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Last updated November 30, 2007
Note: No Usable Pictures obtained in 2007
At the last minute, an impassioned call from Kenny down in Anchorage ensued, and he talked me into going down after all. I was able to ship my Tundra and the machine and I got to Wasilla the evening before the race start. Talk about a close call on the deadline.
Snow conditions in the Wasilla area were much better than 2006. The temperature was colder, and nothing melting or anything like that. We had reports of scant to no snow later on in the trail, but hope always springs eternal.
We got the green flag at Big Lake on Friday, and off we went. Within 1/2 mile there was a driveway plowed across the lake with big snowberms on each side. We had not been advised about this, and Kenny hit it real hard. I saw it in the nick of time and was able to steer such that I did not crash. In fact, none of us three actually crashed, but Kenny was toast, he just did not know it.
Upon arrival at Skwentna, Kenny said that there was a noise from his suspension "probably a stone or ice". Wishful thinking. His front suspension arm was broken clear in two, the track had been thrown into the tunnel and made serious gouges on it. We quickly had the suspension taken out, and then Kenny discovered that his rails were cracked as well. He had no choice but to scratch and limp the machine back to Wasilla.
We reapportioned the equipment between Autumn and I, and after several hours in Skwentna, we departed for Puntilla Lake. We made a stopover in Shell Lake, where we found that last year's team "42" (the Californians) had behaved rather unAlaskan there. That is where they scratched and turned around, eventually getting lost on the way back, but that is another story! At any rate, I figured that the "42" needed to be redeemed, so we ordered some Diet Pepsi with a big tip. That is one nice place to spend a night, for sure. But, Alas, we had daylight left and pressed on.
Finger Lake and the Steps
In no time we had passed the Finger Lake turnoff, and zoomed up the trail. Last year, just 2 miles from there I got stuck, and Kenny and I had to work for 6 hours to get that Renegade 800 out of the cranny. This year, it was a non event. In fact, I am not even 100% sure that I spotted the place, but pretty sure. A few other "memorable" places, where Kenny or I had got stuck the prior year were duck soup.
That one hill I called "K2", was a total non event. Both the Tundra and the Summit 600 of Autumn's just went right on up. It was a lot less steep without the 10 feet of snow on it!
Likewise the "Steps" were very easy to negotiate, the fearful sidehill place was flat, and in no time we were at the "Bottom of the Happy."
On to Puntilla Lake
It was still daylight, and we climbed out of the Happy up that bank. That was somewhat problematical last year, but this time again it was a non-event. A little later we passed a tree that I had hit in 2006, but there was not even a scratch or broken twig on it. And all that work that Kenny and I had done in shoveling snow and packing it, etc., it was not to be seen either.
But, there was a tree in the trail waiting for me yet!
Just a few miles from Puntilla, now fully dark, the trail goes right over this rise, and dips down, and makes a sharp right turn. Right there, right there at the corner is a tree stump. So I come over the hill and down too steep to stop, and there, right there in the headlight is this damned TREE, so I bailed out. I figure the machine will impact it, but somehow the machine missed it, went downhill a bit and stopped against some saplings with no damage.
Autumn came back up the hill on foot, and I walked down, and the Tundra was there idling nudged up against this sapling. "Well, Autumn, let me pack the snow behind it and we can maybe get if off this place."
But Autumn, she just pushed the reverse button and the stupid thing just backed right out, notwithstanding deepish snow, and right back onto the trail. "There!" she said. Well. Well. OK, I gave her a ride back to her Summit.
First Night at Puntilla
The checkpoint is out in the lake ice, Puntilla Lake, but there is a Rainy Pass Lodge on the north shore. Nice place, good food, but they charge whatever the traffic will bear. $150 a night per person. Bummer. In 2006 there were barrel woodstoves in the cabins. This year they had Monitor Oil heaters, much more convenient if somewhat slow to heat the cabin up.
On to Rohn
The next morning, bright and early, us and the other Trail Teams were off. We left last, and they gained on us a bit.
