It's a nice day in Nome, with the sun shining bright and the temps above zero. There's been a flurry of furry activity on Front Street as team after team pull in. There's a siren in town that goes off when the next approaching musher is 2 miles out, giving officials and fans time to get ready. It's been going off regularly throughout the day and the dog lot is quickly changing from a ghost town to a bustling canine metropolis.
Kristy and Anna pulled out of Elim at 2:42pm this afternoon, Thursday March 15th. They were reported out in 43rd and 44th places and each still have 12 dogs. As of this writing, they're near race mile 810, leaving them 30 miles until they pull into White Mountain and their final 8 hour mandatory layover. Given the speed they've been traveling plus what I know about the remaining section of trail, I expect them to arrive late Friday afternoon to early evening. Don't worry, I've already rescheduled my return flight to Saturday night! I'm no stranger to taking a few chances, but risk missing their arrival I will not!! I had also better not let it slip to the twins how much cash I've dropped during this Iditarod, or next year they may just request a check in lieu of face-to-face sisterly support! Hah!
Our friend Scott is also still out on the trail, back ahead of the twins and near race mile 830. He pulled out of Elim a little after noon today in 40th place and still has 13 dogs on the team. 32 teams have finished in Nome, leaving 21 still out on the trail and 13 scratched. Of the teams that have finished, most had between 9 and 11 dogs, with a couple pulling in with 13 and one down to 7.
The section of trail that Scott and the twins just completed contains the hardest climb of the race's second half, taking them to roughly 1,000 feet at Little McKinley. The winds near Nome aren't bad at all right now, but I suspect they're gusting pretty good where they're at. Having finished that climb, they should be enjoying a fairly quick, uneventful run the rest of the way into White Mountain. I'm sure mushers and dogs alike will welcome the final 8 hour mandatory stop before tackling the 55 mile run to Safety.
And what about our friend Paul, you may ask? As I'm sure you noticed, Paul joined me in Nome Wednesday March 14th at 6:35pm Alaska time. He pulled under the burled arch with 10 solid dogs and together Team Gebhardt claimed 15th place after 10 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes and 48 seconds. Some mushers are able to travel with a team of handlers and are able to pass off their dogs right after finishing in favor of such luxuries as showers and hot meals. Not Paul, and it is clear to me he has instilled this in my sisters. As soon as his sled came to a stop and he set his brake, before talking to the cameras or doing his gear check, he promptly walked down his team of dogs, thanking each one for making the journey with him. You could also tell he was assessing each dog to make sure there was nothing they needed immediately before heading back to his sled and finishing up the people-portion of the race.
I did what I could to help Paul in the dog yard, both for the experience and knowledge it gave me and because I'm not one to sit around while a friend needs a hand. Together with Aaron, friend of the kennel and handler working for Dean (and thus with Anna), we helped Paul tend to each dog. Booties were removed and handed out to kids and other fans that gathered at the entrance to the dog yard. Jackets were taken off and straw beds lined up. Each dog got a snack followed by a steaming bowl of meat stew and kibble. All of the dogs had hearty appetites, although you could tell they were really excited about curling up for a long winter's nap. Two vets came by and carefully looked over each dog, also having Paul put them on a leash and run them a short ways to check their gait. They seemed pleased by the condition of his team.
It was only after his dogs were fed and snoozing away did Paul make his way to the Nugget for a quick shower and a change of clothes. And then we practically had to run to keep up with him as we made our way to a small local cafe for dinner. The smile on Paul's face when he spotted the salad bar was like a kid at Christmas, and I have seen many a musher sitting hunched over a heaping plate of salad. This is a common craving after so many days out on a trail where your odds of getting any fresh vegetables are near lottery levels.
It has been neat hearing Paul's stories from out on the trail, and I look forward to being a fly on the wall when Kristy and Anna arrive and all 3 of them start comparing their tales from the trail. Time and again, Paul has noted how cold it was out there. This was a "true Iditarod" with the kind of weather that helps make this race legendary, making Anna's rookie run similar to what Kristy experienced 2 years ago.
With the clock nearing 6:30pm, I suspect Paul is getting ready to go check on his dogs and feed them some dinner. I'm going to lend a hand, so that's all for this posting. I will upload a bunch of pictures to Flickr later so you'll have some visuals to go along with my endless babbling, but here's a few to tide you over.