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February 17, 2013

The Seeley Lake Mega Crud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could only see a couple hundred yards of the road in front of me as I drove through the fog.  It was about midnight and I was crossing Nevada headed home from a dogsled race at Lake Davis, California.  That was 2005, and Dawn, Tenaya, Jake, Jag, Sima, Tok, Fondue, and Vixen made up my kennel.

The long race day, driving at night, and the fog all meant that my eyes were starting to close on their own.  I was also wondering if the tri-tip steak sandwiches I had during the race might not have been tainted---I was also feeling a little sick.  I had planned on driving till two or so, but decided to stop a little early.

Tired from the road and a little queasy, I still had to drop the dogs, attach them to lines so that they could relieve themselves, before we all turned in.  A thick layer of rime ice had built up on my sled.  A nearby street light illuminated this in a particularly surreal way, something I noticed while dropping the dogs. 

The next day was clear and sunny---conditions that should have let me drive forever, but I couldn’t.  After only fifty miles, I had to stop and pull over to close my eyes.  I got back on the road, but didn’t even last fifty miles before I again had to pull over.  After about the fourth leg and stop, each with less mileage than the preceding one, I realized I had to get a motel room, rest, and hope I’d be able to do better the following day.

There was a nasty virus making its way through Seeley Lake that year.  I had had a cold and had wanted that to be my only encounter with the bug, but it became clear the cold was just a cold and my turn with the real virus was going to be during my drive back from Lake Davis.

I checked into a motel mid-afternoon having driven less than 200 miles that day.  The first thing I did once I got the room was crash.  For the next two hours, I was dead to the world.  With that rest, I got up, went out, and dropped dogs.

On road trips, I’d normally walk my two housedogs, Dawn and Tenaya.   This time, I put them on the dropline too----they had been on droplines before so that was nothing new.  Moreover Tenaya had no issues doing what she had to do while on the dropline.  Dawn, however, required a perfect spot before she would relieve herself.  After she started doing the “I can’t pee on a dropline” tap dance, I walked her about fifty yards, told her that was all she was getting, then walked her back.  The second time I did it, a slightly pissed off Siberian Husky bitch decided she might not need a perfect spot after all, and relieved herself. 

Feeling at least a little better, I left the next morning.  Still, I took two days driving a distance I always did in one. 

The Wednesday after this year’s Race to the Sky ended, I found time to go out for a quick ski tour, a little over three miles, before heading to Helena for the awards banquet.  Wearing backcountry gear and skiing on snowmobile trails, I averaged 5 mph or so—a pretty good clip.  And I felt good.  I showered, then drove off to the banquet.  Aside from it being nearly impossible to find the venue, I had a good time.  The drive back, from ten to midnight, was totally uneventful. 

The 2013 version of the Seeley Lake mega-crud didn’t strike me until after I went to bed early Thursday morning, but then it hit me like a tsunami.  The only way I got any sleep at all was by having the vaporizer going at full blast in my closed bedroom and taking a shelf full of cold drugs.  With these, I think I got thirty minutes of sleep, but I’m not sure.

Fever and sleep deprivation knocked me on my rear for all of Thursday.  The only dog work I did was to water and feed.  Rather than bringing wood in and running the stove, I turned up the electric wall heaters.  And while I slept as much as I could, it was always fitful.  I slept better on Friday, but by that time the virus had infected my abdominal muscles and they were inflamed. 

Happily, I haven’t been knocked on my rear this hard by a virus since 2005.  With this, my mind has naturally wandered back to that road trip.  I’m realizing that dealing with the bug in the Nevada high desert was a small rite of passage that I’ll always remember---from the rime ice on my sled glistening under the streetlight to Dawnie doing the “I can’t pee on a dropline” tapdance, to my collapsing in the motel bed once I got my room.

Along with this realization, I’m looking at everything that I’ve done and learned since then.  You won’t find me saying, “Jeeze, I wonder where the last eight years have gone.”  Of the dogs I had, I still have Jake, Fondue, Vixen, Tok, and Sima.  Vixen was five on that trip---she’s now 13.  We’ve all done thousands of miles of sledding and driving and learned the inevitable lessons of these journeys. 

One of the last scenes in “Jeremiah Johnson” is where Johnson meets up with his mentor, Bear Claw.

Bear Claw says, “You’ve come far, pilgrim.”

“Feels like far,” says Johnson.

“Were it worth the trouble?”

“Ha, what trouble?”

And for me, it feels like far, too.  And it was definitely worth the trouble.

   
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