Archive for March, 2010

Home At Last

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Sorry it has been so many days since the last update. We got caught up in post-race story swapping with other mushers/handlers and spending time with our family that came up for the finish. We got in at 4 a.m. last night and we have to be at work this morning, so this will be just a few brief post-race photos. However, check back soon as COle will be writing her journal of how the race went from her persepctive.
Cole and her mom and dad at the finish line with her pint-sized power house: Penny, and the most infamous dog in the race: Kawlijah.
This is the “dog lot” in Nome, where all the dogs live in kennels until they get shipped home.
The dogs enjoyed catching up on their sleep before the trip home. Here Nuk says “Just hit snooze one more time.”
While waiting for the banquet to begin, we decided to go out for some “spirits,” and were shocked to see how expensive beer was in town. We were really missing our growlers from Kassiks!
Cole believes if people are paying $40 a ticket for the banquet, they want more than a meal, so she always tries to tell as many tales from the trail as she can, in addition to thanking all the people who made participating in this race possible.
With everything said and done, it was time to get home, and the dogs got kenneled up for the flight. A few dogs came out wide-eyed in Anchorage, but all made it home safe and sound.

Iditarod Veteran Colleen Robertia

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

It’s official. After 10 days, 23 hours, 56 minutes and 10 seconds, Cole crossed the finish line with 14 dogs, led by Goliath and the smallest dog to ever finish the Iditarod: pint-sized penny. Amazingly they were still hammering their harness to go. I’m not just saying it either, they were trying to pull, likely to get away from the crowd, but hey, they were still pulling. Seriously though, I couldn’t be more proud of COle and her finish. She was almost within the hour to the predicted finishing time of her schedule, and at the finish she was given several handshakers by her competitors, a dozen red rozens from our friends Frank and Deb Kassik, and from me a big kiss and a chocolate shake, her favorites post race goodie.
All for now, just wanted to make a quick update that she finsihed before I finish rubbing down all the tired dogs. Here are some photos. The top one is a fantastic photo by a couple we recently met from Utah, named Bob and Tracy Brown. They snapped this shot of COle just after she left Safety. The other two are by me. It’s her and her roses and the best lead dog ever. The other is her under the arch. Enjoy and anyone reading this who got better photos. Please send them to either or

The Waiting Game

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Cole is getting close now. As I type this, Cole is just passing through the Safety checkpoint, which means she only has 22 miles to go till NOme, the finsih line, and the friendly faces of her loved ones. The temperature is finally on the rise, so her run in should be a warm one for the dogs, a little too warm actually. Our poor dogs haven’t had a break this whole race. From the blizzard early on, to the minus 50 on the Yukon, to the wind on the coast, to now the heat. I have to say, I hope Cole never wants to do this race again, beucase honestly, our dogs are so much like family, I never want to see them, or her, have to go through this again. I think there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing, and perhaps 1,000 mile races are just that.
As I wait for Cole, I’ve hooked up with her parents and uncle here in town, and we have been taking in all the tourist activities. Last night we attended a spectacular dance/drum presenation (see above) by one the the Native groups of this region. I’ve always like the rythmic sounds that they can make with just their own voices and a piece of stretched walrus stomach. It was a real treat and I was sad my folks from Florida weren’t here to see it. They came out to Mcgrath with me, but the experience wasn’t quite as “BUsh Alaska” as I had hoped. It was a GREAT communnity, but just reminded me of a smaller and more remote version of where we live in Kasilof. Unalakleet and NOme have been a bit more interesting. Nome defintely has its fair share of issues related to alcohol and various other things, but it is still a neat place. It’s like Dawson city, but a little dirtier, and with a lot more Eskimos of course.
Well, time is near to try to get the kennels set up for when the dogs come in. More to come once she gets in.