Over the Puntilla Pass, the first thing to notice was that the snow was nothing like the prior year. That expanse of white, bottomless snow of 2006 with not a twig in sight, was, for 2007, an ocean of stick Willows and brambles. For the most part you could blast through them, and we only generally kept to the trail, choosing alternate routes now and then. Snow was only about 12 inches.
We got down into the Hellgate with no problems. There the snow got even scantier, and the river was open in lots of places. Time to be careful ... but the view was simply fantastic! Ten Thousand Foot Mountains all around, rock walls, canyons. This was great, and we only wished the rules would allow us to camp out.
At Rohn we caught up with the other Trail Teams, that were queued for the gas pump. We chatted them up, and early afternoon we were off towards McGrath.
The Farewell Burn
The going down the Kuskokwim River was slow. There was lots of gravel on the river, and where the trail went into the hills off to the west side, it was very narrow and slow. Autumn had some trouble with her machine, sometimes it did not want to start back up. We never solved this problem, but later on it got better.
Sometime before the burn we just ran out of snow. It got icier, and scantier, and pretty soon ... nothing. And then dark descended on us. Autumn's liquid cooled machine overheated. We agreed I was to range up ahead and wait, as she is faster when she is moving.
I went a few miles, and pretty soon here she comes. We leapfrogged like this, and finally she crashed. Broke the windshield, and at the time unnoticed, lost the Ham two way radio. There was simply No Snow on the trail. This was about 40 miles of bare, simply bare Tundra with the ocassional rocky or gravelly patch. It was terrible and we feared for the machines, and the skis, and her cooling that simply needed snow.
We arrived at the Sullivan Creek bridge, and we watered up. At that bridge snow again covered the trail.
Somewhat further, about 15 miles from Nikolai village, the trail makes a sharp, right angle turn to the right. The map shows an old trail continuing on to McGrath from here. I stopped and shone my headlight here and there and sure enough, on the trees you can see the reflector markers off into the forest. No trailbreak here, it would have been a ride in a dark forest, breaking trail.
Autumn and I discussed this. I had fuel to reach McGrath, but it would have been dicey for Autumn. Neither one of us had taken extra fuel out of Rohn. But, we could save 20 or 30 miles that way. The discussion took a while, but in the end, we figured that:
So, we gave up on the shortcut and ambled on to Nikolai.
The River had my Number
Nikolai as usual was most friendly. I can easily see myself settling there, getting married, raising children and dogs. What the heck am I doing continuing on? But, of course, it was just a fleeting thought, and soon we were on the way to McGrath. We left Nikolai about 11 pm.
After many twists and turns of the trail into McGrath, we saw, in the distance, a red tower light. McGrath has to be within 8 or 10 miles. And then ...
Oh Shit! There is overflow! With lots of slushy snow. Temperature was -20F, and I was ahead of Autumn, and I looked at it, and saw that the overflow and slush had mostly frozen solid where machines had gone over it. So I pressed on, and was very slow and careful. Until I got to this one horribly rough place. I knew I was going to tip over if I tried it, and maybe get hurt in the rough ice. But right to my left there was virgin, flat, white snow on the river. So I backed up about 50 feet, and turned left and gave it the go. The machine went one length into that "virgin snow", and come to a stop. There was 6 inches of water under that foot of snow. Stuck!
I got off the machine, and promptly stumbled and fell lengthwise facedown into the water. I got up, stumbled and fell again in the water, this time faceup. I had water up the gazoos. My pockets, my helmet, and my boots full of water. My clothing was soaked through and through.
I started to work on the sled, see if I could pull it up to the rough, but solid ice only 8 feet away. My hands quickly got cold, as I was wearing just cloth gloves, nothing insulated. But I did not want to put on my survival, insulated gloves or mitts as I had to work in water. So, since the machine was still running, I thawed out my hands on the grip warmers. Lucky SkiDoo makes a heck of a grip warmer, and I turned it on high.
