Huskies, Heartbreak & Hell: A trail of frozen tears on the K300 Part 2

en: Dog sled near Fort Clark. Watercolor by Ma...

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This is a rerun of one of Harm’s most popular posts–I promised I’d post this several weeks ago, but I got sidetracked… hope you all enjoy.

Memories from the 2004 Kuskokwim 300–by Harmony Barron


So there I was, meandering down the trail thinking I was the only poor soul on the planet, when it suddenly occurred to me that just because I was having a miserable race, it didn’t mean that Jason was suffering the same fate. Yes, the last time I saw him, he was leaving Kalskag, he had dropped three dogs but was still in a good position. Okay, things were looking up, he’ll get in the top five, we’ll receive a nice paycheck and be back in the money. Looking back, it seems my dogs may have picked up the pace a wee bit with my new hopeful attitude.  I pulled down my fleece gator just enough to thank Sage for keeping us moving forward, and in the right direction. As we continued along, my new fantasy started to become a reality in my mind.

And when I saw a dog team with its hood up, parked just off the trail, I thought ‘Wow, now I’m even catching someone!’ There was the driver, sound asleep, looking like a cocoon on top of their sled, completely engulfed in their sleeping bag. The dogs were all curled up in tight little balls on the ice; clearly this was not a strategic race move.  As I slowly passed by, I started to get a nauseous feeling come over me. I thought perhaps I recognized that sleeping bag, and that sled… and when Spud sleepily pulled his nose out from under his tail and looked up at me with airplane ears, it suddenly hit me. That poor, sorry sack of a driver, trying to sleep away his misery, was none other than my husband. My knight in shining armor who only seconds earlier, was riding high in the top five.

My heart sank to the bottom this time, and my dogs felt it, for they all stopped dead in their tracks. My dog team and I stood there silently for some time, feeling like there were no more emotions left out there to tap into. Jason must have felt our presence, for his bag rustled, and his eyes peered out. A sad, groggy voice called out to us; “Honey, is that you?”

A strange thing happened next. I suddenly felt at ease. Seeing Jason for a few minutes and hearing his soothing voice seemed to make all of our problems disappear. I felt a great weight had been lifted from me. I realized that my biggest problem hadn’t been running out of battery juice or a dry bank account back home in Lincoln, or even a tired, under prepared dog team. It was plain and simple loneliness. We don’t build families, neighborhoods, support groups, towns and cities for convenience sake; we build them because we are inherently pack animals, and we don’t want to be alone. And when you’re thousands of miles from home, on the back of an exhausted little dog team, with nothing but a dwindling candle glow distinguishing you from hundreds of miles of bitter cold darkness that we call the Kuskokwim River, it can really hit you how emotionally vulnerable we really are.

Jason rooted around in his sled bag, and came up with some extra batteries for me. It seemed he hadn’t drained his as quickly as I had drained mine. He then assured me that someone was sure to have some extras in Kalskag, down bound.  We commiserated with each other for a few more minutes, and then said our goodbyes. Jason then crawled back into his cocoon, while my dogs and I headed back into the night, in search of those pesky glare ice lakes. Sage, who had single-handedly led my Copper Basin team the year prior, but had never taken a Gee or a Haw command in her life, seemed to develop a telepathic link into my own thoughts, for together we found our way across the dreaded, marker free, windswept lakes with little to no problems.

I learned a lot about myself, my dogs, and the endurance of the human spirit in the 2004 Kuskokwim 300. I found strengths in myself I hadn’t known I had, and also weaknesses that I’m wise enough to recognize.  Both of the Kusko’s that I ran with Jason {yes, we went back for more punishment the following year} left a huge impact on me, and hold some of my proudest dog mushing memories. I can’t wait to tell this story and others like it to my grandchildren.

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

Image courtesy of H. Barron
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