Saturday, March 3, 2012
Day 1. 25º degrees
Editor’s note: Bob Jones is off again on yet another Iditarod sled dog adventure on a snowmobile. During the race from Willow, Alaska (50 miles north of Anchorage to the rough and tumble old gold mining town of Nome 1,100 miles north, Jones will chronicle via diary and photos his latest run through the outback of rugged Alaska. Jones, 72, of Kettle Falls, has established several benchmarks during his chase of what has been called The Last Great Race. His March in Alaska marks the 100th Alaska visit for Jones, who has logged more than 20,000 miles following the 950-mile to 1,100 mile race to Nome. He started chasing the dog teams and mushers on the Iditarod Trail back in 1995. At this point, he’s well known to villagers along the North and South trails of the race.
We planned to have our machines and gear on the ground at Knik Lake by 10 a.m. so we could get an 11 a.m. start up the trail. But getting out on time is a very tall order.
We awoke to a dank day of heavy overcast skies and a steady sprinkling of snow in Wasilla. It stayed that way as we took our equipment to Knik Lake and spent a couple of hours doing the final packing. We saw three individual moose feeding in snow above their knees along the Knik-Goose Bay road on our way down. There is plenty of the white stuff in this country this winter.
We finally got the packing-up done and got on the trail at 1:15 p.m., two hours and some change later than planned. It snowed heavily a couple of days ago, and there hadn’t been many snow machines on the trails since then. We made our way out to the historic Iditarod Trail to Flathorn Lake and on to the Big Susitna River without seeing a single other machine.
Traffic increased dramatically when we hit the mouth of the Yenta River and turned north to follow it to Skwentna. I got terminally stuck a couple of miles short of Yenta Station, and when I stepped off the machine, I went in above my waist. Josh and I worked for an hour getting me out, and then he immediately got stuck worse than I had been. We finally staggered into the Station and they told us that it had snowed thirty inches two days ago. And that was on top of the big load that was already there.
Yentna Station was packed with all the Iditarod volunteers, as usual, and Jim Gallea of Seeley Lake, Montana, was the first person I bumped into when I got through the door. Jim and his mother take turns mushing dogs from their kennel to Nome every year, and I’ve run into him out on the trail many times.
Josh and I each had a very welcome cold beer, to the tune of five bucks each, and got back on the trail. But not before making arrangements to camp here on our return trip from Nome. It was now completely dark and the trail could be seen much better in our headlights. The fact that we had a hard time seeing the scant trail in the flat light of late afternoon resulted in our getting off the trail and getting stuck in the deep powder.
We finally rolled into our quarters for this first night on the trail at the Skwentna Roadhouse at 9:30 p.m. Dinner was hot and ready and we dished up our plates in the kitchen. There were only four of us for dinner and it was a great feed. Half of the tables in the kitchen were covered with a dozen varieties of desserts.
Midnight came fast. The thing I hate about getting to the Roadhouse late in the evening is that we don’t get to spend enough time here. The food is great, the rooms are warm and dry, and there are always enough characters around to make any evening an interesting one. This is one of the old-time, classic roadhouses of old Alaska.
The Iditarod Trail Breakers came through yesterday, which put them up the trail after the big storm. That might mean that the trail north of here will be much better than the trail was from Knik out here. We are hoping!
Josh got Room 205 and I got Room 201. The wireless was working, so I wrote up the events of this first day and turned in at 1 a.m., under clear skies and a temperature of plus 15º.