Search This Blog

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Beginning - Part 4

The contacts I made at headquarters allowed me to go back the next year, 2006, and work the first checkpoint at Yentna Station as well as a remote site at Cripple, the halfway point. Yentna Station is a Roadhouse, owned and operated by the Gabryszak family, on a switchback of the Yentna River called the Big Bend. (p.139 of Iditarod Fact Book by Sue Mattson, Epicenter Press) Jean Gabryszak and her husband have raised a family there and serve as a rest stop for boaters in the short summers and snow machine drivers during the long winters. Her husband sings and plays a mean guitar. He even opened for some famous acts when he was younger. On the last night of my stay we were treated to some of Dan’s infinite repertoire for several hours. All the racers had cleared the checkpoint hours ago and all we had to do was wait until morning so we could leave. There were some problems getting the out times because the girl who usually did it had died in a house fire. She had been incapacitated by a neuromuscular disease years ago but was able to sit on a couch they drug to the river bank with the children roasting marsh mellows and singing songs until a team would go by and she would call out to them asking who they were, their bib number and how many dogs they had. All this plus the time out is dutifully recorded at each checkpoint.

Day Time High at Cripple
Jim Gallea
Cabin at Cripple 2006

If Yentna is like an LA freeway at rush hour, with drivers trying to get through the toll booth, Cripple is like a back country road in any rural county. There is nothing for miles around. It sits in a hollow near a stream that the pilots use in the winter as a landing strip. It is inaccessible in the summer because it sits in the middle of a boggy marshland that extends for thirty miles. It is also one of the coldest spots during the race. The first year I was there it got to 60 below zero. I had brought my father’s old down insulated Eddie Bower sleeping bag. It is the same one he bought almost 40 years ago when he went on his dream trip to hunt in the Bob Marsh wilderness in Montana. It is rated for 60 below. I wanted to sleep outside once to see what it would be like and almost froze to death. In my ignorance, I had brought a lightweight synthetic sleeping bag and used it as a liner instead of the typical flannel ones. I got inside it and thought I had covered with the heavy down bag, but could not get comfortable and was bone weary tired. Earlier, I had stopped shivering, which is the first sign of hypothermia; but I thought that was because I was warming up. I started to hallucinate and decided to go inside. It took me 20 minutes in the heat before I was warm enough to shiver. I had only been covered by the down sleeping bag from the waist down when I was outside. I related this story to an Emergency Medicine Physician who specializes in cold weather expeditions and he told me that my core temperature had gotten down to about 92 degrees. That is dangerous. Your heart starts to get very irritable and can go into life threatening irregular rhythms at 90-92 degrees. I now knew first hand what freezing to death might feel like, at least in the beginning stages.* The atmosphere at the checkpoint was festive and infectious. The race official was Jim Gallea. He was a musher but could not race because he was in Medical School and was planning on doing a Residency in Emergency Medicine. He knew how lonely it could be and decided to bring inflatable palm trees and a hula girl to the checker tent. All the drivers seemed to appreciate his efforts and told the race marshal we      had one of the best checkpoint
Checker"s Tent Cripple 2006 
Cripple Checkpoint 2006

*You can learn more about the effects of hypothermia and what it is like to live in extremely cold environments in "My Great Alaskan Adventure."

No comments:

Post a Comment