I had made some progress. I had turned the machine about 90 degrees pointing at the ice, when Autumn came by. Or rather, she went by at 50 mph riding over the rough ice like only she can do! Pretty soon, on the other side of the overflow, about half a mile ahead, she turned around and came towards me but along the river bank. When she was abeam of me, she hit a part of the bank that had sloughed off, and came to a halt against the dirt. But she was only 100 yards from me at that point. She grabbed the shovel, and walked out toward me.
The water was much deeper getting to me. At times, as she slogged towards me, it came up almost to her knees.
Together we worked on this watery hell for about an hour, getting the machine on one side, clearing the slush from the suspension, then the other side, again. Then pull it towards the ice a foot or two and repeat. Finally, it was up on the ice. I was exhausted and wet, and told Autumn to take the Tundra out to the other end, and I would walk to her machine.
She drove it out, like only she can, and parked it, and then walked back, in the slush, to where her machine was stuck. I also walked that way, using the shovel as a cane or crutch so I wouldn't tip over into the water. I am shorter, and the water and slush came to my knees.
At her machine she dug up some extra mitts, since mine had gone with my rig. I noticed my fingers were very frostbit, looking like plastic gloves full of water. But those mitts ... oh, those mitts, they felt wonderful, and the horrible pain set into my hands so I knew that they were working and warming my hands up. We got her machine unstuck, and she drove it to where the Tundra was parked.
It was my turn to walk half mile in the slush, but there, along the bank, the water was only ankle deep. Nevertheless, it was a tough hike, and without that shovel for a cane I would have not made it.
Back at the machines, I was exhausted. I dried my gloves, and put them back on and gave her back her mitts. Caught my second wind, poured the water out of the Bunny Boots, and rode on into McGrath.
We arrived in McGrath at 6 AM. We were dead tired on our feet
McGrath and the second "Night"
The Trail Class gang was there in McGrath. I walked into the cafe, and could not get undressed. The clothing was totally frozen solid. It was an hour before I finally was able to get the bibs off.
Now, I am going to put in one unabashed ad for Reima Bibs and SkiDoo Holeshot jackets. The Reima bibs basically shed all the water; only the zippers were solidly iced. The jacket remained soaked. But, and here is the thing, both garments retained their ability to keep warm. At no time was any part of my body cold, except my hands.
If I had been wearing cotton, jeans, or goosedown, I would have perished on the River that night. But, with this clothing, I was perfectly warm and snug, in spite of -20F temperature and soaked.
That is one testimonial to modern clothing.
A sumptuous breakfast was eaten, and then about 8 AM in walks Sweetpea, a former Nomeite and turned out she now owns the Takusko Lodge. This is easily the finest establishment between Nome and Anchorage. This person treated us like we were visiting royalty, and we slept until 1 PM over there. She charged us a very reasonable price -which we insisted on paying- and got us on our way.
But with one thing and another, we did not get much sleep, and my hands were really, really in trouble.
The Ophir overnight
The trail took us out of McGrath, and somehow Autumn decided that the trail was thataway, and I decided it was thisaway. So we got separated. We did not find each other again for several hours. I made it past Takotna, but it is not a checkpoint and I just cruised by it. I arrived in Ophir about sundown.
I explained the situation to the folks over there, and arranged for an overnight. My concern for Autumn vanished when she came in about 2 hours after I did. She was hungry and ate everything in sight; talk about an appetite!
Autumn relates to me that Ophir, for her, was one of the best places she has ever been in. It is beautiful, calm, and the company was great. I agree, and someday I will visit it again.
On to Galena
We left Ophir early in the morning. We had slept like logs, for about 9 or 10 hours, and were rested and ready to go. At this point we were half a day behind the Trail Teams, and worrying about that stupid rule. But we were merely told to "hurry up and catch up." So on we pressed.
In 2006, there was a lot of water here. The creeks were open or only had a skim of ice, but this time the area was frozen good, any watery overflows could easily be avoided. The creeks, in particular the ones I drowned the 800 last year were of no consequence.
It was during this route that the leaders of the Race Class caught up with us and passed us like we were standing still!
