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Wednesday, March 17 - Unalakleet to Nome
Colder temps, gusty winds, partly cloudy overcast.
We packed up this morning and left part of the camping gear at the cabin in Unalakleet. Well have a big crowd today, picking up our ADN guys at White Mountain and then flying onto Nome.
On our take off, I again saw moose out my window not far from our camp. We touched down again in Unalakleet to pick up Maegan and Jay, who had returned the snowmachines we had borrowed.
I erred on the Unalakleet road mileage, theyve got a grand total of 18 miles of road, so its amazing to see so many big trucks and cars in a remote village.
Its much colder today and the open blue water of Norton Sound has a skim of ice forming.
Climbing higher above the cloud cover the weather is looking good toward the east and clearing to the north.
Now below me, I see big pans of ice forming on the Sound. I can also see a complete rainbow sundog circle in the clouds.
Again the water changes and now the forming ice has taken on the appearance of frost forming on a blue glass window. Cerulean blue and white are the colors of a clear day on the coast.
The bigness of my state still amazes me. The variety of the terrain, the vastness of the land and the absence of human presence is awesome.
I finally spot the tiny specks of a dog team on the thread of trail running the vast white expanse.
Theres a second team visible against the pressure ridges on the ice below us. Our plane shadow now appears centered in the rainbow sundog as the clouds move in again.
Approaching Koyuks hills and trees we spot several teams moving across the ice, yes, its Ellie heading into Koyuk at 11:15 a.m. Shes down to 11 dogs. She dropped Asosa, one of the little girls who was missing her partner Mendi who was dropped earlier.
We landed at Koyuk and learned that Anna Bondarenko scratched, part of her team was in season and the rest were in love.
Ellies team came in happy, rolling in the snow and wagging their tails. The checkers moved her team behind the library and promptly brought her drop bags, straw and water while the vets went over her team. Its 0° with gusty winds cold, cold, cold.
Its time for us to hit the trail into White Mountain. At least the trail out of Koyuk will be in rolling hills with trees, some protection from the wind.
White Mountain has a population of 203 people. Its located on the Fish River and it is well populated with spruce. We flew over many white mountains before we reached the green one called White Mountain.
The sheen of the sun on the ice of Norton Sound looks like hammered gold, befitting this area.
Joel and Marc, our ADN team, were waiting to be picked up. Jon visited with Howard Lincoln, the checker at White Mountain for a long time. Howard hosted Jon on both his 76 and 79 races and is still greeting mushers at the checkpoint today.
The Otter is now carrying its limit of 10 passengers and their personal gear. The rest of our gang is flying in the three super cubs and on commercial Bering Air flights, all heading to Nome.
The Serum Run Mushers were still camped at White Mountain waiting for a break in the winds on Topkok Mountain. From the air we see wind driven snow obscuring the peak not a good sign.
Onward to Nome. We follow the coastline north spotting several teams. Marc is always looking for perfect shots and Paul is willing to assist. We made a low pass to catch a team and also caught some strong gusts in the Blow Hole area that bounced us around a little. We spot a couple more teams approaching Safety, just 22 miles from Nome.
Its fun to see the route I traveled by snowmachine a few years ago in blizzard conditions. Nome is drawing near, we see all the fish camps along the shore.
Our attention is caught by large churned areas in the snow. On closer inspection its the local reindeer herds. Theyre greatly diminished from the heydays of the 1930s. Lately most of the reindeer have been joining the migrating caribou herds and just leaving.
Howard Farleys fish camp is now in view. Howard was last years Honorary Musher for his part in the first Iditarod Race. Howard was also the first guest speaker for the Balto programs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1985, my first year of involvement with the museum. He told me I really should move to Alaska, it took me a while but I finally took his advice.
The cluster of buildings that house Nomes 3, 505 inhabitants come into view. We land on the sea ice near the Nome National Forest, a collection of old Christmas trees planted in the sea ice.
We scrambled up the banks and onto Front Street with the sound of the siren blaring to welcome the incoming mushers. We were in time to see Jason Barron and Aaron Burmeister arrive in town. Then we checked in at Iditarod Headquarters greeting old friends and scanning the current trail updates. Theres a huge list of activities happening in town and old friends to visit and mushers to welcome.
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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