Introduction: Last year was my first year, and I didn’t think “a sled dog race” warranted valuable vacation days, so I only signed up for Friday after work. They placed me at Ferguson Ridge (IE Fergi) where I pulled an all-nighter, waiting for teams to come in, waking everyone up, stocking the fire, etc. It was exciting to be at the finish line, but more importantly I was introduced to the event.
2016 was to be a repeat assignment, only I was taking Thursday and Friday off. However, being short-handed elsewhere, I accepted reassignment to the Salt Creek Summit Checkpoint. I took the job optimistically, as I could drive there, would be near search & rescue, and would see all the teams on their way to/from the start/finish. It’s also a critical relay point between the back country and race central.
I was scheduled for noon until 8 pm Wed-Friday. Fortunately, I have a great team at work, so I decided to work mornings. Wednesday I proceeded to Race Central to check in. I picked up the communications gear and its owner, and proceeded to Salt Creek Summit where we erected a fiberglass mast, and hooked everything up. After some basic troubleshooting, it was working great, and we called it a day. I could have gone back to work at this time, but was tuckered after my exertion in the wilderness. (IT jobs don’t condition you for that sort of stuff.)
Thursday dawned with excitement, as I would be on duty when the race started, and would get to see them pass. It’s weird to be excited over such a slow-paced event. Work crawled by until I could head for Race Central. Here I picked up the generator that would recharge our battery, then headed for the checkpoint.
I put on my insulated overalls, and lugged the generator across the parking lot before deciding to go get the equipment sled. I relieved the previous shift, met the checkpoint manager, and hooked up the generator only to find out there was no gas! I checked the voltage of our battery, and informed Race Central of the issue.
I didn’t dwell too long on this, as the race was starting, teams were coming in, volunteers were giving me information to relay, stories were being swapped, there was plenty to occupy me. As teams pass, volunteers would note the time, bib number, and how many dogs. Later, I would use the distances between mushers to know when to expect them back. For example, musher A was 21 minutes ahead of B, so on the return trip (for the 62-mile Pot Race) I would not worry that B was further behind. Much of our entertainment consists of listening to radio chatter, predicting, and checking our predictions. I had planned to use the ‘slow’ times to study for the top ham radio license. Luckily, I had passed it Tuesday night! Instead, I brought a magazine, but never got around to reading it.
There was always a kettle of water on the woodstove, so I brought a Mountain House freeze-dried meal to try. While the last two had been disastrous, the Lasagna flavor was excellent! A 2-gallon can of gas arrived, and just before dark I was able to fully charge our battery. We setup the night-time warning lights on the trail, and passed some time. I was truly surprised how comfortable a wall tent could be with adequate heat.
The 8 hours passed quickly. I was paired with a veteran race organizer & volunteer who had plenty of stories and wisdom to impart. She furnished most of the supplies at this checkpoint, made drop tags, organized boxes, and put countless hours of planning into the event. For the last 9 years!
Each race has a “Point” team of 3 snow mobiles that goes in front of it. They break trail, clear it of any debris, call in conditions, etc. Then a “Sweep” team of 2 follows the last musher of each race, making sure everything’s okay. These teams have to stop and check-in at the checkpoint, and they always have news and stories to share, several have radios & trackers onboard too!
The folks relieving me were running late, so I had to stay. This wasn’t too big a deal, and gave me the opportunity to do a meet & greet with Search & Rescue. SAR (as we refer to them) was stationed in the building by the parking lot. When relief arrived, I showed them how to start the generator (if needed) and covered the basics of their task. I left the parking lot around 10:12pm and got to bed after 11.
Enjoy some pictures, and stay tuned for the next installment!