Iditarod 2014 Unanakleet to Nome (4/4)
In the early morning hours when it was still dark I left Unanakleet for Shaktoolik. The trail took us through the Blueberry hills, and I have to admit I hadn’t quite expected to run through mountains like these at the coast. The trail was once again glare ice and bare ground but we made our way safely back to the shoreline without any problems. Along the shoreline towards Shaktoolik we had to break windblown trail and run on glare ice but had a great time. We were at the coast! The run seemed to take long and was slow.
Coming into Shaktoolik we took a wrong turn onto the icy road leading to the lighthouse and had to turn around, but managed to stop Alex and Tommy’s teams just before they followed. We reached Shaktoolik in bright sunlight, and the winds had died down. What a cool and special place!
Phil Runkle, the son of John Runkle from Nikolai had come to Shaktoolik as a volunteer and it was really good to see him. By this time we met several volunteers and veterinarians again that we had met in previous checkpoints as they were flying along the trail. It is nice to see familiar faces when you are out there for so long. I fed the dogs and went inside, where we were informed that a winter storm warning had been issued for the region we were about to head into. The storm warning took effect in the evening and lasted for two days so it was recommended we left soon across Norton Sound in order to make it. Norton Sound is an extremely exposed part of the Iditarod trail and we didn’t hesitate to get going after our rest.
The run across Norton Sound was amazingly beautiful. It was one of these moments when you feel that there is just nothing more perfect that being out in this landscape with these fantastic dogs. I could not have been any more proud of our young team, they were just awesome. We could see the weather changing behind us, so we didn’t stop for too long and continued towards Koyuk. As the sun was setting the Sound was dipped in fantastic pink/pastel colors and the moon was shining. We crossed jumble ice and found our way to Koyuk as it had gotten dark.
Out of Koyuk I decided to leave together with Tommy. The lag to Elim was tough, snowy, windblown and exposed along the coast. When we arrived in Elim and it had gotten warm, almost around zero degrees C. The snow was wet and slow. Went inside to dry our clothes and grab some food before we continued towards our mandatory 8h layover in White Mountain.
Out of Elim the trail had been changed the night before due to very deep overflow on the coast. The re-route was… interesting and hilly. It was almost raining and the trails pushy and slow. By the time we were back on the original trail it had gotten a little colder and was blowing and snowing.
We managed to find our way back down to the coast past little Mount McKinley and where running 10km straight on glare ice towards the settlement of Golovin, through the only street and back out on the ice for another 10km of straight running on glare ice. This part of the lag was somewhat surreal. From the distance, the street lights of Golovin looked as if someone put out glowing trail markers which I though was kinda cool, and being somewhat sleep deprived things just didn’t really make sense. I kept falling asleep on the sled. As the distance was so large you never seemed to approach town even after I finally realized it was a settlement and not glowing trail markers. After the straight run over the ice leaving Golovin we ran onto the river leading to White Mountain. I still kept falling asleep. It was nice to reach and rest in White Mountain. All mushers were drug tested and after 8 hours we went on into the hills.
Running in the hills out from White Mountain was nice, there was some fresh snow on the trails and and it wasn’t very windy. We crossed some rivers with overflow before we dropped down onto the coast – the very last stretch on our way to Nome. We saw two coyotes that had caught a hare in the decent from the mountains onto the sea ice. The coyotes were not too happy about our teams and afraid of what was left of the hare in the trail. They were somewhat reluctant to leave the trail and we had great fun chasing them down the hill for a while. Along the coast the trail passes on a very thin stretch of land between the Bering Sea and the coast. It was windy and there was quite a bit fresh snow. We had to break trail all the way into Nome, and were running very slow. The sled was almost not gliding on the salty coastal snow.
By the time we reached Safety we had used quite some time since we left White Mountain. Tommy and I felt that both we and the dogs had deserved a short break and feeding before we went on to cover the last 20 miles to the finish, so we stopped at Safety Roadhouse. Alex and his team had taken a break here, too. Inside we got coffee and a sandwich after the dogs were fed and taken care of. We stayed for about 2 hours before the three of us left for Nome.
Tommy left safety first, I came about 10 minutes after. By that time the trail he had broken out was almost not visible anymore and we had to break trail again. There is one last Mountain to climb before you can see the lights from Nome Airport, and shortly after we saw the hill leading up from the sea ice onto Front Street and a police car ready to escort us down Front Street. Snuppa was running in single lead since Safety and understood very well that this was no checkpoint. This was the finish line.
I stood with both feet on the brake down Front street – not that it really slowed us down. They were running like crazy towards the finish line, tails wagging as we got in. I snacked them and they were all eating as if I hadn’t been feeding them since our start in Anchorage. It was so good to see Kenneth! Also Ralph, Trude, Roger, Espen, Kari Skogen (Lisbeth’s mom), Race Marshall Mark Nordman, head vet Stu Nelson and so many more that I am probably forgetting were there to congratulate. Many faces of volunteers and vets that I had seen on the trail. I was so proud of our team, unbelievable what these 11 amazing dogs had accomplished. Interviews were given, the sled checked and I formally got to sign into Nome – thereby finishing the race as a rookie and moving on to veteran status. I don’t think it is possible to describe the feeling of crossing the finish line. Neither do I think I understood that we had actually finished The Last Great Race in the toughest year it had seen. After some minutes at the finish line we were ready to go on to the Nome dog lot to park the team and bed them down. They were jumping in harness screaming to go, and little Civic could even not resist chewing her neckline eager to go.
