How Far is North
Flying the Iditarod 2004: The Race Chase by Tony Turinsky
If I had just one wish, I’d fly every one of you on an Iditarod Adventure. Well, maybe, I would throw several billion dollars into the wish and then take everyone.
I first flew the race in 1989 as a volunteer pilot for the Iditarod Air Force. I have enjoyed seven glorious years of Iditarod Air Force flying.
For me, flying for the Iditarod is akin to Air America without the C.I.A. At least that was the way it was in the old days; the late eighties. Back then, we had a new Chief Pilot every year.
Today, two veterans hold the Chief Pilot position. Over the last six or eight years their joint tour of duty has provided a sense of continuity and professionalism to the Iditarod Air Force.
John and Joe are management and logistic gurus. Under their command a tight band of dedicated pilots makes up the Iditarod Air Force. This squadron runs a successful mission every year. Every March, they tune in on setting Iditarod in place along the vast expanse of northwestern Alaska. The Strategic Air Command would be proud of the job these two veterans and their crew do. They talk the talk, they get the flying done. They move volunteers, dogs, food, and all of the Iditarod stuff up and down the trail from Anchorage to Nome. Keep in mind: this race is about the distance from Seattle to San Francisco without the highways.
This past spring my mission was to fly Iditarod 2004. It is certainly not an impossible mission. Any pilot with reasonable skills can make the eleven hundred mile trip from Anchorage to Nome. The nice thing about venturing up the Iditarod trail with a pair of wings is the support. It is like having a big red umbrella. First, the leaders are the trailbreakers; they do their job and break the trail. If you fly low enough, you can follow their trail markers. The FAA might have something to say about your altitude, but these trailbreakers do know how to set a course.
Next, there are the series of checkpoints that offer good reference points and help if needed. If you are on wheels, there are some checkpoints you should plan to miss. And, of course, there is the Iditarod Air Force with their comforting radio frequency of 120.6, not to mention the armada of helicopters and commercial professionals like Talkeetna Air, Regal Air, Penn Air, Alaska Airlines and the civil force of private pilots. If you want to fly somewhere to be alone, do not fly the Iditarod after the dogs leave Anchorage. I can guarantee you will find a lot of your old friends and many new friends when you take a drink from this particular dipper of adventure.
I have had the good fortune to be able to share the Iditarod flying adventure with a number of my own friends. Each time I take someone out along the trail, I am able to give to them an ownership share of the vast region that is the Iditarod Trail. It’s really only a loan, but as long as they have memory cells it will always be theirs.
Iditarod 2004 started out for me with a broadcast email to our merry band of the International Cessna 180/185 Club members. The 180/5 clubs is made up of nearly two thousand proud owners of one of Clyde Cessna’s best of the best. You can name any place anywhere in the world and we will probably have a member with his trusty Cessna 180/5 standing by.
My email worked. I had takers, but most of them could not make the short several thousand-mile journeys to Alaska in time for the start of the race. I tried to borrow the transporter from the Star Ship Enterprise to get them up here, but Captain Kirk said it was out of service. He thought it blew a vacuum tube. I think Scotty probably would have let me sneak a few 180/5’s through, but the best we could do was get an airline pass for one of our club members. It just so happened that Gordon (not a crewmember from Star Trek) was able to find his way from Chicago to Anchorage not using the transporter, or his 185, but his TWA pass privileges
Gordon, my brother from another mother and a very good fellow 185-owner friend of mine, was my flying partner. Our adventure starts out on race day Saturday: Downtown Anchorage, Fourth Avenue. The street was filled with eighty some teams of twelve dogs each. Do the math. That’s a lot of dog feet and tails.
We took in the sights and sounds, and the smells of some of the best-used dog food you can imagine. It really is a shopping spree of adventure. How often can you see this many incredible well-trained competitors and their musher in one place?
It was a grand day. Sunshine and crisp temperatures, a textbook day for the race start. The downtown Anchorage start is ceremonial; the actual cross-country start takes place out from Willow, Alaska, the next day. The dogs run from downtown Anchorage to Eagle River where they get loaded up and driven to Willow. It all has to do with snow conditions and the fact there is not a good trail from Eagle River.
Sunday broke: a gorgeous day that demanded flying. The Claxton horns did not need to be sounded; we did not waste a minute to be airborne. Fueled, preheated, breakfasted, we were off to Willow for the official Iditarod restart.
It never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I eat chocolate cake I still like it, and that is exactly how being involved in Iditarod is for me.
