

It was a 40 mile trail that took most teams over 4 hours to complete and there were numerous stories to tell at the end of this day. Several teams went off trail and had to turn teams around in deep snow. There was a loose dog from one team that required a couple mushers to catch. Several teams went into the cattle guard. Most everyone we spoke to had went off trail and had tangles. Brent Beck may have had the worst day. After his leaders turned around on him in the chute, he got several hundred yards from the chute and lost 6 minutes switching dogs around trying to get them to go forward. Then later he followed a group that had gone off trail and they had to turn around. As if this wasn’t enough torment, he literally got blown off the side of a cliff on one ridge and wound up in snow up to his chest. The sled barrel rolled and it took him a long time to get himself out of that predicament.

Ryan Redington had a horrible run and was one of many to have wound up on the wrong trail and when he came in said that it was worse than anything he’d ever seen in the Iditarod. He followed Jeff Conn down the wrong trail and so did Brent Beck. After they turned around a moose came out behind Jeff and charged at Ryan’s team. Just before his heart stopped, the moose lunged into the bushes. It was a little too close for comfort. Ryan also ran into the cattle guard and had to switch out leaders. Many mushers were a bit displeased with the trail. It was dangerous on many levels and it was also a game changer, but not for the right reasons.

Everyone is exhausted at this point and the end is almost here. We’ve driven more miles than ever with this new schedule and it is a back breaker.   All of our dogs checked out ok, but we will be holding our breath to see if our 4 front end dogs have any injuries from the cattle guard. This is one of those things that shows up after a night of rest. We’ve got them algyvaled, coated and wrapped up in heat pads. They are all comfy, cozy in their nests resting up for tomorrow.

The trail tomorrow has been groomed, but the high winds may blow in certain areas, but at least there will be a base. Usually, the last day is relatively easy but the new schedule has us racing on the last day and this will be followed by our banquet. Not sure if any of us will have the time or energy to shower and get all gussied up for the festivities. However, I know several of us will find the energy for a stiff drink after this one!

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