Eye on the Trail: Tuesday First Light in Unk


Tuesday Sunrise In UNK with Al Eischens’ Sled

Sunrise and sunset in Unalakleet provide beautiful unique light for photos.  This morning was rather crisp, I’d guess zero or a little below and the wind was adding just a little wind chill.  It was a great time to be on the ice at the checkpoint.  Teams who’d come in over night were snuggled in their coats on beds of straw recharging as sled dogs are so efficient at.  Mushers just arriving where bedding dogs down and feeding. A team was preparing to leave just as the sun peaked above the Dragon’s Back that serves as the horizon from the perspective of the teams and mushers.

Just arriving at the checkpoint was Noah Pereira and Ryne Olson.  They both went to work making their dogs beds and breakfast.  Vets checked over both teams, made notes and signed off the vet books saying the dogs all looked good.

Noah found that insulated coolers don’t work as well as one might hope in cold weather.  He’d prepared a meal at his last rest thinking he’d be able to feed Instantly upon arriving in UNK and parking.  Well it was pretty cold on the portage trail between where he last camped and Unalakleet.  The food he’d prepared was slightly frozen.  He quickly began heating water and in the mean time passed out snacks which his dogs devoured.  He commented on the difference in the temp on that section of the trail compared to the warmth back in McGrath.

Ryne Olson arrived with a very nice looking team.  She bedded and fed then started working her team over like an experienced athletic trainer.  She knew every dog’s needs exactly and went through a massage routine specifically designed for each individual dog.  Ryne said she isn’t “trained” in canine athlete massage but has gotten many tips from experienced mushers and vets.  One of the vets happened to be standing around and we had a conversation about the use of massage therapy, who uses it and its great advantages.

Al Eischens was preparing to depart for Shaktoolik.  He’s a big guy and was wearing two heavy fisherman’s sweaters while he prepared the team.  Al began describing the incredible aurora display from last night.  He gave a very complete rundown of the colors and how they danced across the sky.  To him, it seemed that the lights burst from a single spot in the mountains.  They rose and split into multiple fingers and circled over the mountains.  Close your eyes and try to imagine what Al described.  Ryne and Noah joined in adding their account of the incredible aurora.  Even the checkers who were out checking teams in were talking about the spectacular lights of last night.

Up in the checkpoint, Becca Moore was dressing to come out and prepare for the miles to Shaktoolik.  Becca is a seasoned musher having run both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.  She was donning her preferred foot wear of Neos and felted wool liners.  Every musher has the system that works best for them.

Also in the Checkpoint, Sarah Stokey was just waking up.  She filled a plate with Middy Johnson sour dough pancakes and crisply fried bacon.  As she ate we talked about her run.  She’s running a young team along with a couple of older experienced dogs.  Her young dogs are doing very well and learning a great deal about the trail.  As Sarah covers the miles and learns the trail she’s thinking about next year when she’ll be racing this team.  She’s putting together a plan as she sees the trail.  With the goal of “educating” the young dogs and making sure they have fun, she’s taking many 8 hour rests which are longer than her runs or the typical run 6, rest 6 schedule most mushers adhere to.  You could compare these young dogs that started the race in Willow to kindergarten students and when they make Nome they are middle if not high school graduates.

Looking up front to Nome, Wade Marrs has a mathematical pattern going in his favor.  He’s finished 32nd, 16th, 8th and this year 4th.  I’m sure he’d really like to continue that pattern.  Reb Hanson, the cook at the Unalakleet bunk house pointed that out to me.