Of peripatetics…

Yesterday I saw a patient who started off her life being thrown into the fire in the land of the isiZulu. This morning I am faced with the decision of which coffee shop in Frankfurt Airport would be the best place to procure a double espresso. Tomorrow morning I will probably be heading out on the trail somewhere west of Fairbanks, AK, to see dog teams mushing along the one thousand mile journey to Nome.

Travel gives one perspective.

The first movie chronicles an aspiring jazz drummer at a prestigious musical conservatory in New York City. (Whiplash, 2014). This was a stark contrast to Kill The Messenger – a story of the Contras, the CIA and crack cocaine in the eighties.

Rather than heading around the airport and risk incurring a security breach with my camera (I need to study anyway), here are some from the archives:

“Thistle in a war zone”. Darkoush. 

Team leaving Safety at first light. Iditarod.

Painted Reed frog, Northern KZN. 

Termites posing. 

Now for coffee and some studying…

22000km as the crow flies.

That is approximately the distance for me to get home.
As with many things in life it is best not to know the details. With time zone changes I am choosing to stay blissfully unaware of the number of hours spent traveling on commercial airlines since leaving Anchorage in the witching hours of Saturday morning. A delayed flight in Seattle (technical problem) ensured I missed my direct connecting flight out of Washington, D.C. to jo’burg and ended up being re-routed through Frankfurt.

Once I get back I will be flying below the radar until exams are over. To tide things over, follow the race on http://www.iditarod.com or Facebook. There are four contenders for first place steaming along and ripping up the ice en route to Nome. It will be a tight finish.

20140309-194109.jpg It is easier to sleep while sitting.

20140309-194217.jpgNewton Marshall, the Moshin’ Man from Jamaica preparing to head out after his 24hr stop in McGrath.

20140309-194356.jpgDropped dogs waiting for a flight home.

20140309-194445.jpgthe Navaho – flight home with 20 dogs.

20140309-194548.jpgThe twenty dogs.

That sums it up.

A teaser of what’s to come. Iditarod 2013

While adjusting to the almost tropical climes, here are some photos from my trip back to Alaska.

Safety at night

Snow machines head back to Nome.

A team about to start the final stretch.

Morning sun.

Safety in the morning.

Bill’s plane. One Tango Charlie.

Cold, even for kiwi’s.

For those not reliant on dog power.

Sheet ice.

Northern Lights

It was clear and cold. The aurora borealis painted palpitating color revels on the sky. Rosy waves of cold brilliancy swept across the zenith, while great coruscating bars of greenish white blotted out the stars.”
~ Jack London, “A Daughter of the Aurora”

20130412-150103.jpgA low key display

20130412-150203.jpgSafety Roadhouse at night with the Aurora building in the background.

20130412-150359.jpgSafety Roadhouse

20130412-150555.jpgSnow, stars and the Northern Lights.

A vibrant, ever changing display.


20130412-150817.jpgLooking straight up.

20130412-151026.jpgTeam approaching the checkpoint.

20130412-151113.jpgChecking a team under the illuminated night sky.

20130412-151210.jpgAn expectant subject.

20130412-151310.jpgA lunar glimpse.

Winds & Snow storms

This evening we were treated to a northern lights show. Photos will follow when I can download them from my camera. Needless to say, they don’t look half bad.

The cycle of things here revolves around watching out the windows for approaching mushers. We Re only able to pick up satellite signal so all Comms goes via satellite data phones. We don’t have the luxury of the GPS tracker. This lack of early warning has lead to some close calls and mad scurrying around to ensure we are out and waiting for the teams as the arrive. The average time I. The checkpoint thus far is a little over one minute. There is currently a 30 knot wind with snow outside. Not the sort of conditions favorable to hanging around outside.












Wind & Aurora

The aurora displayed itself to us tonight. The pictures from my phone don’t do it justice, so y’all will have to wait for the official ones from my camera.

Currently there is a 40knot wind blowing outside. The ambient temperature is only 20degC below but the wind makes it far worse.

