I saw Sasquatch on the ’93 Iditarod #3

Part 3

Photo courtesy of Harmony Barron

I had never seen this country before, and as Ophir disappeared in the rear-view mirror, I forgot about the competition for a while and gazed in awe at the surrounding panorama. Viewed from the top of the highest point, stunted spruce mixed with a scrub of grizzled birch and alder furred the lower skirts of a series of immense rolling hills that stretched on for as far as the eye could see. The sky to the west deepened into a purple bruise and the stars came out like a handful of diamonds scattered across the firmament and headlamp beams began to blink into existence from one horizon to the other. As a cold wind quickened from the north, it occurred to me that I could have been mushing across the mountains of the moon…

Joe and I had hooked up at Skwentna and been running together since. From that point until now, I had been much faster than he, averaging about thirty minutes faster for every 50 mile run. But tonight that seemed to be changing. He still had sixteen dogs pulling him along, and as the trail degenerated into a knee-deep sand trap and the breeze became a blistering crosswind, he started to steadily pull away. He was smoking cigars, some stubby little evil Italian brand he said helped to keep him awake, and I followed behind catching a smell every now and again as his headlight faded from sight and my heart sank a little bit.

I was very tired, mostly from dehydration. I had been drinking from a Nalgene bottle, but not nearly enough. I had no idea how much of a toll on my body this adventure would take, and I had underestimated my caloric and hydration needs since day one. On top of that, like a typical kid I had been sleeping erratically, visiting in checkpoints and exercising my mouth every chance I got. The net result was that I was both sleepy and feeling that numb fugue that settles into your limbs when you’ve abused your body for too many days in a row, and when I finally reached Don’s Cabin around midnight in the midst of a violent wind event that was whipping the snow sideways and covering the trail with an ever morphing blanket of sugar, I had only a vague hallucinatory idea of where I was.

There seemed to be the indentation of trails leading every which way, mostly filled with sleds and teams half covered with snow and bedded down for some rest. I could not remember the last time I had actually seen Joe, and now as I looked around at all the headlamp beams probing the darkness, I wondered if he had pulled over himself to snack the dogs, despite our plan to push on to Iditarod with only a snack break just past Don’s. Confused and befuddled, I sorted out which way to get out of the mess, and continued on. Beebee and Pilot were in the lead and they just put their heads down and marched down the trail. The trail and surroundings were funny, deeply drifted in some areas and blown slick and crusty in others, and we alternated between zooming and slogging.

About half an hour after leaving the strange pandemonium of Don’s Cabin, I suddenly caught a strong whiff of cigar smoke…..

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

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