The Dog Race
'Emily Chappell has just finished her winter journey by bike fromAnchorage to Seattle. Here are some extracts from a recent blog post from late Feb'
The day after I was taken in by Judy and Richard was more or less a rest day. Breakfast, a groaning banquet of bread and eggs and meat and fruit and yoghurt and cake and cereal and coffee and juice, stretched on till almost midday, as we all sat back in our chairs, napkins crumpled up in front of us, exchanging anecdotes over our third and fourth cups of coffee. Judy held court, prompting me to recount the stories she’d already heard and encouraging Ed and Karen, a pastor and music teacher from Southern California, to reciprocate with their own. By the time I left two days later I had, at her command, retold the tale of my grandmother’s second marriage (unexpected; in her late 70s) to four or five different people. I was touched, and also slightly surprised by people’s interest in me and my life and my adventures, since their own had been by no means dull....
One final section of the trail had yet to be staked out, and Richard, despite my protestations that I had never driven anything in my life, lent me one of his snowmachines and instructed me to follow him up the wide verge that led further into and then out of the village, under the road on a frozen river and then off out into the bush, stopping every couple of minutes to thrust a thin wooden stake into the snow, one end of it highlighted with orange paint and a small reflective patch that would show up in the mushers’ headlamps later that night, showing them which way to go and occasionally, when Richard blocked off an alternative route through the forest with two emphatically crossed stakes, which waynotto go. The day was white and still, clouds hanging low over the trees and a few flurries of snow whirling about in the occasional gusts of wind. I soared and bumped along the wide snowy verge, following Richard’s ebbing tail light and timing my braking and acceleration so that I coasted neatly to a halt behind him every time he stopped, thinking how much longer this section of road would feel when I cycled it, at a quarter of the speed, the following day.
The first dogs were expected to arrive at around 3pm, and the lodge began to bustle as more and more cars drew up, disgorging people from neighbouring villages and homesteads, and as far away as Anchorage, Fairbanks and even Canada. A couple of very excited young girls told me how many dog teams they had counted on their way up the Tok Cutoff from Glennallen. They were making good time, apparently. They were almost here.
I joined the crowds milling around at the entrance to the checkpoint, passing the time of day, catching up on local gossip, and occasionally peering anxiously off down the road, where a temporary floodlight had been erected near the point at which the teams would emerge from the woods, and several vehicles waited, ready to form a temporary roadblock if necessary, in order to give the dogs safe passage.
I wandered into the log cabin where the food was being served and found that a third of it was strung with clothes lines on which so many jackets and jerseys and trousers and socks and mittens were hung that there was barely space for any more. A crowd of wiry-looking people in baselayers and longjohns were milling around or sitting at the edges, cradling steaming bowls of chilli, or queuing at the two large urns from which the coffee and hot chocolate were being served, and it took me a moment or two to realize that these were the mushers, since they looked so much smaller and more frail than when they had arrived, swollen to colossal proportions by their many layers of wool and fleece and down and fur, peering out from the tightly cinched hoods of their parkas, outsized mittens gripping the backs of their sleds. I was guiltily surprised by how many of them were female, having wrongly assumed that this, much like my own, would be considered a tough guy sport, and that any woman even attempting it would be lauded as brave but anomalous.
As the evening wore on and darkness fell outside, the cabin began to take on a rich, sweet, animal odour, as the sweat of the mushers mingled with the oils of their furs, was warmed by the portable heaters and warm bodies filling the building, and began to diffuse through the air.
For a full run down of the days activities and hospitalities during my short break from cycling head over to my blog That Emily Chappell