Saturday, March 29, 2008

Crabbing at the Cape

Cape Denbigh is my new favorite place in Shaktoolik. It is like the city park of Shaktoolik--everyone goes there to hang out and spend some time out of the house. Plus, there is even a slide! Here I am having a blast:

Silas, one of the ECE teachers (and the closest person I have as a peer out here) took me out crabbing last night, and we finally got home at 1:30 in the morning. I had to ride in the sled because I don't have my own rig, but it wasn't too bad. No wait, IT SUCKED. I was able to get "in the zone" and hit the bumpy sea ice just right when I felt the sled vault into the air. My back still feels like hamburger right now. But it was all worth it, for this:

Cha-ching! That's a red king crab, perfect sized and delicious to eat. Unfortunately, I'm holding the entire night's catch in that was just an unlucky day for us at the crab holes. They "hand line" for crabs out here. You just tie a piece of fresh trout (the crab's favorite) around a line with a weight (usually a spark plug), and wait for the crab to pinch onto it. Then you slowly pull the line up when it feels heavy, and the crab will hang on the whole time! No love for us though, and Silas even did the smart thing and dug our holes out around a crack in the sea ice:

We spent much time chopping the ice with an axe and using the eskimo ice-pick tool, called the "duoalk." I was an expert "duoalk"-er after a few holes, because we didn't have an ice-auger. Bud, the principal's husband, came out with us too. After a few holes he was pining for some "gas." We got all of our holes dug though, through about 1.5 feet of sea ice. There were a couple of other groups out crabbing last night too, but they fared quite a bit better than us. Here's Randy pulling up another big one, I think he got over 10 crabs last night:

Oh well, I'll have to return to Cape Denbigh some other time to try out another slide run I have nick-named, "Med-Evac Mountain":

That's actually a 200 foot or so drop. If I can only avoid the boulder at the bottom, it should be pretty fun. The other cliffs at Cape Denbigh are scaled by people in the summer looking for seagull eggs. That sounds way crazier than anything I'd try, these things look pretty sheer:

All in all, it was an awesome Friday night out in the country. It felt good just to get away from the village for a while, 12 miles away that is. Maybe another night of crabbing is in order down the road...

Thursday, March 20, 2008


A friendly note from Jose, the Idita-walker:

Okay so the Idita-bikers came into town, and I said to myself, "These guys are nuts." People who ride their bicycle down the same route as the dog mushers are a whole new kind of person.

They have some serious bikes. The bike&gear weigh in at 60+ lbs, and when I asked one of the riders how often they actually get to ride their bike, he just shook his head and said, "About half the time."

Ever see a 300$ bicycle tire?

Then the Idita-walker showed up, a spaniard name Jose. WOAH. This guy has seen/done everything! At least from the eyes of an extreme outdooring enthusiast. Last night he was describing some of his various adventures and my principal jokingly said, "What are you going to do next? Climb Mt. Everest?" Then he scrolled down the page of his website that showed him at the summit of Everest. WOAH. And he climbed Everest with no guide, sherpa, porter, or anything. I didn't know that it took him 50 days because he had to set up 4 different camps. That doesn't sound very fun. But anyways, he is walking the Iditarod trail, pulling his sled behind him. The students had a lot of fun asking him questions!

Jose's website is here:

A fellow blogger! It was embarassing when I mistranslated his site into, "The Horse of Friday." It turns out cabello = horse, camino = way, and viernes = friday, viento = wind. So his project is called, "The Way of the Wind." That sounds much more romantic. "Por el Cabello del Viernes." Maybe I'll start my own Spanish website...I feel bad for Jose though, because he's going to "scratch" on his Idita-walk. He is taking a flight to Koyuk today because the sea-ice will probably be too treacherous, and his legs have been bothering him. You walk 700 miles across the bleak tundra, pulling a sled, and just now your legs are bothering you? HOW ARE YOU STILL ALIVE?!?! Awesome guy though.

Here are some more Iditarod pictures from fellow teachers. They took some excellent photos, so I might as well share em'! Here is Rick Holt coming into Shaktoolik, a fellow BSSD educator and former principal of this school:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Iditarod Weirdness

So here's how greeting the first Iditarod musher works at our little checkpoint.

