There was plenty of hustle and bustle around the Tanana checkpoint and on Front Street on beginning on Tuesday evening. Nicolas Petit, behind a spirited team of dogs, set his snow hook at the checker’s station at 18:44. Martin Buser followed shortly behind. Petit and Buser opened the floodgates and mushers rolled in for the duration of the night.
It was a beautiful walk to the checkpoint Wednesday morning even if the temperature was well below zero. The one thermometer that I read hanging outside the general store showed -33 degrees. The sun was above the horizon for about 90 minutes so at the coldest part of the day, sunrise, it could have been minus 40. A few blocks away from the checkpoint, I could see colorful sled bags, dog coats and mushers coats. Most notable though was the steam rising from the cookers. Even with so much going on, it was a very peaceful picture of dogs resting and refueling.
One of the first mushers I talked to was Seth Barnes. He was inside trying to thaw the stopper of his thermos. He asked what day it was (how time flies when you’re with your dogs in the wilderness). He said that he hadn’t been inside a building since the start of the race. That would be from Monday until Wednesday. It was his plan to camp and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. He said he picked up supplies in Tanana and went on through in 2015. His strategy for 2017 called for a stop in Tanana and he was glad he made decision.
Monica Zappa had pulled in before sunrise. Her dogs were camped comfortably and she was out mixing up a second breakfast for them. Monica said that with all the good training they had this winter, she thought most of her team was doing fine. She’s considering dropping a couple of dogs before leaving Tanana. Inside, Zappa was determining the time for her second wake-up call. She’s eligible to leave after 8 hours (13:44). Zappa decided on 12:30 allowing more than an hour to prepare the team for heading on to Ruby. She’s pretty efficient with booting. One of the major accomplishments for Monica is that she’s pared down the gear she brings. In her first races, her sled bag would be almost busting at the seams and it would appear that the zippers would never close around all the gear she brought along. Her years of experience have paid off in knowing what to bring and what to leave at home.
One of the villagers brought in warm pancakes and French toast. Mushers and volunteers got in line for the welcome fresh from the griddle breakfast entrees.
Al Eischens was camped above the river with what would be considered a premier view of the Yukon River. His athletes were on straw and waiting for breakfast. Al dished out a concoction of beef and moose which nearly all his team devoured spontaneously. A couple of his girls were a little reluctant to eat but with a little TLC and coaxing from Al, even their dishes were soon empty. For as cold as it’s been over night and as frosted as Al’s mustache was, he claims he’s never bothered by the cold. During his run last night, Al had to change out headlamps as some wiring on the lamp he was using broke. Yes, every musher carries spare headlamps!
DeeDee Jonrowe came back into the checkpoint after feeding her dogs during their 8-hour rest. She shared some conversation with Justin High. High, a former handler at DeeDee’s kennel is running his rookie race. DeeDee is running her 35th race. There’s a drying rack for clothes constructed over the large wood-burning stove in the corner of the checkpoint. DeeDee, who stands not much over 5 feet tall was having trouble hanging her parka up. Seated nearby was tall guy, Trent Herbst who helped out.
Most of the people in Comms as well as the checker, check point dog handlers, photographers and Insider guys have been up all night accommodating arriving teams, assisting departing teams and capturing the action. One of the photo guys, Mike Kenney was shooting northern lights over the dog lot and checkpoint. He of course had his camera on a tri-pod and was using a remote shutter release. The lights were a nice green curtain but not gorgeous pulsing color that everyone hopes to see. He decided to refocus to capture the action of dog teams leaving at 0200. Wouldn’t you know, as soon as he took his camera off the tri-pod, removed the shutter release and reset the ISO, shutter and f-stop the colors popped and the lights began to dance. He’d have missed the whole second half of the show had he not turned around to catch teams coming at him as they were departing Tanana.
As I write, the back of the pack teams have left Manley and are covering the 60 miles to Tanana. The front of the pack is making their way toward Ruby. Word on that portion of the trail is that there’s plenty of snow and some areas may be sugary. The trip to Ruby won’t be as fast as the early portions of the trail. AS you watch the GPS tracker, expect teams to camp at least once during the run and stop to snack often.