VI. 24

Early morning on the beautiful Kuskokwim River.

We left Nikolai after a solid six hour rest. Daylight faded as we trotted away from the village. I had asked some locals about the route prior to leaving and, true as advertised, the run was flat the whole way with frequently changing terrain that wound through sloughs, river, woods, river, swamps, and river. I thought it was great fun.  I was in a good mood & the dogs were looking smooth. We were focusing all our energy forward, towards our big rest. We hopscotched the whole run with John Dixon, a musher from Fairbanks, who was having trouble with his team, plauged by females in heat. They had speed and would pass me quickly, but would invariably ball up and refuse to get going again, frustrating their musher. Midway through the run, Ralph Johansson roared past me. Holy cow, his team looked good. His dogs looked so strong and fresh, they made quite the impression on me. That looked like a top-10 team ripping past, but Ralph had a lot of ground to make up if he was going to catch up with the lead pack. 

We rolled into McGrath after an uneventful six hour run. I was so excited to be there! I’ve been to McGrath several times as an Iditarod volunteer, but this was the first time I ever arrived by dog team. My friend Mark Cox was there to check me in. I first met Mark ten years ago when I was a high school student volunteering with the McGrath dog drop. Mark is one of my favorite people to see out on the trail. Heck, I’d be happy to see Mark anywhere. He is a kind man with a great sense of humor, a wealth of backcountry knowledge, and a reassuring presence that has helped the Mcgrath checkpoint run smoothly for as many years as he has been in charge. Mark has a teenaged son, Caleb, who I also look forward to seeing. Caleb has been volunteering for Iditarod since he was a small child. He has grown like a weed in the past few years and makes me feel old, seeing as how I first met him almost a decade ago. 

McGrath was chock full of friendly faces. It was particularly nice to see my friends Anja Radano, Shannon Post & Tabitha Jones —- all working as Dog Drop volunteers, aka “Droplets.” McGrath is one of two central hubs along the race trail (Unalakleet on the coast being the second). As soon as it is easier to fly to McGrath than Anchorage, all dogs dropped along the race trail are taken to McGrath, where they are cared for by loving & experienced dog drop personnel until a cargo flight can be scheduled to fly the dogs out. The main dog drop crew, the Droplets, are led by a veterinary technician, and work closely with the trail vets to ensure the dropped dogs get the best care possible. The dogs are priority number 1 on the race trail. All race logistics are scheduled with dropped dogs in mind. They are the first to fly out from remote checkpoints, either before race officials or volunteers, or sometimes on their laps. 

Anyway... the McGrath checkpoint is located at the community center. The town parallels the Kuskokwim River, with the community center at one end of town and the airport at the other. We were led to a parking spot on the side of the road that ran along the riverbank. It wasn't the best spot, basically being a ditch full of thorny rose bushes, but it would do. What followed was a constant pattern of sleep, feed dogs, eat, sleep, feed dogs, repeat. Of course, it went by all too soon. By the end of the stay, I didn’t feel like I was back at 100%, but close enough. In between naps and dog chores, I had eaten several times, taken a revitalizing shower, recharged both headlight batteries, repacked my sled, and removed my heavy duty drag mat. 

Unlike me, the dogs had gotten a solid 25 hour rest, interrupted only by feedings. They had been eating great. It was a short eighteen miles to Takotna, and another short eighteen after that to Ophir, the last checkpoint before the race trail veered into open wilderness.

Before I left, Anja kindly loaned me her wool hat. I had lost mine after a nasty spill on the ice in the Dalzell Gorge. I had a wool headband, but worried it would not be warm enough for the coastal weather ahead. Turns out it wasn't my ears I needed to worry about.

To be continued...... 

Coming up: Part VII: Sunrise on the Road to Ophir

Missed the first few installments of my Iditarod story?

Click here for: Part I: The Start

Ruby in her special pink coat & Frigg. See all the brambles sticking up. Annoying for me to kneel on but the dogs didn't seem to mind. 
Pete, looking like there should be a "do not disturb" sign hanging off his nose, & Vader.
These lovely fleece blankets were made and donated to
Iditarod by school children all across America!  
Vinnie, always inquisitive.

Robber & Victor snug under their covers.
ummm I don't remember who is hiding under here. I think it's Vinnie & Fezzik.
Nils & I think, Doc.
Goofy & Major, probably.
Felt pretty luxurious to have a room to myself!
Feeding dogs. Photo by Anja Radano.
Must be a few feedings in, judging from the amount
of spilled kibble & water on the ground. Photo by Anja.

Looking over race stats with Christian Turner.
Photo by Anja
Lisbet & Tabby.
Lisbet (wearing hat borrowed from Anja) & Anja.

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