Overnight in Galena

The hospitality of Galena has been wonderfully amazing, especially given their recent history.  About nine months ago the worst flood in a hundred years severely damaged the town. I’ve talked to a few people about the rebuilding of the community and most seemed to say things are getting back to normal.  One thing that has happened as a result of the flood is that the school’s population has decreased.  Some families that were evacuated to Fairbanks are still in that area and haven’t returned yet.  No one seems to be certain when or if they will come back.  At least one local musher was able to save his dogs in a boat, but then decided it was more than he could handle and he passed his dogs on to other homes.  One woman told me that even now, you pull something out that you haven’t used in a while and you are surprised to find it filled with silt.  Things are still missing as well.  One woman hasn’t been able to find her parka yet and apparently many of the plastic buckets typically used around the checkpoint are nowhere to be found.

The checkpoint is in the community center.  This building was one of the few that did not flood. They have cots for the mushers and volunteers to sleep on if you are lucky enough to get here early enough to claim one for the night.  I was not, and spent a pretty uncomfortable night on a wooden bench.   The mushers can get hot water from the kitchen here to make their dog food “soup.”  This seems to be a pretty common thing to feed the dogs.  The mushers add frozen meat to the hot water, maybe add some fat and some kibble and stir it all up. They ladle it into the dog’s dishes with very long handled ladles.  Making the meal a soup consistency is a good way to help keep the dogs hydrated.  The community has brought in dish after dish of wonderful food and they seem to be enjoying gathering in and around the community center watching the mushers and dogs and helping out in any way they can.

Mushers and teams came and went pretty much all night.  The timing pattern is pretty interesting.  A group of two or three mushers would come in within an hour or so of each other, and then there would be a big lull.  Then there would be another few tight together, then another lull.  By this morning, Galena had seen 28 mushers come and go and another five were still here enjoying a nap – dogs on the straw, mushers on the cots.  So there are still many mushers to come. Things will still be hopping here for a while.

One of the things my students always have fun hearing about is how the mushers sometimes name puppy litters in themes.  In talking with Nathan Schroeder last night, I learned that he tries to name the litters with themes his kids can relate to.  So one of the dogs on his team is called Mater….  He’s from the Cars litter.  He also has a litter named Mickey, Goofy, and Donald.  And then one called Izzy, Jake, and Cubby – after the Playhouse Disney show Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

Rumor has it I am moving on to Unalakleet today… we’ll see what happens!  Ohhh – it’s true – I was just told to get my stuff together!  It’s on to the next adventure!