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MACKINAW MEMORIES: Saved from a Frigid Death

September 25, 2012
Filed in: Mackinaw Memories

Facing into a frigid torrent of wind, my dog team and I struggled to cross frozen Norton Bay during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. I in my Filson Mackinaw Cruiser and the dogs wearing natures very best. The worst blizzard in years had pinned us on the ice overnight. I knew we could survive, I thought to myself.But I knew it would be really marginal to try to make it another night. I knew I had to find Koyuk. Like many other mushers over a quarter century of races, I was crowding the boundary that divides safety from injury or death, but I knew I was equipped with the best, and this wasn’t going to beat me. It was minus-27 degree temperature and 60-knot wind created a chill factor of at least 100 degrees below zero — cold enough to freeze exposed skin within seconds. Koyuk villagers judged the storm too violent to mount a rescue. With daylight, I began the drive toward Koyuk, only a few hours and a dozen miles away. The wind scoured them head-on with a gale of ice bits and snow, but I kept moving. My goggles began to frost over. I tried to scrub them out. It didn’t work. Thus I just took them off. As I drove directly into the wind, watching the trail from inside my Filson coat, ice began to clog the lashes of his left eye. I rubbed it with his mitten. Later, I rubbed the eye again. Then again. And then it reached a point where I couldn’t see out of my left eye… Well, I thought, I’ve got my right eye. But then I started having trouble seeing out of my right eye. Just before noon, much of my upper face had frozen — eyelids and cheeks stiff and white, left eye completely useless, right eye beginning to close. It was ugly As I discovered, tiny problems can combine with trail conditions and physical exhaustion to push Iditarod mushers to the brink of fatal danger. However, in the end, thanks to perseverance, a great dog team and my Filson Mackinaw, I made it to the finish line; frostbit face and exhuasted, I didn’t win, but I finished.

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