trucks leak but dogs and handlers blister

CIRCLE Kelly Griffin’s dog Star has a sack of liquid the size of a large grapefruit hanging from its neck.


Kelly Griffin’s dog Star has a sack of liquid the size of a large grapefruit hanging from its neck.

On Saturday, during the 160-kilometre run from Fairbanks to the first checkpoint at Chena Hot Springs, Star got frostbite.

She had collar rub, said Dan Kaduce’s handler and wife Jodi, who is caring for Star.

Some dogs on chains end up wearing the hair away under their collars.

With that bare skin exposed at minus-40 degree Celsius temperatures, Star’s neck froze.

“It’s edema, or a fluid-filled sack,” said race vet Jamie Martinez-Salles.

The dog is on antibiotics and its lungs and heart sound good, he added.

Star was burrowed under an arctic sleeping bag in the back seat of Kaduce’s dog truck on Monday afternoon.

Her neck was still enormous, but she was eating well.

When Fairbanks’ rookie Ken Anderson pulled into Circle, he dropped two dogs.

One had a sore shoulder; the other had a frostbitten scrotum.

“It’s an old frostbite injury,” said Anderson.

“I had him neutered so I didn’t think it was an issue, but there was some exposed flesh and it got him.”

Former champ Bill Cotter, who pulled in after Anderson, didn’t have any frostbite issues.

He’d also been running in 60-below temperatures heading toward Circle, but had dog coats with flaps that hang in front of the penises.

It helps, said Tagish musher Ed Hopkins, who is handling for his partner Michelle Phillips.

“You just need something like that in front of them to break the wind,” he said.

A number of mushers use penis warmers to protect their dogs’ genitals.

The fleece bands wrap around the dog’s waist and connect with Velcro.

But if these aren’t taken off and dried regularly, it gets ugly, said Hopkins.

The fleece protectors absorb liquid when the dogs pee and end up freezing to their genitals.

Whitehorse musher Kyla Boivin had a couple males with frostbite, she said, hauling in to Circle late Monday night.

“But they’re on the mend,” she said.

“The boys can’t help it; they need their skin exposed to do their business.”

“What we really need is Eskimo dogs,” said Hopkins with a laugh.

“But they’re too slow.”

Even Mike Ellis, who is running fluffy Siberians, had trouble with frostbite.

One of his dogs got a little nip on the end of his penal sheath.

The dogs are furry, but there’s not much hair there, said Ellis, who is one of the few mushers who doesn’t want it to get much warmer.

“My dogs were hot coming in here,” he said, slurping chili at a picnic table in the Circle fire hall.

“I don’t need it too much warmer, minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit is fine.”

Dawson’s Cor Guimond was toasty.

“It’s not cold out,” he said.

“When I heard it warmed up two degrees, I knew a warming trend was coming.

“And when the clouds came in, I knew I was saved.

“It’s balmy now.”

Alaskan veteran Kelly Griffin was glad it was warming up.

“But now we’ll probably get snow belly deep,” she said.

“So you have to be careful what you ask for.”

Griffin didn’t think she’d frozen anything.

“But I haven’t looked in a mirror yet,” she said.

“A couple years ago, I came into Circle with a big scab on my nose and didn’t even know it.”

Griffin looked OK, but Hugh Neff’s handler was another story.

Victor Perry frostbit his big toe during the race start in Fairbanks.

“It’s so swollen I can’t even wear socks in my boot,” said the Kiwi, standing outside the Circle fire hall.

“It was sheer stupidity,” he added.

“I just had the wrong footwear.”

Neff’s partner Tamra Reynolds warned Perry that high-tech hiking boots wouldn’t cut it.

“We tried giving him boots,” she said.

“But he was adamant about wearing them.”

And soaking his frozen foot at the Chena Hot Springs didn’t help, said Reynolds.

“It took on lots of water.”

Perry was sporting big black winter boots in Circle.

“I learned the hard way,” he said with a grin.

Perry plans to have his foot checked out once he gets back to Whitehorse.

Humans and dogs weren’t the only frostbite casualties.

The Central and Circle parking lots are covered in congealed splotches of oil and paths of transmission fluid that look like the trails of wounded animals.

Griffin’s truck quit in Central, and her handler was not dealing with it well.

She called locals who offered help a “bunch of drunks.”

Then she barraged Griffin with questions immediately after the weary musher came off Eagle summit. After that, the tall blonde handler — up from New York City — sat in the cold and pouted.

It was frontrunner Dan Kaduce’s wife, Jodi, who managed to find another starter for the truck in Fairbanks and get it flown to Central on Monday.

But apparently, the truck is still not working.

Jean-denis Britten’s truck also quit.

“He’s having tranny problems,” said Hopkins.

Britten’s wife is trying to juggle her mother-in-law, who is visiting from Quebec and speaks very little English, her year-old baby boy, Odyland, and deal with the sketchy transmission while getting to the checkpoints on time.

“She’s so quiet, she doesn’t really ask for help,” said Hopkins.

“She’s just out there pouring in tranny oil.”

Hopkins also had some truck trouble.

After seeing Phillips off at Mile 101, he couldn’t get the door shut, so he gave it a good slam.

The window shattered.

It was a cold ride over the summit, said Hopkins.

“I froze my fingers.”

He ended up taping some plastic over the window, but can’t really see out of it.

Dawson handler and past racer Peter Ledwidge gave Hopkins the tape.

Ledwidge is also picking up dogs for Britten, while his wife and family limp back to Fairbanks to get repairs on the truck.

After seeing off mushers at Circle, handlers have to drive all the way back to Fairbanks, on to Whitehorse and then north to Dawson, where they are expected to have camp set up before the mushers arrive.

It’s a haul for the handlers, who get very little sleep, usually only catching the odd wink in idling dog trucks at the checkpoints.