I spent the day listening to stories… one of my all time favorite things to do!
Earlier this year, I shared with you the story of how Aliy Zirkle and Martin Buser were carrying some vaccines down the trail this year to highlight the need for vaccinating children early enough to help with disease prevention. If you missed it, you can find it here: LINK
I’m pleased to report that the special packages have been delivered safely to Nome. I had the chance today to go to a special presentation about the Serum Run and the Diphtheria Epidemic that took place in Nome in 1925. And I heard the most amazing story.
Near the end of the run, Gunnar Kaasen, takes delivery of the serum in a horrible storm in Bluff. He decides to wait until 10:00pm for the storm to subside. He realizes the storm is getting worse instead of letting up, so he heads out into the wind. He travels through the night over Topkok Mountain. Visibility is so poor he can barely see the wheel dogs right in front of him. He is supposed to stop at the town of Solomon to pass the serum to another musher, but he passes the town and doesn’t even realize it! He decides to go on and the wind is horrible. The wind is so horrible it flips his sled and the serum is tossed from the sled. Kaasen takes off his gloves to search for the serum in the deep snow, and he thankfully finds it! Kaasen arrives at Safety to discover that the next musher is holed up in the cabin asleep. He has assumed that the relay has been delayed due to the storm. Kaasen decides not to wake him, and instead warms the serum and heads out again into the storm and makes it all the way to Nome.
As I’m hearing the story, I can’t help but make comparisons to this year’s race! The wind, the weather, the holing up and staying safe, the come from behind musher…. it’s pretty amazing how the same areas of land can cause the same havoc on two different groups of mushers almost ninety years apart.
Speaking of telling stories, I know many of you have asked, and it looks like Jeff King finally gave an interview describing Monday night from his point of view. Here it is if you haven’t seen it: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140312/how-fierce-bitter-winds-ended-jeff-kings-iditarod
I also went to a presentation given by Howard Farley who was Joe Redington, Sr.’s right hand man in Nome. He helped Joe decide the race needed to run all the way to Nome and not go just to Iditarod and back like Joe originally planned. He sold the race to the entire Nome community and even competed in the first race. He finished in 31 days 11 hours and 59 minutes. He was one spot away from the Red Lantern! He had so many stories to share! He was asked why he hasn’t written a book and he said he is a storyteller. He likes TELLING stories. If he wrote them down he’d have to footnote them and prove them and that’s no fun in his opinion!
He and Joe came to work together because Howard, who was a butcher in Nome, made a phone call to Unalakleet to ask about having some salmon shipped to Nome. Who answered the phone? Joe Redington, Sr. The two had heard of each other and once they started getting talking (Howard admits they both have the gift of gab) things started happening fast. Howard was tapped to help with the race and has been involved ever since. He said that one night, during the initial planning stages while talking to Joe, he mentioned his extremely high phone bill – $700 – hoping that Joe would help him out with some of the costs. Joe retorted that his own bill was $900, so there was no assistance there!
He also talked about the mail that the mushers carry as a way to memorialize the fact the the Iditarod Trail was originally a mail trail. It is very important to Howard that mushers and fans know and understand the reason behind the carrying of the mail. He retold the story of a musher who accidentally sent his trail mail home to his family with his dirty mail. When he was gear checked it was discovered that the mail was missing. He was informed that if didn’t come up with the mail, he would be forced to leave the race. So what did he do? Called his mom and she hired a charter plane to get the mail back to him on the trail!
One other story that sticks out in my mind is about the famed Burled Arch that marks the finish line for the race. For the first two years, there was no real finish line. When Red “Fox” Olson finished the race the second year (in 29 days, 6 hours, and 36 minutes earning him the red lantern) he was stunned when he came to the finish line. There was no real finish line, so someone had made a line by pouring kool-aid into the snow. “I traveled a thousand miles and this is all there is to commemorate the end of the race? I’m going to do something about this.” Howard said he probably said “Sure!” but never thought anything would come of it. And then the call came, “I’ve got your finish line and it’s being shipped to you!” Howard was surprised and had no idea what was coming. The plane arrived and Howard watched them pull out the top of what is now know as the Burled Arch. “Oh!” he thought “It’s amazing. We’ll hang it over the street.” And then he watched as the tripods were unloaded and he couldn’t believe his eyes! The most amazing thing he could have ever imagined! A real finish line! He was so excited and thanked the pilot profusely. And the the bomb dropped. “There’s some freight due on that,” he was told. Not just SOME freight, $1,300 in freight! But Howard knew what to do… he headed to town and in about ten minutes had raised the money from the people of Nome who had already proven to be so supportive of the race.
The original arch was used until 2001 when it fell into disrepair from dry rot. It is currently displayed where the Finishers’ Banquet is held, so hopefully I’ll get to see it! The new arch is slightly different than the old one.