2004 Iditarod Sketch Pad

Jon & Jona Van Zyle's exclusive sketches, stories from the trail

Lighting the way
2004 Iditarod Poster
Jon Jona Van Zyle
Jon & Jona Van Zyle
Sneaking Out
2004 Mush Poster

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Main Page Meet Jon & Jona Introduction Bootie Call Drop Bag Delivery Day Vet Check Jr. Iditarod
3/7 Iditarod Restart 3/8 Trail Notes 3/9 Rohn to Takotna 3/10 Takotna a.m. 3/10 Takotna p.m.
3/11 Takotna 3/14 Unalakleet 3/15-16 Unalakleet 3/16 Unalakleet
3/17 Unalakleet to Nome 3/19 Nome 3/20 Nome Finish Line Group Photo
Jona's Reflections

Thursday, March 11, 2004 - Takotna

15 to 20 degrees partly sunny- warming temps.

Our day started at 1:00 a.m. with an Ellie watch. We figured she'd arrive from Mc Grath between 1:30 to 2:00 a.m. and she did. She blew into Takotna at 2:05 a.m. in a flurry of big snowflakes. Our gang welcomed her with a finger-painted banner which Logan (Ellie's little sister) created with a little help from me.

Ellie's hit her trail rhythm. As soon as she had her 16 dog team parked, each dog had a snack to eat. The two vets were on time and started checking the dogs while they snacked. Ellie dragged her straw bag half way down along side the team, thenDogs Resting worked forward and back bedding the team. I've watched many trail weary mushers make eight separate trips up and down the gangline carrying straw, a waste of time and energy.

Next she fetched her hot water from one of the two continuously burning fires. She broke open the bottles of heat, lit an old dog bootie to fire up her cooker and started to thaw two bottles of water for herself. Dehydration is the biggest enemy of mushers and dogs.

The next step, was to slice open the drop bags filled with food for her and the dogs and choose the meals. By now her water bottles had thawed enough to drink so out came the water bottles and in went the dinners in their vacuum sealed bags.

The race vets did their dog check and questioned Ellie while she worked. Ellie had a couple of sore wrists and a couple of dogs with diarrhea which have been the usual complaints. She looked tired but joked and talked easily while she continued to work. She said the Happy River Steps and the Dalzell Gorge scared her more than anything else ever in her life. To help herself feel better, she picked The Perfect Storm, a books on tape, to listen to. As she continued down the trail she felt comforted to know it could have been scarier.

We left Ellie at about 3:00 a.m. to finish her chores and get some sleep.

At first light Paul flew out to retrieve his wife in Mc Grath. Donna finally caught a commercial flight out of Anchorage to join us. Ellie's Grandparents and Maegan have not appeared yet.

The rest of our crew was up and packing to hit the trail again. Joel and Marc from the ADN were anxious to rejoin the leaders, so they're off to Ruby. We're going to stay here today to see Ellie through her 24 hour stay. It also makes for a quiet day for us to regroup. Last night we had 17 people eating and sleeping here, including Vicky. Vicky is an Iditarod veteran who is attempting to fly her Ultralight to Nome.

During breakfast rookie Rick Casillo, from Sterling, Alaska, parked his team beside our house. Over morning tea we watched the big, burly, black bearded man tenderly care for his team. I'd say he is going all the way to Nome.

Takotna CheckpointAs the teams quietly slept in the rejuvenating sunny warmth, I had the chance to chat with ten year Race Veterinarian E. Turner Lewis. He feels that the prophylactic use of Vitamin E starting with Fall training and continuing throughout the race season is important, as is the use of antacid tablets during the race to prevent stomach ulcers. The use of popular nutritional supplement Amaize seems to be really helping to minimize the dog's recuperation time after a hard run. The soft tissue rejuvenation is impressive.

Michigan mushing friend Al Hardman just finished his 24 and started up the trail in the warmth of the day. Ellie will depart in the cooler hours of the night.

The checkpoint crew efficiently works to clean the area of the departing teams and prepare for the arrival of the next team. Poop is picked up, straw is raked up, and fresh snow shoveled over the dogs' resting area. It's as clean as you can get an outdoor area.

Karen Ramstead preceded Wayne Curtis into Takotna. Both Siberian Husky teams look good, although Wayne's right elbow is swollen and infected. The vets are helping him get it under control while he takes his 24.

We are still mourning the death of Lance Mackey's dog, Wolf. I haven't seen the official press release yet today, but cardiac arrest has been mentioned. Whatever the cause, even one dog death out of the 1,392 dogs that started the race saddens everyone. So many race vets and vet techs go to such great lengths to prevent problems, that they all take it very personally.

The mushers dining table discussions range from race strategies and who is where on the trail, to favorite stories from the trail.

A recurring story is about a moose kill in the buffalo tunnels before you reach Nikolai. Paul Gebhardt told us about his encounter. His leaders hesitated on the dark trail, he called them up and as they took off he felt his sled bump over and slush through something. Paul's headlight flashed on the steaming red blood of a fresh moose kill then glinted on several pairs of eyes as he glanced down and back, and then he was gone. Paul recounted his story on Tuesday afternoon. Now here it is Thursday and we are still hearing about the kill, which was finally hauled off the trail. Jon and I have been joking to each other about the wolf pack that went out for a quiet family dinner. We imagine the Alpha female complaining to her mate about why he picked table in the middle of the trail. Meanwhile the offspring would be whining about having to wait so long to get served. Truthfully we have seen very few moose in our flights over these vast areas.

It's 5:00pm and spitting snow again, it's time for Ellie's wake up call and to check the race updates. The teams are now spread from Nikolai to Ruby and we'll head that way tomorrow.

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For more information about Ellie and her home at Ultima Thule Lodge you can visit their web site at www.ultimathulelodge.com

More information about Ellie Claus can be found on the Iditarod web site www.iditarod.com

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2004 Jon & Jona Van Zyle
All material in the Iditarod Sketch Pad remain the property of Jon & Jona Van Zyle and may not be reproduced in any manner.