There are changes in the air here in Ruby.
The weather has been switching between clear and stormy several times over the past two days. I came up by snowmachine from my home in Galena on Wednesday afternoon – departing under bright blue skies and driving into a gray wall of snow about halfway into my trip. After two days of snow and wind
earlier this week, I doubted that there would be a trail, and made backup plans to fly over here. But after seeing a troupe of Idita-venturers on widetrack snowmachines pulling cargo sleds in Galena, and learning that they had just come from Ruby, I took comfort that a trail had again been punched through. A rugged and drifted trail though it was, my machine and I got here safe and sound.
Iditarod is incorporating another building into its Ruby footprint this year. They’ve set aside the preschool building as a quiet sleeping nook for mushers and race officials. It’s right next to the community hall, which has been a very crowded checkpoint location in years past. Race volunteers and local fans scurried in and out, and mushers had very little space to spread out and get some rest. I think the mushers will enjoy having more privacy and solitude this year.
But the big change will become obvious shortly after the first musher arrives here. No one from the Millenium Hotel is here to provide the traditional First to the Yukon gourmet multi-course meal. I have not been able to find out why this is the case, or at least no one wants to tell me. But usually at this point in the race, the chef has set up his cooking station, and the Millenium banner has been unfurled and displayed. Not so.
Ruby School Principal Anne Titus has lived here for more than 30 years, and never remembers a northern route year when the meal was not presented. She thinks it’s a sad loss for the race if the First to the Yukon meal is not presented and celebrated. Many times the musher invites some Ruby kids to share the meal, and often 1975 Iditarod champion Emmit Peters gets the honor.
So there are changes all around this normally habitual event. But one thing that does not change is the beauty and hospitality of Ruby. The views of the Kokrine Hills across the Yukon are always inspiring to a flatlander like me. Local matrons like Martha Wright and Ginger deLima bring hot food by the pot and tray down to the checkpoint, and make sure everyone is comfortable.
From here, teams go downriver about 48 miles to Galena. I felt like that trail was the bumpiest and pokiest trail I’ve ever
experienced. Unlike most years, when the trail hugs the south bank of the Yukon most of the way, and occasionally crosses to the other bank to cruise along that side for awhile, this year’s trail stays out near the middle of the river for most of the distance between Ruby and Galena. That means that the trail is over jagged ice instead of flat sand or gravel. I felt my snowgo constantly smacking into the tips of ice blocks, covered by a light coat of churned-up snow. We’ll see if the mushers notice it. I am never sure of that. I’ve learned to never trust my judgment about what constitutes a “good trail.” It’s completely subjective.