Presented by Snapped
Every year, it’s the same: For a few days in March, Unalakleet transforms.
The little town on Norton Sound is hundreds of grueling miles from the Iditarod starting line and still a half-dozen checkpoints away from the burled arch in Nome, and most mushers take some time there to rest and recharge before beginning the hours-long journey to Shaktoolik. Eleven-year-old Evelyn Rochon looks forward to the moment when the first dog team glides across the frozen sea towards town each spring.
That’s when most of the villagers go down to the ice to watch the sleds approach and she slides down the steep, snow-covered banks of the Unalakleet slough with her friends to meet the teams. When the dogs finally come to a rest, curling up on waiting piles of grass at the checkpoint, the village children gather the booties abandoned in the snow. Evelyn’s collection grows by about ten every year.
She remembers the smell of the dogs, the crisp, clean feeling of the frigid air across her nose and the way her friends and neighbors crowd to greet each team as it pulls in to town, snapping photographs and straining to get an up-close view. But even after the final musher slides under the burled arch in Nome and the finish line banners come down for the year, Evelyn still thinks about the Last Great Race.
“My step-dad and his brother ran in the Iditarod,” she explained. “They both inspire me to join one day.”
One day, she hopes, she’ll be the musher speeding across the sound before making the final push up the coast towards Nome. And before she leaves the checkpoint, she’ll toss a few old booties to the kids watching from the banks of the slough.