“Well, I guess that bag was meant for you,” Jeff King said to me as he was leaving the Elim checkpoint. I have been collecting drop bags from each checkpoint as I go along the trail, and I was hoping to have one from him. The wind was cold and fierce, so his empty drop bag blew right to me. I was happy to add it to my collection. Jeff gave each of his dogs some pets of affection, and then he headed out of the checkpoint.
I found some old friends in Elim, and I made some new ones. I was brought to the checkpoint with race judge Jim Gallea, whose mother is Iditarod musher Cindy Gallea. On the Iditarod Air Force plane coming into Elim, Jim pointed out some of the special features of the vast, but bleak, landscape as we came in. He also pointed out where Leonard Seppala and his team, with lead dog Togo, had raced over the frozen sea ice to hand over serum to the next musher heading to Nome in 1925. I was mesmerized by it all.
The Elim checkpoint is small, and trail markers lead teams up the main street to the volunteer fire department station, a two-room building in the middle of town. This is where I would be staying at night, blogging, and helping the dog teams come in. Most would move on quickly, but a few would come in and rest a little with us.
After dropping off my gear, I reconnected with a friend, Lucy Dorman, who was a volunteer dog handler for the checkpoint, and who is an excellent musher herself. We took a tour of Elim and walked the rocky coastline where we could see the wooden trail markers staked in the snow leading to White Mountain miles and miles away. I was just amazed at the immense, frozen landscape laid out at the edge of this tiny village. I remember thinking that it would take a special kind of courage and determination to travel by dog team over such a place.
That night we were lucky that a villager donated freshly caught crab for us to eat. We only had a portable two-burner cooktop and a few pans, but we started boiling water, and since Jim lives in Maine, he had excellent advice about the proper way to prepare this very special trail treat.
The Iditarod sends out a box of supplies to each checkpoint before the race, and we found the perfect use for the official Elim checkpoint scissors!
The Elim children are delightful and wanted to help all day with chores or just watch the mushers and their dogs as they came by. Some of the children were supporting musher Katherine Keith, and when she pulled up, the teacher brought the whole class over to wish her well. She was quite surprised and seemed genuinely touched by the gesture.
Dog teams came in all day and night, and the Elim vets and volunteers worked tirelessly to navigate the mushers and dogs through the tiny checkpoint. We had a few dedicated Elim villagers that helped at all hours to pull drop bags, hold lead dogs on the line, and clean out straw for new teams.
Later that night, veteran Iditarod mushers, Ray Redington and Hugh Neff pulled in, and both men spent time swapping trail stories with us. At one point, checkpoint volunteer, Brita Heikkinen tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to come outside. The northern lights were glowing and they were not to be missed. I am so grateful to her! The lights were so beautiful, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
A group of us spent time playing around with our cameras and sharing this thrilling time together. Another amazing night on the trail…