Thursday, March 11, 1993

Iditarod Trail, Alaska IV

From the air, the trail seems like a winding highway through the wilderness. From the ground, it's charms are frequently less apparent. From the air, it spans half a continent, cresting mountains, crossing rivers, dancing across ocean ice and through endless spruce forest. On the ground, it merely grinds along, mile after relentless, exhausting mile. It's no highway, but an winding, rutted and altogether merciless trail, plagued with bottomless soft snow in places, glare ice and even bare gravel in others. It is, in the truest sense of the words, rough sledding.

The trail has been carved out over nearly a century of use. First gold miners struck out across the wilderness, leaving the port town of Seward along Resurrection Bay's ice-free waters and clawing their way to the interior. They followed frozen rivers where they could, the Yentna, Susitna, Kuskokwim and Yukon. When that failed, they followed Native trails or simply hacked a way through endless black spruce forest, crossed the Alaska Range's glacial peaks at Rainy Pass, and struck out for the gold towns of Ruby, Ophir, Iditarod.

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