Mush in the slush
"It was 40 (explicative deleted) degrees up there," he said with a bemused growl. "I was down to my shirt. I had to use chapstick for sunscreen. The trail was kinda soft but mostly it was well-packed."
This year's ITI is exceptional for many reasons, but one of them is that not a single racer has scratched yet, now nearly five days into the race. "It's about half as hard as last year," Beat said of the effort, but then caught himself in his own lie. "Actually, it's just as hard because everything hurts as bad." When I offered that he was still more than a day ahead of his 2012 pace despite his Nome rest schedule, he said, "It's hard. But it would be easier if it weren't so damn hot. I'm sweating like crazy."
He said his feet hurt but there are no issues that aren't manageable. He planned to set out toward Nikolai in the early morning hours. I expect he won't reach that checkpoint until Saturday evening.
Since four dogs can't pull two full-sized people in a sled very far, Andrea set me up to go out alone. She showed me how to set a snow hook (sort of like a dog anchor), demonstrated how to use the brake, and told me how, under no circumstances, was I to let go of the sled if I fell off during the run. The dogs would keep running, and I'd have to chase after them. She showed me the basic commands and sent me off on a loop that I hoped the dogs understood, because I didn't have a clue where we were going.
Riding a sled wasn't entirely like I expected it to be. The frame was quite flexible and the runners moved independently. I felt like I was skiing — which is not a comfortable movement for me — but I held on for dear life and leaned into the turns. I shyly called out commands that I think were largely ignored, but the dogs went the right way anyway. Whenever we ran by another dog yard, the dogs sped up to show off for their barking friends. My humorous moment happened when Volcano got her front leg tangled up in the line. I stomped on the brake but I honestly forgot the command for stop. I kept yelling "Haw! Haw!" as the lead dogs glanced back at me with confused demeanors. ("Haw" means "turn left.") I managed to set the hook and untangle Volcano's leg. When I returned to the dog yard, I dragged the brake to a slow halt. Once we were no longer moving, I asked Andrea, "I can't remember, what was the command for stop?"
"Um, whoa," she said, looking at me like I was drunk.
"Oh, yeah, whoa. That makes sense."
But I'm so tired. It's probably good I opted to postpone my Skwentna tour, as a 180-mile ride just days out of my California softie gate probably would have set me way back for upcoming adventures. The effort that Beat is making right now, I can barely imagine. But I do empathize ... and envy.