Not At-Home in Nome

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Whew. I am starting to loooooong for a shower and sleep. IN the last two days I’ve only grabbed about 4 hours of fitful sleep wherever I could find it. Iditarod has a place for Cole and I on the skirts of town, but I have to hitch or pay a cab to get to and from there, so it seems pointless at this point to go through the hassle. INstead I’ve tried, successfully I might add, to squat here in the Iditarod headquarters. This was no easy feet as the Idita-bureacracy is still at an all time high, even with the end in sight for most mushers and the stress levels coming down for them and most of the family/handlers/friends. I asked if I could throw sleeping bag on the floor, and my request was denied, due to the “fire safety hazard” of having bodies on the floor. This is such a contrast to the other checkpoints, and Unalakleet in particular where people went out of there way to help and accomodate, rather than flexing the muscles of their two-week a year authority over others.
Anyhoo, as the night wore on, I strategically waited for a musher to arrive. As the whole hall spilled on to front street, I took advantage of the cleared hall to jump behind the counter of the Alaska Airlines SWAG counter in an attempt to grab some Z’s. However, kids of all ages seem to live almost feral here and wander all hours of the day and night getting into mischief. A pack of rowdy teenagers rolled in at around 2 to 3 a.m. and began playing tag. Between there stomping around and yelling, I really couldn’t rest, not that the floor was that comforatable to begin with. I only had my anorak as bedding, and it was so cool on the ground I chose to use it as a half-assed blanket.
The nonsense with the kids went on for what seemed like an enternity, but finally I heard one of the Idit-brownshirts goosestep in and attempted to reign the youth in. I have to admit, as annoying as they were being, one of the kids was so smarmy with the offical, it actually cracked me up in my half-sleep. The woman shouted. “YOu kids knock it off and get out. I can’t imagine what is going through your head.” To which the lead hooligan replied without missing a beat, “That’s how it works. You only know what is going on in your own head, not anyone elses.”
Well, that was the high point of my night and at around 6 a.m this mornig I scared the hell out of the Ak Airlines workers when they showed up to work their booth and found me spawled on the floor. I slunk out and tried to grab some more sleep at a table, but it was getting too bustling in the room. I met up with a friend of mine, Doug, one of the organizers of the Cooper Baisn 300, and we walked over to a local eatery for some coffee and hotcakes.
A few hours later, our nextdoor neighbor Paul mushed into town in 19th place. It was interested hearing his stories from the trail, many which were exactly like Cole’s. Too often on the trail you think you’re the only one experiencing a personal hell, but Paul confirmed that he too struggled with his dogs who picked up the same watery-stooled virus Cole’s team had caught back in Kaltag. Paul also talked aobut the minus 50 degree section on the river, and how hard it was to stay warm. People follwing on the trackers may not understand that depsite what the tracking temps say, most mushers carry their own thermometer to assist them with dog care, and both Cole’s and Paul confrimed the savage cold of the race just a few days back.
Now in NOme the mercury has soared into the teens to low 20′s during the day, and for the moment the wind is minimal. As the whole coast is exposed, I hope the wind stays calm until Cole and the gang can get here, which by my estiamte should be sometime around 4-5 p.m. tomorrow. Although how long she rests in Elim (her current location) and my sleep-deprived math, must also be taken into consideration. Paul’s handler Anna helped me get our dog kennels from the airport, so now the team will have a place to rest when they come in. I also heard an upadate on Crumb, the dog Cole dropped in …Nulato or Kaltag, I can’t remeber which. Anyhoo, Crumb caused a bit of mischief bck in Unalakleet once she had slept a bit, but she made the flight to Anchorage and is now at the prison waiting for Cole’s brother Will to pick her up this evening.
Oh, I almost forgot, in my spare time I’ve been searching the Web for pics of Cole, which are few and far between (don’t get me started). I found this classic (below) of our Iditarider, which already seems like a lifetime ago. The caption of the photo was even funnier than the image itself. It was titled “Everybody loves muffins.” All for now.

Quick Update

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

O.K. its time to switch the color code from red to green, or orange at the very least. COle did not get lost last night. Apparently the trail from Shaktoolik to Koyuk is extremely windy and took mushers on a detour several miles onto the sea ice. In doing this, it somehow tripped the GPS units and caused them to read in a way that made it look like mushers had passed the checkpoint and were back tracking to it. I only figured it out recently after several people emailed to tell me they had seen the same thing happend to their “favorite” musher of choice. Also, I just saw a friend of ours finish here in NOme and when she was asked how she liked the race, she said every part except the trail from Shak to Koyuk. Her exact quote was “whoever put that trail in must have had one hot toddy too many.”
Anyway, with the fire stomped out, I can go back to trying to track down my in-laws. There are supposedly here in town somewhere, but I haven’t seen them yet. The place they were supposed to stay isn’t actually putting people up after all, so I’m not sure where they’re at. I’m also still trying to get my dog kennels from the airport to the dog yard here at the finish line. I didn’t realize that Iditarod makes no effort in this regard. I’m also working on getting Cole some housing, I guess there are not enough homestays here for how many people are finishing, so quarters are getting pretty tight. After racing 1,000 miles thorugh the cold, I want to make sure Cole gets more than floor space somewhere. I’d also like for one of us to be close to the dogs, since they will need to eat like they are still in the race for at least the first few days after they are done. They’ll still be burning 10,000 calories a day for awhile.
Anyway, all for now, COle should be in sometime tomorrow morning by my calculations. I’ll post more, as I know more.


Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I chose this photo beucase it seems fitting for several reasons. One is becuase it has the famous “burled arch” that represents the end of the Iditarod Trail. It is an iconic structure that I’m wondering if Cole will ever see. I also chose this photo beucase of the sign marking all directions. It seems fitting, since on top of all the other hardships COle and the dogs have faced in this race, it appears they just got lost on the way to Koyuk. I don’t know much, only what I could glean from tracking her times and watching her GPS. She lost about 1-2 hours and went several miles off course, then turned around and went back to the checkpoint. It had to be demorilizing at this leg of the race, especially since she just had the dogs on their feet for an extra hour for NOTHING, and right before she will have to haul extra weight to the next checkpoint anyway, to compensate for her “lost bag” of food that the race organizers “misplaced.” Needless to say I’m not in a very happy place right now, beucase I’m sure Cole is in an even darker frame of mind. I hope she can just continue to hang on, keep her wits about her, keep the dog’s morales up, and keep moving these last 140 miles to Nome. Time will tell. More tomorrow.

A Day in Unalakleet

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

After Cole left this morning, I had a day to spend here in Unalakleet, and I have to say, it has been wonderful. It’s great to experience such a different lifestyle from that I’ve known most of my life. I walked across the entire village, it took less than a half hour. The population of this village is smaller than that of my graduating class in high school. Friendlyness abounds here. You can’t pass someone without them waving or sparking up a conversation. IN almost every yard, buried beneath feet of drifted snow from the wind that seems relentless, is a snowmahcine, a fourwheeler, a boat and a dog sled. They’ve got all seasons covered.
It’s interesting to me how pragmatic the people who live here, and have lived her all their life, must be in order to survive the harsh climate and sparse conditions. After each mushers leaves, a local Native will go through their entire drop bag, sorting to contents, to make use of EVERYTHING that is left behind. Even the bags themselves are saved. Nothing is wasted. IN an odd juxtaposition of my own (at times shamelful) culture, I saw a white tourist who had spent thosuands to just follow the Iditarod, buy a seal skin hat (he’ll likely wear one time, since he said he was from the lower Lower 48) for $300 dollars.
The villagers here are so different from the people I know. I’ve passed dozens of people my grandparents age, and rather than sitting, decaying on a couch watching T.V., these elders are out driving fourwheelers and snowmahcines, they are talking the Iditarod on every corner, they seem completely comfortable in the biting cold. They are the youngest (at heart) old people I have ever seen.
The people here know how to survive, too. I spent the morning ice fishing on the Bering Sea with a local man, who was pulling in hooligan and cod, one after another (see photo at top – I had to adjust the levels dramatically because of all the white from the blowing snow). It didn’t bother him that the wind was whiping by at 20 mph and the temperature hovered in the single digits. He said he was getting food for himself and his sled dogs. The fish would literally freeze INSTANTLY the second he pulled them out of the water (see above with the blowing snow ripping by in this shot).
Even the dogs here seem to be cut from a different cloth. I passed several yards of sled dogs, some without dog houses, which seemed odd by my cultural standards), yet the dogs were thick and huge, with long shaggy coats (see below). They barely seemed to be the same breed as those COle is running.
It’s been an interesting morning, and I’m glad I got to see this place, to experience it. The village life is by far one of the most appealing aspects of following this race. Its too bad more people don’t know it. Well, all for now, but I did get an email from Cole while making this post. She said the run to SHaktoolik was beautiful, and the trail was quite nice. The leaders were blaking a bit at the wind and caostal climate, but at this point, she almost expected it. She pulled over to rest the dogs during the “heat” of the day. Only four more runs to go and then she’s in NOme. It seems so close now, and yet still so far. I hope she and the team and hold it together for these last 250 miles. I’ll try to make another update in NOme.

