Checkpoint Checkup: Takotna to Ophir


“Your journey never ends. Life has a way of changing things in incredible ways.” – Alexander Volkov

Charley with his dog Charley

Charley with his dog Charley – courtesy of Terrie Hanke

The last leg of our journey took us from McGrath to Takotna. This week we will ride with Charley Bejna and his team 23 miles to Ophir. When Charley arrived in Takotna with 14 dogs on the line and 1 in the bag, he planned on taking his 24-hour mandatory stop there but for a variety of reasons, he changed his mind.  After leaving his dog, Bernie, in the good care of the Takotna vets and volunteers, Charley left for Ophir.

Takotna to Ophir - courtesy of Charley Bejna

Takotna to Ophir – courtesy of Charley Bejna

Immediately out of Takotna the trail is pretty steep. Charley and the dogs kept climbing and winding up the hillside. The highest elevation on this part of the trail is 1200 feet. The dogs were making excellent time, but the day began to grow darker and colder. Along the run they passed fellow musher, Anna Berington, and the dogs kept picking up speed from there.

This section of the trail that heads into Ophir is actually an old mining road that was built in the 1920’s. As he ran along the south side of the Innoko River he passed some old cabins and an old mining camp. Charley recalls some of the old and very interesting mining equipment and abandoned vehicles along the trail. At about this point on the trail you will know you are getting close to Ophir.

Ophir was a gold mining town that once had a population of 1,000 people, but today the population is zero. Only a few permanent structures remain in the ghost town. This checkpoint itself is located at Dick and Audra Forsgren’s cabin along the river. Since the checkpoint is along the river, the volunteers had water available for Charley to heat up and water his dogs.

Charley parked his team and started to care for his dogs. He gave them a snack and then put down straw for the dogs to take a rest. While the dogs were resting he prepared a big meal and checked on his dogs for any injuries. It was about -20 degrees Fahrenheit, so he put coats on all the dogs and then put blankets on the dogs. After a couple of hours of chores and vet checks for the dogs, Charley was finally able to eat and get some rest himself. He was very thankful to see that the volunteers had food available for the mushers in the cabin.

Since Charley took his 24-hour break in Ophir, he was able to get some much needed sleep. The sleeping quarters for the mushers are canvas walled structures with a stove for heat and bunks for sleeping. During the long break in Ophir, Charley fed the dogs every 4-6 hours. On the run in from Takotna, his dog Tundra wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the rest of the team, so he decided to leave him behind in Ophir. Charley knew Tundra was in good hands with the vets and volunteers in Ophir. After lots of rest, food, and care, Charley and the dogs were anxious to get on the trail for the 73 mile journey to Cripple. For the next Checkpoint Checkup we’ll head in a different direction and continue on to another ghost town, Iditarod. Remember, in odd years the Iditarod takes the southern route.

Next stop, Iditarod. 566 miles to Nome.

Ideas for the classroom:

Charley took his 24-hour mandatory stop in Ophir. Since Charley was bib number 26, how long will he have to stay in Ophir to make up the 2-minute starting differential? There were 69 mushers who started the race.  There is no bib number 1 as it’s designated for the honorary musher. Click here for the answer.

What percentage of the trail has Charley covered?

What percentage of the trail does Charley have left?

Pretend you are Tundra the dog. Write a journal entry about your stay in Ophir.

Write a journal entry from the perspective of the dogs as they were running past the abandoned vehicles and mining equipment (picture above).

To read more about the journey to Ophir check out Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey – Ophir.