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Here are the promised pictures, from getting the truck fixed in Whitehorse to the end of the race.  Jon came in a strong third, and it’s been a great race!

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Our saga with the truck continued for a long 36 hours or so, but we finally solved all of our mechanical problems (knock on wood).  With invaluable help from the wonderful Ron, we visited and/or called every parts store in Whitehorse.  Without going into all of the gory automotive details, the truck’s past life was as a fleet vehicle on the North Slope, and so the view under the hood is frankly a bit odd.  The proper parts were hard to find, and we had to beg for a lot of favors.   Ellory the Ford dealership parts man came in on his day off to supply us with a new tensioner, and Jason Anderson, a mechanic with Capital Towing, spent hours helping us rig a belt system.  Thanks once again to both of them!

Meanwhile, Mike Davis and Jan stepped graciously into the role of handler.  This is what Mike had to say about their handling stint:

“Spoon-feeding Jon small bits of information to keep him informed, but not worrying about his truck. He took the involuntary substitution of his handlers well, and Jan and I have passed our first test – got one dropped dog (Bruno), all his leftover gear from Circle, and cleaned up his straw. We’re waiting on the dog dropped in Slaven’s to be flown in, then on to Central. We may not get there before Jon arrives, but we should before he leaves.
Jon’s team is looking pretty good. The oft-mentioned diarrhea (in news reports) is improving, but didn’t really seem to be affecting the dogs anyway. Jon is keeping one eye in front of him (he’s not conceded the first two places by any means) and one eye behind him. Weather is deteriorating over the two upcoming summits (we’re stuck on this side for probably another 24 hrs due to highway conditions), so expect folks in front to start moving even slower than expected as they climb. This could be an opportunity…….”

From our end, we left Whitehorse about a day and a half later than we wanted to, and drove like mad for Fairbanks.  We missed the checkpoint at Circle, but we arrived in Central about ten minutes after Jon did.  Jon was tired, but doing well.  After leaving Central, he returned a few minutes later to drop another dog, Teton, who wasn’t pulling his weight.  We also picked up the two dogs Jon had dropped in Eagle and Circle, Lobben and Bruno.

After Central, it is only thirty something miles to the dog drop at 101, but in between the two points is Eagle Summit, which is a long, grueling climb that can make or break a musher’s race.  In 2005, Eagle Summit proved to be a major setback for Jon.  His team rebelled partway up the enormous ascent, and he was forced to rest for hours before completing the climb.

This year, it went a little differently.  All of the frontrunners were delayed for hours on Eagle Summit, due to a confusingly marked trail.  Teams began arriving long after they were expected, only completing the climb after sunrise.  Because of the delay, the first few teams are now much more closely clustered than they were before.  Hugh Neff, Jon, and Sebastian Schnuelle  all left 101 within an hour of each other (at 9, 9:35, and 10 respectively).  At this point, it is a very tight race!

We have a few pictures from this leg of the race, which I will post as soon as I can.

After Jon left Dawson with a great looking team, Mike and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Our 36 hours with the dogs were fun, but tiring.  We were happy to see him off with the dogs looking good, and glad to get back on the road.  Little did we realize, our (attempted) drive to the next checkpoint in Circle City would be anything but a chance to unwind.

For this leg of the journey, we were sharing our truck with two vet students trying to get back to Fairbanks.  Up until a bit before Carmacks, everything seemed to be going smoothly.  We had good company, good music, and we were making good time.   However, less than half an hour outside of Carmacks, we began to smell the bad news.  An aroma of burning rubber wafted through the truck.  At Carmacks, we crossed our fingers and opened up the hood.  The belt starting to shred, but it was still hanging on.  We asked around, but there were no mechanics or parts in Carmacks.  There was nowhere to go but forward — we were just praying we could limp it in to Whitehorse.  We hoped that the belt had another couple hundred miles in it.  It turned out to have less than 15.

As we drove out of Carmacks, the truck began to smell again.  After a few minutes, Mike turned to me and said “well, there goes the power steering” and soon we were coasting to a halt in a snowbank on the side of the road. We had no parts and no phone service, but we managed to hitch a ride back into town.  For the next hour or so, we camped out in a tiny grocery store, borrowed their phone, and started calling around.  Any mechanics in Carmacks?  No.  Any parts in Carmacks?  No.  Triple A to the rescue?  No, they couldn’t service our particular area.  Could we get anything done in Whitehorse?  Maybe… or maybe not, due to a civic holiday.  Could we at least get the truck towed to Whitehorse?  Yes, for 600 dollars.  To state the obvious, none of these answers were very satisfactory.

After a frustratingly long time on the phone, on hold more than half of the time and listening to elevator music, we decided to call our amazing host family in Whitehorse.  Ron answered the phone, and as soon as we explained our situation he jumped into action.  Within an hour, he was on the way to rescue us in Carmacks with moral support and parts.  In the meantime, Mike Davis showed up and took the vet students, who didn’t want to abandon us but were slightly alarmed by just how stuck we were turning out to be.  Mike Davis told us that, if worst came to worst and we couldn’t make it to Circle, he could look after Jon in our place and pick up any dropped dogs.  We thanked them for all their help, then saw them off.

There was nothing left to do but wait, so we spent the next few hours getting to know Carmacks better than we ever wanted to.  We camped out in the Carmacks Hotel lobby, checked the race standings every few minutes, and worried.   We were very excited when Ron showed up with the parts, and we headed out to fix the truck.