It was also where I hit a tree. Not the machine, just me. I was going along, some miles ahead of Autumn, and there was this little dip on the trail made by a prior snowmachine passing by. Nothing much, really, just a little thing. But it had my number on it. I hate those numbers!
In less time than it takes to think about it, or even say the S word, the machine tipped on its left side. It is tippier that way, for some reason. Anyway, the machine tipped, and there, on the edge of the trail was a tree. My head hit that tree square, but the machine missed it and went about 50's farther and stopped on its side.
That tree came at me like a telephone pole. It hit me right across the face shield and scooped me right off the machine. I was lucky not to break my neck, that's for sure. But it rang my bell! I was just sitting there figuring out which universe I was a part of, when Autumn, who had witnessed it from half a mile back, pulled up. She had to help me up and right the machine as I was out of sorts. There we took a 15-minute break until I came back to Planet Earth. And on we continued. This time, Autumn in the lead.
I hate to say it, but Poorman was not a very friendly place. Sometimes it is just personalities, or perception. We got gassed, oiled, and thawed out in the Spenard Builders Cabin ... but somehow cannot say that we felt welcomed. The air was downright hostile and chilly, and we just got out of there as quick as we could. But, I cannot point to any one particular thing there, yet we both felt it. Perhaps because we were Trail Class, and automatic Second Class Citizenship in the Race Mileu.
Ruby, the River, Galena
At Ruby we gassed up. In 2006 we spent the night there, but this time it was still daylight, and we pressed on to Galena. We got to Galena in the evening, after dark. We were told we had just missed the Trail Riders, we were about 3 hours behind them.
The night in Galena was uneventful, except for the Arse episode. It went like this.
We stayed at a nice B&B, wonderful food, within walking distance of the impound yard where we left the machines. Once there we found that there were two Pro Class teams there with a variety of troubles. One team had a machine with a seized engine. They were out of the race. The other team had a broken arm in the rear suspension of a Polaris. Those Polaris IQ chassis are not very strong at all. They ride fine, but they are kinda .... delicate and dainty. If you ride a Polaris, all I can say is I feel sorry for you.
But, that team had high hopes of getting repaired and on the way, and we had time to chat them up.
So, I posed them this question: "What do you guys do to avoid getting sores and boils in the crack of the arse?" Of course, the whole room erupted into peals of laughter. When it died down, I told them I was perfectly serious and wanted to know. "So, Ramon, do you want us to look at your arse?" Etc. etc. More peals of laughter.
In the end, when the laughter died down, I was told that you have to wear non-cotton undies, and put vaseline in there. Then they laughed some more and told me this great story about one of the guys up in Hatcher Pass with a long face saying "...I forgot to Lube Up." More Laughter.
Well, next morning I am off to the store to get vaseline. Guess what, there was not a jar of vaseline to be had in Galena. Really. A bunch of sore Iron Dog Asses must have scooped them up! So, off we go, Autumn and I, off to Kaltag. Me with my sore arse and hands. I have no idea what parts of Autumn were sore.
The Kaltag Interlude
Autumn got cold on that river ride to Kaltag. It was bright daylight, and we rode at the Tundra's maximum speed. The throttle was pinned for most of that ride, 90 miles, and the Tundra was doing 50 - 55 mph, even with the Iron Dog load on it. Poor Autumn, she just could not warm up. We stopped a couple times and she jumped around, and did this and that with her clothing, but nothing would help.
I was still wearing the clothing that I had washed and dried in McGrath, and I was fine. Hooray for Reima Bibs!
Arriving in Kaltag, we gassed up. More Pro teams were there doing repairs out in the open. More Polaris suspension problems. Not the same guys, but more victimes of Polaris. We learned, from a lot of people that know, that "Polaris is the Way Out. But SkiDoo also Brings You Back."
At any rate, Autumn decides she is going to dress warmer. "But Autumn, we will be in trees again after this, you will warm up!" I said, but to no avail. So she digs all her clothing out, and puts two, three layers under her bibs. She cannot zip up, and asks me to help. I was no help, my hands were like Hamburger, but one of the refuel guys, they help and pretty soon she is all zipped up looking like the Michelin Man.
