Now that you know that both Allen and Aliy had nice, clean starts at the Sheep Mountain 150 Dog Sled Race, I can tell you about our experience getting here...
It all started out so well... We left the Kennel right on time at 1pm yesterday, planning to make the six -- or so -- hour drive to Sheep Mountain and arrive in the early evening to take care of the dogs, have a nice dinner and a good night's sleep. As we began our drive, Allen drove while Aliy sang along to the music that one of my iPods was playing through the radio in Big Red. We also took some time to review the teams, their race strategies, what they wanted me -- as "handler" at my first race -- to do, etc. We also talked about all the dogs, of course, but that probably goes without saying at this point.
After a couple of hours of this happy time, Aliy stretched out on the back seat of the truck and caught a little sleep while Allen and I did what we do best, brainstorm about how to make sleds go faster, minimize time/effort in checkpoints, etc. Just the kind of "guy talk" that happens on the road. What we didn't really want to talk about was having problems with Big Red, but that became an urgent topic of conversation when we tried to go up a hill and lost so much power that we barely made it to the top! In a moment that you'd have to have witnessed to really appreciate, Allen said, "Hey, Sunshine!" and Aliy bolted upright, fully awake and saying "What?!?"
The problem with Big Red persisted, to the point that we doubted we'd be able to make it to Sheep Mountain at all. At first we thought it was a problem with the transmission, but soon decided it was a problem with the fuel "gelling" in the very cold temperatures. We pulled over to the side of the road and considered our options. The best we could come up with at the moment was to turn around, head back to the Kennel, get the smaller dog truck plus another pick-up, re-load the dogs and head back down to Sheep Mountain. This would mean our plans for a nice, quiet, leisurely evening were ruined, but it would give us the highest confidence of at least making it to the race. So, we turned around and headed home.
Aliy called Ray -- Kaz's husband -- in Fairbanks and asked him to pick up some drop chains that were in town being overhauled. We would need the drop chains to attach the dogs to the smaller truck during care-and-feeding stops, plus before and after the race. In the process, Allen described the problem to Ray who said, "Sound to me like you've just got a fuel problem. I'll pick up some 'gunk' to add to the tank and bring it with me. I'll meet you along the highway." Ray to the rescue!
We finally lost all power, pulled over at the side of the road and waited for Ray. About an hour later he arrived, poured the "gunk" into the tank and within literally a few minutes the engine was running great again. We decided to continue heading backwards to the nearest town where we shopped at an auto parts store, bought more "gunk" and a new fuel filter, then filled up with new fuel and installed the filter while parked at the gas station. By then everything was running so well that we decided to change direction again and head to Sheep Mountain.
So, after what amounted to a five hour delay, we were back on the road, all well except for our "nice evening" plans. We stopped along the way to "drop" -- i.e. "potty break" -- the dogs, and arrived at our accommodations at about midnight. We fed, watered and walked the dogs, then got about four hours of sleep before getting up at 6am to do the dog routine all over again. We then convened for breakfast -- where I was only able to get these goofy smiles from our mushers! -- and drove the last hour or so to Sheep Mountain, arriving well in time -- as I said in the previous post -- to have a careful race preparation and two clean starts.
So, there's the "back story" on our trip to Sheep Mountain... and now you are really up to date!