THE IDITAROD AIR FORCE
& THE ARCTIC

I followed a Jamaican Dog Musher racing with his dogs in the 1000 mile Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska. I walked, snowmobiled and flew as he took me through some of the most unforgiving lands and weather conditions I’ve ever experienced.  Temperatures dipped as low as -47 Degrees Celsius.  It was cool to see the fans cheering these amazing mushers and their dogs. I couldn’t help but recognize the importance of the people who help move injured or dropped dogs and those who moved gear and materials for the medics, it was a group effort.

The Iditarod Air Force’s group of small plane pilots dotted the sky every day, helping move dogs for the Iditarod racers.

They too suffered lack of sleep, horrible storms and weather conditions that most people wouldn’t even think of starting their car up for, let alone their plane. I had the pleasure of flying with one of these men. David was a very capable veteran of this elite flying crew and he took me up and down 16 times to help me follow and capture moments of the race following my Jamaican musher. On one of the mornings along the coast, David and I had to set out because my musher had just left Unakaleet, a small Inupaiq outpost. I stepped outside the tiny airport room, following David as he walked towards his plane that was tied down to the tarmac (to keep it from flipping into the ocean) and found myself leaning into the wind to keep from being pushed over. I yelled to David, “Are you sure we should fly? Is it safe? Is it always this windy here?” He responded quickly, “join me if you want Eppo, I need to pick up some dogs.” I hesitated but knew I had to go or I would be off of my Jamaican racer’s tail.

We took off straight into the wind and were off the ground in about 10 feet. As we were flying above the cliffs I spotted Newton, my Jamaican Musher way below, mushing on the cold open ice of Norton Sound. David asked if I wanted the plane lowered for a better shot and I quickly nodded as it was too loud to talk. After dropping about 500 feet I pulled out my camera to try and get a shot of Newton down below. Without warning our plane flipped to the left from a huge wind gust!

If I hadn’t of been wearing my seat belt I would have been sitting on David. He glanced at me as he quickly readjusted the plane from almost completing a 180 flip. He saw the fear in my eyes. He then smirked and said. “Unakaleet….it means WHERE THE EAST WIND BLOWS.”

Photo’s taken in Alaska USA, Yukon and Churchill Manitoba, Canada.