XII. Sundog Over Shaktoolik

We left Unalakleet at 10: 38 in the morning with Monica right behind us. We were glad to have each other close as we headed into the unknown that was the formidable “Coast.” We were very intimidated by the trail ahead. In Unalakleet we had gotten updated on the horrible storm that had pinned Jeff and Aliy down and we were afraid we would be caught in the same kind of weather — the weather on the coast is known to be, above all, unpredictable. A local in Unalakleet gave us a good tip — there is an island visible to your left as you climb the Blueberry Hills out of town. If the island looks like it is floating, that means high winds down along the spit to Shaktoolik.  As we climbed the hills we were horrified to see that the island was most definitely not grounded — it was floating. But we continued to climb, and climb, and climb, and by the time we reached the apex of the trail through the hills, we could see the base of the island, indicating clear weather ahead. 

The trail out of Unalakleet is without a doubt one of my favorite sections of the Iditarod trail. We did the run from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik in the daylight and felt lucky to be able soak up the sights. The ferocious storm that held up the front runners had dropped a modicum of snow on the trail - enough to keep the dust down. On the Shaktoolik side of the hills, enough snow had accumulated for my drag and brakes to bite & safely slow the dogs down on the descent. It was a beautiful bluebird day which made for a warm climb, but it wasn't windy and the views were spectacular.  The wind picked up as we dropped out of the hills onto the coastal slough that ran to Shaktoolik. The trail had drifted in but the dogs did awesome, busting through the drifts slowly but steadily.  Eventually the trail disappeared under the drifts, but visibility was good so we followed the spit and the occasional marker until we reached old Shaktoolik, where we jumped onto a road. The gravel road that ran through the remnants of the old village was, after a fickle winter, coated with layer of ice a couple inches thick. More often than not, sections of the ice road gave way to gravel, but it was still faster than busting through two foot high snow drifts. 

Whatever was left of my runner plastic was scraped away as we ran on dry pavement into Shaktoolik. I was surprised to see my friend Mark Cox in Shaktoolik. As I’ve mentioned before, I adore Mark, so it was a happy surprise.  Shaktoolik was soooo nice.  Sunny, somewhat warm, with zero wind.  Zero wind! In Shaktoolik ! This was NOT normal. In fact, it was literally the proverbial calm before the storm….Mark informed us that a big storm was moving in and it would probably be a good idea to move along before too long. Monica and I looked at each other with big eyes and decided to leave as soon as the dogs had disgusted their meals a bit. 

Leaving Shaktoolik left me with one of the most powerful impressions of the entire race.  The strange weather caused by the impending storm had produced a huge sundog over Shaktoolik.  The entire village shimmered in its rainbow parenthesis. It was fantastical. I soaked in the image, trying to impress it into my mind. How I wished I had a camera !  When Monica caught up to me I asked if she had seen the sundog, half hoping she had snapped a picture with one of her disposable cameras, but no. So focused on getting down the trail, she hadn't looked back once. Oh well. That sundog is not something one can ever forget and it really is the enduring image that comes to mind when I think back on the 2014 race.

Next up..... Part XIII. Ruby's Route to Russia. 

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