Running at Night

Paws Along the Trail at Night

Volunteers and mushers were bleary-eyed this morning when I got up early to come out and help.  It’s been a steady night of mushers coming into the Anvik checkpoint.  Here’s how it worked on the first morning of Daylight Savings Time.  The checker met the teams, recording their arrival time and how many dogs they have.  “Are you staying?”  If yes, the trail volunteer leads the team to a parking place and the vets begin examining the dogs while talking to the musher, holding the yellow vet book.  If the musher plans to keep going, the vets still talk with them and quickly look over the dogs.

The dog teams coming in this morning were very excited and ready to run again!  Several times, we volunteers had to hold onto the leaders or stand on the snowhook to keep the dogs from blasting off into the darkness as the musher added items to the sled.  Misha Wiljes’ and Jason Stewart’s teams were whining, pulling, and wanting to LEAVE.  Tails were wagging and excitement was high.  Part of the reason is that the checkpoints in this stretch aren’t very far apart.  From Shageluk to Anvik is a mere 25 miles.  Anvik to Grayling is only 18.  The tricky part this year, however, is that Eagle Island is now just a “hospitality stop.”  That means it has a vet, a place to drop a dog, and Heet for pick up (fuel to melt snow in their cookers).  Bad weather and poor visibility kept the Iditarod Air Force ski planes from being able to get all the supplies to Eagle Island.  Here at Anvik, the trail volunteers have been telling mushers they will get one bale of straw at Grayling.  There is none at Eagle Island.  Some have been taking straw here and stuffing it into their sled bags or tying it onto sleds.

Misha Wiljes stuffs in extra straw for the long road ahead.

Here is a real life math problem:  

Mushers may pick up a straw bale in Anvik and/or Grayling.  It’s too much bulk to carry two entire straw bales on a led.  From Grayling to Eagle Island is 62 miles.  There is no straw in Eagle Island.  The trip from Eagle Island to Kaltag is 60 miles.  The musher wants to stop and rest the dogs two times from Grayling to Kaltag.  He can get by with 3/4 a bale for each rest.  How much should he take from Anvik and Grayling?  Explain your thinking.

Back to running at night, Jeff Deeter was getting some coffee and drying out his sleeping bag in the checkpoint this morning.  When asked about running at night, he said, “It’s great!  It’s better for the dogs since the temperatures are cooler.  We have good headlamps, too.  Dogs aren’t like cats.  They don’t have night vision and need a bit of ambient light which helps see the shadows.”  He added that since he lives in Fairbanks, his dogs are used to darkness since they have to train in the long dark hours of winter in the far north.  When asked about problems running at night, he smiled.  “It’s pretty easy to stay awake in daylight.  For night running, you need good coffee,” as he raised his coffee cup. 

The back of the pack mushers are still coming and the sun is up.  Tonight when you go to sleep, think about the mushers and dogs out running in the dark under the brilliant stars.