Tag Archives: Ruby

Homemade in Ruby, Alaska

(Nora Kangas, 92, watches her great grandson Rohn in Ruby, Alaska)

The arctic air has an influence on Ruby on the Yukon River. At least my pilot thinks so.

And I tend to believe him.

We’ve been here a day and a half, and we haven’t had those 10-times daily snow showers we had in McGrath.

“Ruby is on the Yukon, and it’s way more susceptible to those arctic weather patterns,” he said. (our pilot)

We’ve had two days of high-pressure golden Ukrainian flag-type days up here on the Yukon River. Never mind that some man built the town on a wind-buffeted hillside in the middle of nowhere.

Ruby is a gem of a place. Cold, quiet and about as full of hospitality as you’re likely to find anywhere on the Yukon.

Rachel Wiehl runs a bed & breakfast, The Wild Iris B&B, that is a favorite among Iron Dog racers and Iditarod watchers alike.

It’s not just the view, it’s the attention to detail.

It’s probably the food more than anything.

We arrived cold and wet from Cripple to a Thanksgiving feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls and gravy.

Rachel doted on us and offered her truck and her snow machine for the 1-mile trek to the Iditarod checkpoint.

It’s the stories too.

Rachel is full of them, which you might expect from such a vivacious woman running a business in rural Alaska.

The tells a story about her kids getting excited about seeing “real” indians at a powwow in the Lower 48.

“I told them you’re real indian, you’re Athabascan,” Rachel said. “But they were like no, these are ‘real, real’ indians mom.’

She tells stories about Iron Dog that might make a racer blush.

Hospitality is something that has gone by the wayside, especially in the big cities. It’s hard to find the kind of personal care that makes you feel like family. It’s all clinical now, with hospitality in little bottles of shampoo and conditioner and skin-drying hard soap that is unbelievably difficult to unwrap. 

Her grandmother welcomes visitors with a big grin and a dozen questions.

“Grandma, they’re busy,” Rachel says several times before giving up and letting Nora Kangas, 92, fire away with her combination of genuine curiosity and historical analysis.

After two days, this is home.

Iditarod, Murder in McGrath and the Gem of the Yukon

The Yukon at sunset

I awoke this morning to something unfamiliar. My back felt good and strong again. I’ve been in pain since I slept in a soft bed in Nome a couple of weeks ago.

I made for Susie’s Iditarod Trail Cafe and a breakfast of two eggs over easy, sausage and hash browns. I spent an hour waiting for Gmail to load.

Then I heard that the Alaska State Troopers criminal investigation team showed up in town to look into a suspicious death that had occurred the night before.

I spent three hours looking around town for the house where the alleged murder occurred. I found it and shot it for news.

By the time I walked back and forth from the checkpoint to murder house to Susie’s to the McGrath Hotel, my legs felt like rubber, and my soul felt a bit despondent.

Then the weather did what it does in Alaska. It happened. It moved in. It overrode us like a thick blanket. And we hurried up to wait, which is a favorite saying among Iditarod volunteers.

When it lifted, the sun came out and lit up McGrath as we taxied out to the runway.

The Cessna lifted us into the clear skies, and we made a straight run toward Cripple, a nowhere stop along the Iditarod Trail. It’s a place where they set up some tents, and the runway is so deep with snow that a bad landing may result in a long-term stay in a cold tent in Cripple.

It took me forever to post-hole my way from the plane to the checkpoint. When I got there, I interviewed Mitch Seavey, one of my favorite mushers.

We spent an hour and twenty in Cripple. The sun blazed and dogs napped in the midday heat, as one volunteer called it.

When we extricated the plane from the deep snow, we took off and headed north toward the Gem of the Yukon, a small-ish village called Ruby.

Straight out of the plane, the air turned Arctic instantly. We walked into Ruby, and about the time I thought the cold was penetrating my bloodstream, someone in a blessed pickup stopped by and offered us a ride.

If I thought walking was cold, riding in the back of a truck was worse. I was buttoned up as far as I could zip, and nothing would keep the cold out. I felt like my blood was freezing.

We drove down into Ruby and back up to the airport.

By the time we arrived at the Wild Iris B&B, I was ready for anything. A floor, a couch, anything.

What we found was a feast fit for a king. Turkey and stuffing, potatoes and gravy, apple and cherry pie.

A show of the northern lights after dinner was the perfect nightcap.

I don’t know Ruby yet. We’ll meet again in the morning when the mushers arrive.

T