On this day my wife Kelly, my sister Marti, Gordon and I flew over and around Willow sipping in this grand day, like a good wine. I think secretly that the real thrill for me is the flying; actually, it is not really a secret. I just love to be out and have the chance to use my trusty Cessna.
Someone must have called ahead to arranged for Mt. McKinley to be out in its fully glory. What a spectacular sight, all twenty thousand feet of beacon for us pilots. McKinley is another forty minutes from Willow. It is like looking at all of the ice cream flavors at Baskin and Robbins.
Unfortunately, it is only a flight time of only thirty-five minutes from my house on O’Malley strip. I just barely got my engine, and oil temps up before I had to throttled back, line up on final and let the ground meet my skies at Willow and we found ourselves among the smells and sounds of the restart.
Many people enjoy the Iditarod start and restart. In Anchorage, it is easy for people to attend. The drive to Willow still brings out a great number of fans, but the two-hour drive tends to cut the numbers down. This is one thing about following the Iditarod, the farther north you travel, the thinner the crowds get.
We stayed and watched forty of the eighty teams pull out. And I really mean pull. At the restart, the teams are larger in number then when they leave Anchorage. From this point the mushers leave with a full complement of dogs.
On one of my previous missions, I loaded eighteen dogs into my 185 for a flight from Skwentna to Anchorage. After being pulled off my feet, several times, a famous Skwentna checker, Joe, soloed me on dog handling. It is amazing how strong the dogs really are. If you ever move any of the dogs it is important to lift their front feet off the ground. This cuts their dog power is half. Thanks for the tip, Joe.
We stayed at the restart two hours and then headed back to the 185, but not back to Anchorage. We followed the teams to the first checkpoint at Yentna Station.
From Willow the trail heads south down the Big Susitna River to the Yentna River, about thirty-five miles to the big bend. Yentna Station the first official checkpoint. It is a beehive of activity. Planes and snow machines are parked everywhere.
Leaving Willow, one would think that the trail would get lonely, guess again. There are more snow machines and airplanes than you can imagine. It is one continuous party along the trail north. These trail parties are a tradition. They have been going on since the early days of the race. It is one long tailgate party. Except the tailgates are snow machine racks and the tail surfaces of planes. I can bet that the food is as good as it gets at any tailgate party anywhere in the country. The only difference is you do not need to bring the ice. You are on the ice. Several feet thick of river ice
The journey down the Big Sue (Susitna) to Yentna Station is a sight to behold: the dog teams are heading out for the start of their great adventure, cheered on by the well-wishers on snow machines and in airplanes, plus, all of the people who have homes and cabins along the trail. These local fans open their homes to the moving tailgate party along the river portion of the Iditarod. It is the Idita-party.
We were off again on the race chase, flying south using little gas with ten degrees of flaps on the handle, feeling like a glider, hanging in the cold air, flying a bit faster than the dogs but slower then what Clyde Cessna designed for the top end of a 185. It might be thought by our altitude that we were looking for a place to land. Never, of course, violating one of the FARs, we slide down the trail.
One thing is for sure, we did not have to watch out for snow machines at our altitude, but there were plenty of 180/5 and Cub types. We were like the flock of blackbirds in the spring. We were circling and squawking, smiling and laughing just loving the air under our wings.
We were headed for the river airport of Yentna Station. The downtown start, the restart, and Yenta Station are the best opportunity for people to enjoy the race as it leaves for Nome. These three points and the trip up the river give people the chance to really get involved in the race as fans. As I said before, the crowds do start to thin out the farther north the dogs go.
We ended up number three in the pattern, touched down and were met by the follow-me-snowmachine that lead us to parking. As can happen only in Alaska, the snowmachine was also our limo to the lodge.
The Yentna checkpoint is a moving place. It is like a gigantic thunderstorm. You can see a thunderstorm building and moving in and then it hits and is gone. That is exactly how it is here. All of the teams make their way to the Yentna Station for a brief stop, but they move on through making their way up river to the Skwentna, the next checkpoint. It is somewhat anticlimactic for the residents of this first checkpoint, they spend a lot of time and effort setting up for the dogs and in the course of one day it is over. The teams have passed and quiet descends on Yentna Station. The teams are gone, the snow machines and airplanes have left, and it is back to normal for Dan and his family. The checkpoint busy is a good thing. Dan and his wife and six kids are not just spectators at Yenta’s checkpoint. They are the checkpoint. Dan and family are truly an Iditarod family. They live at Yentna Station and I am sure they have the lead as a checkpoint family.
