Catching Up With Nathan

Today Nome is what I always thought Nome would be like.  Cold, windy, snowing.  The snow is blowing.  They sky is gray. It’s pretty nasty.  It’s cold.  Really cold.  Especially when the wind blows.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Nathan Schroeder in the Mini Convention Center right before dinner time today.  He had taken a shower and tried to rest, but he said he couldn’t sleep in the nice inside bed his host family here in Nome has provided for him.  “I need a floor, my sleeping bag, and my parka as a pillow!” he joked.

It was so nice to sit and chat with him.  He is so proud of himself (as he should be) that he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.  He’s hooked he admitted.  He’ll be back for sure – he’s a lifer now he says.  He’s already started thinking and planning and scheming for next year. This far cry from the guy who told me in Unalakleet that if his dog truck had been in Rohn he’d have gotten into it and not looked back! Not that he’s second guessing what he did this year.  He’s proud of his race. He accomplished what he set out to do.  He proved he belongs here.  But, he has started thinking of things he’d do differently next year.  He talked about the difference between running the race to win it and running the race to learn without pushing things too far.   He thinks he has a few years before he’s ready to run it to win it.  But there’s a gleam in his eye when he says it. One thing he’s thinking about is his sled.  He’s anxious to have a conversation with they guy who built his sled.  He wants to talk about the drag mat and putting spikes into it that will dig into the ice better.  Lisbet Norris had seventeen spikes embedded in her drag mat and she had said it was really effective coming down the rough parts of the trail, so maybe there is something to that!

He gave me a little insight into the end of the race – the dash to the finish for him and Abbie West.  She pulled into Safety about thirty seconds ahead of  him.  When they pulled in, there  was a building to the left.  Abbie’s team pulled in and her leaders tried to veer left around the building.  As Nathan pulled in behind her, his leaders tried to do the same. She asked a volunteer to pull his dogs over so she could get through.  When she was done, and went to leave, her dogs turned around the building instead of going straight out of the checkpoint and she took a bit of time to get them straightened out. In the meantime, Nathan signed in and out of Safety and pulled out, taking the lead.  Abbie was up on his heels pretty quickly.  Nathan, thinking she must have the faster team, pulled over and let her pass.  As he started up again, he saw black straps laying in the snow.  It was Abbie’s bib!

Nathan tried to scoop it up after his sled ran over it, but he missed.

He caught up to Abbie.  “Your bib! You dropped your bib!” he shouted to her over the wind.

“My mitts?  I have my mitts!”

“No!  Your race bib!  You dropped your race bib!” he replied.  He saw her frantically searching through her sled and realized he was correct.  She had to stop her team, set the snowhook, and run back to get her bib.

Nathan’s team passed and he never saw her again.

Until she showed up in the chute six minutes after he did!

And that’s how he came to finish in 17th place as Rookie of the Year! A top twenty finish!  What an amazing accomplishment.

While we were talking, the siren went off, so we went out to the chute to see Ralph Johannessen come in.  And get this -Nathan got cold!  “What?” I teased him.  “You just traveled a thousand miles across the the state of Alaska and you are cold on the streets of Nome?”  In his defense, he didn’t have his big parka – but it’s still pretty funny to think of him as being cold watching other mushers come in!  His cheeks are wind burned and he has a bit of frostbite on his nose, but other than that he is in good shape!

Ralph’s dogs were rolling in the snow and then hopping up and barking and jumping and lunging to go!  In fact, maybe a little too anxious to go.. they pulled out of the chute before his sled had been checked!  Ralph was shortly followed into the chute by Curt Perano and Cym Smyth.  Curt was met in the chute by his wife and baby and a New Zealand flag.  Cym was clapping and beaming as he came under the Burled Arch.  Paige Drobny was the twenty-fifth person to cross the line and now we are probably going to be quiet until morning.  The next eleven mushers are still working on their eight hour layover in White Mountain.  I’m now anxiously awaiting Monica Zappa’s arrival in Nome.  She’s currently out of Shaktoolik.  Her main goal this year was to finish the race with happy and healthy dogs.  She still has an impressive fourteen dogs on her team, so she is well on her way to achieving that goal!  Go Team Zappa!