I had to go looking for officials in White Mountain. As it was the middle of the night, I (and the locals) were lucky that the first door I knocked on was the right one! With the help of a checker, I got the dogs parked. They ate ravenously and then curled up in their straw beds. When I got up to the checkpoint, I was delighted to find a mattress and blankets in the corner for mushers. What a treat to get a few hours of real comfortable sleep.
When I woke up the officials were up and about. I snuck into the shower and just stood under the hot water. Neither that, nor the soap I sent out in my drop bag made a dent in the deep layers of grime that I was coated in, but it still felt wonderful! In clean clothes I padded into the kitchen in my socks and scrounged through my stuff for food. While that was heating up, I got chatting with Slim - trailbreaker extraordinaire - he was telling me about the next piece of trail. It hit me like a brick - I was 77 miles away from the Nome. I was so wrapped up in just going from 'tree to tree', checkpoint to checkpoint, that I had failed to realize just how close to my goal I was.
I went down to feed the dogs. As I was picking up bowls I was telling the dogs what Slim had told me about the trail (this may seem weird to you folks sitting in front of your computer, but after spending 2 weeks with these guys as my constant companions - it sure seemed logical to me.) I was picking up Jake's bowl when I was overcome with a wave of emotion - we were going to finish the Iditarod. I wrapped my arms around his neck and cried.
I left White Mountain under the most beautiful blue sky you could imagine - it completely matched my spirits. The trail was spectacular. My only disappointment was that I finished up the last picture on my disposable camera on the way out of Elim and I hadn't sent one to White Mountain.
For only the second time on my trip I had pulled out my Walkman. It was Sunday night and the Officials Finishers Banquet should be on KNOM - one way or another, I was going to be there! Sure enough, I was able to pick up the station as I worked my way over the Topkok hills. It was great fun to listen to. I was deeply touched when Palmer Shagnoonik was awarded 'Most Inspirational Musher' - they could not have made a better choice. Palmer is a class act and a real, identifiable role model for kids in the coastal villages.
As we came off the hills and onto the coast my batteries died. I rifled through my sled bag but didn't find any fresh ones. I even waved down a few snowmobilers and asked if they had any. They didn't and I resigned myself to not hearing the rest of the celebrations. As nighttime fell I could see a glow ahead on the trail. Over the last years I have done probably around 60 - 70 presentations on sledding and Iditarod. I have a three-minute video 'Idit-a-Rock'n' Roll' that I show each time. On of the lines in it is 'see the lights of Nome coming up the coast'. Since my scratch in Shaktoolik in 2000, every time I showed the video when that line came up I would quietly vow to myself that I was going to do just that in 2001. My friend and handler for Grand Portage race, Bill Boutang, emailed me that wish prior to the Race "See Nome from the coast". It was my mantra and there, ahead of me I was seeing the glow of the lights of Nome. WOW!
There is a road through Safety out of Nome, so starting 25 miles out there were mileage markers along the way. When I saw the first one, I knew I was just 3 miles from Safety. I looked at my watch and was pleased to see I was right on the schedule I had hoped. I decided to stop and snack the dogs as a treat. STUPID…STUPID…STUPID. All that did was put the idea of taking a break in their heads. They inhaled their snacks and lay down for a break. I suggested we get going and they pretty much flipped me the canine finger. The next 2 hours were spend begging, cajoling, switching leaders…..anything to try to get us going. About ½ hour into this we had moved along just enough that I could see the headlamps of the checkers at Safety. The dogs refused to be impressed by this and continued their protests. Finally frustrated, exhausted, and very angry with myself for my stupid mistake we arrived at the Safety bar.