The checkpoints are made up of fixed places like Yentna Station and small tent camps that pop up. Yentna Station is manned year-round by the Dan family. Some of the other ones are set up and then broken down after the red lantern team passes by.
At the Skwentna check point some of the teams will stop for a longer rest before they move up to Finger Lake, Pontella Lake and the climb over the Alaska Range. From Skwentna the teams start to spread out as they set their own pace.
We said adieu to Yentna, after some coffee and hot dogs. I cracked the whip to my three hundred horses and pointed my spinner back to Anchorage. We’d had a forty-carat weekend but it was only the start. It was just hors d’ oeuvres, sharpening our appetite for this great feast of adventure that was on the menu: flying the Iditarod trail.
It was difficult for Gordon, because unlike the dog teams we settled back in Anchorage for several days. I had to keep telling him that it would be all right. We would catch the leaders in a while.
I like to wait until the lead dog teams reach the Yukon River. I have found that unless you plan to follow the full two weeks of the race, it is not necessary to follow the teams to every checkpoint. With the entire race being over one thousand miles and with the dogs moving considerably slower then my 185, we had time to spare.
While we stayed back in Anchorage, the teams would be pushing into checkpoint after checkpoint. They would make their way from Skwentna, the last checkpoint near an airport before the trail starts out and up to the Alaska Range. Finger Lake is a ski plane-only checkpoint. It is at the base of the climb up to the Pontila Lake checkpoint in the Ptarmigan Pass. The teams start their climb from near sea level to Pontila Lake, then through the famous Dansel Gorge. This is an exceptionally dangerous section of the Iditarod trail. Keep in mind that the teams deal with river crossings that even at this time of the year are not always frozen solid, and other perils, like charging moose.
They are faced with the climb over the Alaska Range through the Ptarmigan Pass, Rainy Pass and through Dansel Gorge before they arrive at the Rhone River checkpoint. The teams by now are spread out over many miles. The checkpoints here operate at a slower pace than Yentna Station. The teams will be coming in for many days. The checkers, handlers, and vets will get little rest as the teams drift through like leaves on a slow stream.
Rhone River is one of the first stops where the mushers can take their mandatory rest periods. Race rules have periods that each team must rest for a set time. Each team chooses their stopping place for these required rest periods. Not that any musher would bend a rule, but this race is very well monitored; there are the checkers, race marshals, veterinarians, and the racers themselves, all keeping an eye on each other.
Rhone River should be considered a great victory for any team that makes it to this point. They have traveled from downtown Anchorage over the highway down the Big Sue, up the Yentna, up and over the Alaska Range through the treacherous Dansel Gorge, down through Rainy Pass and into Rhone. By any possible standard, just getting to the Rhone River checkpoint makes for an incredible dog team race.
I’d give any team arriving in Rhone a grand prize medal, except in this race they still have more than two-thirds of the way to go to the finish line. The teams will use their time at the Rhone River to celebrate their personal victory and to begin unfolding their race strategy for ultimate victory in Nome.
The checkpoints from Rhone: Nicoli, McGrath, Takotna, Galena, Ruby, and Kaltag are the interior portion of the trail. By this time, the top twenty teams are and have been putting their strategies to the test, because the race of the leaders is about to begin. Of the total number of teams that enter, there are actually several classes of mushers. There are the Rookies, not-so-Rookies, and the top twenty leaders. The top twenty are the teams that have the most experience and the best chance to win.
The interior section of the Iditarod is by no means a ride in the park. It is a completely new race. Now it is a cross-country race, which presents no real challenging terrain except for the Burn, which sometimes has very little snow and is quite rugged. They have a myriad of river crossings and temperatures that can dip well below freezing, along with winds, and wind chill. This section is not for the meek and mild. When they make it to the mighty Yukon River, they will have conquered a second great race. It is hard to explain what these dogs and their masters have to endure. The mental challenge of the musher and of the dogs is immense. From the rookies to the veterans this race is reaching the height of any challenge. They make their way up the Yukon to Kaltag, a community on the banks of the river, where they will make their push to the coast, which is where we will meet the teams.
The coastal checkpoint is Unalakleet. This is, in my opinion, where the race between the twenty lead teams sets up a winner. Any team outside of the twenty teams have already won, they just have to get to Nome. The checkpoints of this coastal portion of the race starts with Unk, goes to Shacktoolic, Koyak, Elim, White Mountain, Safety and then to Nome.
