Skwentna – Checkpoint #2
By Sanka W. Dog
You can’t believe how exciting and noisy it is to have 96 dog teams come through a checkpoint. As the race goes further down the trail, it spreads out but in the early checkpoints of Yentna Station, Skwentna and Finger Lake, all the teams are still pretty close together. I’m lucky to know about this because my handler actually worked at Skwentna as a communications volunteer.
Skwentna has a population of 75 people in the winter and 250 people in the summer. It’s located on the Skwentna River. There aren’t enough children in the community to have a school so the kids who live here are home schooled.
The first team into Skwentna arrived at 20:49 (remember, that’s military time). The workers are waiting down on the frozen river, watching for the light of a headlamp to come around the bend of the river about a half mile away. The team stops under the WELCOME TO SKWENTNA banner where they are greeted by the checker and the communications worker. The dogs are counted and the arrival time is recorded. If the musher is going to stay, s/he parks the team, sets a snow hook at each end of the dogs and then spreads straw out for the dogs to sleep on. The musher collects the drop bags, draws some hot water then return to the team to give them water and take their booties off. Shortly there after, the musher will cook the dogs a nice meaty meal. After the dogs are taken care of, the musher most likely will go up to the cabin for some hot food and rest.
Who are the workers at Skwentna? The checkpoint is located at the home of Joe and Norma Delia. Joe is the postmaster. Iditarod sends 3 communications. The river crew comes in from Tacoma, Washington. The Skwentna Sweeties come from Eagle River, Alaska.
Everybody has a very important role in making the checkpoint work. Two “comms” people send race information up from the river to the cabin where the 3rd comms person sends the information to race headquarters in Anchorage via satellite computer connection. They can also communicate on a fixed cell phone and satellite phone. Pretty high tech! The river crew lays out the straw bales for each team, alphabetizes and organizes the drop bags so mushers can find them easily. They heat river water for the teams. River crew members also park each team (it takes a lot of room and organization to park 96 teams). Two members of the River Crew work as checkers and record official times of arrival. Everybody really loves the Skwentna Sweeties – they provide the hospitality. They cook great meals for all the workers and the mushers.
My handler said that the best part of working the Skwentna checkpoint was to see all the awesome dogs, telling them all “good dog” and petting as many as possible.
When you work a checkpoint, everyone has to work as a team. It’s just like the dogs and musher going down the trail – everyone has to work as a team. Remember the true meaning of TEAM. Together Everyone Achieves More.