Checkpoint Checkup – Willow to Yentna Station

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The “Restart,” the official start of the Iditarod.  The Iditarod officially begins on Willow Lake in Willow, Alaska.  At 2:00 p.m. on the first Sunday after the first Saturday in March, dogs and mushers begin their journey to Nome.  It is hard to fathom that just 8 months earlier this lake was a peaceful lake with ducks swimming quietly and now is a sports arena filled with trucks, dogs, people, snow machines, and much more.

Willow, Alaska was settled when miners discovered gold back in 1897.  By the 1950’s it was the largest mining district in all of Alaska.  In the 1970’s, there was talk of even moving the capital to Willow. However, due to funding this was unable to happen.

Every two minutes mushers and dogs depart the starting line in Willow.  Destination: Yentna Station, 42 miles down the trail.

Yentna Station is a “roadhouse” only accessible by boat, plane, or of course, dog sled.  Yentna Station is a family owned roadhouse that is open 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.  During the winter months it serves as a checkpoint for many winter sports.  In the summer, they offer a variety of salmon fish excursion packages.  Yentna Station Roadhouse, the official name, is only accessible by boat, plane, snowmachine, or of course, dog sled. Yentna is the only checkpoint that hosts both the Jr. Iditarod and the Iditarod. This checkpoint is hosted by the Gabryszak family. The Gabryszak’s arrived in Alaska in 1981 with the dream of building a lodge on the Yentna River.

The Yentna Station Roadhouse is a very organized and intense checkpoint. It is hard to describe in words what this checkpoint is like. According to Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, “There is no place like Yentna.” To really capture what it feels like one must go there themselves. Inside the roadhouse is like a museum of Iditarod memorabilia. Outside, the checkpoint is operated like a well oiled machine. There are five lanes set up for mushers and dogs to check through. Being the first checkpoint, teams are coming in very close together.

The Gabryszak’s are a very gracious family. On top of the six children they have of their own, they have fostered at least 30 children throughout the years. During the Iditarod, the Gabryszak’s are very hospitable to both the mushers and the volunteers. You can always get something to eat no matter what time of the day. The Iditarod depends on hosts like the Gabryszak family to help run checkpoints.

922 miles left to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake