If I hold my tongue just right, and I extend my left arm up over my head holding a clothes hanger, I can get two bars on my GCI Android phone. This is just enough to allow me to send a text message or possibly a Tweet.
Never mind that I look ridiculous doing this in the middle of downtown McGrath, which is a veritable city by Alaskan bush standards.
Today I have cursed, cried, pushed, pulled, prayed, worried and willed my way to Internet success. I’ve used four devices, my iPhone, my Android, my iPad and a laptop. I have created hot spots to send an email, and I’ve held my Android to the sky trying to get one bar of broadband in order to send a photo to Facebook while mushers feeding their dogs looked on in what I can only think of as the way they might view a moose behaving strangely on the trail.
This is Iditarod. This is a race that pits man and dogs against the extremes of all that is the mothership of extremes – Alaska.
It is 1,000 miles of silent, frozen rivers, burned out hillsides, banshee-filled coastlines and every possible weather element one can imagine.
There are stops along the way, and it is in these shelters that we, the media, go to meet the mushers. A stop like McGrath is often greeted with a surprised look from the mushers who have been alone with their padding canine companions and their thoughts for the previous seven hours.
And we thrust recording devices into their hands and then run away full-sprint toward the nearest wifi signal to try and keep our readers and viewers updated to the very last second.
It is many moment spent watching the blue status bar crawl up the percentage ladder. Little celebrations occur at 20, 40 and 75 percent. And then the terminal wait for the spinning star to indicate that it has indeed processed.
Then you run out again hoping for a quick bite or something short you can send to the gods of web.
Covering the Last Great Race on Earth in one of the world’s most isolated places has its challenges, but for all of these, I’m astounded that in the heart of Alaska, in McGrath upon the Kuskokwim, I can type these words and press send. Sitting here in the McGrath school, where the broadband is almost as wide as that river behind me, I can press send and deliver this to you moments after I write it.
It took me two days to figure out that the school has the best Internet connection in town, but I secretly like to sit in the cafe with the slow speeds and people watch while waiting for videos to upload to Facebook.
Tonight I charge my phones and my laptop in hopes of finding a connection in the next remote town, that which they call Ruby on the Yukon. I’m told there is nothing there. I may go crazy.
I’ll see you on the other side.