Due to warm weather, 2003 was the first year the Iditarod Race started in Fairbanks, Alaska. My memorable checkpoint was Manley Hot Springs. My pilot dropped me off and I went exploring, talking to mushers and vets. I met Raymie, Barbara Redington and their young son, Ryan. They gave me a lift to the Manley Roadhouse where I was about to drink a cup of coffee when the phone rang at the restaurant. The server listened intently. She hung up the phone and asked if anyone could get Heet to the next checkpoint, Tanana. Heet is used for the cooking stoves that mushers need to prepare their furry athletes’ nutritious food. She said the teams are coming in sooner than expected. So, I got on my walkie talkie and got hold of my pilot. His instructions were as follows “Sherpa (the nickname he gave me) head down to the river. You and I will load the plane with Heet and take off ASAP!” I tore down to the river where a white van had arrived with the load of Heet. The pilot landed, and we both started packing the Heet into his plane. Within minutes, we had the plane loaded up to the brim leaving enough room for the two of us in front.
We took off from the Tanana River, a tributary of the Yukon River. We flew along the curves of the river, tall majestic mountains on either side of us. As we were flying, a veil of fog gently surrounded us and gave us a beautiful a view of Alaska. We flew above the tree tops. Soon we began to fly lower and lower so as not to hit the crisscross of electrical lines. As we became closer to the river, I enjoyed the various colors of snow and ice. I looked out my window and as the trees flew past me, it reminded me of riding in a car. My pilot asked me if I was nervous. “No sir, can’t you see the smile on my face.” Besides, we were on a mission to get the Heet to Tanana.
We got to Tanana just in time! We unloaded and took the Heet to the mushers and their wonderful teams. The scariest part of this day was finding a place to eat and sleep. I ended up at the veterinarian cabin and ate a meal of M&M’s. I was lucky enough to get a very comfy couch, tossed my sleeping bag on it, then ran to hold a dog for a vet. The vet gently checked the dog for dehydration, and we were both happy that the dog was in good shape. It was an amazing day working with all the different volunteers that make this event safe for all. (Note: Ten years before this trip I took flying lessons and got my private license. Flying is very exciting and Alaskan pilots are skilled.)