Musher on Puntilla Lake
Bob Jones heads
for Nome again
âYou suppose theyâre tired of me yet,â Bob Jones laughs.
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Is the 72-year-old Jones talking about his upcoming 13th snow machine trip over the Iditarod Trail to Nome sweet Nome or those journal logs he writes for this newspaper?
No chance, Bob. Not you.
Steel yourselves, folks. The Kettle Falls man is almost back on the Iditarod Trail again. Jones left on Feb. 29 for Anchorage and the start of the Last Great Race on March 3 from the outskirts of Anchorage.
Jones, a well known character on the Iditarod Trail and one of the few who navigates the rugged Alaska back country on a snow machine during racetime, canât think of a place heâd rather be than on that cold, desolate and forboding Iditarod Trail. Yes, the Iditarod and Jones were made for each other.
Jones, who never told anybody that he remembered all 72 of his birthdays, can tell you in great detail the history and histrionics of those dozen previous trips north.
Jones loves Alaska and the people associated with the IditarodâŠso the recollections are quick and the stories long.
Itâs an easy call that Jones can recall in great detail every one of his trips (both solo and with partners) on a snow machine along an Iditarod trail north or south, chasing the mushers in the worldâs greatest dog sled race.
Jones rode the 1,150-mile trail to Nome with his buddy, Harley Douglas, last year. This time around, his son-in-law, Josh Rindal of Mt. Vernon, will be along for his own ride.
âHeâll be a pleasure to take along on his first Iditarod,â Jones said last week. âHeâs a big, tough guy and Iâm not. Weâre both stoked for the tripâŠIâm as stoked as I can getâŠthis is part of meâgood or bad.
âYou know, a guy is really lucky to have something to do at 72,â Jones quips.
Jones also figures heâs been lucky to have good riding partners over the years.
âThe most important thing up there is to have a good partner,â he says. âItâs like finding a good hunting partner. It may be more important than finding a good wife.â
Not too many AARP immersed senior citizens would have a Bakerâs Dozen worth of Iditarod trips on a snow machine on any Bucket Lists.
Just call this Jonesâ annual Bucket List check-off.
The real race starts on March 3 in Wasilla and will wend its way across the so-called northern route and through some of the most beautiful, dangerous and remote country known to manâor woman. The terminus is the Arctic outpost of Nome.
The mushers and their dogs will take from 10 to 15 days. Jones and Rindal will take 28 to 30 days to ride the trail round-trip.
âWe donât always do it round-trip (this will be his sixth round trip on the trail), but we are this year,â adds Jones, a skilled freelance photographer who plans to stay ahead of the mushers and their teams, at least early in the race.
He and his partners are the only people to have ever ridden the trail round-trip.
âWe are going to speed up and try to stay with them,â Jones, one of maybe a half-dozen to ride the route on a snow machine, says. âWe arenât going behind them this year. I want to get in the middle of the pack. Itâs easier to get photos that way.
âFrom about 350 miles out, we donât see any dogs because they are goneâout ahead. Weâll try and change that.â
Jones, who has chronicled his previous trips with hundreds of photos, wants more shots of the mushers and their teams.
For those counting at home, Jones figures heâs close to the 20,000-mile mark on the trail in a snow machine.
Thatâs a lot of bad trail, frozen rivers, heavy forest, tundra, jagged mountain ranges and miles and miles of windswept coastline through whiteouts and temperatures well below zero.
Too cold for zero? Itâs never too cold for Jones. He thrives in this environment. Donât ask him about summers back in Northeast Washington.
âToo hot,â he says.
Heâd much rather immerse himself in Iditarod back-country culture and a few more photo ops.
For the uninitiated, the Iditarod Trail is anything but a fun ride to Nome.
âLike always, weâll have some good trail and some badâŠit has been a long, cold winter in Alaska. We are just going to have to see what the trail has in store for us. Itâs 1,100 miles of varying depths of snow and a four-foot wide snow crust packed a little by snow machines. And when spring comes, itâs gone. The Iditarod trail is nothing more than a path on top of snow heading to Nome.â
The path to Nome is definitely not paved with good intentions. Jones has had more than his share of spills with the trail thrills.
Jones, known along the trail by the locals who recognize him by the familiar yellow coat, will ride on a two-stroke Arctic Cat this time around.
âThere is always bare ground along the trail and iceâŠitâs easier with a two-stroke,â Jones says.
Jones is looking forward to The Last Great Race, or in his case, the Last Great Chase.
At this point in my life, itâs one at a time.â
Heâs looking forward to returning on the trail in his snow machine, instead of flying over it from Nome back to Anchorage.
âItâs a different trip coming back,â Jones adds. âWhen we leave Nome and head back, everything will look different. Youâre doing it in reverseâŠthe vistas and scenery are entirely different. Itâs just a gorgeous trip forward or backward.â
Jones will be submitting periodic journal entries for the S-E along the trail to Nome and back to Anchorage.