5 p.m. Shaktoolik—Seavey out of the hills and on the ice, 8 miles from Shaktoolik by Joe Runyan
Our GPS experts in COMMS, plus pilot reports have Dallas out of the Blueberry hills and on ice, about 8 miles from Shaktoolik. On the map, it appears that a long spit communicates from the mainland to Shaktoolik. In truth, the spit is narrow, and most of the land depicted on the map is a frozen wetland in winter, polished smooth in some aspect into smooth ice, and in others snow packed hard.
NOTE: Just posting this blog and saw Dallas leave the checkpoint at a lope. Dogs appear in race condition. Bruce Lee commented, “That’s the fastest I have seen a team depart for a long time.” What I saw was a team that immediately responded to his “all right” and without hesitation loped off down the slip to the trail.
Seavey on the Ice
Therefore, he is on the ice and an hour out, enough time to recall the immense challenge of the next leg of the trail to Koyuk.
The trail from Shaktoolik departs on wind packed snow. If you didn’t see it in summer, really, you wouldn’t know whether it’s ice or marsh. In truth, its grassland, absolutely flat, imperceptibly blending in twelve miles with the ocean. If the wind is blowing, the delusion is even more complete with a ground storm of vertiginous white.
After twelve miles, the musher can make a decision at Lone rock, a singular local landmark with a shelter cabin. If the wind is formidable, the musher can always camp here rather than a venture for 40 miles across Norton Bay to Koyuk. This year, I am told, the trail may by pass the cabin and go across the ice on a different line. Fortunately, the weather is benign today and I don’t think anyone will hesitate to cross.
But here is the truth. Historically, it is dangerous to venture on the ice to Koyuk without taking a good break in Shaktoolik. Therefore, I think Dallas will stop and give his dogs a nice break and a hot meal, particularly since he now controls the lead.
Note, I was wrong a half hour after I wrote this. Instead he grabbed several bags of meat and snacks and headed onto the ice, intending to separate from the pack and feed outside of the checkpoint.
The trip across the ice
The trip across the ice is unique and endless. Like the Yukon, a musher seems motionless. I can remember seeing the lights of Koyuk (a village built on a hill side) for forty miles and never get the feeling I was getting closer. Finally, the buildings of the village are visible and yet it takes another hour before climbing off the beach in a long slip to the village.
Wind moves the ice from time to time. One distinct memory of the trail jolts the memory. The straight line of lathe marking the trail suddenly jumps on a fault line of ice 20, 30, 40 feet. Wow, when did that happen? Could it happen while I am on the runners? Did the ice move and open into a lead? All very good questions, especially while travelling on sea ice at night with a headlamp.
Dallas is in and now diverted back on the trail to Koyuk, dogs looking great. Dallas is dressed in clothes suitable for running and working while the rest of us are in parkas. Photos to follow.