The sky opened up for us on our run from Koyuk to Elim, for the first time in what felt like the whole race. Literally, it had been cloudy and snowy for nine days, and as we began to climb the mountain ten miles outside of Koyuk, the clouds parted. It was amazing to see the strength that my team had that far into the race. Leaning in to their harnesses, everyone working their butts off, I’m behind the sled running and pushing up every last hill. Coming down from those mountains, I looked out over the flats in front of us, and another group of hills on the northern horizon that we were making our way towards. Those turned out to be the hills we would climb immediately upon leaving Elim.
The 20 or so miles leading into Elim were flat, and beautiful. Mountains in front and beind, the sea ice just off to our left, and little cabins here and there off the trail. We passed a group of fat bikers who were cycling the trail in reverse, and each time stopped to say hello and provide a smile. We were just so much ‘out there’, that you have to stop when encountering another human, gather a bit of their story, provide a slice of yours, and wish each other happy trails. Again, my young yearling team was cruising! Our approach to Elim had us on a local road heading up hill, and there I was standing on the drag mat to keep the team from sprinting…up hill…
Upon cresting that small hill leading in to Elim, the town appeared and its size immediately surprised me. It was larger than I was expecting. We were breaking speed records on our runs, and then race judge at Elim welcomed us by joking, “Two hour time penalty…For going to fast.” We parked our team, and as I removed booties, put down straw, gave snacks to the team, I talked with the kids from Elim and told them everything they wanted to know. I told them they were welcome to hang out and ask me any questions but they had to keep up with me because I was going to keep doing my job! They were all very nice and respectable kids, many of them asking me to put my autograph on their winter coats or winter gloves.
8 hour rest at Elim, and we were ready to rock n roll our way over to White Mountain, leaving around 2am. The skies were still clear when I was booting up that night, so it felt chilly. I still left with no parka on because I knew about the hills that were coming up. Little McKinley it is called. The truth is that we never went up a hill that I could distinguish as being little denali, because the entire first 20 miles were up hill! It was a good healthy climb, with a star lit sky that we had been missing all along. I loved it. Getting up onto the ridge line and seeing a starry horizon in every direction, temps around 0 and wind in my face, having such a warm race so far it actually felt cold!!.
We battled our way up all of the hills, fighting against slanted trail and side hill, and as we breached the peak I looked down and could see city light. It was Golovin. We dropped down the hill, flew down an empty main street, and emptied out onto Golovin Bay for our approach to White Mountain. Coming down from those mountains, we descended into temperatures we hadn’t seen all race. It was frigid, I had to stop the team to snack, my thermometer read -20, which is fairly normal in Alaska, but when your not used to it it felt colder than I had ever been! Out came the parka, I hadn’t worn it since….day one?! The dogs picked it up when the temp fell and our run into White Mountain was totally smooth. We crossed Golovin Bay under a stream of beautiful northern lights. It was starting to look like icing on the cake.
The dogs just seemed untouchable, Louisa had been in lead the entire time, her brother Wyatt up their with her 90% of the time, and we were about to pull into the last checkpoint of our Iditarod. Okay is it still to soon to be getting emotional?! I have really enjoyed writing these little recaps, being able to relive all of the little moments that make up to sum, it all makes me emotional even sitting here in the coffee shop in Juneau! White Mountain was welcoming, the musher sleeping area smelled really bad (like mushers), I got to pee in a cup to prove my sobriety, and I got my race bib back so I could wear it on my approach to the finish line only 80 miles away!
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