Staying by the Sea

Last night three friends and I decided to take a walk to the local pizza place to have dinner and use the wifi – hence my two posts five minutes away from each other last night!  We were treated to an absolutely amazing sunset over the Bering Sea.  The sun was bright orange and the sky was streaked with red and orange.

The pizza place is called Peach on Earth and they have the greatest t-shirts that say “Peach on Earth – Pizza on the Iditarod Trail.”  I’ve always heard things are more expensive here in Alaska because everything needs to be shipped in.  So for a pizza and four drinks last the total was $55 with tip.  It was expensive – but it was super yummy!  And they had wi-fi which is a plus.  That has been hard to come by for several days now.

This morning I awoke to a symphony of snores.  We are all staying in the church gym, which is a interestingly shaped building.  The gym is like a long rectangle, but with a domed roof.  There must have been 25-30 people sleeping in there last night.  The snoring didn’t bother me during the night because I listened to my i-pod, but this morning it was quite something! There is talk of sending me to Koyuk, but nothing definite, so I had some time to wander around.  I decided to do some beach combing on the Bering Sea.  I knew I was a beach person, much more than a mountain or a lake person, so it’s no surprise that I ended up at the beach.  This beach however, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s a beach where you can’t hear the waves…. It’s frozen!  It’s so surreal.  Mostly it is white but in some places you can see the deep blues and greens that I typically associate with the ocean.  There was lots and lots of driftwood on the beach.  Tons of it.  I did manage to find one shell!  It’s some sort of mussel shell I think.

When I got down to the checkpoint things were starting to hop.  Jesse Royer, John Baker, Michelle Phillips, Wade Marrs, and Pete Kaiser were here.  The parking by the berms makes a lot more sense to me now!  They literally parked the teams right next to the wall of snow.  They were snuggled up to the wall of snow in their hay. That way they could park four teams in the chute and still have a space in the middle to move teams out and about.  The berms help in the case of wind.  Apparently it can get really, really windy here.  Mark Nordman asked me if I realized how lucky I was to be here on this day – the weather is “perfect people weather.”  Not too windy.  It’s cold, but without the wind it’s not too bad.

They were expecting several other teams so there was lots of work to do.  The mushers’ drop bags are being stored up by the checkpoint.  When the mushers are on their way, they get moved down to the slough.  So I rolled up my parka sleeves and jumped in.  We pulled down the bags for the next several mushers. Now, these bags, there are two or three per musher and they weigh up to fifty pounds each.  They are HEAVY!  Once we had them down the hill, we decided where we were going to park each team and then dragged the bags to that spot.  Each parking spot also got a bale of hay and a box of Heet.

When Ken Anderson arrived, I got to park his team!  To park a team, your job is to lead the team to the spot where they are going to park.  Sometimes you can lead them by holding the necklines that connect the two leaders, but sometimes the mushers don’t like that.  They sometimes prefer you to just run in front of them and have the dogs follow you.  So that’s what I tried, I just called the dogs and ran along in front of them and encouraged them to follow me, and it worked quite well!  It’s a little nerve-wracking; you need to be so careful not step on the dogs toes!  Can you imagine how horrible that would be?

Nathan Shroeder arrived at about 2:20pm. His team looks good.  We got him parked easily and he gave the dogs some frozen salmon snacks which they munched on quite contentedly.  Some of them hold the snacks in their paws – it’s pretty darn cute!  Nathan says he’s still having fun, not so much the camp chores part, but the mushing part!  He camped last night on the trail.  He wanted to know how much further he had to go, and the answer is about the length of the John Beargrease Race which he has won three times!   He’s going to take a little nap.  The two things he most wants to do here are brush his teeth and take off his socks!

Leaving Unakaleet things aren’t going to get much better for the mushers trail wise it seems. When they leave the checkpoint they follow the trail out and go under the overpass.  It’s kind of cool to watch.  I talked with a woman who flew over the trail two days ago and said there was no snow.  And the locals are telling them to “stay off the ice” it’s not quite as solid as it should be.  They need to stay on the land.  Apparently one of the Iron Dog racers fell through the ice. The Iron Dog is a snowmachine race that follows the Iditarod Trail and started the week or so before the Iditarod.

So – surprise – just got the call I’m flying out – I’m off to White Mountain, not Koyuk.  More later!