Huskies, Heartbreak & Hell: A trail of frozen tears on the K300 Part 1

‘MEMORIES FROM the 2004 Kuskokwim 300’ by Harmony Barron

Part 1–

My competitive aspirations at this point were a thing of the past. I had eight tired dogs wandering down the trail in front of me, with Sage in single lead. There was no moon to speak of and my last fallen tears had nearly frozen my eyes shut. I had just come off a little pit stop where I had endured the excruciatingly cold process of swapping over to my last set of batteries for my headlamp, and the 50 below temperatures were already starting to suck them dry.

Before the Kuskokwim 300 had started, we were slightly concerned that we hadn’t the proper amount of batteries to get both of our teams around the race course.  We scoured the shelves of the local Bethel hardware store, only to come out empty-handed. Weeks prior on a sunny day in Montana, we were excitedly planning for our races, and had counted on a set of four alkaline D cells lasting up to five hours. Our ‘estimated’ trail times were also lot faster than they were proving to be, and the sheer amount of darkness that descends upon Alaska’s interior in late January somehow had been erased from our memory banks. So needless to say, we were now paying the price for our naive planning.

I find that when I am exhausted, cold, out in the middle of nowhere and pretty much sucked dry of any happy thoughts, my brain functions in a peculiar way. I get one chain of thoughts {usually a calculation that’s not adding up} that replays itself over and over in my mind. At this particular time it was ‘How are these batteries going to last me another hundred and fifty miles?’  Back at the last check point of Aniak, we were warned about a series of glare ice lakes, where most of the markers had been blown down. I was slowly but surely approaching them, and this added to my building uneasiness. The perpetual cycle of math equations in my mind got interrupted at one point, by the brightest light I had ever seen. It was rapidly approaching from behind, and my first thought was ‘Wow, a silent snow machine!’ But when it turned out to be a team of dogs loping by at a magical pace, with Jon Little hanging on with both hands {his wind suit flapping behind him like a sail in a storm,} my heart sank a little deeper.

I was certainly the last driver on the trail now, the Lone Ranger, hobbling along in the frigid dark, my hands clutching onto the little cold hand warmers at the bottom of my mittens and barely able to see the tails of my wheel dogs through the pathetic yellow glow of my head lamp. I was truly immersing myself in a big pot of self-pity, and to raise the stakes a little higher, I flashed on the memory of sitting in our little hostel style room back at the Bethel dorm, where we were being hosted.

The night before the race, {because I’m that type of person,} I decided to balance our long abused check book. I had actually brought with us to Bethel two months worth of receipts from our debit card! Jason never likes to be around when I’m balancing the book, so he was keeping a low profile. I remembered the look I exchanged with him, while sitting in a huge pile of papers and receipts on that orange, seventies style twin bed-spread. It was the look of doom. “Two hundred bucks in the hole,” I told him. After shaking his head a minute, he responded with; “Don’t worry honey, we’ll make a couple of good paychecks here…”

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

Image of Harmony Barron with dogs, on the 2005 Kuskokwim 300 

2 Responses to “Huskies, Heartbreak & Hell: A trail of frozen tears on the K300 Part 1”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Harmony. You are quite a woman. What mushers endure is beyond my comprehension.

    • Harmony Barron Reply June 9, 2011 at 16:49

      You are more then welcome Margie! I think a lot of the experiences I’ve had as a musher, have put many aspects of my life into perspective. The dogs and the untamed countryside can teach us so much about ourselves. I’m sure if life had taken you down a different path, you could have been a terrific musher! 🙂

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