Monday, January 21, 2008

K-300 Race Headquarters

For about a week, the Race Headquarters for the K-300 is the central nervous system for race volunteers and all race-related activities. It is staffed 24 hours a day, and the phones never seem to stop ringing. How many teams are still out on the river? Has anyone seen Hugh Neff yet? Can trucks still get onto the river at the Finish Line? Did Mike Williams Jr. really scratch at Tuluksak? Where’s Hugh Neff? Are dropped dogs available for pick up yet? What time did Mitch Seavey get in? Does anyone have a phone number for the truck support coordinator? Didn’t Hugh Neff leave Akiachak at 9 this morning? Where is he? Is the banquet still on for 6:00 tonight?

The three phone lines never stop ringing, and a cadre of helpful volunteers try to find the answers for every call. Mushers who have finished the races stop by to see what is going on, race officials make decisions about administrative issues, and volunteers come and go, from the Finish Line, from the airport where dropped dogs get flown in, from the jail where dropped dogs are kept until the mushers’ host families can come and pick them up. Volunteers who have been up all night maintaining statistics for the website look haggard and make more coffee.

Race manager Stacey Gililea is at the center of it all, coordinating thousands of details, talking to checkers, directing volunteers, checking the website, doing everything that needs doing, and managing to keep a smile on her face despite lack of sleep and too many questions. It is a huge job, and one that she has handled with grace.

This morning as I was checking the K-300 website for overnight developments in the race, I got a call from headquarters. Could I come in and staff for a while? The people who had been there all night needed a break. Of course I was happy to lend a hand anywhere it was needed.

I arrived with coffee and muffins for whoever needed a sugar boost. The biggest problem was all the dropped dogs piling up in Tuluksak. They had over thirty dogs waiting to be flown back to Bethel. Dutch and I went to the airport last night to pick up a truckload of dropped dogs and take them to the jail; it was the last flight of the day, as Tuluksak does not have lights at its airstrip, so no more planes could get there. The rest had to wait for daylight today. The winds have been so fierce that small planes were grounded until midday. The dropped-dog coordinator arranged for the hovercraft to pick up dogs at Tuluksak, but it couldn’t get there until early afternoon.

And at 4:00 pm, no one had yet seen Hugh Neff, who left Akiachak at 9 am. He should have made it to Bethel by 1:00, or 2 at the latest. Including Hugh, there are still seven teams mushing towards Bethel. There is so much water on the river that conditions in some places are perilous. Large holes of open water have opened up, snowmachines have gone in and needed rescue, trail markers have fallen over making the trail nearly impossible to follow. This has been one of the toughest years of a tough race.

Jeff King came by headquarters while I was there and echoed sentiments spoken by numerous other mushers. So much water, so much wind. He said that for quite a while, all he could do was crouch as low behind the sled as he could get. If he stood up on the sled to try to help his team by kicking or poling, the increased wind resistance caused by his erect body brought the team to a halt; all he could do was stay low and let the dogs do all the work. By the time he got back to Akiachak, the team was exhausted and just about ready to quit. He managed to get them back to Bethel, but barely. He had seven dogs in harness when he got here, and finished in 8th place.

A quick check of the Leader Board tells me that Hugh finally made it in about 45 minutes ago. That leaves six teams still on the river. Gerry Riley could be in within the hour. Mike Williams Sr and Jr are traveling together and left Akiachak just before 4:30; they should make it to Bethel by 9 pm or so. The last three, Jim Lanier, Dave Tresino, and Kyle Belleque will be a good bit later. If they can just finish the race, they will all take home a paycheck. Given the extraordinary difficulties, I hope the experience has been worth it.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Staci sure was the center of it all! I hope you blog what she did to this wonderful race...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 11:08:00 AM  

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