Glorious Galena

Flying to Galena with pilot Wes was a glorious adventure. It was my longest bush plane flight yet, forty-five minutes.  The land is just amazing. It’s so big – and there’s just nothing there… no buildings, no animals… just miles and miles of frozen rivers and mountains and hills.  It is so hard to believe that Alaska and Maryland are on the same planet, let alone the same country!

We landed in Galena and were met by two school kids with hand pulled sleds who helped pull our belongings up to the checkpoint which was literally right at the end of the runway.  The checkpoint is jam packed with volunteers and people from the community. The community members have taken it upon themselves to cook for everyone by bringing dish after dish after dish of food.  So far I’ve had moose stew made by a family and pizza made by the culinary students at the high school!

It’s kind of surreal to go from cleaning up a checkpoint where the feeling is that the race is ending to right back in the heat of things!  Martin Buser left Galena just as I arrived.  Aliy Zirkle and Aaron Burmeister were here.  I followed the trail markers behind the checkpoint for a bit and was rewarded with the most amazing view of the Mighty Yukon River!  Wow!  It is huge!  I totally understand why it is called “Mighty!”  I watched Sonny Linder and Robert Sorlie come across the river and up into town.  Like in Takotna, the mushers follow the road right into the checkpoint.  Unlike Takotna, there is actually car traffic here, and quite a bit of it.  They seem to have the road narrowed down to one lane so that the other lane can be used for the dog teams, but they do in fact have to cross the road to get to the checkpoint.  Once they have checked in, they go down a small hill and are parked or they just continue up the hill to the other side and back to the river to head out of town.  If they are planning to stay a bit, they are given straw and some kids bring them their dropbags on little sleds.  There are ton of kids running around and having fun. They are very good about not approaching the dogs.  I bet they are wishing and wishing they could pet every single one of them.  But they are working dogs and need to get all the rest they can!

I met the first and second grade teacher from the local school.  The school here is bigger than the last few, about 60 students. There is also a boarding school for high school students that has several hundred kids from the towns and villages throughout the area.  They are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mike Williams, Jr. who is a graduate of the school.  The kids at the school can take one of several career paths in their studies at the school – earn their pilot’s license, study culinary arts, cosmetology or other things.

I’ve been wondering what the mushers are looking for when they study the standing sheets, and I may have gotten some insight.  Jeff King asked me to read some of the information to him off of the sheet. He’s running the race now with contacts in which he says is unusual for him.  He didn’t ask about placement or numbers of dogs or in and out times.  All he was interested in was the column that shows how long it took each musher to get to the current checkpoint (run times).  Nick Petit looked at the same thing when he sat down a few minutes later.  He compared his run times with the other mushers also in to the checkpoint.  He said that he had thought his team was sluggish, but when you compare his run time to others, they were doing really well.  I guess that gives them best idea of where they stand.  Were they faster or slower than the mushers around them?  So as you are analyzing the data, you may want to keep an eye on that column as well.  Is it a better indicator of where people stand then some of the other data? I know the checkers use the same column to estimate the time when mushers will arrive.  The look for the average time it’s been taking mushers to arrive at their checkpoint.  To predict when the next musher will arrive, they look at their out time from the previous checkpoint and add the average run time and come up with a general idea of when to expect them.

It seems like there will be a steady stream of teams in and out pretty much all night.  The mushers seem to be in pretty good spirits and the trail into Galena seems to have been good to them. Jeff King said it was beautiful but boring.  He had to work to control the speed of his team. He said once he put his biggest dog in the sled the team slowed down to the exact speed he wanted!  I always thought he carried dogs to rest them, but apparently carried dogs can serve as a type of brake too!  Nick Petit thought it was getting warm for the dogs, and seemed pleased that their team was traveling as fast as they were!

In my classroom we have an interesting, but useless fact on the board each morning. So in honor of that, here are some useless, but interesting facts I learned today!

  1.  Dallas Seavey can communicate in sign language. He was talking to a local man today.  He explained that one of his cousins is deaf, so as kids, all the cousins learned sign language.  He said he was surprised how much he remembered.  Speaking of sign language, Kathy Cappa, the interpreter for the Ceremonial Start is here!  She’s working in communications.
  2. Ray Redington, Jr. is wishing for sushi.  He was poking around the food table and not finding a lot to interest him.  He said he’s been thinking about sushi for a while!
  3. Nick Petit has a dog named PacMan on his team.  He is also carrying a stuffed dog on the front of his sled in memory of his pet dog, Ugly, who recently passed away.  The stuffed dog is wearing a helmet!
  4. There were two little girls here earlier selling maple bars. They were collecting donations to contribute to the Lance Mackey Medical Fund.  Lance Mackey is a four time Iditarod Champion who is also a cancer survivor.  He has recently had some additional medical problems related to his cancer treatment and his fans have been raising money to help with his astronomical medical bills.

I’m here in Galena for the night.  At least eight teams are currently on their way here, including Nathan Schroeder!  Using my new understanding of using run times, I predict he will be here around midnight!  There are seven more teams sitting in Ruby who may or may not make a run for it tonight!