Rasmussen’s Ride In 2009 Iron Dog
Some of us are just dying to know what Bret Rasmussen’s thoughts were after competing in this year’s (2009) Iron Dog snowmobile race. I noticed he didn’t finish the race, but did come very close to finishing.
Are you going to publish an article about his experiences while competing in the race?
Looking forward to the next issue of SnoWest.
(ED—I figure the best way to handle your request is to go to the source. I asked Bret to give us his thoughts on his Iron Dog experience.)
I appreciate your interest in my entry in the Iron Dog race in Alaska. First let me say that those Alaskan Iron Dog racers are tough. I don’t know why they do it year after year; it must have something to do with boredom. I think everyone should do this race at least once.
A number of thoughts are at the top of my mind as I am thinking of what to say. Vastness. There is nowhere in the Lower 48 that I can ride a sled from somewhere in the middle of the state northward for a thousand miles then turn east and ride another thousand miles. This, without ever leaving the state, never crossing a fence, never crossing a plowed road or passing under a power line.
Now there is some small infrastructure at a few of the villages along the way—I’m talking about maybe five miles of plowed road and a power line that carried the electricity from a generator station to a small string of houses. The beauty of the Alaska outback is grand and the only way to see it all in seven days on a sled is to run the longest and most grueling snowmobile race, the Iron Dog.
The trail we followed, whether over land or on the river and even on the sea ice, was not groomed, it was only one sled width wide and full of hazards. From tree roots to ice ledges, frozen tuffs of Arctic tundra to gaps in the sea ice, it is a trail that does not allow a racer to relax because when you do it will bite. Even driver fatigue becomes a hazard. After long hours and many miles on the trail my mind would start to wander, my muscles were cramping, my fingers were getting cold and my throttle thumb was numbing. There came a point when my muscles hurt so bad I couldn’t favor any one limb to go to for relief. There was no relief on the trail. I couldn’t pull off the trail and wait for a rescue party to pick me up because there is no rescue party. It was all about myself and my racing partner, Darrick Johnson. We had to look out for each other. That became very evident early in the race.
It was day two, our last leg from Ruby to Galena, when I realized it was getting cold, real cold. I had stopped on the trail earlier and zipped up the vents on my Arctic Cat race jacket. This helped, but I still wasn’t overly warm. I remember the large blood-colored moon just over the horizon with frost particles floating in the air from Darrick’s sled ahead of me. I wondered how cold it was by now.
On the river just out of Galena I felt my steering getting heavy. This is where I realized that we maybe had made a mistake earlier in the day when changing out a spindle on my sled. We had not lubed it with the proper cold temperature grease. At home we prepared our sleds by lubing all the grease fittings with aviation grease certified to –100°F, but not the spare parts carried by our pilot.
On day three we went on the clock at 8:59 a.m. The sleds were impounded outside and I expected a challenge when it came time to start them. I braced myself with one foot in the stirrup and gave a good tug on the recoil starter rope. It must have come out 8 inches. Okay, now I am getting serious, both hands on the rope and pull. Sixteen inches this time. Again and again I pulled, never getting the rope all the way out. Finally the engine came alive and I breathed a sigh of relief. Little did I know my troubles weren’t over. Darrick was still cranking on his sled. I went to work making a ski tow adjustment that had been bothering me the day before.
Now both sleds were running and we needed fuel and oil, so we pulled over to the pump, right. Wrong. The tracks were both frozen and would not turn. We bounced, tried dragging the sleds backward, bounced again, burnt the belt and finally were able to get them moving. Guess what? My steering was very, very stiff. I could turn the handlebars and wind up the steering post and then the skis would slowly turn. We fueled the sleds.
Sometime during the commotion of getting the tracks turning I lost my goggles. Once I retrieved them I mounted my F6 to catch Darrick who was waiting for me on the river. Well, I was preoccupied with my steering and missed the turn that would take me to the river. When I realized the mistake I tapped the brake to slow and turn around, but that sent me into a slide. Because the steering wouldn’t respond to my input I couldn’t correct the slide, so option two was to apply enough throttle to keep it straight. This didn’t help much. I found myself over the bank, on my back, against some bushes and pinned underneath my sled. I couldn’t see for the snow covering my goggles and the heavy exhaust smoke was choking me. No one knew I was there. I was thinking, “If Darrick finds me alive he is going to hurt me bad.”
I struggled to escape without success. Hopefully this gives Steve Janes some satisfaction. (see White Out and Wide Open, October, 2009, SnoWest, page 10). After forcing myself to relax and catch my breath I was able to wiggle out. I uprighted my sled, which held 15 gallons of fuel with a full load and with all my gear and supplies probably weighed … I don’t know, but it is more than my M sled at home. Oh how I miss my M8.
Meanwhile, Darrick was thinking I had gone back toward Ruby southbound, when the race was northbound toward Kaltag. So he headed out to find me when someone ran out of a house saying, “Your partner went that way,” with a motion of his arm. Darrick was enroute to find me.
I jumped on the sled thinking I was going to catch Darrick before he learned of my mishap. With a handful of throttle I simply dug a big hole in the soft snow. Stranded again, I wasn’t going to get back out on the trail right away. Just when I was out of ideas, some locals came along, jumped out and took hold of my ski loops. They dragged me over the bank and back on the trail I was on. Just then Darrick came along and we took off down the trail. The locals were calling the temperature on the river at –60°F.
I have much more to say about this race including the grief I suffered from the damage done in my little get off at Galena to the storm on the southbound leg that many teams got lost in. We scratched at Manley Hot Springs due to damage done on the river after hitting some ice ridges. We were close enough to Fairbanks that there were actually roads that lead to civilization.
This was a great experience and when asked if I will enter this race again my answer is probably not. I’ll stick to what I do best, riding mountain sleds in the mountain backcountry of the Lower 48.
Let’s ride; I’m ready to go out any time.
Where’s Arctic Cat’s Torque Sensing Link?
I was wondering if you guys could find out why Cat quit using the torque sensing link on the new sleds. It was the hot ticket back in the 90s. I think it is an excellent idea. I have even upgraded an old Cat with it and noticed an improvement in climbing and traction. No other manufacturers have picked up on it either. Was this just a passing fad?
(ED—We went right to Arctic Cat’s engineers and posed Everson’s question to them. Here is their response.)
The TSL does help with weight transfer and hooking-up on the snow. However, we went away from it to eliminate the track-tensioning we were seeing with it on our longer skidframes. Also, we now have a simpler, lighter design that works well for us.