The Great Alaskan Toboggan Expedition - Part I

The caller ID read "Uncle Dick" which meant that chances were pretty good this was the start of another great Alaskan adventure.

"Jackson, how would you like to give those toboggans a real challenge, up the Yentna and Skwenta rivers, across the beautiful Shell and Finger lakes and through the majestic Rainy Pass, through the glorious Dalzell Gorge, and into the open and mysterious Farewell Burn in pursuit of a world class bull Bison?" 

I don't remember how many hours (or minutes) later I had my airline ticket purchased, but it didn't take long before my preparations for a winter camping/hunting/snowmobiling expedition were underway.

Iditarod wooden toboggan trail

The route that my Uncle Richard had described, of course, is the first 300 or so miles of the famed Iditarod Trail. This is the setting where in March of each year, men, women, and dogs from around the world converge on the state of Alaska to take part in what has become known as “The Last Great Race" on the planet. The “trail” is actually impassable during the spring, summer and fall. Moreover, its routing is far from a direct course. The full Iditarod Trail takes about 1,150 miles to go the 650 or so airline miles from Anchorage to Nome. Historically, it offered access to premier trapping, hunting and gold. These days, through means of snow machine, fat-bike, or even foot, many outdoor enthusiasts take part in adventures through the chain of lakes, rivers, cliffs, gorges, valleys and rubble.

Snowmobile with cargo toboggan in landscape

I'd certainly heard much about this race, so deeply steeped in tradition and culture, a tribute to the Native Alaskans and the sacred place dog teams hold in the lives of those who depend on them. And as I would soon discover, the route to Nome offers plenty of challenges and unique hospitality only found in the extreme places it leads you.  Our plan was to follow the dog teams only days after their departure from Willow, the actual starting point of the Iditarod race, allowing the teams to brake trail through the mountains so snowmobile travel would be easier. I could only imagine what would lie ahead in the great Alaskan interior for me and my toboggan. 

snowmobile with wood toboggan

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