The days (and nights) are made up of watching for approaching teams. Safety is a roadhouse comprising of an open bar and pool table. I’m sleeping on the couch and the two Comms guys are on camp beds adjacent to the pool table. The closest town is Nome (22miles away) by snowmachine with an occasional fisherman’s cabin visible en route.
Due to the remoteness of the checkpoint the only way of communicating is satellite phones and patchy CB radio. This means that we are unable to utilize the Eye on Earfh GPS Trackers, relying on binoculars during daylight hours and spotting headlamps approaching at night. This has resulted in some close calls with teams sneaking up to the checkpoint.






Iditarod 2012

This coming weekend will see the start of The Iditarod 2012. Saturday is the ceremonial start in Anchorage followed by the restart and start of the Last Great Race in Willow, Alaska. For the first time since working on the trail, I will be following from the distant side lines. No sixteen hour long haul flights, no USA immigration interrogations and TSA body cavity searches (see: http://tinyurl.com/7b46g9d ) which has recently confirmed my suspicions that airport security measures were essentially window dressing.

As I am half way round the world away from where all the excitement is happening, I will endeavour to post the occasional update accompanied by my picture from previous years (it is the northern route this year) and whatever else I can glean and download from the internet without infringing any copyright laws.

The build up to the race:

20120301-224219.jpg A moose wandering around the parking lot of the Millennium Hotel (centre of race operations in Anchorage)

20120301-224603.jpg How one transports a team of sixteen Alaskan Huskies around.

20120301-224736.jpg Merrill Air Field, the busiest small aircraft airfields in the world during the warmer months. At those times, the ice has melted and all landings / take-offs are water based.

20120301-225025.jpg Jewel Lake. Each house has three parking bays: one for the truck, one for the light aircraft and another for the boat.

Next update: the start.

Shaktoolik revisited

Arriving in Shaktoolik on a Maul 7

This aircraftflew around the world. Not bad for a colourful single engine.

Hendrikson catching a catnap


Kristy leaving Shaktoolik


First light over the Shaktoolik river


Kristy bootie-ing up


Weather forecast: High pressure system over Eastern Russia and Alaska. A weather front moves into the eastern Bering by Thursday. 

This means that the winds that started to pick up last night are going to get worse and the weather will deteriorate.

Blue eyes...


Billy Snodgrass when asked about the wind en route to Shaktoolik: “At least it kept away the mosquitos!”

The smooth Bering Sea


Cold, icy wind.

Rhodi (race judge, completed the race five years ago) procured some fresh Fairbanks salmon. Delicious. Then there was the smoked black cod - a delicacy not available commercially.

Time on The Yukon

Camping for four days on the Yukon. Even though it was warmer than last year – it seemed mighty cold at 02:00. First time I have fallen asleep on a haybale (and not fallen off either).

The pictures can tell the rest – mind still too fuzzy to type long sentences, yet alone ensure they are gramatically correct.

Friday – flew out of McGrath and into Unalakleet – brief touchdown before heading straight out to Eagle Island on the Yukon.

Unalakleet - hub further up the trail


The Yukon River from 6500ft

Parking zone on the Yukon

Team entering Eagle Island

Musher resting bay (Rick Swenson - four times winner- passed out on some used hay)


Trapper trail (Mike Lindeen - Iowa)


Billy - the cyclist. Doing the Iditarod trail on his wide rimmed snow tyres, left 27 Feb and hopes to be in Nome by Sunday 20 March. Personally I would prefer having some canine company on the trail.

Leaving Eagle Island Checkpoint at dusk.

Next post:

Shaktoolik  – between the frozen Bering Sea and the iced up Shaktoolik river.


McGrath – Videos and GPS tracker link

Here is a resized (small) clip:

(the others are rather large for those of you with a slow connection)

Heather Siirtola leaving McGrath.


The Mushin’ Mortician leaving McGrath checkpoint.


Waddie McDonald (the Flying Scotsman) getting everything going for the second time.


Waddie McDonald: finally on the way to Takotna.


Here is the “Eye on Earth” link to the GPS trackers on the mushers sleds.