Tag Archives: McGrath

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.


The things we do for WiFi

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.