This morning we woke up early, packed the airplane with survival gear, warm clothes, and lunch, and took off into the most pristine clear blue sky you can imagine. It was about -14, so the mountains were crystal clear as we headed toward the inlet, then flew up the coast toward Homer. Our destination? A tiny checkpoint along the http://www.tustumena200.com/, called Caribou Lake.
We landed after only about 20 minutes of flying, right on Caribou Lake. Our Cessna 180 was on skis, so we could taxi right up to the checkpoint. Only three people were there to check in the racers, two race volunteers and a small animal veterinarian to check over each dog.
As we flew along, I used my Blackberry to access the race website, and we were excited to learn that only two teams had passed by when we arrived, so we could expect at least seven more teams before we had to leave.
The first came flying around the bend and down onto the lake, the dogs trotting along, eager and happy, with ears flapping in the mild mountain winds. They came to a halt with all tails wagging, ready for anything. It was a sight to see! The racer, John Little (an Iditarod racer too), quickly signed his name, and was off with a slight wave in our direction. We were the only spectators there, as its rather in the middle of nowhere!
A few of John's dogs:
We headed up the hill from the lake, to a small cabin that belongs to a friend of ours.
We were eager to start a fire in their woodstove and warm up a bit...but we could see down onto the lake where our plane sat, and where any teams might come down the trail.
We were able to see several more teams. They were so beautiful, such determined and remarkable four-legged athletes, working together as a team and listening for the commands shouted up the line from their driver.
The view across the lake was stunning. I never tire of such scenery!
Musher Kristy Barrington "digs in" (plants their ice brakes) and heads up the line to untangle some dogs' harnesses.
The last musher stopped to "snack" his dogs (a quick meal along the trail to restore energy and focus) and as he spread out lumps of hay for each of his dogs, we were able to get close and enjoy their funny personalities.
Dogs look to see if food is ready yet!
Musher talks with the vet as he checks in.
Then we headed to the cabin, and ate our lunch of boiled eggs, smoked salmon, turkey sandwiches, and leftover gingersnappy cake. The cabin had warmed up and we didn't want to head back into the cold airplane!
Our plane from the cabin:
The girls found some sleds, and played happily on the hill while we finished loading the plane. Then we were off and flying along the trail!
We followed the trail and were able to locate each team that we had just seen at the checkpoint. The views that these mushers are able to take in, well it nearly leaves you speechless! The trail winds along up a hill, then peaks as they get a bird's eye view of the Cook Inlet, and Mt. Redoubt.
Mt. Redoubt from the air:
A musher down below on the trail:
Well, we sure had a super fun day, and are eager to make the trip again next year!