And then .... and then .... twaaaaaaannnng and the first leg zipper bursts .... and then, twaaaaaannnng again, and the second leg. Now, this pink fleece stuff is coming out like dough out of the Pillsbury Doughboy. I tell you, I kept my mouth shut because if I had said anything, Autumn would have killed me, or I would have died laughing, but dead either way.
So we used safety pins to tie her up, and off we go, only to get lost in the village. We asked for directions, and the guy that led us on the right path was the storekeeper. Autumn catches up, sees the store, and wants to buy a roll of duct tape for her clothing. So into the Kaltag Store we go. While she shops for tape, I ask for vaseline. Well, no vaseline to be had, but what they have is this here cream made for Cow Udders. Really. It is called Udderly Smooth and has this pleasant scent to it. The guy tells me that is what they use for the crack of the Arse, and that girls in the village also use it for hand and facial cream. This may sound a bit off, but I assure you that it is a quality product that can be used in all three parts of the anatomy.
While Autumn is getting taped up like Tutankhamen's Mummy, I go to the Kaltag restroom and Lube Up! As this is the last I will make mention of this subject, I can assure you that by the time I got to Unalakleet my anatomical troubles between the gluteous Maxima had abated, and I was cured by the time I got to Nome. Great Product, and is what I buy to this day!
Meanwhile, Tuntankhamen is now ready to ride, so off we go. At mile ten or so, she gets overheated and has to cut all the tape, remove layers, and tape up again. But, I can see how you'd be paranoid if you were getting colder and colder on a trail and getting afraid you'd never warm up. Trust me, it is better to be oveheated than hypothermic!
The Kaltag Pass and More Adventures
We left Kaltag and the Yukon River behind, and took to an extremely narrow trail through the trees. It was twisty and tricky, and there were some deep, steep creeks with flowing water and homemade bridges across them. These bridges were nothing more than a few saplings axed down and laid across the gap. In a once instance the bridge was only the width of the track, and the skis would hang on either side. Scary! But we got across those obstacles with no problems.
In a forest glade I stopped to take pictures, the camera having been recharged in Galena. Alas, somehow, I hung a finger in front of the lens, and none of the pictures came out, except of my finger. In the process the battery went dead, and no more picture taking attempts were made.
Leaving this glade a bit crestfallen, we started climbing in elevation for the Kaltag Portage (pass) itself. The trees got sparser, the snow was beautiful. The day was clear, blue skies, and most serene. We would have loved to camp here. Autumn departed the trail to have fun in the powder, and I continued on for a bit.
About 3 or 4 miles further I came across a real bad spot on the trail, a real hole ... very dangerous. I decided to wait here for Autumn to make sure she did not hit it. But ... where is Autumn?
After 15 or 20 minutes waiting, I went back to look. I watched the trail closely to see if I saw fresh tracks other than my own, but nothing. I thought I had backtracked all the way, and seeing nothing, went back to the hole. No Autumn.
Well, go back again and look further. No Autumn to be found. After trying this one more time, I decided to go clear back to the "photograph" glade. Or maybe the "unphotographed" glade.
It turned out to be quite a bit farther than I thought! I went up two more hills before, in the distance below, I could see the glade and my footprints on it. So, I shut off the machine and shouted in my loudest voice: "Autumn!" The shout echoed and reverberated in the valley, most impressive!
And sure enough, a few seconds later I hear, "Heeeellllp!"
So, the search is on. Not too far going down the hill I stop to shout again, and much closer, Autumns calls my attention where she is totally stuck, buried. In fact, a couple more feet and she would have been shaking hands with a chinaman! "Don't even think of coming down here!" she says. But, after a bit of conversation, it turns out she had been digging and shoving for an hour and is ready to give it a try.
Her machine starts, she gives it the gun and it leaps out of that hole. Somehow -- incredible rider she is -- she hangs on and the machine bounds out of the hole, uphill, through some willows, comes airborne catching lots of air, and lands smack on trail about 20 yards behind me. Well!!
