The Iditarod village checkpoint of Koyuk, 4th to the finish in Nome, is in an ideal location to get both great sunrise photos and also great sunset photos because of the sea ice that surrounds it. That’s one reason I chose to stay overnight again there this year. When we flew over the village I saw that a decent portion of the in-bound trail was over some fairly rough ice. So I knew I would want to rent a snow machine and go back out to shoot teams coming in over that.
When my assistant Deroy and I arrived, we found out that half of the village was without running water. That one-half included both the school (where we planned to stay) and the community center (where the Iditarod checkpoint is located). So, with no access to the school we then arranged to stay in the village library, across from the community center. It was necessary for everyone there to use a honey-bucket located in the woman’s bathroom to poop in. And to use the men’s toilet to pee in and only flush it a few times a day by pouring a bucket of water into the bowl. BUT… we didn’t have to use a cold-seated outhouse and it was warm and dry inside. So that was the good news.
I asked the mayor of the village if he knew of someone who could rent me a snow machine for a few hours until after sunset. Indeed he found someone who was willing to rent it to me for $50. Looking at the on-line tracker I calculated that we should have at least 2 incoming teams that should be at the village before or close to sunset time. By the time I got the machine, the first team, Ray Redington Jr. was only 4 miles out. I got on the machine and rode out the trail. Not long into the ride and the trail indeed became quite bumpy on the snowmachine and I was rattling around quite a bit. Great trail conditions for a different photo. With the wind at my back at about 15 mph, it was not a bad ride out there. I was not dressed for the cold wind we had, but was not out there long enough to get too cold.
I saw Ray approaching much sooner than I had hoped and I found a location to shoot him with some rough ice. And got this shot:
I had hoped to shoot Ray with the rough ice like I did and then, as I like to do, pass the team on the way in and shoot again with another background or foreground. It was just not possible with the rough ice. The dogs could go much faster than I could without damaging the snowmachine or rattling my teeth loose. So I settled for an image of him running away from me and going into town. But, that ride out there afforded me an opportunity to see that for the next team, I should go out much earlier in order to have time to set up several shots.
When I got back to the village I was sitting in the community center talking with the mayor’s brother. I told him how rough the ice was. He said that it was his nephew’s snowmachine that I rented and that he would drive me out to photograph the next team if I wanted. I agreed. It was not long after that we got word another team, Aliy Zirkle, was 7 miles out. I suggested we go out now to get her out further on the ice and have more time. He went home to get his winter gear and I got my heavy duty parka, facemark and heavy parka out because of the cold I felt on the last run. Fifteen minutes later were were headed out. The ice was just as rough if not rougher the further out we went. And the wind was picking up the further out we went. I was glad he was driving and I was not alone. We ran out about 5 miles before we saw her and the sun was in a much lower location on the horizon than with Ray. At this point we had gotten into much smoother ice for quite a long stretch. With this ice, we could easily let her go by while shooting pictures and then quickly pass her up for more photos. The wind was blowing the loose snow just a few inches over the ice directly into the team heading out way.
For the first shot, I asked that we park the machine off the trail enough so that it should not distract the dogs and I walked up to the trail and shot these two images with a wide angle lens:
We then hopped back on the machine and ran on the ice, off of the trail and away from the team and stopped some 75 feet off the trail for this shot :
After she went by, we did the same thing again, only this time I asked the driver to go ever further away from the trail. I was wanting to shoot with yet a more telephoto lens in order to compact the team and the sunset behind them. That’s when I got this shot:
We did this same leap-frog one more time on this smooth ice, only again got closer to the trail. With the wind blowing as it was, I was quite thankful I had on my heavy parka and seal-skin hat. The sun was a bit lower and that’s when I got the shot that I posted on Social Media:
By now the sun had set completely and we were getting closer to the village and that bumpy ice. So we zoomed ahead of her so we could pass her on the smooth ice before she got into the rough ice. We had to slow down a bit in the bumpy ice and I found a location, off of the trail in order to get some of the mountains with alpenglow on them and the rough ice in the foreground, and this shot:
Then I asked the impossible— “Can we get in front of her to get her coming into town”. He said “let’s try”. And try he did. He ran off of the trail, over the jumbled ice just as fast as he could without throwing us off the machine or damaging the machine. He picked his way through the ice as best as he could, trying to head for smooth ice when he could. It was one heck of a jarring ride which I though would be fruitless as the team was easily going faster than us. But, we got to a couple of smooth stretches and he made up time. We got to the shore in front of the village maybe a 45 seconds before she did, but which was enough to get this image:
When we got back, I paid him for his driving efforts. Sure made it a lot easier for me and less stress. All in all I shot her in five different locations and came away with a number of nice images. THAT is the fun of part of photographing the Iditarod for me. Which is your favorite photo of the lot?