Gordon was as ready as any single dog in the race to get going. I knew he would be straining his harness. After all, we had dog chasing and flying to do. We were off to catch the leaders. We had been following the progress of the race and the weather up trail, and that day the universe came together, and we met the challenge. Gordon and I pulled the wing covers from 81E, my trusty team Cessna 185, and with one hundred degrees on the oil temp; we were off to catch the race.
Our flight for the dogs took us from my house on O’Malley airstrip north to Nome. We picked our way past Mt Susitna up the Yentna, but unlike the dogs, we could not make our way through the pass. We followed the base of the Alaska Range past the mighty Mt. McKinley heading north. Our stop was Unk. As we slipped past the foothills, which by most people’s standard for foothills would be great mountain ranges. Mt. Foraker stands a little less than twenty thousand feet and Mc Kinley stands twenty thousand some feet.
We had a whipped cream and cherry flight through the interior portion of the trip. For us it would take a few hours, for the teams many days of great challenge. We had a CAVU flight. CAVU, for the non-flyers, means ceiling and visibility unlimited. With our fuel tanks and my trusty Stanley thermoses full, we winged our way to Unk.
The mighty Yukon River slipped gently beneath our wings, shrouded in its winter veil of ice. We even had some wind on our tail that day. Commercial pilots who flew over the War in Vietnam talk about the relative calm and comfort of their cockpits compared to the challenges taking place on the ground below. Likewise, we had it quite nice for our flight over the Iditarod challenge below us.
Unalakleet came into view as we crossed the hills before the coast, throttle and prop pulled back and the trim reset to a gentle glide toward the shoreline. I called the station frequency, crossed midfield, turned base over the Bering Sea, and slid in over the church steeple touching down on the sea ice. With the switches off, we were here in a strange new world of village life and the start of the coast race to Nome.
I tied my trusty Cessna to the nearest hitching post, plugged in the engine heat, and we were off to the checkpoint. The villages look forward to the Iditarod. They plan for the race all year. In the villages, the Iditarod changes now to a slow moving storm. The teams race bunched up for the first one to two hundred miles, but now they are stretched out over many miles. Each checkpoint from here on out will see teams coming through at all hours, day and night.
There were four teams in Unk. The winners were there, we just didn’t know exactly which team would be getting the big money. This point divides the race into the top five, the mid runners, and the rookie campers. Still top competitors, just with new classifications.
When the teams settle in at White Mountain they have a mandatory eight-hour layover. One might think that the order they arrive here will be the order they finish in Nome, but not always. One year, a rookie named Libby Riddles arrived at White Mountain and set up camp with the other teams resting there. Each team had already met their eight-hour rest requirement and now waited out a fierce snowstorm. Libby ventured out while the storm was raging, and she ended up winning that year. The race is never over until it’s over.
We met up with Wes, a FedEx pilot, as planned at the White Mountain checkpoint. He owns a Cessna 170, the 180/5’s tried and true prototype. He is more used to an MD-11, but makes out fine in his 170, the big old MD-11 being difficult to land on sea ice, anyway.
The three of us made our way down to the dogs and among the spectators at the checkpoint, and sure enough, Doug, the Chief Checker, was there. Doug has been the checker in Unk from the start of Iditarod. He has a staff, now: Jamie, his daughter, and other recruited friends and family.
It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement of the villagers. It’s like Christmas, Mardi Gras and the Indy 500 to them. The cold and dark of November to January gives way to a hint of spring in the body of the Iditarod celebration. Everyone gets involved, local businesses get their share, and the money left in the villages is a real boost to the local economies.
Doug set us up with a place to rest our heads for the night. The sun went to bed, we found some pizza. Yes, Virginia, there’s pizza in Unk. It’s the best pizza in town – it’s the only pizza in town. Really was very good. The owner told us his to-go orders go out on 206s and 207s, and he even sent one out to Anchorage once. Talk about the $100 burger.
Stomachs well satisfied, we took a walking tour of Unk. We visited old friends at Iditarod Pilot Headquarters. Wes worked on getting hooked up to fly as part of the Iditarod Air Force 2005. He had already done some flying for them, and loyal FedExer that he is; he even picked up packages from some of the checkpoints on the way up.
My pillow was calling my name, and we headed back to Doug’s to settle in for a short winter nap. Doug, of course, wouldn’t be in until much later, busy as he was with his Chief Checker duties.
