It has been a long day for the GPS tracker. Mike got into Shaktoolik last night and I expected that when I got up this morning he would be on his way towards Koyuk. I was surprised to see that not only had he not left, nor had anyone else, some of whom had come in to Shaktoolik many hours before him. Mike had completed the run up the coast in great time, so I was not really worried that there was a problem with the team. The fact that so many teams were still there made me think of the weather. As I mentioned Shaktoolik is known to be quite windy. Joe Runyan stated that the teams were "Stacked in Shak." He said, "Blowing snow, stiff winds, temperatures temper musher exits. Our records show that no mushers in Shak have left since 4:00 p.m. yesterday. Our sources in Shak assert that visibility is ABOUT a quarter mile and no one is sure of the severity of the ground storm on the ice to Koyuk. "
I kept checking in on Mike over the morning with no change. Finally, at lunch time I saw some teams start to head out of Shaktoolik. However, Mike was staying put. I was concerned until I realized that as a long time Rick Swenson fan, perhaps he was just waiting to make the run with him. Mike and Rick left Shaktoolik together and made steady progress towards Koyuk. It was clear that the run was really hard. The teams would start and stop and travel at much slower speeds than usual. Don Bowers Jr. explained, "The trail can range from a groomed speedway to rough ice to drifted snow to glare ice. The wind is usually blowing, and almost always right in your face. Days with less than 20 or 30 mph breezes are uncommon. The wind can blow at hurricane velocity out here and ground blizzards can reduce visibility to zero in minutes."
Things seemed to be going well and I was looking forward to Mike making it into Koyuk when he started moving away from the other teams and the trail. Following on the GPS tracker I could see him realize something wasn't right and start to look for the trail. This is the point when my power went out and my internet connection went dead. The GPS trackers are a blessing and a curse. They give information, but sometimes too much information. And like an addict, I did not want to go cold turkey right during a crisis. The power eventually went back on, but showed that Mike was sitting still on the ice. He stayed there an agonizingly long time, until all of a sudden he began to make steady and straight progress right towards Koyuk. I believe that he waited until he could see the lights if Koyuk and is now driving his dogs right towards them. He is about 2 miles out, and let's be honest, I won't go to bed until I see him make it there.
Earlier today, when they were fighting their way through the wind, I was thinking about how this challenging run would actually seperate me from Mike. I will never be able to be part of that experience he and the dogs have had of working so hard together to make it through something truly challenging. They will have a bond that I will not share. I am sure that this is true of their experience during the entire race, but I felt it today. This extra challenge of being lost on the sea ice compounds this fact.
I hope that tomorrow brings a smooth run to Elim. May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.