Rookie Iditarod: White Mountain - Nome
The race bib that I wore at the start was taken from me all the way back at Yentna, 40 miles into the race. 900 miles later, we were in White Mountain, reunited with that bib and set to take off just after mid day for our final 80 miles. The sky was clear and wind was blowing as we booted up for the last time. I knew that the trail ahead was not going to be easy, many teams have had their race ended by this last stretch, and I pulled the hook at White Mountain with a healthy respect for what was to come. The team couldn’t have looked better leaving the checkpoint, and as was standard at this point, we were headed straight for another set of hills.
The first ten miles or so was fairly flat, on a trail as wide as a two lane road, but boy was it drifty. We were all hyped up on adrenaline heading into the hills, no need to leave any energy left on the table anymore, and we poured it all out there. It WAS hilly. Don’t ever think that the coast is going to be flat, every run we have had since Unalakleet has had some really good climbs. As we battled up hills, the wind was constantly trying to push us off the side of the trail, the trail itself slanted in the direction that the wind was blowing. So, there was no ‘taking it easy’.
I was off the sled, running while using the ski pole to remain from falling over, and my head was hunched over as we submitted the last big climb. I hopped back onto the runners once flat, hurled over the handlebars to catch my breathe. When I came up, I looked out and down and there was the ocean! It came all of the way to the base of the hill that we were now careening down, and I remember being able to make out waves from all the way up there. From that point on we would be hugging the shoreline, a stones throw away from frigid arctic ocean water. A race judge had previously told me that if I could look out and see the three different shelter cabins from the peak, that the wind wouldn’t be that bad. If I couldn’t see the cabins, I should button everything down.
I could see the cabins that he was talking about, but by the time I got down to sea level, the wind was whipping. It was the strongest wind we had ever been in, for nearly ten miles, we were plowing through the ‘blow hole’! The trail was still double wide, but more or less indistinguishable. The wind was blowing so much snow so fast that I couldn’t see through the wind cloud to see the ground. The typical Iditarod trail markers would never survive this wind, so there were 20 foot tall wooden poles lining the left side of the trail every 40 feet or so. By the time we passed one, the next would appear. I was kneeling down on my runners to prevent being a sail, and had my ruff folded over the right side of my face. That blow hole was trying to send us out to sea, pushing hard from the right, but my dogs had other plans!
Louisa and Wyatt were unforgettable in the way they led that courageous team through the wind. They not only kept us moving strong, they were literally leaning into the wind, and running on the right side of the trail! This meant that as my sled was being pushed left, it never drifter far enough to lose the trail. It couldn’t have been a better experience for those young dogs to have such confident leaders up front who were setting the example. I didn’t want to stop, for fear of losing momentum, but once we made it through the severe wind, I stopped quickly to hug the dogs and let them know that I was still there all pepped up! And off we went towards safety.
The original race plan had us taking a rest in Safety, but the checkpoint came up faster than expected, and the team was just looking awesome! We were still moving 9mph, and now running towards an absolutely beautiful sunset hanging over cape Nome. There was one last little climb just outside of Safety, at the top of which the city light of Nome appeared. All of the emotions that I had been suppressing the whole race came flooding over me, and there was nothing I could do to hold it all back anymore. Down the other side and another 10 miles run along the coast. Up onto front street. It was midnight as we sprinted to the finish, passing by a hand full of partiers on their way to or from the local bars. Many ‘Welcome to Nome’s, and ‘Congratulaions’.
In the most cliche way imaginable, I was speechless. Had I arrived in Nome 9 days earlier, I could have talked for hours, but having gone through the entire experience and seeing everything I had seen, watching how happy and healthy that dog team looked the entire time, It was simply overwhelming to try to comprehend our journey coming to a close. I didn’t want it to end.