Tripod Cabin Bridge and Unalakleet
After several miles downhill, we ran out of good snow and come across a bridge basically identical to the Sullivan Creek Bridge. This is a one-snowmachine-wide bridge across a creek that never freezes, and has steep banks. Until this nice, new, steel bridge was put in, it was an ordeal to get across this place. Now, it was a non-event.
But the lack of snow was telling, and Autumn overheated more and more. Finally, with darkness upon us, she told me to "...go ahead to Unalakleet, book a room and get the pizzas!" So, I did and in about an hour I got to Unalakleet, where I booked a room at the Sleep Inn, run by Maggie Halleran. A good place indeed, and two pizzas were delivered by Peace on Earth Pizza, another fantastic establishment in Unalakleet ... and the only Pizza joint between Nome and Wasilla.
Autumn pulled in while the Pizzas were still hot, and we ate and had a very restful night.
I should mention that the approaches to Unalakleet from inland are very treacherous. There are lots of places with open water, overflows, ice fields, frozen (and sometimes not frozen) tidal flats, etc. We did this at night, but I very strongly recommend doing it in the daytime and not to take any chances. There have been a few lives lost in this area.
Unalakleet and on to Egegik
Next morning we were up and early, but we discovered that the store had a heated shop we could use, so we put in both sleds.
After some discussion, we figured that perhaps Autumn's thermostat is bad, or sticking, and to pull it out. This was not easy on the 600 motor, specially if you do not know how. The darn thermostat is under the head, and the carbs etc have to come off. Lucky us we had virtually all the tools needed with us, except for a real long screwdriver for the carb boots, and I think we borrowed a wrench that fit better than the one we carried. We removed the thermostat, and were on our way to Egegik and Shaktoolik at noon.
Alas, only 2 miles out of town, Autumn's machine overheated again. We piled in snow and ice around the motor, and continued with this situation repeating itself every few miles. I feared for that motor, but by being conservative (she had a temp gage), no harm was done.
You must understand that this portion of the trail had absolutely no snow. You needed binoculars to see snow. It was glare ice in places, or bare tundra or gravel in most places.
I had a court date for my daughter's adoption next day in Nome at 1:00 pm, so in Egegik I left her most of the emergency gear and we agreed that I would go ahead.
It turned out that her perception of "going ahead" and mine were different. I went non-stop to Nome. Because of her cooling halts she fell farther behind.
Shaktoolik and Norton Bay - Koyuk
This area is "home turf" to me; as a bush pilot I had flown it countless times, and it held no surprises.
I was concerned about Norton Bay, between Shaktoolik and Koyuk. This bay frequently opens up with the river pushing the ice right on out. I feared that I would end up on an ice "sliver" or "peninsula" and have to back out. Also, the ice was glare and no tracks were visible. There were some 6 inch cracks now and then, with water to be seen a few feet down into the fissure. But, putting my ear to the ice did not reveal any bad growlings, so I figured nothing bad would happen. But it was lonely across that bay!
After 30 miles or so of ice I came within sight of Koyuk. For many miles I could see the familiar hills behind the village, but it was good to see the actual town.
The checkpoint had no messages for me, so I gassed up and continued.
Koyuk - Elim - Golovin - White Mountain - Nome
Unknown to me, Autumn was very close behind, perhaps just out of sight. In Shaktoolik she arrived about 10 minutes after I left, and about 45 minutes in Koyuk.
Leaving Koyuk, some snow again showed up on the trail. It was a pleasant ride; night overtook me in the Moses Point area, about 10 miles short of Elim.
Elim is not a checkpoint, but I've there lots and know just about everyone. However, on a snowmachine I got lost trying to exit the place. Ended up on the edge of a cliff, and had to backtrack back into the village. Swallowing my pride, I saw some pre-teen girls playing outside, and asked for directions. One of them climbed behind me and in 3 minutes I was out on the ice in front of the town and pointing down the trail. I never found out her name, but Thanks!
