Waiting in McGrath

Once I left Skwentna today, I flew back to Anchorage, only I didn’t land at the airport, I landed right on Lake Hood, which is right behind the Millennium Hotel.  I took off almost immediately again, this time headed for McGrath.  I’m in the Cafe now, which is kept open for twenty-four hours a day when the race is in town.

Flying into McGrath was amazing!  We flew over the Alaskan Range. I couldn’t believe that teams cross this mountain range as part of the Iditarod!  It seems so huge and so daunting from the air!  I guess the Iditarod racers have it somewhat easy… there is a trail marked for them.  How did the first team find their way across?  How did they navigate the mountains and arrive safely on the other side?  It’s hard to imagine!

McGrath is a special place to be… not only is it a hub that lots of people pass through on their way to smaller checkpoints, it’s a checkpoint itself.  At this checkpoint, the first person to arrive is given the Spirit Award by Penn Air.  This award is a beautifully carved traditional mask.  The thought is is that we can expect the first team tomorrow between 5pm and 11pm. They’ve looked at the data for the past ten years to come up with that estimate!

I realized today that the warm temperatures and lack of snow are affecting people other then just the mushers and the teams.  McGrath is a hub, so the town is filled with Iditarod Airforce Pilots.  These men and women volunteer their own time and planes to make the race happen. They spend time flying people, dogs, and supplies in and out of various checkpoints.  This evening I got a chance to speak with a few pilots who altered me to the fact the weather is having an effect on the pilots as well as the teams.  It turns out that some pilots can’t fly into certain checkpoints due to the lack of snow on the ground.  There is a difference between landing with wheels, skis, or a combo of the two.  Each type of landing gear is used in a certain type of  environment. So some pilots can’t fly into certain checkpoints because they only have skis on their planes!  It’s having an impact on the pilots’ ability to get people and gear to the places they need to be!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nathan Schroeder’s comment to me yesterday about how surprised he is about how many people have been around. He’s really right!  It’s just amazing how many people have donated their time and expertise to the race.  Just yesterday in Skwentna there were 32 people running the checkpoint between the Skwentna Sweeties and the Darlings’ River Crew. These two groups keep the checkpoint running – they set it up, run it, and then clean it out.  Then you also have to add in the six vets, the four communications people, the race judge, and myself!  That is a lot of man power for one checkpoint that everyone goes in and out of in about fifteen hours!  Now think about that times the number of checkpoints there are! Now some people travel down the trail and work more than one area, but still.. it’s an overwhelming amount of people!

Rumor has it I may be flying back down the trail tomorrow, so I may lose my lead in the race!  Keep an eye on the tracker to see where I end up next!