Yukon Quest part 3

We roll out of Slavens in the early hours, it's dark and cold. We are heading for the checkpoint of Circle City. The first place since Dawson were handlers are available. While we have been running on the Yukon River into Alaska, all the handlers have to backtrack from Dawson, down to Whitehorse and into Alaska.
We roll out of Slavens in the early hours, it's dark and cold. We are heading for the checkpoint of Circle City. The first place since Dawson were handlers are available. While we have been running on the Yukon River into Alaska, all the handlers have to backtrack from Dawson, down to Whitehorse and into Alaska. My sled is light, almost empty. Just some fish snacks for the dogs, and all my mandatory gear. I have managed to eat all the snacks I brought from Eagle, and my iPod battery is empty. I have been told the trail goes back and forth on a very windy river, I can't remember much myself. Somewhere between Slavens and Circle I'm starting to have some problems staying awake. I hallucinate and think I'm running dogs with Jake, and that we are shuttling gear for Lance Mackey. He is apparently running a tourist operation, and we are helping bringing the gear in to the first camp. Several times I have stop the team and focus my eyes as to figure out what's happening. I have never experienced anything like it, I really had to think hard to remember I was running the Yukon Quest, and had to continue to the next checkpoint. In my head, we were running back and forth between the truck and the campsite, so I'm very glad I actually didn't turn my team around.
Understandably it was a great relief when we finally came into Circle. I sign in, and my handler helps to lead the team to my parking spot. The dogs gets quickly laid down on beds of straw, and gets some food. I head into the checkpoint building to get some food and sleep. As I wait for my awesome food (can't remember what it was, other than the guy who made it was a professional chef, so it has to be good) I talk with Jay Cadzow. I ran with him in the Top of the world race, and now he is handling for Abby West, who is 1-2 hours behind me. As soon as I'm fed, I set my alarm clock for two hours later, and find a dark room to get some much needed sleep.

Circle - Central

Out of Circle my sled is packed to do one camping along the trail, halfway to Central. Eager to get to Central and the last stopping before Eagle Summit, I miss my turn. We run 1-2 miles to far on the road, before I realize my mistake. Irritated I turn the team around, and we are quickly back on track.
Just 20 miles out there is a warm cabin for camping. For the longest time I try to argue with myself to find a logical reason to camp there, instead of halfway. Luckily I'm not able to convince myself, and pass the cabin, sending a longing stare towards the smoke that comes from its chimney.
Along the race trail, there is several snowmobile trails leading of, and coming back onto the main trail 50 feet longer down. Its a local trapper who is checking his traps along the river. Right before the halfway point I see such a trail, I gee the dogs off, and set the hook as soon as my sled is out of the race trail. I grab my extra snow hook and walk along the team to anchor them down in front. As I do so, my foot goes through the ice, and into the water bellow. Luckily I'm wearing my overboots, and my toes are no more wet then what they already were. I check the ground where my team is, and I conclude its safe. The big positive is that now I have access to running water, and I don't have to melt snow for the dogs and myself. I take my big pot and thermos and fills up with water. The cooker is lit and I sit down to warm myself by the fire. The dogs get a good meal with beef, kibble and chicken fat, I have one portion of Spaghetti Bolognese and one of Curry Chicken from my sponsor Eldorado. The weather has warmed considerably, and I'm very comfortable where I now sit on top of my cooler, eating and drinking as best as I can. As I lay down to sleep on top of my sled, Norman Cassavant and Abbie West passes by. They are both running straight to Central without camping. It's hard to see them pass, but I bite my lip and try to get some sleep. Four hours after setting the hook, we are reenergized and ready to run again. It's not long before I see Abbie's headlamp far ahead, and 1 hour out of Central I pass her again. She is carrying a 70 pound dog, and not very happy obviously. The trail into town follows the highway in the ditch. Oh how tempted I am to command my team out of the ditch, and onto the highway. I only see one car on the road, and the trail in the ditch is horrible. Sugary snow and lots of bushes sticking up, making the dogs jump around to find best footing.

Central - Mile 101 : Eagle Summit

Into Central I'm met by the checkers and race judge Sebastian Schnuelle. Sebastian informs me that its blowing very hard on the summit. Saying its possible to get across, but its gonna be tough. After informing me that Scott Smith was the last to make it over, a couple hours before, he continue to ask me how long I camped on the river, no doubt trying to do some math in his head.

