Update: Karin Hendrickson is leaving the hospital tonight, more than a week earlier than expected. Her friend will drive her from Alaska Regional Hospital to her home in Willow. Hendrickson says can’t wait to get back to her dogs.
Musher Karin Hendrickson remembers everything about Tuesday night when a car crashed into her and her dog team near Mile 91 of the Parks Highway.
“I had 14 dogs hooked up to a four-wheeler, we are still running four-wheelers because there’s not enough snow,” said Hendrickson, who was travelling south on a trail just a few feet from the road.
“As we were going around this corner I saw a vehicle heading north coming straight towards us and it didn’t look like it was going to make the corner. They weren’t skidding but they weren’t quite going where they should be,” she said from a hospital bed Thursday.
“It kept coming and kept coming and it got past the dogs and I thought ‘oh, we are safe.’ And then it hit the front corner of my four-wheeler,” she said. “So the four-wheeler and I just got launched airborne and landed about 20 feet away in a ditch.”
Hendrickson has three broken vertebra and will need to wear a brace for many months. The 44-year-old initially thought she had a broken leg, but doctors confirmed the muscles were badly strained and bruised.
On Tuesday night, lying in the ditch on frozen ice, Hendrickson knew she was hurt and suspected she had broken her back. She heard people pull up on the side of the road call out to her, but she only worried about her dog team.
“Nobody knows that there were dogs because the gang line broke and they ran away so I got my phone out and started calling everybody I could think of in the local area to say ‘come find my dogs,’” Hendrickson said.
Local mushers and troopers found all but one of the dogs, Sable, within a couple of hours. Sable was found the next morning, spooked but otherwise fine. A fundraiser is set up for Hendrickson, and donations of dog food are pouring in.
“I’ve been shocked by the outpouring of support and help, it’s been pretty wonderful,” she said. “Even though I won’t be able to race I still need to feed and take care of the dogs and I’m kind of out of commission for a while.”
Hendrickson is devastated about having to sit out this mushing season.
“They are saying I should have a full recovery and so I have to take a year off and that’s not easy,” she said. “I’m probably going to be a cranky horrible person for a few months.”
When she does recover and begins training again, Hendrickson says she won’t be changing her route.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that it’s kind of scary to be running next to the highway, but there a lot of mushers in the Willow area and they are stuck with running near the highway,” she said.
“We always try to hustle on through those areas but you never really think someone is going to fly off the road and hit you.”
Hendrickson says she is in contact with the driver and plans to meet with her after being released from hospital.