It has been 8 weeks since I had surgery on my foot. At 6 weeks and 3 days (who’s counting?) I got permission from my Doctor to walk. He looked at my X-rays and decided that the bones had fused together substantially. I think he was shocked that I had actually been such a “good patient” (Allen’s interpretation and my Doctor’s may not be quite the same!)
So… I believe that walking is pretty much the “finish line” for me. It has changed everything! Granted, there is still a lot more to do, but I feel like I made it.
Just because I actually got permission to start walking doesn’t mean that my entire right leg is immediately ready to “walk”. This fact kinda bummed me out at first. But, as I massaged my pencil thin calf muscle and my tight Achilles tendon I understood that ‘take it easy’ really means take it easy. So, while I will not be running, jumping and hiking dozens of miles right away, those things will come back soon…
A lot of people I’ve seen in the last week, have said “Gosh, those 8 weeks went by pretty quickly, huh?” I can’t frown and outwardly disagree (because Allen has told me that I have to be nicer to everyone and smile more often now that I can walk) but, NO those 8 weeks went by quite slowly - thank you very much.
But, I will tell you that the finish line is here. I see the lights of Nome! I’m ecstatic.
Here is an excerpt from my 2016 Trail Notes about coming to the Finish Line:
Leaving White Mountain, we had very little pressure to ‘keep racing hard’. Brent and his dogs’ massive communication breakdown had changed the 2016 race outcome drastically for us. Dallas and Mitch had already claimed the first two positions. But, now the third place position was sitting open just waiting for us. No teams were close enough to catch us from behind.
We had the advantage of running most of these final miles in the cooler nighttime temperatures. There isn’t much ‘shade bearing’ vegetation along the coast, so the timing was a real plus. The rolling hills between White Mountain and the sea coast are not enormous, but they are very steep and require extra effort from both the dogs and myself. We were well rested, so we put everything into ‘getting there’ as fast as we could. No sense in dillydallying.
I had Scout and Mismo up front. They seemed to be my ‘go to’ dogs at this point. I carried 40 pounds of meat and fish and regularly snacked the team. I had a few energy bars myself and drank 3/4 gallon of water. I didn’t want either the dogs or myself to look like we had just ‘washed up on shore’ when we got to the finish line.
We climbed Topcock mountain, the last hill before the Iditarod Trail comes down to sea level and parallels the shoreline. At the summit, it was simply amazing to look down and out across the somewhat frozen ocean. The night sky was still shaded by darkness but the sea ice was white and it was lite up by the amazing stars and a tiny sliver of a moon. In all my lifetime, I will never see a sight like that again. The dogs and I paused very shortly to admire the beauty.
We came down Topcock and turned in front of the Nome Kennel Club shelter cabin. Then we started to parallel the shore. The first few shoreline miles naviagte down the center of a frozen lagoon. There is rarely any snow covering on the lagoon ice and this year was no different. It was quite the doggie skating rink. I stopped before anyone panicked as their legs slipped out this way and that. I dropped my chains underneath my runners and again thanked Allen for coming up with such a great invention. Then I walked down the team and put necklines on every dog so that they had two points of contact with the mainline. This way if a dog started to slip, it could either lean into its harness or into its neck line or both to get support. I also moved Mismo back a few spots. I kept Scout up in lead by himself. I took off his front paw boots because he would have better traction with out “slippery socks” on. I needed to be able to steer him back and forth across the skating rink. We took off again and had very little trouble ‘skating’ the next few miles.
The twenty miles from the lagoon to the Safety Checkpoint were rather tame. I will always shake my head in awe when I pass through these miles. This early morning, I was able to look around with my headlight and identified a few familiar landmarks. I really wanted to pick out the telephone pole trail marker that my team had been wrapped around during the 2014 blizzard. We passed a few that could have been “the one”. I asked Waylon and Willie if they recognized it - these two brothers were the only dogs from this team who had been with me during the final miles of the 2014 race - I got no definitive answer.
We went through the Safety Checkpoint without too much of an incident. The dogs did want to drift off to the left toward the cabin, but after a few overly suggestive “Gee” commands they turned. I will admit that a cabin in the middle of this harsh and featureless shoreline with friendly faces is quite a temptation to a dog. Plus, this cabin had indeed saved us in 2014. So, I wasn’t overly critical when the dogs wavered a little. I even told the Checker and volunteers that we might knockdown a few of their trail markers before leaving. “Sorry!”
As we trotted away, we headed up toward the last hill of the race: Cape Nome. I stopped the team at its base. I knew that we were less than 3 hours from the finish line and we were still carrying about 25 pounds of snacks. So, we had a large buffet of turkey skins, beef chunks and salmon steaks. Yummy.
After that we screamed up the hill. I either ran or ski poled every step of the way. At this point, I was really, really ready to cross the finish line. My emotions were starting to seep out. At the top of the hill, the lights of Nome consumed the horizon. Wow. I get chills even writing this now.
The last miles were an emotional roller coaster. The dogs, thank goodness, were on cruise control. Mismo was back in lead with Scout. They both knew our destination. We saw crowds gathering as day break filled the now pink-colored horizon.
I could not believe that we were going to actually finish. I was back to shaking my head constantly. I began to see family and friends standing along the trail and off in the distance. The lump in my throat grew larger and larger.
About a mile before the finish, I stopped my team on the sea ice. I tried to pick a spot that wasn’t cluttered with spectators or photographers. I wanted to thank each dog individually for getting us here. I knew that the finish line would be crowded and I just needed a few minutes to say some words to these incredible dogs. I tried to compose myself. I didn’t want to be a babbling, crying, speechless Aliy Zirkle at the finish line. This was going to be a joyful, unbelievable moment.
I walked back to my sled and asked the dogs, “You ready for this?” Apparently they were, because we took off towards the finish.
We made it. Yes we did. I couldn’t believe it then. I can’t believe it now.