This is part 2 of my Denali Highway Adventure with Wade Marrs. Read part 1 here.
Well, after a harrowing adventure with the truck and dog trailer, we finally made it back to the parking lot we were supposed to start at and began hooking up. We were greeted by a kind group of snow machiners who upon hearing our story offered us coffee and gave us breakfast burritos.
On three hours of sleep we were a little slow to hook up. We had no drop chains so had to put the dogs directly in the team. To hold the leaders out before the dogs were hooked up I ended up having to use a Wade’s spare tire because my leader hook wouldn’t hold. We were going to run down the road which was still quite icy and we knew we’d have very little breaking available to us.
Eventually, we got everyone sorted, pulled hook and hit the trail. It was glorious. Given the weather report we had heard I made one last minute substitution: I took Boston, a proven leader in the difficult wind conditions we might face, and left Shark, who was one of the younger dogs with more experience.
Our first run was great. My team took a long time to settle in and we’d made the decision to camp early, about 30 miles in partially due to the wind drift conditions some snow machiners had warned us about and the need to get more water into our teams because of our later start.
The run itself was uneventful. Conditions were, on this stretch, better than expected and I was happy to see my team doing so well in the hills. This was our first real training run with consistent, solid climbs. The dogs performance would have, however, never indicated this.
The country surrounding the Denali Highway is breathtaking. As we went down the trail the storms from the previous day started to break. The sky was this beautiful soft buttery yellow that echoed off the mountsides. It snowed intermittently and at times the wind howled in our faces.
But the dogs kept running and so we simply pulled our parkas tighter around us.
When we hit about 30 miles we stopped at a popular camping location for teams on the highway. We made camp got water and food into the dogs. Overhead the northern lights began to emerge and slowly scrawled across the night sky.
As we took off, I put a juice in my pocket. I try hard to work on hydration out on the trail. It’s something I’m not good at so its something I’ve made a point to work on. Before we had left, the juice had spilt all over me and getting my base layers soaked. Plus, I smelled like strawberry banana. Gross. I debated changing but it was warm and my layers should keep me warm when wet. I had extra stuff if I needed it but decided this was a good oportunity to test whether or not they’d keep me warm when wet. I mostly stayed warm. But the thing that was really killing me was that I was itchy. The juice was sticky and not reacting with my skin. Try scratching an itch through 4 layers and see how far it gets you!
By the time our 4 hour camp was up, the dogs were more than ready and the northern lights were in their full glory. For the first part of our second run, it was honestly hard to focus on watching the dogs. Giant green and yellow swirls slowly wandered across the sky and from star to star. For a long time the constellation Orion was fully dressed in greens. He looked stunning.
At times, the swirls were punctuated by the more angular displays of lights. Straight lines that came and went and moved like a piano players fingers, up and down across the sky.
The dogs seemed to thrive on this run. They settled in immediately to a smooth trot, each falling in line behind the other in perfect unison. Unlike our previous run where the dogs were disjointed and moving individually, on this run they seemed to gel and moved as a single unit.
We went another 30 miles, stopping to camp about 5 miles before Alpine Creek Lodge. When we had called to tell them we were mushing in, they informed us that they were having a firework display for the new year. We didn’t want to put our dogs through that nor did we want to interrupt the show as we would have almost certainly arrived right at midnight. Instead, we camped and decided we would go past The lodge then turn around and mush back to it for a 35 mile run. Besides, we had the northern lights as our firework display!
We took off and by the time we were passing the lodge, Wade and I were both struggling with staying awake. I kept nodding on and off and found myself getting lost in obscure thoughts. The road was on a high ridge that dropped off suddenly on either side and in my sleep deprived state My anxiety over slipping off the edge was somewhat consuming. although technically possible, I had to to constantly remind myself how improbable it was. Then snap oh I’m supposed to be mushing! And I’d focus again on my dogs.
This was the first real wind blownt trail we encountered. The drifts were deep and, at one point, my tiny swing dog Pippa completely disappeared under the snow. But we kept on moving, the dogs swimming through snow climbing up hill after hill.
For a long time, I wondered if we would ever reach the turn around. It seemed like we were just continuing to climb up and up through drift after drift. Progress was slow but it was progress.
Eventually, we made the turn around and mushing back to the lodge, now it seemed mostly down hill, was far faster.
We got in around 6am, fed our dogs, put jackets on them, and by 7:15 had gathered our things and brought them into a small wall tent. I was so grateful I’d bought a new sleeping pad. I threw it in the floor, took off my sleeping bag and climbed in and slept for 3 hours.
I woke up cold and hungry and walked up the the lodge. Claude and Jennifer had graciously prepared us an outstanding breakfast and we chit chatted with Kristin and Andy Pace from Hey Moose! Kennels.
Now we are gearing up for the 65 mile run back. The looming question we have is, will the truck work? I am thinking it will but again, what can go wrong will go wrong so I’m not holding my breath.
Either way, I’m sure Wade and I will figure it out. We can’t fix it from here though so we will have to wait and see.
Happy Trails, Sarah
This was the second post in a 3 part series. Click here for the final installment.