Morning sun found us at Leonard and Mary’s Unk Lodge: the best breakfast place in town. You guessed it – the only breakfast place in town.
We could hear airplane sounds and had to make some of our own Cessna noise. The next stop would be Shaktoolik, then Koyuk, Elim and the final stop that day would be White Mountain.
The oil temps were good. The electric heater did its job. Flying the trail, it is not difficult to find a place to plug in, you just need a really long extension cord. Flying the Iditarod can be done with just about any small plane. Skis are not necessary, but nice to have. The larger checkpoints have plowed runways and some even have hangar space, if you know the right people.
Preflight, oil and engine temps, we were off as a flight of two. We followed the teams up the trail; the leader had left while we were still dreaming. It would not take long for us to catch up.
We climbed out over the low hills, following the trail to Shaktoolik. This is another smaller village further out on a spit of land. I am told they moved the village there because of the fierce summer bugs. Don’t count on the story being true.
We heard a squawk on the radio. It was John, the Chief Pilot for Iditarod; he was on final landing on the ice at Shaktoolik. We slipped into the pattern and followed him in.
Coffee, hot chocolate and cookies are in abundance at all the checkpoints. Iditarod does feed their people well, more than just the basics. We walked the short distance to the smell of fresh coffee and checked everything out. John was flying Jeff Shultz, the famous Iditarod photographer, around so he could get his job done -and Gordon and I we were doing our job: just flying around having fun.
The checkpoints can get repetitious with the dogs, vets, checkers, town’s people, lots of kids, and us tourist types. As you fly up the trail it is like driving the Alaska Highway, when you start out you meet the same group moving along the trail.
The language along the trail is Iditarod and flying. Everyone speaks the same tongue.
We did our tour of Shaktoolik and pointed our birds north to Koyuk. We landed on the ice pack there, as we had at Shaktoolik. There were already several other planes ahead of us.
With our business done and a new supply of coffee and more cookies, we were off to our last stop before heading to Nome, which would be White Mountain, the Camelot of the Iditarod.
Speaking in the vernacular, “It’s Cool.” This is my best place to visit. Located at the base of the, you’ve got it – The White Mountains. This village is really special.
We flew low over the foothills out of Koyuk, past the village of Glovin, and its great ice pack. One year I made twenty-five touch and goes between Gloving and White Mountain. Flat as a pancake I think the saying goes.
Noise in the headsets would tell us that our Cessna group was moving in to the last checkpoint where the musher and their dogs have to take a mandatory eight-hour rest. We circled overhead, checked for traffic, and let the river ice gently slide under our skies.
Our new address would be c/o White Mountain School. The towns and villages open their schools, churches, libraries, and houses, to all of the new arrivals.
The ground crew took care of the plane, we wing covered, cowl covered, and plugged her in for the night, making our way to the school. No reading, writing or arithmetic, just a long hot shower, a dinner of Mountain House food, chocolate covered raisins, a side order of sleep. We were down and locked for the night.
Morning would be filled with the excitement of the start of last leg of the race to the pot of gold for the leader: $50 thousand and a new Dodge truck. Not bad at all, I think one would say.
There were three leaders in, saddled with an eight-hour wait before the last push to Nome. The odds favored the first team into White Mountain. Although the race could be considered over, in that last ninety miles to Safety, (20 miles out of Nome), anything could happen. The year rookie Libby Riddles made the dash to Nome in a raging wind and snowstorm, leaving all the veterans behind, she beat the odds to take home the gold and made herself famous. Barring the unforeseen this morning, which was bathed in a mist of snow crystals and a gentle breeze, the leader here, would be the winner of 2004.
The rooster crowed and we were up and at ‘em, no eggs or bacon, just Quaker Oats, coffee, and the lure of the race outside. The leader was down to the last hour of his eight mandatory hours, his mood was demure, the dogs were steady, but excited, they seemed to know where they were and what was about to happen. If you could hear them talk, they would probably be saying, “Yahoo, we’re in the lead, ha, ha, ha.” “Hey, we’re going to be on television. We’ll be famous.” “Boy, what a race. We did it!”
As the minutes counted down, the dogs filled their harnesses, pulling and straining, barking and yelping; they wanted to go. Five, four, three, two, one; they were off to Nome! The dogs did not care about the money, fame or fortune. They just wanted to do what Iditarod Dogs do best: run and run. The first dogs and the last dogs in, each doing what they live their lives for, and like the Greyhounds, Ididadog’s love to run, they don’t seem to care where, they just love to run.
