Big Lake to Skwentna | The Journey Begins
Harriett Fenerty | Guest Writer
Skwentna (SKW), NB Milepost 89. First Possible LO
The first 89 miles of real racing……Zoom Zoom Zoom. Racers have spent many hours of racing from Big Lake to Skwentna on training runs, but on the third Sunday morning in February 2016 it will be a whole different story.
Some racers have been training years for this day, some will have their first taste of race day. If they were lucky they have an early draw/start number, to get out on the trail before it gets beaten and tracked up like no other. The journey for all us has just begun.
Fastest team to SKW might be 55 minutes = 97 MPH….even if they do it in 64 minutes the average speed is 84 MPH……when you consider the bumps right off Big Lake you gotta wonder “how they do that? These elite racers are athletes like no other…..some will tell you it’s just a day in the park, others will tell you the first 24 hours are as brutal as any they have ever done before….no matter the make up of a team…..Rookies or 20 years of Iron Dog experience….the adrenaline is the same……it runs like blood in their veins……amped up and hot on the throttle,,,,,,everything in their power to get to Shell Lake and beyond….out of the fray…..past the crowds and in a groove that they have visualized for their day one.
Remember what I said above about the MPH…well race sleds have only about 200-300 break-in miles….sometimes those machines don’t make it to SKW…we have seen a couple every year……race dream evaporates, electronics fail, tracks blow, bolts snap, damages mount and a team realizes it isn’t repairable….frustration succumbs to heartbreak….BUT……sometimes it is repairable and that’s where the first Layover (LO) becomes a strategy that might not have been in the original game plan….flexibility is the name of the game……
SKW is just 40 minutes by air from Anchorage…….it has an airstrip and on Sunday February 21 there will be 1000s of fans, machines and probably about 20 aircraft in the area filled with a Nascar worthy mobile garage full of tools and parts and more wrenching ability then the best mechanic school or engineering program at MIT. If it is fixable….“Tork” and a racing team will make it happen. Tork is Mark Torkelson, owner of Skwentna Roadhouse Lodge. He is a former Iron Dog racer….he has the metal to prove it…..taking home his championship trophy in 1989 with Scott Davis…..he has a lot of top five finishes and he can fix almost anything……although I know first hand he doesn’t do computers so if its code and programing that has bit a race team…..it’s gonna hurt!
While a team is on LO, they are making a plan……ordering parts, coordinating the assembly of a plan, if they can get it repaired they are back in, they would be leaving in the dark close to midnight depending on the repair time, but sometimes it is better to travel a hard frozen trail after the cold has set things up from 80 machines that have gone before, the light is good, the contrast is excellent, and nobody is stuck or slow on “the steps”, they can blast through Puntilla onto Rohn and be in MCG by morning…..the flex LO is due putting them back on trail mid day Monday…..I have seen teams move from 20th to top 5 even with a 12 hour setback in the first 150 miles of day one……it can happen!!!!
The Volunteers and fans on the trail from Big Lake to Skwentna are tremendous…..trail crossings, whoop dee woos filmed and photographed, five gas pump stations set up at Skwentna, time cards to sign, ready to throttle to Shell Lake….the trail narrows in this area so getting there early is key…..in some places it is single track all the way to Puntilla…..bumper to bumper running…..day one for all of us is fast and furious…..the GPS pings are keeping us informed, we are watching on several screens, the keyboard key f5 is getting pounded like the shocks on Team 20, can’t wait for February 21….32 days to Zoom Zoom Zoom……I am ready!!! ~HLF
Photos courtesy of HLF, Luann Harrelson and Yorise Yakunin