Ruby to Galena
I love Ruby. Nestled into a hillside, framed by wonderful rock cliffs, it really is everything an interior Alaskan village should be. The village always seems to be alive with the laughter of children sliding up and down the steep roads that go through town. The villagers are open and friendly.
The checkers steered me into a great parking spot near the church. From the vantage of my sled, I realized that this was the exact spot where I photographed Dee Dee Jonrowe’s team when I was ‘Chasing the Race’ in ’98. I got that tingling feeling I get in my stomach when it occurs to me that I’M RUNNING THE IDITAROD. So cool!
I was, however, a little disappointed with myself. Twice now, I had stuck firmly to my Race Plan and ended up pushing the team farther then I should have this early on. We were all mentally down and the dogs had a fair number of small aches and pains. As I snacked them I debated how I was best going to pull everyone back together. Some mushers were 24’ing in Ruby, but that didn’t feel right for my group. I felt that making a disciplined, steady run – even if it was slow, into Galena and then taking our long break there would be better for them both mentally and physically.
I noticed that Nik was quite sore on his front, so I wrapped him up in wrist sweats and a shoulder jacket hoping that I could make him feel well enough to get to Galena. That was not to be though – after a few hours rest, I got him up to walk around and his front had stiffened up. I scratched his ears and told him he was going home, put him back in the line for now, and informed the vets that I’d be leaving a dog behind.
After getting some food into the team and myself I phoned Mark from the checkpoint and whined about the aches and pains of the team and the fact that I had put two too long runs on them already. He reminded me that I was back on familiar ground now, so I wouldn’t be making any more mistakes like that. I bounced my plan for the rest of the river off him and he agreed that that sounded like the thing to do.
When I headed back outside the vets were looking for me. Head Vet, Stu Nelson was flying out and was taking the few dropped dogs with him – it was time to say good-bye to Nik. I got him up, gave him a quick rub down and hug and handed him over. His over enthusiastic reaction to food always drives me nuts at home and in training, but I knew I would miss it now. At least I know stood a better chance of getting off the trail with all my fingers intact.
I was parked next to Dean Osmar and Jessica Hendricks, both who were 24’ing. Jessica is an amazing teenager who seemed very organized and collected for a rookie. A young lady to expect big things from was my impression of her. Dean Osmar is a former Iditarod champion, he was telling me how sick he was and I truly felt sorry for him. How awful it must be to be that sick on the trail. Little did I know………
Early in the day I had been delighted to find out that Ruby had added a ‘Washateria’ since my last visit. These buildings are unique to Alaska – containing washing machines, dryers, toilets, and showers. In many communities, like Ruby, it is the only running water in town. The walk down (and eventually back up) the steep hill was well worth the chance to use a flushing toilet and to wash my face and hands. The downside was I got a look at myself in the mirror – oh scary. I now understood why Bill Gallea had wanted to take a ‘bad hair day’ picture – as he called it, for their Ultimate Iditarod site! Check it out at
Anyway, before I started preparations to leave, I thought I’d hike back down for one more trip to the bathroom – I was CRUSHED to find out that they locked the building up at 5pm. WAAAAAAAHHHH!! Knowing the condition of the outhouses in town, I decided to hold off until I got out on the trail!
I carefully repacked my sled and organized my gear that had been drying near the heater in the checkpoint building, I even took time to put fresh batteries in my MP3 player (a Christmas gift from Mark), so I could listen to some music on my way to Galena.
Just as darkness was closing in, I pulled the hook and headed down the hill and back onto the Yukon. The dogs left the actual village well, but balked a little once we got out onto the river. I had expected that and put my foot on the brake to focus them all again. It didn’t work as well as it did outside of Manley, but they did settle into a steady pace. I glanced over my shoulder and watched the sparkling lights of Ruby for a while. They stood out intensely in the darkness and were quite beautiful. I switched on my MP3 player and slipped down the trail into a magical night, surrounded by the tunes of Toby Keith, the Dixie Chicks, Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, and Hobo Jim (hey, not much of my lifestyle is ‘normal’ – why should my musical tastes be any different??)
About two hours further down the trail the mood was broken by dying batteries. I realized I had failed to take a backup set. I took the batteries out of the player and put them in my over glove with a hand warmer to see if I couldn’t rejuvenate them somewhat. I said a little prayer that they wouldn’t get too hot and explode – I’d have a hard time explaining that one. It worked and I got another hour or so of music.
The dogs slumped for a while and I messed around switching leaders a few times to try and pick things up. Draco and Camilla ended up being the combination that ‘clicked’ that night. They certainly weren’t smoking down the trail, but they were moving and that was all I had expected for this leg.
Lights on the far side of the river distracted me. They looked like cabin lights, but it was the middle of the night and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would have lights on at this time. They would have to have a generator going to have power and who wants to sleep with the noise from one of those disturbing you. It gave me a bit of the creeps, although I really don’t know why. Maybe because I expected to be all alone out there – maybe because I didn’t get any sleep in Ruby – who knows??
The trail eventually began drifting north across the river and onto a bend, as I knew it needed to. The river was a little narrower through here and loaded with moose tracks. The dogs got more jazzed, as they kept catching sight, scent, and/or sound of critters. I, of course, saw, smelt or heard nothing – one of the many downsides of being a mere human.
The town of Galena is visible for well over ½ hour before you actually get to it – that is soooo frustrating! Finally, at close to 4am the trail headed up an incredibly steep bank and into town. The dogs stalled on the hill and the Checker came partway down to grab the gangline and give them a hand. I, politely called him off and said the dogs could do it. A firm ‘Everybody HIKE’ brought the desired response and got us to the top. I told the checker that if we had to leave down that same hill, I was scratching NOW! He laughed, said I was not the first one to express that sentiment, and assured me that this was not the ‘Out’ trail.
I declared my 24-hour layover.