Thursday, May 8, 2014

Iditarod 2014

(above) Drew assessing slope at Sampson Creek, looking northwest, through tilted iPhone.

        Like children at the beach running to the wave, Drew, Chelsea and I rode snow-machines tipsily towards the historic finish of Iditarod XLII at three in the morning. Drew wore Adidas with gym socks on his feet, and his colleague Chelsea rode two-up (whatever that means) on the back of a rather dimunitive Yamaha Bravo, through the same arctic -blizzard that had, a few hours earlier, taken four-time champion Jeff King out of the race. For all we knew, Aliy Zirkle and Dallas Seavey were around the next corner battling for first place, and we were the three slushes about to get tangled up in the historic finish.
      "This is blowing it! Let's turn around now before it's too late!"
       Surreal wind, pixellating long-term memory, the trip back wreathed in the fuzzy gauze of ground blizzard, the children running back from the wave without wetting their feet. Back at the Bering Sea Bar & Grill, we were amazed at how soon musher Dallas Seavey appeared behind us.  We must have narrowly avoided a faux pas.  Everyone was zonked out at 5 in the morning, Dallas Seavey most of all. Aliy Zirkle, with her beautiful second-place finish, wins the KigsMusher of the Year Award..

(left) My shadow is pointing east toward Sampson Creek.

        Drew, flown in for Iditarod from nearby waterlocked summits of Beringia and already fully embedded in the GLUE OF NOME, was hot to ski something. The bowls out back of Engstrom's Mountain seemed within range of a stretching GLUE-TENDRIL of town, and seemed also as if they might contain the UNPACKED we so desperately craved, so we calculated an escape vector from the Iditarod and roared off on our dreadful Hogs over bare, icy trails to a Monday appointment at Sampson Creek, near Mile 18 of the Kougarak Road, just past the most death-trappy spot on the whole 65-mile long road, an elevated gravel ramp way off the deck, guarded by an inquisitive troll that lives on a knoll in a mansion above the Nome River, and comes out to greet you should you slow your vehicle down.
       No Jackson Hole to be found at Sampson Creek. We did hydro-frack a few turns between ice patches in the upper bowls, and had entirely too much fun in the half-pipe of the creek, but the run wasn't even as good as the runs at Drew's home area on Sivuqaq. I had let Drew down, as well as under-represented Nome's skiing potential to a visiting dignitary. So, right then and there, an Iditarod ski-salvage trip was planned to Tom's Cabin, an idyllic bowl in the next valley to the west.  But first, it was back into the GLUE-STREAM sucking us back toward the fleshpots of town, and the flagrant Iditarod shenanigans awaiting us there.

(left) Drew's tracks at Sampson Creek. Due to low snow deepening the parabolic curve, it's been a fine year for half-pipes.

       Drew and I were to be joined on our skiing expedition to Tom's Cabin by the dog team of Janet Balice, winner of the GETTING OUT THE MOST AWARD for three seasons running now, plus Janet's daughter and new mushing partner, Chisana.  In lead dog position, the redoubtable DIBELS, one of Nome's top ten lead dogs of all time. Riding with me on the Bearcat, Lucy, the Tschingel of the Kigs, shmooshed up between the cowling and my body, learning to throw her weight out on the turns.
(above) Tom's, March 13, 2014. Dibels, Janet, Chisana, Lucy, Drew.

      Surely the enchanted bowl of Tom's would have snow.  Yes it did!  Snow that makes a sifting sound like that of silk, a distinct blanket, Utah powder, Hatcher Pass, sweet cherry pow pow, a foot deep. The souwesters off the Bering Sea slam into Monument Ridge and gently sift the powder grains into the big lee of the bowl, especially down a northeast-facing draw of which Drew and I found ourselves swishing and swashing for great moments of giddiness that didn't last long enough, this isn't the Nevada side of Heavenly here, folks. But redeemed, redeemed we were, and Nome skiing was redeemed as well, and our skis were sated, at least for the nonce, as we swooped down into the maw of Monument Creek, and made the short up to the cabin, to have some tea, and another run.
(above) Dogs at Tom's cabin

       We executed difficult climbing moves inside the cabin to avoid getting burned by the stove as we writhed about in the LED darkness trying to locate items, at least half the party hampered by possible diagnoses of A.D.D., but nevertheless drinking deeply of life and slush beers, and all departing friends.
(above) Kigsblog staff photographer Raina McRae skiing in Dry Creek, Nome, Alaska, Iditarod 2014, staff Mountaineering Dog Lucy in tow. In the background, bare frames from World War II barracks.

     In the midst of the Iditarod fun torrents, these totally cool Olympic dudes from Nananordic showed up like Pied Pipers with a boatload of skis and boots for children, and led the little Nomens out into the lashing wind for some inspired ski lessons. My students got to miss class the week before Iditarod. I joked with them that our visitors would be "Super-Olympians" on account of Lars, the director, actually being in the Olympics twice, but a few days later, I would get to see the moniker was actually true.

     It was the last Sunday of Iditarod-week before the dread return to work. Drew had already returned to the island. I had not yet recovered from the  shock-absorber workout at Tom's Cabin, when I got the call from Tyler:  Bear Mountain was on! The whole gang would be coming, Tyler, Keith, Jeff, but also Lars Flora, afore-mentioned Johnny Appleseed of rural Alaskan skiing. I boasted of Drew's and my powderific runs at Tom's on Friday and Saturday, but by the time we got up the mountain Sunday, Mr. Wind had returned and was moving the snow across the slopes in dunes, big traveling dollops of powder snow that exposed bare patches of ice between them, so that you might have enough snow for  one and a half tele turns before you came clattering out onto bare ice fighting for your edges. March winds made everything frostbitey as we took off skins. Tyler and Lars disappeared into the clouds while the rest of us prepared to thrash our way down the difficult conditions.

    Minutes later, I watched Lars descend out of the clouds:  he was riding telemarks! He would dig in on the snow dollops, and then leap onto the ice patches, and back into the snow dollops, without any interruption of movement, from one island of traction to the next. On Monday, I told my students:  "Yeah, that guy Lars can ski!"  At that moment, he was putting the skis on the plane for Gambell, where he was scheduled to meet up with the students of...  Drew!


(above) Kigsblog Chief Editor Allapa on the lower part of Bear Mountain earlier this Spring.

This post is the putrefactant which has caused such a blockage in the intestines of Kigsblog. Hopefully, now that the infectious mass has been purged through publication, Kigsblog may flow more freely once again in order to report the other momentous adventures of this rather odd Winter season. 

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