We parked the team, took off harnesses, bedded them down on plenty of straw in their flight boxes and fed them. Spent quite some time there with them before we went on to the pup for a burger and beer. After that I was ready for bed. A bed in a warm house. I didn’t get much sleep though, as the mandatory musher meeting was held the next morning, followed by taking the official finishers picture and some hours of autograph signing. But then again – for the past 12 days I hadn’t slept more than 1-2 hours at a time so I was fine.
All time inbetween the happenings was spent at the dog lot. We had a nice dinner with all Norwegian finishers and support teams before we went outside to see the last three teams, Monica, Lisbet and Marcelle finished the race.
Saturday night I slept very well and on Sunday we had time to walk around town and spend more time with the dogs before the finishers Banquet in the evening where I got my official Iditarod finishers belt buckle, finisher patch and $1049 for finishing the race. I have gifted the belt buckle to my amazing husband, Kenneth, for all his efforts the past years of getting us to the start and finish line. Running the race is but a very small part of this, and he is the key member of our team.
Our fantastic host family in Nome helped us to drive the dogs to the Airport on Monday morning. We collected the dropped dogs from Pam’s house in Anchorage and Oki from his stay at the pet-hotel, and had dinner with Pam and her family before driving back to Fairbanks in the night.
We had an amazing time together on our way to Nome. It had been a challenging race with a lot of technical driving on difficult trails and sure added a new dimension to the term sleddable trail at least for my part. Together we traveled through some of the roughest terrain and weather conditions I had seen, and made it all the way to Nome despite of the fact that it was said that this was the most challenging year in the history of the race. Quite a year for a rookie musher and team. Unfortunately, the pictures I took on the trail give but a very biased picture of what our journey to Nome looked like. Pictures were only taken when it was physically possible and the camera wasn’t dead due to the cold. The trail was so much more, and no pictures will be able to give justice to these 12 amazing days we had crossing Alaska. They were by far the longest 12 days in my life so far, and I enjoyed (almost) every single one of them.
Our young novis team did far better than I could have hoped. 11 dogs, Snuppa, Svolvær, Ittoq, Najak, Jack, Civic, Kost, Isikajia, Kasper, Mini and Krutt all reached the finish line in Nome, Kongo, Jesper, Snehvit, Honda and Mira contributed greatly towards getting us there. The last dog, Mira, was dropped in Takotna, 1000 km from the finish line in Nome, and except from Kongo who was dropped because he stiffened the remaining four dogs were dropped due to injuries from the challenging conditions in the Dalzell Gorge and Farewell burn.
All dropped dogs were fine and healthy when we got back from Nome, and have run in harness already. Kasper and Krutt kept playing with each other on each and every lag from the start to the finish. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to film them on the last lag, but I do have some videos from earlier in the race (see links to videos on youtube below blog posts). Snuppa led every single meter from Anchorage to Nome, and ran in single lead from Safety to Nome with her tail wagging. Svolvær was by her side for most of the time, and the rest got to join Snuppa whenever possible.
There is a huge amount of people to thank, and by starting to mention some I know that we will forget others. We will nonetheless try:
The most important person that I have to thank is my amazing husband, Kenneth. Without him supporting us 100% we would not have made it to the starting line, nor would we even have been able to race the qualifying races or even be able to have our team. Kenneth was not on the sled to Nome, but he was probably suffering more updating the GPS tracker page than I was out on the sled. Running the race is the smallest part. He has worked incredibly hard for years towards getting us to Nome, and is THE key person in our team, and the true love of my life. I cannot thank him enough for everything he does and has done for us.
We would like to thank the volunteers and veterinarians who made this race possible. They were always smiling and going out of their ways to make the race as good as possible for us. The people in the villages we went through provided huge amounts of delicious food for us, and were exceptional welcoming opening their villages and buildings for us and the race.
We would like to thank our sponsors, Troll Hundefor, CanaDog, Brukshunden and DogPaddle Designs for supplying us with high quality equipment. Our dogs were warm and protected from the wind in Troll Hundefor coats, the food cooker provided warm meals at all times and the gangline withstood even the most brutal trail conditions. Our CanaDog harnesses fit like a glove and none of the dogs had any signs of harness rub. My DogPaddle Designs sled took severe beating in the difficult trail sections between Finger Lake and Nikolai, and yet despite of so many sleds being total wrecks you could hardly notice mine had been used. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a spare break bar and hence had to switch to my backup sled in Nikolai. Brukshunden has supplied us with just about all dog equipment you could possibly need.
We would like to thank Hans Christian Ørjestand, the breeder of all our dogs. He helped us getting started with the dogs we have today and believed in us from the very beginning. He has been a great resource of knowledge and a dear friend for the past years.
We would like to thank Johanne Sundby for everything she has done for us. She has helped us in so many ways, listing it all would take to long. Johanne has been a friend, sponsor and supporter ever since I first met her when I moved to the mainland from Svalbard.
We would also like to thank the persons and organizations who have sponsored us with donations. We are but a rookie team and could not be more thankful for your support! All donations are used directly on expenses for the well being of our dogs such as veterinary costs and feeds to assure the highest possible dog care for our team at all times. They help us to continue taking our team on adventures like this, and giving them the life we feel they deserve – both as top athletes out on the trail in some of the toughest races on Earth and loved pets on the sofa at home.
To everyone we have forgotten to mention, THANK YOU! I know there are incredibly many people that have contributed in one way or another, and I hope that we haven’t forgotten to thank you in person.
Videos on Youtube: The team on their way to Shaktoolik