Unalakleet Update

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Cole made in into Unalakleet. She is cold, battered, bruised, still has several dogs in heat, and now is contending with a vrius moving through the team, but her spirits are up. Part of the reason is seeing me, but to be honest, Unalakleet is one of the friendliest places we’ve ever been to. The residents here really make minus temperature feel warm. Due to the friendly nature and beautiful scenery here. COle spread some more ashes from our friend Laurie’s dogs. She had also spread some way back in Nikolai for the same reasons.
Speaking of temperatures. It has warmed up slightly to the single digits, but the cold, 20 mph wind coming off the Bering Sea is still keeping the wind chill down to minus 20 at the warmest. The dogs got parked behind a snowbank, so they were sheltered from the wind for most of their rest, and Cole got into doors, got a great meal, and managed two hours sleep. She had a tough time unwinding, even as tired as she was, due to the next leg. The run along the Bering Sea is notorious for mentally breaking teams.
As far as the heath of the team, COle said their body weight was great, and I saw everyone eat several meals ravenously while she camped here. However, as I said, several dogs have picked up a virus, which is causing several dogs to have EXTREME diarrhea. Cole said it started with Cyder and Arctic back in Kaltag, and now, just 24 hours later, they are on the mend. But, the doggy flu has now spread to Waylon, Hank and Kawlijah. COle is working with the vets to get electrollights for the dogs, to do her best to keep them hydrated until the virus passes.
As to leading, Cole said the wind is still challenging the dogs. She said Zoom has been really stepping up and leading a lot of legs. Penny (above), Keno and Arctic have also been doing more than their fair share. WIth the wind being right in her face when she left this morning, she used Cyder and Keno to leave the checkpoint, since these are two of her biggest dogs. CYder is still fairly obsessed with the females in heat, so no telling how far she got with him up front, but hopefully it was far enough to give some of the other main leaders a break.
*Note: My flight was delayed so I didn’t make it in in time to see Cole arrive, so all of these photos are by our friend Emilie.

Numb in Nulato

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

I received another call from Cole today, but still she is struggling. The temperatures on the Yukon bottomed out at minus 50 last night and Cole said she basically became encased in ice from her own sweat and breath, and from driving through the breath fog of her dogs. Some of this ice, then rethaws (such as on her neck gaiter) from her own warm breath, and then cold water runs down her chest, saturating her underlayers and making her core cold.
The dogs are still plugging along and Cole said she has been able to keep good weight on them, despite the many miles and cold temperatures which are robbing them of calories. Our dogs have always eaten everything we’ve put in front of them during races, but Cole said for the first time, the team has been being picky in what they want when. We planned for this, just in case, so Cole has a lot of food options. Interestingly, the fish and lamb which the dogs wouldn’t touch in the first 500 miles, is now what they are ravenous for.
Unfortunately, more bad news, an Iditarod official told her today that one of her drop bag in Elim didn’t make it and is now “lost.” This was a real concern for Cole because she has no idea what bag it was, her frozen food , or her dry food, but either way, it will make getting enough food into the dogs a challenge at the checkpoint. Accidents happen, but from my perspective, it is still hard not to get mad. I have to wonder if they would have lost any of Jeff King or Lance Mackey’s bags, because if there is one thing I have seen with this race so far, it is that everyone is NOT treated equal. Those of you trying to follow Cole’s race updates know what I mean. Anyway, back to the lost food, it will mean Cole and the dogs will have the burden of carrying more weight from the Koyuk checkpoint 43.7 miles before Elim. This sucks because the last thing the dogs need at that stage of the race is to carry more weight.
Now for something positive, Arrow made it home today (see above with Dunkel in the background chewing a Cuz from our Idita-rider Susan). It’s a long story about her travels from Cripple (where Cole dropped her for sore feet). Needless to say I owe a big thanks to Jodi Pinkham for helping me get her here safely. Back home Arrow looks like she didn’t even run. She is energetic and her body weight is the same as when she left. It made be so proud of Cole to know the excellent care she is giving the dogs despite all the hardships she is facing. At home, Arrow came in and shared a pork chop dinner with me, before settling into my easy chair for a nap.
Cole still has 15 dogs with her, but she said this morning that she will be leaving Crumb behind. This was a tough decision for her, since Crumb is still raring to go as far as her energy and enthusiasm. However, she went off her gait and Cole believes in is a shoulder injury. She has tried to massage Crumb, but to take her any further just isn’t worth the risk. It makes me sad to see Crumb dropped. She has finished every race Cole has ever run, including the Yukon Quest. She is a good cheer leader when the other dogs are feeling blue. She’ll be missed.
Cole said she got three hours sleep at the last checkpoint and she hopes to get at least one hour during her break in Nulato. Cole said she’s not resting much, and eating the meals made by our friend Deb are the only thing still giving her energy. She said she wasn’t sure how long she would be staying, since the weather is affecting her race plan. Originally, Cole’s schedule called for her to pass Kaltag and camp about 20 miles out, but if it is minus 50 again tonight she will likely pull into Kaltag to warm up and dry off.
Here at the ranch, it is business as usual, running the dogs left behind. Also, the fanmail for Cole is starting to build up. Apparently she is a big hit with the elementary school crowd. Below is a photo of just one day mail for her. She intends to answer all these letters when she gets home, so any kids reading this, be patient, you will get a response.

