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Sunday, March 14, 2004 - Unalakleet
Saturday in Ruby was a laid back day. Donna and I worked on getting the last update out and we watched teams come in. We had time to check out some of the native crafts and visit with some of our friends in the village. We saw Ellie come in at 6:10 in the evening and noticed right away that Vanilla wasnt with her team. We could tell by the look in her eyes that she had to drop him. We knew this would probably happen and prepared ourselves for it, but the actual act of having to leave him in Ophir saddened us all. On the whole her team looks very good, but she may need to drop one more dog in Ruby. Id rather have her error on the side of caution than to push a dog beyond its limits.
Dinner was fun, we crammed twelve people, cook stove, four folding chairs, a cot, and our personal gear into a 12 X 12 tent. It was quite an interesting dinner. A dozen unwashed campers in a hot tent dampened our appetite a bit.
A smaller crowd was able to rouse themselves for Ellies 2:10 a.m. departure from Ruby. Paul and Donna hiked the hills up to the checkpoint to see her off and me and my bum knee decided to just walk down the river and catch her there. I could hear the dogs barking in preparation for her departure and sure enough a couple of minutes later she came down the hill and onto the river ice. Standing under the Alaska flag (the Big Dipper and the North Star), under the blue black sky with the Northern Lights, on the Mighty Yukon, I was secretly wishing I was with my team heading down the river too.
I had a moment to enjoy the pink sunrise and to pee before we had to break camp in a hurry and get ready to fly on down the trail. We were out by 9:30 a.m. heading toward Galena. Our hearts went out to the musher and team that had just left Ruby and seemed to be camped half a mile from town, maybe they just needed a little extra rest. We saw a few teams on the trail and moose out my window. Ellie was into Galena and resting and we stopped to pick up the ADN News duo and Maegan and Valerie.
We flew on to follow the trail toward Unalakleet, catching sight of Nulato and Kaltag as we worked our way along the trail. The terrain below us was subtly changing with the many small lakes looking like a giant jigsaw puzzle pieces. We could pick out a few teams on the trail but aerial identification is quite difficult because the mushers change sleds, and with the warm temperatures, clothing. This area is called the Kaltag Portage and its where it changes from Indian country into Eskimo land. At about Old Woman Mountain the trees become fewer and the snowy areas greater. Now we were able to start picking up the lead teams. Several teams were resting at Old Woman cabin in the 25 to 30 degree weather. As we progressed further up the trail we spotted Jeff King with his distinctive sled and Ramy Brooks pushing through the fresh foot of new snow. Next we spotted Charlie Bouldings distinctive yellow parka and another team ahead of him which turned out to be John Baker and his distinctive big team of dark dogs, of which 14 were pulling and appeared to be running beside his sled.
Paul's perfect timing placed us landing in Unalakleet just ahead of Kjetil Backens arrival. We taxied off the trail stopping next to it. We all jumped out of the plane cameras in hand and then wondered why his team was stopped just outside the village. A race official roared up on his snow machine and ask if we had a large duffel bag he could use. Poor Maegan, we dumped her carefully packed bag and pitched the bag to the official. To us this could mean only one thing, that Kjetil must have lost a dog and didnt want to come into town with the dog in the sled. Were all saddened by another death and wait to hear the official results from the vets.
With clouds moving in, Unalakleet appears to be piles of drift wood, big boats out of the water and wind. A big surprise was the big expanse of open water in Norton Sound. Locals said they had fifty mile an hour winds last week that blew all the ice away, a rare occurrence for this area. Were at the Oyoumick home typing this after sharing a meal of salmon salad sandwiches and muktuk. Muktuk is, for the uninformed, whale. Jon and Donna were popping it down like candy, I ventured a trail taste but I think Ill stick to sushi, thank you very much.
Were waiting for the next plane load from Ruby with the rest of our gang and provisions and well spend the night in a cabin seven miles out of town right next to the trail. We plan to hang out here until Ellie arrives and hopefully, Grandpa John can fly in from Anchorage and join us.
Were off to explore around the village and head to the checkpoint, well explore and share our adventures with you tomorrow.
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
©2004 Jon & Jona Van Zyle
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