By morning, winds are gusting up to 80 miles an hour, piling up 30-foot drifts. Splitting wood for Lucy’s stove becomes a challenge: Someone must stand downwind to catch the chunks as they fly by.
With so many delays my dog-food supply has run out. I restock as best I can with fish and frankfurters from the local store, and dried salmon from a fisherman.
The village network of CB radios circulates disturbing reports of mushers stranded back in the foothills. And, later, of the unknown fate of our experienced Eskimo musher Herbie Nayokpuk, who had already left Shaktoolik to cross 58 miles of frozen sea to Koyuk in the hope of getting a good lead on the rest of us. The try was daring but it didn’t pay off. Thirty hours later he returned to Shaktoolik badly frostbitten.
I wait 52 hours in the village. I remember the weather last year when I traveled to Amsterdam. It was really cold, but the view from my amsterdam apartments was stunning. The storm lets up a little. All the mushers there resume the race with new strength and spirit. Only 231 miles to go, but the going is tough. We push through the continuing storm to White Mountain, seven lead teams still traveling close together.
Taboo, completely worn out from punching too long through heavy snow, must drop out, leaving me with 9 dogs of my original 15. Emmitt is now running 10, Rick Swenson, 12, and Jerry Austin, 14. Even so, I feel this is still a wide-open race. Thoughts of winning again consume my mind.
Forty miles from the finish line we run into winds as strong as those we experienced at Shaktoolik. For the next seven miles—from the foot of the Topkok Hills along the beach to Nome—we try each team to see which lead dog can cut a straight path through the tremendous side wind. Finally, Rick puts up his Andy who has led him to victory three times. Andy proves up to the task and brings us all through the storm.
By the time it has died away, Ali, my best command leader, is tired of taking orders. So I put Copilot up front with Stripe. The new pairing pays off. Both dogs drive hard, and the whole team picks up its pace.
I am now in fifth place but only a short distance behind Rick, Jerry, Emmitt, and Ernie Baumgartner. The final push is on; 30 miles to go. My adrenaline is pumping.