Of course, we were hoping it would be simple.  I fed the dogs and took them for a walk, while Ron and Mike went to work on the belt.  What initially looked like a quick fix became more and more complicated, and we found ourselves scratching our heads.  To make matters more interesting, it started snowing and blowing.  Car after car stopped to try to help us out, and pretty soon we had a whole bevy of aspiring mechanics.  Gerry Willomitzer pulled over to assist us and so did another German team until about a third of our mechanical crew was  speaking very fast German and pulling out tools.  After a long, unsuccessful while one of them stood back and said “Scheize!”  He turned to me.  “That means shit.”  I nodded — “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

Several hours later we were forced to admit defeat.  There was no way to fit together the parts we had into any kind of working order.  Gerry Willomitzer towed us to the next pull-out, and Ron loaded us and our wet, smelly dogs into his Prius and took us home.  It was amazing to collapse into a real bed after a very long day.

This morning it’s been all coffee and phone calls.  The truck is getting towed, and we are searching for parts and helpful people who are willing to give us a hand on a Saturday.  We’ve had some success on both fronts, and if all goes well we should be on the road late this afternoon.  We’re hoping to catch up with Jon at least by Central.

Huge thanks to Gerry Willomitzer, Mike Davis, and Ron Adams, and everyone who stopped and helped us out in Carmacks and on the road.  We’re very grateful!

We’ll be heading into town in a few minutes, hoping to put the pieces all together.  The moral of the story: handlers have adventures too.

Jon headed out of the Dawson restart at 10:50 this morning, the first musher to finish his mandatory rest.  This is an important part of the race, a time when both dogs and mushers can rest and recuperate.  We’ve spent the last 36 hours feeding, walking, and massaging dogs.  We humans have been on a funky schedule — up every 6 hours for another round of dog care — but it has paid off.  The team looks great.  Jon is leaving one dog behind here, another tired two-year-old.  It’s obvious that the rest of them are ready to be off — while walking them this morning I found myself digging in my heels to keep them from dragging me away.  They are ready to race!  Jon is too; we fed him lots of ice cream and sent him off for some nice, long sleep.

The race into Dawson was very close — if you want to read more about that, have a look at this article.  http://channels.sudburydirect.info/websites/Fairbanks_Daily_News_Minor/

Jon has been leading the pack and looking great!  He was first into Carmacks at 12:47 yesterday and third out at 18:51.  The dogs are eating well, and they all slept.  Here’s some pictures of  Jon and the team at Carmacks:

Feeding

Carmacks -- Feeding

Getting water

Carmacks -- Getting water

Surrounded by media

Carmacks -- Surrounded by media

Getting ready to go

Carmacks -- Getting ready to go

Jon took about 8 1/2 hours getting to Pelly: he arrived first at 3:21 this morning.  There’s some advantages to beating the crowd — Pelly has been nice and quiet, with almost no media.  Even though he has been racing hard for almost 48 hours, Jon looks well-rested and excited to head out.  The dogs are also thriving — the team navigated some difficult jumble ice on this stretch, but all 14 dogs are looking strong.  Weather conditions have been great all the way through, ranging from about 25 below to 10 above.  Temperatures in this range are good for the dogs to run in and still fairly comfortable for the musher.  In contrast, last year on the Quest, the temperature dropped to 40 below then shot up to 40 above.  We’ve got our fingers crossed, but so far this race has shown less drastic weather.

A little later:

Jon left Pelly at 9:38 in 5th place, but he had to come back 10 minutes later to drop Cadet, a very tired two year old.  She has no injuries but she is still young and it’s been an intense two days.  A little bit of rest and she should be fine.  In the meantime, Mike and I will be keeping an eye on her in the truck.  Jon took off again pretty quickly, and we’re looking forward to seeing him at Dawson.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a heftier update and some stories from the trail while we are there!

Also, take a look at the Yukon Quest website for the media’s take on Jon’s race: http://www.yukonquest.com/site/news-articles/?articleid=1646 , http://www.yukonquest.com/site/news-articles/?articleid=1649

Jon was fourth into Braeburn at 23:10.  He signed out at 3:16 and left shortly after, leading the pack!  His team ate and slept well, so far so good.  Jon was in a great mood when he came into the checkpoint…  He ordered a cheeseburger which, like everything else the lodge serves, turned out to be giant.  This particular burger must have had  a 12 inch diameter, and so we, his helpful handlers, had to provide a small assist in finishing it (one of the few kinds of help that handlers can legally provide at a checkpoint!).  He had time to catch about an hour of sleep in between taking care of his dogs, and he took off again about four hours after arriving.

He says he is loving his new sit down sled, which has a convenient seat for when the trail is easy.  So far the trail is good and the dogs look great, so the race is off to a good start.

The Quest started this morning!  For the next ten days or so, Jon will be racing across the Yukon, from Whitehorse to Fairbanks.  Since Jon will have his hands full, Mike and Lori (his handlers) will try to keep you updated. This is Lori writing at the moment, and I’m still new to the website, so bear with me on the funky formatting.

Lori, Jon, & Mike

It’s good to finally be off, but we’ve had a great stay in Whitehorse.    Our homestay was wonderful — Ron and Claire offered some truly stellar hospitality.  We had a dog yard, great trails, lots of good food, and fun company. Many thanks to both of them!

Here’s a picture of  Jon getting ready to go.

Jon suiting up

Jon suiting up

The start was organized chaos, but the volunteers did a great job and we had a fun  morning getting the dogs ready and visiting other mushers’ trucks.   Jon pulled out of Whitehorse at 11:51, with bib number 18.  Everything went off without a hitch, and his dogs took off looking great.

Our host Ron snapped this photo at Takhini Bridge, a couple of hours into the race:

Jon high-fiving adoring fans

Jon high-fiving adoring fans

The Tustumena 200 exceeded my expectations. I just about finished without dropping a dog, had no injuries and finished third. Wow. In other words, the risk of racing 200 miles less than two weeks before the Yukon Quest may have paid off. It was a gamble. But right now, at least, I can’t see a down side.

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