This post is an entry for the Freaky Friday writing contest organized by @pete. This is a contest that helps promote quality creative writing about a variety of sports ideas here on the Scorum platform. This weeks topic is the picture above. For more details or to find out how to join, please check out @pete's contest post.
It had been a long, hard season on the sledding circuit so far this year. I had long decided that this would be my last year racing competitively but I had yet to make the announcement publicly. I wanted to ride out the end of my career on my own terms and I most certainly didn't want to have people making these final races about the twilight of my career. I hadn't yet decided which race would be my last, I envisioned going out with a glorious win and announcing my retirement on the podium but that reality seemed far off. This season had been the worst in my entire career and at this point, I had failed to finish in the top 10 even once. Not quite the swan song I had hoped for as I approached the finish line of my career.
I had been preparing for my final Iditarod with a vigor I had not had in a long time. This was my race, the place where I first made my big splash onto the dog racing scene. It was 30 years ago but I remembered it like it was yesterday. I had barely qualified for the race and only got added to the field after a last-minute withdrawal by another racer. It was as if I had magic in my sled that race. I was able to complete the 1000 mile trek in what is still a record time for a 1st time sledder. My dogs were on par and we executed the two-week race to perfection. It had been a long time since I had felt that type of success but I had hoped that I could recapture some of that magic.
It was day 10 of the race and as luck would have it, my team and I had been flawless. We were way out in front. So far in fact that we hadn't seen another racer for two days. It was as if I had transformed into my younger self and my dogs were pulling me to a glorious end. I couldn't help but think about that moment when I would accept the winner's trophy and announce that this was my last race. What an epic way to go out. I couldn't have planned it any better if I had written the story myself. By my calculations, I was two days away from this moment becoming real. That is when mother nature stepped in and reared her ugly head. A storm front moved in so fast that there is no way any of the racers could have prepared for it and before I knew it, I was in the middle of a blinding blizzard.
The snow was so bad that I couldn't even see the front of my dog team. I was literally fumbling through the Alaskan wilderness blind. I knew it was time to stop but I needed to find a spot with some shelter so I could avoid the brunt of the storm. After a few hours of pushing forward into the eye of the storm, I started to fear that I no longer knew where I was. I hadn't seen a course marker in what seemed like forever but then again, I couldn't even see my dogs. I called for the team to stop. I couldn't continue like this. I needed to prepare a shelter as quick as I could. Finding the perfect spot was no longer an option.
The moment the sled stopped moving I knew there was something wrong. Under the blowing wind, I could hear the loud sound of crackling ice. Fear shot through my body as I came to the realization that I had somehow ended up on a partially frozen lake. The ice must have become unstable during the early thaw that had happened before the competition. I was in big trouble and I needed to act fast. I called out to the team to run and snapped the reins. The dogs jumped into action but it was too late. I could feel the sled jolt as the surface beneath me gave way and I fell into the frigid waters of the lake. I Somehow, I was able to keep hold of the sled and in what I can only describe as a miracle, the dogs kept pulling. They pulled as if they knew my life depended on it. I can't say I know how long I was in the water but the dogs ran until they had me pulled to safety.
My memories of what happened after going through the ices are foggy. I had never been so cold in my life and hypothermia was setting in quickly. I remember unpacking my shelter supplies and somehow getting the tent pegged down. The only thing that saved me from freezing to death was my dogs huddling in the shelter with me and helping to stabilize my body temperature. I passed out from exhaustion as my body was fighting the cold. I do remember thinking as I lay there surrounded by the dogs that this was not how I wanted to check out.
It was almost two days later when the search party found me. They had been searching all along the course for me and my team but it turned out I had managed to get myself almost 25 miles off course in the storm which is quite a distance from the track. It was a passing helicopter that spotted my makeshift shelter and circled back to pick me up. The rescue team was amazed that I had survived out in the cold for so long after getting wet. I looked at my dogs and swelled with emotion as I knew that they had saved my life. As the helicopter lifted up into the air I looked to the rescue ranger sitting beside me and said "I'm finished. This is my last race." He smiled back at me and said that it would be a very long time before this race would be forgotten. People would talk about the racer who lived for years to come. I guess surviving made me the biggest winner in the end.