Glum in Galena

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

I heard from Cole today and I’d love to say things are going great, but that would be a lie. The river is wreaking havoc on her and the team, mostly mentally, but mental problems can be the most difficult to overcome.
Part of the problem is the extreme cold. Back in McGrath in was minus 30 and Cole contemplated switched to her bulky cold weather suit that she had sent out in her drop bag. However, the five day forecast for the trail ahead called for more mild temperatures around minus 5 degrees. We should have known better than to listen to an Alaskan weather forecast! It’s been minus 40 every night since she left, and Cole said she is really struggling to keep warm. She has also frostbitten the tips of all her fingers on both hands, which is further complicating trail life.
Cole is also not sleeping enough, so she said during the cold nights on the river, she is having major hallucinatory episodes, and it is tough telling what is real at times. The Yukon being flat and featureless is also boring for the dogs, and Cole said she has been struggling to keep the leaders motivated. Adding the dilemma is how many dogs she still has in heat. Cole said Cyder has been the worst. All he wants to do is hump, and he basically attempts to every time the team slows or stops. She said he is even attempting to mount spayed females, so he has just lost his mind to hormones. Cole has basically been relying on Penny, Keno and Artic, and she said even these three have been a little slow to warm up for the first hour out of checkpoints, but then they hit their groove and lead like their usual selves.
I also talked to Cole and found out more about the chewed gangline incident. As it turns out, it didn’t happen at the checkpoint, it happened on the trail. Cole has been running at night a lot, and so she relies on her headlamp to illuminate the way. However, this year they changed the rules and told the mushers they couldn’t ship out lithium batteries because they can explode under pressure, such as during the flights out to the checkpoint. Lithium batteries are the most resistant to cold, so without them, Cole’s batteries are only lasting about 1 ½ hours in the minus 40 degree cold.
During one “blackout,” she was attempting to change batteries and a fired-up Kawlijah ended up chewing through the line at this time. Cole said all 14 dogs in front of wheel took off and the collided with another mushers not far up the trail. She said a massive tangle ensued, and they had to basically turn all the dogs loose and then recatch them once the tangled lines were sorted out. Then she had to quickly come up with a splice that would hold under the extreme power exerted by our pulling dogs.
Cole still has 15 dogs and is now in about 540 miles into the race. She officially has more miles behind her than ahead, so hopefully she and the team can keep their spirits up for a few hundred miles more. There have been 12 scratches now and more than 200 dogs dropped, so this hasn’t been a very easy year on the Iditarod, and we are proud Cole and the team have made it this far.
All for now. If Cole checks in tomorrow I’ll make another update. Then, on Monday I fly to Unalakleet, so if there’s Internet access there, I may be able to have more trail pictures with my update. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.