As I grab a steak to eat in the bar, I start talking with Norman Cassavant. He offers me to run the summit together. With how the weather is reported to be, and him having more experience, I happily accept. It means I have to rest a bit shorter than originally planned, but I figure I will hopefully gain that by helping each other over. I also know that he ran straight from Circle to Central, while I camped 4 hours halfway, my team is strong and should be ready to go.

We catch some sleep and dry our boots, before we get up at around 3-4 am. Our teams is parked next to each other, and we start to prepare for leaving. As I'm done booting earlier, I get to exchange some words with my great handler Marijn before I take off. Norman signs out first, and then me a minute later. I follow at his back as we start climbing towards the summit. My dogs eager and chasing his team, so I have to stand on the drag pad up the hills. As we stop to snack the dogs, we can hear the wind howling on the summit. The sun is just starting to light the day as we close up on the foot of the mountain. The first part of Eagle Summit has a lot of side hilling, so I'm running on the up side of the sled, and trying to steer it along the trail. We keep a good pace up, breathing heavily and extremely tired in our legs, we finally reach the first "summit". The trail goes a bit to the side, before we run a small down hill. We stop to snack the dogs again, and cheer them up for the final and steepest push to the top. Ahead is a short, but extremely steep hill to the summit. I take a second to enjoy the view, before I lift the hook, and follow behind Norman's team. Everything is going fine, and we're trucking along up the mountain. As we reach the steepest and final climb, Norman's team stops. He tries to get them going again, without much luck. The snow is deep and sugary, with several snow machine tracks leading of in different directions to both sides, while the race trail goes straight up. I try to get my team to pass his team, but its gonna take something to pull that off. We have already been standing behind waiting for some time. I get my team to come up alongside his team, but not any further. (At this point I obviously keep wondering if I would have made it up without problems, if I would have been alone, and not behind his team. But in the end, I'd doesn't really matter).

We decide we will have to take one team at a time. I pull my sled up sideways, and anchor down my leaders. Then with Norman in front, I go behind his sled and push all I can. We get the team moving, and after a couple of minutes, we have them anchored to a tripod up on the summit. I'm beat! I sit down in the snow for a minute to catch my breath, before I walk down to get my team up. This time Norman at the back, and I'm in the front with my leaders, holding on to my snow hook. In the combination of understanding that we are close to the top, and that Norman's team is up there, they start firing on all cylinders. Barking and launching into there harnesses. No pushing the sled is needed here, and for the most part the leaders literally pull me up the mountain with the snow hook, as I'm unable to keep up the pace. We run my team in front of Norman's team, before we park them. If I was tired after leading his team up, that's nothing to how I feel now. My dogs got "to excited" and I used all my energy trying to keep up there pace. Once I can breath again, we let out a big cheer and waving our hands in the air - We made it! We thank each other for the work, I thank the dogs, and take of some booties. From the summit, it's just a short ways to Mile 101, and I'm ready for some warm coffee and food! I pull the hook, and prepare for the descend.
With all my power I stand on the brake, trying to keep the speed somewhat under control. Without to much problem we get down, and start making our way to the checkpoint. Some overwater and glare ice makes it interesting for a short period, but not long after can I spot the YQ banner, and a group of people waiting. Happy and relieved I sing and thank the dogs as we enter, I sign in and park my team. Since the highway was closed during the snowstorm, my handler has not yet arrived. I start with my dog care, feed them and get a veterinarian to look at a dog. As quickly as possible I leave my dogs, so they can get as much rest as possible. Inside I find warm burritos, coffee and cookies galore. I'm in heaven! For a long time, I'm just sitting there, eating and drinking. Stopping to answer a question or two, and then eating some more.

As I get out to look after my dogs, the sun is shining beautifully. The highway has opened and my handler arrives. It's great to see him, and I get to talk a few minutes with him, telling him about the summit, and hearing how Jake got over it. I also learn that Allan Moore won the race. Abbie West arrives, and I welcome her to the checkpoint and exchange a few words about the summit. I'm tired, but in a great mood. The weather is beautiful and its only a short ways to the finish line.