North Wapiti Siberian
Iditarod 2008 - Tales from the Trail
March 31, 2008
Tales Of The Trail - Spirit Ravens
One of the really nice things about this
Iditarod was the people I found myself traveling the trails
One musher that I particularly enjoyed spending time with was
Kelley Griffin. If you don't know who Kelley is, you should.
When she finished Iditarod this year, she became the first woman
to have completed the Quest and Iditarod in one year. She did it
in way that she seems to approach a lot of things - quietly,
professionally and without a lot of fanfare.
Kelley and I shared a "Peace on Earth' pizza (the BEST pizza in
Alaska) in Unalakleet before we both prepared to leave for
Shaktoolik. I was ready a bit before her, but she hit the trail
when I was still in sight of the checkpoint. Overall our teams
were pretty closely matched in speed, with Kelley's Quest
hardened bunch a bit faster on the hills then mine (who I do
consider to be above average hill climbers - Kelley's were just
super on hills).
The trail out of Unk runs along the coastline for a bit before
making a steep climb, then leveling out a bit as you work your
way through a valley in the Blueberry Hills. Once we crested the
steep climb, our teams were traveling pretty close when a big
raven appeared in the trees that were scattered along the
Ravens are actually common along the Trail. These very clever
birds have figured out that dog team equate food scraps and
other interesting tidbits and they fly up and down the trail
looking for free meals. They will often sit defiantly in the
middle of the trail until the leaders almost catch them and then
glide safely out of reach - but generally they look down their
beaks at dog teams and their measly mushers, rarely interacting
with them at all.
This raven seemed a little odd right from the start. He sat in
his tree and made a bunch of chattering and chirping sounds -
very guttural and bizarre noises, even for a raven - who are
normally very talented vocalists.
He carefully watched Kelley and my teams roll by and then swept
over both of us, his head swiveling from side to side as he
checked the teams out. He landed in another tall tree and gave a
'review' of the team to anyone that cared to listen.
After we passed by this time, he jumped off his tree and glided
over the team again, this time diving low enough as he came
along behind Moses, that Mo actually jumped to the side. That
seemed to delight the bird and he made a bunch of chattering
noises as he flew off to try his new game on Kelley's team.
I stopped to let Kelley's team pass and we both commented on
this bizarre bird and his weird games.
For the next 10 miles or so this bird went back and forth
between the teams, cackling and swooping as he went. He was
obviously delighted with these games and his noises seemed like
laughter at times. Neither the dogs nor I were really minding
the games, it was amusing and a nice distraction.
We hit the next real climb on that leg and Kelley's team pulled
a ways away from mine. The raven had vanished and it looked like
the fun and games were over. The trail headed down into the next
valley and there waiting for me were not one, but three ravens.
All three were making the same strange noises that our first
visitor had been making and all three delighted in making low
dives over the dogs and I.
This little group stayed with me for about 5 miles or so before
abandoning their games.
Dusk and eventually darkness slipped over us as we traveled the
final miles across the sea ice to Shaktoolik.
Kelley was just finishing signing in when I pulled in. Once we
were in the checkpoint, we both commented on our raven
encounters. Apparently, other mushers saw ravens that were
making weird noises, but no one else but Kelley and I were
participants in 'raven games'. Kelley made the comment that she
thought they must have been 'spirit ravens'. If they were (and I
honestly don't doubt that they were), I would have loved to have
met those spirits in their human forms, because they seemed like
some fun loving, charming souls! Like the mushers around me -
very enjoyable to travel with!
Karen's Diary - Iditarod 2008 Edition
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