Mickey filed this report as she was waiting for her flight back to Anchorage. I hope to get the card from the "Aliy Cam" tonight or tomorrow. Will get video up as soon as possible.
Waiting for my delayed flight from McGrath to Anchorage gave me an opportunity to think. My time in McGrath, Nikolai and Takotna is my first experience in real bush Alaska. McGrath is the area hub and, as I explained earlier, has about 350 residents. Nikolai, about 25 minutes east in a 6 seat air taxi, is a native village of about 70 full time residents. The plowed airstrip, where we landed on skis, is a short walk to the village center, anchored by a modern school building. Here the mushers were treated to home made food and rested on wrestling mats in the gym or in closets and classrooms behind closed doors. I was amazed to see some mushers crashed about 20 feet from where everyone ate spaghetti, obviously tired enough to block out noises. Some mushers slept in the sun with their dogs.
A few hundred feet toward the river from the school is the checkpoint. It is a 12 x 12 pole tent with buckets and cut logs strewn about for seats. It overlooks the Iditarod Trail winding along the river. A plowed field on the bank provides a broad and flat place for the dog teams to rest. When I arrived there were about 15 teams basking in the sun and many of Takotna's citizens working checkpoint duties. When a team appears on the river, the checkers and other volunteers form a welcoming committee on the bank.
This was filed by Mickey this morning as she waited for her plane back to Anchorage.
What gracious, hardworking folks! When they discovered I was Aliy's mom, I was treated like royalty. I got food, use of a school computer and an offer to spend the night. A young man named Damien ran the checkpoint diligently while I was there. It appeared to me that the village loves their role of checkpoint. And the mushers are so grateful for the hospitality and a chance to rest.
Normal life activities in the bush are very different than many of our 'lower 48' lives. The family car is a snowmobile, many times with a hauling sled attached. Food, fuel and supplies are flown in by small plane. Water is often from a hole in the 4 foot thick river ice, hauled home by snowmobile. In a few weeks families begin serious ice fishing to supplement the larder.
I know that one checkpoint is voted 'checkpoint of the year' by the mushers after each Iditarod. If all the checkpoint villages are as gracious as Nikolai, it will be so difficult to choose the best!!