I have one of the Ididadogs. Kijik would never run the eleven hundred mile race, but she has the flame and the famous Husky curl. You can tell when a sled dog is happiest. Their tails curl up and their eyes light up, their muscles get taut and they strain to hear, “Mush”.
While they waited, straining against the last seconds, we made our decision to head out to Nome. Sitting on the river, at the start line at White Mountain, waiting for our last few degrees of oil temp to tick by: one hundred, one hundred two, and we were off, up the trail to watch the leaders wind their way to home, one final stop at Nome. I know, I know, where’d we pick up the poet?
We climbed up gentle hills over what would be the trail for the dogs, easier for us. It wasn’t long before they came into view.
We drifted around this winter wonderland for a while after getting a weather report from Nome FSS. The ice fog had been drifting in and out of the area; we would need a special VFR clearance to enter the Nome airspace. I knew I’d be fine; I had Gordon’s 30,000+ hours in the cockpit with me. We filed and headed into Nome’s airspace. We’d barely made two miles when Nome cancelled the special requirements. We had blue skies and sunshine.
Following the pink line on my trusty Gamin, we headed for Nome’s Village strip. This strip is smaller and not plowed –ski only planes. Nome International is just that, because it is the stepping off point for Russian airspace. Yes, that would be international flying. There are some commercial flights into Russia, and now some private flying –developed by the Alaska Airmen’s Association. Thanks to the Airmen’s a VFR route between Nome and Provideniya Bay opened to general aircraft in May 2003. This year they will plot the route further into Russia: from Provideniya Bay to Anadyr. The goal is a route through Russia to Japan from Alaska.
Nome was our home of the moment. We touched down, a flight of two: Wes in his MD11/Cessna 170, Gordon and I in 81E. We called for fuel, plugged in, covered our wings and headed off to Front Street. It felt good to walk, although we had only been in the air for 45 minutes between White Mountain and Nome. Actually, we didn’t get much of a walk. One of Nome’s local pickup trucks stopped to offer a ride. He drove us to Iditarod Headquarters. Ever seen a whirlpool? That is what headquarters is like. It is the center of the universe. It is the place to go. This is the place where any Iditarod question can be asked and answered.
Our quest now became locating a place to set up our cots. In Nome, one can get religion. The brand of religion depends on which church has room for one to spend the night. This year, we went Baptist. We spent the night at the Baptist Church of Nome. All of the churches open their doors, and it is fantastic to get a nice clean place to stay and have a hot shower. We set up there, and headed out to explore.
We found a great Italian restaurant. At least it is very good for Nome. I find it interesting that in the most out of the way places; you can very often find great food.
We heard about a fashion show. Ready for culture, we decided to attend. The models were displaying the very latest in t-shirt fashion. Research and development appeared to be working on waterproofing techniques, because as each model entered the catwalk, they sprayed water on the shirts. I don’t know what they were using for waterproofing, but it didn’t work. The shirts got very wet. We watched with interest until we heard the siren wail –the signal that the first team was pulling onto Front Street. We rushed with the crowd to the famed burl arches marking the end of the race.
That finish line is just like any finish line in any great race: crossing the line means victory! Most races have the normal first, second and third place winners. Iditarod has winners in exactly the number of racers that start the race. They are all winners. They are. I guarantee they are. Each dog, each musher, has won a great victory. Just imagine, Seattle to San Francisco, not on I-5, but in the outback of Alaska. The US Postal Service has its wind, rain, sleet and snow, but not for eleven hundred miles of the most hostile terrain Jack London ever wrote about.
The Iditarod is as much of an adventure as a race. The mushers and dogs are highlighted, but the race is also run by the vets, the checkers, the pilots and every volunteer up and down the trail. Every one of them takes for their own a bit of the victory at the finish line. Mitch Seavey may have collected the gold and the pickup truck, but he is certainly not the only one who walked away with a significant prize.
Gordon and I ate a true Iditarod breakfast, nothing light, small or insignificant about it. After a morning walking tour of Nome, we packed up our gear and headed off. We had our share of the prize, something we could never lose or have taken away: our memory of one heck of an adventure, one piece each of living history. We became part of the very first race, the life or death race that became Iditarod.
You really should check out the website: www.iditarod.com. Bring your plane up, come fly Iditarod. Or just come to Alaska, winter wonderland, come and see the teams off and take a piece of history home for your very own.
“I did, I did, I did the Iditarod Trail”.