1. Everyone waits for the musher
2. It takes a long time. The aching cold makes it seem even longer.
3. You start to see a little blinking light. That's him! The musher!
4. The blinking light gets slightly closer.
5. Repeat step 4.
6. Keep repeating step 4. And 5, for that matter.
7. The musher starts to arrive in town........!!!!!
8. The musher arrives! Hurrah! Except he looks like he's going to fall off of his sled, and the dogs look like they are doing more of a speedwalk than a run.
9. Cheering. At least I cheered. And Ethel cheered. Did anyone else cheer? I thought I heard some clapping....
10. Bum rush the musher and his dogs while the official Iditarod person interviews him.
11. Follow the musher and watch him feed/water his dogs.
12. Follow the musher inside the little house, or wait for the next musher.

I thought it was seriously weird. We relaxed as we were waiting for Lance Mackey to come in though. Here's Agnes and Kristy kicking back (Marie must have thought it was a good idea for a picture, too):

Even Tyler started getting tired after a while. Mackey didn't arrive until after 1:00 in the morning! A little nap in the snow fort is all you need until the next musher arrives:

The pictures I got when Lance Mackey arrived turned out to be really blurry. Plus I didn't want to blind the guy. Here are some more interesting pictures I took the next day, when the pressure wasn't so high. Here's the checkpoint during the day, the straw is for keeping the dogs toasty:

Aaron Burmeister of Nome takes a break inside the checkpoint. Take a look in his bag to see what musher crunch on while they are on the trail. Looks like a lot of chocolate and nuts! Keeps the energy up? Notice those cinnamon rolls in the background being munched on by a vet, those are all me, baby! Aaron was a good sport though, even though he came in 15th place, he's got the smile of champion:

Zack Steer and his completely snow-white dog team made him look a little bit like Santa Claus (if Santa had dogs instead of reindeer). The dogs didn't want to go at first and he said, "Looks like they want to go back to Anchorage!" After 700 miles, I would too:

A little more convincing and off Zack goes to Koyuk. 42 miles and he's at another resting point. Looks pretty bleak though, doesn't it?

All in all, I feel very out-of-place hanging out at the checkpoint. There is a lot of standing around. I would talk with the mushers about sled-dog racing, but they are in THE MIDDLE OF A RACE, y'know? I'll just supply the baked goods, thank you very much. And I'll bring up some straw for a dog team or two. But I'm sure that Palmer, in the picture with me here, loves every minute of it! He ran the Iditarod a few years back and is one of the checkpoint managers.

The mushers are still coming through! Lance Mackey takes first place, but Jeff King was on his heels the whole way. Great race!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Trailbreakers to Shaktoolik

Iditarod Trailbreakers just reached Shaktoolik! The trailbreaker is a snowmachine that goes ahead of the sled dog runners. Behind the trailbreaker are 3 other snowmachiners who are the "stakers." They place stakes all along the trail.

He travels on to the Shak Checkpoint. The stakers are soon to follow. I made the mistake of waving at them, and they looked at me like I needed help or their attention. I tried my best to hand signal them that I was okay and just saying "hi." I learned my lesson--sometimes you have to let people do their job! And it might look suspicious when you are out in the middle of the tundra by yourself with no snowmachine.

The bags of each musher are piled outside of the Shaktoolik Armory. They have all of the food and provisions that the mushers shipped out before the race began. Who knows what the bag holds--Clif bars? Dog food? Frozen pizza? Whatever the mushers and dogs like to eat, I guess!

The official Iditarod plane lands on the Tagoominick River next to town. It's pretty awesome watching the tiny aircraft fight against the Shaktoolik winds. The pilot had to make a couple of passes before it was safe enough to touch down (notice how I got a nice shot with the Iditarod trail marker in it).

Lots of planes in the Unalakleet airport. I was in Unalakleet this weekend training at the District Office. The airport was packed with all kinds of different planes belonging to Iditarod spectators/afficiandos. We left right before the mushers made it in to Unalakleet, but the Stebbins group got to see Jeff King make it in. This was especially cool for them because the Iditarod doesn't run through Stebbins. I knew that I would just have to wait about 10 hours for the musher to make it to Shak!

What would have life been like in Unalakleet? During the training I stayed at some extra apartments where the Unalakleet teachers stay. Compared to my pad in Shak, they aren't nearly as posh.

But hey, Lance Mackey is only 10 miles outside of Shaktoolik and I can hear the whole village migrating to checkpoint. I've got to go get in on the action! I'll try to take some excellent, Iditarod quality pictures without getting mauled by race dogs. Notice that it is almost midnight, the wind is howling, the musher and dogs have already gone 700 miles, and they will probably press on through the night across the sea ice to Koyuk. Iditarod mushers might be the most hardcore people I ever get to see!