Saturday, March 6, 2010

Farewell Lakes

Photo by Mike Curiak: Farewell lakes area, March 2008

Mike is truly in the Interior now, probably taking those last wistful glances over his shoulder at the mountains and contemplating the open, remote, sometimes stunningly desolate country in front of him.

On Saturday, he passed by the single-room cabin known as Rohn, and traveled across the glare ice and gravel bars of the Kuskokwim River. Judging by his evenly-spaced SPOT points, he didn't seem to have too much trouble with the Post River Glacier — a 50-meter-long frozen waterfall climb that is famously difficult for both dogs and cyclists.

Photo: Iron Dog trailbreakers, February 2010

There is little snow on this side of the Alaska Range this year, and in many places the trail is bare dirt. The trail continues past Rohn through a series of low wooded hills and ridges, and sometime Sunday morning, Mike will enter a place known as the Farewell Burn. The Burn is the site of the largest forest fire in Alaska history, charring a million and a half acres in summer 1978. The region is still recovering, and stunted trees grow in clusters amid the charred trunks and twisted branches. It can be a spooky place, as evidenced by this story Mike wrote about one of his previous trips through the area:

Rolling along through the Farewell Hills I had time to reminisce about the dead wolf that some crafty bison hunters had propped up alongside the trail a few years back. They'd found it trailside after it had apparently been stomped to death by a moose. By accident or intent I'll never know for sure, but the hunters had carefully placed the carcass behind an alder thicket so that it was invisible to northbound travelers until they were literally arm's reach away. It was early in the morning (still dark) and I was a sleep deprived zombie when it entered my peripheral vision. My brain registered the shape but didn't believe it. When I swung my headlamp over to double check, the wolf's eye reflected the light and I'll swear til my dying day that that wolf took a step forward. I emitted (100% involuntarily) a 14-year-old-girl-at-a-horror-movie scream, simultaneously sprinting and bunnyhopping (?) as I passed the wolf. I was so certain it was real and so terrified it was chasing that I didn't stop sprinting for at least 2 minutes, and simply could not bring myself to turn and look back. I didn't want to know.

Photo: Iron Dog trailbreakers, February 2010

Although no snow can mean fast trail, it can also mean no trail, as shown by this photo taken last month in the Farewell Burn. The clumps of grass are called tussocks, and when frozen feel a lot like riding on a trail covered in bowling balls. Racers in the Iditarod Trail Invitational reported some of these sections as rideable, but slow and difficult enough that riding was more work than it was worth. Mike's now about 250 miles into a 1,100-mile trip (22 percent), and a little over six days into 24 days of food and fuel (27 percent), so he's still on a solid pace, but probably hoping that favorable winds and better trails will allow him at least a few "free" miles.

— J.H.

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