Friday, April 6, 2012

Iditarod 2012

My favorite Iditarod fan,  Jaydyn Mason
     For those of you who have not or might not ever get a chance to experience a good ground storm on Norton Sound, I'll do my best to describe what it's like.   
     Cantwell, where we live, is almost famous for wind, and wind is nothing that my dogs and I are unfamiliar with.  However, the wind of the coast is an entirely different animal.  Perhaps it's because of the lack of vegetation, or the lack of mountains, or maybe it's because in these special parts of the world where earth and ocean are in a constant battle for supremacy that each bring to "the front lines" their elements' "special forces."  

     A few things about the wind, are one how dramatically it lowers temperature, (wind chill factor, I think is a familiar concept, believe it or not a rather small aspect of traveling in these conditions.)  Let's think for a second about the sound.  Imagine the world's greatest rock n roll drummer having the night of his or her life.  Now imagine that he or she is invisible and replace yourself with his or her drum kit.  Rat a tat tat thump whack thump rat rat a tat thump whack thump, deafening.  

     Then there is the force, as undeniable as gravity, enough to stop you dead in your tracks, or pick you up and move you laterally, or, if so, desired simply upend you at will.  This force is compounded by an uncanny dexterity able to perform the most intricate tasks.  For a species such as ours which prides itself on our manual abilities, I want to assure you that what we can do the wind can undo quite quickly and efficiently.  Mitten lanyards, or idiot strings as they are more commonly called, are worn by many mushers and have been worn by polar explorers and the native peoples of the arctic as a way to keep all too important over mitts from getting lost and to keep them handy when not in use.  The ability to twist ones mitts behind ones back is as routine to the well seasoned traveler as breathing.  However, the wind, with the finesse of a pianist, can curl her fingers around your waist, unravel your mitts, take one and toss it testing the limit of it's lanyard.  "No, no don't,,, I know the ability to count to ten is important, but don't, don't reach out to,,, look out here it comes,,, duck and cover."  Yep, just when you begin to think the force of the wind against that mitt which is tethered around your neck is going to yank your head off, she will switch directions ever so slightly sending that mitt straight for your forehead.  
Rachel Cockman, watch for her in 2021.
     The biggest challenge for us two legged critters in a good ground storm is our dependence on eyesight.  A whiter shade of pale or a million shades of gray, I'm just not sure which, but flat light compounded by swirling snow equals visual insanity.  No up.  No down.  No past, as in where I've been.  No future, as in where I'm going.  Nothing.  Except, 2" x 6" x 1/4" orange topped trail markers, many of which have been blown clear down the coast back to Unalakleet, some I'm confident wind up in Bora Bora.  Finding a trail marker is rather easy, it's a matter of finding the next one which will make you cross eyed.  Now having made the Norton Sound crossing in a stiff breeze, I now know the secret to finding Koyuk.  The directions, keep the wind breaking across the bridge of your nose freezing each nostril equally.  If one nostril is freezing faster than the other, then you are off course, quite possibly heading out towards the open ocean.

     Until the next time I hope you are all having as much fun with your dog or dogs as I am with mine, 

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