The ocean ice was black, and it was a nervous ride to the portage. There, about 10 miles or so from Elim, I left the ocean ice and climbed into the Darby Peninsula to cross over to Golovnin Bay. Although the trip was in the pitch black of night, I could discern that this was a stunningly beautiful place, and I long to return to it.
Autumn was about half hour behind me in Elim.
Arriving at Golovnin Bay, the trail was staked with reflectors every 100 feet in a line that had to have been surveyed: it was absolutely straight within inches. The ice was again black, but in this case I know the ice below Golovin town is reliable, so I pinned the throttle and sped into Golovin.
Autumn, on the other hand, had had a tiring day, and the black ice was unfamiliar to her, so she camped out. She got to the Bay about 10 pm, whereas I arrived in White Mountain at 10:15 pm or so. Again, there were no messages, so I gassed up and pressed on to Nome.
Many people think the "coast" is the spookiest part of the Iron Dog, but for me - and Autumn - this area is our riding ground and the closer we got to Nome the more familiar it was. I arrived in Nome at about 3:30 AM, having to contend with expanses of beach sand, dunes etc and the darkness. Autumn arrived at 4 pm, having spent about 12 hours camped at the shore of Golovnin Bay.
Should we have separated? Hindsight is 20-20 and in retrospect we should not have. She assumed I would wait in Koyuk or Shaktoolik. She did sent messages ahead through the checkpoint operators, but they were never forwarded to me. If I had know she was only 15 - 30 minutes behind me it would have made perfect sense to stop and wait. But our (mine mostly) thinking was clouded by the darn court date, misunderstandings, and the frustration of the overheating machine. Without overheating we would have easily left Ken Lee's team behind and arrived in Nome a day earlier.
When I got to Nome I changed the stance on the Tundra to that of the Back Country. I got the longer suspension arms, longer steering rods, sway bar, etc. This made the machine a lot faster in the harder snow we have here on the coast. The machine is not physically faster, but it can be driven faster because there is no more danger of tipping over at speed. In retrospect, this wider stance would have been a great help during the trail ride. The few times narrow stance was an asset did not compensate for the lack of stability for 99.9% of the rest of the ride!
All liquid cooled machines in this race suffered from overheating; Autumn's worse of all. Upon inspection in Nome we discovered a few things. One is that there was nothing wrong mechanically with it. The Summit has only a short cooler in the tail extension, and none under the tank/seat area. There is another cooler in the curve at the front of the track. In contrast, the other SkiDoo models have full length tunnel coolers.
To compound the problem, she had removed the plastic guard on the tail extension, and her gear packs were directly on the cooler. This reduced some of the heat exchange. Lastly, because of the rule regarding studding, she had gone to a track with shorter paddles. This kicked less snow into the little cooler area she had.
The end result was a machine that easily overheated in the Iron Dog, but performed perfectly once back in Nome with no gear piled up and some snow on the ground!
Nevertheless, I still think that a fan cooled machine would have a real chance to win Pro Class if there is little or no snow. Mind you, not a good chance .... but a definite chance. With snow, no way.
Having said that, I got to also add that a fan machine has much less maintenance. Not only due to simplified cooling and no overheating, but also because the lower power means that fewer things break. During the entire trip I broke nothing! True, when I got back to Nome I changed out the skis, they were getting worn .... and the carbides were toast. But carbides are "wear items;" and the Tundra Skis are not very good to begin with. When I widened the stance I also went to Pilot 6.9" skis.
So, trail maintenance for 1100 miles was absolute zero. I never even as much as took a screwdriver to any part of the machine. Temperatures ranged from about +25 in Wasilla to about -22 in McGrath/Galena/Kaltag area.
Would I do it again? Maybe. But I think I'd prefer to ride independently next time without the timing constraints of the Iron Dog. My plans are to do so in 2009, leaving Wasilla in early March ahead of the Iditarod dog teams. This is on the southern route, which I have never cruised. Autumn and Kenny are also interested, so the three of us may well make a go of it.
Copyright © 2007 Ramon Gandia. All rights reserved.