Scratched musher's sled keeps rookie in the race
Kindness and sled swapping — it's a theme that's been highlighted on the Iditarod Trail this year.
Pair that with some grit, fortitude and a little bit of luck, and you'll have the combination that's carried rookie musher Alison Lifka and her team 329 miles through Alaska this week.
"I’m just happy to be here," she said with a smile while taking care of her dogs at the Takotna checkpoint Thursday morning.
Spending her mandatory 24-hour rest in the small village of less than 70 people was always part of her race plan.
"Everyone told me they had good food," she said, while standing near the community center, a building that has seen no shortage of fresh pies in the last few days.
But getting stuck in the Farewell Burn area outside of Rohn with a broken sled for 10 hours — and contemplating scratching from her first Iditarod — was never part of the plan.
"It was a stump," she explained. "One of the downhills was, I mean it had a little bit of snow but it was mostly just dirt. Anyways, lost control of the sled and it careened into a stump and it snagged up on it, which crunched the runner."
The sled, at that point, could not be driven to Nikolai.
"So if you look at my tracker it stops for 10 hours on the trail while I deal with it," she said.
First, Lifka says she fed her dogs, fed herself and took a three-hour nap.
"It’s really hard to deal with something like that when you’re sleep-deprived," she said.
Even with some rest, her situation looked grim.
"The sled was completely undriveable. The very front of the runner was broken and missing about a section that big," she said, holding up her hands to demonstrate.
She's thankful another musher stopped to offer advice.
"He’s a sled builder, so he helped me figure out some ideas of what to do," Lifka said. "He just said, 'You can do it,' and basically said that if you fix this and get to Nikolai, imagine how good you’ll feel about yourself."
It was needed encouragement for the rookie sitting down on the trail with a broken sled, and motivation for her to keep trying.
After jury-rigging a patch, the team reached Nikolai, where Lifka learned she wasn't the only one having a rough go of it.
Several mushers reported difficulty traversing dirt, gravel, boulders and glare ice outside of Rohn, arriving in Nikolai with beat up or broken sleds. Linwood Fiedler's dogs got loose after he hit a stump and broke his carabiner. Several others had to spend time replacing their plastic runners, and multiple mushers needed new sleds by the time they reached Takotna.
Wednesday in Nikolai, Shaynee Traska became the first to scratch, with 10 dogs in harness. She cited concern for her team as her reason for pulling out.
Traska's sled, however, traveled on. She's letting Lifka borrow it — and hopefully ride it all the way to Nome.
"People are really nice out here that's for sure," she said. "We compete with each other, but we also like to help each other out."
Sore from the whole ordeal, Lifka is ready to rest in Takotna.
"I’m gonna hurt in Nome though," she said. "[...] When I hit that stump, it really slammed me, and my back has been aching really badly ever since."
But as a rookie who's made it this far, she has no plans to stop trying now.
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