With the freshly-graded road to Salt Creek Summit, I felt okay taking my little Ford Focus for the day, and showed up for a normal shift of noon-8pm. That morning I had a lazy breakfast after Birdy & kids had all gone to school & work. Over scrambled eggs, I went through the times I had jotted down, to determine the fastest and slowest times to & from my checkpoint. This will give me an idea of when to expect the mushers, so we don’t have to stand at the trail all day & night. (I could ask Race Central to warn me of their approach too, but that’s not as fun.)
The wind had picked up, and the trail from the starting line (at Fergison Ridge) to Salt Creek Summit was treacherous, causing a couple sleds to lose traction. One required intervention from SAR (search and rescue) but fortunately none were injured. One team reported that the Haas Owl loop was drifting good, and had points of near zero visibility. Despite this, the lead Pot racer took only 2 additional minutes!
What’s the “Pot” race? Sure, the 100 & 200 mile races are fairly explanatory in their title, but what about a ‘Pot’ race. Mushers register, adding entrance money to ‘the pot.’ That ‘pot of cash’ then is distributed as winnings. The more that enter, the bigger it is. They run 31 miles, two days in a row, for a total of 62 miles. This is a good entry point for mushers getting started, as well as veterans who no longer wish to enter big, long-distance races. The ECX pot race starts at Fergi, goes past me at Salt Creek Summit, does the Haas Owl Loop, then passes me on their way back.
The wind was making communications difficult and eventually, folks weren’t getting through to Race Central anymore. One of my jobs at Salt Creek Summit, is to be available for relay. There are times when a snowmobile team is trying to get in, and not being retransmitted. Listening for them, and paying attention to the other things going on in the race is called ‘maintaining situational awareness.’ (I find it also helps prevent stupid questions with seemingly obvious answers.)
When Ollokot (the most remote checkpoint & back-country base camp) couldn’t get through, I jumped in to relay communications. Apparently the link to Race Central was acting up, but the local repeater was fine. I searched the manual to look at the contingency plans. There wasn’t one for this specific situation, but I knew how the system worked (roughly) and had started making adjustments. The ‘Comm-Tech’ leader hailed me on an adjacent frequency, and we coordinated his work on the system. He had it fixed in short order, but I was proud to have handled the situation well.
We weren’t expecting any 100-mile racers to be coming through before 8, so my fellow volunteers took off after the last Pot racers went by on their return. Now I had a little time to kill, so I reheated some beef stew another guy had made. (THAT was delicious.) I also flipped through the book they had left on Auxiliary Communications for public safety. All mushers were expected to finish by morning, so I wasn’t scheduled to come back on Saturday.
Birdy had been coming down sick, and by Saturday morning it had fully manifest itself. She had a good fever, and was couch-bound. Listening in, I could tell some mushers had been considerably delayed, and wouldn’t have finished by my normal shift. Birdy was saying she’d be okay, but I was concerned.
The shop had left a message that my truck was done (oh the irony), so I walked across town and picked it up. When I returned Birdy was losing the battle with coherent thought and sleep. She wasn’t fit to watch kids, and we didn’t have a baby sitter lined up until the banquet that night. I wanted to call in and offer to relieve the team there, but since I wasn’t on the schedule, and the family needed me, I kept silent. They didn’t call for help, but that existing crew stayed on duty until finish, with a 14-hour shift. I feel awful (still) about letting them down, but family comes first. In retrospect, I should have called up and said, “those guys need someone to relieve them, and it can’t be me” but oh well, lesson learned.
I was able to make the banquet, though, and swap stories with an old high school friend who was on the Vet team this year. I got to hear first-hand accounts of the magic of the Ollokot checkpoint. (I’m never sure which rumors are to be believed!) Dinner was tardy but good, and as the mushers received their awards, I was reminded at how down-to-earth wholesome they are. Helping each other out, donating proceeds back to the race, and the humble way they appreciated the support and community.
I managed to cut loose the leash on my wallet and buy a 4-pack of wine at the live auction. Like many mushers mentioned, I intend to come back next year. I used up all my good pictures in the post, so instead of a gallery, I’ll leave you with a little video instead. I hope you enjoyed my account, and if you have any questions, feel free to comment. The race website at www.eaglecapextreme.com is also a great resource. Thanks!