ITI 2010 (4): Yukon


Day 10 - 12, Ruby - Kaltag: ~160 miles.

If only I had a snow machine. When we left Ruby and dropped on to the Yukon I would have been able to pin the throttle and relax.  But I didn’t.  It seems like everytime you do this kind of thing you are always wishing for something else. Sometimes you wish for skis, bigger rims, lighter bike, better gear, snowshoes, snow machines maybe even a plane.  It was still flat and pretty fast for a bike, a striking contrast from the hills and interior leading up to the Yukon.  It was cold too, no contrast there.  The Yukon was pretty exhilarating, in a sense it meant back in civilization and the beginning of a new section while ticking off one of the most difficult.  Kind of like getting over Rainy Pass.

Galena came fast in about 10 hrs, the time was in fact 5:01pm.  Exactly one minute too late to retrieve my mail drop. The post master would not give me my box.  Another one of those contrasts; compared to rolling in to Ruby where the post master delivered our boxes after hours.   Galena is a pretty large village and while I was not able to retrieve my drop I was able to go to the store and buy enough food to get to Kaltag.  I didn’t think it was necessary to send drops at every village since the stores were more than sufficient and even if I missed a store I always had enough to last me to the next village.  This was a lot easier when I hit the coast simply because I knew each store, snack bar, food spot and their hours in all the villages from Unalakleet to Nome.  

An interesting sidebar was that I received my drop from Galena back in Nome about a week ago.  It had a return to sender notification on it.  Kind of like Christmas, lots of goodies and my expensive lithiums!

I stopped in at the local eatery in Galena and JP and Tracy were eating there as well.  Understandably, I was sure they wanted to do their own thing so I decided to take a B&B instead of the Iditarod Checkpoint.  It was a great thing. There is nothing quite like stepping into a world of normalcy.  The B&B was quiet, relaxed, warm and right next to the trail so I didn’t have to back track anywhere.   It was fantastically hospitable and one of my best rests.  I organized my bike and laid my clothes out to dry next to a wood stove.   My gear was soaked from the exertion to try to make the post office before closing. The host was used to Iron Dog racers so she had a great drying rack system.  I ate and ate some more than slept fitfully for four hours and got up at 2 am.  It was day 11 and  I was on the trail by 4 am.  I wanted to make Kaltag in one shot so I tried to get out as early as possible.  It was also really super cold.  This was the only stretch that I had to put my overboots on for the cold.

I heard reports of -50 that day but it was probably closer to -40.   I was able to ride but noticed my tires were soft, really soft. It didn’t act like a flat tire, just lost air after a couple of hours.  It was no fun airing up my tires on the Yukon periodically, though I was happy I didn't have to replace a tube. At those temperatures things snap and break much too easily. I had to make sure my pump was warm (next to my body) but without moisture ( difficult when sweating) in it before slapping it on the valve stem.  JP and Tracy passed me around 1pm or so close to Koyukuk and then we played tag all the way to Nulato about 3-4 pm.  It was early but I needed to check out my tires and switch out tubes so I stopped.  The Petervary’s also decided to dry out and retrieve their drop.  It was a great stop as the Iditarod checkpoint is the school gym and has lots of room.  Everyone was super nice.   I dried out my gear and changed a tube with some trouble.  I had one of the larger tubes and it didn’t seem like it would set on the bead. JP said just to keep airing it up and eventually it set.  I aired up the old tube and there was no hole or leak I could see.  I suppose it was so cold the air density or something with the tube changed characteristics or maybe the valve stem.  JP had the same issue the following day too so it must be something with the cold. 

We left Nulato relatively at the same time somewhere around 6 or 7 pm.  This was the first time Iditarod actually caught up with us, at least the trail breaking snow machines.  They left Nulato a little before us and the trail went from hard packed to mush.  We all aired our tires up super hard thinking it was going to be a fast trail and it was not, unfortunately.  Sort of an air up and air down kind of trail.   This sucked because I realized it was going to be a long night.  The trail of about 40 miles from Nulato to Kaltag went from a grind into a push.  The temperature dropped as twilight turned to night and kept on dropping.   I ground furiously for about 4 hours and built up a huge sweat. JP and Tracy passed me again and the grind slowly turned to a push.   The time was around 2 am and it was getting cold.  22 hours since I left Galena.  The lights of Kaltag were visible but didn’t get closer, the last nine miles were an extremely tiring cold push with typical sleep deprivation hallucinations and dejavu.  Here is what I hallucinated about...

                                                              Hawaii with family 

I had to put on a  my seal skin hat and puffy coat on as I wasn't really generating enough heat pushing. I needed to make Kaltag soon. In Galena the B&B host told me that if I get into Kaltag I could knock on the Burnhams door and they would probably welcome me in.  I heard their name before as a friend of a friend or some odd thing.  I relayed that info to JP while we were in Nulato if they couldn’t find a place.   My intention, however, was to crash at the Iditarod checkpoint, if possible, or at the school. When I stumbled into Kaltag around 4 am, the checkpoint was surprisingly hopping.  The first musher was due in sometime the next day and everyone was getting ready.  I saw JP and Tracey being led to the school and another guy came up to me and asked if I wanted to go to the school too.  I found myself asking where the Burnhams lived.  I was adamantly focused on wanting some space, even if I had to bivvy in the trees.  The guy told me that the Burnhams would welcome me in even at such a late hour.  He knocked on the door and was correct. Richard and his wife were completely welcoming and I slept on their couch. Thank you millions!! 

They let me dry out and I slept about 3-4 hours when my sleep caked eyes opened to two little kids staring at me.  The Burnhams were taking care of their grandchildren, so I got up.  My feet were swollen and it took me about an hour or two of moving around before I started feeling human.  I got my drop at the checkpoint and made some of my coffee and food.  I went to the store and stocked up on some more food but the selection was pretty slim.  I had to get enough for two days because the portage to Unalakleet is a long 90 miles.  If the snow conditions are the same as the last section it would likely be a push at least through the hills until I get to the flats after Old Woman.  Old Woman, WOW, my old stomping grounds.  I used to live in Unalakleet and couldn’t believe I would really start seeing memories once I get to Old Woman.  Maybe even see old friends out snow machining, what an incredibly strange feeling.