When the twins called home after the finish, they had a lot to share but largely in soundbites. Here is what they had to share when everything was still fresh and they hadn't yet caught up on sleep.
Arriving in Nome was such a wonderful feeling. Both of the twins were so grateful to have comfy beds, showers, and warm meals with the Alaska Mission. Although Kristy and Anna have had some wonderful host families in the recent past, being back at the mission is welcome. It's right outside the finish line on Front St. so they can easily pop out and cheer on other finishers, and it's close to the dog lot where their finishing pups hung out until they were flown home.
Kristy launched into a story about her sled being launched by the wind while facing the winds along the coast. Her sled was literally lifted up and blown over three times. At other times, her sled was sliding sideways, perpendicular to her dog team. Eventually, she cut something off the caboose section of her sled and stuffed it in the sled bag. It was just catching more wind and likely to snap off at any time anyway.
I asked about the "whoops" - an actual motocross term for a long series of evenly spaced bumps often 1-2 feet tall - that mushers reported encountering earlier in the race. Anna said at times her sled was groaning like an old ship, but it held together. In all, the twins didn't think the whoops were all that bad. Better than the ice and dirt out on the Burn.
See any critters out there? An owl, some eagles. Snow buntings. Some big wolf tracks near Galena. But otherwise not very much by way of animal sightings.
Which is a blessing. Most sections of North America that have moose were reporting problems with them this winter. Snow and food conditions made the moose ornery, and scary encounters or downright attacks were reported from Minnesota to Alaska over the season. It can be particularly daunting with a dog team. Dogs and sleds move very silently down the trail, and if you round a tree-lined corner and come upon a moose, you startle them. Fight or flight kicks in, and when deep snow or trees prevent flight, prepare for a very scary fight. Moose have been known to attack and trample dog teams.
The twins were among many mushers with moose on their minds. In addition to flare guns, the twins also carried a .357 with them the first 352 miles to Ophir, where it was left with a friend after the most moose prone territory was left behind.
Rule 34 in Iditarod addresses encounters with game animals. A musher is allowed to carry a firearm and kill an animal in defense of life or property. If an edible animal is killed, the musher must gut the animal and report the incident at the next checkpoint, where officials will retrieve the animal for local use. Any team coming upon this situation must at the least stop and cannot pass and is encouraged to assist dressing the game animal if wiling and able. Apparently musher Matt Failor had to do just that this year, and pulled into Nulato up to his elbows in blood from dressing a moose and with quite a story to tell.
Anna and Kristy had some cute stories to tell about their attempts to be good sportswomen out on the trail. They loaned one musher a knife and a few spare dog jackets. Another musher scored when they gave him some extra runner plastic. They got the ok from Iditarod officials to loan one of their race GPS trackers to Reily Dyche for a while when his quit working. And at one checkpoint, volunteers found a headlamp battery in some straw recently vacated by Matt Hall. They gave it to the twins and they were happy to tuck it away and run it up to him in the next checkpoint. He was grateful.
It sounds like Ophir wasn't an ideal place to 24 this year. There was only a small tent with 8 bunks, and 12 mushers looking to dry out gear and get some sleep when the twins arrived. They ultimately went outside under some spruce trees to get a little shelter from the snow, unrolled their packs near the resupply area, and crashed out. There is a pic, below, of where the twins were sleeping. They started a few people that came along digging through drop bags and weren't expecting people to pop out of snowy sleeping bags!
They talked about snow and trail conditions. In addition to the things I mentioned so far by way of ice and dirt, and the snow whoops, they talked a lot about the snow and drifts they encountered. 20 miles out of Cripple, race mile 425, the drifts "were like meringue" and when they hit the trail, there was absolutely no sign of a musher that had pulled out just an hour and a half before.
Overall, the twins seemed happy with their race plan and how they executed it. They really enjoyed their stay at the Tripod Shelter cabin, which had been in prior year's race plans but didn't come to fruition. They had the cabin to themselves for the majority of their rest, and found enough dry wood in the nearby woods to get a fire going in the small stove.
They reported some frustrating problems with the dog meat in the drop bags through the second half of the race. There was evidence the bags were exposed to a freeze/thaw/freeze cycle, so they had to avoid anything they packed that was too fatty (like chicken) and might have gone bad. Fortunately they both had packed plenty of fish and high protein endurance kibble, which hold up far better in those circumstances.
They really enjoyed the prime rib and Brussels sprouts in Ophir, and pancakes with bacon in Unalakleet. In Shaktoolik, their accommodations were actually in the armory where someone had built bunks with real mattresses. They both laughed - we were so spoiled and actually had real mattresses 3 times this year!! The musher cabin in Rainy Pass was memorable (outside of all the time they spent working on Anna's busted sled), and White Mountain for their final 8-hour was far more comfortable than they had been led to expect.
They talked about a dicey bit of trail outside of Elim, on the coast and some 852 miles into the race. A musher had reported a dangerous break in the ice with open water, and search and rescue went out to assess. They built a makeshift bridge to help get across, but by the time the twins and many later mushers got there, it was more of a floating dock bridging the gap. Some mushers had a rough go of it, but the twins got lucky going through at night when the moon and tides kept the worst of the water at bay. Those tides mean a difference between navigating a span of 2 feet of water versus 20 feet.
Otherwise, it sounded like a reasonably dry race compared to some years. The only bad overflow they encountered was out of Rohn. And temperatures weren't too bad either. For girls that have seen -65 ambient air temps, -20F (or -30F with windchill) is more tolerable and about the worst they saw this year.
They were so happy to travel the traditional trail all the way to Nome again, and said all the villagers they saw from a distance but still along the trail were super supportive. The Iditarod is a bright spot in a very long winter for these communities.
So after a week of unpacking after a 975 mile race, tending to all the dogs in the kennel, what else do you think these two are doing? Analyzing aspect of Iditarod 2022 and making plans for Iditarod 2023.
With that, it's time for this Mad Blogger to sign off. On behalf of Seeing Double, I want to sincerely thank the twins' sponsors, fans, and friends for everything you do. Thank you race organizers, veterinarians, and volunteers. Thanks to the villagers and the trail breaking crew. Thanks to Andy, Aaron, and Courtney for taking such great care of things at the kennel while Anna and Kristy were out on the trail.
Thank you to the dogs, without which this race would be neither possible nor worthwhile.
Life's a journey, enjoy the ride. Thanks for coming on this journey with me.
See you next year!
a.k.a Seeing Double's Mad Blogger and Not-A-Twin Sister