By Terrie Hanke Along the Trail
With snow falling, thousands of spectators gathered in Anchorage on the first Saturday of March for the Ceremonial Start of Iditarod XL. A block or so from the start at 4th & D where the summer market is held, carnival rides were taking a break from the fun and excitement of the previous few evenings. This little elephant seems to watching from the corner of its eye.
Near record snow amounts have fallen in the 49th state this winter. The fact that there’s no place to put the white stuff and that it continues to fall has made national headlines. Take for example the thirty to thirty-six inches that fell on the last weekend of February during Junior Iditarod and the Iditarod Invitational Ultrasport. Volunteers for the Junior were stranded at the Yentna Station Roadhouse four days. Ultrasport bikers did more pushing than riding and many scratched. After a season snowfall in excess of 160 inches at the Roadhouse, Dan Gabryszak is saying enough is enough and then he and his sons go out on snowmachine to pack the runway they maintain through out the winter for small aircraft. There’s plenty of snow in the interior village of McGrath too. Need a visual of the excess? Compare these two shots taken of the same permanently parked truck. One is from 2006, the other from 2012.
DeeDee Jonrowe and her mother, Peg Stout, were in the chute to greet the Busers, Rohn and Martin, as they finished their races. Couldn’t help but notice that DeeDee’s chin was a little the worse for wear. Curiosity and concern made me ask Peg if DeeDee had a run in with something on the trail. Peg chuckled and said DeeDee hadn’t had any face plants or run-ins with trees or glaciers. The abrasions were from the combination of cold and parka rub. Peg added that you should have see DeeDee after her first race, I never thought she’d look like herself again. For her second race, a native woman provided a rabbit fur to wear for warmth and protection. Guess after thirty races, it’s time to return to using the rabbit fur.
Everyone has a favorite go to food or snack. When the Beringtons arrived in Unalakleet they followed the usual protocol – removed booties, spread straw and fed their dogs. It was the variety of food they had available that was remarkable – chicken skin, horse, salmon, tripe, etc. Further down the trail a fellow musher was concerned that his dogs weren’t eating. The Beringtons had already come and gone from that checkpoint and left behind some pretty tasty meat. Left over food becomes the property of the checkers and is dispensed at their discretion. The checker suggested the musher try some of the Berington variety. Variety is the spice of life even for sled dogs – they ate voraciously. How about the twins, what’s their go to food? It’s the Smucker’s Uncrustable Peanut Better & Jelly pre-made sandwiches.
Braxton Peterson and his mentor, Lance Mackey are discussing the fur pieces that Braxton is holding. These nice fur pieces are especially useful when the weather is cold as it was in many places along the trail. The coldest was probably recorded on the Yukon River, minus fifty degrees. Early in the race it was minus twenty-two at Skwentna and on the night Aliy Zirkle reached the Gold Coast, the thermometer read minus thirty-six. In the human world of fashion, it’s the females that usually sport fur attire. In the canine world, the females have no use for what Braxton is holding. These fur pieces are worn by male dogs to protect the penis from frostbite.
Sometime during 2011 when Iditarod was in Unalakleet, the water heater located on the slough that provided hot water for mushers burned out. The flame of the propane heater burned right through the water tank and twenty or so gallons of water flowed across the Kouwegok Slough and froze. No more convenient hot water for the mushers in Unalakleet although they still had warm running water if they ran up to the checkpoint point to get it. Mushers really appreciate hot water provided in checkpoints. It allows them to serve up broth and meals a little quicker for the athletes and ultimately gives them a little more rest time. In checkpoints that don’t have a community cooker for water, the mushers use their own cookers fueled by HEET. Since the cooker burned out at Unalakleet, former Mayor and Iditarod veteran, Middy Johnson, has been thinking about a new design – a wood fired water heater. He talked it over with his brother who brought concept to reality and dependable hot water to the mushers.
Hang out at a checkpoint and you’ll see how busy mushers are after checking in and parking their team. They remove booties, put down straw, unhook tug lines, fetch hot water or heat water, mix up a meal, work as a massage therapist and the list of chores goes on and on. That all happens before the musher enjoys any food, camaraderie or rest. What happens if a musher realizes they would like or need something they don’t have? Walking to the village store would cut valuable time from rest. Karen Ramstead found herself in this exact situation. What did she do? Karen secured the services of a villager who was helping out at the checkpoint. This checkpoint volunteer, now turned personal shopper, hiked off to the Garage, a store in Unalakleet, that sells gas as well as groceries to shop for Karen. By the time she had enjoyed some of the delicious food served up by the village people inside the checkpoint, the shopper had returned with the supply of energy drinks Karen had asked him to purchase.