October 19, 2017

Sharing My Iditarod Story by Andrew DeGraw, Race Volunteer

By Andrew DeGraw

Our snowmobile group back in the early 70s struck up a conversation with Joe Redington.  He mentioned the run to Nome and asked if we would be willing to go out and break trail and set signs along the trail for the Iditarod.  

The preparations were carefully made.  Making sure each guy had a good sturdy sled, during those years you were expected to ride a Cat.  We dropped gas and other supplies along the way.  We were hyped.  These preps were right up our alley for us as we were all active military and were used to working with logistics.  We gathered in Knik and touched base with Joe for last minute instructions.  Joe introduced us to a guy with grey hair, a small pack, and riding a borrowed Ski-doo.   Joe informed the group this ole guy wanted to tag along.  You can imagine these well outfitted guys were aghast.  Not wanting to insult Joe, we reluctantly agreed to have the man join the group.  You can just imagine the thoughts of each of these guys with their well supplied ahkio sleds pulled behind each Cat.

Off they went into the wilds.  Riding from Knik Lake to Rainy Pass the trail signs were placed every mile.  Breaking trail was at times very challenging, often needing to use snowshoes to move ahead, and the spruce woods in particular where the drifts were brutal.  To jockey sleds and ahkio through and around these drifts, sometimes at much as twenty feet high, in sub freezing temps found everyone sweaty by nightfall.   After evening meal, the well outfitted guys had their ritual; stoked the fire, took out their tarps, sleeping bags, and arranged other equipment for comfortable sleeping.  The ole guy in his custom tailored down clothing and down sleeping bag, puffed up his pillow and quickly slept.  They had asked the guy if had had any experience in the Arctic and swash camping? “Oh, he said, a couple of times.”

The group was asked to break trail a second year.  When on that trip we arrived at Joe Delia’s, the Post Master of the Skwentna, we found his cabin roof had just caught fire and he had to cut a circle around his stove pipe to save the cabin.  Joe let us sleep in the shed due to heavy rain.   That year the group encountered rain each day and had to turn back short of their goal.

The group stopped at our military quarters when they finished their trek that first year.  The ole guy came along and pulled my wife aside.  He said, “I know your husband was concerned about my welfare, but he needn’t have been as I accompanied Admiral Byrd to the South Pole and participated in the 1938 Olympics driving a dog team, my name is Colonel Norman Vaughn.”     

*Andrew was a volunteer for the second and third Iditarod.

*Thank you, Andrew.  Sharing your story gives a another glimpse into the history of the Iditarod.   We appreciate your sharing your story with us and with race fans around the world.  The Iditarod is truly the “Last Great Race on Earth® because of the dedicated race fans who have helped over these past 45 years.  Thank you for being a race  volunteer.   Thanks you also, for your military service to our country.

** Do you have an Iditarod Story to share?  Send us your story:  djohnson@iditarod.com