McGrath on the Iditarod Trail

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Three pilots conversed about the weather as if it was a mechanical problem that needed the collective wisdom of a few old wrench monkeys.

We were flying in a Cessna at around 2,900 feet around Rainy Pass, a small window through the formidable Alaska Range.

One pilot could not find the entrance to Rainy Pass, another decided to check further downrange to see if something called Hells Gate was open.

By open, they mean enough visibility to see a few miles in front and on the sides. Because once you go in, there is no turning around.

We punched through behind two other planes, the voices of the other pilots explaining the changing weather conditions in front of us.

When we flew out onto the great open plain that is the Kuskokwim River valley, the world seemed too big and flat suddenly after squeezing through the giants of the Alaska Range.

In McGrath, we drank tea and ate lunch before making our way down to the Iditarod checkpoint.

Bales of straw, dogfood and extra sleds awaited the mushers who still were several hours out negotiating snow squalls and rough trail.

Evening rolled around, and after finding some food and a few places to connect to wifi.

By 8 p.m., a crowd gathered near the river to watch. For some, it was their 25th Iditarod.

For others it was a first.

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