Hurry Up…and Wait.

Hopping the Alaska Air Transit flight to Nikolai with Trail Vets, COMMS volunteers, and the Teacher on the Trail. Photo Credit:J. Westrich

Working as a dog handler yesterday gave incredible perspective on the enthusiasm of the dogs as they get ready to run.  As they hook up to the trailers you’ll hear barks of excitement; some of the dogs are so pumped with adrenaline they shake. Attaching them to the tug line the barks turn into cries, yelps, and howls – HURRY UP! The handlers hook up, ready to guide them to the start line. When they get the GO sign the dogs go eerily silent and they run…..for about 50 yards.  And Wait.  The jumps, the barks, the dog screams start again.  HURRY UP!  They cross to the chute in silence, feet padding quickly.  And Wait.  Finally, after repeating this process one more time, they reach the START, and are off on their 1,000 mile adventure.

My plane landing on the river in Nikolai. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Welcome to Nikolai Airport! Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Today I felt like a sled dog. I woke early, filled with anticipation, and ready to go. I packed and organized, dropped off keys and luggage. It was hectic and frazzled, but I got it all done by 10am to check in for my flight to Nikolai.  And Wait. Then we were off to the airport – load luggage, pack into vehicles, check in at the terminal. And Wait. The highs and lows of the process are like being on a roller coaster. We took off for the hour plus flight to Nikolai around noon, and arrived a little after 1:15 after soaring above the mountains.

Sleeping bag reading for the night…in the LIBRARY! Coolest thing EVER. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Arriving was all hustle and bustle. Hurry Up! We were met by snow machines to haul our gear to the school and set up our sleeping quarters in the LIBRARY!!! Dog teams aren’t expected until about 3am, so right now it is just Wait. I walked around the town, took photos of the school, cemetery, and of course the checkpoint. Everyone is prepping to get things ready but at the moment it is chill and mellow. Wait. But soon we will have to Hurry Up! to welcome 33 mushers to Nikolai.

Warming tent with pine bough floor at Nikolai! Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Drop bags ready for the mushers to arrive. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

The Checkpoint, quiet and peaceful before the teams arrive. Photo Credit: J. Westrich